African Churches Challenge Sudanese Leaders to Make 'New Era' a Reality

A network of African churches has called on Sudanese and international leaders to ensure a smooth and peaceful realization of the results of January's referendum, in which Southern Sudanese citizens voted overwhelmingly to secede from the north.

"The impressive campaigns by supporters of either side of the referendum is an indication that the people of Sudan would want to see democracy work for them. The challenge that this presents for the leadership is to ensure that the expectations of the people are matched with a realization of a new era of peace and progress," a statement from the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC) reads.

Over 99 percent of southern Sudanese citizens voted to split from the north during the Jan. 9-16 referendum.

Southerners, who are mostly Christian and animist in their beliefs, claim that the Muslim majority north treats them as second class citizens.

Fears over the country plunging back into civil war were high leading up to the referendum but have been alleviated by President Omar al-Bashir's acceptance and support of the results of the vote

The AACC, which represents over 170 churches on the continent, played an active role during the referendum assisting churches with voter education programs and voter election monitoring.

Urging leaders to guarantee basic rights and protection, the AACC wrote that the leadership in both the north and the south must "value their shared history and therefore consciously engage to offer each other opportunities that would continue to strengthen the history of a shared identity through the many years of hurting."

"[P]ost-referendum arrangements on transition, constitution making, sharing of wealth, and other issues including the demarcation of the north-south border [must be] addressed as required with sobriety and the sensitivity they deserve," they said.

The AACC further exhorted religious leaders to use the time before the initiation of the referendum to "build viable moral foundations for the Sudan society regardless of the political division that may place some in the north and others in the south location."

"The Church in Africa looks forward to a future when the people of Sudan and specifically in the south will benefit from their God-given natural wealth, which ironically has been the main source of their untold suffering," they wrote.

An independence celebration for Southern Sudan is currently set for July 9.

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