South Sudan – Sudanese deserve concrete fruits of peace

Text – from the LWF website (

Leo Siliämaa a former LWF staff in Sudan (Photo - Leo Siliämaa © LPI)

Leo Siliämaa (Finland) served with the LWF Department for World Service (DWS) as an agricultural program officer in Sudan’s Upper Nile Province between 1978 and 1980, as LWF/DWS Sudan program director 1981-1984 and as LWF/DWS Sudan program officer at the Geneva Secretariat from 1984 until the early 1990s.

Lutheran World Information talked to Siliämaa about LWF program in the country during these years and his hopes now for the future of the newly-independent South Sudan.

The LWF’s involvement in Southern Sudan since the 1972 Addis Ababa Agreement [ending 17 years of civil war] has been a mixture of reconstruction, basic services, community mobilization and relief work.

Shift to Development Work

LWF work started with reconstruction of schools destroyed during Sudan’s first civil war, but the focus soon changed to community empowerment, agricultural development, primary health care and vocational training.  The shift from relief aid to community participation was a challenge because expectations of free aid had already been raised.

Young men were trained as “mobilizers” to help communities get involved in school and clinic construction and mechanized farming schemes. The LWF provided raw materials and supervision while communities provided labor.

Skills Training

Gardens were established to demonstrate better farming methods and inform farmers about new crops. There were adult education classes and training in carpentry and tinsmithing.

This period of LWF involvement was very rewarding, as community participation was very high and cooperation with the local government was very good.  The government paid for teachers in new schools and primary health care clinics; there were even two agriculturists sent to work with the LWF program.

Civil War Resumes

When civil war began again in 1983, the impact on the LWF program was felt almost immediately. The LWF river barge was shot at in July of that year, and I had to interrupt my home leave to return to Sudan.

My Sudanese counterpart, who left to join the armed struggle, was killed in early 1984 in internal fighting between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army and [the liberation movement] Anyanya 2.

Expatriate Staff Leave

1984 saw the attack on the Jonglei Canal construction camp near Malakal in early 1984, the sinking of a river barge south of Malakal and several other incidents that claimed lives and caused material damage. The LWF had to make the painful decision to evacuate expatriate staff. The program continued at a reduced level with local staff.

Another setback was felt when a chartered plane was shot down in 1987, killing more than 50 people, including an LWF community development worker and his family.

Work Coordinated from Kenya

The LWF was asked to leave Sudan in 1987 along with other church-based agencies. Support continued from Nairobi, Kenya, as a cross border operation because, as the war went on, relief needs increased due to famine and the displacement of people.

Unfortunately, most of the work accomplished by the LWF during its early involvement disappeared during the war. However, for those staff members who survived the war, the skills developed earlier remained, with some former staff currently deployed in public service.

Hopes for Peace

On the threshold of South Sudanese independence, I pray that peace will prevail and that democratic principals will take deeper root in society. After more than 20 years of war, people deserve concrete fruits from peace and independence.

It is my hope that the administration will use its resources wisely, without corruption, and the people will realize that they are the only ones who can improve their standard of living, that others can only support their efforts.

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