A brazen attack on a church compound in Sudan’s capital Khartoum has raised concerns that tensions between Sudan and South Sudan are no longer contained to the volatile border separating the two countries.
Located in Khartoum’s Al-Jerif neighbourhood, the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church, which has a congregation partly comprised of Southerners, is part of a larger compound that houses a number of other services, including a school. The structure was left in shambles after a mob of hundreds of people stormed the premises on Saturday, April 21. Whole rooms were ransacked, materials looted and part of the grounds set ablaze.
The weeks leading up to the attack were marked by increasingly acrimonious rhetoric against South Sudan, as sporadic clashes between the two countries erupted along the oil-rich border. On Friday, April 20, South Sudanese forces withdrew from a Sudanese oil field near the town of Heglig, a move seen as a major victory for Sudan’s government, which claimed it had expelled the South by force. The same day in Khartoum, an imam at a mosque located near the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church, known for his extremist views, allegedly incited his followers to attack the church by declaring a “jihad” against Christians. Christianity is one of the major religions practiced in South Sudan, whereas Sudan is predominately Muslim.
After decades of fighting between the north and the south, South Sudan officially split from Sudan in July 2011 following a referendum. Now, with the United Nations reporting that South Sudanese civilians have been killed in aerial bombings by Sudanese aircraft, the two countries appear to be on the brink of an all-out war.
“Those responsible for the attack have used the growing tensions between Sudan and South Sudan as an excuse to commit a hate crime”
Dr. Amgad Fareid Eltayeb lives in Khartoum, where he practices medicine. He is a Muslim.
The day after the attack, I went to see what happened and to help clean up the church as a sign of solidarity with the Christian community. What we saw was destruction fuelled by hate. They burned all the Bibles. They didn’t only wreck the church, but also destroyed the school located on the same compound.This act did not happen on its own. It’s the result of hate speech by people who are afraid of everything that is different from them. The group that is responsible for the attack have used the growing tensions between Sudan and South Sudan as an excuse to commit a hate crime. They have even called for a war against the South. The compound was in part targeted because it housed a church, but also in part because some of the church’s members come from the South.Even though it has been going on for a long time now, the government does nothing to control this kind of discourse, and it’s getting worse. The kind of hate these groups spout shouldn’t be protected by freedom of speech, and I think that by not intervening, the government is tacitly condoning it. It can only lead to more crimes of this nature. I am afraid that we are on the road to becoming another Rwanda.