Darfur: The Other Anniversary

“Three years after Powell had first declared that genocide was taking place in Sudan, hundreds of people every month continued to die in the camps of Darfur — mute evidence of the policies that failed to save them.”
–Glenn Kessler; pg.119 in The Confidante, 2007

9/11 is not this week’s only grim anniversary. We also mark Darfur being labeled genocide. It has been over a thousand days and over one hundred thousand additional lives snuffed out since the world’s sole superpower loudly and publicly blew the whistle on genocide in progress. Significantly, it is being committed by the military dictatorship of a poor African country. So why has it not been stopped even after three years? Because our leaders have cynically failed to walk their talk. And the reason for that? Because we, the people, have not done our job.

How do we correct the situation? We must start with a tougher attitude. Words and promises–whether by Khartoum and its murderous Janjaweed allies, or by the rebels, or by the UN, or by China or by the United States–count for very little. We must demand action. And we must show outrage that politicians have dallied for four years, allowing hundreds of thousands innocent Darfuri lives to be snuffed out, not to mention the millions more who have been violently uprooted and terrorized. Some might label this the attitude of an impatient skeptic. I would not disagree.

But even skeptics must admit Darfur has seen some recent progress. On July 31, the Security Council finally authorized UNAMID, the robust hybrid protection force that must prepare the way. African countries have quickly pledged all the warm bodies that UNAMID needs. Most rebel leaders participated in the August common strategy session in Arusha, Tanzania. On Monday, August 27, the Security Council favorably considered a second international force–joint EU-UN troops who will be stationed in Chad and CAR to protect refugees. And political negotiations have just been scheduled to begin on October 27 in Libya.

Do these positive developments mean that we have turned a corner? Not by a long shot. To appreciate why, think of success in Darfur as an arduous journey along a difficult, unfamiliar trail. More importantly, there are three big obstacles blocking that trail.

The first obstacle is the fact that atrocious behavior still continues in Darfur, threatening the limited progress that has been made. Wary of continuing violence, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon rearranged his September schedule and traveled to the region, principally to talk to the leaders of Sudan Libya and Chad.

Before leaving, Mr. Ban specified his concerns during an August 28 press conference in New York,:”I am deeply concerned about the recent escalation in violence in Darfur that has caused the death of hundreds of people in the last few weeks alone. Attacks such as the one on the Adilla police on August 1, the repeated bombardments of villages in Southern Darfur that followed, including just three days ago, and the attack on Kilkil Abu Salam in Northern Darfur on August 18 are simply unacceptable.”

Six days later, The New York Times splashed on its front page a disturbing account of a new escalation: The Arab “Janjaweed” ethnic groups that Khartoum armed are now massacring each other in a fight over land from which they have ethnically cleansed African groups.

Darfur’s trail to success and normalcy is blocked by a second obstacle. Its presence warns that we dare not be sanguine — the real heavy lifting in Darfur, is only beginning. What must be done is a massive, three-phase, multi-year initiative. As Secretary General Ban outlined them on August 28, the three phases are: protection and peacekeeping; political negotiations; and humanitarian assistance and development. By itself, each phase is mind-boggling in complexity, scale and difficulty.

Combined, the three phases almost constitute a mission impossible. The protection and peacekeeping phase — during which UNAMID must protect innocents — must keep the peace and maintain law and order in vast, semi-desert, strife-torn Darfur. The political phase, which Mr. Ban announced will begin in Libya on October 27, will be even tougher. That will require Sudanese warlords, politicians, activists and community leaders to hammer out political compromises, while the AU and the international community provide crucial support, incentives and disincentives. Like most political negotiations, this one, which is the bedrock foundation on which a healed and normal Darfur must be built, will be wrangled, protracted and long. We must expect frequent disagreements, setbacks, disappointments and delays. The final, development, phase, when de facto ethnic cleansing must be reversed by resettling refugees and IDPs back on their own lands, when sustainable development projects must be carried out, when perpetrators must be punished, and when political agreements must be painstakingly implemented, will be the toughest and most protracted of all.

As formidable as the first two obstacles are, the third may be the most daunting. That obstacle is a composite — consisting in equal parts of Khartoum’s impunity and of the cynicism of its enablers, especially Beijing and Washington and to a lesser degree, the Arab League and Russia.

The multiple culpabilities of Sudan’s central governments for the Darfur tragedy cannot be exaggerated. By their repressive, chauvinistic, exploitative, and undemocratic governance, Khartoum regimes sowed the seeds of the many regional rebellions that have plagued Sudan since independence in 1956.

Having failed to resolve Darfur’s simmering grievances, the current Bashir government failed a second critical responsibility — protecting innocents and noncombatants once the grievances boiled over into violence. Instead, Khartoum poured its energies and resources into brutal ethnic cleansing. When a conscience-stricken Western public opinion forced its politicians to address the issue, Khartoum cynically exploited the Iraq catastrophe by crying, “Western imperialism against another Muslim country.” Fortunately, the AU and ordinary Africans have been neither amused nor impressed by this charge. And since the UN and the AU refused to sweep Darfur under the rug, Khartoum has back-pedaled and broken its word countless times.

Two recent Khartoum actions prove that not much has changed. Last month, on Friday, August 24, Amnesty International provided photographic proof that Khartoum is still secretly sending banned arms into Darfur. And in the past few weeks, the regime expelled the Director of CARE, an organization feeding hundreds of thousands of Sudan’s own citizens!

The genocidal behavior of Sudan raises a question. Sixty years ago Hitler, dictator of a world superpower and possessed of the greatest military of the time which had conquered and was ruling a global empire, was confronted and taken down, in part for committing genocide within secret concentration camps; how then is it that today, Sudan, a destitute African country, is getting away with slow-motion genocide in front of our eyes? The blunt answer: Sudan enjoys the tacit support and protection of a cynical cabal of international enablers. Each nation within this nefarious coalition regards its own concerns as more important than stopping genocide and crimes against humanity, more important than defending the principles of human rights, self-determination and democracy, and more important than saving the lives of hundreds of thousands of Africans.

Of Sudan’s current enablers, China has the greatest clout. Oil remains Beijing’s top priority in Sudan. However, concern about its image before 2008 Olympics has trumped its desire for oil temporarily. After a long record of protecting Khartoum in the UN while showering aid, investment, trade and arms on Sudan, Beijing recently relented slightly, allowing watered down Security Council resolutions that authorized robust peace keeping in Darfur. What got China’s attention? Activists. China feared that a boycott Beijing movement was gaining speed.

If China is Sudan’s most influential enabler, the Bush administration has proven the cleverest, pulling off a brilliant slight of hand. On the one hand it has convinced virtually every observer that because of the Darfur atrocities, Khartoum is firmly on Washington’s list of untouchable pariah regimes — on par with Iran, Zimbabwe, North Korea, and Venezuela. Washington accomplished this feat through both rhetoric and action.

The rhetoric has been impressive. In 2004, President Bush, Colin Powell and other officials firmly insisted Darfur constituted genocide. They mouthed many other impressive words. In fact Mr. Bush recently revealed that he once considered U.S. military intervention in Darfur but decided against it.

Beyond words, President Bush has taken some action on Darfur. He helped broker the 2005 cease-fire; provided millions of dollars to the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS); supplied most of the humanitarian aid; punitively sanctioned Sudanese perpetrators; encouraged Save Darfur rallies; assisted the AU in winning the Abuja peace agreement; and pushed the Security Council to start the accord’s convoluted implementation. Later he persuaded Congress to allocate an additional $60 million for expanded peacekeeping. After Robert Zoellick quit the State Department, Mr. Bush appointed Andrew Natsios his special envoy on Darfur. Most recently, he banned key Sudanese firms from using the dollar and added more individuals to the sanctions list. Finally, it has just been estimated that the United States will provide a quarter of the $2 billion a year that UNAMID will cost. No other world leader has done as much.

These well-publicized Washington words and actions, and Khartoum’s loud reactions, make it easy to believe what both capitals want you to believe — that because of Darfur, Washington is hostile to Khartoum. There is a second, even more disturbing belief — that Washington is once more bullying a weaker Muslim country, and an African country at that. Khartoum has evangelized this second belief shamelessly. Sadly, the Arab League and a tiny segment of the African-American community have bought Khartoum’s pitch. They therefore show greater concern for the sensibilities of the Sudanese regime than for the lives of the millions suffering in Darfur.

And yet, these two beliefs leave a persistent and irritating puzzle: Why has the genocide festered for so long? Why has Washington not taken even stronger action? It cannot be because Darfur has happened in secrecy. Nor has it happened quickly as Rwanda did. And it certainly is not because the American people have been silent about Darfur.

But the puzzle gets solved when you uncover other facts that Washington and Khartoum strive to keep secret. Consider just a few. In 2005, long after announcing that Sudanese leaders were committing genocide, the United States ignored its own anti-genocide obligations to arrest such leaders. Instead, it secretly flew one of those very leaders, Major General Salah Abdallah Gosh, into Washington, met with him and then flew him back out. Since that meeting, Sudanese and American intelligence officials have exchanged secret “liaison visits everyday.” And in a May 2007 report to Congress, the Bush administration heaped praise on Sudan, calling it “a strong partner.”

These facts lead to one conclusion: The Bush administration regards secret intelligence provided by Sudan as much more valuable and important than saving hundreds of thousands of African lives and ending the suffering of millions more, as much more valuable and important than ending genocide.

This explains why three years (and counting) after pronouncing Darfur a genocide, Washington has failed to lead the world in ending the catastrophe.

It also explains why the genocide will be prolonged until caring Americans develop the tough attitude needed for change. Once developed, that tough attitude must be used to force the U.S. government to change its priorities and make ending genocide a greater concern than secret cooperation with Sudan’s brutal regime.

Until last month, Nii Akuetteh was the Executive Director of Africa Action in Washington DC. He is an analyst for Foriegn Policy In Focus.