Sudan is at a critical juncture, facing great opportunity and great danger.
In April, the country will hold national elections. In January, southerners will vote in a referendum on possible secession. These important milestones could lead Sudan into a new era of peace and prosperity—or lead to another violent conflict.
Catholic Relief Services believes that peace can prevail. With the launch of a new $4-million peace initiative, the agency is exerting every effort possible to help Sudanese build a peaceful, hopeful future regardless of election outcomes.
"Time is of the essence," says Darren Hercyk, CRS' country representative in Sudan. "Everyone who cares about Sudan—including CRS, Catholics worldwide, the U.S. government and the international community at large—must focus their attention, diplomacy and financial support on achieving a peaceful transition.
A Critical Time for Peace
Much attention has been paid to the ongoing conflict in Darfur in Sudan's western region. Less well known is another conflict that cost even more lives and caused even greater displacement. Sudan's 45-year civil war—the longest conflict in recent African history, originally between the northern government and southern rebels—killed and displaced millions of people. This protracted fighting formally ended in January 2005 with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.
Five years later, this north-south cease-fire is entering its final year—a tense period that could spark new violence as difficult decisions are finally made about borders, sharing of wealth, governance in flashpoint areas and other key issues. Simultaneously, Sudan must resolve the Darfur conflict. A peaceful transition for the largest country in Africa, neighboring nine others, would contribute significantly to the stability of the entire region.
CRS' Work in Sudan
CRS serves more than 1 million people across Sudan through:
- Emergency aid—including food, shelter, education and water—for more than 500,000 people in Darfur
- Recovery and rebuilding assistance—including food, agriculture, education and health support—for more than 500,000 people in Southern Sudan
- Assistance maintaining camps and helping people earn an income for more than 30,000 displaced people in the Khartoum area
"We do not want to see Sudan descend into violence," Hercyk adds. "We believe the opportunity exists for Sudan to move instead into peace and prosperity."
Pulling Out All the Stops
CRS believes that the best way to avoid a return to violence is the full implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. Sudanese must also continue to develop their conflict management skills to peacefully address disagreements at community, regional and national levels.
CRS' $4-million Sudan peace initiative—with $1.5 million already committed in CRS private funding and $2.5 million in additional funding to be raised from CRS supporters—will make the following possible:
- Close partnering with Catholic dioceses and other partners to increase their ability to carry out relief and development projects, conflict management initiatives and peacebuilding activities
- Coordination of peace talks at all levels, from individual communities to national ecumenical forums
- Financial support for community-based peace projects
- Integrated peacebuilding and savings-and-lending programs
- Opportunities for youth to engage in peacebuilding and conflict resolution
CRS has been working in Sudan since the end of the first major civil war in 1972. Relief and development projects now serve more than 1 million people. The agency's long history and broad reach enable CRS to help nurture peace across the country.
As part of the new Sudan peace initiative, CRS will work closely with key parties—including the U.S. and Sudanese governments, the Catholic Church, other local partners, community leaders and the international community—to promote full implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and peaceful resolution of the ongoing conflict in Darfur. A key initial activity was CRS' financing of the Sudanese Church Leaders Forum in March in Juba that brought together more than 60 Christian church leaders to help them restart the Sudanese Church's "People-to-People" peacebuilding process at the request of the Government of Southern Sudan.
"Sudanese themselves must determine their future," Hercyk says. "Whatever decisions are made, CRS will continue to respond to the needs of all Sudanese. We plan to do everything possible to encourage Sudanese to choose peace every step of the way."
Debbie DeVoe is CRS' regional information officer for eastern and southern Africa, based in Nairobi.