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Serious questions about politics in Sudan and North Africa

By Jehron Muhammad | Last updated: Nov 5, 2009 - 1:44:15 PM

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Seccession or Destabilization?

President Obama's recently released Sudan strategy that tries to be all things to all people gives America and her interest groups needed instant gratification, but fails in addressing instability that a divided Sudan would engender and the possible destabilization of an entire region.

Is this the process towards peace that Obama is trying to use to justify the Noble Peace Prize he recently received? Is he keeping a campaign promise and appeasing the Darfur advocacy groups? Or is he finally reining in his special envoy to Sudan and beginning to recognize clearance of the cloud called Darfur is giving way to a monster inside the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA)?

The Western press appears to be gearing for secession between Southern and Northern Sudan regardless of the destabilizing effect such a divide would trigger. But as the West sees succession as inevitable, the SPLM (Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement) chairman Salva Kiir Mayardit, who is also the first Vice President of Sudan and President of the semi-autonomous Southern Sudan, “urged delegates from over 20 political parties ... to faithfully stand behind the implementation of the CPA, saying the CPA is no longer the Agreement signed between SPLM and the ruling NCP (National Congress Party), but rather the current constitution of the Sudan, being the only opportunity for lasting peace and stability in Sudan,” according to the GOSS (Government of Southern Sudan) official website.


‘Western press reports that oversimplify Sudan's problem as good guys verses bad guys, without looking at its history of foreign interventions and viewing Sudan as a microcosm of Africa, are problematic. ..Such reporting fails to take into account the complexity faced by the government in Sudan and other governments in Africa.’
—Mahdi Ibrahim Muhammad
Former Sudanese ambassador to the U.S.

“The CPA provides us with a golden opportunity to heal the wounds, address the grievances of the past and start building a New Sudan based on citizenship, respect of people's basic rights, equality, freedom and justice for all,” the former general affirmed.

Unlike movies, golden opportunities rarely have sequels and if the historically “dangerous divisions” that have plagued Sudan and prevented the peace process from going forward are not dealt with properly the outcome could be war that will make strife seen in Darfur appear insignificant.

In 2007 while sitting in the courtyard outside my hotel room in Khartoum, this author was warned of the very dangerous divisions within the SPLM.

During an exclusive interview with Dr. Wani Tombe, CEO of the political daily “Advocate Newspaper,” that is distributed in North and South Sudan warned, if the South succeeds “there will be a civil war,” and not just a war between the North and South. Dr. Tombe, who is from the southern-region in Juba forecast, “There is going to be a very bloody civil war between the Southern Sudanese themselves.”

And then in what could be called reading future events—including Obama's new policy on sanctions, and at the same time showing his chagrin—he said, “imposing sanctions”(while actually referencing President Bush) and “exempting the Southern Sudan is internationally unworkable.” He went on to suggest that this approach was the historical Western method of divide and conquer. Dr. Tombe, who is Christian, continued, “We find it very difficult, because it is trying to pit us against one another. We don't want that kind of role that Washington wants to play in our country. If it wants to support succession in Southern Sudan, it must come out very openly that it is supporting succession. It cannot do things, which contribute to the fragmentation of this country, and at the same time they tell us that they are for (a) united Sudan, because their actions actually do not indicate that kind of intention,” he said.

Though the jury is out on whether destabilization is an intention, one thing for sure is a potential problem is not an agenda item. Sdan analyst for the Social Science Research Council Alex de Waal recently blogged that “the referendum on self-determination in southern Sudan, which if indications of southern opinion are reliable, will lead to a decisive vote for secession. With all the attention on ‘CPA implementation'—which consists of safely getting to the point of the referendum—there has been far too little attention to what happens afterwards.”

According to the Washington Post, “If that deal—brokered by the Bush administration in 2005—collapses, officials and analysts (including de Waal) say, then hope will be lost for a solution to Darfur.”

Several years ago in Khartoum while addressing the National Assembly (NA), the former Sudanese ambassador to the U.S. who is a member of the NA, Mahdi Ibrahim Muhammad said, the U.S. and English governments “external involvement” in his country's affairs is a major “source of difficulties.”

According to Muhammad, “Western press reports that oversimplify Sudan's problem as good guys verses bad guys, without looking at its history of foreign interventions and viewing Sudan as a microcosm of Africa, are problematic,” said the former ambassador. “Such reporting fails to take into account the complexity faced by the government in Sudan and other governments in Africa,” he said.

Then explaining how integral Sudan is to the region and the importance of maintaining and stabilizing that portion of Africa he noted Sudan is the largest country on the continent and neighbors nine nations with shared ethnic groups and open borders. It has over 400 dialects and 573 ethnic groups practicing Islam, Christianity and African animist religions. “It is an enormous responsibility on any government to be able to deal with such a country with such diversity,” stressed former Ambassador Muhammad.

For Obama not to take into consideration the ramifications of the destabilization of the region is a major flaw in his new policy.

What is a special envoy to do?

U.S. special envoy to Sudan, Major General Scott Gration has been like a man with only a year to live. More than anyone in the Obama administration he has logged more “Sudan miles” and has probably the largest imprint on Obama's Sudan policy.

The energetic Gration, whose first language was Ki-Swahili, was born in Illinois, but raised with his parents who became missionaries in what is now Congo in the early 1950s before being forced to flee a decade later and settling in Kenya. He later moved back to the U.S. where he received a degree in mechanical engineering at Rutgers and then enlisted in the Air Force, where he served with distinction flying nearly 300 missions over Iraq and then commanding a unit in Saudi Arabia.

According to reports aides said that he was a “Republican, but that he bonded with Mr. Obama” in 2006, when they traveled together across Africa, beginning at Robben Island off the Cape of South Africa.

According to various reports, though he never held elected office or served as a diplomat. Gration gave credibility to an Obama candidacy that had no military experience.

Then on July 30 during his testimony before Sen. John Kerry's Senate Foreign Relations Committee he shook up Washington, including U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice, and ruffled the feathers of the Darfur advocacy groups. According to the magazine EIR, after “declaring there was no ongoing genocide in Darfur, he identified for the committee that it was entirely for political reasons that Sudan has been kept on the list of state sponsors of terrorism since 1993, emphasizing that there was no evidence from the U.S. intelligence community to support such a claim.”

Gration has since backtracked (“but the cat is out of the bag,” as one U.S. policy critic wrote) and the new “carrot and stick approach” concerning Sudan that takes into account willingness to negotiate with Sudan, and Rice's more hawkish position, that includes the implementation of sanctions.

In a recent Economist magazine, in a piece titled: “The generals have got it right,” the commander of the UN-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur, Gen. Martin Luther Agwai, explained that in the last three years, “the nature of the fighting (in Darfur) has dramatically changed (for the better).” The piece takes pains—without quoting the general—to say that Agwai in no way suggested the end of the war in Darfur.

On August 26 the Nigerian general actually said, and the Economist should be ashamed for its apparent unwillingness to quote him is, “As of today, I would not say there is a war going on in Darfur. ... What you have is security issues more now. Banditry ... people trying to resolve issues over water and land at the local level. But real war as such—I think we are over that.” Agwai, who just finished his tour of duty, insists that “the real problem is political.”

The real problem again that too few are actually willing to discuss, as Darfur cloud dissipates, is a policy that would allow breaking up a nation birthed from former British colonial masters and shaped by the afterbirth they left behind.

So according to Columbia professor Dr. Mahmood Mandani's book “Saviors and Survivors,” the CPA is drawn from the “southern Sudan elite” desire to not “remain beholden to the Northern elite at the center,” who the British at least left with infrastructure and resources, and the South they left with none.

So a “power sharing with wealth sharing, whose terms would be guaranteed by the big powers internationally” is created. And—at least initially—“both leaderships decided against any internal reform, including a process of democratization,” wrote Mamdani.

Save Darfur and John Prendergast's Darfur advocacy group Enough, according to Darfur researcher Bec Hamilton, has given a “positive but cautious” response to Obama's new Sudan policy. Hamilton writes this “verify then trust” approach is what Gration has been saying from the beginning. He also supports Gration receiving the necessary support from Obama and Secretary of State Clinton and the resources necessary for the new policies implementation.

Gration appears to be an honest broker but pressure sometimes makes you do strange things. Obama obviously among other things chose Gration for his knowledge and love of Africa, let's hope the president's African side takes Gration's commitment to heart, and the continent's future to resolution.

At press time Save Darfur and Enough had not responded to an interview request.

(To post comments go to: Jehron Muhammad can be reached at [email protected].)