By Anne Bartlett
October 2, 2013 - Vests stained with blood; desperate attempts to save a man whose guts are literally hanging out; multiple lacerations and bullet wounds to the bodies of young people. Bodies wrapped in shrouds in a line waiting for burial; citizens running in all directions trying to escape teargas; blood soaked ground which stands as a stark reminder of a place where someone lay dying. These are the images coming in from Khartoum and other major cities in the last few days. The NCP killing machine that has decimated the populations of the South, Darfur, Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile is now revving its engines to full throttle and the results on the streets of Khartoum are not pretty.
Yet, despite the horror of what is unfolding on the ground, the diplomatic doublespeak continues unabated. The Sudanese Minister of Interior, Ibrahim Mahmoud Hamid, argues that there is no protest in Sudan, only the arrest of 700 criminals. Elsewhere, Mark Simmonds on behalf of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, (FCO), has assured his friends in Khartoum that little more than a slap on the wrist is coming their way: “I am very concerned by the reports of disturbances and casualties in Sudan over the last two days. I regret the loss of life among both civilians and security forces, and urge all parties to exercise maximum restraint." Since maximum restraint has never been part of the vocabulary of the Sudanese regime, one wonders what this actually means. Then I remember: this is the FCO line and they believe that the NCP is a case of better the devil you know. For them it is better not to make too much fuss. After all, the Sudanese are always rebelling.
But for once, this is a time when Mr. Simmonds should treat himself to a little bedtime reading on the devastating role of the British in Sudan. Maybe he should acquaint himself with the British diplomatic games at independence that set Sudan on this road to alternating elite and authoritarian rule. And while he’s doing that, perhaps he could take a look at the British role in the destruction of Darfur and the underdevelopment of the peripheries. Not pleasant reading as one settles in for an early night, but perhaps Mr. Simmonds might be a little less inclined to throw some humanitarian aid in the direction of those suffering in Sudan, while trotting out these silly platitudes.
Even more importantly, perhaps this is a time to re-evaluate the “better the devil you know” argument altogether. Used so often by the West (most recently in the Syrian case), it has become standard response when the political situation is “complicated”. It has become an all too familiar leitmotif for foreign policy where resources or pressing interests do not force the hand of the West to take immediate action. Yet this self-interest is a road to nowhere where Sudan is concerned. It combines the incrementalism of treating every conflict as if it is a discrete issue, with dangerous levels of diplomatic indifference borne of complacency.
In Sudan, the devil is alive and well on the streets. It is alive and well in the gunning down of citizens who just want their freedom. It is alive and well in the support and facilitation of criminals such as Osama bin Laden. It is alive and well in the vast amounts of spending on security and military hardware, while the people of Sudan can’t even afford to buy their groceries. It is alive and well in the export of food while its citizens starve. It is alive and well in the propaganda that paints anyone who is against this horror as a “rebel”. It is alive and well in the assassinations and terror in Darfur, Blue Nile and the Nuba Mountains and in the corrupt cabal of politicians who use phony religious rationales to justify their abuse of the people of Sudan.
Over the last ten years I have watched as governments the world over have bought into the idea that Sudan even gives a damn about the War on Terror. I have watched as discussions about “counter-insurgency on the cheap” have justified a reversal in the causality of violence and have played into the idea that it is always the locals that are responsible for initiating violence. I have watched as innocent people are called “rebels” and pounded to within an inch of their lives, while the devil incarnate sits in Khartoum convincing all those prepared to listen, that the Sudanese government really has their interests at heart. I have watched as constant games played with the South and its borders aim to destabilize the SPLM, and I have watched as western governments would rather sacrifice vulnerable people than take on the real cancer in North Africa — al-Turabi and the NCP.
The Devil we know is not a devil we should keep. The political tide is on the change in Sudan and the regime’s days are numbered. Now is the time to support the winds of change and to chart a new direction towards freedom. The West needs to say goodbye to the NCP, the government of Qatar and the odious fundamentalist producing political bacteria that have polluted North Africa for so long. The people may be bruised and battered, but their will is strong. The West needs to decide whether to support the fight for popular democracy or to crawl back to what they know. Let’s hope they make the right choice, not only for the sake of the people of Sudan, but for a world that has been so badly damaged over decades by this regime’s nefarious actions.
Dr. Anne Bartlett is a Professor of Sociology at University of San Francisco and Director of the Graduate Program in International Studies. She may be reached at email@example.com