Sunday, September 30, 2007

A Telling Move

After its jailing of opposition leaders Ali Mahmoud Hassanain and Mubarak Al Fadhil Al Mahdi for dubious reasons, the Sudanese government recently carried out a crackdown in the capital city Khartoum against its own partner in the so-called unity government, the Sudanese People Liberation Movement, or SPLM. The government claimed in wanted to collect unauthorized weapons in the city, a step many would have applauded it for doing. But instead of discussing the matter with its SPLM partners, a move that would have actually helped the collection run smoothly and be more effective, the government decided to do it on its own. SPLM offices were raided without permission, and SPLM documents and equipment were confiscated. Reports indicated that the government apologized a week later, apparently under pressure, which shows the apology was not sincere and the raid was not a mistake, but rather planned.
This is the kind of things that makes efforts to keep Sudan a unified country more difficult. It sends the wrong message, not only to Southern Sudanese, but also to the Northerners. With national parliamentary elections coming up in two years, hopes that the "unity government" would pave the way for democratic change, and the ruling National Congress party would accept election results, are now in doubt.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

US Releases Iraqi Detainees During Ramadan

I thought this story is quite telling. After Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and the Patriot Act, here is another thing that the US learned from dictators in the Arab world. After all, learning is a process of mutual exchange. At first, this piece of news sounds good. Prisoners are being released in Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting. These prisoners would enjoy freedom again and be reunited with their families and friends. Their release in Ramadan shows the US acknowledges the importance of this month to Muslims. But those who know the Middle East, also know how many times Arab rulers have done that. Here is how it works: You crack down on freedoms or dissent or a group that you don't like. You throw them in jail, without due process. They stay there god knows how long: months, years or decades. Then you decide it would be better for you if they are released. You wait until Ramadan or the Eid and you release them, sometimes in a surprise decision to maximize the impact of their release. All of a sudden, you are not the brutal dictator anymore; you are a forgiving ruler, who cares for his people and fears god during Ramadan. The prisoners and their families thank you and no one talks about due process for no one wants to go to jail again!!
Yes, the US is not a dictatorship, but learning from dictatorships is not good for democracy, especially if you are preaching it.
The ultimate question is: why have these prisoners been detained in the first place, and why there hasn't been a due process? If they are criminals, why release them? If they are innocent, why imprison them? If they are a mix of both, why did the US kept some innocent people in jail for no reason?
How much PR did the US gain from this PR stunt? And is it worth further erosion in our credibility as a country that upholds the law?

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Darfur Peacekeeping Force Authorized

The UN Security Council has authorized about 26,000 peacekeepers for Darfur. The resolution (UNSC 1769) was watered down to address China’s concerns and Sudan sovereignty claims. It is true that the Government of Sudan (GoS) cannot be held responsible for every crime in Darfur, but the GoS is undeniably the very main culprit and the perpetrator in all large-scale atrocities. It is also the ONLY player in this conflict, who can actually solve Darfur and other Sudan problems pretty quickly if it wants. No other actor, domestically or internationally, has this ability. On the face of it, the GoS insistence on Sudan sovereignty seems plausible, until you find out that the GoS does not believe in sovereignty for its own people.

On the other hand, I got the impression that the US, the UK and other western countries were taking their justifiable loathing of the GoS a bit too far. It appeared to me that they were more concerned about punishing the Sudanese government than making Darfur a safer place for its people. And that’s why I am glad that all the parties seem to have reached an agreement to bring peace, not more war to Darfur.

The acceptance by the resolution’s sponsors of the watered down text may not be what the GoS critics wanted. But the good news is that it puts Khartoum on the defensive and deprives it from using sovereignty and war on terror issues for propagandistic purposes. Now it is time for the GoS to deliver, under international scrutiny and pressure, what the GoS failed to do as a responsible government.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

New ICG Report on Sudan

The International Crisis Group (ICG), a Brussels-based, leading think tank on Sudan issues, published a new report on Sudan today. The report, entitled A Strategy for Comprehensive Peace in Sudan, can be found here. In short, the report argues that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended the North-South war in 2004 is now threatened by many factors, including the world’s focus on the other Sudan conflict in Darfur. It suggests that there should be a new strategy that addresses Sudan conflicts in a more comprehensive way.

I still haven’t finished reading the in its entirety, but judging on its executive summary and recommendations, I can see it represents a departure from previous ICG assessments. Not that I read every ICG publication on Sudan, but I don’t remember the group advocating a comprehensive solution to Sudan problems as it did in this latest report. Another observation I made is that the report clearly acknowledges democratic transformation as part of the solution for the country’s complex problems. These two key factors have been overshadowed for years by a popular two-dimensional view that sees Sudan conflicts as being between Muslims and Christians, North and South, or Arabs and Africans. While this view has merit, it fails to identify the festering governance problem as the single, most serious among all Sudan ills. It is refreshing to see ICG developing a strategy for comprehensive peace in Sudan that seems to acknowledge that regardless of who is governing in Khartoum, partial solutions can come back to haunt partial peace achievements.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Arusha Talks – A Key Moment for Darfur Rebels as Well

The UN and the African Union (AU) are planning to bring together all factions of Darfur rebels, who did not sign the May 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement with the Government of Sudan (GoS), for a preparatory meeting to help them unify their ranks. The meeting, which is planned to take place in Arusha, Tanzania on 3-5 August 2007, is seen as a necessary step to set the stage for the resumption of talks between the rebels and the GoS.

Yet while some rebel factions have accepted the UN-AU invitation to come to Arusha, reports indicated that a major rebel leader, Abdelwahid Muhammad Nour of the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM), has not. Nour told Reuters in a statement "we will not be a part of Arusha until an oil-for-food program is in place with money going to humanitarian aid." While Nour’s demands are understandable and his humanitarian concerns totally legitimate, the way for him to achieve his goals is to go to the very talks he is intending to boycott. Mr. Nour and his fellow rebel leaders need not compete with the GoS in the field of inflexibility. The people of Darfur cannot afford that.

Nour’s absence, if confirmed, will certainly cast a show over the Arusha meeting and bring into question the ability of Darfur rebels to put aside their differences and unite for the sake of their people. The rebels’ unity has become a major obstacle against peace in the devastated region. Even for close observers, the continuous fracturing of the rebel groups is making it hard to know who is who, and who is allying itself with whom.

So far, the world’s overwhelming sympathy with the people of Darfur and the shock and outrage over the atrocities committed by the GoS have helped shield off Darfur rebel leaders from criticism. But failure to come together to work for peace and show leadership could erode that sympathy.