by M.A. Shaikh (Occupied Arab World, Crescent International Vol. 28, No. 17, Safar, 1439)
In a new twist to the latest US efforts to internationalise the Sudanese conflict and force the secession of the country’s so-called ‘Christian South’, American aid-agencies have accused Washington of prolonging Africa’s longest and costliest war. This unprecedented public censure follows the agencies’ failure to block US secretary of state Madeleine Albright’s attempt to sabotage current mediation attempts during her recent six-day African tour (to Guinea, Sierra Leone, Mali, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Kenya). Albright met colonel John Garang, the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) chief, in Nairobi on October 23, and offered him ‘food aid’ for his group if he spurned the Libyan-Egyptian peace initiative and continued fighting.
Albright and Garang reportedly discussed the various mediation attempts ï Arab and African ï aimed at ending Sudan’s war, none of which have made progress, mainly because of the US’s determination to have negotiations conducted on a North-South basis. Washington opposes the peace-talks jointly sponsored by Cairo and Tripoli, to which all parties to the conflict are invited. Instead, it backs EGAD, an East African initiative led by Kenya, which is confined to negotiations between Khartoum and southern warlords.
Garang reportedly denied asking Albright for military aid, and US officials deny having offered any. But in a famine-stricken continent, where food is worth more than gold, the provision of food-aid to a guerrilla army ï as opposed to assistance to the refugees and the displaced ï would be arguably more valuable, for it would enable the SPLA to switch the money it is spending on food to his war-chest. The Americans have a long record of financing the war against the government of Sudan, at least until the Eritrean-Ethiopian conflict severely disrupted the regional anti-Khartoum alliance they had so carefully constructed.
But while Mrs Albright is anxious to feed the Southern guerrilla armies, US aid-agencies are being prevented from providing humanitarian assistance to the starving southerners held hostage by the political ambitions and love of money of ‘Christian’ warlords. The need for humanitarian aid is all the more urgent because of last year’s drought and the war-related famine threatening the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.
For the first time, several US aid-agencies have gathered together in a joint effort to exert pressure on Washington to end its aggressive policy in the Sudan and concentrate on ending the conflict there, regardless of the nature of the regime in Khartoum. According to Roger Winter of the US Committee on Refugees (USCR), a private agency, “US policy, since about 1991 or 1992, has been driven exclusively by the issue of international terrorism.”
The USCR says that Washington should adopt a ‘solution-oriented’ approach and give a ‘higher priority’ to bringing the war in the south to a ‘just end’. The agency argues that neither the government nor the SPLA can achieve victory as things stand now, and that the war will therefore continue indefinitely, costing many more lives. “This is unacceptable,” it says.
However, it is clearly not unacceptable to the US government and Congress, which are offering ‘food-aid’ to the SPLA to enable it “to devote more time to the war”, as congressional leaders put it when they first proposed the idea. Congress has also passed several resolutions calling on the Clinton administration to arm the SPLA, along with resolutions accusing Sudan of practising slavery. One congressional proposal that the Clinton administration has accepted is the appointment of a special envoy for southern Sudan, no doubt to reinforce US efforts to widen the north-south divide.
Washington has now completely scuppered the Libyan-Egyptian peace-initiative. Northern opposition leaders invited to the meeting in Cairo in mid-October sent only junior representatives and failed to engage in meaningful negotiations. And Garang stayed away, evidently preferring Albright’s more agreeable company in Nairobi. More ominously, US efforts to prolong the war, and the promise of ‘food-aid’, appear to be succeeding in persuading some of the southern warlords allied to Khartoum to defect to Garang.
Several of the smaller tribes in the South are victims of SPLA aggression, which gets its main support from the Dinka, the largest tribe in the area. Many of their members have fled north to avoid the fighting and to remain out of SPLA-controlled areas, making a nonsense of the notion that the Sudanese war is between ‘northern Muslims’ and ‘southern Christians’. Most of the southern population are animist, and there are more Muslims there than Christians, thanks to migration and da’wah over the years.
The US is clearly only interested in pursuing its strategic policies, and does not care how many Sudanese ï Muslims, Christians or animists ï die. The fact that several US aid-agencies have now publicly condemned Washington’s war-programme in the Sudan is a welcome development, but is unlikely to have any significant effect. The war-policy is not only advanced but also enjoys widespread support in the US.
Even many ‘human rights’ organisations in the US are not speaking out against it. Some, like Human Rights Watch, in fact appear to support it. Jerema Rone, an ‘expert’ in the Sudan with Human Rights Watch in Washington, certainly seems to support southern Sudanese warlords’ and Washington’s policy of preventing the Sudan from becoming an oil-exporter, and therefore economically independent.
He told the International Herald Tribune on October 18 that the oil exports would prolong the war because “they will be having income they didn’t have before. They will be an oil-exporter, which puts them in an exclusive club of countries.” He omitted to mention, of course, the US’s role in prolonging the conflict.
Muslimedia: November 1-15, 1999