by Teresa Sfeir
The people of Sudan refused to back down this time. Months of unrelenting demonstrations led to the fall of decades-long President Omar al-Bashir from power this April. A transitional civilian-led government followed in August, with a new cabinet sworn in on September 8. Hope accompanies this government’s three-year long rule before the 2022 elections, as people look to it for a fresh approach that will be responsive to their needs. Yet, time will show whether this hope will stand.
In late September, the new Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, who is an experienced economist, appealed to US officials to remove Sudan from the list of state sponsors of terrorism during the UN General Assembly conference. This designation goes back to 1993 over allegations that al-Bashir’s government was supporting terrorist groups. Sudan’s presence on this list prevents the country from receiving much needed debt relief and financing.
In addition to its efforts to remove Sudan from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, the new government seems to be pushing for female active participation across the country. Asma Mohamed Abdallah reportedly became Sudan’s first woman foreign minister. Another three women reportedly serve as ministers in Sudan’s first cabinet since April. Sudan has also launched its first women’s soccer league after al-Bashir’s 30-year rule.
Hamdok’s efforts are being met with an economy crippled by debt, underinvestment in infrastructure and the recent flood crisis. The flooding has killed scores of people and destroyed more than 100,000 homes. “Because of the floods, we had to stop the children’s ministry at our local church for several weeks as the ministry building, which is made of clay, was in very bad shape,” our residential student Tathnia said while describing her summer ministry back home. Our student Abukanidy also said, “The gas shortage and the floods in the country had paralyzed transport from place to place […] not to mention the bread shortage.”
Moreover, according to UN Peace Chief Jean-Pierre Lacroix, the security situation in the Darfur region of Sudan remains unstable. He emphasized improving the economy of Darfur; otherwise, positive advances made by Sudanese leadership towards economic and political stability may be lost. Despite any impending hindrances, the Sudanese people have undoubtedly changed the course of their country.
Theological Reflection and Missiological Recommendations
Generally, the Sudanese Church sees the government’s inauguration as a turning point that might ensure its active presence in the country and, possibly, its political representation. Some of our Sudanese graduates shared that the Ministry of Justice is already working on eliminating all laws that restrict freedoms (including that of religious expression) and access to human rights. The Minister of Religious Affairs expressed his willingness to return to the Sudanese Church all its confiscated belongings during the former regime. Other Sudanese graduates, however, were more apprehensive wondering how long this positive turn of events will really last and whether the 2022 elections will result in a government that restricts religious freedom.
In all cases, the Sudanese Church can contribute towards a positive outcome. For instance, the New Sudan Council of Churches (NSCC) is unifying its efforts to call for freedom of religious expression, freedom to build churches, and representation in government circles, while activists are following-up on the legal status of the Church. If all this comes to fruition, the church dynamics in Sudan might shift. One cannot tell to what extent that may be; after all, Sudanese Christ followers remain a minority in the country. Whatever its status may be, we pray for the Church’s active presence – that it brings glory to God in all things. We pray that it offers itself in an unconditional service of its community. May the Christ followers of Sudan be known as those who turned their country upside down.