We stand together to make peace, now
14 – 15 April 2015
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you’… He said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit'... (John 20:19, 21, 22)
From 14 to15 April 2015, a delegation from the South Sudan Council of Churches (SSCC), comprising the heads of the member churches, the SSCC Chair Rt. Rev Peter Gai Lual and Interim Secretary General Rev. James Oyet Latansio met with a World Council of Churches (WCC) delegation comprising the Moderator of the WCC Central Committee, Dr Agnes Abuom, and the WCC General Secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit in Addis Ababa to discuss peace in South Sudan. The All Africa Conference of Churches was also represented. The delegations were privileged to be welcomed and hosted by His Holiness Abune Matthias, Patriarch of Ethiopia, Archbishop of Axum and Echegue of the See of St Teklehaimanot; His Eminence Abune Berhaneyesus, Cardinal of the Ethiopian Catholic Church; and Rev Dr Wakseyoum Idosa, President of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekaneyesus. The meeting was also addressed by Ambassador Seyoum Mesfin, Chair of the IGAD Special Envoys. The South Sudanese delegation also met the Ethiopian Prime Minister, H E Hailemariam Desalegn.
The meeting took place during the Easter Season, when Christians celebrate new life in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. It was a fitting time to celebrate the revitalization of the South Sudan Council of Churches by the power of the Resurrection. The Church has always been an instrument of peace and played a major role in bringing about the Addis Ababa Agreement in 1972 and the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005, but recently the council of churches has been less effective. Now SSCC has new leadership and a fresh commitment from the heads of churches, and hereby announces to the people of South Sudan and the world that it is determined once again to take a leading role in bringing peace to South Sudan. The churches of South Sudan are united as one church.
The church believes that the starting point for peace and reconciliation is the people of South Sudan, not the political parties. The people are suffering while political and military leaders fail to agree on political issues; meanwhile, the killing continues. As the church leaders said in their message of 26 March 2015:
there is no moral justification and no excuse to continue fighting and killing. In the 1955-1972 and 1983-2005 wars we were fighting for our liberation; what are we fighting for now? It is unacceptable to negotiate about posts, positions and percentages, about systems of governance, about wealth-sharing and other such matters, while people are killing and being killed. The fighting must stop, immediately, and only then can these political matters be discussed in a meaningful way.
The people of South Sudan continue to suffer. The trauma of decades of conflict is being reinforced rather than healed. The rule of law is largely absent. In many parts of the country there is virtual anarchy, with no effective government. The culture of revenge reigns supreme, and the longer the war continues, the more deeply this culture will be ingrained. There is insecurity and fear; people panic at the smallest alarm. Tribalism is on the increase. Fighting and forced recruitment continue. Land grabbing and cattle rustling are causing huge problems. The economy is deteriorating while crime is increasing. Hunger is on the increase, humanitarian access is restricted and the health care and education systems are in decline. Minority groups are being marginalized. Splinter groups are forming, which no government will be able to control. The parties are killing the very people who will eventually be asked to elect them to power. As the Catholic bishops said in their message of 30 January 2015: “A legitimate government is one which is able to bring peace, development and stability to its people. Any party that continues to fight the war against the innocent citizens of South Sudan has no legitimacy; once you are at war amongst yourselves you have already lost your legitimacy!” South Sudan is bleeding; and its current leaders, both in government and opposition, appear to have no solution.
Both parties appear to be seeking a military solution to the crisis. Like two teenage boys testing their strength, they continue to batter away at each other, regardless of the consequences. So ingrained is the culture of violence in South Sudan, and so high the level of mistrust and suspicion between the parties, but even within each party, that we suspect they do not know how to make peace even if they wished to do so. They have no exit strategy; they only know violence. They are talking, but not listening.
The church now undertakes to begin a peace process to address the mistrust of the parties and to bring them together to discuss the needs of the people and the future of the nation in a forum which is less polarized and less politically charged than other processes. It will not be confined only to the leaders of the main warring parties but will reach out to military commanders, politicians, other political parties, civil society and others. The church welcomes all efforts to bring peace but intends to play its own unique role in creating a peace where the interests of the people of South Sudan are prioritized.
Advocacy was a key role played by the church in the last war, bringing the voice of the voiceless into the public arena. The church will now speak out again more and more assertively – to the people of South Sudan, to our political and military leaders, to IGAD, to the AU, to our neighbours and to the international community at large – and will host visiting delegations from our brothers and sisters in regional and international churches, and will reach out and visit them. The international community will be urged to engage constructively with the people of South Sudan and to avoid taking measures which may make life more difficult for them. They will also be urged to continue not only with emergency humanitarian aid but also with development and capacity-building initiatives. Reducing these activities will not punish government or warring parties; it will punish the ordinary people of South Sudan and may eventually contribute to future conflicts.
The church will also use its unique grassroots network to address longer-term issues of reconciliation and trauma.
Many of our citizens are losing hope, but we continue to hope and to offer hope. “Jesus said to them, ‘It is I; do not be afraid’ “(John 6:20). The church of God, the body of Christ, will not be afraid. SSCC commits itself to the WCC campaign “Pilgrimage for Justice and Peace.” The current war in South Sudan cannot be legitimized; it is a senseless war without meaning, causing destruction for nothing. The church by its very nature stands for a just peace.
We stand together to make peace, now.