The hope for secular democracy and religious freedom comes under brutal attack.
Sunday, June 5, the National Congress Party (aka the National Islamic Front) regime began waging war in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan. But even as the northern government stronghold of Khartoum brazenly is attacking the Nuba Mountains (Kordofan to the Arabs) as well as other north/south border areas, such as the oil rich region of Abyei, it also continues to violate the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that it signed with the SPLM (Sudan People's Liberation Movement) by attacking South Sudan.
In attacking the South, Khartoum is not as brazen. Thinking that, in spite of the world's track record of indifference, someone might actually hold it accountable for such an obvious CPA violation, Khartoum is using proxy militias to do its dirty work in the South. Attacks by these proxy militias are intended to destabilize the South, which is set to become Africa's 54th nation less than a month from now on July 9, 2011.
One such proxy group creating havoc and misery in South Sudan's Western Equatoria State is the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). The LRA is a Northern Ugandan rebel group led by the now-middle-aged madman Joseph Kony. For over twenty-five years it has been abducting children, and so brutalizing them that they become mindless killing machines. It has used these children to kill hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children in Northern Uganda, Southern Sudan, and more recently, Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo. By 2006, the LRA had abducted over 50,000 children to make child soldiers and sex slaves.
The Sudan Human Security Baseline Assessment project warns "there remains no firm evidence of Sudanese government support for the group." Maybe no “firm” evidence, but there is little doubt that it is Khartoum using the LRA to try to create a "failed state" in South Sudan. Escaped child soldiers and other LRA abductees frequently have reported seeing Sudan Armed Forces trucks during their time in captivity. The trucks were delivering food, weapons, and uniforms to LRA commanders. And in recent days, the LRA has teamed up with the Janjaweed, the killers in Darfur, receiving training and weapons at Islamic camps that have been set up there. For although some (usually secular elites, hostile to Christianity) refer to Kony as a “Christian,” his current belief system is a combination of the demonic and Islam. A New York Times reporter, C.J. Chivers, told of the various “spirits” that take possession of Kony.
Make Way Partners, a ministry to orphans and former child soldiers, last week reported that the LRA had attacked a village near their home for children on the South Sudan/Uganda border on Wednesday, June 1. Although they could not yet confirm hard numbers after receiving the news in a June 3 phone call, they knew that many had been wounded, some had been killed, and others had been captured. And they knew the details of horrific acts that have been repeated in villages all over East Africa since Kony began taking children in 1986, to ensure himself an ever-replenished army of boys and girls, some as young as five or six years old.
According to a Make Way Partners report, in this most recent of numerous LRA attacks, the rebels gathered all the children together and started killing people right in front of their eyes. They forced the children to kill their own parents. After the slaughter, the boys had to carry large metal barrels, and the girls had to fetch water to fill the barrels. They built fires around the barrels, and while the water was heating up, the children were forced to hack up their parents and fellow children's bodies and throw their dismembered parts in the boiling water. After some time, the children were then made to eat the flesh. In this way the LRA commanders knew that the children were so traumatized that they would do anything. They would not try to run away because there was nowhere and no one left to which to run.
One South Sudanese official from Western Equatoria confirms that Khartoum is using the LRA to destabilize South Sudan. He says that they are targeting Western Equatoria State, which borders Uganda, because it is so fertile, and has the potential to be the breadbasket for the region. If it is destabilized, it will affect the food supply of the country, as well as lessening the possibilities of profitable commercial agriculture. Khartoum’s proxy militia is also targeting it because it is a strong Christian community.
In addition, ongoing LRA attacks would have a terrible impact on the people of Western Equatoria who have always been extremely self-sufficient. Even now people are abandoning their homes and attempting to find shelter in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps. This was what happened to the Acholi people in Northern Uganda, fleeing from LRA attacks. Almost 90% of the entire population of Acholi ended up deserting their farms, living in miserable IDP camps where they were still not adequately protected from LRA attacks.
The Equatorians do not want to be dependent on NGOs and the U.N. for their existence. At present they are trying to provide their own security with “arrow boys,” young men armed with nothing but homemade bows and arrows who protect against the well-armed LRA. They want the government to supply them with real arms, but there is little chance of that taking place if only for the reason that the Government of South Sudan is well aware that it is under scrutiny by the global community, and it is always held to a higher standard than the Islamists in Khartoum.
What is really needed to help the people of Western Equatoria State as Khartoum wages its proxy war against them via the LRA is the full implementation of U.S. law found in the "Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act” of 2010. In this legislation, which was heartily supported on both sides of the aisle, Congress required the U.S. government to develop a regional strategy supporting multilateral efforts to stop the LRA. The president was to report on the creation of that strategy within six months of the act’s passage.
In November 2010, the Obama administration presented its strategy. The four major objectives were: protect civilians, apprehend Kony and senior commanders, promote the defection and disarmament of LRA fighters (remember these were abducted children), and increase humanitarian access to the region. But according to the young activists of The Resolve, an advocacy organization working to end Kony’s reign of terror in East Africa and help rebuild the affected communities, the administration’s performance has been poor. Resolve recently published a report card, giving President Obama a B, two Cs, and two Ds for the implementation of the strategy.
In days in which the Republicans are striving to bring fiscal sanity to the United States and to cut the budget, this act may seem doomed. But many of the most fiscally conservative members of Congress are supporters, understanding that in addition to any moral imperative to act, our own security and the security of East Africa are intertwined more than most people think. Ending Khartoum’s proxy war on South Sudan would cost far less than our continual bombing of Libya, or our largess to President Mubarak’s successors in Egypt, or our unending jizya to the Palestinian Authority. And in this case, we actually would know that in helping the people of South Sudan we were helping true friends and allies in the fight for secular democracy and religious freedom.
Faith J. H. McDonnell directs The Institute on Religion and Democracy’s Religious Liberty Program and Church Alliance for a New Sudan, and is the author of Girl Soldier: A Story of Hope for Northern Uganda’s Children (Chosen Books, 2007).