Having bludgeoned the Sudanese government into cooperating with the “war on terrorism”, American officials now appear to believe that they can also bully it into accepting their plan to end the 19-year war between Khartoum and southern Sudanese rebels. Inspired by Church groups and Republican conservatives, the plan is heavily weighted in favour of Colonel John Garang and the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA), which is fighting for secession.
The main proposals are a secular constitution and self-determination for the South. The proposals are at the centre of peace-talks sponsored by the East African Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which opened in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, on June 17. Representatives of the US, Britain and Norway, as members of the IGAD Partners Forum, are heavily involved in the talks. But although the members of both IGAD and the Forum favour the SPLA, US and Kenyan officials are conducting separate talks based on a vague and watered-down version of the proposals being discussed by IGAD.
The proposals are a response to Khartoum’s resistance to secession for the south, but they are vague and superficial. Moreover, they are surrounded by secrecy: no public version of them is available at the moment. Recent newspaper reports quoting “senior” or “reliable” sources only refer to “independent self-rule” for the South. It will also have a fixed share of the proceeds from oil, and the power to maintain its own security forces. The US government seems to believe that these proposals can secure northern acceptance, and bring secession through the back door. Public threats by Bush and US officials, designed to wring concessions from Khartoum, tend to confirm that Washington is not an honest or impartial mediator, nor intends to be.
Three days after the current IGAD talks began, Bush said that it was not enough for Khartoum to cooperate with the US in combatting terrorism, and that it should do more to help to end the war in the south. He went on to repeat all the usual accusations— including trade in slavery and targeting civilians — that Church groups and other western allies of the SPLA routinely level at the Sudanese government. Addressing diplomats in Washington on June 20, he said: “Sudan’s government must understand that ending its sponsorship of terror outside Sudan is no substitute for efforts to stop war inside Sudan. Sudan’s government cannot continue to talk peace but make war, must not continue to block and manipulate UN food deliveries and must not allow slavery to persist.” Having expressed his solidarity with the SPLA and hostility to Khartoum, he then boasted about his country’s commitment to “help Africa”, before warning the Sudanese government.
“The United States is committed to helping African nations to put an end to regional wars that take tens of thousands of lives each year,” he said. “We’ll help African nations organise and develop their ability to respond to crisis.” Bush then proceeded to warn Khartoum that the US and its African allies would not stand by if it persisted in its aggression against the southern rebels. “America stands united with responsible African governments across the continent, and we will not permit the forces of aggression and chaos to take away our common future,” he said. This is a not-so-indirect warning that Washington will revive the African anti-Sudan coalition, consisting of Uganda, Ethiopia and Eritrea, that it armed and financed before its dissolution as a result of the Ethiopia-Eritrea war that broke out in May 1998.
Before its dissolution, the coalition acted as a conduit for US funds and arms to the SPLA, and helped to train SPLA soldiers. The member-countries also hosted rebel fighters and northern, as well as southern, opposition leaders and their organisations. But since then Uganda and Ethiopia have improved their relations with Khartoum, and Eritrea is engaged in talks with Sudanese officials, although it continues to host opposition groups because of strong US pressure. Bush, however, knows that all three countries are vulnerable to pressure. He is also by now used to arrogating to himself the right to make unilateral declarations of war against other countries.
That the US president’s threats are not idle remarks is demonstrated by the fact that senior members of his administration have adopted them as a basis for US policy in the region. Secretary of state Colin Powell said on July 3 that, despite progress toward peace in the south, Sudan had “a [long] way to go” before the US removes it from its list of state sponsors of terrorism. Powell made these remarks to CNN after talks between president Bashir and Walter Kansteiner, a US assistant secretary of state. In May the state department had said in its annual report on terrorism that, of seven countries on the list, Sudan and Libya came closest to meeting US demands for cooperation against extremists.
Assistant secretary of state Kansteiner’s talks in Khartoum can only encourage American officials to exert more pressure on Bashir’s government to make concessions to the SPLA. On July 2 Kansteiner declared in Khartoum that the Nairobi talks would achieve “concrete results” within two weeks. Speaking at a press-conference after his meeting with Dr Ghazi Salah-Udin, Bashir’s adviser, he expressed his optimism that the talks would be finalised within that period. Salah-Udin appeared to agree, saying that July 20 could “witness an important step forward”. The Arabic ash-Sharq al-Awsat also quoted “well-informed Sudanese sources” to the effect that the Nairobi talks achieved “certain progress”, with agreement reached on the formation of “one state with two independent organisations”, although differences about self-determination and the transitional period persist.
But if, as expected, an independent government in the South is established, it will be free to use its share of proceeds from oil to buy arms. It will also receive military and economic aid directly from Western Church groups and governments, and from the US’s allies in the region. It will not be long before the government in the north, which will have no presence in the south, and the SPLA-led regime come to blows over self-determination. The basic issue will be religion, and with Church groups’ weight increasing in the West, particularly the US, and an independent government in the South, those who helped bring about the secession of East Timor from Indonesia will have no qualms about partitioning Sudan. Bush will certainly see no reason to resist the pressure to act. After his threats to Sudan, for instance, he began a tour of Christian groups in several states to secure their support for his party in the forthcoming congressional elections.
An additional reason why the US government is likely to step up its foreign policy crusades is the need to distract Americans’ attention from its involvement in various financial scandals. Bush and Dick Cheney, his vice-president, are now officially under investigation for their alleged involvement in these scandals. One way to distract attention is to step up the US-led “war against terrorism”. Sudan is on the US list of sponsors of terrorism and is an Islamic fundamentalist state “fighting Christians”, according to western propaganda, so it fits this bill perfectly.