Pope Francis to Visit Two Fragile African Nations: DR Congo and South Sudan

Pope Francis starts a trip on Tuesday to two fragile African nations often forgotten by the world, where protracted conflicts have left millions of refugees and displaced people grappling with hunger.

The Jan. 31-Feb 5 visit to Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and South Sudan, takes the 86-year-old pope to places where Catholics make up about half of the populations and where the Church is a key player in health and educational systems as well as in democracy-building efforts.

The trip was scheduled to take place last July but was postponed because Francis was suffering a flare-up of a chronic knee ailment. He still uses a wheelchair and cane but his knee has improved significantly.

Both countries are rich in natural resources — DRC in minerals and South Sudan in oil — but beset with poverty and strife.

DRC, which is the second-largest country in Africa and has a population of about 90 million, is getting its first visit by a pope since John Paul II travelled there in 1985, when it was known as Zaire.

Francis had planned to visit the eastern city of Goma but that stop was scrapped following the resurgence of fighting between the army and the M23 rebel group in the area where Italy’s ambassador, his bodyguard and driver were killed in an ambush in 2021.

Francis will stay in the capital, Kinshasa, but will meet there with victims of violence from the east.

“Congo is a moral emergency that cannot be ignored,” the Vatican’s ambassador to DRC, Archbishop Ettore Balestrero, told Reuters.

According to the U.N. World Food Program, 26 million people in the DRC face severe hunger.

The country’s 45 million-strong Catholic Church has a long history of promoting democracy and, as the pope arrives, it is gearing up to monitor elections scheduled for December.

“Our hope for the Congo is that this visit will reinforce the Church’s engagement in support of the electoral process,” said Britain’s ambassador to the Vatican, Christ Trott, who spent many years as a diplomat in Africa.

DRC is getting its first visit by a pope since John Paul II travelled there in 1985, when it still was known as Zaire.

Unprecedented joint pilgrimage

The trip takes on an unprecedented nature on Friday when the pope leaves Kinshasa for South Sudan’s capital, Juba.

That leg is being made with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Iain Greenshields.

They represent the Christian make-up of the world’s youngest country, which gained independence in 2011 from predominantly Muslim Sudan after decades of conflict and has a population of around 11 million.

“This will be a historic visit,” Welby said. “After centuries of division, leaders of three different parts of [Christianity] are coming together in an unprecedented way.”

Two years after independence, conflict erupted when forces loyal to President Salva Kiir clashed with those loyal to Vice President Riek Machar, who is from a different ethnic group. The bloodshed spiraled into a civil war that killed 400,000 people.

A 2018 deal stopped the worst of the fighting, but parts of the agreement, including the deployment of a re-unified national army, have not yet been implemented.

There are 2.2 million internally displaced people in South Sudan and another 2.3 million have fled the country as refugees, according to the United Nations, which has praised the Catholic Church as a “powerful and active force in building peace and reconciliation in conflict-torn regions.”

In one of the most remarkable gestures since his papacy began in 2013, Francis knelt to kiss the feet of South Sudan’s previously warring leaders during a retreat at the Vatican in April 2019, urging them not to return to civil war.

Trott, a former ambassador in South Sudan, said he hoped the three Churchmen can convince political leaders to “fulfil the promise of the independence movement.”

Source: Voice of America

Maintain peace during Pope’s visit, President Kiir tells citizens

South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir has appealed to the citizens to maintain peace and order during the Pope’s visit to Juba.

Kiir, while addressing worshippers at St. Theresa Cathedral in Kator on Sunday, urged citizens to welcome Pope Francis in large numbers on Friday.

The Pope will travel to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and South Sudan after he postponed his visit in July 2022 due to health issues.

He will spend two days in South Sudan before returning to the Vatican, Italy.

The South Sudanese leader also inaugurated a road named after the Pope.

Speaking during road inauguration occasion, the presidential advisor on security, Tut Gatluak Manime urged citizens to open their hearts to receive blessings of peace and reconciliation that will comes with the Pope’s visit.

The high-level committee chairperson for the Papal visit, Barnaba Marial Benjamin disclosed that President Kiir had lifted suspension of peace talks with the hold-out groups mediated by the Sant’Egidio community in Rome.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and the moderator of the General Assembly of Church of Scotland, Rt. Rev Dr. Iain Greenshields will accompany the Pope.

Source: Sudan Tribune

Sudan, Chad agree to strengthening operations of joint border force

The transition’s leaders in Sudan and Chad agreed on Sunday to bolster joint patrols of the two armies along the border after the increase of insecurity and attacks in the triangle area with the Central African Republic (CAR).

The Rapid Support Forces (RSF) of Mohamed Hamdan Daglo “Hemetti” increased its activities along the border area with the CAR and West Darfur border area with Chad marginalizing the joint border force that Chad and Sudan established in 2010.

Recently, reports from the CAR mentioned joint operations including RSF, CAR army and the Russian Wagner contractors against rebel groups in the border area with Sudan and northern CAR where are also stationed Chadians rebels.

Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, head of the Transitional Sovereign Council was in Ndjamena for talks with Mohamed Deby head of the Transitional Military Council discussed bilateral relations and the situation on the border area.

The joint statement released in the Chadian capital at the end of the visit said the two leaders said concerned by the increase of the inter-communal attacks in the border area.

“To this end, they stressed the urgency of strengthening the operational capacity of the Chad-Sudan Mixed Force, to face the security challenges which are more and more frequent in the border area of the two countries (…),” reads the statement.

Accordingly, the army and security have to establish “direct and continuous relations” added the statement. Also, the two sides agreed to share information and intelligence between the security services.

“In addition, they raised the need to operationalize the Joint Tripartite Force Sudan / CAR / Chad created on January 18, 2005, in Khartoum for the fight against insecurity at the common borders of the three countries,” stressed the statement in its Arabic and French versions.

Sudanese diplomatic sources told Sudan Tribune that the visit discussed the increased presence of the RSF in the border areas and agreed to deploy Sudanese-Chadian forces along the joint border in West Darfur State.

Also, al-Burhan and Deby discussed the Chadian-French concerns about the massive presence of the RSF along the border with the CAR, stressed the sources.

Russian expansion in the Francophone countries has become a source of concern for Washington and Paris.

The RSF leader who has close relations with the Wagner group spoke earlier in January about a coup attempt to overthrow President Faustin-Archange Touadéra and the involvement of Sudanese elements close to tribal leader Musa Hilal.

Mohamed Hamdan Daglo Hemetti is expected to travel to Ndjamena on Monday.

Source: Sudan Tribune

HRW researcher: Sudan transitional justice needs broad societal discussion

The international community sponsoring Sudan’s Framework Agreement “should not repeat the 2019 experience,” says Human Rights Watch (HRW) researcher Mohamed Osman. He also calls for including criminal justice in the discussions on transitional justice.

Mohamed Osman told Radio Dabanga that the international and regional community sponsoring the Framework Agreement should be careful not to repeat the experience of the transitional government of 2019, “by producing a quick and top-down political solution, which will not serve the democratic transition, nor contribute to political stability.

“Sudan is witnessing an economic collapse. The oppression of freedoms continues, and violence continues to be used against the displaced people in Darfur, against peaceful resistance committees. In light of these conditions, it is not possible to reach a real solution,” he said.

Inclusive

He further drew a line with the 2019 talks between the military and the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC). “There are a number of problems concerning the Framework Agreement, especially the boycott of a number of voices, such as the resistance committees, the families of the people killed during the revolution, and the many displaced in the country, in addition to the lack of clarity about its main agenda.”

During talks about the establishment of a transitional parliament in November 2019, the resistance committees were informed very late. The FFC alliance of political parties and groups already had discussed the formation with the signatories of the Juba Peace Conference and other groups before involving the resistance committees. The resistance committees withdrew from an important meeting on the subject.

‘Transitional justice cannot be carried out in a top-down manner, in isolation from issues of security and military reform…’

The distrust between the groups continues until now. During the current political process, the FFC ignored the Revolutionary Charter for the Establishment of the People’s Authority, released by the resistance committees on October 6. Last week, resistance committees in Khartoum announced that they are forming local legislative councils in the city’s districts.

Criminal justice

Osman further called for the need to include criminal justice in the discussions on justice and transitional justice, especially with regard to the human rights violations of the regime of ousted President Omar Al Bashir and its aftermath, including post-coup violence.

“Transitional justice issues need a broad societal discussion. All groups that have been subjected to forms of violence must be involved, whether after the coup, during or before the former transitional period,” he stressed.

“Transitional justice cannot be carried out in a top-down manner, in isolation from issues of security and military reform… I do not expect that any progress will be made in reaching transitional justice with the presence of the violators themselves in sovereign positions,” Osman concludes.

Source: Radio Dabanga

North Darfur transitional justice workshop: ‘Hand Al Bashir and other indictees to ICC’

On Wednesday, a workshop on transitional justice in the North Darfur capital El Fasher, concluded with recommending handing over the indicted officials from the former regime, including Al Bashir, to the International Criminal Court (ICC), and documenting the abuses related to the war in Darfur as well as gender-based violence in the region.

The participants of the workshop, organised by the People for People organisation and funded by the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS), also recommended “preserving the rights of the victims and those affected when declaring political amnesty”.

The workshop also recommended addressing the issues of land ownership and hawakeer (lands traditionally used by a particular clan or tribal group), demographic changes, the presence of new settlers occupying lands of the displaced, and to develop formal and traditional mechanisms in dealing with these issues.

The participants further called for amendments to laws concerning the use of farmland and pastures, the registration of residential and agricultural lands, and reform of government and native administration* structures. Laws criminalising the recruitment of minors for military purposes, must be activated as well.

In addition, a series of dialogues on transitional justice and the ongoing political process should be organised in Darfur and the media gap in conflict areas is to be addressed.

Addressing the United Nations Security Council last week, ICC Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan said in his 36th report that the ICC has made “swift progress” in the trial of former janjaweed leader Ali Muhammad Ali Abdelrahman (known as ‘Ali Kushayb’) who stands accused of 31 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur between 2003 and at least 2004. However cooperation with the Sudan government has deteriorated.

Although cooperation from the Sudanese Government is critical, the ICC prosecutor reported that many important promises and agreements – including Memoranda of Understanding signed during his visit to Khartoum last year – remain outstanding.

Source: Radio Dabanga