President Bush Declares Peace in Sudan a “Beacon of Reconciliation”: Does the Light from this “Beacon” Shine as Far as Darfur? — December 9, 2003
Eric Reeves | December 9, 2003 | http://wp.me/p45rOG-kT
The White House began its December 8, 2003 press briefing by announcing that President Bush had earlier in the day called both National Islamic Front President Omer Beshir and SPLM/A Chairman John Garang. This is an extraordinary fact unto itself, and makes clear the priority the Bush administration attaches to reaching a peace agreement between the NIF regime and the SPLM/A. Colin Powell spoke today with telling confidence of an agreement this month, though it is likely to be a framework agreement, with significant “details” to be negotiated later. Such a diplomatic achievement holds the enormous potential, but only the potential, of being the basis for a just and lasting peace for southern Sudan and the marginalized areas. The commitment of the Bush administration in this cause is impressive and deserving of high praise.
But evidence continues to build that the administration has no full sense of, or commitment to, the resources and peacekeeping efforts that will be required to sustain a truly meaningful peace in war-ravaged southern Sudan. Even more troublingly, the administration has said nothing about Darfur and all that it represents of the Khartoum regime. Perhaps this reflects a view that the problems in Sudan can be solved seriatim: first secure the diplomatic peace agreement; then work on rebuilding the country; and at some point try to weigh in on Darfur and the country’s other problems.
But such a view is both myopic, and in some ways disturbingly disingenuous—particularly on the need for a significant US commitment of resources for transitional aid to post-war Sudan. This is the moment of truth for the Bush administration policy on Sudan, and yet it gives every sign of refusing to accept basic realities of the present situation in Sudan, including the desperate needs that will immediately begin to accelerate following a peace agreement. And while a Rose Garden ceremony has reportedly been offered by President Bush to Khartoum and the SPLM, such an event will be but a brief symbolic moment if his administration doesn’t accept the real challenges of bringing peace to Sudan—and in the very near future.
The White House declared in its press statement of yesterday that, with a peace agreement, “Sudan could be a beacon of reconciliation.” But we must ask, in light of another statement made yesterday—by Ambassador Tom Eric Vraalsen, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Humanitarian Affairs for Sudan—whether this “beacon” can shine a light that reaches into the present catastrophic darkness of Darfur, where Khartoum’s ongoing brutality and duplicity are on such spectacularly destructive display. Darfur represents, moreover, yet another example of the deep racism animating Khartoum’s war efforts. For though the region is overwhelming Muslim, the conflict is one that increasingly pits the more sedentary African tribal groups—the Fur, the Masseleit, the Zaghawa—against the mobile Arab militias that are far and away Khartoum’s most effective military tool in responding to the deep and longstanding grievances of the African peoples of Darfur.
Ambassador Vraalsen reports that while Khartoum has “presented the security situation [in Darfur] as steadily improving,” this account “sharply contrasted with first-hand reports that I received from tribal leaders and humanitarian actors on the ground. They reported that [Khartoum-backed Arab] militias were launching systematic raids against civilian populations. These attacks included burning and looting of villages, large-scale killings, abductions, and other severe violations of human rights. Humanitarian workers have also been targeted, with staff being abducted and relief trucks looted.” (Tom Vraalsen, Note to the Emergency Relief Coordinator; “Sudan: Humanitarian Crisis in Darfur,” December 8, 2003)
Vraalsen was equally explicit about Khartoum’s role in denying and hindering humanitarian access to the desperate populations of Darfur:
“Delivery of humanitarian assistance to populations in need is hampered mostly by *systematically denied access* [latter phrase emphasized in text]. While [Khartoum’s] authorities claim unimpeded access, they greatly restrict access to the areas under their control, while imposing blanket denial to all rebel-held areas.” (Tom Vraalsen, Note to the Emergency Relief Coordinator; “Sudan: Humanitarian Crisis in Darfur,” December 8, 2003)
This is precisely how Khartoum has for so long conducted its war against the people of the south, the Nuba Mountains, and Southern Blue Nile. The disastrous consequences of the regime’s denial, obstruction, hindering, and delaying of humanitarian efforts have cost, over 20 years of war, hundreds of thousands of lives. How, if what we are witnessing is merely a shift in the arena of Khartoum’s war upon the marginalized peoples of Sudan, can the National Islamic Front be part of a “beacon of reconciliation”? The phrase is a ghastly irony in the context of Darfur.
Vraalsen makes clear that the crisis in Darfur is growing rapidly, and indeed may be worse than any humanitarian assessment can presently reveal:
“As a consequence of growing insecurity and denied access, the humanitarian crisis has reached unprecedented proportions, with one million war-affected. While last September humanitarian efforts could partially cover needs, at present humanitarian operations have practically come to a standstill. During this visit, I was shocked to see the living conditions of Internally Displaced Persons, including precarious shelter. I fear that in non-accessible areas, living conditions may even be worse. (Tom Vraalsen, Note to the Emergency Relief Coordinator; “Sudan: Humanitarian Crisis in Darfur,” December 8, 2003)
“At present humanitarian operations have practically come to a standstill”—this is the shocking reality we must see in the context of what United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland declared of Darfur on December 5, 2003:
“The humanitarian situation in Darfur has quickly become one of the worst in the world. Access to people in need is blocked by the parties in conflict and now, as the need for aid grows, stocks of relief materials are dwindling,” [Egeland is also Under-Secretary-General in charge of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)]. [UN News Center, December 5, 2003]
Humanitarian operations in Darfur have “practically come to a standstill” even as the humanitarian situation in the region “has quickly become one of the worst in the world.” How can the US not raise its voice at such a moment? How can Sudan be likened to a “beacon of reconciliation” when the country’s agony has now been expanded to the west? Does the White House not know of the realities in Darfur? Is it so eager to have a peace agreement signed that it is willing to overlook this truly massive human suffering and destruction? Is it willing to take the recent lies of NIF President Beshir at face value?
“[Beshir declared that] all indications show that the war in the south, and in all other areas, has come to an end. What remains is only some final retouches for an agreement on a lasting, just and comprehensive peace.” (Associated Press, December 6, 2003)
Beshir—in speaking of war ending in “all other areas”—is referring to Darfur. Was this mentioned in the telephone conversation between Presidents Bush and Beshir? Does the Bush administration State Department and White House also believe that the crisis in Darfur can be resolved with a few “final retouches”?
Such spectacular mendacity is of course a staple of Khartoum’s public pronouncements. But it is often calculated, an effort to see what the international response will be. In this case, the outrageous lie was followed by an encouraging telephone call from the President of the United States and an apparent invitation to a Rose Garden ceremony (Reuters, December 9, 2003; SUNA, cited by New24, South Africa, December 9, 2003). There was nothing in the White House press release suggesting any concern about Darfur. Indeed, there have been no high-profile US comments on this massive catastrophe.
There have, however, been significant comments that must command attention. In addition to the numerous and increasingly urgent UN reports, Amnesty International has recently issued a report (November 27, 2003) that comports fully with UN findings, declaring that there is “compelling evidence” the Khartoum regime “is largely responsible for the human rights and humanitarian crisis in Darfur in the western Sudan.” Amnesty also notes ominously that “the situation in Darfur is at risk of rapidly degenerating into a full-scale civil war where ethnicity is manipulated” (http://web.amnesty.org/library/index/engafr541012003). A recent, highly detailed account of some of the destruction being wrought by Khartoum in Darfur has come to this writer from the Representatives of the Masseleit Community in Exile (available upon request.)
Is this silence on Darfur expediency or ignorance on the part of the Bush administration? It’s hard to know which would be worse in present circumstances. But it is worth recalling that expediency has been the recent hallmark of administration officials in speaking about the transitional humanitarian aid for Sudan that was so conspicuously lacking in the administration’s gigantic $87 billion supplemental foreign operations bill (passed last month). Aside from a Congressionally-generated allocation of $20 million for “famine relief” in Sudan, the bill provided nothing for the immense tasks that will become urgent as soon as a peace agreement is signed and hundreds of thousands of impoverished displaced persons attempt to make their way homeward to the war-ravaged regions of the south. This is so despite the administration’s official promise of a “large peace dividend” for Sudan.
In an effort to disguise this transparent reneging, American officials have begun to play fast and loose with figures. The BBC reports an American official as saying, “A speedy agreement could bring as much as $200m to the war-torn country” (BBC, December 6, 2003). Reuters reports this same official as saying “the United States had about $200 million to be used to develop impoverished southern Sudan, with more to come depending on the shape of any peace deal” (Reuters, December 6, 2003).
But as recently noted by this writer, the budgetary reality is very different from the one suggested by this Bush administration official with his figure of “$200 million.” For this is in fact the amount that the US Agency for International Development (AID) had already committed to Sudan for the present fiscal year—a commitment that was based on a presumption of steady-state humanitarian needs, i.e., the humanitarian needs that would require funding if conditions in Sudan were to remain essentially unchanged—no war, but no peace either (see US AID “Interim Strategic Plan for Sudan,” 2004-2006 at http://www.usaid.gov/locations/sub-saharan_africa/sudan/sudan_isp.pdf).
This is, then, no “large peace dividend” of the sort promised by Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Walter Kansteiner in his May 13, 2003 Congressional testimony. On the contrary, it smacks of political opportunism. Perhaps this is unsurprising, given the administration’s desperately felt need for a foreign policy success. The seasoned Africa correspondent Charles Cobb writes in allAfrica.com that:
“The administration is anxious to claim success in facilitating an end to Sudan’s long conflict and has invested more diplomatic capital in a Sudan settlement than in conflicts anywhere else in Africa.” (allAfrica.com, December 8, 2003)
Has this “anxiety” translated into expediency? Is the human catastrophe in Darfur being ignored because it complicates matters? Are Khartoum’s lies about the realities of Darfur being overlooked because the truth would be too discomfiting? Is the denial of critical humanitarian access to Darfur being accepted in order not upset the White House time-table for a Sudan peace agreement? (Again, Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke today with unusual confidence about an agreement this month, and was echoed by a senior member of the SPLM.) Does it matter that Darfur—and all that it emblematizes of the cruelty and savagery of the regime in Khartoum—is steadily being eclipsed by the forces of darkness and evil?
So far, the White House has offered no answers. Indeed, it seems quite unwilling to speak of Darfur, even though there will never be a moment in which the White House has a greater chance to help the 1 million war-affected people who are daily growing in number and at ever greater risk. The UN, to its credit, is now desperately trying to sound the alarm; but without help from the US, as well as the European Union, this alarm will be muted. Preparations for a Rose Garden “Sudan peace” ceremony seem rather peculiar in this context. Moreover, to reward Khartoum in such fashion, at this moment, sends exactly the wrong signal about US concerns for the whole of Sudan. The regime has escalated its killing of civilians, its massive human rights abuses, its humanitarian denials, and its vast, well-orchestrated destruction of the African peoples of Darfur.
What “beacon of reconciliation” can these people hope for if they are ignored at this moment of most desperate crisis?