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from issue no. 08 - 2004

Sudan. The peace agreement and the crisis of Darfur

Allow us to reconcile

After the signing of the agreements which open the way to the ending of the twenty-year-long war between North and South, Darfur exploded. The pressure from the USA and the UN, the role of the Holy See. Cardinal Gabriel Zubeir Wako explains what is happening in the Country and what the Sudanese Church needs. An interview

by Giovanni Cubeddu

Cardinal Gabriel Zubeir Wako

Cardinal Gabriel Zubeir Wako

On Sunday 25 July the Pope dedicated the Angelus to «the tragic events which for a long time now have marked some countries of the beloved African continent».
We asked Gabriel Zubeir Wako, Cardinal Archbishop of Khartoum, to explain to us what is happening in his country. After the signing in May of six protocols that open the way to a final agreement between the North and the South of the country, closing a twenty year cycle of clashes, the hopes for peace have been endangered by the grave humanitiarian crisis in the region of Darfur, where the pro-government Arab militia “Janjaweed” are massacring the local ethnic population, the Fur, in prospect also risking the destabilization of the May agreement.

Your Eminence, let us begin with the agreement signed between North and South Sudan, strongly pressed for by Colin Powell …
GABRIEL ZUBEIR WAKO: To sign is easy, when it’s a matter of approving principles, but then they have to be put into practice. The positive participation of the international community is important for us not only to bring about an end to the conflict, but also to help us reconstruct and safeguard the human fabric of Sudan.
What is your judgment on the agreement? And, especially, in what way can the Church help this transition?
ZUBEIR WAKO: Up until now the Sudanese bishops have not met together since the signing of the protocols. We have not approved a common document, but some needs are obvious. First of all, the people must finally be allowed to appreciate this peace, because few things are as valuable as peace. It’s not rational to go back to what we got out of. Attitudes which can help the peace are necessary; insisting that what is signed but not lived is not a true peace, which must enter into the society, the politics and the economy.
The second thing is that peace is reconciliation, and many injustices and sufferings must be immediately pardoned. Much evil was committed, but if we ask that all those guilty of evil must pay according to justice, I believe that no one would be capable of that … there have been enormous crimes, nevertheless we must look at this not in order to go backwards but to go forward. This reconciliation is reciprocal pardon, the desire to live and work for a better future, in which the mistakes from which the war began are not repeated.
And further. During the war the Catholic Church strove greatly for the education of the people. The inequality in this field, the disparity of opportunity, was in fact one of the reasons for the war between North and South. We propose a new educational system, different from that imposed by the regime in Khartoum. We don’t yet know well how we can give a hand to the government in this, but it is in our program.
Then there is the question of those who return home after the end of the war and do not find either their house or, in general, infrastructures worthy of this name. During the war the Church acted to help the refugees and it will continue in this commitment: the poor must not be exploited on this path of reconstruction.
But everything said up to now must give precedence to evangelization, which is our first task. We must be shrewd about this, since, once a time of suffering has passed, people usually cease praying to the Lord, and forget that the peace is His gift. We have need of help to carry forward the necessary things. We need money, I’m not ashamed to say so, and of people who can work with us, at all levels. In south Sudan, now that hope in living has begun again, almost everything is lacking, and if the South is not helped, the reasons for which the war began will arise again.
Refugees in the Zam Zam camp, in the western region of Darfur

Refugees in the Zam Zam camp, in the western region of Darfur

To whom will you direct your request for help?
ZUBEIR WAKO: To the international community certainly, and even before that to the well-off Churches: they must understand that the Church in Sudan has an important task to carry out and that the people have confidence in the Church. Others can come to exploit the people. With regard to the money necessary: when I see the wages of the social workers who come from abroad … It’s a scandal, if I think that with the same sum I could have done ten times as much work as them. It’s not true that we Africans are incapable of working, but when we lack the instruments or they are made to lack, the work becomes difficult. At the beginning of the war we enjoyed considerable help for our schools from the sister Churches. But with the passing of time it began to be said that the emergency was lasting far too long … We ask for help, we make appeals, even if we are discouraged because we have already made many without success. But perseverance will bring some fruit perhaps.
Before and after the signing, what relations have you had with the Holy See?
ZUBEIR WAKO: Not very many, in truth. When we ask Rome what we should do, they ask us what the Holy See should do, and sometimes we are confused.
But has Vatican diplomacy been of support to you?
ZUBEIR WAKO: Certainly. They knew how to make the Catholic Church respected in Sudan. It was a success that one must acknowledge. Because there were moments in which the situation was desperate. Now it’s difficult for anyone to have a clear vision of the future. However, if we ask help of the Holy See, it will certainly be given.
The Holy See will certainly have put pressure on the United States for the signing of the agreement.
ZUBEIR WAKO: That’s what I said. It convinced people to work for Sudan. But it remains complicated for the Vatican, however, to understand the internal front, because they don’t know what happens in the villages, in the parishes, in the schools …
Recently Kofi Annan and Colin Powell came to Sudan at the same time, because of the crisis in Darfur. Did you meet them?
ZUBEIR WAKO: No. I had asked for an appointment with Kofi Annan who had promised to telephone me at least, but he left without doing so. I met some members of the American Congress, who came during the same days as Powell was here, but he had to leave immediately for Dafur. I don’t know whether Powell’s Sudanese program was prepared by him or decided by the Khartoum government.
What did you want or would want to say now to Kofi Annan?
ZUBEIR WAKO: I would just like to know his true intentions about our situation … I could not have said anymore than he has already affirmed publicly. But I wanted then and I want now to insist that he bring to completion the efforts so that the people of Darfur or other parts of Sudan can live tranquilly. These Arab groups “Janjaweed” who carry out massacres in Darfur are those who did so in south Sudan. Someone is pushing them to do this. After Darfur they can go anywhere in the country, they can do harm to everyone.
Have you had relations in the past with John Danworth, the man that the American administration sent to reach an agreement between North and South?
ZUBEIR WAKO: The Christian Churches were not much in agreement with the program he backed, even if we tried to put together the committee of religious leaders which he pleaded for. The functioning of these bodies are not always up to expectations.
Have relations with the government changed since May? Is there anything new in relations between the Christians and the Muslims?
ZUBEIR WAKO: The future is not yet clear. There is confusion and fear, there are those who say that the agreement is too much in favor of the South, that it will damage the prerogatives of the North, and who therefore are pressing to weaken it … But the text was signed and I believe the government will try to respect it. An agreement is not like a game of football where, as soon as the referee whistles, the teams immediately begin to play again …
How do you personally judge the situation in Darfur, which recently hit into the international headlines in such a clamorous way?
ZUBEIR WAKO: To know in Sudan what is happening in Sudan you must read the foreign newspapers, because the press is controlled here. It’s a fact that there are refugees, and anyone fleeing from his own country must be driven by something terrible.
But I have already said to someone in the government that if the agreement signed does not teach us to appreciate peace and a serene future for the whole country, then signing it was almost useless.
Kofi Annan said that today Darfur represents the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.
ZUBEIR WAKO: It’s the colonialism by the North of the South. Two million dead about whom nothing was said for years, two million … almost a third of the population of Sudan … perhaps the signing of the agreement opened the eyes of the international community also to Darfur.
Do you believe that the religious factor was fundamental in the war between the North and the South?
ZUBEIR WAKO: No. It was the explosion against an oppressive central system which tried to impose itself in all the provinces, in the south, in Darfur, also in the field of religion. This last, is perhaps more in the heart of the people. Other evils, perhaps, can be supported better than the crushing of one’s own personal faith. It was, however, an oppressive and repressive colonialism on all fronts.
A woman with her family waiting for food to be distributed at the IRIDIMI camp on the border with Chad

A woman with her family waiting for food to be distributed at the IRIDIMI camp on the border with Chad

At the end of July the president of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum”, Archbishop Josef Cordes, visited you, a special envoy from the Pope.
ZUBEIR WAKO: He showed the people of Darfur the solidarity of the Pope and brought a message from the Pontiff to the members of the government so that they might adopt a politic in which equality, the dignity and the right to life of the citizens are protected. Sending Monsignor Cordes, Cardinal Sodano wrote that he counts a great deal on a political solution of the Sudanese crisis. He made an appeal to the international community that it might come to the aid of the people of Darfur. He also said that the Catholic community will do everything it can for this people, spiritually and materially. Unfortunately Monsignor Cordes had little time: a day in Khartoum and one in Darfur, in the southern part where the refugees from the war which has flared up in the north are living.
Did anything come of the visit of the papal envoy?
ZUBEIR WAKO: With Monsignor Cordes we were received by the second vice-president of Sudan, Moses Machar, a Christian originally from south Sudan. It was the only political meeting in Khartoum. Do you know what Vice-president Machar said to Monsignor Cordes? «You should help the Church of Sudan more, materially and spiritually, because it is going through a very difficult moment and the tools it has to work with are almost run out». Then we went to Nyala, administrative center of south Darfur, and there Monsignor Cordes spoke with the governor, repeating to him the Pope’s message to the Sudanese politicians.
Public repercussions following the journey of Cordes?
ZUBEIR WAKO: Not great, because he didn’t meet those who make news in Sudan …And the visit to Machar was almost in a private form. Along with this, I only knew about the arrival of the papal envoy a week beforehand. And there was uncertainty, because Monsignor Cordes received the visa only the day before his departure: no one could be sure of his arrival.
The official statement of the Sudanese Church on the situation in Sudan is awaited in August.
ZUBEIR WAKO: At the moment all of us bishops are engaged with a catechesis on peace, so that our people do not wait inertly, but collaborate to obtain and maintain peace, and close every door to violence. We talk about reconciliation. For this reason, for our national Eucharistic Congress , which will be held in November, we have chosen the theme “Jesus who cures him who is wounded”. He receives all of us who have been struck by this war, he will give us back health and salvation.
When monsignor Cordes arrived, I said to the faithful: what we hold dear is that the Pope has repeated to us many times that he prays every day to Saint Giuseppina Bakhita for Sudan. And we Sudanese must remember that Giuseppina Bakhita came originally from Darfur. That which is happening now has already happened to her. And we must ask her intercession with more strength.
What do you foresee for the coming months?
ZUBEIR WAKO: The situation could also worsen. Our authorities have said that if the Americans think of intervening directly in Darfur, they will be confronted as has already happened in other Arab countries.

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