SUDAN GOVERNMENT AND REBEL FACTION SIGN DEAL TO FURTHER PEACE PROCESS
On 28 March, Sudan’s transitional government signed the “declaration of principles” with the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) rebel faction in Juba, South Sudan. The declaration outlines priorities in moving forward after the removal of longstanding President Omar al-Bashir in April 2019, including the unification of armed forces and the establishment of a democratic, secular state. This agreement further bolsters Sudan’s efforts to reverse the 30-year system of strict sharia law under al-Bashir, by separating religion and state. The SPLM-N has been operating in a southern region of Sudan, inhabited by minority Christians and followers of other beliefs, who have long complained of discrimination and have fought the imposition of Islamic law under al-Bashir’s rule. The group had participated in negotiations leading up to a peace deal signed last year, but did not sign the final deal, reportedly because it did not guarantee the separation of religion and state. SPLM-N leader Abdel Aziz al-Hilu has been engaged in discussions with the interim government under General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan about the place of religion in a democratic Sudan. In October 2020, a historic peace agreement was signed by Sudanese authorities and several armed groups from Darfur, Blue Nile and Southern Kardofan to end decades of conflict and establish a new cabinet based on power-sharing between civilians, the military and armed movements. After successive peace deals with rebel movements and months of deadlock during Sudan’s transitional period, the Declaration of Principles between the SPLM-N and the government marks a major development in Sudan’s peace process that has been widely celebrated, with further peace talks expected to continue in three weeks. After Sunday’s signing, a faction of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) is the only remaining rebel group posing a significant security challenge to the government in Khartoum.
From a Christian perspective, according to the US State Department, who revised their Countries of Particular Concern ‘watch list’ for religious freedom in December 2020, Sudan is one of two “positive developments” globally (along with Uzbekistan) due to significant, concrete progress being undertaken by government over the past year, serving as an example for other nations to follow. Many Christians believe the political change, and consequent steps towards religious freedom, is an answer to prayer. Although the SPLM-N is not a Christian group, their fight for freedom of religion, among other freedoms in an inclusive government, has resulted in breakthrough for Christians in Sudan. However, there has been uncertainty about how Sudan’s new leadership and constitutional amendments would impact Christians in reality. Following the repeal of the death penalty for apostasy in 2020 in the series of amendments made by the transitional government, Sudanese Archbishop Ezekiel Kondo was interviewed in November 2020 about religious freedom after al-Bashir. He was unconvinced that official change would immediately translate into real change for the 5-6% Christian minority in practice, saying that legal protections cannot fully protect Christians from harmful treatment by relatives or the community in a society where Islam still dominates culture. Converts from Islam face the greatest persecution, even if they are no longer subject to the death penalty. However, just as the Lord has used secular groups, like the SPLM-N, to advance His will in Sudan, He can bring about a miracle in Sudanese society to have open hearts towards Christians and the gospel.
Please pray with us for the following:
- For the ‘Declaration of Principles’ to truly bring an end to the enduring conflicts and persecution of minority faiths
- For the ongoing peace talks to go smoothly and for the Lord’s unfolding will to be fulfilled in Sudan
- For freedom of religion to be experienced in action (not just in the constitution), and for a softening of hearts among the Muslim majority towards Christians and the Gospel
Image: REUTERS/Jok Solomun