‘How are you going to celebrate July 9th?’ I have been asked. I think my honest reply is simply that I shall put my head down, stay mostly inside except for functions in the Church, and see what eventuates. Frankly, it is a time I shall be pleased to see come and go. The elections, the referendum and now pending independence create uncertainty, imposed restrictions, heightened military and police intrusion. Some Sudanese workers want to go to their home place where they feel safest. It is not that anyone expects something to go wrong. Indeed, much effort is being directed towards ensuring security, but, nonetheless, we live with an uncomfortable ‘What if?’
I am attaching a letter written by the leaders of the Comboni Congregations, men and women, who were established by Saint Daniel Comboni to assist the people of Africa. The Combonis are not present in some parts of the world, such as Australia, but have gone where their missionary zeal has taken them, especially to Africa – teachers, preachers, nurses, doctors, builders, agriculturalists and fundraisers. From among their numbers, many priests have been called to be bishops to provide leadership of the local Church. The Combonis have long been a major force in establishing the Catholic Church in Sudan. Local vocations have followed and now most Bishops are native Sudanese. The Combonis have also established a Catholic Radio network throughout the dioceses of Southern Sudan. This joint letter from the Provincial Leaders of the men’s and women’s congregations, sums up the present situation much more effectively than I could.
The letter is a spiritual message of hope. At the more mundane level, I continue to be amazed at the rapid development taking place in the capital, Juba, backed by huge expenditure. It is indicative, at the level of business, of confidence in the future. There is increasing investment in the country, not a nervous exodus. I have seen a couple of overseas news reports that refer to Sudan as possibly on the brink of war. That seems to me to be most unlikely. What pleases me are the occasional less spectacular news items I have noted that record agreements, at least interim, of some significant ‘hot’ issues. Ethiopian peacekeepers, for example, are now in place in a buffer zone in the disputed border area of Abyei.
It is also pleasing to observe that although there have been significant price increases – the price of diesel and gas has doubled – some supplies continue to come through. The distribution infrastructure has been hampered by occasional border closures but it has not collapsed – and that is the significant fact. Food is still available, almost as usual. Fewer people are on the streets. We carry our identity documents everywhere when we go out. But none of us are expressing actual fear or insecurity.
I shall be in Malakal for the declaration of independence. Even in the war years, there were few incidents there in the wet season. Yes, now is the wet season and movement of troops and weapons over any distance on the ground would be virtually impossible. The most likely major hazard I face is getting my gumboots stuck in the mud! Malakal does have a sealed runway and is on the Nile River. So it will continue to have some open supply routes and in all our houses we are already well stocked up.
We pray that the north and south will establish enduring, peaceful cooperation that benefits both countries. The political leaders, on both sides, it seems to me, have done an excellent job to date in a difficult and complex situation. We pray that independence benefits all the citizens in the south, not just those in positions of leadership who are the first custodians of the country’s potential wealth. The children of this land deserve a bright future.