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"Enabling Peace in Sudan: The Task at Hand"

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"Enabling Peace in Sudan: The Task at Hand"

Eric Reeves

November 6, 2003 — The $87 billion supplemental foreign operations bill sent to President Bush this week contained $20 million for "famine relief" in Sudan. This is a shockingly small part of the largest such appropriation in US history, and appears even smaller when we consider just how urgent are the impending needs in Sudan as a peace agreement grows closer. US diplomatic support for the peace process has of course been vital, but the reality of peace in Sudan is that it can be sustained and strengthened only with substantial financial commitment.

As this brutalized country attempts to make the arduous transition from twenty years of devastating war to a productive peace, transitional aid will be of critical importance, on all fronts. Humanitarian assistance, especially for returning displaced persons and the ravaged peoples of the oil regions; a fully adequate peacekeeping operation; the reconstitution of effective and accountable civil society structures; the demobilization of military forces; the democratizing of political power: these are immense tasks, and costly in the near term. But the only way to prevent a renewed outbreak of war---with all its terrible costs in human suffering and destruction, as well as the staggering expenditures and terrible difficulties of humanitarian assistance in the midst of intense fighting---is to insure that peace takes hold. Certainly, in the longer term, peace is much less expensive than war in all senses.

The US must accept the financial responsibility, ultimately the moral responsibility, for peace in Sudan. This requires that the Bush administration come up with an emergency supplemental appropriation plan for Sudan by January 2004, the expected deadline for a peace agreement. As a benchmark for a minimal commitment, the Congress should consider the European Union’s commitment last month to 400 million Euros for reconstruction and transitional aid in Sudan. Given the stakes in Sudan, and the long-term financial prudence of supporting peace now, this amount seems on the parsimonious side. But it gives us a sense of how completely inadequate is the $20 million in this week’s Iraq/Afghanistan supplemental bill.

Nor should the US Agency for International Development (AID) appropriation for the current fiscal year be seen outside the context in which it was originally conceived, i.e., to provide humanitarian assistance in present circumstances in which neither peace nor war prevails. We must keep in mind that the need for humanitarian assistance will be even greater in the immediate wake of a peace agreement, especially in responding to what will be the immense and urgent needs of returning populations. With as many as 5 million Internally Displaced Persons and refugees, southern Sudan faces almost inconceivably large challenges in accommodating the return of even a quarter of this population in the first six months of peace (a very real possibility).

The logic is so compelling, the moral imperative so clear, that those working for peace in Sudan simply must not allow the US Congress, or the Bush administration, to refuse to see this country’s desperate needs. Letters, faxes, telephone calls, and (less importantly) emails must make the case that supporting peace in Sudan is a US priority.

In addition to the White House and State Department, it is especially important that members of both the House and Senate Foreign Operations Committees hear from the constituents for peace in Sudan. Also important are members of the House International Relations Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as well as the political leadership in both the House and Senate. Of course especially important are those with whom US constituents have most influence, individual Senators and local Representatives in the Congress. (But nothing should prevent citizens of other countries from weighing in with their views of American responsibilities on this critical international issue.)

The message is simple: "A sustainable peace in Sudan requires real budgetary commitment by the US; not to accept this fundamental reality of the transition from twenty years of war to a tenuous peace greatly increases the likelihood that a peace agreement will not hold, and that there will be a return to war---with all its hideous costs. We have but one chance to help peace take root in Sudan: we must seize it now. Not to do so risks far greater and less productive expenditures of wealth in the long term, and unforgivably greater human suffering and destruction."

*The writer, a professor of literature at Smith College, has written extensively on Sudan.



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