According to the BBC church leaders in Southern Sudan have urged their flock to vote for secession. An association of church leaders, including one Muslim leader from Central Equatoria, even forged a forum for the purpose ‘the Sudanese Religious Leaders Initiative for the Referendum’. The BBC quoted Bishop Yugusuk, of the Episcopal Church of Sudan, as saying “We should not let them decide for themselves...If they decide for unity it will be disastrous”.
The fact that the church is trespassing political space so loudly tells of its ambitious claims, in particular global church organisations, in the emerging country. During the wars in Southern Sudan the church has been instrumental in provision of aid and primary services to IDPs, refugees, and civilians resident in SPLM/A controlled areas. More so, the church provided an organisational form and an ideological message to rejuvenate shattered communities and maintain their endangered coherence. However, not without a prize; concurrent with humanitarian assistance proselytization progressed greatly and partly in response to the NIF’s Jihad, religious commitment and observance flourished. Confronted with the banners of a world religion - Islam - many Southern Sudanese looked up to the global congregations of Christians as their natural allies, with the occasional accusation of insufficient support. The church, in a cycle of affirmation, nourished the notion that the war was essentially one between a Moslem North and a Christian South, irreconcilable poles that can only speak in the language of crusade. The church’s dominance in education in the South, and its penetration and outreach as a mass organisation, provided it with ideological advantages way beyond that of secular political forms, SPLM included. It is thus not surprising that it flexes its accumulated muscles and lever at will for the cause of secession. As fantasies go, it is well positioned to gain even more influence, considering the funds and skills it has in its global disposition, and to translate its ideological dominance into political currency.
SPLM leaders seem at ease with such proximity, if not symbiosis. A year back GoSS President, Salva Kiir, addressed worshippers from the pulpit of Juba Cathedral cautioning them of voting for unity unless they wish to become second class citizens in their own country, a statement that was quickly refuted by the official GoSS spokesperson.
It is thus necessary to contemplate the consequences of surrendering so much political space to ‘faith’, not necessarily from the perspective of unity with the North, but in regards to the nature of the emerging state in the South, and the imperatives of a new polity so laden with hopes and expectations, and so hard-pressed to deliver. Slipping into a NGO-run state or a NGO/church run state are both false ends to such a long and bloody quest for franchise and sovereignty.