Home | Comment & Analysis    Tuesday 21 October 2003

Sudan deserves happiness


Editorial, THE NATION

NAIROBI, Oct. 22, 2003 — United States Secretary of State Colin Powell, who arrived in Kenya yesterday, travels to Naivasha today to witness the signing of the Sudanese peace deal.

If there is no last-minute hitch, it might be easy in the celebrations to forget just how difficult it was to bring some kind of settlement to the Sudanese conflict.

The latest round of talks began a year ago. Before that, there had been nearly a dozen initiatives to bring an end to a deadly conflict fuelled by the worst forms of religious and ethnic tensions between the Arab north, which dominated governments in Khartoum, and the non-Arab south.

The conflict has been going on for nearly 50 years, but the most intensive part of it has been over the last 25 years.

In this period, southern Sudan has literally fallen back to the Stone Age. Nearly 2.5 million people have been killed in the conflict. There are very few schools or medical services in most of the south. Diseases that either disappeared years ago everywhere else or that the world doesn’t know exist and, therefore, no medicines have been developed to combat, are ravaging populations in the region.

The war in the Sudan took so long to end because in the years of the Cold War, the West was more concerned about supporting the South, not because the West wanted democracy for the area, but to use its militants as cannon fodder against what they viewed as a pro-communist regime in Khartoum.

When the Cold War ended, Khartoum got painted into a corner as a backer of international terrorism. In this period, the human toll just piled up.

Though Mr Powell’s presence in Naivasha is an important international endorsement of the peace talks, the US came late as part of peace-making in the Sudan.

If there are any lessons in this for future peace endeavours, it takes patience and a critical mass of countries working neutrally to end conflict.

The Sudanese process could easily have been broken off by the Kenyan Government at several frustrating moments. But if the Government had sought to score political points internationally through heavy-handed involvement in the talks and holding regular profile press conferences to claim credit, they would have failed.

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