On July 11, 2018, Africa Faith and Justice Network (AFJN) had the wonderful privilege and opportunity to host His Excellency, Macram Max Gassis, Bishop Emeritus of the Catholic Diocese of El Obeid and Mr. John Ashworth, author and Policy analyst to hear their personal experiences and expertise on the conflicts in Sudan and South Sudan. They addressed issues such as regional identity, tribalism, Islamization, foreign aid, access to water and the potential futures of these countries.
Bishop Gassis began the talk by bringing the nature of all these issues to light and summarized them all by concisely saying that like in Sudan and south Sudan today “the cancer of Africa is Tribalism.” It is an unfortunate truth that no matter how severe the troubles of Sudan become, it is still largely a forgotten area in terms of human rights and peacekeeping. One of the greatest injustices foisted on the people by the regime of Khartoum (refusing to call it a true government) is the stoking of already present identity issues. Traditional tribes now break the laws of war against one another, (killing of children, systemic rape of women, burning of villages…) instigated by the warring factions as well as religious differences.
Bishop Gassis; concerned about the wellbeing of the people advocated for peace and development. First, he stated that above all, people need clean water and proceeded to tell a story of how a well was dug for the community. As the well was opened, he urged people to see the water as a benefit for the whole community, not simply for Catholics. Secondly, the discussion turned to the children of Sudan and their need for education as this will be the best investment in the future of the nation. Third, investment in medicine and medical care are also important to safeguard the future. Finally, Bishop Gassis noted the importance of access to information. To this end, a radio station has been established to spread ideas of faith, morals, traditions, health, and hygiene with a strict “no politics” policy, intended to protect the station from the violence of the government while spreading this important information.
Mr. John Ashworth then went on to discuss America’s role in the Sudan conflict. He noted clearly the lack of leverage of the United States has over the Khartoum regime, which makes it difficult to approach the conflict in the traditional manner. Instead of intervening as the United States is known to do, Ashworth as well as Bishop Gassis believe that the best way for the United States to aid Sudan and South Sudan is to bolster the actions of the people, acting as catalysts for progress. A quote he calls upon from Bishop Gassis is “help the people help themselves” in Sudan and South Sudan.
A major downfall of American policy towards these issues is the dramatic strategy changes and ineffective application of existing policy every four years or with each administration change, leading to poor use of funds and while many still are in need. Also, Ashworth details his view of aid as it fuels conflict. This happens essentially through kleptocrats stealing aid from their people, unsophisticated distribution of aid through the use of outdated models of who should or should not be funded, and inflexibility due to strict definitions of who can receive aid and who cannot. All of which lead to both a waste of funding and a waste of time for the people of Sudan and South Sudan.
On the issues of identity in Sudan and South Sudan Mr. Ashworth argued that, before gaining independence in 2011, the South Sudanese people shared a common goal and therefore a common identity that transcended their ethnic divides. Upon achieving independence, all the unity collapsed and fragmentation set in. To combat this fragmentation, Ashworth and the religious communities of Sudan and South Sudan have advocated for various institutions such as Neutral Forums to hold dialogues between warring factions. Again, both speakers emphasized that Tribalism is a detriment to Sudan, South Sudan, and Africa more broadly.
To learn about advocacy for the people of Sudan and South Sudan and any other dictatorship in Africa click here. Once again, it was privilege to have these two highly knowledgeable individuals in to educate us and we would like to thank Bishop Macram Max Gassis and John Ashworth as well as all those who attended in person or online, and we hope that all will join us next time.
Reported by AFJN Interns: Patrick Garvey, Brandon Beck, Tia Scoggan and Amie Culver