KHARTOUM - The top U.S. diplomat for Africa on Wednesday joined an international effort to press Sudan’s military rulers and the opposition toward a deal on a transition to democracy two months after the overthrow of former President Omar al-Bashir.
An Ethiopian envoy has said that the military and opposition groups have agreed to resume talks on the formation of a transitional council that collapsed after the violent dispersal of a protest sit-in June 3.
Tibor Nagy, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Africa, met Wednesday with the main opposition coalition and held talks with Sudan’s acting Deputy Foreign Minister Ilham Ibrahim.
Before the meetings, the State Department said Nagy was going to urge the parties to work toward an environment conducive to the resumption of negotiations. The United States also Wednesday named veteran diplomat Donald Booth as its envoy to Sudan.
After crackdown, no direct talks
After meeting Nagy, the main opposition coalition said that it would only participate in indirect talks and it would impose other conditions.
“We have informed the Ethiopian prime minister that we refuse to have direct negotiations with the transitional military council,” said Madani Abbas Madani, a leader of the Declaration of Freedom and Change Forces. “The point of contention between us is clear and our terms are clear; we are talking now about issues of transition to civilian rule and the rights of martyrs.”
The bloodshed has drawn expressions of concern from world powers including the United States, which imposed sanctions on Sudan under Bashir over its alleged support for militant groups and the civil war in Darfur.
Stability in the nation of 40 million is crucial for a volatile region struggling with conflict and insurgencies from the Horn of Africa to Egypt and Libya.
The military council has been bolstered by support from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which between them have offered $3 billion in aid.
“The current detente in Sudan calls for optimism and we call for the establishment of an agreement that will drive the transitional phase through a real and stable partnership,” UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said on Twitter.
He also praised the role of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who flew to Khartoum last week on a mediation mission and is expected to return this week.
The June 3 crackdown led to at least 118 deaths, according to opposition-linked medics. The government has confirmed 61 deaths, including three security personnel.
Sudan’s Foreign Ministry summoned the British ambassador, Irfan Siddiq, on Wednesday to protest his remarks, SUNA reported. As authorities tried to disperse the main protest site last week, he tweeted: “No excuse for any such attack. This. Must. Stop. Now.”
Talks between the military and the opposition were deadlocked before the crackdown as the two sides struggled to agree on the makeup of a sovereign council that will oversee the transition.
Capital returns to normal
In Khartoum, employees returned to work Wednesday and storeowners opened their shops, after the alliance of protesters and opposition groups suspended a three-day campaign of strikes and civil disobedience.
Many people lined up outside ATMs and banks that had closed first for the Eid holiday at the start of June and then because of the strike.
Sudan is still suffering an internet outage. Some side streets that had been closed by protesters were still partially blocked by remnants of barricades. Rubbish bins not emptied for days were overflowing.
VIRGINIA BEACH, VA. —
Police in the U.S. state of Virginia say a disgruntled public utility employee killed 12 people at a municipal building in Virginia Beach before he was killed by police.
The city’s police chief, James Cervera, said the shooter “immediately and indiscriminately fired upon all the victims” after he entered the municipal building shortly after 4 p.m. Friday.
He said six others were wounded in the shooting.
Cervera described the gunman as a disgruntled longtime employee of the city’s public utilities but did not say more about what led to the attack. He did not release the suspect’s name.
Witnesses say the shooting took place at Building Two of the Virginia Beach municipal complex, which houses the city’s public works, public utilities, and planning departments.
Cervera said one police officer was among those wounded but survived.
He said the investigation into the shooting is just beginning, but said police believe the suspect acted alone.
“The fact that the suspect was immediately confronted, the fact that the suspect is deceased, means that our citizens can rest easy tonight,” he said.
Reaction to the shooting
“This is the most devastating day in the history of Virginia Beach,” Mayor Bobby Dyer said at a news conference with the police chief. “The people involved are our friends, co-workers, neighbors, colleagues.”
The White House said U.S. President Donald Trump had been briefed and was monitoring the situation.
Virginia’s governor, Ralph Northam, traveled to Virginia Beach and said he had offered the state’s full support.
“This is unspeakable, senseless violence,” he said in a statement.
Virginia Senator Mark Warner said in a statement “I am horrified by what has happened today in Virginia Beach.”
Thousands of Arkansas, Oklahoma and Louisiana residents braced for more flooding Wednesday, and some evacuated their homes, as forecasts of further rain drove fears that decades-old levees girding the Arkansas River may not hold.
More than a week of violent weather, including downpours and deadly tornadoes, has lashed the central United States, bringing record-breaking floods to parts of the states, turning highways into lakes and submerging all but the roofs of some homes.
“This is a flood of historic magnitude,” Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson told a news conference Wednesday, joined by state and federal emergency officials. He said of the Arkansas River: “It’s a beautiful sight until it comes to get you.”
Flooding has already closed 12 state highways, he said, and 400 households have agreed to voluntary evacuations.
Hutchinson sent a letter to U.S. President Donald Trump Wednesday asking for a federal emergency declaration for Arkansas.
The levee system along the Arkansas River “has not seen this type of record flooding” before, Hutchinson said in his six-page letter. Hutchinson said Trump had promised assistance in an earlier conversation, several media outlets reported.
More heavy downpours were forecast through Wednesday night over much of Oklahoma and Arkansas, with between 1 and 3 inches (2.5-7.6 cm) expected, said Patrick Burke, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center.
Rivers were expected to crest by early June to the highest levels on record all the way down to Little Rock, Arkansas, Burke said.
In Tulsa, Oklahoma’s second largest city, Mayor G.T. Bynum warned that the city’s levees were being tested “in a way that they have never been before.”
He said the 20-mile (32 km) levee system, which protects some 10,000 people, was working as designed so far and being patrolled around the clock by the Oklahoma National Guard.
Staff at the Harvest Church West Tulsa, which sits behind a levee a few blocks from the Arkansas River, moved furniture and sound and office equipment from the basement to the church’s second floor and relocated staff out of the neighborhood.
“For levees that are 70 years old, they’re holding well but they’re not designed to hold the pressure this long, which is what the fear is at this point,” Chuck Barrineau, the church’s lead pastor, said in a phone interview.
At least six people have died in the latest round of flooding and storms in Oklahoma, according to the state’s Department of Health.
More than 300 tornadoes have touched down in the Midwest in the past two weeks. Tornadoes pulverized buildings in western Ohio on Monday, killing one person and injuring scores.
In Louisiana, the Mississippi River was also at record flood levels because of record-breaking rainfalls this spring, forecasters said.
Trump authorized emergency aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the state late Wednesday.
Louisiana Governor John Edwards said on Twitter: “I thank President Trump for recognizing the urgency of our request and responding so quickly.”
In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the Mississippi rose above flood stage in early January and has remained there since, forecasters said.
For as long as I can remember, Proverbs 14: 34 has been a part of my Christian consciousness. In case it doesn’t ring a bell, the NIV version says, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin condemns any people.” Or to put it in King James (and American Standard Version) language, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.”
For years it remained the kind of moral verse one uses as a hand-grenade to throw at decadence from the piety of the pulpit. At least it did until I was asked to use the text as a sermon for a national event in 2011.
On 12 January 2010 Haiti was ravaged by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake which all but destroyed the nation’s fragile resilience. In November 2011 Christians across the nation came together to consider their role in nation-building and anchored their strategy for “Integrity in Haiti” in this proverb. The idea was that on a particular Sunday morning, sermons based on this single verse would be presented simultaneously across the nation.
For the first time in over forty years of public ministry, I was confronted by a text which I thought I knew well but had never really thought about before.
It was a serious challenge. Huge and unexplored questions hurled themselves in my direction. What does a moral message about piety have to do with nation-building? How does a message about sin and righteousness remotely shape public policy and direct the future of a nation? The text is, after all, a wisdom statement and not a prescription for public policy.
After years of brandishing a text I thought I understood, and on which I had never heard a sermon preached, a hurricane in Haiti called my bluff.
Righteousness and Public Life
So, what did I have in mind? Was it the conviction that the nation would recover its moral compass through spiritual revival if enough people stopped smoking, doing drugs and living promiscuously? This idea has good historic precedence in Wesley’s revival. History suggests a direct link between Wesley’s revival, temperance, industrial reform and even the abolition of the slave trade. Roy Hattersley, a well-known political figure and historian famously claimed that the birth of the Labour Party in the UK was indirectly influenced by John Wesley.
Maybe that’s what the Proverb is driving at. Clean up moral standards and the nation does well, which is one of the reasons why so many of us are waiting for the next revival. But my sermon led me to wonder if the righteousness which the Bible talks about is more fundamental than that. Surely, I wondered, the righteousness which changes a nation has to do with more than personal or moral piety.
Righteousness has a variety of meanings, which includes personal and moral purity. What the Bible describes as righteousness (tzadeqah) should never be understood simply as a reference to private morality. As Tim Keller's book Generous Justice, puts it, “In the Bible, tzadeqah refers to day to day living in which a person conducts all relationships in family and society with fairness, generosity, and equity.” This means that while the idea of righteousness is described as personal holiness and moral living, it should never become detached from a wider application of just behavior and just leadership.
If you haven’t noticed, there is an inseparable relationship between holiness, righteousness, and justice, which jumps out at us from the Scriptures again and again. A small sample (Ps 45: 6; 89: 14; 97:2; Isa. 16:5) all make this quite clear. In fact, one verse does this supremely well: Isa. 5:16, which pulls together all three ideas of justice, holiness, and righteousness in one short sentence.
What is especially important here, is that in most of these cases from the Psalms these interchangeable attributes of leadership are found in God himself and held up as required qualities in good leadership (Gen. 49: 16; Deut. 16: 2; 1 Kings 10:9; Job 34: 17; Micah 3:1).
Righteousness as a Political Eco-system
If we assume that the Bible is consistently concerned about what a good society looks like, it becomes that much easier to see why the idea of justice undergirds a biblical approach to human relationships.
This is why the Bible makes no distinction between true worship and just relationships (Isa. 58: 6-10; Amos 5:8-10; Matt. 23:23: James 1:27). For example, it hates bribery (Exod. 23:8; Deut. 27:25; Ezra 4:5; 2 Chron. 19: 7; Prov. 15:27; Isa. 5:23) and calls leaders to defend the oppressed (Psa. 74: 21; Prov. 14:31). In fact, it is the one who “defended the cause of the poor and the needy” (Jer. 22:16) who can claim to know God.
So, if Nebuchadnezzar had taken Daniel’s advice, and showed just leadership “by being kind to the oppressed” (Dan. 4:27), he would have avoided the temporary loss of his kingdom and the indignity of grazing with animals in the royal grounds.
There’s no doubt about it: widespread revivals help lift a nation’s morale and spiritual climate. It influences public life and can change the course of a nation. But I’m thinking that the proverb is talking about something else. It seems to describe the basis for human relationships based on an understanding of righteousness at ground level. And as we have seen, there is no real distance between holiness, righteousness, and justice.
Or to put it another way, holiness is what I obtain through my relationship with God in Christ. Righteousness is holiness worked out in my relationship with everyone made in God’s image; and justice applies to those ways in which right relationships become embedded in our community to protect everyone - especially those who are most vulnerable. And as people who speak other languages apart from English would tell us, it’s hard to push a straw through these three concepts.
Praying for Righteousness
All of this should inform how we pray to see the proverb come to pass. It's right to pray for revival. We all want to experience God touching down in our cities through signs and wonders.
But praying for righteousness means praying for justice to roll down in business and industry where workers are treated fairly. It means resisting corrupt practices which benefits the rich and oppresses the poorest of the people. And it rises up prophetically to remind our governments that human freedoms cannot be bartered for trade with oppressive nations.
As Paul suggests, it’s just as important to offer “prayers, intercessions and thanksgiving” for just and righteous leadership which gives everyone the space to live “peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Tim. 2: 1, 2).
About the Author
Rev. Dr. Joel Edwards, CBE, is the Strategic Advisor with Christian Solidarity Worldwide (www.csw.org.uk), an agency working for religious freedom and human rights. He is also a freelance broadcaster with the BBC, and a writer and international speaker on a wide range of areas including Bible teaching, justice, leadership, faith response to human rights, religious freedom, and current affairs. He is married to Carol, and they have two children and five grandchildren.
SANAA, YEMEN —
When the blast went off in early April, shrapnel hit homes and schools all over the quiet residential neighborhood of the Yemeni capital.
Windows shattered and the 2,000 girls in a nearby school tried to evacuate at once, many racing down the stairs and some dying in the stampede.
Safia Al-Wesabi, a 10-year-old student of the Al-Ra'ai School, made it out safely, but she couldn't find her older, teen-aged sister outside. "I was sobbing," she said. "I thought she was trampled to death."
More than 15 children were killed and 100 other people injured that day, but violence is just one of the many reasons the war in Yemen has crippled the country's ability to educate children, and often even keep them alive. As Yemen's conflict goes into a fifth year, aid organizations are calling it a "war on children."
"We are at a tipping point," said Henrietta Fore, the executive director of UNICEF in a recent speech. "If the war continues any longer, the country may move past the point of no return. ... How long will we continue allowing Yemen to slide into oblivion?"
Missing school and health care
As the children fled flying glass and shrapnel at their school last month, Hamid Al Wesabi, Safia's father, was in his home located on a hill nearby. His house shook and the windows broke. He ran to the school to find his daughters. "We didn't know what was happening," he said.
Later that day, both the girls and their father escaped the chaos and reunited at home.
A few weeks later, the school was open again for final exams and Wesabi's daughters went back. Many others chose not to return.
At least one in five schools is no longer in use in Yemen, mostly because they were destroyed by violence or are now being used as emergency shelters or military bases.
Hospitals also have shut down at alarming rates and roughly half of Yemeni children under age 5 have been permanently injured by malnutrition. Every 10 minutes a child in Yemen dies from a preventable cause, according to a recent UNICEF report.
Teachers' salaries are often not being paid, forcing many to look for other jobs. Sometimes children are simply too afraid to go to school, the report says.
As a result, Yemeni children are increasingly recruited to fight in militias, work at other adult jobs or married off at young ages. "If not in school, children would become an illiterate and unskilled parent and increasing the likelihood of passing on poverty to the next generation," it reads.
Safia took her exams but her text books were lost in the blast, so she could not prepare.
Other children were not so lucky. Sitting next to Safia at a wooden desk, 8-year-old Bayan appeared absent-minded when asked about her older sister, who was killed in the crush of girls trying to escape. An adult asked if she missed her sister.
"Yes," she managed to say quietly.
Humanitarian crisis deepens
The war in Yemen is between the Houthis, who currently hold the north, including the capital Sanaa, and forces loyal to the government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who was forced from the capital in 2015 and is recognized as the Yemeni president by the United Nations.
These are hardly the only players in this war, which has left many world powers mired in proxy battles. Iran is known to support the Houthis, whose longest-held territories are near the border with Saudi Arabia, Iran's archenemy.
Saudi Arabia and its allies have been launching airstrikes targeting the Houthis — often in locations populated by civilians — for four years now with support from Western powers like the United States and Britain. Tens of thousands of people have been killed, many of them civilians, including children.
Already the Arab world's poorest country, this battle has turned Yemen into what many call the world's worst humanitarian disaster, with the threat of widespread famine now looming as peace talks continue to be derailed. Last week, a cease-fire in a key port city broke down, exacerbating the threat as food and aid remained stalled outside the country by the war.
It is not clear as to who or what caused the blast that hit the school last month, with pro-Saudi news reporting an airstrike, and later deleting the report, according to Human Rights Watch.The organization says Houthi authorities were storing dangerous material in a civilian neighborhood.
Besides violence, hunger, and disease, children in Yemen are also deeply threatened by the psychological trauma they are experiencing, according to Fathia al-Kuhlani, the principal of the Al Ra'ai School in Sanaa.
"After trauma, if students don't go back to school, anxiety can lead to depression," she said. "It was hard even for us to enter the school the day after the strike, but we needed to come to encourage the students to come back."