An American envoy in Khartoum
Washington is seeking an end to the troubles in Darfur, going as far as sending an envoy to the troubled region to pursue a solution, writes Gamal Nkrumah
Concurrent political and economic changes, dimly understood, are taking place in Darfur and Sudan, while the United States steps up its pressure to resolve the Sudanese political crisis. Washington is taking an increasing interest in Sudanese domestic affairs. The US special envoy to Sudan, Andrew Natsios, flew to Khartoum on Saturday for a five-day visit to Sudan. He met high-level Sudanese officials, including Sudanese Foreign Minister Lam Akol.
Darfur was the main topic of conversation, with the Sudanese expecting Natsios to come up with a new and more positive proposal regarding the region. Natsios visited Darfur and the garrison town of Malakal in southern Sudan, where intense fighting erupted last week between the Southern Sudanese Defence Forces and the Sudan Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA) which effectively now governs southern Sudan.
Outgoing United Nations Secretary- General Kofi Annan called on the UN Human Rights Council to send an independent team of investigators to probe into the reasons behind the intensifying violence in Darfur. On Sunday, two African Union (AU) peace-keepers, including a Nigerian major, were kidnapped in the vicinity of the northern Darfur provincial capital of Al-Fasher. As Al-Ahram Weekly went to print, negotiations for procuring the release of the two kidnapped AU peace-keepers were underway. "It is urgent that we take action to prevent further violations," Annan warned.
He also stressed that "those responsible for the numerous crimes that have already been committed" be brought to book.
Meanwhile, four refugees were accidentally killed in a riot by AU peace-keepers in a refugee camp on the outskirts of the provincial capital of western Darfur, Al-Geneina. The state of restlessness characterises all the refugee camps of Darfur. The Darfur countryside, too, is seething with palpable tension between the ethnic Arab tribes backed by the Janjaweed militiamen and the non-Arab indigenous groups such as the Fur, the Zaghawa and the Massaleit. The Janjaweed, who seem to have taken up arms against non-Arab ethnic groups, have re- emerged as the main menace in the war-torn westernmost Sudanese province.
The Darfur armed opposition groups are reluctant to follow in the footsteps of the southerners and easterners. They do not consider the signing of a peace deal between the Sudanese government and eastern Sudanese armed opposition groups -- the Beja Congress and the Rashaida Arab Free Lions -- an ideal solution for Darfur. They demand a greater say in the decision-making process in Sudan and more ministerial positions in the cabinet.
Two major Darfur armed opposition groups refused to sign a peace deal with the Sudanese government in the Nigerian capital Abuja in May -- the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) led by Khalil Ibrahim and the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) headed by Abdul-Wahid Mohamed Al-Nour. These two groups are now spearheading the peoples of Darfur's quest for greater autonomy, and redress for past political and economic iniquities.
Even Arko Minni Minnawi, leader of the rival SLA Minnawi faction, and now special advisor to Sudanese President Al-Bashir, has expressed exasperation with the pace of progress and reconciliation. An ethnic Zaghawa, Minnawi is the only Darfur leader who signed a peace deal with the Sudanese government. He, along with Al-Nour and Khalil Ibrahim, voiced concern about the escalating violence in Darfur.
The Sudanese authorities insist that it is not too late to salvage a deal and that progress will proceed apace. The armed opposition groups of Darfur display no such motivation.
It is against this backdrop that Khartoum hosted representatives of 76 of African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) nations. The summit kicked off in Khartoum last Thursday with the overly optimistic theme: "United for peace, solidarity and sustainable development".
The summit was attended by only 16 heads of state and government out of the 79 member states.
Sudan has been experiencing an economic boom. The Sudanese growth rate is expected to top 10 per cent this year, thanks in large measure to oil exports -- oil now accounts for half of Sudanese government revenues. The Sudanese Finance Minister Zubair Ahmed Al-Hassan noted that the budget for 2007 would hover around $11.7 billion.
There is a widespread recognition that oil will bring enormous political benefits. However, increased oil revenues might also prove to be a bone of contention between the rival Sudanese political factions, complicating the involvement of the Bush administration even further.