Observing the Western government and press discourses, gives us the impression that there are temporary only three hot spots in the world: Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran. Occasionally the Somalian pirates form part of this privileged club. It is not surprising that the developments in those countries are an eyesore for the West, challenging its interests and regional dominance. Nevertheless Western media, governments and intergovernmental institutions observe and analyze the problems in the mentioned countries above all through a military point of view –Iranians pursuing a nuclear bomb, Somalian pirates attacking ships, Taliban ambushing and killing NATO troops, etc.–, disregarding the needs and the miserable situation of the civilian population and the root causes of the conflict (underdevelopment and exclusion); the Somali’s, the Iranians, Iraqi’s and Afghans are still privileged compared with the Congolese, Colombians, Sudanese and other societies who are also characterized by wide-spread violence and insecurity. Moreover, the latter societies are not only neglected by the West, but as well by their own governments.
A good example is the conflict in Darfur. This vast region only gets the news when Western aid staff is kidnapped. Notwithstanding, every self-claiming serious broadcasting corporation should spend more resources on Sudan. It is Africa’s biggest country and its internal affairs influence the broader region. Chadian rebels and Kony’s Lord Resistance Army use Sudan as a safe haven to prepare their attacks on Chad and Uganda. The conflict in Darfur and a possible reprise of the civil war between the South and the North could draw the whole region from Egypt to the Democratic Republic of the Congo into a negative spiral of instability, broad-scale violence, refugees, proxy-wars, community tensions, endemic diseases, etc. Moreover, Sudan takes in an important position in the new scramble for Africa between the West and Asian countries (in main part headed by China and to a lesser extent India). Thus, paying more attention to Sudan’s politics and conflicts is well legitimized.
Today we see both positive as negative dynamics in Sudan. A positive development is that regarding to the conflict in Darfur, the United States, Libya and UNAMID (the UN peacekeeping force in Darfur) are trying to set up a reunification process among the various rebel groups. The two main rebels groups that toke up the arms in 2002, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and Sudanese Liberation Movement (SLM), are at the moment divided into various factions, rivaling each other and undermining the legitimacy and the influence of the broader rebellion movement. Former adversaries USA and Libya are coordinating their efforts to reunite dissident factions from SLM and JEM. Last August the new US special envoy Scott Gration and Qaddafi were successful in convincing five rebel factions from the SLM to gather in one rebel movement, Sudan’s Liberation Revolutionary Forces.
Gration believes that the reunification of Darfur rebel groups is a necessary condition to launch a possible peace process. Problematic about Gration’s policy, is his tribal approach of the Darfur problem. At the same time Washington tries to normalize the bilateral relations with Sudan. This policy is driven by the apparent view sanctions have not and will not work and by the priority that the White House gives to the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). In other words, the United States is ready to compromise on Darfur and Sudan’s policy in order to improve the prospects for CPA implementation. Hence, not surprisingly this new US approach is harshly criticized by JEM and Abdel Wahid al-Nur, leader of a part of the SLM, who indicates that former reunification efforts all failed and argues that it would be better to bundle all efforts in seeking a true solution for the conflict. Furthermore, he doubts that these new entities are able to enforce peace agreement once they are signed. Although al-Nur criticism hits the nail on the head, it conceals uneasiness regarding the US reunification plans given that they threat al-Nur’s leadership position and his influence among the Darfurians because one of the results can be a replacement of al-Nur by another leader. This anxiety is confirmed by his abrupt turn to be ready to talk to any party willing to achieve a serious peace instead of demanding first the disarmament of government militias and the return of IDP’s to their homeland before participating in any form of peace negotiations.
Negative developments are: 1) Bashir’s enhanced internal position, 2) disputes between the National Congress Party (NCP) and the Sudanese People Liberation Movement (SPLM) about the planned April 2010 national elections, the 2011 referendum and the implementation of the CPA, 3) clashes in Southern Sudan, and 4) the unchanged situation in Darfur.
Although the ICC arrest warrant against Bashir put pressure on his position and the party, causing major disagreements in the NCP, Bashir was able to keep the support of senior NCP leaders and army force commanders. Moreover, by putting aside any elements that might threaten his position of president, he even strengthened his grip on power. Salah Gosh, chief of National Intelligence and Security Services and seen as one of the main decision makers concerning Khartoum’s approach on the handling of the conflict in Darfur, was removed last August. Another man on the seesaw seems to be the second vice president Ali Osman Taha. There are speculations that he would be replaced for a vice president of Darfur, a maneuver which would remove another potential presidential candidate and at the same time strengthen Bashir’s position in Darfur. It is no secret that the two party leaders have serious disagreements over the approach for dealing with the South and Darfur. Whereas Taha fears a further international isolation of Sudan, agreeing to make concessions, Bashir and his hardliners aggressively oppose any concession on Darfur and to the SPLM.
They continue to provoke both internally as internationally by arming militias in Darfur and Southern Sudan, blocking or delaying key concessions required for democratic transformation, causing a major twist with the SPLM about the percentage of voter turnout in the referendum of 2011 -the NCP states that a two-third majority is required for Southern Sudanese independence- and the results of the census that are used to determine the electoral constituencies for the national legislative elections of April 2010 -it is now already known that the elections cannot be hold on time. Moreover they carry on dividing the Darfurian population along ethnic lines, continue to abuse human rights on a massive scale in Darfur and to intimate UNAMID by placing impediments on the movement of the peacekeepers. Furthermore they heat up tensions by announcing the closing of IDP camps by early 2010. It’s clear as daylight that the NPC wants to keep Darfur in chaos. As such, there is limit room for opposition to emerge and it enables Khartoum’s key allies in Darfur to resettle on cleared land and to integrate Janjaweed militias into official security structures.
Meanwhile the humanitarian and security situation in Darfur remains shocking –there are still 2.7 million IDP’s-, the situation in Southern Sudan aggravates. There are ongoing clashes between the farming Mundari and cattle keeping Dinka Bor over access to land, pasture and water, resulting in the death of hundreds of civilians, the displacement of thousands and leaving behind an increasingly failing Southern government vis-à-vis the protection of its citizens. The starkly failure of the Southern government and UNMIS to protect civilians from violence, in particular from intercommunal violence, was already clearly demonstrated in March and April of this year, when 10 states of Southern Sudan were hit by the most deadly episode of violence since the end of the 21-year civil war in 2005. In Jonglei state more than 1,000 people were killed in clashes over resources like water, land, pasture and livestock. The fact that frictions turn immediately in armed clashes is a direct consequence of two decades of civil war and high level of armament among civilians. In Darfur the same evolution is taking place. With a SPLM who accuses the NCP of fueling violent clashes through training and arming militias in Southern Sudan in order to make the Southern government apparently unable to govern itself ahead of the 2011 referendum and a NCP who continues to provoke antagonism in the ranks of the SPLM/A, a reprise of civil war is highly possible.
It is time that Europe pays more attention to Sudan. Europe is increasingly losing its influence in Africa in benefit of China. This is almost daily demonstrated in Congo, Angola and Sudan. While Europe doesn’t come to a unified position vis-à-vis Sudan and its conflicts, China keeps on to sign big contracts. In a 260 US million dollar contract, China Petroleum Engineering Construction Corporation agreed to execute 7 projects in Sudan’s oil sector. While Western countries try to pressure Bashir and to isolate its regime on the one hand and turn their back on Darfur by not delivering the essential support to the UN peacekeeping forces on the other hand; Chinese are building schools, constructing roads, railway lines and participate in UNAMID. In times of a worldwide economic and financial crisis, global climate change and international migrant flows, it is striking to see that Europe -both its citizens as its political leaders- keeps on navel-gazing.