Al-Ahram Weekly Online   3 - 9 May 2007
Issue No. 843
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Hanging in there

This week, the international community, barring the Arab world, lambasted Sudan, but Khartoum still has its consolations, writes Gamal Nkrumah

Click to view caption
Demonstrators protest in Whitehall in London as part of the Global Day of Action to mark the fourth anniversary of the conflict in Darfur.

The people of Sudan are long suffering, to say the least. Slavery, sanctioned by religious zealots, ravaged the southern parts of the country and much of the west as well. The so-called pagan non-Arab tribes of Sudan were subjected to untold atrocities and it is in this context that the war in Darfur has opened up old wounds. "In certain parts of Darfur, blood is running like water," Kristyan Benedict of Amnesty International so graphically described it.

The deadlines for Darfur peace deals have fallen like skittles. Be that as it may, there is a consensus among Sudan's African and Arab neighbours that the Darfur peace process -- negotiations between the Sudanese government and armed opposition groups -- must resume. Sudan's shaky coalition government of national unity is reluctant to clinch a power-sharing deal with the Darfur armed opposition groups like it did with the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) in January 2005. This landmark deal, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, ended the war in southern Sudan and has laid the foundations for a new political dispensation, a more democratic system in which southern Sudanese participate more meaningfully in the running of the country. Sudan is not the only country to have struck a deal with insurgents; neighbouring Chad has done so numerous times in the past.

The vicious civil war that cost so many lives in the past five decades has had an appalling socio- economic impact on Sudan. Nevertheless Sudan's new-found oil wealth is transforming the country's economic prospects. Sudan is, today, the third largest producer of oil in Africa The Sudanese economy is growing in leaps and bounds with an anticipated 11 per cent growth rate this year. However, Sudan has to capitalise on its new-found prosperity. Chinese, Malaysian and other Asian companies have a monopoly over the Sudanese oil industry, and China imports most of Sudan's oil.

Nobody, but the Arabs and the Chinese, has a good word for Khartoum. China is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council -- the only non- Western nation -- and Beijing would most certainly use its veto to stymie the United States' and Britain's plans to impose international sanctions against Sudan. Attempting to up the ante, a recent US House of Representatives resolution on Sudan urges the 22-member state Arab League to acknowledge the conflict in Darfur as systematic genocide.

There is growing evidence that the Sudanese authorities, in tacit agreement with the allied Arabised militias better known as the Janjaweed, have embarked on a dreadful killing spree in Darfur. The Sudanese authorities hotly denies the charge. The Arab League also flatly rejected the charge that it was indifferent to the suffering of the people in Darfur. Indeed, in a flurry of diplomatic activity, a number of Arab countries have stepped up efforts to end the conflict in Darfur.

The Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi promptly hosted a conference in his hometown of Sirte to discuss the Darfur crisis. Andrew Natsios, US President George W Bush's special envoy to Darfur, flew to Sirte and so did the foreign ministers of Egypt, Sudan and Chad -- Ahmed Abul- Gheit, Lam Akol and Ahmat Allami. The Libyans, like most other Arab countries, do not want to see the internationalisation of the Darfur conflict. "It is not in the interests of the international community to intervene in an affair in which one of the parties does not want a solution," Gaddafi warned. He was referring to the armed opposition groups of Darfur whom he accuses of attempting to internationalise the conflict in Darfur. The Libyan leader believes that the armed opposition groups of Darfur are working in tandem with the West to turn the Darfur conflict into an international affair.

Libya's Deputy Foreign Minister for African Affairs Ali Abdul-Salam Treki explained the reasoning behind holding the Sirte conference. "This important conference is being held in the absence of the Sudanese opposition, for whom another conference will be held soon in Tripoli." Treki said that it was important that the armed opposition groups of Darfur meet separately with the mediating parties, both Arab and international.

Egypt for its part offered to dispatch peace- keeping troops to Darfur under the auspices of a joint African Union (AU) and UN mandate. US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte has just returned from a fact-finding mission to Sudan. The Arabs and the US, however, do not see eye to eye on the question of Darfur. Arabs view US interference with suspicion as an attempt to infringe on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sudan. Arab leaders also understand Western interference in Sudanese domestic affairs as being, in essence, anti-Arab and anti- Muslim. The conflict in Darfur is charged with symbolic resonance. The Western view is that the Arab world is at best indifferent to the tragedy in Darfur.

The Global Day for Darfur, 29 April, which witnessed protests and demonstrations across the globe was designed to draw attention to the plight of the people there. Some 10,000 hourglasses were filled with blood-red liquid as a grim reminder of the bloodshed in the war-torn westernmost Sudanese province.

Protesters around the world demanded an admission of failure and a policy change by the Sudanese government. Perhaps this heartfelt action will inspire a more hopeful chapter in Darfur's bloody history. see p.12

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