Regime Change in Sudan: 2004 / 2019
Eric Reeves | May 7, 2019 | https://wp.me/p45rOG-2pK
What should be clear to anyone who follows news of the world is that the people of Sudan—overwhelmingly—desire “regime change.” And not merely the already achieved removal of Omar al-Bashir, ex-president and ICC-indicted génocidaire, but the entire military junta that has moved into the same role as the al-Bashir regime. The “Military Council” has left untouched the “deep state” of corruption, cronyism, illicit power and wealth, pervasive security services repression, and comprehensive control of the country that is the result of 30 years of tyranny. This powerful desire for regime change has been clear since the very beginning of the uprising in December 2018.
My own belief is that this is something the people of Sudan have long desired, even if severe repression has kept them from expressing these views—and that this desire was acute even before the collapse of the Sudanese economy. To be sure, it was this collapse that forced people into the nearly impossible position of demonstrating in the face of live-fire violence by the al-Bashir regime—of the sort that killed some 200 people in demonstrations of September 2013, and which had been threatened by al-Bashir again in the face of potential demonstrations in December 2016:
“You hear about those who seek to defeat you through the keyboard and the WhatsApp. I won’t hand over the country to them, and I say to them: If you want to topple the regime, meet us on the streets; however, we are certain that you won’t take to the streets because you are aware of what had occurred in the past,” [al-Bashir] said. (Sudan Tribune, December 12, 2016 | http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article61093/
Even so, many have refused to believe that the Sudanese truly wanted regime change—or, worse, have simply not cared. Second Special Envoy for the Sudans in the Obama administration, Princeton Lyman, declared in 2011:
“Frankly, we do not want to see the ouster of the [Sudanese] regime, nor regime change. We want to see the regime carrying out reform via constitutional democratic measures” (Interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, December 3, 2011).
No matter that Lyman knew perfectly well that the idea the al-Bashir regime would effect “reform via constitutional democratic measures” was utterly preposterous: he was lying for reasons of expediency, given the value the Obama administration placed on the counter-terrorism intelligence the Khartoum junta was purportedly providing the U.S. The people of Sudan would be given no assistance in throwing off the crippling burden of the al-Bashir regime.
I had long taken a very different view and in 2004, at the very height of the worst period of slaughter in the Darfur genocide, I published in the Washington Post a piece given the title “Regime Change in Sudan.” It was not my title (the Post always makes title decisions for op/eds), but I was perfectly happy with the choice, despite the singularly inauspicious timing for any discussion of regime change. The administration of George W. Bush was prosecuting the catastrophically conceived and disgracefully justified war in Iraq. Outrage over American arrogance was at its peak. Arguing for regime change in a nearby country that was predominantly Arab and Muslim seemed an exercise in folly.
But I felt compelled to argue that the international community, if the phrase has any meaning, could not countenance the continuing rule of a regime engaged in serial genocide: in the Nuba Mountains (1990s), in the oil regions of South Sudan (1998 – 2002), and in Darfur. Further, In June 2011 genocidal destruction at the hands of the al-Bashir regime began anew in the Nuba Mountains/South Kordofan and in Blue Nile, the southernmost states in what was about to become a Sudan without South Sudan, which would become an independent nation the following month. My argument in the Washington Post appears in full form below, as published in 2004.
Let’s look at what else has happened in Sudan—Darfur in particular—during the intervening fifteen years. More than a quarter of a million non-Arab Darfuris have lost their lives because of the violence orchestrated by the Khartoum regime of Field Marshal Omar al-Bashir, president and head of the National Congress Party (until 1999, the National Islamic Front). International response to what is clearly genocidal destruction has been tepid at best, frequently disingenuous or even mendacious, and content to protect the more than six million people of Darfur with a UN/African Union “hybrid” Mission (UNAMID) that has proved the most incompetent (and one of the most expensive) mission in UN peacekeeping history.
This brings us the present: within two months the UN Security Council is exceedingly likely to vote to withdraw what remains of this force (vastly reduced and absurdly confined in its deployments), leaving the people—and specifically the non-Arab tribal peoples—of Darfur without even a fig-leaf of protection. Instead of working to strengthen UNAMID, the UN allowed the Mission (officially deploying in January 2008) to function without adequately trained personnel, without nearly sufficient equipment—particularly air transport—and without a willingness to enforce the Status of Forces Agreement the Khartoum regime had acceded to, granting UNAMID the right to travel anywhere in Darfur, unfettered by any restrictions. Khartoum immediately began restricting both UNAMID deployments and investigations, even as it restricted humanitarian access, particularly to civilian areas under the control of the rebel groups. These restrictions continue to this day, most conspicuously in the Jebel Marra region of central Darfur.
A large part of the problem was that many had already seemed to lose interest in Darfur, despite its brief status as a human rights cause célèbre. The election of Barack Obama as president of the United States ensured that U.S. policy would become one of hopeless expediency. At the same time, those who should have known better sought to assure us that Darfur could take care of itself.
In 2009, the year Obama took office, he appointed the singularly unqualified and deeply foolish Scott Gration (a retired Air Force major general), who cozied up to the Khartoum regime and then worked to negotiate the absurd July 2011 agreement known as the “Doha Document for Peace in Darfur” (DDPD), an agreement between a factitious rebel “coalition” created by Gration and Muamar Gadhafi, without any Darfuri civil society participation. It is to this agreement, which did nothing to mitigate violence on the ground in Darfur, that the al-Bashir regime cleaved ferociously precisely because it was meaningless, and yet served as a diplomatic “placeholder” to which Western and other countries could point as signs of “progress.”
And diminishment in fighting in some areas led Sudan analyst Alex de Waal to declare in—exactly ten years ago—that the fighting in Darfur was indeed winding down and we could assume Darfuris would take care of their own problems, as they always had, without outside intervention:
A few days in Ain Siro is a reminder of what life used to be like in Darfur. The village is nestled in the spine of hills that runs due north from Jebel Marra into the desert. Protected by the mountains, the SLA has controlled the area for the last four years, and for many of the people in the vicinity, allowed an element of normality to return. Villages have been rebuilt, a rudimentary health service set up—and the school re-opened. (May 29, 2009, https://africanarguments.org/2009/05/28/a-taste-of-normality-in-ain-siro/)
From the example of Ain Siro, de Waal draws a conclusion that shows finally just how myopic his accommodation of Khartoum’s actions has been over the years:
Ain Siro shows how people on all sides are tired of war and, when given the chance, can make their own small but significant steps towards peace and normality. When Julie Flint first wrote about Ain Siro “saving itself” in 2007, most were sceptical that it represented anything significant. Two years on, not only has Ain Siro survived, but its model of self-help is less exceptional than it was.
By 2013 the Ain Siro de Waal celebrates as a harbinger of peace in Darfur was ground zero for the massive assault that began at the hands of the Rapid Support Forces, led by Lt. General Hamdan Dagalo, more commonly known as “Hemeti.” The destruction that consumed the region known as East Jebel Marra—where Ain Siro is located—became the second major phase of the Darfur genocide and resulted in unfathomable human destruction, displacement, and losses throughout the region. These are chronicled in several human rights reports and in my own detailed statistical monographs mapping all reported instances of violence reported from 2014 – 2016. A new monograph, forthcoming this month, attempts the same task of reporting, statistically organizing, and mapping the terrible violence of the years 2017 to the present (see bibliography following 2004 Washington Post op/ed).
By 2009 Khartoum was no longer allowing human rights reporters into Darfur, and journalists were allowed in only for photo opportunities in some of the IDP near large towns (primarily El Fasher and Nyala). A notable exception was the opportunity given to a New York Times journalist in February 2012, and the result was a journalistic blunder of enormous consequence. Taken to the West Darfur village of Nyuru—actually a “Potemkin Village”—Jeffrey Gettleman filed a dispatch arguing that—as the caption to one of the article’s photographs had it—“peace has settled on the region.”
This was the last dispatch by any Western newspaper or major news media organization on violence in Darfur; having got the story it wanted from Gettleman, the Khartoum regime saw no further purpose in allowing journalists into Darfur. Again, the bibliography below indicates that the New York Times’ conclusion could not have been further from the truth, and that within a year ongoing violence would explode into a massively destructive campaign by the Rapid Support Forces and the Sudan Armed Forces, determined to crush the rebel forces in the region once and for all. With the assault on Jebel Marra in 2016, the regime largely succeeded, although significant elements of one rebel group (Abdel Wahid al-Nur’s Sudan Liberation Movement, SLA/AW) continues to fight on, sadly giving excuse to the regular and irregular forces of the regime to continue their attacks on civilians, their farms, villages, and possessions. New displacement is as great as the putative “returns” celebrated, often disingenuously, by the UN and African Union.
THE PRESENT MOMENT
The history adumbrated above was of course unknown to me in 2004 when I wrote “Regime Change in Sudan.” But everything I point to could have been anticipated, given the character of the al-Bashir regime. Although I was speaking about the immediate imperative of halting genocide in Darfur, the implications of those genocidal instincts—what de Waal himself once called “genocide by force of habit”—would animate all that we have seen subsequently. Notwithstanding the claim by Special Envoy Lyman that the regime was capable “carrying out reform via constitutional democratic measures,” it should be clear to all that unless the Military Council that has deposed al-Bashir is forced to yield power, his military regime will simply replicate itself.
To allow this to happen is to betray the millions of civilians that have demonstrated for peace, freedom and justice for almost five months. It is critical that the Military Council be given no measure of international standing. Unless it allows fully civilian governance in the very near term, it must face severely punitive actions by international actors of consequences, including the Western nations of the “Troika+” (the U.S. Norway, the UK, and Canada), the UN, the African Union (both of which have at least declared that the Military Council is unacceptable as the source of sovereign governance in Sudan), and others who value civilian democratic rule.
For its part, the Military Council shows every sign of trying to outlast the popular uprising, and has secured the support of regional actors Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. Russia also directly assisted the al-Bashir regime in the earlier months of the uprising, and China appears ready to use its Security Council veto to keep client state Sudan under military control.
But the overwhelming majority of people in Sudan have spoken in a voice long, loud, and clear, demanding peace, freedom, and justice—and they must be ignored. The need for regime change in Sudan has long been obvious; the urgency of that change now could not be greater.
“Regime Change in Sudan,” The Washington Post
August 23, 2004
The horrors in Darfur mark this century’s first great venture in genocide, but they are not the first such action perpetrated by the National Islamic Front (NIF) regime ruling Sudan. That distinction goes to the jihad directed against the various African peoples of the Nuba Mountains beginning in 1992. Genocide began again in the vast oil concessions of southern Sudan in 1998, when the African peoples of the region became targets of a systematic policy of scorched-earth clearances. Many hundreds of thousands were killed or displaced.
Khartoum’s genocide in Darfur is both familiar and different. It is, as seasoned Sudan analyst Alex de Waal has argued, “the routine cruelty of a security cabal, its humanity withered by years in power: it is genocide by force of habit.” Confronted with a surprisingly robust military insurgency in Darfur — growing out of decades of economic marginalization and a near-total breakdown in civilian security — the government in Khartoum instinctively responded by organizing and deploying the Janjaweed Arab militia, which has brutally and systematically destroyed the means of agricultural production throughout Darfur, focusing almost exclusively on African tribal groups. These people now confront “conditions of life calculated to bring about their physical destruction”: They face genocide.
No reasonable world order can tolerate a serially genocidal regime that rules only by virtue of ruthless survivalism. Yet this is what the United Nations appears prepared to do. A July 30 U.N. Security Council resolution on Darfur was an exercise in temporizing. Veto-wielding China and Russia, as well as Pakistan and Algeria, resisted all meaningful action; both China and Pakistan abstained in the final vote, signaling that nothing further will be done when the Security Council takes up Darfur again on Sunday.
In the distorting shadow of the Iraq war, this is an exceedingly difficult moment to argue for “regime change” in Khartoum. But regime change alone can end genocide as the domestic security policy of choice in Sudan. And it is the only thing that can avert the deaths of hundreds of thousands in Darfur. The mismatch between humanitarian need and capacity grows more deadly each day. And Khartoum is strenuously resisting deployment of any peacekeeping force, even from the African Union.
The moral logic of regime change could not be clearer. The NIF came to power by military coup in 1989, deposing an elected government and aborting the most promising peace process since Sudan’s independence in 1956. The only arguments against regime change are those of realpolitik (the regime is Sudan’s de facto government) and practicability (how can Sudan’s governance be taken into international receivership?).
But years in power cannot legitimize genocide: This will only encourage regimes like Khartoum’s to believe they are invulnerable and act accordingly. Even from the realpolitik perspective, acceptance of rule by those who commit genocide is counterproductive to regional and world order; it also offers encouragement to other regimes tempted to use genocide as a political weapon.
To the second objection—how will it be done?—there are certainly no easy answers. But one consequence of the Iraq war (though of course not a justification in itself) is that public discussion of regime change by the United States will resonate much more deeply in Khartoum’s despotic thinking. If it is coupled with serious efforts to work with our European allies to squeeze Khartoum by means of comprehensive economic sanctions, as well as sanctions targeted against NIF leaders, we may first be able to secure a permissive environment for humanitarian intervention in Darfur, saving hundreds of thousands of lives.
If regime change is not to be chaotic, it must be organized by a consortium of international actors, including regional governments; efforts must be made to reach out to all opposition parties throughout the country and in exile. A proportionately representative interim governing council must be created externally but be ready to move quickly to take control when the NIF is removed by whatever means are necessary. The great risk is an implosion of the military that sustains NIF power, but this risk is as great without any effort of regime change.
The challenges adumbrated here are daunting and politically risky. The consequences of failing to accept these challenges are continuation of genocidal rule and additional hundreds of thousands of deaths.
[My own assessment of violent mortality in Darfur presently is, very approximately, 600,000 dead, including both from direct violent assault and the consequences of the violent displacement of approximately 3 million people in Darfur and eastern Chad (latest update is November 2016 | http://sudanreeves.org/2017/01/05/quantifying-genocide-darfur-mortality-update-august-6-2010/]
Reporting on violence orchestrated by the Khartoum regime of Omar al-Bashir:
”Mass Rape in Darfur: Sudanese Army Attacks Against Civilians in Tabit [October/November 2014],” Human Rights Watch, February 2 2015 | http://www.hrw.org/news/2015/02/11/sudan-mass-rape-army-darfur/)
“Men With No Mercy”: Rapid Support Forces Attacks Against Civilians in Darfur, Sudan,” Human Rights Watch | September 9, 2015 | https://www.hrw.org/report/2015/09/09/men-no-mercy/rapid-support-forces-attacks-against-civilians-darfur-sudan
“Scorched Earth, Poisoned Air: Sudanese Government Forces Ravage Jebel Marra, Darfur,” Amnesty International | 109 pages; released September 29, 2016 | https://www.amnestyusa.org/reports/scorched-earth-poisoned-air-sudanese-government-forces-ravage-jebel-marra-darfur/
“Continuing Mass Rape of Girls in Darfur: The most heinous crime generates no international outrage,” Eric Reeves, author | Maya Baca, research and editing, January 2016 | http://sudanreeves.org/2017/10/15/continuing-mass-rape-of-girls-in-darfur-the-most-heinous-crime-generates-no-international-outrage-january-2016/
“‘Changing the Demography’: Violent Expropriation and Destruction of Farmlands in Darfur, November 2014 – November 2015,” Eric Reeves, author | Maya Baca, research and editing, December 1, 2015 | http://sudanreeves.org/2017/10/15/changing-the-demography-violent-expropriation-and-destruction-of-farmlands-in-darfur-november-2014-november-2015/
“UNAMID Withdrawal and International Abandonment: Violence in Darfur, 2017 – 2019,” Eric Reeves, author | Maya Baca, research and editing (forthcoming May 2019)