By Jason Scott Jones
I’ve written here before about the plight of Christians and other persecuted people in Sudan, a country whose troubled regions I’ve visited in the past on humanitarian missions. So I need to correct the record about what’s happening there now. Steven Koutsis, Charge d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum, Sudan, recently wrote an article which implies that the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) is chiefly responsible for humanitarian aid not reaching the embattled Southern Kordofan and the Blue Nile regions. He urges the SPLM-N to “remove political conditions preventing humanitarian assistance from reaching populations in need and allow rapid deployment of humanitarian aid to civilians in the areas it controls.”
Mr. Koutsis states more than once that the United States “is ready to begin delivering medical supplies and vaccinations to the people within SPLM-N controlled areas of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states.”
To someone not up to speed on the Sudan crisis, it would appear from Mr Koutsis’ statements that the SPLM-N is jeopardising the welfare of Sudanese living in areas of their control to gain some political leverage.
But this assumption would be misguided.
It’s Sudan’s Government Choking Out Humanitarian Aid
Mr Koutsis knows full well that there is nothing preventing the U.S. Government from delivering aid to the SPLM-N-controlled areas of Southern Kordofan or the Blue Nile. For the last six years, my friends at Persecution Project Foundation (an American NGO) have brought in humanitarian aid to areas of Southern Kordofan without any impediment by the SPLM-N — this includes large consignments of medicine. The only difficulty they’ve encountered has been security threats from the Sudan Armed Forces under President Omar al-Bashir.
Since fighting began in Southern Kordofan in June 2011, access to the Nuba mountains through South Sudan has been open and restricted only by the weather and internal security. If officials at the U.S. State Department are so keen on delivering medical aid to SPLM-N-controlled areas, there is no one stopping them — especially not the SPLM-N.
The U.S. Government can deliver humanitarian aid directly, or through proxies, as it has done in the past (and continues to this day).
Why Give Sudan’s Government a Foreign Aid Monopoly?
So why the insistence on an agreement between the SPLM-N and the National Congress Party (NCP) in which 100 percent of aid flows through NCP-controlled areas of Sudan? The SPLM-N has already agreed to an 80-20 compromise, where 80 percent of humanitarian aid comes through Sudan, while the remaining 20 (mainly medicine) is delivered via Ethiopia with NCP inspection. The ruling party claims it cannot accept cross-border aid for sovereignty reasons. But Ethiopia remains a staunch ally of the government in Khartoum. Moreover, the NCP has agreed to cross-border aid in the past during the 1990s, with cross-border aid from Kenya under Operation Lifeline Sudan.
Instead, it is the ruling party that is playing politics with people’s lives— and Mr Koutsis is helping them do it.
Bombing Doctors Without Borders
Let’s not forget that it was the NCP regime that expelled all humanitarian organisations from SPLM-N areas in the first place. When Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) refused to leave, the government bombed their hospitals until they were forced out.
More officials at the State Department should take the time to actually visit the SPLM-N-controlled areas of Sudan. Then they would learn that average Sudanese citizens do not trust a government which has spent years trying to exterminate them to suddenly become their friends and start injecting them with vaccines!
President Obama promised to intervene in Darfur and hold the NCP’s feet to the fire. But he then did an about-face and spent more time trying to legitimise Omar Bashir’s regime than intervening on behalf of its victims.
Trump Must Dump Obama’s Failed Policies
Mr Koutsis is evidently trying to carry over this failed policy to the new Trump Administration by being Omar Bashir’s hatchet man, turning the victims of genocide into the bad guys. We all know no “rebel movement” has ever been perfect. But even if we assumed, for the sake of argument, that Mr Koutsis was right, and the SPLM-N is solely at fault in this instance, it wouldn’t take away from the fact that the single greatest destabilizing force in Sudan since 1989, has been, and remains, the NCP regime of Omar al-Bashir.
For the U.S. government to provide more legitimacy to this government, instead of working towards a real Sudanese-led democratisation of power, is a mistake.
Under President Obama, the U.S. State Department backed the wrong horse many, many times. Let’s hope that under President Trump, a new Sudan team at State will at least know when it is being played.