Sudan is currently poised on a knife’s edge. After decades of strife, genocide, and brutal civil wars, two years ago in April 2019 the population rose up against their autocratic dictator and indicted war criminal, Omar al-Bashir. When his own military forces refused to fire on the demonstrating civilian population, he was deposed the very next day. (Autocrats depend on a loyal military to enforce their will; once al-Bashir lost that trust with his military, it was game over for him.)
Since 2019, Sudan has been governed by a very uneasy partnership between various and sundry civilian groups, led by the Freedom and Change party (“الحرية والتغيير”), and the military and security apparatus. This is essentially a power-sharing agreement, with the executive and legislative functions being controlled by six civilians and five military leaders. It is very much a transitional, temporary arrangement that ostensibly is obligated to lead to democratic elections next year in 2022. The current civilian leader is Abdalla Hamdok, who spent decades in Sudanese public administration. The military leader is Abdel Fattah al-Birhan. The clock is ticking and 2022 is right around the corner. Will Sudan achieve its goal of complete transition to a democratic state?
Right now, there is a festering power struggle between the civilian Hamdok and the military al-Birhan. How this power struggle resolves itself will determine the fate of millions of Sudanese. It seems apparent from recent decisions and actions by al-Birhan that he is seeking to marginalize Hamdok and the civilian groups led by Freedom and Change. If these indications are true, then this is a troubling development in a country that seemed to be trending toward a brighter and more just future over the last two years.
Why do I bring all this up? In early 2020, Elder David A. Bednar and his wife visited Sudan. You can see a summary of his visit here and here. In May of this year, Sudanese government officials visited Salt Lake City to meet with Church leaders, including Elder Bednar. Reading between the lines, it appears that the Church is trying to establish deep and firm ties with the new transitional government. Naturally, we’re giving aid and humanitarian support to a country that needs it. But I also think that Elder Bednar is laying the foundation for the Church to be officially recognized in Sudan. This is a golden opportunity for the Church to be able to work openly in a country that has been closed to our missionary efforts for many decades.
If Sudan veers back to military dictatorship, then that window will close once again, quite possibly for many more years. Thus, it’s imperative that the civilian side prevail in this ongoing power struggle and that democratic, pluralistic norms take root and flourish in a country that so desperately needs it.
I also bring the issue of Sudan up because I have some personal reasons to care about it. Many years ago, when I learned Arabic as part of my job with the military, many of my Arabic teachers at the Defense Language Institute were Sudanese expats. To this day, I’ve not met a nicer group of human beings. Easy going, apt to laughter, with light in their eyes and a genuine concern and caring for others — those are the characteristics that I found in every Sudanese teacher I came across.
I believe that Heavenly Father wants the Sudanese people to have the opportunity to welcome and receive the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. That is why Elder Bednar and his wife have been working so hard on forging relationships with the transitional government of Sudan. That is why they were able to break off the shackles of dictatorship and give a taste of freedom to so many good people.
Will you join me in praying that Sudan can survive the current threats to its peace?