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Dancing with a dictator in Sudan, again.

Northern Sudanese forces seized Abyei, why should we be surprised? It looks like what I wrote almost 4 years ago: Darfur: when History is a never ending story… is still up to date. Since I first wrote about #Sudan in the late 80s (yes, it has been a while), every new event taking place in the country confirms the more we wait, the worse it gets. Twenty years have past and nothing appears to have changed. Baby steps, that is. But they have saved lives so it’s far better than nothing, we can’t deny it. But are baby steps the most efficient response to what has been happening in South Sudan and is still happening in #Darfur? And now that Sudan’s northern army seized control of the disputed, oil- producing Abyei region, many rightfully think northern and southern fighting over Abyei could reignite a full blown war in Sudan.

Here we go, again.

Over the years, I have become some kind of an ‘adviser’ to my friends and acquaintances about Sudan. Not that I’m an expert or anything, but my concerned interest and my attempts to bring awareness on what is happening in Sudan for two decades apparently gave me some credibility; as soon as something happens, I receive a heavy flow of emails about it. And everytime, the word that comes the more often is: ‘Again?!‘. Indeed, again and again. Despairing and frustrating when each time Sudan is on the front pages (and even when it’s not…), people are dying out there. It is not an inoffensive background noise you can mute, this noise is about the barely audible complains of people suffering daily aerial bombing and artillery attacks, getting their villages burned, forced to flee and being displaced if not raped or killed. This background noise we hear, coming and going, this noise we can ‘see’ when we open our blind eyes and hear when we decide to listen, is the noise of death.

A few days ago I have read Dancing with a dictator in Sudan by John Prendergast. It raised many questions among our Members from the MagkaSama Project, composed of doctors who worked in Africa for years, volunteers working in the field with NGOs, activists and journalists but also ‘ordinary’ but committed people. ‘Again?!‘, they said. Indeed, it looks like we are compromising dancing with a dictator in Sudan, again. In December 2010, as everyone was expecting two referendum to take place: a vote on whether the North and South should remain united and another vote on whether Abyei should join North or South, SudanTribune reported the terse response of Sudanese presidential assistant Nafei Ali Nafei: ‘The referendum will not take place’. The presidential assistant was consistent with statements made by the US State Department spokesperson Philip J. Crowley who said on the same day it is “virtually impossible” to organize Abyei referendum as agreed in the CPA. “I think we have a recognition that that referendum will not go forward on January 9th, but we continue to encourage the parties to work on a solution to Abyei,” said Crowley‘. For everyone following the events in Sudan, as soon as we heard the referendum in Abyei was postponed, indefinitely, we knew it was a ticking time bomb.

Six months later and with no surprise, Northern Sudanese forces seized Abyei. Prendergast says: ‘The international community threatened real consequences during and after these incidents and after other targeted crimes against civilian populations. But the consequences never came.’ He adds: ‘We supported President Obama and Sen. John Kerry in crafting these incentives. We hoped that the carrots of debt relief, removal from the list of state sponsors of terrorism and an end to sanctions would help change Khartoum’s calculations.’ We’re back to the carrot-and-stick approach. Last year, I published: The power of carrot and stick: reductio ad absurdum? as a response to The value of sticks and carrots for Sudan published on the Enough Project website. My goal was not to criticize Enough Project’s amazing work but to give my point of view concerning the carrot-and-stick approach the organization was supporting at this time. Knowing Omar Al-Bashir‘s attitude, it was hard to believe he would be willing to accept to play by the rules of a policy which can only work if both sides agree with the principle. Agreement on which, as far I as know, Al-Bashir never agreed to.

Maybe this is why we are dancing with a dictator in Sudan, again. So now Prendergast rightfully asks: ‘How long is the international community willing to tolerate this deadly dictator? President Omar al-Bashir has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for genocide, is escalating bombing and food aid obstruction in Darfur, and he now threatens the entire north-south peace process.’ In my post I mentioned one of the (many) reason(s) the ‘consequences’ announced by the international community, the ones Prendergast was asking for, never came: ‘What is exactly our room to manoeuvre when the companies of the so-called ‘international allies’ with which the U.S should work ‘to build the kind of package of incentives and pressures’ are already openly and without scruples ‘working’ with (and sometimes even depend on) Sudan, Burma, Congo, and so on?‘. From the same article I wrote: ‘But what about advocacy organizations? And what power do we really have, as citizens? Individually, not much, I am afraid. And what about our respective Presidents? Do the carrot and the stick are of any help when countries like China and Russia still collaborate with President Omar al-Bashir, indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur? When French and American companies like Total and Chevron fuel the Burmese Junta with their offshore gas fields money? When multinational corporations are importing conflict minerals and selling arms? When unregulated financial speculations (my post on this topic) put our economies at risk, create hunger, war or ecological disaster? Does our desire for sexy gadgets and trendy fashion clothes justify forcing some people to work in slave-labor conditions?

That said, it doesn’t leave much of a choice when it comes to stand against a dictator. John Prendergast says in his article: ‘We are not advocating military intervention. But the evidence shows that incentives alone are insufficient to change Khartoum’s calculations. International support should be sought immediately for denying debt relief, expanding the ICC indictments, diplomatically isolating the regime, suspending all non-humanitarian aid, obstructing state-controlled bank transactions and freezing accounts holding oil wealth diverted by senior regime officials‘. I already mentioned divestment several times on this blog (in Darfur, Congo, Burma: is ‘good will’ enough? and Darfur: a World Wide Role Playing Game). If alone we can’t do much, by supporting divestment campaigns and boycotting companies that do business with dictatorships, oppressive regimes and corrupted governments, our voice can count. A lot. The (dirty) list of companies is not a short one and among these companies are some of the biggest in the world. I posted about Sudan Divestment Task Force, but a great example is the work done by Investors Against Genocide (I mentioned them several times in my recent Sunday Roundup posts). It’s a citizen-led initiative, dedicated to convincing mutual funds and other investment firms to make an ongoing commitment to genocide-free investing. Investors Against Genocide works with individuals, organizations, financial institutions, the press, and government agencies to build awareness and create financial, public relations, and regulatory pressure for investment firms to change their investing strategy to avoid investments in companies which substantially contribute to genocide or crimes against humanity.

Obviously, the wait-and-see policy toward al-Bashir didn’t bring many results so far, the biggest of all (and it’s a big one) being the independence of South Sudan. The situation in Sudan is similar to Russian nesting dolls; you think you just made a big step toward peace but then another event pops up and the situation becomes unstable again… Recent news are: Sudanese army appoints military governor for Abyei, Sudan Threatens to Occupy 2 More Disputed Regions and Sudan Increases Pressure on Southern Army to Quit Disputed Border Areas. Here we are again. ‘We must proceed before Abyei ignites the next Darfur,’ says Prendergast. We can’t predict the future but it is certain if nothing is done, if there are no consequences for what is happening in Abyei, then we can fear the worst. Maybe it’s Time for Outrage, says Stephane Hessel in his best-selling book 30-page essay, the man who participated in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 and who accepted to sign the artwork I created for the 60 Signers for the 60th Anniversary Initiative.

Whether it is to fight for our rights and freedom in our own country or outside our borders, we have to take action because our lives and fate are intertwined. It’s time for our voices to count. And I wish Sudan, but also Congo or Burma, were the trigger.

Related Posts

South Sudan and Sudan; news roundup about the complex, intertwined situation
South Sudan: how we all fell for the ‘big lie’
Abyei Referendum: Sudan wants is oil, South Sudan wants its people
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Martin Luther King Jr. and Obama’s election: Free at last? (2)
The revolution in Sudan and the ‘villains’
Sudan: divide and rule, the winning strategy
In Sudan, Seeing Echoes of Darfur. And still waiting for diplomacy…
Syria: against mass killings, but business comes first. Always.
South Sudan: Render unto southern Sudanese that which is theirs
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