Insight from a blog on The Economist’s site
In a land where the state has yet to set up much in the way of infrastructure, the church with its simple but sturdy network is king. At least, so one might be tempted to say in South Sudan where a civil administration is only gradually being built as the region heads towards independence, separating southern Christians from northern Muslims. A secession referendum held last week enjoys massive backing from church leaders who are far more respected by the population than the grim old bush fighters that lead the soon-to-be country. Priests urged believers to vote in churches across the south.
President Salva Kiir, a Catholic, regularly appears at the cathedral in Juba and he sometimes sermonises or leads prayers. But the priests are keen to point out that only they do the preaching. At one point last year, the bishop prevented the president from speaking, saying “today is a time of peace”. The tension between the two institutions, though not especially high, is palpable. Government leaders are jealous of the stability of the church. It is the only organisation that survived decades of civil war intact. In fact, it has thrived, in part because it alone could offer steady, non-violent employment to the educated.
Evangelical interlopers were scared away by violence, but that is no longer the case.
Charismatics are building churches in Juba, even if out in the countryside—where most South Sudanese still live—the traditional church still rules. The church has lost half of its priests since the end of the civil war in 2005 a wider choice of employers has become available. But new priests are still joining.
January 2nd, a Sunday, was the climax of campaigning for the referendum that started a week later and Archbishop Paulino Lukudu Loro travelled several hours from Juba to the town of Lirya. A new church had been built on a hill last year and plastic chairs covered the tiled floor. A generator was producing enough power to run fans, a rarity, and a gospel choir sang with all its might. Priests read a litany of saints and after each one the congregation exulted “pray for us”. As the archbishop walked in he was joined by dancers in traditional dress, musicians and nuns.
Most of the town’s thousand-strong population thronged in and around the church and still more could be seen arriving through swathes of tall grass. Tinny bells rang and drums rumbled. Women chanted, clapped and ululated. The archbishop said, “This is a great success for the church in Sudan.” He meant the building of a new church and the ordaining of a priest, the reason for his visit that day. But everyone understood the political significance. A local village official came to the altar and read out an appeal to vote in the referendum. The archbishop endorsed it and amplified it. He said he was praying for peace and then, mixing pidgin Arabic and English, the two main tongues in Sudan, he said, “killo vote”: everyone vote. Posted 20th January, 2011
A similar themed article here from an Irish reporter –