Home | Comment & Analysis    Wednesday 27 May 2009

Is the U.S. Selling Southern Sudanese Down the River?

By Roger P. Winter

May 26, 2009 — “Selling “ someone “downriver”, according to any U.S.-savvy thesaurus, has the clear connotation of “sell-out” and, with reference to the shameful U.S. history of slavery, of angry masters selling uncooperative slaves down the Mississippi River into harsher conditions further south. In the context of Sudan, of course, the great Nile River flows north through Khartoum. Selling the people of Southern Sudan “downriver” thus would clearly connote selling them out to the Khartoum-based National Congress Party cabal (formerly the National Islamic Front) that purports to ‘govern’ Sudan.

Is this the direction in which the U.S. is now headed?

That conclusion is not at this time clearly justified, but concerns are growing. It is clear that the new U.S. policy on Sudan, which has largely been kept under wraps, has significantly shifted away from the previous policy of confronting the NCP over the gross mistreatment of its opponents, particularly those of African lineage and culture. Beyond the hundreds of thousands of dead Darfuris are the all-but-forgotten two-and-a-half million dead Southern Sudanese and allied populations who are no longer among the living because of the policies of those currently in power in Khartoum. Since coming to power by coup in 1989, President Omer Bashir has presided over the deaths of some three million of his countrymen, qualifying his regime as runner-up to the Holocaust in body count, without paying any price whatsoever. He was rightly indicted by the International Criminal Court for Khartoum’s miscreant performance in Darfur, despite the whining of a morally-deficient African Union and Arab League. Suddenly though, it appears the U.S. Administration wants to make nice with him and his cabal.

There are good reasons to engage Khartoum. The previous Administration’s efforts to bring peace to Southern Sudan were energetic and successful; its efforts on Darfur were not. It seemed unable to ‘walk and chew gum’ at the same time. Its efforts to isolate Khartoum were a miserable failure. A new approach was clearly needed, one that genuinely helps to bring peace, justice and development to the people of Darfur and which also ensures the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) which brought peace to South Sudan and its allied regions is fully implemented. There are and, given the track record of the National Congress Party, will surely be reasons to pressure and penalize Khartoum for its frequent unconscionable behavior. But if the Administration’s approach actually includes a full range of tough options for responding to Khartoum duplicity, it is a too well-kept secret. Publically, it has only “made nice” with Khartoum. That track record, especially when reinforced by words of ‘niceness’ by Senator John Kerry, Chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, should greatly concern anyone who yearns for a ‘New Sudan’ of peace, justice and development.

Bashir’s twentieth anniversary as President of Sudan will be this June 30th. Ever since he came to power, the leadership group in Khartoum has largely remained intact. That leadership element is very able and also very committed to their divisive vision for Sudan and the region. They have seen scores of American diplomats come and go and have outfoxed and outlasted them all. They are masters at creating a crisis and then, at American insistence, partially ‘resolving’ that crisis and thereby creating amongst those Americans an image of being “someone we can work with”. This, for example, is what Khartoum has done recently concerning the recent expulsion of humanitarian nongovernmental relief agencies from Darfur. That tactic in the past has usually been followed by a pattern of NCP promises made and then broken. It is an established NCP approach that routinely blunts, even shatters, every untutored U.S. diplomatic strategy.

The Administration is, I believe legitimately, intending to reach out to the Arab and Islamic worlds to seek seriously to improve relations. In fact, President Obama is expected to give a speech reaching out to those peoples while he visits Egypt next week. While legitimately engaging responsible leaders and communities, it is terribly important that he not simply lump the NCP with them. As long as an unfettered NCP remains in stolen power at Sudan’s Center, marginalized Sudanese-North, South, East and West-will be at risk, subject to NCP whim. Humanitarian assistance and protection of the NCP’s civilian victims, while critical, are not a solution per se to this kind of problem. Peaceful change in governance at the Center can be a solution and is the one already agreed to in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

A U.S. policy on Sudan that does not solidly seek to assure full implementation of the CPA would amount to selling Southern Sudanese and Darfuris for that matter, ‘downriver’. It would also be an unmerited happy birthday present to Omer Bashir.

The author is the Former Special Representative on Sudan