August 11, 2003
The Machakos peace negotiations, scheduled to reconvene yesterday in Nanyuki (Kenya) and to begin in earnest today (August 11, 2003), have resumed, but in only a purely formal sense. While representatives of both the SPLM/A and the National Islamic Front regime have arrived at the central Kenyan town, there are no reports or indications that Khartoum has come with any intent to negotiate peace. Indeed, all evidence suggests that the regime has sent a delegation only to continue to insist on the withdrawal of the Draft Framework presented by the Machakos mediators in early July as the basis for final negotiations. Voice of America (August 11, 2003) reports that Khartoum’s representatives, “told VOA that unless there are significant changes made in the draft accord, negotiators will walk away from the latest peace talks.” It is thus not at all clear how long the Khartoum delegation will remain in Nanyuki—or how long a refusal to engage in meaningful discussions will be countenanced by the Machakos/IGAD mediators.
Complicating matters is the report that chief mediator Lazaro Sumbeiywo has remained in Nairobi because of an automobile accident involving his daughter. There is a deeply disturbing context, however, in which all of General Sumbeiywo’s actions and decisions must be seen. Khartoum has in the last three days mounted an extraordinary campaign through its domestic press to undermine Sumbeiywo’s integrity, his impartiality as a negotiator, indeed his honesty and moral character. A distillation of this highly purposeful vitriol appears below; what it reveals is Khartoum’s attempt both to influence the Kenyan government and to present Sumbeiywo as discredited in the eyes of President Kibaki. Having failed in the effort to force a change in negotiating venues, Khartoum is now attempting to force a change in the lead negotiator.
This is one reason why the US State Department should have taken much greater advantage of Sumbeiywo’s visit to the US late last year to make unambiguously clear American support for his leadership in the Machakos process. Despite appeals from many quarters, the State Department refused to provide more than a pro forma “photo op” for General Sumbeiywo with Secretary of State Colin Powell. This squandered opportunity is all too apt an example of State Department ineptitude and lack of foresight in crafting an effective Sudan peace policy.
In addition to indications of a desire to collapse peace talks by impugning the integrity of the chief negotiator, there are a number of other significant pronouncements coming from Khartoum, and they make clear in aggregate that the regime is simply not preparing the country for the possibility of peace. On the contrary, virtually everything said and done recently by Khartoum makes sense primarily as a means of preparing northerners for renewed war. Since the regime has sent a delegation to the resumed peace talks armed only with an intransigent refusal to negotiate on the basis of the mediators’ Draft Framework, and since this intransigence may collapse the talks sooner rather than later, such preparation for war by Khartoum had become inevitable.
Here it is important to note recent extremely reliable reports from church leaders in southern Sudan that indicate Khartoum is aggressively arming and inciting southern militia groups. In the process, and by way of instigation, the regime has told these militia groups that the SPLM/A will have all the power in southern Sudan once peace comes, and they must thus resume fighting now with the SPLM/A if they want to have a role in southern governance following “peace.” These developments are one of the strongest arguments for a greater southern inclusiveness in the peace process, and suggest that the SPLM/A has made a serious mistake in not working harder for such inclusiveness from the beginning. Be this as it may, Khartoum’s success in engineering resumed militia fighting in the south is a powerful weapon in any renewed war.
And there is simply too little indication that Khartoum has any intention of making a just peace with the people of the south, no matter how fully and inclusively represented in the peace talks. We can glean as much from looking closely at what is being said by Khartoum in the state-controlled press. For there are clear implications to the recent news and opinion pieces in the major daily newspapers, indicating the direction in which the regime is attempting to push its domestic audience. (Here it must always be borne in mind that the National Islamic Front is expert at assessing its audience, whether it be that of Khartoum and northern Sudan, Cairo, the larger Arab world, or the international community.)
Perhaps most revealing are reports in Al-Ray Al-Aam on Friday and yesterday (August 8 and 10, 2003), just prior to resumption of talks under the leadership of chief Machakos/IGAD mediator Sumbeiywo. Al-Ray Al-Aam is one of the most prominent of Khartoum’s government-controlled dailies, is especially close to the state security apparatus, and is quite authoritative in revealing the views and attitudes of the National Islamic Front leadership. These recent reports in Al-Ray Al-Aam amount to a ruthless and full-scale effort at character assassination, with the goal of rendering Sumbeiywo ineffectual—and ultimately explaining the failure of the Machakos/IGAD process. Here, for context, we should bear in mind the belated but nonetheless important statements by the European Union and the US State Department that had come two days before:
“The European Union commends the pivotal role of the IGAD member states and particularly of Kenya for its facilitating role and reiterates its full and continued support for the IGAD peace process.”
“The European Union calls on the Parties to work actively with the IGAD mediators led by the Kenyan Special Envoy [Lazaro Sumbeiywo].”
[from “Declaration by the Presidency on behalf of the European Union,” August 8, 2003]
“We remain committed to achieving a just and lasting peace in Sudan and believe that the IGAD peace process under the very capable leadership of the Kenyan Mediator, General (ret.) Lazaro K. Sumbeiywo, has made substantial progress over the past 14 months of consistent engagement.”
Press Statement from the US Department of State
Philip T. Reeker, Deputy Spokesman [August 7, 2003]
Here is what Al-Ray Al-Aam had to say in a front-page headline news story on August 8, 2003:
[Headline] “Claim that the Kenyan mediator works closely with SPLA and the extreme right in America, According to Informed Sources; Government of Sudan may request the removal of Sumbeiywo in case its suspicions strengthened. Bush administration reiterates its trust in IGAD and the EU welcomes the resumption of the talks”
[Body] “Well-informed sources [within the Machakos/IGAD process] have pointed to the possibility that General Sumbeiywo is working closely with SPLA and the extreme religious right in the US. As the Government of Sudan seeks to confirm information it has received, the US State Department announced that it trusts what it described as the competent leadership of the General.”
“Commenting on General Sumbeiywo’s latest visit to some IGAD countries, the sources said the Government of Sudan is investigating information it received that General Sumbeiywo was critical of the Government of Sudan, attacking it during his discussions. The government has received enough information in this respect, and when the information is confirmed it will strengthen the government’s suspicion that General [Sumbeiywo] is working closely with the SPLA and the extreme religious right in America.
“It also strengthens the suspicion that the Nakuru framework was written by the extreme right through the activist John Prendergast of the International Crisis Group, a group closely connected with the religious right in America. The sources confirmed that if the government suspicions are strengthened, then the Government of Sudan may raise the issue with the Kenyan leadership and make a blunt request that Sumbeiywo be removed from the negotiations, something the Government of Sudan has previously avoided.”
(Al-Ray Al-Aam [Khartoum], August 8, 2003)
The absurdity of characterizing the distinguished, Brussels-based International Crisis Group as a tool of the “extreme religious right” in the US is patent. The further claim that John Prendergast of the ICG secretly wrote the Nakuru Draft Framework is so preposterous that it has value only in revealing how far from reality “news” reporting can drift in a fascist tyranny like that of the National Islamic Front. But the obviously completely unreliable Al-Ray Al-Aam, and by extension its “sources” and fellow state-controlled newspapers, are still of course the means by which the NIF controls the “news” for the people of Khartoum and northern Sudan, as well as much of the Arabic-speaking world.
The larger effort represented here is transparently to compromise Sumbeiywo, to tear away at his diplomatic stature, and ultimately to intimidate him—or to engineer his removal from the role of chief negotiator. Khartoum knows that there is nothing at the moment that could be more destructive of the Machakos/IGAD process and the Draft Framework that is all that presently keeps the peace process alive. This is clearly the conclusion of a number of extraordinarily courageous political opposition figures in Khartoum:
“Southern Sudanese politicians and religious figures Monday slammed a government campaign against an east African draft peace accord to end the country’s civil war, in a petition posted on the internet. ‘The dramatic mobilisation campaign (is) throwing doubt on the neutrality and integrity of the mediators,’ read the document, signed by 49 people, including Joseph Ukel, leader of the (southern) Union of Sudanese African Parties and secretary general of the domestic National Democratic Alliance.” (Agence France-Presse, August 11, 2003)
Given the rapidly escalating number of reports of detentions, jailings, torture, political harassment, newspaper confiscations, and other repressive measures in Khartoum, one winces to think of the brutal consequences that may follow, sooner or later, such impressive political courage.
This effort to undermine the peace talks by way of undermining Sumbeiywo was also on display in yesterday’s Al-Ray Al-Aam account of the Kenyan government’s view of Sumbeiywo—again based on entirely “unnamed sources” and with only the journalistic credibility we may grant to a newspaper that asserts the International Crisis Group is a tool of the “extreme religious right in America.”
[from Al-Ray Al-Aam [Khartoum], August 10, 2003]
“Well informed diplomatic sources have revealed that the Kenyan government has made a request to the American administration that General [Lazaro] Sumbeiywo be replaced. The well-informed diplomatic sources told Al-Ray Al-Aam that the [Kenyan] government of Mwai Kibaki has complained of his lack of cooperation, despite the fact that the talks are taking place in Kenya and facilitated by the Kenyan government. [Sumbeiywo] also does not follow the government’s instructions regarding the peace process and runs it in a way that is counter-productive; his moves do not reflect the needed neutrality, and the whole peace process is being threatened. The Kenyan government explained that Sumbeiywo is deliberately derailing the negotiations so that no credit is given to the current Kenyan government given the fact that he was one of the prominent military figures in Moi government.” (Al-Ray Al-Aam [Khartoum], August 10, 2003)
This whole account is highly improbable, indeed absurd on any number of counts. Moreover, even if the Kenyan government held these views, how likely is it that they would communicate them in a fashion that would be available only to journalists for a newspaper that has as its primary purpose serving the security and policy needs of the National Islamic Front? The “well informed diplomatic” sources would of course be from Khartoum’s negotiating delegation.
The painfully obvious purpose of this journalistic contrivance is to sow the seeds of doubt in Sumbeiywo’s mind about the commitment to him of the present Kenyan government of President Mwai Kibaki (Sumbeiywo was appointed by now-retired President Moi). Unfortunately for Khartoum’s strategy, President Kibaki yesterday signaled publicly his support for the Draft Framework presented at Nakuru in early July by Sumbeiywo (The Nation/Sunday [Nairobi], August 10, 2003). We might wish for more explicit and forceful public support for Sumbeiywo from Kibaki and his government, at least under the circumstances Khartoum has engineered. But this statement should suffice to belie fully Khartoum’s claims about Sumbeiywo’s lack of neutrality in the eyes of the Kenyan government.
The sponsoring countries of the IGAD consortium (the East African Intergovernmental Authority for Development) have also recently endorsed unequivocally the efforts of Sumbeiywo (The East African Standard [Nairobi], August 10, 2003), as has the African Union, which today weighed in with support for both the Machakos/IGAD process and General Sumbeiywo in particular:
“The Interim Chairperson would like to reaffirm that African Union’s unwavering support to the IGAD-led peace process, and particularly the commitments already entered into by both Parties within the Machakos Framework. He appeals to the wider international community to continue to lend full backing to the efforts of the IGAD and the facilitation of General Lazarus Sumbeiywo.”
(Press release from the African Union [Addis Ababa, August 11, 2003])
It is clear that only Khartoum is unhappy with a peace process that has produced a reasonable document, the Nakuru Draft Framework, to serve as the basis for final peace negotiations. It is Khartoum that gives every sign that it is war, not peace, it envisions. Agence France-Presse reports (August 10, 2003) that NIF President Omer Beshir declared on Saturday, in an interview with the major Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram (August 9, 2003), that if the “deadlock persists”—i.e., if the Nakuru Draft Framework remains the basis for final negotiations—“Khartoum would resort to other ‘options,’ without specifying what those would be” (Agence France-Presse, August 10, 2003).
Of course in making this threat Beshir doesn’t need to “specify” what his other “options” are: they are obviously and only military options. If the Machakos peace process fails, if Khartoum’s intransigent refusal to continue the negotiating process collapses the talks, there is no alternative diplomatic option—nor would there be any purpose for such. If Khartoum wants peace, it will resume negotiations on the basis of the best framing document that the Machakos mediators have been able to draft. If Khartoum wants war, they need only continue on the course they have presently set.
The world must understand clearly that this is the context for the merely physical appearance of a National Islamic Front delegation in the Kenyan town of Nanyuki. Physical presence, going through the diplomatic motions, is simply not the equivalent of negotiating in good faith. And given the pronouncements and actions of Khartoum in recent days and weeks, there would seem to be every reason for seeing the National Islamic Front regime as expediently doing its best to extend the talks, bringing them a bit closer to the onset of the next dry season (commencing in September/October) in which their military forces enjoy the greatest advantage.
The belatedness of EU and US statements of support for the Machakos/IGAD process and General Sumbeiywo has undoubtedly emboldened the regime in its conclusion that the international community is losing interest in Sudan’s peace process. The recent and ignorantly exasperated comments on the peace process by US special envoy John Danforth are, the regime hopes, a portent of what will ensue if this new round of talks yields nothing. Though conscious that there will be some price to pay for its undeniable responsibility in preventing a peace agreement from being reached, Khartoum calculates on the basis of all it has seen of late that such a price will not be unduly great. There is little that challenges such a calculation.
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