With a general election here now just weeks away and the outcome uncertain, what would happen if David Cameron unexpectedly decided to postpone the poll and instead extend his term of office until 2017? The answer is we would take it for granted that the world's media and its leaders would jump to the defence of our democracy and rightly demand that the election be held. But that is exactly what happened in South Sudan in February when elections due to take place this June were suddenly postponed for two years, a move barely reported upon by the world's media or its leaders.
This year there are elections happening across east Africa which will be a key test of the continents commitment to democracy. In May and June there will be Parliamentary and Presidential elections in Burundi and in November Presidential elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Ref 1
Emerge Poverty Free, a British based Christian charity, works in each of these countries, helping people to lift themselves out of poverty. We don't preach at people but we do offer them practical help from educating street children in Burundi, caring for war orphans in the DRC, to helping farmers in South Sudan. But as well as battling poverty, we are also battling the fact that all these countries have been ravaged by war.
Take South Sudan, the world's youngest democracy, who gained its independence from Sudan in 2011 after two disastrous civil wars. In December 2013 a civil war again broke out after President Salva Kiir dismissed his deputy, Riek Machar accusing him of plotting a coup. Since then, more than 10,000 people have been killed and more than 1.5 million displaced from their homes. The recent postponement of the election there bought to an abrupt end a peace settlement negotiated earlier this year known as the Arusha Agreement which offered real hope for ending the conflict. Ref 2
Emerge Poverty Free is working in a town called Ikotos in the very south of the country which has to date escaped the worst of the current conflict. However, many of the women there have lost husbands in the previous civil wars, others have fled there to escape the current fighting. Women like Esther Siama, 29, who used to live in the capital Juba and came to Ikotos with her 4 children last year after her husband died fighting. To help her and her friends in similar situations, Emerge have established a bakery, where she can bake bread and sell cakes.
Esther is also attending literacy classes put on by Emerge because she wants to learn to speak English well. As a result Esther can now feed her family and has started using her new language skills to apply for jobs. Ref 3
Over the years many others like Esther have fled to Britain seeking asylum to escape the civil wars. As a result Britain now hosts one of the oldest and largest South Sudanese communities in the world. Many of these communities are based in London, Brighton, the West Midlands, Glasgow and Edinburgh and this Easter they will be praying for peace, echoing the South Sudan Council of Churches who have called on people there not to lose hope. "As Christians, we always have hope. When times are dark we remember that Christ suffered and died but then rose from the dead. Christ remains with us, and the Holy Spirit gives us strength and endurance. The people of South Sudan have experienced many decades of conflict, but we are confident that, with God's help, we will overcome the evil in our midst and will move forward in peace and justice". Ref 4
As Easter approaches millions of Christians here will be praying for our government and thinking ahead to our general election. As well as doing this I am also asking people to pray for peace in those countries like Burundi, the DRC and South Sudan where democracy cannot be taken for granted.