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Religious Humanitarianism and the Evolution of Sudan People’s Liberation Army (1990-2005)

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During the Cold War, military and economic tensions between the US and the Soviet Union shaped the process of war in conflict regions in different parts of the world. The end of the Cold War in the early 1990s reshaped the balance of power in global politics, as new actors appeared on the global scene and global foreign policy shifted to mediating and providing humanitarian assistance in conflict regions zones. Humanitarianism became the method of conflict resolution, which provided humanitarian organizations, especially the religious ones among them, with the opportunity to have more influence in the outcomes of sociopolitical events occurring in the world. These dynamics impacted conflicts in Africa, especially within Sudan. This is because that era coincided with Sudan’s Second Civil War (1983-2005) between the Sudan People Liberation Army (SPLA) and the Government of Sudan (GofS). During the Cold War, both the US and Russia intervened in the civil war in Sudan by providing military and economic assistance to different parties, but, again, in the post-Cold War era humanitarianism was used in relation to the civil war. Transnational religious organizations provided humanitarian assistance in the war-torn and drought-afflicted regions in Southern Sudan, and sought to help implement peace initiatives to end the war. The organizations included Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS), a consortium of UN agencies and NGOs1 which was created in 1989. In addition, transnational religious groups based in the United States and Canada such as the Christian Solidarity International (CSI), the Canadian Crossroads, Catholic Relief Service, Mennonite Central Committee and the Lutheran Church got involved in humanitarian relief in Sudan. The global focus on religious humanitarianism extended to Southern Sudan as the New Sudan Council of Churches (NSCC) was founded in 1989-1990 to coordinate the humanitarian assistance. Because SPLA has led the civil war on behalf of Southern Sudan and had suzerainty over territories there, the humanitarian organizations had to build relationships with the SPLA to deliver relief through Southern Sudan and negotiate peace initiatives. This article analyzes how the transnational activities of the religious humanitarian groups shaped the evolution of SPLA from 1990 to 2005, with a particular focus on the US and Canadian organizations. We will see that the organizations influenced SPLA in a manner that impacted the civil war both in positive and negative ways. The organizations were ambivalent as, on one hand, they aggravated the conflict and, on the other hand influenced the development of both Church and non-Church related peace initiatives. Their humanitarian work was intricate as the civil war itself became more complex due to political issues that involved slavery, and oil extraction in Southern Sudan by US and Canadian multinational oil companies. All the parties involved took action to help end the civil war, but they all sought to serve their own interests, which jeopardized the possibility of a lasting peace. Thus, the interpretation of that history provides ways to help solve the current armed conflict in South Sudan.
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Keywords: conflict resolution; global politics; humanitarian assistance; peace initiatives; power in global politics; religious humanitarian groups; transnational religious groups

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: September 1, 2020

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  • Political Crossroads is a bi-annual, international, refereed journal which, since 1990, publishes critical and empirical scholarship in political science and international relations. Its areas of focus include global security, terrorism, national identity, migration and citizenship, and the politics of resources and trade.
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