Less than two weeks after the resignation of Algeria’s ailing president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir was forced this week to step down from office after nearly 30 years in power. In both countries, the balance of power was tipped by shifting military loyalties. In both countries, protestors are demanding wholesale change that goes deeper than the simple and dramatic but relatively painless removal of a figurehead.
I say “relatively”, but recognise the crucial difference here between the two presidents; HE Omar al-Bashir was charged a decade ago of crimes against humanity and genocide for his and his government’s role in the war in Darfur. I was spokesperson for the international NGO community in Sudan at the time these charges were levied, and my colleagues and I had to toe a fine line between recognising the need for the president to be held to account and cautioning against a heavy-handed and largely toothless response which could make the lives of Darfurian people even worse.
This tension goes to the heart of our Community of the Cross of Nails priorities. The charges themselves did nothing to address the wounds of history, whether the brutal annexation in 1916 of the ancient kingdom of Darfur by Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, or the centuries-long Arabisation of North Africa, or the more recent rise of the Muslim Brotherhood. While it is historically inclusive in its approach to Islam and Christianity, Sudan has come to be wary of, rather than to celebrate, this diversity. It has come to identify itself based on what it is not, rather than what it is. This leaves less room for difference, and so makes it less able to build a culture of peace.
All Saints’ Cathedral, a Community of the Cross of Nails partner in the Sudanese capital Khartoum, has been both a bystander and a trailblazer on this journey. On its present site, it has been around only a few years longer than the government of HE Omar al-Bashir. But, mirroring Coventry Cathedral’s own story, its consecration in 1983 belies its original foundation in 1904, and its new incarnation exposes the wounds of history which have yet to be healed.
In our solidarity with our CCN partner in Khartoum, we hope and pray that the events of the last few days and months will serve not to entrench old divisions but to offer an opportunity for a new and more inclusive vision for Sudan to emerge from the rubble of destruction, such that a culture of peace can become not just a distant dream but an ever-present reality.
Mark Simmons, Dean’s Advisor for Reconciliation Ministry, Coventry Cathedral
13 April 2019