What is wrong with the world?

Ferdinand Von Habsburg-Lothringen’s participation in a panel discussion at Catholic University in Juba on April 22, 2016 follows:

I wanted to share a few ideas with you today, so let me start with a quote from Pope Francis… “War does not begin in the field of battle. Wars begin in the heart of … misunderstandings, divisions, jealousies.”

– Our imagination, our wounds, our anger, our stories and experiences can give a core to violence long before it occurs. In the same way, we can love ourselves and others and build peace long before peace agreements are signed. We must fight our own internal battles first and try to win them or risk losing the war that could continue to destroy our country of South Sudan!

I want to look at three areas briefly today: Where do we find ourselves, what are our challenges and finally, how can we journey to a better place.

Where do we find ourselves?

– I have often wondered why we talk of cycles of violence. When I was reading and reflecting, I thought I found an answer. Firstly, trauma, which is a form of psychological re-living of violent event(s) around us and to us, recreates the very clearest sensation of the original pain, potentially negatively impacting on our thoughts and behavior. Many of us feel it and know it, but perhaps we call it something else.

– So I ask myself, when did the troubles in many parts of the country begin and are we reliving them? Many conflicts are at least 20 years old or one generation ago, and many of the very people who commit acts of violence against each other today are among those who were breast-fed on stories that give birth to today’s hatred and despair, whose parents saw and experienced some of the first problems. Trauma can be transferred to another generation. A full cycle.

– The process of prejudices becoming ingrained in young children happens even as they develop their language. And so we are saying that we learn our world views with all their biases from our earliest moments with our parents, our relatives.

– So, we may not only have pain imprinted on us because we happen to have been born in Sudan, grew up in Southern Sudan and now are becoming adults in South Sudan. But we also often learn things that we have to unlearn from behavior.

Challenges we face

This leaves us with a tremendous challenge: where does the problem lie? But also, how do we begin to solve it?

– G.K. Chesterton was once asked by someone, “What is wrong with the world?” He famously replied, “I am.”  I believe that this question, but especially the answer, is key to our thinking. I am wrong with the world. The person central to the story even though we are in South Sudan is I, or you, or she, or he or they, not only our leaders. And we are not perfect, are we? We are human, and we make mistakes; we are blessed, and we bring goodness. And we are wounded by our pasts. Often our first reaction when the world is not right is to blame others. No one wants to be seen as vulnerable or wrong. As children we can still hear ourselves saying: It was not me, it was him or her!

– Now if we are to go by some statistics for how conflict has affected South Sudanese, we see anywhere between 40% and 60% of people surveyed have been severely affected by violent conflict. Whatever these statistics tell us, we can be sure that three civil wars have had a profound and negative impact on people.

– Even 21 years after the genocide in Rwanda a study shows that 26% of the population continues to have symptoms of trauma. One in every four Rwandans. Thus we can say that the effects of conflicts will likely be with us for generations.

– In the 90s people fled with their children (many of you were those children) and in 2013, those children have now grown up and flee with their own children.

– Many of us are enslaved by our past, or the past of our parents and their parents. Deal with your past, or the past will deal with you. And so we are alive, but not fully living. As one Rwandan professor said, “You need to do more than survive – you need to make a kind of journey, to be able to live again.”

– Can we blame leaders, or the international community, or any other group for what has happened all those years? I will not answer that, but if we do, we also have to blame ourselves. By our actions, our words, even by our silence, we are to blame. When we joke about others or other communities, when we tell our children that the enemy lives over there or that they cannot marry into this tribe or that, then we feed the great monster that may later destroy this nation. We can all be part of the problem but above all we must be a part of the solution.

How can we journey to that better place?

– I mentioned a journey that we must all make each day, and until the end of our lives. But before you go on a journey, what do you do? You calculate where and how far to go, what you need to complete it, etc. This journey is not any journey, it is the most important journey towards peace within ourselves, with our fellow citizens and therefore with God. Without this journey, South Sudan will not exist as a nation.

In October 2014, when 75 people from all over the country had spent one month together in Yei reflecting about peace, they were asked what they would do on reaching home after the training. Many had big plans but I recall one man saying: “I will try to explain my journey towards peace to my family, but I am not sure I will succeed.”  You can see that he was calculating how far he would have to go: to undo his behavior, to explain why he was going to do this, to justify that he was not going to behave in a certain communal way, but look at his wounds and try to heal. You see the risks!

– On a hard journey, you need a good walking stick. That support should be your family, friends, perhaps a counselor, a church leader. People who are not afraid that you are going on that journey, who will not try to tell you: No! Stay with us!

Ask yourselves, “What kind of a world do we and our children want to live in?” Tell yourself, “There is a better way.” And deny the lie that war and violence is inevitable and that enemies must be fought and killed – we are speaking about brothers and sisters, not enemies.

– Imagine that you are showing your children the way on that journey. Do you choose for them a road of bitterness and death? Do they know that you are choosing that road for them? Do not give your children your wounds, bear yours yourselves. Their journey should be a peaceful journey in a peaceful world.

– We also need good sign posts that show the way – they warn us when we have to stop, or move, or go one way or another… If we understand what harm internal wounds do to us, how they can affect our behavior negatively, then that understanding guides us to be careful, to slow down, and perhaps even to change direction. Living directly out of the anger of our wounds will lead to far more serious consequences.

– One of my favorite passages is Ezekiel Chapter 37 that talks of a valley of bones – a vision of hopelessness and lifelessness: Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone.

– What are we waiting for to give us hope? Money, cars, power? What will heal our wounds and make us and our nation whole will not come from these but from silent reflection. When I stop making noise, then in the silence I will find the place where I am broken, wounded, dying. I may choose to understand that this pain holds despair that can destroy me or I may say that this pain holds a promise that can transform me, one day at a time.

– What is wrong with the world? I am.
What is right with our world? We are.

– Reaching into that woundedness of mine, I need to listen to your woundedness. Because the whole that is the nation of South Sudan has been broken, you and I. Your truth must become my truth and we will see that we are no different one from the other… We have all been wounded. With compassion, I can indeed suffer with you or him or her on our journey together in search for life. I free you for you to free me, by the grace of God. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

If we each understand one another’s suffering then the wounds are the very way through which we can all become wounded healers ourselves – a new vision as the dry bones come to life, filled with the new Spirit. A new body, with all its beautiful parts coming to life, through healing… A fellowship of the weak, where strength is hidden in the weakness. I cannot say: I am reconciled or I am healed because I have not reached the end of the journey yet. I must face myself and others each day, sacrificing my pride, cooling my anger, telling my children a new beautiful story. If we know that our journey is a long one and that we are sending all our children on it, too, then we have no time to lose… True community, true nationhood is a fellowship of the weak.

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Candidates, what is your policy on South Sudan?

The Coalition of Advocates for South Sudan (CASS) sent requests to the leading presidential candidates regarding their policy on South Sudan. The letter follows:

We, the Coalition of Advocates for South Sudan, write to request your policy on South Sudan should you become President of the United States of America.

Coalition of Advocates for South Sudan (CASS) is a U.S. based group representing tens of thousands of South Sudanese members of the Diaspora and their American friends. The group was established in April 2014 in response to the civil war that broke out in South Sudan on December 2013 after the country’s independence in 2011. The mission of CASS is to help establish a just and lasting peace in South Sudan, and its advocacy is directly informed by events on the ground and by South Sudanese who urgently seek justice, peace, end to violence, and the establishment of a democratic nation with equality for all.

The United States, under the Clinton, Bush and Obama Administrations, has worked tirelessly to support peace in South Sudan; and the U.S. has saved the lives of countless South Sudanese by providing humanitarian aid for people forced to live in some of the most desperate conditions on our planet. Americans representing every faith, race and occupation have lobbied Congress and successive Administrations to end mass atrocities in South Sudan, and Congress has repeatedly demonstrated steadfast bi-partisan support for these efforts. Americans have opened their homes, churches have rallied support, and schools and communities have provided opportunities for South Sudanese who have sought safety in the United States. Many, hope to one day return and rebuild their country. 

In South Sudan, a fragile peace agreement was signed between the warring parties. Its implementation must be enforced and the country will require the ongoing friendship of the United States for years to come to help a nation that was isolated and devastated by decades of war overcome the trauma and challenges it faces to develop the capacity and infrastructure to govern and develop in a way that best serves the people of South Sudan. The U.S. must support their tireless efforts, while seeking to provide humanitarian aid to those in need, protection for those in grave danger, and justice for those harmed in such horrific ways during the current civil war.

Americans have shown great love and care for the people of South Sudan, and we are extremely grateful. We thank you for considering our request for your policy on South Sudan, and we look forward to your response.

For the Board of Directors and membership:

Kwaje Lasu

Chairman, CASS

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GoSS to hire 20,000 Zimbabweans, not South Sudanese?

The Voice of the Diaspora, Coalition of Advocates for South Sudan, advises priority in GoSS hiring of South Sudanese in country, other East African nations, and in the West, rather than Zimbabweans. This will require the establishment of a well-resourced listing of South Sudanese, including those in the diaspora, who have specific skills based on training, education and experience.  Read more

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Prayer request from Episcopal Bishop of Aweil

Rev. Abraham Nhail

Rev. Abraham Nhail

Rev. Abraham Nhial, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Aweil since 2011.  The Diocese has 70 ordained priests to serve 192 churches and more than 78,000 permanent church members. He is referred to as the spiritual leader of the Lost Boys for his commitment, work and outstanding achievements for the southern Sudanese.

He requests continued prayer for the peaceful formation of the Transitional Government of National Unity.  Read more…

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Former President George W. Bush surprises ‘Lost Boys’

Former President George W. Bush (right) and First Lady Laura Bush gave some remarks, listened to their thoughts and answered some of their questions after surprising a group of Lost Boys from Sudan during a group photo. (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News)

Former President George W. Bush (right) and First Lady Laura Bush gave some remarks, listened to their thoughts and answered some of their questions after surprising a group of Lost Boys from Sudan during a group photo. (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News)

Mamer Demamer was 7-years-old when he and thousands of other Lost Boys fled South Sudan amid a brutal, deadly, decades-long civil war. Now he works for the former president of the United States.

“When I came over [to the United States] … I mentioned the fact that I love President Bush and I would like to work at the center, because of what he did for us,” Demamer said. On Friday, George W. Bush surprised Demamer and 70 other Lost Boys during their first tour of the George W. Bush Presidential Center.

The Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations have all worked to attain peace in the war-torn country. In 2005, Bush, who made Southern Sudan a focus of his foreign policy, helped broker the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between North and South Sudan that ended the 22-year civil war and later paved the way for independence, which was achieved in 2011.

Demamer, who works as a guest services representative at the center, was extremely surprised — and excited — to see the former president, who helped broker an end to the war there during his presidency. “What President Bush did was really nice for us,” Demamer said. “We admire him, because the independence we got in Southern Sudan in 2011 is because of George W. Bush.”

Erjok Erjok was just 5-years-old when he fled South Sudan. Now the 33-year-old is a captain in the U.S. Army and was stationed in Iraq from 2010 to 2011. He said he felt obligated to join the military in 2005 after learning “what the country had done for me.” “It was a great feeling to serve the nation that has served me, that has given me so much, and has continued to,” he said. “In 2005, America as a nation worked hard to bring the 22-year civil war to an end. So it was like a double obligation … it gave me an opportunity to come over here, go to school and pursue the American dream.”

After surprising the group, Bush and his wife Laura took photos and answered several questions, including one from Demamer who asked Bush to help with the current war in Sudan.

A new civil war started in 2013. Thousands have since died, more than 1.5 million people have fled their homes and nearly half the population is at risk of going hungry. In August, the president of South Sudan signed a peace deal with rebels more than 20 months after fighting started between the army and rebels led by his former deputy. Many of the Lost Boys, who still have family and friends in the country, say something must be done to help achieve peace in their nation. “It was tough times for me and my family,” Demamar said. “The fighting is really bad. People are dying, they are really suffering.”

But Bush said since he is no longer president, his ability is limited. “One of the things we can do is urge others in future administrations to stay engaged,” he said. “The danger is that sometimes in America there is a sentiment that says ‘Who cares what happens elsewhere? Let’s focus inward,’ which I think is very unhealthy. One of the things we do here is continue to remind Americans about how we can help others and the need to help others.” 

The former president also gave them some advice and perspective. “Know you are influencing people, you are reminding people how fortunate we are in this country,” Bush said. “I was very hopeful when the accord was made for independence and I was pleased when the vote for independence came. I’m not surprised however, that with independence comes difficulties. If you’ve studied the history of the United States you’ll find the same thing. It’s not a smooth path to achieving stability, but having civil society necessary for democracy to thrive.”

Friday’s visit has been years in the making, officials said. “The people of South Sudan have a very special place in our hearts,” said Amanda Schnetzer, director of the Human Freedom Initiative at the Bush Institute. “In just a few years you all have become our friends, our neighbors and our colleagues. We pray for your continued success in our community and appreciate all that you do to make this a better place to live.”

Dawn West Barnett, president of the Friends of Lost Boys DFW, has worked with the group since the first Lost Boys arrived in the area. Barnett said about 90 percent of the boys have become American citizens since arriving in the county, and more than 60 have graduated from college. There are about 200 lost boy living in the Dallas-Fort Worth area now, many of whom arrived in the early 2000’s. “They’ve made the most of what life has given them,” Barnett said, tearing up. “They don’t complain, they don’t want handouts, they work hard, they are honest and they love God and this country. They just take what life throws at them and handle it with such grace.”

Demamer said he is now interested in public affairs, and maybe one day can work for the Bush Center in a different capacity. “There is a thing at the institute called Human Freedom. I love that,” he said. “It is in my vision to help people, because I was helped by others. That’s why I’m here.”

Julie Fancher 2/12/2016 (The Dallas Morning News)

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On the ground in Jonglei

Report from a mission co-worker:

I requested a meeting with church leaders/members to convey greetings. Several gathered to meet with me, including an Elders, Evangelists, youth and Sunday School groups, and representatives of the women’s group. They sang several songs and we prayed. Then they shared their thoughts/feelings.

An Elder: We are sorry there are not many around to welcome you. We did not know you were coming. We are all IDPs – we have come from Malakal, Ayod, Pigi, and Fangak. Our Sunday School and youth choirs have no uniforms. They were all burned. Our books and Bibles were burned. We have only 1 song book. We have no presbytery office, no chairs or tables. We have to meet outside. We need a tent for our meetings.

We lack many things – mosquito nets, blankets, books, cooking pots or buckets. We lack food clothes and medicines. When you worry, you do not feel like going to church. You are too busy worrying about your family. Read Luke 12:35-40.

A youth representative: There is only 1 God. He brought you to us. If CMD is building why are not Presbyterians? We are all IDPs. You are like a messenger from Jesus. You are the first white person to visit us since the crisis. We pray for God to increase your hand that you may do something for us. We did not know you were coming, if we had there would be more to greet you. We had to borrow chairs for this meeting. CMD has been with us since the crisis. They have been like the Good Samaritan. Thank you for taking the time to meet with us and listen to us.

A local church representative: When you you return, give greetings to your family and people from this Presbytery. Tell them we need a tent so we have a place to meet. We need books so we can teach our children in our own language. We need Bibles. We are tired, we are sick, and we are hungry. May God bless you for coming to see us. Read Proverbs 8:17-20.

An evangelist: Read John 13:1-19. Remember us. 

The mission co-worker: I greeted all of them on behalf of the Presbyterian church, my home church, my family. I also extended greetings from the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan, the Moderator and General Secretary. I told them they were not forgotten and were upheld in prayer. That many are praying for peace so they can return to their homes. I prayed for them.

November 19-20, 2015

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To South Sudanese Executive Leadership and National Legislative Assembly

An Open Letter:

Dear President Kiir, Dr. Machar, Former Detainees and Parliamentarians:

Following the announcement on October 2nd of Presidential Order No 36/2015 for the creation of 28 states in the Republic of South Sudan instead of the existing 10 states as provided for in the Transitional Constitution of South Sudan (TCSS) 2011 (amended 2015), multiple civil society organizations noted that the Presidential Order was not lawful under the Transitional Constitution and the recently signed Compromise Peace Agreement (CPA*).
Parliament met on November 20th and granted such powers but without meeting the constitutional requirements of 2/3 of the members of each house of parliament approving. Article 197 of the constitution requires an approval by a vote of “two-thirds of all members of each House of the National Legislature sitting separately.” This article was not followed. Instead, members of the two houses met jointly to overcome the lack of the required numbers in the Parliament. This action raised great concern among many South Sudanese citizens.

Moreover, the binding CPA* – that was recently signed by both President Kiir and Dr. Machar, and subsequently endorsed by the National Legislative Assembly – clearly stated that the CPA is based on the current 10 states and will prevail over TCSS 2011 in an event of conflict of the two documents.

“This agreement shall be fully incorporated into the Transitional Constitution of South Sudan 2011(TCSS) as per the procedure outlined in Chapter I, Article 4 of this Agreement. Notwithstanding this process of incorporation, in the event that the provisions of the TCSS conflicts with the terms of this agreement, the terms of this Agreement shall prevail.”

Thus the action taken by the President to establish 28 states and the efforts by the National Legislature to support the President both were in violation of the Constitution and invalid. The Compromise Peace Agreement, which was signed by the President, was based on the existing ten states, calling into question the motivation for the actions taken and raising additional questions of legality.

The impact of this unconstitutional action by the President and National Legislature is far reaching.

  • The boundaries of the newly created states result in greatly increased territory being shifted from one to another ethnic group and increases that group’s control over the legislative process. This is viewed by many as an effort on the part of the President and National Legislature to create dominance of the nation by a single ethnic group.
  • Neither attendance records nor a formal vote count for the assembly session have been released, further bringing into question the intent of the leadership to knowingly change the constitution unlawfully.
  • The creation itself of 28 states during a period marked by conflict and confusion creates additional concern and instability when stability and establishment of the rule of law are so vital. Furthermore, additional conflict and instability have been introduced as groups quarrel and fight over boundaries and control.
  • Creating states along ethnic lines institutionalizes “tribalism.” Instead, all government actions should be consistent with creating a national identity while respecting the culture and equality of all ethnic groups.
  • Granting the President additional power additionally is unwise given the findings of the AUCISS that additional power needs to be devolved to the states and that independence of the state government of central government control is essential to restoration of stability.
  • Additionally the action is in violation of article 36 (1) which reads “All levels of government shall promote democratic principles and political pluralism, and shall be guided by the principles of decentralization and devolution of power to the people through the appropriate levels of government where they can best manage and directs their affairs”.

Actions Required to Correct the Situation:

  • President Kiir should immediately cancel Presidential Order No. 36/2015 and allow the normal process for constitutional change during the transitional period as provided for in the Compromise Peace Agreement.
  • Both Houses of the National Legislature must meet openly and separately and repudiate the action taken on November 20.
  • President Kiir, Dr. Machar and all sides must cease armed conflict and relocate military forces to their designated areas. Reports that attacks on forces which have relocated should be investigated thoroughly, and violators must be appropriately disciplined.
  • All political groups must speed up compliance with processes stipulated in the Compromise Peace Agreement to form the government of national unity as specified.

Absent such actions we expect continuation of the conflict, additional localized conflict, and the resulting continuation of death, displacement, abuse and suffering of innocent civilians and destruction of property and potential spread of the conflict to neighboring nations as well as any failure of the Compromise Peace Agreement.


The Coalition of Advocates for South Sudan (CASS) was established in April 2014 with the mission to help establish a just and lasting peace in South Sudan. Our advocacy is directly informed by the situation on the ground and by the South Sudanese people who urgently seek justice, peace, end to violence, and the establishment of a democratic nation with equality for all.

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Open letter to leaders from the diaspora

31 October 2015.  The Coalition of Advocates for South Sudan (CASS) addresses the President of the United States, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, the President of South Sudan and the South Sudan Opposition Leader:

Please stop this war!

We side with the people of South Sudan. About political parties we are neutral. It is not our purpose to side with any South Sudanese political group. Rather we side with the people of South Sudan but are not neutral about peace or the inhumane situation that the people face.

Rather than immediate, near term political objectives, our focus is the near term end of conflict and the ultimate establishment of a just and lasting peace. When the issues precluding the end of conflict arise, even if they are identified to one or the other party, we have an obligation to point them out and urge the political parties, IGAD+ and the International Community as well as concerned people of South Sudan to correct them. 

For entire letter, go to this site’s Voice of the Diaspora page; or, alternatively, to the SAAF Facebook page: Sudan Advocacy Action Forum.

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Sign the petition to restore Darfuri food rations

Restore 2,100 calories per person per day

Restore 2,100 calories per person per day

800 calories per person per day is not enough food and results in malnutrition. Those most affected are in eastern Chad where they lack the means of supplementing their meager food rations.

Please ask the U.S. to lead in restoring Darfuri refugees’ food rations to the higher level of 2,100 calories per person per day. 2,100 calories is the minimum standard of the World Food Program.

Here is the link to the petition: Sign the petition

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CASS encourages joint peace rally

 11220867_10207996718981578_4930594348239156475_nThe Coalition of Advocates for South Sudan (CASS) encourages South Sudanese leaders currently in the U.S. to hold a rally to bring together South Sudanese Diaspora from different ethnic groups and political views, and raise peoples’ hopes, build confidence and increase trust that the peace agreement will be respected and implemented in good faith. The rally will serve as a message to the world that South Sudanese leaders are committed to implementing the peace deal. In addition, the rally will provide the leaders with the opportunity to share with the Diaspora how they can best support peace and development in South Sudan. Read more: Joint Peace Rally

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