A young Ugandan Comboni missionary talks about his pastoral activities in one of the remotest missions in the South Sudan
Our mission in Old Fanagk is located in the northern part of Jonglie State under the diocese of Malakal and is the remotest mission in the entire South Sudan. There are no roads; thus no vehicles, motorcycles, bicycles, or mobile telephone network.
Being a remote place, Old Fangak has become the safest place since the beginning of the current conflict in South Sudan and many people have taken refuge in the area and thus the population has tripled.
We live among pastoralists the “Nuer” who call themselves “Naath”, meaning “The people”. We dedicate our lives in caring for the different communities in and around Old Fangak, fostering education, women promotion and empowering local people to build a better future. It takes 4-5 days by foot to reach the farthest communities in Ayod! From the centre, we cover an area of 30-40 thousand sq. kilometers and all our pastoral visits are done on foot.
Most of the pastoral outreach is made possible through the catechists who stay in the villages. The catechists are the ones keeping the Christian communities together and in fervent faith.
About 98% of the population in the area is illiterate and the majority of the women hardly read or write. Since the start of the conflict in December 2013, the only functioning primary schools in the whole region are the three where we have given a hand.
The conflict in south Sudan that broke out in December 2013 is still tense and our region is under the control of the rebels (the SPLM in opposition). It is very hard and this has proved to be an obstacle for the mission and us. Although they respect us missionaries, we cannot perform our activities with freedom since we are monitored and especially for me, being a Ugandan, it is even more risky, given the military intervention of Uganda in the conflict. I have to be prudent always in what I say.
The conflict that emerged in South Sudan could be understood as a continuation of unresolved South-South tensions that were, perhaps, never adequately addressed by the CPA. Contrary to its name, the CPA was an elitist bargain between Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party and the strongest element of the southern resistance, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement Army (SPLM/A). It was not comprehensive at all, because it did not include other political parties and other groups of rebels (other armed militia) and local people. It was an agreement between the SPLM and the Khartoum government. There was no proper process of integration of the militias into a single national army. Many soldiers remained faithful to their leaders as such so that when the current conflict started the soldiers were able to regroup themselves very quickly under their leaders. With the rainy season well underway and the fact that peace negotiations have not made much tangible progress, the conflict has settled into stalemate.
According to the last UN report, thousands have died in the fighting; 400,000 have become refugees in neighboring countries and 1.1 million have been internally displaced. By this month of August, an estimated 3.9 million people will face alarming levels of food insecurity.
Every day, in our mission in Old Fangak, we can hear gun shots; people are living in fear, not knowing what will happen tomorrow or next week. As a result of the conflict, the only affordable transport system through the river Nile by boats that connect our area with other towns is cut off, hence this becomes a problem for basic human needs like: sugar, salt, soap, oil, cloths, and so on. There are lots of traumatized people in the area.
There are many child soldiers in the army; recently about 1,500 children and youths have been recruited in our mission area.
Besides us there were other two Comboni missionary communities among the Nuer pastoralists: the Ayod and Leer communities. However, last year Ayod was captured by government forces and the entire population fled. The two elderly missionaries also fled with the community and settled in Mogok and they have pastorally assisted the local and nearby communities by running a war emergency school.
Leer mission in Unity state is located in the war zone and was closed last year because it was looted by both the SPLA and the rebels. The Comboni missionaries were forced to flee into the bush and stayed there for many days until they were then vacated due to lack of adequate security. Only recently have they resumed some of their missionary activities in Leer. Our missionary life in this challenging mission reminds us of Pope Francis who said in his Letter to Religious for the Year of Consecrated Life to, “Remember the past with gratitude, embrace the future with hope, and live in the present with passion.”
Fr. Alfred Mawadri