Sudan. The word brings to mind images of dusty refugee camps and the swollen bellies of malnourished children. But why? How did this nation come to be filled with problems – starvation, sickness, mines, genocide – that overwhelm the conscience? Compared to the wealth and prosperity of the US, Sudan sits on the very fringes of our world. Personally, it is very difficult for me to even understand what it would be like to live in Sudan, where there are hundreds of thousands dead and millions more displaced by war, where there is little to do but wait…for food, for work, for education.
For about a hundred years, Sudan – or Nubia – was actually a Christian “nation,” a stronghold for Coptic Christianity. Around 640 A.D., Islam entered the area but remained only in Northern Sudan, because of a treaty, for 700 years. In essence, Sudan has always existed as two separate states, the Islamic North and the Christian South. During the colonization period, Belgium, France, and the U.K. all claimed parts of Sudan, but the British gained sole control by 1898, still treating Sudan as two separate states.
In 1943, the British began preparing the north for self-rule, establishing a North Sudan Advisory Council to advise on the governance of the six North Sudan provinces: comprising of Khartoum, Kordofan, Darfur, and Eastern, Northern and Blue Nile provinces. Then, in 1946, the British colonial authority reversed its policy and decided to integrate north and south Sudan under one government. South Sudanese authorities were informed at the Juba Conference of 1947 that they would now be governed by a common administrative authority with the north. From 1948, 13 delegates, picked by the British authorities represented the south on the Sudan Legislative Assembly. Many southerners felt betrayed by the British because they were largely excluded from the new government. The language of the new government was Arabic, but the bureaucrats and politicians from southern Sudan had, for the most part, been trained in English. Of the eight hundred new governmental positions vacated by the British in 1953, only four were given to southerners.
As you can imagine, this kicked off a series of civil wars between North and South. Northern Arabs wanted to rule by sharia law. Southern Christians wanted representation in government. Both wanted power. The two sides finally came to a tentative peace agreement on January 9, 2005. What would a nation look like after going through nearly forty years of internal conflict (there were 10 years of uneasy peace between two major civil wars)?
The issues of war were compacted by economic strife.
Until the early 1970s, Sudan’s agricultural output was mostly dedicated to internal consumption. In 1972, the Sudanese government became more pro-Western, and made plans to export food and cash crops. However, commodity prices declined throughout the 1970s causing economic problems for Sudan. At the same time, debt servicing costs, from the money spent mechanizing agriculture, rose. In 1978, the IMF negotiated a Structural Adjustment Program with the government. This further promoted the mechanized export agriculture sector. This caused great economic problems for the pastoralists of Sudan (See Nuba Peoples).
Still, Sudan is in deep debt. Farmers and pastoralists are focused on creating food to export rather than to feed their families.
Then came Darfur in 2003. Rebels in Darfur accused the government of ignoring this region. An all-out war began between these rebels and Arab militias, Janjaweed, linked to the government. Rebels blame the Janjaweed for genocide in the region. 200,000 – 400,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million have fled their homes.
So that is the how and perhaps and little of the why all this came about. So what can we do? I know that not many people have time to quit their jobs and become full-time activists. I also know that Sudan isn’t the only struggling country out there. But certainly we can’t just ignore another Holocaust taking place right now, today. What do these people need most?
- First, they need the basics. Food, water, shelter. Learn more from Nadus Films about the needs in the area. Give to WorldVision to help provide some of these needs.
- Next, they need advocacy. I do believe, even though it can be overwhelming, that we who live in this world should know about what is going on in this world. And when we are talking to friends about what happened on The Office last night, we should also spend some time talking about the crises going on in this world. I must admit that I wasn’t really educated on Sudan until I decided to write this post. I hope that some of the above information helped you to become more educated. Save Darfur.org has great lists of resources. The Genocide Intervention Network has ideas on how you can help. Helping Sudan isn’t a task with a whole lot of glory. We need to write to our politicians. They are the ones who can push the Sudanese government to stop the genocide. Sudan needs U.N. peacekeeping forces. It needs the complete focus of world leaders who will do whatever it takes to make the killings stop.
- Finally, but not last of all, Sudan needs prayer. God can bring peace. God can bring light into the darkness of Sudan’s suffering. God can save the children who are dying in the crossfire or by starvation.
I know that God cares extraordinarily for the Sudanese people. When we pray and cry and wrestle with what to do, we unite ourselves with the heart of God.