With dismaying predictability, the continuing catastrophe in Darfur commands less and less news attention, largely because it has settled into a grim “genocide by attrition,” defined not so much by massive atrocities—although these continue to occur—as by relentless, if undramatic, human suffering and destruction consequent upon the Khartoum regime’s deliberate exacerbating of insecurity confronting civilians and aid workers. Most of the region has only a tenuous and fitful humanitarian presence, and many distressed populations are completely beyond reach (see UN access map at http://www.unsudanig.org/library/mapcatalogue/darfur/index.php?fid=access). Darfur’s visibility has diminished not only because the observational presence of humanitarian workers is much reduced (even as their fear of speaking out has increased), but because the Khartoum regime has imposed severe restrictions on journalists seeking access to Darfur.
As the conflict enters its seventh year, with no end in sight, the risk is that it will become perceived as a chronic problem rather than an acute threat to the lives of millions of conflict-affected Darfuris. This number has now reached a staggering 4.7 million civilians according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Darfur Humanitarian Profile No. 33, representing conditions as of October 1, 2008 [hereafter DHP 33] at www.unsudanig.org/docs/DHP33_narrative_1%20October%202008.pdf )—three quarters of Darfur’s pre-war population. Conditions for these people vary tremendously, but at least 3 million depend upon international aid for all or some of their food. And yet because of insecurity, the UN’s World Food Program can provide Darfuris with only 70 percent of the minimum daily human food requirements. Malnutrition is again on the rise, and recent data from West Darfur reveal that Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) has reached the emergency threshold (and this comes following the fall harvests, an extremely ominous development). Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM), affecting primarily children under five, is approaching 3 percent, portending significant mortality.
Conditions in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) vary greatly, but many face intolerable security conditions, inadequate supplies of food and potable water, and a relentless determination by Khartoum to shut the camps down. But the need for the camps is greater than ever: there are, according to DHP 33, some 2.7 million IDPs, with more than 300,000 newly displaced this year alone. A similar number of people were displaced last year, and another 275,000 Darfuris are refugees in Chad. Three million people, half of Darfur’s prewar population, have lost their homes, and few see any prospect of returning soon. They are trapped in the camps, with exceedingly few opportunities for agricultural production or significant employment, and dependent on international humanitarian assistance to survive. Tensions within some camps are becoming explosive, and may soon lead to major violence. If deteriorating security further attenuates humanitarian reach—or compels withdrawal—many camp populations will be completely vulnerable.
But as massive and exigent as the Darfur catastrophe is, it cannot be isolated from the broader context of growing political and economic threats to Sudan as a whole; and these threats, receiving even scantier news coverage than Darfur, may soon materialize in the form of expanding violence and rebellion in Africa’s largest nation, posing a risk not only to Sudan but to regional stability as well.
Khartoum’s ruling National Islamic Front regime (which has expediently renamed itself the “National Congress Party”) faces a series of challenges to its survival, most deriving directly from the brutal and viciously self-serving policies of the past 20 years. A series of recent developments—as well as the various timetables to which the NIF committed itself in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement with the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) (Nairobi, January 2005)—suggest that 2009 will be a defining moment in the history of Sudan.
 NIF President Omar al-Bashir faces the extraordinary prospect of indictment by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity and genocide. A decision by the ICC’s three-judge panel is widely expected in January or February, and the inner cabal of the NIF is already engaged in a tense struggle over how to respond to issuance of an arrest warrant, and what role al-Bashir will play in this year’s national elections.
 National elections within the coming year, mandated by the CPA, would present insurmountable challenges to the NIF stranglehold on national wealth and power—if they were free and fair. Precisely for this reason the question is not whether the regime will attempt to control the election results, but the manner, extent, and cost of manipulation. A highly flawed national census, which excluded Darfur and much of the population of South Sudan, is the first tool to be wielded by the NIF; but the buying of local politicians, control of the electoral machinery, and broader corruption of the electoral process has only begun. The NIF will certainly not voluntarily surrender control of the army, the security services, or indeed any claim on national power and wealth; without enormous international support for the first national elections since the regime came to power by military coup in 1989, the political status quo will be preserved in Khartoum.
 The various marginalized regions of Sudan all present significant challenges to the ruling junta—electoral, political and finally military. Darfur’s rebellion has been the most widely reported since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, but South Sudan remains ravaged not only by the consequences of decades of immensely destructive civil war, but by Khartoum’s failure to abide by various provisions of the CPA, including border demarcation and the sharing of oil revenues generated from reserves that lie largely in South Sudan.
Consequently, military tensions between Khartoum and the SPLM/A—nominal partners in a merely notional “Government of National Unity”—remain high, with several likely flashpoints for resumed fighting. The most dangerous of these is the contested Ngok Dinka border enclave of Abyei, which lies in the heart of the oil region, specifically Concession Block 4 of the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company (dominated by China). Abyei has already seen extremely serious fighting in May of this year, and recent incidents may portend another, perhaps uncontrollable series of clashes (see Roger Winter’s first-hand account of the May 2008 violence, “Abyei Aflame: An Update from the Field,” ENOUGH Strategy Paper 21, May 2008 at http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2008/05/abeyi_aflame.html). The danger posed by the Abyei crisis was urgently highlighted by UN Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes during a very recent visit to the enclave:
“‘[The CPA] is fragile but it is fundamental; it is absolutely vital to get it right because if the North-South agreement fails, everything else will also fall apart. If that goes, you can forget about Darfur; it is just a side show.'” (New York Times [dateline: Abyei], December 25, 2008)
Should fighting resume in Abyei, it will be in large measure because the international community that invested so much diplomatic energy in securing the CPA has invested so little in seeing that the terms of the Agreement are honored. The large UN peacekeeping force in South Sudan (UNMIS) has also proved weak, with a poorly conceived mandate and ineffective deployment of resources (see report by Human Rights Watch, “Abandoning Abyei: Destruction and Displacement,” May 2008 at http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2008/07/21/abandoning-abyei-0). This is extraordinarily short-sighted, and in turn tells us all too much about why Khartoum has failed to honor any of its many agreements made concerning Darfur, including the ill-conceived Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA). The north/south “Comprehensive” Peace Agreement, for example, stipulated that the final boundary of Abyei be established by an international panel of experts, since the parties could not agree on this most contentious issue in final negotiations. Accordingly, an authoritatively researched report by the Abyei Boundary Commission was delivered to President al-Bashir in July 2005—and has been completely ignored (for an excellent account of the Commission’s work, and an explanation of how it fulfilled its mandate, see commissioner Douglas Johnson’s account at http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article25125). UNMIS, the UN, and the broader international community have failed to hold the regime accountable for this signal instance of bad faith, and Khartoum has fully registered the encouraging implications of such failure going forward.
Similarly, the long border between South Sudan and Southern Kordofan State (a newly created northern administrative unit) has not been delineated, despite the clear stipulations of the CPA. This has enormous implications for any decision about precisely where oil reserves (and ultimately revenues) lie. Southern Kordofan is also the region of the Nuba Mountains, another exceedingly dangerous flashpoint, with many of the features of Darfur before the current conflagration began (see below).
The restive and deeply impoverished eastern region, chiefly Kassala and Red Sea States, have seen none of the promised benefits of a peace agreement signed in 2006. International assistance has not been able to lower what are terribly high rates of malnutrition, morbidity, and extreme poverty (see below). Khartoum simply ignored, again, its commitments under the Asmara peace agreement. Along the Nile River north of Khartoum, various populations have been forcibly displaced on a large scale to make way for two large dam projects whose electrical generation will primarily benefit Khartoum, Port Sudan, and mechanized agro-business enterprises owned by the regime and its cronies. Violent rebellion seems a distinct possibility in Nubia (see map at http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Atlantis/7088/Sudan_Maps/Sudan4.jpg).
 In the end, however, it may be the Khartoum-dominated economy that proves the point of greatest stress for the NIF, despite the enormous oil revenues the regime generates from production that is typically estimated at approximately 500,000 barrels per day. The regime’s budget continues to confront the challenges of massive external debt (approaching $30 billion, according to US government figures), as well as the impact of hugely profligate military spending (see below). Since crude oil was first exported from Port Sudan in August 1999, the regime has grown increasingly dependent in absolute and relative terms on oil revenues. But oil prices have plunged over 60 per cent since their recent all-time high, and a world-wide recession looms, with the clear possibility of further reductions in global demand and yet lower prices for crude oil.
At the same, the Sudan Tribune reports (November 26, 2008), “the Greater Nile [Petroleum Operating Company] [GNPOC] has experienced diminishing productivity lately, from 325,000 barrels per day to 200,000.” Reuters ([dateline: New Delhi] December 12, 2008) reports a smaller decline (325,000 bpd to 250,000 bpd), but also notes that Sudanese “Nile Blend” crude is now trading at a greater discount against its benchmark “Dated Brent” crude.
[ GNPOC is the producing consortium in Western Upper Nile/Southern Kordofan provinces, and has long been the larger of the two consortia operating in South Sudan. Petrodar, also dominated by the Chinese, is located in Eastern Upper Nile Province, and lies almost entirely in South Sudan; it produces substantially less of the much less valuable “Dar Blend,” which has special shipping and port requirements, and sells at a substantial discount to “Nile Blend” crude.]
This significantly reduced productivity may be related to repairs, scheduled and otherwise; but it may also be a sign that the NIF regime—in its haste to extract as much oil as possible from reserves along the north/south border region before precise geographic demarcation—has begun to exhaust reserves in certain areas.
The strain on Khartoum’s budget and economy has been publicly acknowledged by Awad al-Jaz, the NIF finance minister:
“‘The Sudanese economy is hugely dependent on oil revenue. The price collapse from $147 to $40 per barrel provides a realistic insight into the impact,’ [al-Jaz said].” (The Sudan Tribune, November 26, 2008)
In fact, there is no such thing as a “Sudanese economy,” or a true national economy. There is the Khartoum-dominated economy that controls Sudan’s national wealth, now deriving overwhelmingly from oil and to a lesser extent mechanized farming—and then there is the rest of Sudan, a country the size of the United States east of the Mississippi River. A narrow sliver of the Nile River Valley around Khartoum and its sister city Omdurman reaps the economic rewards of all of the country’s resources, while the vast marginalized regions receive virtually no benefit (excepting primarily the oil revenues grudgingly and insufficiently shared with South Sudan). Even the mechanized farming of Gezira State and other fertile regions is controlled largely by regime cronies, a practice that has extended to the Nuba Mountains in Southern Kordofan State, another reason this key region is a potential flashpoint for renewed north/south war.
All foreign investment and payments pass through the regime, which has relentlessly insisted that the finance and energy ministries remain firmly in its control following the signing of the CPA. This makes transparency for oil production or revenue figures impossible, and has ensured that South Sudan has been denied many hundreds of millions of dollars in oil revenues desperately needed for reconstruction and development. Indeed, the apparent frankness of Finance Minister al-Jaz about declining oil revenues serves primarily to forewarn the Government of Southern Sudan (GOSS) that Khartoum will be severely cutting back on oil revenue distributions. But the regime itself has grown complacently dependent on the prospect of steadily rising oil production and revenues, and current budgetary difficulties may lead to a serious fiscal crisis. One Sudanese source reports that there is talk in Khartoum of borrowing money from China to finance the very large budget deficit now forecast, adding to already massive external debt, and holding any future Sudanese economy hostage to the deeply distorted priorities of NIF spending.
The key example of such spending is military purchases made by the “Government of National Unity:” these benefit only the Sudan Armed Forces, which is entirely a creature of the NIF. Many purchases are extraordinarily profligate, and serve no purpose but to threaten South Sudan. This was the case when the regime purchased twelve highly advanced Russian MiG-29s in 2002 at an obscene cost of almost $1 billion (including purchase, maintenance, training, and servicing contracts). And yet Khartoum very recently bought another twelve MiG-29s, an equally profligate diversion of national resources from the acute needs of many millions of Sudanese. The regime has also invested heavily in domestic arms production capacity (e.g., at the vast GIAD industrial complex outside Khartoum), and continues a substantial arms trade with China, extending back well over a decade. Moreover, Chinese weapons and military equipment continue to be deployed to Darfur despite a UN arms embargo on the region (see report by Human Rights First, “Investing in Tragedy: China’s Money, Arms, and Politics in Sudan,” March 2008 at www.humanrightsfirst.info/pdf/080311-cah-investing-in-tragedy-report.pdf).
Beyond this, the NIF is importing immense quantities of medium and heavy arms, including the helicopter gunships that have proved so deadly in Darfur, as they did in the final years of the north/south conflict (the years of the “oil war,” 1998-2003). This has forced South Sudan to expend very significant resources of its own on military equipment to ensure that it cannot be militarily intimidated or denied by force the right to a self-determination referendum in 2011 (a vote that will certainly be for secession, given Khartoum’s bad faith in implementing the terms of the CPA). The leadership of the SPLM, which dominates the Government of Southern Sudan, is acutely aware of how little the international community has done to ensure that the terms of the CPA are respected, and expects nothing more than condemnatory words in the event of Khartoum’s military attempt to prevent South Sudan from seceding. An arms build-up benefits no one in Sudan, and reveals all too clearly that Khartoum is simply not committed to the terms of the peace agreements it has signed.
There are other stresses upon the Khartoum-dominated economy and budget, although these are rarely considered in assessing regime expenditures (indeed, IMF reviews of Sudan have been particularly scandalous in their omissions: e.g., the Fund’s 2003 overview devoted not a single line item to military expenditures in its many pages of economic and budgetary data, four years after oil revenues were first exported and military purchases had more than doubled). The security services, both Military Intelligence and the National Security and Intelligence Service (NSIS), are vast and have in the past been given unlimited budgets for domestic surveillance and political control. The brutal domestic abuses by these security services, primarily in service of suppressing political expression and dissent, especially in and around Khartoum, have recently been well documented by the UN High Commission for Human Rights (“Tenth periodic report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in the Sudan,” November 28, 2008 at
www.ohchr.org/Documents/Countries/10thOHCHR28nov08.pdf). As elements of the traditional northern political opposition attempt to find their voice in opposing the continued destruction of Darfur and protesting the regime’s contemptuous dismissal of the ICC, the need for these security services only grows.
Moreover, the security services also require substantial funds to sustain operations in Darfur and Chad (where Khartoum has supported Chadian rebel groups seeking to topple President Idriss Dby). Many agree with the assessment by Justice Africa that in Darfur, “Military Intelligence is the most powerful governmental institution. For the Chad policy, it is the National Security and Intelligence Service.” (“Making Sense of Chad,” February 4, 2008 at www.justiceafrica.org/2008/02/04/making-sense-of-chad). This certainly comports with the experience of many humanitarian organizations on the ground in Darfur.
Khartoum also funds a number of other paramilitary groups and organizations for “security” purposes, including not only the notorious Janjaweed militias in Darfur, but the longstanding Popular Defense Forces, the Border Intelligence Guard, and the Central Reserve Police. Many of the Janjaweed have been re-cycled into these and other military or police guises. Even so, Darfur is proving more expensive than Khartoum had calculated with its policy of turning the conflict into an ethnically charged counter-insurgency that relied primarily on Arab militias. The very Arab groups that were so easily recruited to attack thousands of non-Arab or African villages and settlements when cattle and land were readily available have in many cases grown disaffected. Feeling that they have been short-changed by the regime, or that division of the spoils of war has been unfair, Arab groups are increasingly attacking one another, and in some cases even joining the Darfuri rebels. This is one reason the NIF brought into the regime the most notorious of the Janjaweed leaders, Musa Hilal: his task was to regain the savage services of these brutal militia forces, especially from among the “Aballa” (camel-herding) Arab groups of North Darfur (see my January 31, 2008 analysis in The New Republic at http://www.tnr.com/politics/story.html?id=be8e8833-55ce-4158-9b05-3fa57ec524c0). This is where Khartoum began its major military offensive in August of this year, and where large-scale violence continues to be most intense.
Perhaps the greatest “expenses” the NIF regime faces in maintaining its power are the financial inducements directed toward co-opting the political opposition, especially among the three powerful Arab tribal groups that have dominated Sudan’s political affairs since independence in 1956. The Shaygiyya, Ja’aliyiin, and Danagla—the so-called “Northern riverine elite”—have continued to benefit enormously from their traditional status, dominating many of the key positions within the regime, as well as in banking, agro-business, construction, and oil and natural-resource developmentso long as they remain politically loyal to the National Islamic Front.
The NIF had insinuated itself deeply into the economic structures and institutions of Sudan before it came to power by military coup in June 1989, and soon thereafter completed a ruthless purging of the army, creating an institution that was fully loyal to the regime and its Islamist ambitions. The development of powerfully effective security services, with no compunction about the use of arbitrary arrest, torture, and extra-judicial executions, completed not only the NIF control of political power, but created the means to exercise a firm grip on national wealth. And in the almost 20 years since the NIF seized power, a second generation has emerged from the Arab elite, in which many have come to see in the longevity of the regime the best predictor of where their economic success might lie—and where at least passive political loyalties should be given.
Elsewhere in Sudan the NIF engages in a crude but effective domestic policy of bribery: local officials, competing militia groups, acutely distressed civilians are all offered money or tangibles for behavior that weakens either political opposition or potential military threats. On a larger scale, this often leads to “divide and conquer” tactics such as those that characterized the north/south conflict, especially following the split within the SPLM/A in 1991. The same policies defined the use of primarily Nuer tribal militias in Upper Nile Province during the years of the “oil war,” and are once more fully evident in Darfur. But again, one key difference in Darfur is that the regime, anticipating an earlier resolution to its genocidal counter-insurgency efforts, has not been able to satisfy the competing claims to land by its various Arab tribal militia allies. Given the acute shortage of arable land and pasturage, there is no obvious solution to growing anger on the part of those Arab groups that feel short-changed. Large-scale defections by Arab groups to the non-Arab rebel groups could easily tip the military balance against Khartoum throughout Darfur.
SUDAN’S ECONOMICALLY AND POLITICALLY MARGINALIZED REGIONS: AN OVERVIEW
As context for the economic and budgetary priorities of the NIF regime, we should again recall how very little national wealth or foreign investment benefits the marginalized areas of Sudan, and why this has created festering sites of terrible poverty, disease, malnutrition—and potential rebellion—throughout Sudan. For twenty years the NIF has succeeded in its strategy of marginalization, largely because it has been able to deal with insurgency threats seriatim. But this pattern has been broken by Darfur, coming as it does with potential military threats from several of the other marginalized areas. The overview below suggests that 2009 will be a year of reckoning—for the NIF regime, for Sudan as a whole, and for the moral credibility of the international community in responding to ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity, long Khartoum’s primary domestic security policy.
[a] Darfur is only the most conspicuous example of decades of economic marginalization and neglect. It is hardly surprising that during the current crisis, the NIF regime has resolutely refused to offer any meaningful humanitarian assistance to Darfur’s civilian population. Since its counter-insurgency strategy is genocidal in nature, this is precisely what we should have expected. Such refusal, indeed obstruction, of assistance also reveals much about the terribly skewed economic priorities that prevail in Sudan, even in providing the most basic commodity of human existence. In a highly revealing account, New York Times correspondent Jeffrey Gettleman filed from Ed Damer (north of Khartoum) a dispatch highlighting just how perverse national agricultural policy is under the regime. Noting that Sudan “receives a billion pounds of free food from international [aid] donors, [even as it] is growing and selling vast quantities of its own crops to other countries,” Gettleman asks, “why is a country that exports so many of its own crops receiving more free food than anywhere else in the world, especially when the Sudanese government is blamed for creating the crisis [in Darfur] in the first place?” An excellent question, which the international community refuses to ask with sufficient resolve.
The details of this ghastly perversion of priorities are revealing of how ruthlessly the regime has arrogated to itself all opportunities for significant economic gain:
“[Sudan] is already growing wheat for Saudi Arabia, sorghum for camels in the United Arab Emirates and vine-ripened tomatoes for the Jordanian Army. Now the government is plowing $5 billion into new agribusiness projects, many of them to produce food for export.”
“Take sorghum, a staple of the Sudanese diet, typically eaten in flat, spongy bread. Last year, the United States government, as part of its response to the emergency in Darfur, shipped in 283,000 tons of sorghum, at high cost, from as far away as Houston. Oddly enough, that is about the same amount that Sudan exported, according to United Nations officials. This year, Sudanese companies, including many that are linked to the government in Khartoum, are on track to ship out twice that amount, even as the United Nations is being forced to cut rations to Darfur.”
(August 10, 2008 at www.nytimes.com/2008/08/10/world/africa/10sudan.html)
Even before the Darfur rebellion began in earnest in 2003, the region had endured decades of neglect, leaving the region with few schools, hospitals, and paved roads. The NIF regime’s interest in Darfur extended only to attempting to secure political support from the Arab tribal groups, recognizing this was one of the few places in Sudan where stoking ethnic tensions, and encouraging Arab supremacism, might have political benefits.
[b] South Sudan has historically endured an even deeper political and economic marginalization, extending back to British administrative practices during Condominium rule (1898 to 1956). Human health indicators have long been appallingly poor, and education has been a rare commodity. Until very recently there were no paved roads outside Juba anywhere in South Sudan (excepting those built by China for oil extraction), and no transportation or communications infrastructure of any kind. Decades of civil war wrought havoc with the cattle-based economy of the Nilotic tribal groups, as well as the agricultural economies of the Equatorian tribal groups. Having inherited all the desperately difficult needs of this ravaged region, the Government of Southern Sudan is currently being deeply short-changed by a lack equitable sharing of oil revenues. Rough estimation is all that is possible without a clear delineation of the north/south border per the terms of the CPA, and without transparency in either the finance or mining and energy ministries. But perhaps $500 million in oil revenues has been diverted from South Sudan to the coffers of the NIF regime.
There are many ways for this diversion to occur. For example, some evidence suggests that at production sites near what will be the likely north/south border, Khartoum and the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company (GNPOC) are working as rapidly as possible to extract oil from southern portions of these reserves, claiming that they lie in the north and thus denying South Sudan the almost 50 percent of revenues to which it is entitled from oil extracted in the South. Unlike the Petrodar Consortium in Eastern Upper Nile, the GNPOC operates in both Southern Kordofan State [northern Sudan] and Western Upper Nile and Bahr el-Ghazal Provinces in South Sudan. This is why border demarcation is so important in this region and why Abyei, which lies immediately on the border, is so hotly contested. Khartoum’s refusal to abide by the Abyei Protocol of the CPA, along with the regime’s militarization of the region in defiance of both the terms of the CPA and the June 8, 2008 “Roadmap for Return of [Abyei’s] Internally Displaced Persons,” augurs poorly for a sustainable peace. So, too, does its refusal to abide by the negotiated terms of oil revenue sharing.
Khartoum’s rapacious instincts are all the more appalling given the immense humanitarian needs that still define much of South Sudan. Oil revenues denied to the South compound an already serious funding shortage for food, potable water, and medical care. A UN News Center dispatch (November 28, 2008) reports the concerns of UN Undersecretary for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes:
“Health care is a particular concern, with southern Sudan experiencing some of the worst child and maternal health indicators in the world, due in part to exceptionally low immunization rates. One in seven women, for instance, dies as a result of causes related to childbirth.”
In fact, despite Sudan’s enormous oil wealth, health care spending in the country under the NIF regime has the perverse distinction of being the lowest in all of sub-Saharan Africa ($14 per person per year). Compounding this scandalous failure is the limited access to clean water in much of Sudan: only about 40 percent of Sudan’s population has reliable access to potable water.
Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has long worked in South Sudan and also reports (July 2008 “Field News” at http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/sudan) on chronic malnutrition issues facing the impoverished South:
“Lack of food, especially during the ‘hunger gap’ of April to July, is an issue that MSF teams identify in many areas where they work in South Sudan. In Northern Bahr el Ghazal, food insecurity has even worsened this year because of flooding the previous year that destroyed crops, and lowered food availability in markets due to an interruption of commercial traffic with South Sudan when fighting at the border occurred.”
Here again we should recall that rather than feed its own people, the Khartoum regime is engaged in large-scale food exports utilizing foreign investment, with all profits benefiting the regime and its political supporters. Senior NIF officials enjoy fabulous wealth, while children in South Sudan are consigned to lives stunted, even destroyed for lack of food.
[c] Economic marginalization and privation also define the Nuba Mountains—a region roughly the size of Austria in Southern Kordofan State. There too growing militarization, yet again along ethnic lines, threatens to spark an uncontrollable outbreak of violence. As in South Sudan, the people of the Nuba Mountains have seen nothing in the way of national wealth devoted to improving their livelihoods. On the contrary, they have suffered badly from northern appropriation of land and resources. When in 1992 the National Islamic Front declared a “jihad,” or holy war, against all in the Nuba Mountains who supported the SPLM/A, the results were genocidal in character. A culturally rich, ethnically diverse region—with Muslims, Christians, and animists traditionally living together—became the target of a total humanitarian embargo that lasted a decade. The African populations of the Nuba, like those of the oil regions to the south and west, became the particular target of Khartoum’s violence and policy of slow starvation. Compulsory Islamization was common, as was violent human displacement to effect land clearances benefiting Khartoum’s cronies who had designs on the most fertile land in the Nuba. Areas such as Kauda were subject to relentless aerial attacks, deliberately targeting schools, churches, clinics, and what humanitarian relief managed to slip through the blockade.
There is no scope in the present analysis for any substantial account of the current situation in the Nuba, but an excellent report on the region has recently been published by the Small Arms Survey/Human Security Baseline Assessment (“The Drift Back to War: Insecurity and Militarization in the Nuba Mountains,” August 2008, at http://allafrica.com/stories/200808260530.html). This historically informed and detailed account makes clear that the region is on the verge of slipping into a Darfur-like conflict, with some of the same ethnic tensions deliberately inflamed by Khartoum. Indeed, the report concludes with an explicit comparison to Darfur:
“It is clear that security is the biggest immediate challenge in the Nuba Mountains. A combination of weak political will, an international community distracted by Darfur, and UNMIS’s underperformance has led to the failure of CPA implementation in South Kordofan. Ethnic tensions are mounting in the region, and recovery and development plans are overshadowed by the danger of a return to open conflict. Discontent over the CPA’s failure to deliver economic development is turning to anger, and many now view war in the Nuba Mountains as inevitable. An emerging local narrative sees parallels with the events that led to the Darfur conflict.”
Among the most notable findings in the body of the report is the account offered by the former head of Khartoum’s security apparatus for the region, which anticipates similar instructions given to the SAF and Janjaweed militias in Darfur:
“The head of security in South Kordofan, who later sought political asylum in Switzerland, said the orders given to government troops were ‘to kill anything that is aliveto destroy everything, to burn the area so that nothing can exist there.'”
The report speaks of Khartoum’s willingness to resort to “an inflammatory mix of Arab supremacy and Islamic extremism” that has been as evident in the Nuba Mountains as it has been in Darfur—and the signs of a resurgence of this hateful and cruelly deployed ideology are everywhere. The report notes:
“Concern over a resurgence of Arab supremacism deepened in mid 2007 after a series of ethnically-targeted attacks of unusual brutality.”
The report also cites the findings of the courageous Sudan Organization Against Torture:
“‘This trend of attacks on innocent civilians has been repeated in many areas of the eastern part of South Kordofan, and mainly carried out by well-organized Arab militias determined to destabilize the area and create a sense of insecurity among the population, mostly black African tribes, to induce them to flee.'”
The report describes the Central Reserve Police (CRP), active in brutal May 2008 assaults in the Tawilla area of North Darfur, as having strong militia connections, including to Janjaweed leader and NIF regime member Musa Hilal. The CRP is commanded by the interior ministry and is made up of Arab militiamen extremely loyal to the NIF political leadership; this force has been heavily armed, and because its membership is from outside the Nuba region, it is more willing to engage in the most brutal forms of warfare. The Popular Defense Forces in the Nuba are also “now being rearmed with a strong ethnic bias”:
“Growing ethnic insecurity in the region has the potential to deteriorate significantly over the coming months and needs urgent attention to prevent it from spiraling out of control.”
These words could, of course, have been used to describe Darfur for years prior to the outbreak of full-blown hostilities in 2003. And we should have no doubt that Khartoum’s heavy militarization of the Nuba, with corresponding responses from the SPLA, may well lead to a new bloodbath, with huge numbers of civilians again caught in violence that serves only the interests of Khartoum in its continuing arrogation of national power and wealth. Indeed, one of the most important observations in this report on the Nuba points to the clear electoral implications of recent ethnic violence:
“Political analysts link recent violence in the east [of the Nuba Mountains] to the 2009 elections and preparations by the government hardliners to achieve political ends through military means in an area of the Nuba Mountains where the SPLM/A has only recently begun to win support.”
[d] In the east of Sudan, Red Sea and Kassala States receive almost no news attention, despite the acute suffering and deprivation that define the lives of the majority of people living in the region, especially the non-Arab Beja. Poverty is extreme and widespread, as are malnutrition and disease. The same intense feelings of political and economic marginalization that have motivated other regional rebellions took form in Red Sea and Kassala as the “Eastern Front,” made up primarily of the Beja Congress and the Rashaida Free Lions. Supported by Eritrea and allied with the southern SPLA, the Eastern Front was a potent threat to Khartoum until Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki decided in mid-2006 to abandon the rebels and seek rapprochement with Khartoum (this came as Eritrea appeared on the verge of another war with Ethiopia, and had no desire to have a hostile Sudanese regime to its west). After months of negotiations, a tenuous peace agreement was reached between the rebel movement and the NIF regime in October 2006. It offered very little in the way of meaningful concessions, and subsequently no significant economic investment or humanitarian relief has been provided by Khartoum. Negotiating from a position of military weakness, the Eastern Front had little choice but to capitulate.
But we may certainly catch a clear glimpse of the strategy that Khartoum would bring to bear if the insurgency were to re-ignite. As Julie Flint argued rightly argued (before Eritrea dropped its support for the Eastern Front):
“Any counterinsurgency campaign in eastern Sudan will be run by those who ran the war in Darfur. The security apparatus of the Sudanese state is unchanged. Eastern Sudan is not only a challenge to the international partners who drove through the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, turning a blind eye to the death in Darfur. It is a litmus test for the unity government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement’s ability to make the leopard change its spots. Most importantly, it is life or death for people who have already been patient long enough.” (“The Looming Conflict in Eastern Sudan,” February 7, 2006; http://www.dailystar.com.lb/article.asp?edition_id=10&categ_id=5&article_id=22003)
Moreover, the same war of attrition on humanitarian aid we see in Darfur was reported in the Eastern states by the UN and nongovernmental organizations even as Khartoum was negotiating a peace agreement in Asmara. The purpose was clearly to demonstrate how vulnerable civilians were to the NIF’s tactics of humanitarian obstruction, civilians (including Eritrean and Ethiopian refugees) already enduring terrible privation in far too many cases:
The UN Integrated Regional Information Networks reported on June 19, 2006:
“UN staff have expressed concern about an apparent aid blockade in the troubled eastern region. In recent days, aid workers had been refused access to the area, despite formal agreements with the Sudanese government allowing them to work in the region, da Silva said. ‘Since the beginning of last week, we have been denied access to visit refugee camps,’ he said. ‘This is a very strange development. If it is not solved very soon, we are going to have enormous problems in these refugee camps in the east.'” [ ]
“Rebels in Sudan’s east have complained that the impoverished region remains underdeveloped due to neglect by the central government. A similar grievance sparked the Darfur rebellion, in which rebels, complaining about political and economic marginalisation, attacked government positions in the region.” (Dateline: Khartoum).
Agence France-Presse offered one of the very few detailed and well-informed accounts of the grim realities of Eastern Sudan (June 7, 2006 [dateline: Kassala, eastern Sudan]):
“Helicopter gunships and a humanitarian crisis greet the few Westerners who make it to Kassala, an East Sudan town far from the Darfur region, where analysts say a bad situation could be about to get worse. With international media and aid groups focused on war-torn Darfur in the West, restrictions on journalists and humanitarian workers travelling to the East mean that a crisis in many ways worse than Darfur’s goes largely ignored.”
“The crude mortality rate for this desert region [ ] is almost double that of Darfur. There, 14,000 aid workers have been deployed to cope with the humanitarian crisis, but only a small fraction of that number work in the East, home to yet another Sudanese rebellion. A study carried out last year found that acute malnutrition in the East stood at around 19 percent, well-above the emergency level of 15 percent. In Darfur the figure was less than 12 percent.”
[ NB: Global Acute Malnutrition in Darfur rose to the emergency threshold in much of Darfur during 2007, and has continued at these dangerous levels in 2008.]
“[Only a few correspondents] manage to make it [to the East,] thanks to World Food Program humanitarian flights. ‘The East is one of the least served areas [of Sudan],’ the International Crisis Group’s Suliman Baldo told reporters. ‘There are a lot of restrictions on [humanitarian organizations] in the East, not like in Darfur.’ ‘The humanitarian needs are not receiving any attention so therefore it’s a bad situation. It definitely needs to be highlighted…the lack of media attention is also responsible.'”
The restrictions Baldo refers to were in place for months, serving to coerce both rebel negotiators and the international aid community:
“According to a May 20,  [UN] World Food Program [WFP] report, restricted humanitarian access is limiting food distributions and may prevent WFP from pre-positioning food aid for tens of thousands of Ethiopian and Eritrean refugees in eastern Sudan in advance of the rainy season. WFP reported that due to an impasse over travel permit requirements, [Khartoum-appointed] government officials have denied WFP staff access to sites in 35 separate incidents countrywide between mid-March and mid-May. According to the report, 20 of the incidents occurred in eastern Sudan, resulting in no WFP access to Red Sea State and reduced access in Kassala.” (US Agency for International Development, “Sudan—Complex Emergency,” Situation Report #18, June 16, 2006)
It is important to bear in mind also that if fighting breaks out in the Eastern states, through which the oil pipeline from South Sudan passes on its way to Port Sudan, we may be sure that a savage cordon sanitaire will be created, and that the means will include not only military assault but a full-scale humanitarian blockade.
[e] There are still other places in Sudan where we see a comparable brutality directed against civilian populations; they, too, loom as threats or obstacles to NIF tyranny and exploitative economic development. Some 350 kilometers north of Khartoum, the regime has engaged in callous (and environmentally ill-conceived) dam construction on the Nile River, thereby displacing many tens of thousands of indigenous people (primarily from the Manasir, Hamadab and Amri tribes). And they have been displaced not to land that is arable or suitable for agricultural purposes, but to what is for all intents and purposes desert. As the nongovernmental organization Rivers International Network reports:
“The Merowe Dam is a US$1.8 billion hydropower project being built on the Nile in Sudan. The 174-kilometer-long reservoir will displace more than 50,000 people from the fertile Nile Valley to arid desert locations. The environmental and health impacts have never been properly assessed.”
[ The Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology found in March 2006 that Khartoum had produced a very poor quality Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). The EIA ignored the fact that “strong fluctuations will erode the river banks, making it difficult for farmers to collect water and fish in the river and reservoir; sedimentation will seriously diminish the capacity of the project to generate electricity; the dam will block fish migration.” (cited by the Sudan Tribune, March 23, 2006)]
“The Merowe Dam is being financed by China Exim Bank and funders from Arab countries. Chinese, Sudanese, German and French companies are participating in the project. The government has not consulted the affected communities about the project, and is cracking down harshly against their protests.” (http://www.internationalrivers.org/en/africa/merowe-dam-sudan)
Brutal repression of protests by Nubian people is also occurring further downstream at the site of the Kajbar Dam. Predictably, these dam projects offer nothing for regional populations but displacement. Most of the electricity generated by these expensive projects will benefit Khartoum, its immediate environs, as well as the critical commercial and import/export center of Port Sudan (there will be a minimal extension of the electrical grid to a few locations in northern Sudan—Atbara and Dongala—but nothing for the marginalized regions). Among the Nubians in particular there is talk of fighting Khartoum over the dam project, a decision that would certainly provoke an extremely violent crackdown to protect this massive investment.
[f] In Khartoum area itself, the regime continues with its harsh policy of clearing “slums” that house families fleeing to the capital in search of security and employment. Numerous previous clearances have steadily pushed primarily non-Arab populations further from the center of Khartoum, now to locations that are over 20 kilometers south of the capital. This month 4,000 homes were razed in the Mandela Settlement, and another 6,000 are scheduled to be demolished (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks [dateline: Mandela Settlement], December 4, 2008). These people, like those in many previous clearances, will continue to be pushed yet further away from Khartoum, making commuting by bus to the city for work too expensive and making access to basic human services (clean water, sanitation, schools, primary medical care) much less likely.
And from within the capital city itself, the UN High Commission for Human Rights offers in its November report on Sudan an account of NIF tyranny at its most ruthless. The National Security and Intelligence Services “systematically use arbitrary arrest and detention against political dissidents.” Detention “can typically be accompanied by additional serious rights violations such as incommunicado detention, ill-treatment, torture, or detention in unofficial places of detention.” “The human rights concerns related to the [National Security and Intelligence Services] are longstanding and institutionalized problems.”
We might hope that the UN High Commission for Human Rights would find these gross human rights abuses more than “problems,” even as we should applaud the report’s emphasis on the “systematic,” “longstanding,” and “institutional” nature of NIF political repression. In conferring legitimacy on the NIF regime, in refusing to take serious action to halt the kinds of human rights abuses that sustain NIF power, in acquiescing before the vast atrocity crimes that continue to be perpetrated in the marginalized regions of Sudan, the international community sends the signal that reports, words of chastisement, and exhortation are all that really must be feared.
INTERVENTION IN DARFUR
In a recent article in the British medical journal The Lancet (Volume 372, October 4, 2008 at http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(08)61499-3/fulltext#article_upsell) authors John Kraemer, Dhrubajyoti Bhattacharya, and Lawrence ask in their title whether “Blocking humanitarian assistance is a crime against humanity?” Their analysis is framed around the actions taken by the Burmese junta in severely restricting international humanitarian assistance in the wake of Cyclone Nargis this past May, and actions by Zimbabwean strongman Robert Mugabe in cutting off much humanitarian assistance to his country for callously self-serving political and electoral purposes. The authors have recourse to a wide range of international law and covenants in their brief scope, as well as to the UN Charter and the UN World Summit (2005) “Outcome Document,” which notionally commits nations to a “responsibility to protect” civilians threatened or unprotected by their government—from war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.
What we have seen over many years in Eastern Sudan, the Nuba Mountains, South Sudan, and most conspicuously in Darfur is precisely what these authors conclude is a “crime against humanity”: the deliberate obstruction of humanitarian assistance to civilians for political and military purposes (for an account of the kind of humanitarian obstruction that defined war in South Sudan, see my Washington Post op/ed [“The Terror in Sudan”] of July 6, 2002 at http://www.sudanreeves.org/Sections-article49-p1.html). They conclude that such a crime obliges wealthier and militarily capable nations to intervene in as robust a fashion as necessary to protect civilians at risk, including from disease and malnutrition that might be readily addressed. If we take their argument seriously, we must be prepared to confront in Darfur a stark and painful contradiction between what we declare to be international law, and what we are actually prepared to enforce.
For Darfur reveals precisely a willingness to leave civilians and humanitarian workers unprotected, vulnerable to extreme levels of insecurity—insecurity that is clearly engineered by the Khartoum regime. Two years ago six nongovernmental humanitarian organizations and all fourteen operational UN humanitarian organizations in Darfur made an impassioned appeal for improved security. The UN statement declared:
“In the face of growing insecurity and danger to communities and aid workers, the UN and its humanitarian partners have effectively been holding the line for the survival and protection of millions.”
“That line cannot be held much longer. Access to people in need in December 2006 was the worst since April 2004. [ Security and access continued to deteriorate in 2007 and 2008—ER.] The repeated military attacks, shifting frontlines, and fragmentation of armed groups compromise safe humanitarian access and further victimize civilians who have borne the brunt of this protracted conflict. In the last six months alone, more than 250,000 people have been displaced by fighting, many of them fleeing for the second or third time. Villages have been burnt, looted and arbitrarily bombed and crops and livestock destroyed. Sexual violence against women is occurring at alarming rates. This situation is unacceptable.”
The concluding statement by these UN organizations was equally emphatic:
“The humanitarian community cannot indefinitely assure the survival of the population in Darfur if insecurity continues. [ ] Solid guarantees for the safety of civilians and humanitarian workers is urgently needed. At the same time, those who have committed attacks, harassment, abduction, intimidation, robbery and injury to civilians, including Internally Displaced Persons, humanitarian workers and other non-combatants, must be held accountable. If not, the UN humanitarian agencies and nongovernmental humanitarian organizations will not be able to hold the fragile line that to date has provided relief and a measure of protection to some four million people in Darfur affected by this tragic conflict.” (Joint Statement on Darfur, January 18, 2007; source: UN High Commission for Refugees)
Of course there have been no such “solid guarantees” as demanded, even as insecurity has continued to deteriorate and humanitarian access to contract. Indeed, Khartoum’s promises are the very opposite of “solid guarantees,” and only military protection on the ground can now afford any meaningful guarantee, which is precisely why the NIF regime has so strenuously, and successfully, blocked deployment of an effective peacekeeping force for well over two years.
Truly honest and realistic debate about a sufficiently robust international military intervention in Darfur—sufficient to halt episodes of mass civilian destruction and ensure security for humanitarian operations—essentially ended with authorization of the current UN/African Union “hybrid force” (UNAMID, UN Security Council Resolution 1769, July 31, 2007). Whatever its weaknesses (to be analyzed in a subsequent analysis), UNAMID bears a UN imprimatur that makes any parallel unilateral or multilateral military action exceedingly difficult to imagine, especially in the long shadow of Iraq. UNAMID will, for good or ill, be the final word on security in Darfur.
The international community was set on this shamefully disingenuous path, with UNAMID’s palpable shortcomings all too well known (including by the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations), long before initial deployment of this compromised force. Indeed, with the capitulation by the UN Secretariat before Khartoum’s adamant rejection of a previously authorized UN peacekeeping force (Security Council Resolution 1706, August 31, 2006), the path to failure was all too clear. Deployed in timely fashion, with its robust protection mandate and UN Chapter 7 authority, this earlier force, as authorized by Resolution 1706, might well have forestalled the increasingly chaotic violence that emerged following the disastrous Darfur Peace Agreement (May 2006)—and might also have partially stanched the flow of genocidal violence into Eastern Chad. With adequate resources and personnel from militarily capable nations—unfettered by Khartoum’s ability to veto the participation of particular countries—there was at the time still opportunity to prevent much of the splintering of the rebel movements, and to forestall the widespread emergence of opportunistic banditry that now plagues rural areas and largely precludes ground transport for humanitarian workers. But that moment has passed.
Are we too late, then, to provide the “solid guarantees” for security demanded by UN and nongovernmental humanitarian organizations two years ago? Is UNAMID indeed the last word in responding to ongoing crimes against humanity and genocide?
Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times proposes in his December 28, 2008 column (“A New Chance for Darfur”) a series of stand-off military actions that could be taken unilaterally against Khartoum by the United States: a two-day jamming of all electronic communications in Khartoum; a naval blockade of Port Sudan (denying Khartoum the ability to export oil); and an escalating series of strikes against the NIF regime’s aerial military assets. But Kristof does not explain what the jamming exercise would accomplish, other than to demonstrate a capability Khartoum is already well aware we possess. The question is whether we would continue to jam communications, knowing that there would be significant and immediate compromising of humanitarian operations coordinating out of Khartoum, and that retaliation in kind by the NIF regime throughout Darfur would certainly follow. Nor does Kristof even allude to the most serious problem with a naval blockade: the prospect of military confrontation between the US navy and a Chinese-flagged oil tanker. If such a tanker were to force the issue and attempt to enter Port Sudan despite the blockade, are we really prepared to engage in an act of war with China? While easily enforced from a purely military point of view, a blockade that threatens Chinese shipping is an exceedingly high-stakes geostrategic gamble.
Finally, in proposing highly consequential military strikes against the regime’s air force, Kristof fails to address the critical issue of reprisals by Khartoum and its militia allies against humanitarians, peacekeepers, and civilians in Darfur—reprisals that might be extreme if Khartoum were determined to raise the stakes in an effort to halt US military actions (international pressure to halt the attacks would be enormous if even a few humanitarian aid workers were killed, or aid organizations were precipitously expelled). Here again, the US would be committing to a tremendous gamble, with millions of lives potentially affected.
These are all “stand-off” military actions, like the thoroughly impracticable “no-fly zone” that has so often been suggested as a way of curtailing Khartoum’s savage aerial military actions in Darfur. But not only is there no way to base and enforce such a NFZ, there would be no way to ensure against the accidental shoot-down of humanitarian cargo planes or helicopters, especially given Khartoum’s penchant for attempting to disguise the identity of its Antonovs and helicopters, and the crisscrossing flight patterns of military and humanitarian aircraft.
If we are serious about changing the deteriorating security climate in Darfur, we cannot do it from afar or episodically. We must supply UNAMID, for all its patent shortcomings, with the critical assets it has been requesting for a year and a half (including tactical and transport helicopters, not one of which has been offered by the US or its NATO allies). We and particularly our European allies—who in many cases continue commercial “business as usual” with the NIF regime—must pressure Khartoum relentlessly. And we must pressure, in truly serious fashion, China to pressure Khartoum. Kristof’s idea of threatening a naval blockade may be a way of forcing the Darfur issue; but it will require Chinese cooperation to avoid unacceptable strategic risk, and this entails making clear to Beijing that there will be a significant cost if China does not cooperate. Such diplomatic investment has simply not been made by the current US administration.
There are no simple means of compelling Khartoum to change its brutally destructive ways: two decades of accommodation and acquiescence have ensured as much. We must act, but with a decisiveness, focus, and determination that leave no doubt in the minds of these gnocidaires that their days of impunity are over. If we do not, economic strains and multiple conflicts in the marginalized regions of Sudan may well prompt a threatened regime to engage in yet bolder actions against civilians and humanitarians. The urgency of these potent dangers could not be greater.
[Part 1 of 3; Part 2 will analyze the implications of potential ICC action against NIF President Omar al-Bashir, the prospects of the Qatari-led “Darfur peace process,” and the current status of the UNAMID peacekeeping force.]