Crisis in Sudan

Um Ziefa  - village in Darfur - after attack by Sudanese airforce

Um Ziefa - village in Darfur - after attack by Sudanese airforce

These are momentous times for Africa’s largest nation. On  9 January a referendum will determine if Sudan becomes two countries. For the people of South Sudan, many of whom are Christian, it is an historic chance to break free of the northern elite, based in Khartoum, who have brutally oppressed them for centuries.

Christian activists were crucial in persuaded the Bush Administration to pressure Sudan’s President Bashir to allow a self-determination vote in the South. Since a 1989 military coup, Bashir has manipulated and armed Arab nomads to dispose of those who disagree with his extreme Islamic ideology, both in the South, where two million died, and more recently in Darfur, where the UN believes 300,000 have died and three million have been ethnically cleansed

Now those same Christians are alarmed by Washington’s recent change of policy. They fear the Obama administration is willing to ignore the Rwanda-in-slow-motion in Darfur, so long as January’s Southern referendum goes ahead.

Last month the former special US envoy, Richard Williamson revealed that reports on Khartoum’s intensified bombing of Darfuri civilians are being buried in Washington. The current envoy, Scott Gration describes the destruction of 90% of black African villages in Darfur as ‘events,’ whereas the Bush administration called it genocide. Ever the willing poodle, the UK follows where the US leads.

Khartoum has bullied the UN in Darfur into submitting its media releases for approval, and the joint UN-Africa Union monitors ask Khartoum’s permission to investigate the frequent reports of attacks on civilians. Consequently the monitors have visited the massive ongoing massacre in the Jebel Marra area only once since February.

Washington has offered to remove Sudan from its list of state sponsors of terror in exchange for permitting the referendum, something Khartoum promised five years ago. Far from encouraging good behaviour from the regime, Bashir quite rightly senses the West’s desperation to be done with Sudan’s serial problems.

Khartoum has warned the millions of Southerners who fled to the North to avoid the war that if they vote for independence, they will lose any rights and may face public violence. Not surprisingly tiny numbers have registered, afraid to vote, and many wonder if they will have to abandon their jobs and homes to rush South to escape aggression.  

The Sudanese Armed Forces have moved into position along what will be the border with the South, and Southern farmers fear the regime is arming Arab nomads who are demanding citizenship rights in the oil-rich Abyei region on the border.

It doesn’t take a degree in diplomacy to see the Khartoum regime must be kept under pressure to deliver on its promises to the international community, and the numerous conventions and peace deals it has signed. But so far, the opposite has happened, signalling the West’s lack of seriousness. Khartoum has repeatedly broken its word, with no consequences. UN resolutions on Sudan remain unimplemented, as the regime bombs its own civilians in Darfur with impunity.

At the core of the US and UK appeasement of Bashir, the only sitting ruler indicted on charges of genocide, is the war on terror. Incredibly, Bashir, who sheltered Osama bin Laden during the 1990’s and who shares his political philosophy, has convinced Washington that Khartoum is on America’s side. The architects of Darfur’s destruction are debriefed by Western intelligence agencies that are so naïve and racist that they believe Sudanese spies can pass undetected in Yemen or Somalia.  

Other members of the UN Security Council who should have enforced their resolutions on Sudan, are busy selling them arms, or buying Sudan’s oil (490,000 barrels a day). However, 80% of the oil lies beneath what will be the new South Sudan. Many Southerners are convinced Khartoum will not surrender these revenues without a fight, which is why thousands of them are already fleeing to neighbouring countries.

Sudan-watchers believe Khartoum is raising last minute doubts about the voter registration process, creating a situation in which the South must declare unilateral independence, thereby giving Khartoum a pretext to take possession of the oil fields.

So, while the West preaches about human rights, moderate Islam and democracy, we decline to use our leverage for positive change. We also risk ‘blowback’ of the type encountered in Afghanistan in the 1980s, when America backed the anti-Soviet forces that went on to become Al-Qaeda.

Bashir’s version of political Islam despises free speech, Jews, Christians, women, gays and, most of all, moderate Islam. But evidently we are happy to work with Khartoum if the regime restricts itself to killing its own people, rather than ours. This is a short-sighted strategy, to put it mildly.

Rebecca Tinsley founded the human rights groups: after she visited Darfur in 2004.

If you live in the UK and wish to put pressure on the UK government please visit
If you wish to put pressure on the Obama administration visit

Tags: Darfur, Sudan, Waging Peace

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