Africa | 1 april 2014 | by guest blogger0
‘Even children who cannot speak also want peace in South Sudan’
The Dutch peace organisation PAX is also represented in Juba, the young capital of South Sudan. Daud Gideon is one of our Juba Staff over there. He visited the second round of the peace talks on South Sudan, which took place in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia between 19 and 31 March.
The first round of the talks already started on 23 January, after the signed cease-fire between the government troops, represented by president Salva Kiir, and the rebels, by Riek Machar. This agreement has already been broken several times. In this first episode of his diary-weblog Daud Gideon reflects on how difficult it was to even get there, for the second time in Addis Ababa.
As I was planning for my second visit to Addis Ababa from 19th March 2014, I contacted my colleague Berhanu Tamene from the Peace and Justice office of the Catholic Church of Ethiopia to send me an invitation letter. He kindly did that and sent an invitation signed by the Secretary General of the Church. I received the invitation on 14th March 2014. I was very thankful to God for this invitation.
On Monday 17th March I went to the Ethiopian Embassy in Juba with all the requirements to apply for the necessary visa. I presented the invitation letter. To my surprise the person in charge of issuing the visa requested me to bring a registration letter of the Catholic Church. I tried to argue with him, giving an example of institutions in South Sudan whereby the Church doesn’t need a registration from the government. The person was adamant, so I left the Embassy frustrated. Note that the same person who gave me the visa last month when I produced him an invitation letter, then just acted and issued me the visa within 15 minutes. I knew something was wrong somewhere.
The first assumption was that our government was blocking South Sudanese from going to Ethiopia to attend the negotiations. But why should the Ethiopian Embassy listen to a directive of the government in Juba, instead of to their own government in Addis? I have no answer. I contacted my friend in Addis and informed him that the Embassy had refused to issue me the visa and was requesting me to produce a registration letter. “What!”, was his response and I repeated that they were asking for a registration letter. He told me there had never before been such an incident, whereby an invitation from the church was subjected to an additional registration letter. His interpretation was: maybe there is a political issue behind it. He promised me to take up the matter with the Secretary General and get back to me.
Two hours later he sent me a scan copy of the registration of their development wing, the Social and Development Commission of the Catholic Church of Ethiopia. On 18th March, I was back at the Embassy with the registration form and other required documents for my visa. The person looked at the document and immediately asked me: “Do you have a good handwriting?”. As I was trying to understand him, he told me ‘passport’ and started filling in the visa form. At the end he asked me to sign, which I did. In another 10 minutes I was walking out from the Embassy with the visa. I was afraid that he may say this is not the document I have requested, for the invitation wasn’t sent by the Social and Development Commission of the Church, but by the Church itself. I thanked God for making the process short and easy.
The Ethiopian flight ET 493 was the last to leave Juba Airport on 19th March 2014. By the time the plane took off from the airport there were only five minutes left for the airport to officially close, as our international airport closes from 6pm to 7am daily. I was not alone in the plane. In the plane I noticed the presence of many church leaders, who were also coming to Addis in anticipation that the third round of peace talks would resume on 20th March as per early announcement by IGAD at the end of the second round of talks, which failed without reaching any agreement. Bishop Enock Tombe, Jimmy Long, Rev Peter Tibi, Overseer Peter Gai and many other church leaders were on the same flight. When we landed safely in Pole Airport in Addis Ababa, I picked up discussion with Rev Peter Tibi, who confirmed to me that they were coming to attend the third round of peace talks. I asked him whether IGAD had accepted for them to participate, he said: ‘Yes, in principle they agreed’. I gave him my Ethiopian telephone number and I left them, as I was going to another hotel.
When I reached my hotel I made a call to my family in Uganda to inform them that I arrived safely. My daughter, who is less than two years old, grabbed the phone from the mother and started talking to me in her own language, which I couldn’t understand. But I guess she was urging me to pursue peace in Addis. I said to myself: ‘Even children who cannot speak also want peace in South Sudan’.
I started thinking: who doesn’t want peace in our country? I have no answer to that question and I wish I could know the person who is against peace. Because then, maybe, it would be easy to bring peace. As I was going to sleep, I prayed to God to soften the hearts of all involved, to stop them using guns and embrace peace, and also to give wisdom to IGAD, and patience and care to our suffering people in South Sudan.
To be continued…
By Daud Gideon