AFRCICANGLOBE – At the end of the Cold War a quarter of a century ago, a little-known army officer – Omar al-Bashir – conducted a coup d’etat in Sudan. Despite attempts to introduce and enforce Sharia law throughout the country, the religiously syncretic, non-Arab populations in the western and southern regions remained recalcitrant. In order to consolidate his power, Bashir turned to Beijing and Moscow. As its economy had been posting double digit gains in GDP on a yearly basis, China eagerly invested in the expansion of Sudan’s oil infrastructure. At the same time, Russia began supplying Khartoum with attack helicopters, fighter jets, and weapons in exchange for oil revenue. By 2003, Bashir and the National Islamic Front – the radical Islamist organization behind the regime – had the financial means and military prowess to stamp out opposition through force.
Over the next four years, the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Arab Janjaweed militia orchestrated a campaign to eliminate the Fur people in the western region of Darfur. Villages were raised. Women were systematically raped, and men were tortured and murdered. The first genocide of the twenty-first century, which claimed more than 300,000 lives and displaced almost three million, was only halted by the intervention of the international community. Despite international sanctions and losing the southern third of the country after a bitter civil war nearly three years ago, Bashir remains in power, and the entire region has become destabilized by insurrection, low-intensity conflicts, and the prospect of outside intervention. In order to stem the erosion of security and forestall the making of another “Syria” in Sudan and South Sudan, the world must come to terms with the new dynamics of power and sovereignty between Khartoum, Darfur, and Juba.
In 2007-8, the United Nations and the African Union created and dispatched a combined peacekeeping force (UNAMID) of approximately 9,000 military and security personnel in Darfur. At that time, non-Muslim Nilotic peoples, who comprise a significant segment of southern Sudan, continued their armed struggle for independence. When South Sudan achieved official statehood on 9 July 2011, tens of thousands celebrated in the streets. Their jubilation, however, was short-lived. Despite inheriting Sudan’s oil fields, landlocked South Sudan remains dependent on ports in Sudan to export its lucrative commodity, and rows over transportation fees have resulted in stoppages in the flow of oil. Under President Salva Kiir, thirty-eight percent of the budget has been dedicated to the military in contrast to only ten percent or less for education and infrastructure improvements. Even more alarmingly, widespread bureaucratic malfeasance claimed up to $4 billion in the first year of independence (2011-12). Despite taking anti-corruption measures, Kiir has not been able to restore confidence in his government.
In an attempt to compensate for its loss of oil revenue, Khartoum has recently promoted the mining and export of precious metals in North Darfur. Discoveries of potentially large gold deposits in the area have yielded both significant profits and created new tensions. Although sporadic to some degree, the conflict has been partly fueled by the seeming renewal of the alliance between Bashir and the Rizeigat – one of the Arab tribes that constituted the Janjaweed militia responsible for the 2003-2007 genocide – for the purpose of acquiring gold for Sudan’s Central Bank. As the gold rush has filled Khartoum’s coffers and kept the regime financially afloat, resource wars over cattle, water, and precious metals in Darfur have come with a significant social cost. From January to October 2013, fierce competition for the Jebel Amer gold mine between indigenous tribes and the government-backed Rizeigat resulted in nearly 1,000 deaths and approximately 150,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs).
Over the past six months, economic contraction, political dissent, and insurrection have shaken both regimes. After the elimination of fuel subsidies in September 2013, thousands of cash-strapped Sudanese citizens took to the streets of Khartoum and other cities to protest the instantaneous 100% hike in gas prices and to denounce the repressive rule of Bashir. Tensions quickly escalated into violence, and a brutal crackdown by state security forces followed with more than 200 people killed and hundreds (if not thousands) of political dissidents arbitrarily arrested. At the end of the year, Bashir unilaterally appointed General Bakri Hassan Saleh as Vice President to both bolster security and quiet critical voices within the National Islamic Front. Beyond suppressing all civil opposition, Bashir has been conducting military operations in South Kordofan and Blue Nile state in an attempt to quash an armed rebellion by the northern faction of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM-N). Instead of victory, Khartoum’s heavy-handed approach has only sparked a backlash and raised the number of IDPs to nearly three million.
Meanwhile, the onset of a civil war has now threatened the regime and the integrity of South Sudan. Shortly after a failed coup attempt, Vice-President Riek Machar accused Kiir of erecting a dictatorship and publicly called on the SPLM and the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA) to forcibly remove the president from power. His provocative stand not only further delegitimized the government but also served to incite a war between the Nuer and the Dinka tribes. The internecine conflict has since fractured the national polity, crippled the economy, and displaced more than 400,000 civilians.
How should the international community respond? Part of the solution can be found in the character of Harkhuf who governed Upper Egypt in the twenty-third century B.C.E. and established extensive diplomatic and trade relations with Nubia (modern-day Sudan). The epitaph on his tomb, which reads “I gave bread to the hungry, clothing to the naked, I ferried him who had no boat,” is one of the first humanitarian claims in world history. In the spirit of his documented compassion to the region, the UN Security Council must increase the amount of humanitarian aid to the war-torn region, strengthen the international sanctions regime on Khartoum, assist in brokering a long-term agreement between rival factions in South Sudan, and support the diplomatic initiatives of UNAMID Joint Special Representative Mohamed Ibn Chambas to bring lasting peace and security to Darfur.Only global indifference can consign the two Sudans to a tale of future woe.
By: Jeff Roquen
Darfur: The Devil Came On A Horseback