Sudan’s attempts to normalise relations with its neighbours are being scuppered by the US, which aims to isolate the ‘Islamic rogue state’ and build up support for the Christian separatists led by colonel John Garang. Khartoum began to woo Eritrea, Ethiopia and Uganda after the coalition against it — of which all three were members — collapsed in May 1998, when Addis Ababa and Asmara went to war. Ethiopia signed a truce to gain an advantage over its new adversary, but Eritrea, under strong American pressure, is resisting Khartoum’s overtures and continues to host the Sudanese opposition groups. Uganda, on the other hand, finally signed a memorandum of understanding, only to undermine it almost immediately by voting for a motion against Sudan in the UN High Commission for Human Rights. With Khartoum and Kampala still squabbling over this incident, and the border dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea resolved, the stage is set for Washington to resurrect the old coalition.
A working coalition will again serve to convey arms, ammunition and funds to colonel Garang and northern opposition leaders, and to host their forces and organisations. This will strengthen the hand of John Danforth, the US president’s envoy to Sudan, who is ostensibly negotiating a fair end to the war but in fact is working to impose on Khartoum a settlement that secures for the Christian southerners the right to secede. When, for instance, Danforth arrived in Khartoum on November 12 with four proposals heavily loaded in favour of the separatists, he gave the impression that he preferred partition to peace in a united country. In addition to strengthening Danforth’s hand, support for the coalition will also stiffen the separatists’ resolve. Washington began to lay the basis for the restoration of the coalition when it succeeded in persuading Asmara and Addis Ababa to sign a peace deal on December 12, 2000, which ended the two-year war. Madeleine Albright, then US secretary of state, promised extensive aid, and the Bush administration is no doubt currently offering similar aid to induce them to abide by the recent ruling that has removed the underlying cause of the war. The arbitration commission in the Hague has issued a ruling on the ownership of the disputed areas, and both sides have promised to implement it.
But the war has been costly and has caused enormous bitterness between the two peoples. The issue of compensation has not yet been resolved, and is bound to prove problematic. Washington has clearly more work to do if Asmara and Addis Ababa are to become good neighbours. Since, however, it is not really interested in peace and prosperity, it is enough for its purposes if the two can cooperate to promote its regional interests.
One of those interests is the partition of Sudan — the largest country in Africa — into Christian south and Muslim north, which can be done more effectively and cheaply by the cooperation of its neighbours. The other one is the promotion of support for the so-called ‘war against terrorism’. Often referred to as “fighting Usama bin Ladin’s al-Qaida network”, it is given top priority in Bush’s foreign policy, and the countries of the region have no difficulty in cooperating. Indeed the Sudanese government is giving the US information on al-Qaida’s activities and its sources of financial support.
But Ethiopia and Uganda have cut links with Garang and improved their relations with Khartoum. Ethiopia has established trade relations with Sudan and buys its oil. Uganda has no trade links with its northern neighbour, but in March undertook to halt military support to the SPLA in return for the right to enter Sudanese territory to attack the Lord’s Resistance Army’s bases in southern Sudan. Khartoum agreed to stop supporting the LRA and to permit Ugandan forces to enter its territory to fight the rebels, but this agreement was only for a month and Kampala’s requests for renewal have fallen on deaf ears. Sudan, meanwhile, is demanding an explanation of Uganda’s vote against Sudan at the UN Human Rights Commission.
The Sudanese media and Islamic groups, blaming that vote on the US, are calling on the government to end its accord with Uganda and its contacts with Ugandan leaders. They consider president Museveni an enemy of Islam and the Sudan, who cannot be relied upon to honour his pledge not to support the southern Christians’ attempt to secede. In fact as recently as November he was calling for partition of the country into Muslim north and Christian south, presumably to support what he thought was Danforth’s mission.
That Washington will also succeed in sabotaging the links between Ethiopia and Sudan is not in doubt. Khartoum is certainly in no doubt that Washington is trying hard. That explains why it dispatched, in late April, a strong ministerial delegation to Ethiopia to expand trade and political links between the two. But while Addis Ababa is in need of Sudanese oil, it is vulnerable to US pressure, and its leaders are no friends of Muslims, as indicated by their support for the ‘war on terrorism’. In November Addis Ababa warned Khartoum to restrain the “al-Qaida terrorists” in its territory or expect invasion; its army is attacking alleged al-Qaida bases in neighbouring Somalia. Assisted by US special forces and CIA operatives, Ethiopian troops are helping Somali warlords to bring down the transitional government in Mogadishu and to wipe out al-Ittihad al-Islami and other Islamic groups in the country.
The Ethiopian, Ugandan and Eritrean dictators are vulnerable to US pressure, and the US is not worried about the region’s people. Why should any of them care when they so openly ignore Sharon’s massacres of Palestinians?