This morning I spoke with Bishop Hilary Garang Deng, the Anglican bishop of Malakal in South Sudan. He had quite the story. (I previously wrote about Bishop Hilary and some of the background on the importance of Malakal.)
From Monday to Friday of last week, the town was the site of a running battle between various factions of Sudan’s ruling party/army. Bishop Hilary sheltered in his home with his family with no water, electricity, etc. Unlike in Sudan’s civil war, Hilary reported that as long as civilians sheltered in their homes, they were not targeted, though could still be hit by stray bullets. Eventually, the “rebel” forces were pushed out of Malakal, though they are now reported to be moving east along the Sobat River and south towards Bor.
Meanwhile, they leave behind a town that has been devastated. The market is looted, shops are burned down. There are critical needs for food, medicine, and shelter, both for the tens of thousands of people who are sheltering in the UN compound as well as those, like Hilary, who have stayed in their homes. At the diocesan compound, the office building and health clinic survived, though the clinic has virtually no medications. The diocese’s two vehicles—vital for navigating a vast diocese—were destroyed. Hilary said that people “no longer have fear of violence, but there is a lot of need—a lot of need.”
He asked me to highlight one challenge in particular. Since South Sudan’s independence in 2011, the Sudan government has closed the border between north and south. At one point, Malakal was a major community in southern Sudan precisely because it had the closest trade links with the north. Since independence, however, Malakal has declined as more and more trade has been with Uganda and Kenya and passed through Juba. International aid comes that way as well. Given that road links between Juba and Malakal are cut because of the violence, Hilary expressed concern at the difficulty of getting the necessary aid to Malakal. He said that the north had to be pressured to re-open the border so that aid could get to Malakal faster.
Malakal, as I have written previously, is in a crucial position and has a mixed, inter-ethnic population. Hilary said the violence has divided the Nuer from the other communities in town. Attendance at the Nuer services was low yesterday and the majority of Nuer fear reprisal. Because of this fear, many Nuer young men have fled town and joined the “rebel” forces, leaving primarily women and children behind who feel particularly vulnerable.
I asked him what he thought of all the violence. Here is what he had to say: “It is not acceptable. None of us support it. Our political leaders are not mature. They have to learn to resolve their conflicts. We have communities that are still fragile. We want the SPLM [Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, the ruling party] to restore peace to the south. We want to advise the ruling party to seek help from IGAD [a regional inter-governmental organization] and international partners as to how they can build reconciliation.”
As for those who have joined the breakaway movement, including its apparent leader Riak Machar: “They are our friends, our brothers. We don’t want them in the bush for another war.”