Last October the Sudan Council of Churches (SCC) met with government officials to discuss peacebuilding in Sudan as part of the Keijiko II summit. The goal was to form a plan to foster peace in the lead up to the January referendum in which voters will decide whether Sudan will remain one nation or if the South will secede from northern Sudan. Paul Nantulya, regional technical advisor for Sudan peacebuilding, explains why this summit was so important:
CRS: What Role does the Church play in promoting peace in Sudan?
Paul Nantulya: The Church has a long history of promoting peace in Sudan. In 1997 the SCC held Keijiko I, which brought together the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) with church leaders. In those days the SPLM was a rebel group that had splintered into various factions resulting in bursts of violence throughout southern Sudan. Those talks helped to unite the various offshoots of the SPLM and subsequently reconciled communities that were at odds because of the factional fighting.
CRS: How did Keijiko I influence the role of the Church in fostering a culture of peace in Sudan?
PN: Churches were given a mandate to launch their people-to-people peacemaking process, which is essentially peacebuilding at the grassroots level.
Whenever politicians fight, or in the case of the splintered SPLM, whenever factions fight, they have participants who also fight. The Church realized that in order to curb the violence it needed to start at the community level. The Church needed to talk to the people who were actually carrying the guns and leading the fighting.
By quelling the violence at the community level you take away power from the leaders who are feeding the chaos. This process forces leaders to reassess their power because they can no longer rely on their constituency to reinforce their message through violence. As peace began to grow in these communities, the Church then went to the leaders and brought them into the dialogue to reinforce the grassroots peace agreements. The Church was able to facilitate 23 people-to-people peace agreements in 10 different regions.
CRS: Did these people-to-people agreements have any ramifications beyond the communities?
PN: One beautiful side effect of this process is that it brought the SPLM together. No one expected the SPLM to unify, but it did as a result of Keijiko I and the Church’s work. This re-unification resulted in a dramatic reduction of violence. The president of southern Sudan himself, Salva Kiir, said when he addressed the Keijiko II forum that, had it not been for the Church, the SPLM would have never reunited and the Government of Southern Sudan would not be where it is today.
CRS: What were the main areas of focus at this meeting?
PN: It was simultaneously exhausting and invigorating. No one knows what the outcome will be of the referendum, but everyone is hopeful for a peaceful Sudan. Some of the topics we discussed are:
• the continuation of the people-to-people peace process
• how to work together to help facilitate the voluntary repatriation of southerners living in northern states
• the protection of religious freedoms and the protection of the rights of northerners living in the South.
• how the Church will continue to take an active role in ongoing peace processes throughout the referendum and beyond.
CRS: Is the Church or citizens always allowed to voice concernsrelating to peace?
PN: The church and citizens in the south do have space to voice issues concerning peace, as illustrated by Kejiko I and II. This dates back to the civil war, when the church created a space for dialogue with the liberation movements, followed by their informal involvement in the peace process. This tradition continued after the CPA and is likely to continue beyond the referendum.
CRS: What did attending these meetings mean to you on a personal level?
PN: At the end of meeting I felt that Sudanese people have a bright future. Being in the room with so many people working towards peace, it was evident that Sudan has the talent and intellectual resources to ensure the peaceful destiny of their country.
As an African it meant so much to me to be able to witness history in the making. I know that whatever happens in Sudan will affect us all. The Keijiko II talks give me hope for our combined future.
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