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Sudanese Return To New Life In A Dangerous Land

Posted on: July 1, 1997 12:18 PM
Related Categories: Sudan

The Bishop of Yei, in the southern Sudan, returned home a fortnight ago from Arua in Uganda, where he, his clergy and people have been living since their flight from the Sudanese war in 1990. In the devastated city of Yei, only a quarter of which is standing, the Rt Revd Semi Solomona's former home is now a patch of scrub littered with spent cartridges and shells.

Since March, some 67,000 refugees have returned from Uganda, following the changing military scene in the south of Sudan. They left their homes when fighting intensified between troops of the Sudanese government and those of the southern-based liberation movement, Sudan peoples Liberation Army (SPLA). In the past six months the SPLA has made significant military gains, and Yei is among the areas they have liberated.

Its inhabitants face a tough future. There are no roads, no electricity, no schools or hospitals. Rutted tracks, impassable in rain, are the only way into the country, so it is almost impossible to bring in basic supplies. The few lorries that can meet the challenge of three-foot-wide potholes are carrying seeds and tools - the first necessity, if people are to begin rebuilding their lives.

The evidence of violent trauma is everywhere. As you cross from Uganda into the SPLA-controlled part of South Sudan, the first sight by the roadside is a captured government tank. Next to it is the burned-out shell of a pick-up truck, now home to a dozen child POWs. Much of the countryside is land mined.

Ten kilometres outside Yei, the road crosses the site of a fierce battle. An estimated 2000 corpses still lie there, the detritus of their lives - clothing, the occasional suitcase, a set of dentures, a torn Qur'an - scattered around them. Some of the bodies are now hidden by the long grass. The stench is not.

Yet amid the devastation, new life emerges. A settlement is rising next to a burned-out military post. The earth is fertile, rain abundant, and new crops are sprouting.

Also growing is the Sudanese Church, which throughout the whole period has retained extraordinary vibrancy. It is no sentimental platitude to say that a suffering Church is always a strong and growing Church: the figures speak for themselves. The Anglican diocese of Rumbek grew from nine congregations to 357, between 1983 and 1993. In the decade from 1985, the diocese of Bor produced more than 10,000 new hymns. In the decade from 1987, four new Bible schools and one seminary were set up to develop pastoral leadership for the Sudanese churches.

The Sudanese Ambassador to Britain said recently that the Church had grown more rapidly in the 1990s than at any time in the country's history. "The government's goal of producing an Islamic society has been a failure," he said.

Since all other institutions have been destroyed, the churches now provide the only grass-roots networks for social structure and stability. They will have a crucial role in helping build up schools, clinics, and a basic infrastructure in the country.