June 13, 2003
Despite the continuation of the Machakos peace process for Sudan, recent events suggest that it is time to ask whether there remains any meaningful chance of success for the process. Put differently, the question is whether a just and truly lasting peace can ever be negotiated with the National Islamic Front regime in Khartoum. Is the brutal, intransigent Islamic fascism that now rules capable of making the good-faith concessions that are necessary for peace to come to this vast and diverse country? Is there any evidence, other than what some construe as encouraging atmospherics, that real progress has been made on any of the key issues since last July’s “Machakos Protocol,” the only substantial basis for optimism in the process to date? Are there any signs that Khartoum’s tyranny is softening? Is there any indication of a genuine concern for the suffering of marginalized peoples in Sudan, or for the present urgency of humanitarian programs and interventions? Is there any evidence that the regime is observing the various monitoring agreements to which it has committed?
Recent developments suggest that the answer is empathically “no” in every case, which raises a further question: is the international community prepared to continue normal relations—commercial, economic, and diplomatic—with an Islamic fascism that poses a permanent obstacle to peace in the world’s most destructive civil conflict? An answer to this question will be offered by way of conclusion in this analysis, but first a review of current realities that should inform any assessment of Khartoum’s participation in the peace process. And even as these are recent events, they must be seen as revealing of the character of a regime that is essentially unchanged since it came to power by military coup in June of 1989, deposing an elected government, and aborting a nascent peace agreement in the process. The National Islamic Front has attempted to change its name; it has to date proved wholly incapable of changing its character.
 During a recent trip to Khartoum, Roger Winter, Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance at the US Agency for International Development (USAID), was prevented by Khartoum officials from traveling, as planned and agreed, to a conference in Abyei in southern Kordofan (Abyei is one of the three contested areas that constitute a key issue for the Machakos peace talks). The purpose of the conference was to increase peaceful dialogue in the area between the often competing Ngok Dinka and the Messairiya Arab tribal groups. As Mr. Winter said on the occasion of his being denied permission to travel to this important area and conference: “This is an unfortunate signal sent to us by some government officials” (Al Ayam, Khartoum).
Mr. Winter’s trip also served to highlight the fact that Khartoum officials have placed new restrictions on US humanitarian food assistance, imposing unprecedented certification standards for US food deliveries into Port Sudan. This obviously political decision comes even as there is an especially urgent need for food throughout Sudan, especially in Bahr el-Ghazal Province in southern Sudan and troubled Darfur Province in northern Sudan. In a May 13, 2003 press release, the UN’s World Food Program (WFP) highlighted the fact that “food aid [is] still needed for 3.2 million Sudanese.” The press release also noted the comments of Ronald Sibanda, WFP Country Director for Sudan: “All over Sudan, food aid is absolutely imperative to save lives. Civil strife and drought have reduced populations to absolute poverty. We have to act to prevent people from dying, becoming malnourished or migrating.”
This is the context in which Khartoum has decided to change the conditions for importing US food aid, which in turn makes up 80% of UN World Food Program food aid in Sudan. Yet again, Khartoum is manipulating humanitarian assistance for political and ultimately military purposes (this is most conspicuously the case in Darfur Province, where a full-scale insurrection against Khartoum’s tyranny has begun).
 Khartoum continues to up the stakes in negotiations over the issue of whether the national capital of Sudan will be reflective of all of Sudan’s citizens, or just those who favor the imposition of shari’a, including the savagely brutal features of the attendant penal code (hudud). Associated Press reports from Khartoum (June 8, 2003 [“Kenyan peace envoy receives little support in Khartoum”]) that:
“The chief envoy to Sudan’s ongoing peace process [Lazaro Sumbeiywo] was received angrily here on Sunday by Muslim Sudanese who rejected an opposition agreement forged last month to turn Khartoum into a secular, national capital.” [The agreement referred to is the May 24, 2003 Cairo Declaration, signed by the leader of the SPLM/A, as well as the leaders of the two major northern sectarian parties, the Umma Party and the Democratic Unionist Party.]
This event, certainly orchestrated fully by the National Islamic Front, finds its official equivalent in statements by Ghazi Salah al-Din, chief NIF peace negotiator. BBC Monitoring (June 3, 2003) reports on a Sudan News Agency (SUNA) account:
“[Ghazi Salah al-Din said] the issue [of shari’a in Khartoum as political capital of Sudan] has been completely settled and not subject to reopening, and that it is not in any agenda of the negotiations, adding that the Kenyan envoy will be notified with this stance and reminded with what Machakos protocol stipulates in this respect.” (SUNA, June 2, 2003)
Even more explicit was the statement by “Presidential adviser for authentication and strategic planning,” Ahmad Ali al-Imam” (also reported by BBC Monitoring, June 1, 2003): “[Professor al-Imam] has affirmed that application of Islamic shari’ah in the north of Sudan, in general, and in the national capital, in particular, is a divine obligatory order” (SUNA, June 1, 2003). It is difficult to imagine a more forceful or absolutist foreclosing of negotiations on this essential issue. If the Machakos process is indeed governed by what the NIF considers “divine obligatory order,” then mere human diplomacy is highly unlikely to succeed.
 Repression appears to be increasing dramatically throughout Sudan. In Khartoum (where newspaper confiscations have recently increased) the Sudan Organization Against Torture (SOAT) has reported (“Sudanese Government Resumes Use of systematic torture from Dark Era of Early Nineties” [June 9, 2002]) that:
“Since the termination of the mandate for the UN Special Rapporteur for Sudan in late April 2003, the Sudanese government has stepped-up its systematic use of torture against students, political opponents and activists and especially those from the volatile region of Darfur. SOAT can confirm that the current patterns of torture being implemented are similar to those which were put into practice by GOS in the dark era of the early nineties. In fact, the Sudanese government has gone as far as to revert to the use of secret detention centres or ‘ghost houses’ as a means of counteracting any form of opposition or suspected dissidence.”
But increased repression and violence extends to other parts of Sudan, including a massive increase in Darfur Province, where an armed uprising against Khartoum’s tyranny has quickly escalated and has so far inflicted very serious damage on the regime’s military forces. The response by Khartoum has been brutal and indiscriminate, characterized by many gross human rights abuses. A growing number of these abuses derive from the sentences being meted out during “trials” in Islamic courts. Further, in Upper Nile, East and West, Khartoum and its allied militia forces continue to attack civilian targets, violating the various agreements the regime signed in March 2002, October 2002, and February 2003. In Khartoum itself, a number of organizations have reported on the recent arrest and harassment of 38 women activists from the Nuba Mountain Women’s Association as they were attempting to fly to a conference for peace and development in the Nuba Mountains. The UN’s Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) reports (June 9, 2003) that:
“The Swiss-based human rights group, World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), has expressed concern over a recent incident in which Sudanese security forces reportedly arrested a group of women activists. According to an OMCT statement, about five officers from the Sudanese National Security Agency (NSA) on 2 June arrested 38 activists from the Nuba Mountain Women’s Association and three men who were accompanying them. The arrests came as the group was leaving Khartoum, the capital, for a women’s conference for peace and development in Kauda town, in the Nuba Mountain region of central Sudan.”
This correlates all too well with numerous reports of arrest, detention, harassment, and other forms of repression in the Abyei area, which along with the Nuba Mountains is one of the three contested areas that are a central issue in the Machakos peace talks. Moreover, Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) attempting to return to Bahr el-Ghazal from Abyei have been robbed, raped, and murdered by Khartoum’s regular soldiers. Since the return of IDPs to the Nuba Mountains, Abyei, and Bahr el-Ghazal will be one of the key concerns if peace ever comes to Sudan, the Khartoum regime’s behavior at present is cause for the gravest concern. How can the international community accept as just a peace that consigns the contested areas (Abyei, Nuba Mountains, Southern Blue Nile) to continuing tyranny of this sort under the National Islamic Front? This is the moment for Khartoum to show just how it would treat people in the marginalized and contested areas—and the regime has obliged with an exceedingly revealing set of actions.
 Fighting is picking up in Eastern Upper Nile, according to a range of highly reliable sources in the region and on the ground in southern Sudan. Much less reported on than Western Upper Nile, Eastern Upper Nile is one of the most desperate regions in all of southern Sudan. Many areas are urgently in need of food, medicine, and drinkable water. But recent actions, especially by militias allied with Khartoum, may very well portend a more extensive outbreak of fighting that will attenuate further what is already slender humanitarian access—access which the UN’s Operation Lifeline Sudan should even now be exploiting more fully. Troublingly, the previously highly successful Civilian Protection Monitoring Team, now under the leadership of General Charles Bauman (who assumed duties in late March 2003), has recently proved itself incapable of rendering timely and accurate accounts of the military realities of Eastern Upper Nile.
For now, the redeployment by Khartoum of a number of brigades to Darfur has put on hold many possibilities for larger offensive actions by regular forces. But that still leaves Khartoum-allied militias plenty of opportunity to advance the regime’s military goals in the south, and we may be seeing the beginning of very serious fighting in Eastern Upper Nile.
All of this suggests that an urgent reappraisal of Khartoum’s real intentions in the Machakos process is in order. Restricting the essential movements of a senior representative of the US Agency for International Development; arbitrarily shutting off US food deliveries to the UN’s World Food Program in Sudan during a time of famine warnings; increased repression in Khartoum and the marginalized areas; an ever more strident insistence on shari’a in the national capital of what is supposed to be a united Sudan; an increase in fighting in Eastern Upper Nile; and the Khartoum regime’s past record of violating every agreement to which it has ever put its name: all suggest that the Machakos process cannot succeed with the present National Islamic Front in power.
If this is so, how should the international community respond? If peace in Sudan matters, what actions should be taken?
It should be said first that many countries have already made clear that the human destruction and suffering in Sudan mean nothing to them. The lure of hydrocarbon riches has blinded them to their complicity in the terrible realities of oil development in Sudan. Asian countries in particular—Malaysia, India, China—have demonstrated that they have no compunction about such complicity. The national oil companies of all three countries are deeply involved in production and development that not only continues to generate scorched-earth clearances in the oil regions of Western Upper Nile (and also other parts of Upper Nile), but sends a very large revenue stream to the bankrupt Khartoum regime.
Russia, straddling Asian and Europe, has also ventured into Sudan’s oil development, but even more consequentially has permitted Khartoum to use petrodollars to purchase vast amounts of some of the world’s most advanced military hardware, including sophisticated helicopter gunships.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has also made it clear that it is much more interested in whitewashing Khartoum’s economic record and getting its money back than in offering a true account of how the regime is spending its oil revenues. The confidential IMF report of November 6, 2000 (“Second Review of the Second Annual Program”) gave over only a single paragraph to the war, but at least had the honesty to reveal that in the two years between 1998 and 2000 Khartoum’s military expenditures—acknowledged expenditures—fully doubled in size. In the “Final Review” report of June 4, 2002 there is not one word, not one column, not one number associated with military expenditures: it simply disappeared from an 85-page document. This scandalous whitewashing of Khartoum’s economic record betrays a cynical indifference on the part of the IMF.
What of the UN? Leaving aside humanitarian efforts, the UN political bodies—the Security Council and the General Assembly—have done nothing of value in bringing pressure to bear on Khartoum to end its brutality, its torture and ghost houses, its genocidal conduct of the war in the south and the Nuba Mountains, the years of manipulating humanitarian aid for military purposes, the years of aerial bombardment of civilians, schools, churches, markets, cattle camps, and humanitarian relief sites. This institutional embodiment of the “international community” has been disgracefully silent about, indeed accommodating of Khartoum’s savage tyranny.
And what of the voice of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on Sudan? His is an abysmal record of diplomatic non-speak that has shamefully had the perverse effect of encouraging the expedient and widely used argument for “moral equivalency,” i.e., the argument that because the southern military resistance has committed serious human rights abuses, there is nothing morally to distinguish this resistance from Khartoum’s genocidal war on the people of the south.
What, then, of the Europeans? With the highly notable exception of the Norwegians (and their distinguished diplomat for Sudan, Hilde Johnson), the Europeans have been at best equivocal. While supporting IGAD and the Machakos process, various European countries are deeply involved commercially with Khartoum, and several are involved in the oil sector. Austria’s OMV is part of the operational Block 5a; Sweden’s Lundin was the main operational partner in Block 5a until recently, and retains holdings in Block 5b; France’s TotalFinaElf has vast and presently inaccessible concession holdings far to the south.
But the roster of European countries doing business with Khartoum, seduced by the petrodollar contracts to be awarded, is far too long and all too revealing of a lack of real European resolve to confront Khartoum. For example, Italy and Great Britain have allowed Alenia Marconi to sell advanced, dual-use (military/civilian) radar units to Khartoum for deployment in Juba (Khartoum’s major garrison town in the south) and El Obeid (site of the regime’s forwardmost military air base). Germany’s Siemens is working with a Polish firm in building the world’s largest diesel-powered electrical generating plant outside of Khartoum. A Swiss firm is upgrading Khartoum’s electrical grid. Weir Pumps (Glasgow) and Rolls Royce have contributed significantly to the oil pipeline and oil development infrastructure.
How can Khartoum be persuaded that it will face any real threat in the wake of an inconclusive or collapsing Machakos process when all the signals are that it will be business as usual no matter what happens?
The US, despite what is in some ways an increased engagement in the peace process, is compromised by the incompetence of the State Department’s Africa Bureau and the evident success of the Africa Bureau in convincing the rest of the Bush administration to accept the argument for “moral equivalency.” (See lengthy analysis [April 24, 2003] by this author, discussing recent State Department and White House reports on Sudan; available upon request). Because of ineffective US leadership, especially by Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Walter Kansteiner, and because the US has not found ways of significantly strengthening the hand of the Machakos mediators in their efforts to extract concessions from both parties, but especially Khartoum, the Machakos negotiations have not served to steer Khartoum away from its fundamental policy of intransigence.
Given this general international response, the regime now clearly feels that it can string out the peace process, perhaps end the Darfur insurrection, and then return to finish military business in the south. If this is to change, so too must the international response. The NIF regime must either be profoundly reformed by a just peace agreement, with robust guarantees and guarantors, that sets in motion irreversible forces for pluralism and democratization—or changed through highly concerted diplomatic and economic pressure, and ultimately sanctions.
In responding to the presently stalemated peace process, the international community should back the Machakos mediators in setting a series of clear benchmarks for Khartoum in responding to issues on which it has heretofore made no good-faith concessions, including security arrangements, the three contested areas, and power-sharing (including the status of the national capital). If these benchmarks are not met (and the time-frame should be weeks, not months), then the Machakos mediators should be prepared to say as much publicly, thus making clear the need for regime change. This is essential if the new “holistic” approach of chief Machakos negotiator Sumbeiywo is to have any chance of success within an acceptable time-frame.
If regime change is required, many non-military means are at hand, if only the political and diplomatic will can be found.
All diplomatic relations with Khartoum should be reduced to the minimum necessary to facilitate vital communication, pending the negotiation of a just peace. The UN should suspend the travel rights to all countries for all of Khartoum’s diplomats, pending the negotiation of a just peace. All credits and loans from the World Bank and IMF should be immediately suspended. All commercial agreements with Khartoum should be suspended. Sudanese crude oil should be boycotted by all petroleum refining countries. All foreign companies that continue working in Sudan’s oil sector should be denied access to the world’s capital markets. The sale and delivery of all military equipment—including dual-use equipment—should be immediately suspended, pending the negotiation of a just peace.
To be sure these are very serious measures, requiring very serious (and thus unprecedented) commitment not only by the US but by various other members of the international community. But there can be little doubt that in aggregate, they would be quickly successful. Khartoum’s very high level of external debt (over $22 billion); its growing dependence on oil revenues; and its presumption of an economy that will be energized by these oil revenues—all make the regime highly vulnerable to concerted economic actions of the sort outlined here. Moreover, diplomatic restrictions would be a stinging rebuke to the concerted efforts by the National Islamic Front in its “charm campaign” of the last several years.
Are such actions likely to occur? Of course not. But the moral logic that demands them is irrefutable. If the Machakos talks have identified the key issues necessary to reach a just and lasting peace for Sudan, and if Khartoum relentlessly refuses to address these issue in productive fashion—indeed gives clear evidence by its present actions that it has no intention of addressing them—then the obligation to change this regime through concerted international action in inescapable. More than 2 million have died, overwhelming southern civilians; more than 4 million have been displaced; famine looms again, threatening many hundreds of thousands of people: the human consequences of allowing Khartoum to continue the war are morally intolerable.
But if the international community refuses to recognize Khartoum for what it is, refuses to acknowledge that it is the regime’s intransigence that prevents peace from coming to Sudan, then let there be no idle, self-indulgent hand-wringing when the Machakos process breaks down, and Khartoum proceeds to take full advantage of the cease-fire that was extracted from the southern military opposition last October. For the responsibility will lie with those who refused to see and confront the National Islamic Front for what it is and has been since it came to power by military coup in 1989: a vicious tyranny that will not yield to mere moral exhortation and is only encouraged by diplomatic accommodation of the sort that defines present policy toward Sudan in nearly all quarters.
Sudan doesn’t need the world’s pity. It needs a clear-eyed realism about the true source of ongoing human suffering and destruction, and about the real obstacles to peace. Anything else is meaningless.
Northampton, MA 01063