CAPE TOWN, South Africa (CNS) — Church leaders in war-torn South Sudan said they see no political will for peace and therefore will start a peacemaking process themselves.
“We speak with one voice,” 25 representatives of member churches of the South Sudan Council of Churches, including Archbishop Paulino Lukudu Loro of Juba, said in a June 7 statement at the end of a weeklong meeting in Kigali, Rwanda.
“We wish to inform our leaders, our people and the regional and international community that the church is now taking serious steps to bring about a homegrown solution for peace and reconciliation,” the leaders said, noting that this will start with a “process of advocacy” in South Sudan.
While the efforts of countries in the region to bring peace are appreciated, “we are also aware of their own political, military and economic interests in South Sudan, which might cause difficulties and suspicions,” they said.
South Sudan was plunged into conflict in December 2013 between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and rebels allied with his former deputy, Riek Machar. As many as 10,000 people have been killed and more than 1 million displaced in the months since.
The country gained independence from Sudan in 2011 as the outcome of a 2005 peace deal that ended more than 20 years of civil war.
Noting that in the past 18 months “all our guidance has been ignored,” the church leaders said they will “take action to bring peace and to begin reconciliation.”
Acknowledging “all the peace negotiations” by the clashing factions, the statement said that “there appears to be little real progress” with no trust between the parties and no political will for peace.
“Much of the country is lawless, and so people take the law into their own hands,” the church leaders said, noting that “there is an increase in crime with no action taken, and people are afraid of the authorities who should protect them.”
The church must play a significant role in peacemaking and “the process must be owned by South Sudanese stakeholders,” they added.
“We will go to regional church bodies, national councils of churches and individual churches and, through them, we will reach out to key regional leaders,” the leaders’ statement said.
“A political settlement is a necessary first step, but reconciliation at all levels” is essential and work to bring about reconciliation will be done by the churches, the statement said.
South Sudan’s conflict is largely a power struggle between leaders surrounded by “advisers, aides, politicians, generals, hangers-on and spoilers,” it said.
“We see ethnic communities following their leaders, while grassroots communities and armed youth are caught up in cycles of revenge killing,” it added.
“Military commanders, each with their own agendas” are not necessarily under the control of the principals, the leaders explained.
Noting how the church of Rwanda “developed their country after the genocide of 1994, and how they addressed the pain, anger and bitterness of those terrible events,” the South Sudan church leaders thanked Rwanda’s church leaders for “offering to walk with us on this journey.”