By Abdullahi Osman El-Tom
June 11, 2007 — On May 30, we watched with horror the sinking of Sudanese diplomacy to its lowest. But the horror was not only felt by Sudanese citizens, the international community too and which has been tirelessly working for overcoming Darfur problem was far from being amused by the recent washout of Sudan’s Ambassador to the USA, Mr John Ukec.
The Ukec’s fiasco was hotly debated by JEM/NRF and a tough stand was about to be announced. Thanks to a positive contact made by Dr. Luka Deng, the Minister for Presidential Affairs, GSS, response was delayed, awaiting SPLM leadership statement. To be honest, Ukec’s fiasco nearly destroyed the recent engagement between JEM/NRF and the SPLM on Darfur. That engagement is now back on track following the statement made by the Chairperson of the SPLM Task Force for Darfur, Rev. Clement Janda, simply known among Abuja Darfur negotiators as Abuna (Father).
As a matter of fact, membership of all political movements and the SPLM is no exception includes the wise and the foolish, the doves and hawks. Sadly speaking, the latter is often more vocal than the former; and it is here that the case of our Ambassador to the USA lies. We must however separate what the movement stands for from callous idiosyncratic statement of individuals. As for Ambassador Ukec, he has now become the al-Sahaf of the SPLM, a clown figure of humour and ridicule brilliantly acted by the former Iraqi Minister of Information during the second gulf war. Milbank of the Washington Post gave Mr. Ukec the name Karl, to stand alongside Bob of Baghdad (al-Sahaf), Hannah of Hanoi and Rose of Tokyo. All of those figures achieved notoriety in burying their heads in the sand, and tooting out lies that they themselves did not believe.
In his revelation, Ambassador Ukec chose to describe members of Darfur Movement as terrorists, a label that he, by implication, had prior to his accession to power in Khartoum. For the Ambassador to willfully label himself as an ex-terrorist is simply bizarre. Embarrassing as it may be, dismissing Darfur fighters as terrorist displays an unenviable ignorance of Dr. Garang’s philosophy and equally betrays the work of SPLM in bringing marginalisation to an end. As Abuna has clearly set the records right, “the SPLM regarded the issue of Darfur as an issue of marginalisation”.
In a bewildering play with logic, the Ambassador denied the existence of genocide, relegating it to no more than an insidious US “concoction”, to borrow his own words. That, power corrupts is well known to all. The fact it also stupefies and dampens sensibility of people is a different matter altogether. According to an article by Steve Paterno, Sudan Tribune, Ambassador Ukec himself affirmed existence of Darfur genocide at the University of Iowa, September 2004. That, the Ambassador did in an article under the title “Genocide in Sudan, from one who’s been there”; and that word “one” refers to nobody other than Mr Ukec.
In his attempt to earn his living, Mr. Ukec surpassed his President in the denial of fatalities in Darfur. While President Albashir confessed to a massacre of 9,000, Ukec was able to reduce that number to a mere “none”.
As far the causes of Darfur problem is concerned, Ukec needed to go no further than Lam Akol, the other notorious weakest link in the SPLM. In a nutshell, the problem of Darfur in Akol’s vision is simply a fight between farmers and nomads over land and exactly a mirror image of what the American cowboys did in the past in the western plains of the USA. So flawed is this argument that it does merit any more comments from my side.
But the worse was yet to come and there was no end to the brutality of the Ambassador to his Sudanese subjects. Amid their extreme embarrassment, these Sudanese nationals were to discover that they had and till they have a tremendous power over the USA which went unnoticed before. By withholding its export of gum Arabic, Sudan can change the American way of life and destroy the very symbol of the USA: Coca-Cola. Surprisingly, if you visit a house in Khartoum slum areas, a child slips out and comes back with a bottle of coke or Pepsi from the nearest shop. These “demonic drinks” also hold key to Sudanese hospitality but that is beyond the point for our Ambassador. Mr. Ukec’s Coca-Cola prophecy creates a situation where we Sudanese people never know whether to laugh or to cry at our Ambassador’s sanity.
Furthermore, the Ambassador talked about the US sanctions and how these are likely to deprive the Darfuriand of sugar, a product that they have grown accustomed to. The Ambassador failed to note that what sugar is there in Darfur is procured by international aid in which the American people as well as the American government are major donors.
And then comes that old story of Sudan as breadbasket of the world and I feel like going to puke. One wonders where the Ambassador was in the seventies and the eighties when that myth revealed itself with vengeance to the Sudanese people. It was not simply a case of the basket turning empty although that was true. Rather, the name of Sudan became synonymous with starvation and that famine stricken people across the country only survived due to international aid. It is sickening to hear a rerun of that breadbasket myth from someone whose people have known nothing but famine all along.
Ambassador Ukec may be tempted to object to the tone of this article and claim that he has added few to what has already been said before and that he is only discharging his duty as a representative of the government of National Unity. True but analytically flawed; the government of Khartoum has contested the genocide claim; reduced Darfur problem to an internal strife or elsewhere treated it a problem instigated by US, Jewish and European crusaders; and looked at Darfur freedom fighter as no more than international terrorists. As such, Mr. Ukec has brought nothing new.
Ambassador Ukec can equally claim that he is not the only SPLM who has gone that way. Indeed his revelation provided a good summary of what Sudan’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Lam Akol, has articulated in numerous speeches. Much more potent, Ukec can subscribe to the occasional double standard strategy of SPLM regarding Darfur and which was clearly exposed during the Abuja Talks. During those Talks, it was argued by some SPLM delegates that Darfur suffered no marginalisation and that “it was/is either fairly or over represented in the national civil service”. Moreover, the same delegation argued that no statistics, quotas or affirmative action should be employed in order to address the imbalance of Darfur representation in the management Sudan. Ironically these principles are globally employed in overcoming marginalisation, were signed into the Darfur Declaration of Principles and were similarly used in both Naivasha and the CPA documents.
I must admit that Mr Ukec has the right to claim that Abuna’s statement deplores him for utterances that other SPLM leaders have gotten away with without any criticism. That if Ukec’s conference words relegate him to a position of a stooge for the Jallaba Institution, an institution that fosters the hegemony of the North over Sudan, then that is precisely the same role that Minister Lam Akol has consistently and diligently played ever since his was appointed and with little outcry in the SPLM leadership. Well, I must concede that, we the Darfurians are willing to grant Mr. Ukec that alibi and it is up to the SPLM leadership to argue otherwise.
During the Abuja Peace Talks, I was assigned the rather difficult portfolio of connecting JEM with the SPLM. It was a bitter experience but nonetheless, we have learnt one important lesson: that revolutionary rhetoric can be a camouflage for disconcerted realities. The hitherto theories of New Sudan and its gamut of marginalisation thesis and which Darfur inculcated ever since the disastrous set back of Boulad uprising simply dissipated at the Abuja Talks. But the vanguards of that disappointing turn of events were the SPLM delegates, not the members of the Alhashir’s NCP party. At last, that wedge between the SPLM and other marginalized Sudanese including the Darfurians has finally started to crumble. Abuna’s statement is certainly a case in point that ushers the start of the demise of Lam Akol, Ukec and many others that I better not name for the time being at least. The SPLM must regain its lead in Sudan and assert its position as a champion of the marginalized across the nation. However one reads the immediate and long-term political prospects of the Sudan, no other party has a better opportunity to positively transform Sudan like the SPLM. That is a fact that JEM comprehends very well and is willing to fully and maturely take note of. Let us not beat around the bush. If the SPLM is willing to reactivate its broader ethos of its New Sudan, then it must act as a national institution and a guardian of the whole nation. As far as Darfur is concerned, here are the landmarks:
1- The First Vice President Salva Kiir must realize that he is a Vice President for the whole of Sudan. Identification of Darfur with the Garang’s New Sudan did not start with Naivasha or even the CPA. Instead, it goes as far back as Boulad’s Movement in the early 1990s. To date Darfur people have not been accorded the honour of seeing Mr. Kiir the champion of their dream; a dream of a democratic Sudan in which all could live on equal footing irrespective of ethnic, religious, colour or regional background. Mr Kiir must realize that he represents Darfur people as much as he does the southerners or any other people in the nation. He must equally accept that nobody in Darfur can understand why kamala appears nearer to their First Vice President than Alfashir or for that matter Geneina or Nyala; that their First Vice President is able to tour the Middle East, Africa, Europe and the USA but has so far no time to visit Darfur. But it is more than few hours that Mr. Kiir requires. Oh no! To overcome this hurdle, the SPLM must undergo a rigorous reshuffle of its entire priorities. Darfur has so far been far down in the SPLM agenda. It is time to change that.
2- We salute Mr. Kiir’s mediation between Uganda and the LRA. The apocalyptic suffering of the Ugandan people at the hands of the notorious LRA - 20,000 abducted children, 1.7m displaced persons and hundred of thousands of casualties- must be brought to an end. The LRA is also a cause of colossal instability in the south of Sudan. As such, it is honourable and equally commendable that our First Vice President should intervene and embark on a peaceful/ or otherwise solution of the conflict. While Darfur people do not resent the attention given to the Ugandan tragedy, they are certainly justified in begrudging the lack of similar care being given to their own problem. Kiir has already made several attempts at tackling Darfur problem. Arguably, he has never accorded it the seriousness that it merits. With the establishment of a Darfur Task Force, we look forward to see some rigour and vitality in this front.
3- For any mediation to succeed, engagement has to reflect a clear and unified vision. In other sense, the mediator, and in this regard the SPLM, has to speak with a single voice. That is what we still find most wanting from the part of the SPLM. It is not good enough for the SPLM to distance itself from statements made by Lam Akol and John Ukec. SPLM senior members who do not share fundamentals of the New Sudan should be made to vacate their offices and join the NCP or any other party. While we do not expect harmony among all rank and file members of the SPLM regarding Darfur, we should be justified to see clear commitment among SPLM top leaders.
4- It is not unreasonable to say that the marginalized people of Darfur have accepted the SPLM as a champion against marginalisation and as a guardian of New Sudan. But that honour comes with a price. The SPLM must be prepared to make the necessary sacrifices in this regard. It must not appease its partner, the NCP at the expense of the marginalized people including Darfur. Much more. The SPLM must stop treating the CPA as an untouchable sacred cow. The threat of going back to the bush if the CPA is touched, a statement familiar to those who attended the defunct Abuja talks, is farcical. The Darfurians have no interest in depriving their southern brothers and sisters of any legitimate gains that came with the CPA. However, an agreement that is acceptable to the Darfurians will undoubtedly impinge on the CPA and requires ratification by the SPLM as well as the NCP. The SPLM must look imaginatively at the CPA. The CPA is a catalyst for peace and must be transformed into an obstacle against it. I hope the SPLM will take note of this basic fact.
*cDr. Abdullahi Osman El-Tom is in charge of the Bureau for Training and Strategic Planning, JEM. He can be contacted at: Abdullahi.firstname.lastname@example.org