Sudan — Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:03 pm on 7th January 2010.

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Photo of The Bishop of Bradford The Bishop of Bradford Bishop 1:03 pm, 7th January 2010

My Lords, I begin by offering apologies from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Salisbury. I spoke to him at about 9 o'clock, when he was on Salisbury station. He is still somewhere between there and Waterloo. He asked me to cover some of what he would have said. It is on my computer, so I shall be covering what he might have said.

I add my thanks and my admiration to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for prompting this very timely debate. As others have said, it is a year until the referendum is due. It is also timely because next Monday, Archbishop Daniel Deng of the Episcopal Church of Sudan will be visiting the Archbishop of Canterbury. Together, they will meet the Prime Minister to talk about the situation in Sudan.

The role of the church, as has already been mentioned, is key to the future of Sudan, especially the south. The Government of Southern Sudan have asked the Episcopal Church and the other churches to work for peace and to encourage people to register to vote. Indeed, in many parts of southern Sudan the churches are the only organisations on the ground that are there among the people and able to effect change. I was at Archbishop Deng's enthronement last April in Juba. He has committed himself to working for peace in Sudan and has committed the Episcopal Church to work right across Sudan in the peacekeeping and reconciliation process.

Peace can be achieved in Sudan only if there really is a concerted, co-ordinated international effort. First, the international community has to put together sufficient political and economic incentives to make it worth while for those warring or would-be warring parties-the NCP, the SPLM, the Darfuri rebels and others-to want peace rather than war. The current initiatives of the United States go part way towards what is needed, but they are not comprehensive enough and they are unilateral proposals.

So, secondly, the US, the UK and Norway, who helped to broker the CPA, together with China and other members of the Security Council, members of the African Union Peace and Security Council and the members of the IGAD need to agree to support an individual of international standing who can lead negotiations towards returning to the peace process. I think it almost goes without saying that this person should be an African. The sticking points are many and have been referred to by previous speakers.

Thirdly, there must be a really determined action to provide security for civilians in the south. Much has been said about the Lord's Resistance Army already, but there is also the threat of other local tribal conflict being deliberately ignited to destabilise the region, and there is a real suspicion that the Government are acting as agent provocateur. The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, referred to conflict between the Nuers and the Dinkas. I know that when Archbishop Daniel Deng, who has been travelling right across southern Sudan, visited that region, he was able to bring peace and reconciliation between those two factions.

Fourthly, we need to have hope and confidence and to look beyond the referendum itself. Negotiations need to begin now to map out the most peaceable way possible after the referendum, whether we have two countries or one, considering issues such as how the oil wealth is managed, movement of population, what the currency will be, and issues of security.

Sudan is often viewed as two countries artificially brought together by British administration. Superficially, separation might seem to be the easy solution and the one that appears most attractive at the moment, but there is no neat dividing line. My interest in Sudan arises out of the longstanding link between the diocese of Bradford and what was the diocese of Khartoum in the Episcopal Church of Sudan. That one diocese is now four, and at the end of March I am due to go to Sudan for the creation of a fifth northern diocese. The bishops in the north work hard with local and national government to keep the authorities honest about the plural nature of Sudanese society, including in the north.

On my first visit to Khartoum, I went round some of the camps of displaced people. I was told that there were 3 million displaced people, but I do not know how accurate that figure is. They are living in the deserts around the capital. Some of those settlements are still very primitive indeed; others are gradually becoming more developed. Many of those thousands of people are from the south, driven north by the civil war, but for economic and social reasons most of them would want to stay in Khartoum. Many of them are Christians.

Also in Khartoum, we have quite a number of members of the Sudanese Army who are from the south. One can imagine that if civil war were reignited, those southern soldiers would not stand idly by while their brothers and sisters suffered in those settlements. The fault line between north and south also runs right through the Nuba mountains, through what I know as the diocese of Kadugli. As a slight aside, our diocesan office in the West Yorkshire village of Steeton is called Kadugli House. Nobody has a clue why it should be called that, but it was a statement that I wanted to make of the link that we have between a very troubled part of Sudan and a very different part of England.

Before the civil war, Christians and Muslims in that region lived happily side by side. They were often related to each other. It is less easy to live like that today, but the religious demography of Sudan poses the question for the future of what should be the place of Sharia in a country or countries with such a high proportion of non-Muslims.

As we reflect on Sudan and as we make recommendations from the comparative comfort and ease of this country, we should realise the enormous logistical problems that there are. On my last visit I spoke to the director of Tear Fund in Khartoum. They had had to pull out of their office in Juba because of the violence there. I was there because my diocese works in partnership with Tear Fund in providing wells in Darfur. I could hardly believe what the director told me, that it takes seven or eight days for a lorryload of grain to travel from Khartoum to Darfur, and 30 per cent of those lorries are hijacked or disappear for some other nefarious reason. Quite a number of the drivers have lost their lives. When I travelled back from Juba to Khartoum, some people travelling back with me went by a special flight to Khartoum. They then had to travel half way back to Juba by road, because that was the only way to get back to where they were going. The logistics are enormous, and any thoughts of peacekeeping or providing aid need to take that into consideration.

The Motion of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, refers to recent developments in Sudan. I hope that the House will allow me the indulgence of speaking about what is happening on the ground. Work for peace in that country needs to happen not only at national level and among the community of nations, but also locally within Sudan. The diocese of Bradford is helping in a very small way to provide education in the Nuba mountains and in the north. We have a project, Good Morning Teacher, which helps to build permanent classrooms and provides teachers' salaries. A little goes a long way: £15,000 will build a couple of classrooms. This then encourages local people to find extra resources for development of much-needed schooling. These schools that we are supporting are open to Muslims as well as Christians. I encourage Her Majesty's Government to do something similar. Education, education, education is true for Sudan as well as for this country. There are local as well as national initiatives that we need to support, and support altruistically, if there is to be any hope for the people of Sudan.

When I visited one of those settlements for displaced people, I discovered that its name was Jabarona, which meant, "We were forsaken". May it not be the comment of the nation of Sudan that they were forsaken. I give my wholehearted support to the Minister as she visits Sudan. I hope that, in the light of this rather depressing debate, she will perhaps take the advice of the general in one of the wars, who sent a signal of his situation, "We are surrounded on every side, my left wing is collapsing ... We shall advance". I urge Her Majesty's Government to help the community of nations to advance for peace for Sudan.