By Eric Reeves
I have been asked regularly over the past week what a Trump victory means for Darfur, and Sudan more broadly. I must confess the gravest concern and a fear that the U.S. intelligence community will have no difficulty in rolling a Trump administration to do its bidding in forging a more “productive” relationship on counter-terrorism issues with the génocidaires who make up the Khartoum regime.
There have been no significant statements about Sudan policy during the beginning of the transition period, as there were none during the entire course of the primary season or in the general election contest with Hillary Clinton, who herself said nothing about Sudan. The one exception comes in the form of a recent statement by Walid Phares, who was hired by Trump primarily as an adviser terrorism and counter-terrorism. Phares has declared that there should be no lifting of economic sanctions against Sudan, a comment that was picked up only by Sudanese on-line news sites, no American or European news organization. Whether Phares will have any meaningful role in a Trump administration is quite unclear; he is a man without a significant political profile, and with questionable credentials. Among other things, he works as a commentator for the hideously ideological Fox News.
This election-year silence on Sudan is in stark contrast with the presidential election won by Barack Obama in 2008, when candidate Obama courted the Darfur advocacy constituency by declaring that genocide in the western region of Sudan was a “stain on our souls,” and that as president he would not “turn a blind eye to human slaughter” by the Khartoum regime that was perpetrating “genocide” in Darfur (“genocide” is a word Obama did not hesitate to use as a candidate and at least early in his presidency.
These words proved thoroughly hollow almost immediately following Obama’s inauguration in January 2009, hollowness symbolized by his appointment as Special Envoy for Sudan the appallingly unqualified, ignorant, and inexperienced Air Force Major-General (ret.) Scott Gration. Gration during his two years in the post was almost unfathomably destructive on every front of U.S. Sudan policy. For Darfur, this was especially bad news and by the end of his first term in office, Obama presided over a State Department that had “de-coupled” Darfur—site of what had been described as “genocide”—from the key bilateral issue between Khartoum and Washington: counter-terrorism intelligence from a genocidal regime in return for a U.S. of lifting of economic sanctions first imposed in 1997 because of Sudan’s ties to international terrorism. Notably—and with good reason—Sudan remains one of only two countries in the world on the State Department’s list of “state sponsors of terrorism,” something Khartoum very much wants to change.
The news today (November 15, 2016) is especially bad as the New York Times reports that the rabid Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York, is the leading candidate to be Secretary of State in Trump’s administration. Beyond his conspicuously vicious and vindictive nature as a politician, Giuliani will be Trump’s hawk on counter-terrorism, and that means he’ll be eager to assist the U.S. intelligence community in its effort to push U.S. Sudan policy further in the direction of accommodating Khartoum by whatever means necessary to generate better counter-terrorism intelligence, even if this is at the expense of strengthening a ruthlessly survivalist regime that is presently waging obscenely destructive war against the civilians populations of Sudan: in Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile.
Certain to be lost on Giuliani is the irony of his declaring at this summer’s Republican convention that President Obama had failed to protect Americans from “Islamic extremist terrorism.” For the regime in Khartoum came to power by military coup in June 1989 as the “National Islamic Front,” a name expediently discarded a decade later, though certainly not because of any change in ideological commitments. From the beginning, the men who hosted Osama bin Laden from 1992 – 1996—formative years for al-Qaeda—have known when and how to seem pragmatic. But they continue to engage in terrorism in the name of Islam, hosting Hamas, supporting Libya Dawn (the Islamist terrorist faction in the fighting in Libya), and until recently helped Iran supply military weapons to the enemies of Israel.
Ordinary Sudanese throughout the country have long borne the burden of self-enriching economic policies fashioned by this kleptocratic regime, policies that have led to the current ongoing collapse of the Sudanese economy. Inflation is skyrocketing, there is not nearly enough foreign exchange currency necessary to purchase desperately needed food and medicines, as well as refined petroleum products, including cooking fuel. The agricultural sector is in terminal decline, and to generate even more wealth for itself, the regime is selling off or leasing huge tracts of arable farmland and even urban real estate. There is an accelerating process of national “asset stripping” as the regime prepares the way for the necessary exit of its senior leaders and all those who have enabled it to remain in power.
To be sure, European countries—in an effort to stanch the flow of African emigrants to Europe—are engaged in a cruel and callous policy of rapprochement with Khartoum, one that may buy the regime some breathing room. But the collapse of the economy, and hence the regime, is inevitable, even if the tipping point is still unclear. Africa Confidential recently reported on the ascendancy of “securocrats” within the regime, a clear sign that survivalist strategies are still defining domestic policies.
What will the Trump administration make of this all this, if they bother to become familiar with the details of contemporary Sudan? Perhaps our best clue is the appointment, as “senior counselor,” of Stephen Bannon, the man who has run Breitbart News and presided over its stable of racists, anti-Semites, and ethnic nationalists. Bannon’s appointment, unsurprisingly, has been hailed by various white supremacists, including former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.
Given his role in the campaign, and the indications that Bannon will be the true “Trump whisperer” in the new administration, Bannon’s own hateful views—described by the venerable Southern Poverty Law Center—are hardly encouraging for the people of Darfur: poor, black, Muslim, and geo-strategically inconsequential. Their ongoing agony would seem to be the last thing that Bannon will concern himself with; and the Sudan file, whatever that may be, will fall to Giuliani (if he is Secretary of State) and a U.S. intelligence community that cares nothing about suffering in Sudan but rather lusts for whatever counter-terrorism intelligence Khartoum might provide. No matter that in extraordinary leaked minutes from an August 2014 meeting in Khartoum of senior security and intelligence officials, former Defense Minister Abdel Rahmin Mohammed Hussein—indicted by the International Criminal Court on multiple counts of “crimes against humanity” in Darfur—can be heard speaking contemptuously of what intel Khartoum actually delivers to Washington.
To answer the question with which if began, I can only say that on the basis of all I know, and all that has been reported of the new administration-in-the-making, the future for the people of Darfur and the marginalized regions of Sudan, to the extent that future is defined by U.S. policies under a President Trump, simply could not look bleaker.
Eric Reeves has written extensively on Sudan for almost two decades; he is a Senior Fellow at Harvard University’s François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights