By Steve Paterno
August 6, 2008 — The potential arrest of President Omar al-Bashir of Khartoum for allege genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity by International Criminal Court (ICC) has clearly taken a toll on the Islamic regime in Khartoum in general and al-Bashir in particular. Just a day after ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo presented charges against al-Bashir for his alleged crimes to be arrested, al-Bashir employed a ploy for public relation in a view of glamorous public to show that he was still in charge, signing into law Sudan’s Interim Election Laws. However, al-Bashir public appearance and confusion betrayed his ploy. While attending the signing ceremony, he appeared feasibly distraught to a great extent that he was posing for pictures with the photographers as oppose to the photographers taking his pictures in a photo opportunity manners. He even mistook the election law book for a Qu’ran—idyllically for a self imposed head of the Imams in the country.
As expected, al-Bashir’s members of the regime are even more confused than him. They rushed into media, one after another, issuing contradicting messages, all for their own peril. For example, Bona Malwal, a South Sudanese political opportunist and al-Bashir backroom boy exposed the regime’s dirtiest plan against foreign nationals in Sudan by calling for their outright expulsion. By implication, Malwal is inciting for persecutions of foreign nationals in Sudan, which is criminally incriminating himself in any potential attacks against foreign nationals. The ICC has probably taken notes on such self-incriminating official advisor to the President of the brutal regime in Khartoum.
Worst yet, al-Bashir issued decree for the formation of a crisis committee to fight off the indictment against him (the president) and the regime. The committee is headed by first Vice President Salva Kiir, the chairman of Sudan People Liberation Movement (SPLM). For whatever motive, Al-Bashir ignored the fact that Kiir is not a lawyer; leave alone whether he has ever read the Rome Statue, the legal basis for the foundation of ICC. Al-Bashir regime in Khartoum boasts of having seasoned lawyers among its membership, the likes of the Vice President, Ali Osman Taha. These self-styled seasoned lawyers, in midst of actual confusions failed to step up and demonstrate their legal prowess so as to rescue their boss.
The absurdity of al-Bashir choice for his defense lawyer/crisis manager, cast more confusions among SPLM members, whom Kiir is their head. To date, SPLM is yet to come up with its position on ICC as they already discarded the first position they prematurely came up with. As the SPLM is in limbo, contemplating on a new position, its Secretary General Pagan Amum is already toeing what appears to be SPLM’s new position—shouting out loud of a systematic genocide in Darfur and South Sudan, committed by the regime of al-Bashir.
So far, al-Bashir never managed to secure any concrete deal through his phone calls pleas to friends. A phone call to China’s premier resulted into strategically rejection of al-Bashir attending Olympics games in China for this summer. Another phone call to Senegalese President, Abdoulaye Wade was not positive either as al-Bashir is told that he will not be welcomed in Senegal, being an international war criminal that he is. The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon refuses to pick al-Bashir’s phone calls anymore, because he is advised not to deal with an individual who is under the process of international criminal indictment. A phone call from Libyan President Muammar al-Gaddafi was only to convey a negative message that the Libyan and South African efforts at the UN Security Council to defer al-Bashir’s indictment failed. A political massage from the Arab League and the Islamic countries are not relieving either. Al-Bashir and the regime are clearly running out of options.
Al-Bashir other option is to dispatch his army of diplomats to foreign capitals to plea a deal for him. Up to now, they are finding it difficult to convince any head of state to support al-Bashir. A high power delegation headed by Salva Kiir to neighboring Uganda was disappointingly sent back home. President Yuweri Museveni of Uganda wants to see al-Bashir investigated and prosecuted not just for war crimes in Darfur but as well as for the crimes committed in northern Uganda by the brutal Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a terrorist outfit sponsored by al-Bashir. Museveni affirms that he can do the job himself if given a chance, echoing the ICC position that it is the obligation of all the States to carryout the arrest of al-Bashir. However, one of the dispatchers, the one to South Africa, headed by Mustafa Osman Ismail (the real Khartoum foreign minister) managed to secure a deal for al-Bashir by convincing the South African President Thabo Mbeki to travel to Khartoum to console al-Bashir since al-Bashir sensed that his traveling has become restricted, making him virtually a prisoner in his own country. One can understand that Thabo Mbeki may also find consolation for himself in this regard, being the lame-duck president who is faced with deem prospect for future, including potentially facing a probe on corruption.
The Arab League and its weaker counterpart, the African Union (AU), despite their rhetoric to oppose al-Bashir’s indictment, noticed that they are the least group to rescue al-Bashir. The Arab League emergency meeting in the midst of this crisis never came up with any viable resolution. Instead, they resorted into attacking the moral character of the ICC Prosecutor, Moreno-Ocampo. The AU, with thirty strong members as signatures of ICC, is in a dilemma. They are shapely divided, and can never reach any conclusion to help al-Bashir
If one thinks al-Bashir difficulties are only on international front, you cannot be more wrong. Al-Bashir opposition inside Sudan increases dramatically. Of course, he is not welcome in Sudan’s marginalized areas as shown by his recent visit to Darfur where the regime threatened civil service employees to turn out for al-Bashir’s rally or they could have faced firing from work. Even the regime orchestrated demonstrations of rented crowds in support of al-Bashir in the capital Khartoum are already dead while ICC indictment still stands. One would have seen this coming by just counting the number of those staged demonstrators. Khartoum is a city of millions of people and this was evidenced when Khartoum residents, in millions welcomed John Garang, the chairman of SPLM/A to the city about three years ago. However, to see only few hundreds turned out in support of the seating president, is a clear manifestation of lack of support from the populace. Now the speculation is that the ruling clique themselves will be the very ones who will hand al-Bashir to the ICC as they want to survive, at least until some other day. How and when they will do that is yet a matter of speculation, but what is clear is that history is in a making with a huge potential of affecting real change.
Steve Paterno is the author of The Rev. Fr. Saturnino Lohure, A Romain Catholic Priest Turned Rebel. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org