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Sunday, December 28, 2003

Bollettino

A peace agreement in Sudan was quietly heralded in Western presses this week. The Financial Times reported it like this on Friday:

"People would like to go back. So we are waiting now for peace." The speaker is Wol Amuk Guot, acknowledged chief of a sector of Wad al-Bashir, a camp for internally displaced persons outside Khartoum. He comes from southern Sudan, where six of his children live. He has not watched them grow up, and has not seen his mother for 14 years

An end to Sudan's 20-year war between the Arab Muslim government in Khartoum and rebels from the mostly animist and Christian south is now tantalisingly close. How many of these long-term refugees will be on the move again nobody can tell.

The war, one of the longest and costliest in African history, is reckoned to have claimed 2m lives and to have uprooted 4m people like these, making Sudan's population of IDPs - or internally displaced persons - the largest in the world. Fighting this year in a separate conflict in the western Darfur region, bordering Chad, is thought to have displaced at least another 600,000 people. More than 500,000 others are refugees in neighbouring countries.”

Nowhere has the curse of oil been as horrible as Sudan. It is the curse that is behind this peace – the main southern Sudanese militia, Sudan People's Liberation Movement, wants to share in the oil wealth with the Islamicist government. This curious workmanship of this agreement is the result of a number of different pressures. There is, as the major factor, oil. The oil comes from the South, which is Christian and animist, and goes to an elite in the North, which is military and Islamicist. That elite also condones the slave trade that sells Southerners to households in Khartoum. In the South, there’s a rebel authority that is as handy with the tools of massacre and torture as any Northern army. Between the two of them, an agreement has been jimmied up and blessed by the International Monetary Fund.
These are shadows and portents of something bad under the surface, a sharing of booty among various violent oligarchs, who attach as accepted costs to the sucking up of petrol by the giant American, European and, now, Chinese and Indian concerns. That tiers-mondialisme that was supposed to operate as a third force? Forget it. The Indians and Chinese are as willing as the Americans and the French to press oil profits out of African flesh and blood.

From Lord of the flies we go to a democracy of flies, a globalisation of flies. Of course, the slaving goes on; the impoverishment of the already impoverished goes on; the pushing of Africa into ever deeper pits goes on; and the engines in a million cars turn over morning after morning.

The latest deal is for a new constitution, power sharing between Garang and the Northern government, and a referendum, six years from now, on succession for the South. It isn’t hard to see that this deal is going to be violated. One diplomat interviewed by the FT calls it more like a prolonged truce. One does wonder whether the truce will be animated by a coalition force directed against the rebels on the Chad border. Truces are only stages to further violence in Sudan’s post-colonial history.

The World Today has a nice backgrounder on the whole thing by Jemera Rone, who is attached to the Human Rights Watch. She points to the role of Christian pressure groups on the Bush people, who sent John Danforth as an envoy to Sudan to try to negotiate this settlement. The Troika of the U.S., Norway and Norway have been persistent about getting the talks going, and hammering out some agreement. But as Rone points out,

“One of the main controversies is that only the main two fighting forces are party to the talks; neither was chosen in free and fair elections. Northern political parties, which repeatedly won elections in democratic times, and southern militia leaders threaten that as long as they are excluded, the agreement will be no more than a pact between 'two dictators' - which they are not obliged to recognise.”

This dovetails with the peace treaty’s central problem:

“Also controversial is the absence of any provision for human rights accountability. The Troika has not made serious accountability or truth proposals, and the parties - which have terrible human rights records - do not want to end up in jail. But this would be a big step backward from other recent African agreements providing some form of justice at war's end, or at the very least, disclosure.

Indeed, one of the chief causes of the war's persistence and spread beyond the south - to central Sudan in the 1980s, the east in the 1990s, and the west this year - is that the ruling Islamist-military party does not respect diversity among Muslims and Arabs, much less the country's African majority. There are gross abuses of the rights of the majority. If the government could abandon its central programme of Islamising and Arabising the people and agree to real multi-party democracy and human rights, peace might have a chance.”

The whole depressing saga of the poisonous alliance between oil and the Sudanese government’s policy of massacre as a twisted sort of land reform is detailed on the Human Rights Watch site, here.




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