Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he (she) is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the Ministry of Reconciliation; that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf; be reconciled to God”. (2Cor 5:17 – 20 NIV).
The heart of this paper is the need for reconciliation between the top leaders of Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), with special reference to the current President Salva Kiir Mayardit, and his former Vice President, Dr. Riek Machar Teny, who is now the leader of the rebel group that is fighting the government of South Sudan. Dr. Riek was part of the SPLM political party until December 2013. That was when the conflict which became a national civil war began. Reconciliation between them is essential for ending SPLM’s war. The restoration of the broken relationships between them is critical simply because the war that broke out in Juba on December 15, 2013 was in truth SPLM’s war. And the President and his former Vice President are the top leaders of each side of the conflict. If we want the war to end, the top leaders of SPLM in the cities and in the bush must be involved in the process of stopping the war and finding a peaceful solution. They must be reconciled.
The war which is currently taking place in South Sudan is meaningles. It will not benefit the people of South Sudan or even the supporters of either leader. The war has already brought destruction, death, and displacement to the people. These people, who are now suffering, are the people of both leaders, Kiir and Machar. They elected them at the rate of 97% in the election in 2011. Now their destruction, death and displacement must be both frustrating and heart bleeding for President Salva Kiir. What can he do to stop the war which is killing innocent people? Since he is the elected president and is in control of major parts of the country and his party, he can do more for his people. The first thing he should do is to bring peace, unity, and development to the people of South Sudan who made him president. He needs to gather courage and have direct reconciliatory talks with his former vice president who is now in the bush. In my view, President Kiir needs to seek reconciliation between him and Dr. Machar. Their reconciliation will end the war and save their people, the electorate. What is the nature of this reconciliation?
Before proceeding further with the discussion, it is useful to define the meaning of reconciliation. This is merely a matter of clarification because both men, Kiir and Machar, know the meaning of reconciliation from their Christian faith and their African traditional backgrounds. Particularly, there is a reconciliation process in Nuer and Dinka traditional way of life. However, this may be different from the Christian faith.
The term reconciliation is a Biblical term. Its meaning is rooted in the writings of St. Paul. In his letters, there are 12 books/letters with references to reconciliation. Generally, reconciliation means restoration of broken relationships between two or more people who previously had good and friendly relations. When the broken relations are restored, these people become friends again. They eat together, they share ideas and life goes on peacefully between them. The enmity which existed between them will disappear. Their wives, relatives near and far, and children become friends again. This aspect of reconciliation is slightly different from the Biblical point of view in which it was God who initiated the reconciliation. On the other hand, reconciliation does not walk by itself or in isolation. It is always acompanied by repentance, forgiveness, peace, prayer and unity. Let us turn to what the Bible says about restoration of broken relationship.
From the Biblical perspective, restoration of broken relationships between God, and Adam and Eve were restored by God himself through Jesus Christ. The story about how mankind disobeyed God is found in Genesis 3:1-24. However, it was God against whom humankind sinned that required action to reconcile mankind to God because man/woman didn’t have power to return to God. So, God initiated the steps to reconcile humankind to himself. The action of God is stated clearly by Apostle Paul when he said, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ he (she) is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” (2Cor. 5:17-19). As we see, the reconciliation between humankind and God is initiated by God, the most powerful one. Seen from the action of God through Christ, reconciliation restores broken relationships between God and humankind. God, the most powerful, carried out restoration of relationships, between himself and mankind.
Hence, reconciliation between the elected president and his former vice president will restore harmonious relationships which existed between them before the tension developed. The creation of harmonious relations between the two top leaders will end the SPLM's war.
On December 15, 2013 in Juba at 10:00 p.m. on Sunday night, it was reported that 500 soldiers were killed and quickly buried. However, the war did not stop in Juba. With the speed of lightning, war swept through Greater Upper Nile. It destroyed everything in its path. Military victory, sanctions, nor peacekeeping forces from UN or IGAD cannot end this war. The suggestion of the current vice president that rebels put down their arms and return home is not credible but political rhetoric. The rebels will not put down their arms.The only way of ending the war is through reconciliation between the president and his former vice president. Their reconciliation will end the war and stop the killings of innocent people.
They are products of reconciliation with Dr. John Garang
Believing that their reconciliation will end the war, I see no reason why President Salva Kiir and Dr. Riek Machar should reject reconciliation between themselves and their supporters. They themselves are products of reconciliation between them and the late Dr. John Garang, the founder of SPLA\M. That reconciliation took place in Rumbek in 2004. It resulted in the appointment of four Generals: Gen. Kiir was appointed to the position of Vice Chair Person of SPLA\M, Gen. James Wani Igga, Gen. Dr. Riek Machar, and Gen. Dr. Lam Akol Ajawin became governors of the three states of Equatoria, Upper Nile and Bhar-El-Ghazal. If they had not been reconciled with Dr. John Garang, the CPA would have not been successfully negotiated. That they are the product of reconciliation is the most impotant thing they should remember in their lives.
However , as Christians, Kiir and Machar have knowledge about what God expects in dealing with the problems of the oppressed and suffering people. God always intervenes on behalf of the suffering. Two examples illustrate God's concerns about the suffering of our oppressed people. This first example comes from the book of Exodus. This example deals with the question of people of Israel when they were in Egypt and oppressed by the Egyptians. For this reason God said, ''I have indeed seen misery of my people. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So, I have come down to rescue them.“ (Exodus 3:7-8, NIV). In the same way, God can rescue people of South Sudan from the suffering inflicted on them by their leaders.
The second relevant example of God's concern about the oppresed and suffuring people comes from the book of Prophet Ezekiel. Shepherds were oppressing the people and God said, "I am against the shepherds and I will hold them accountable for my flock (people). I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths and it will no longer be food for them...I will judge between one sheep and another. I will place over them one shepherd, my Servant David, and he will tend them and be their shepherd. I the Lord will be their God, and my Servant David will be prince (leader) among them. I the Lord have spoken." (Ezekiel:34:10,22,24).
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7). God can remove the warring leaders of South Sudan and replace them with honest, elected leaders, who will respect human rights and Biblical values such as justice, equality, freedom, honesty and accountability.
This is how God, our creator deals with the problems of the oppressed people. He intervenes in their affairs to end their suffering. He removes the oppressors and establishes peace, order and stability. He will do so in South Sudan so that the the people can return to their homes and live peaceful lives.
In the light of God's possible intervention to save the people of South Sudan, Kiir and Machar must reconcile as soon as possible. Yet, their reconciliation will not be an easy job. It is going to take hard work by South Sudan Council of Churches, the IGAD, and the international community to persuade them to think seriously about peaceful solutions of the conflict. Reconciliation rather than a military victory is the only way. There will be no military victory for either side.
(The second part of this article will appear online next week)
The writer, Rev. Ezekiel Kutjok, is a past General Secretary of Sudan Council of Churches and past Moderator of Dolieb Hill Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church of Sudan. He is a displaced person from Malakal living in Uganda as a refugee.
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