Home | Comment & Analysis    Monday 21 July 2003

Honour peace deal or Sudan ’goes to hell’

By Chege MBITIRU

The Nation (Nairobi)
Monday, July 21, 2003

Thousands of pampered characters from various countries roam the world. They know nothing about paying taxes or duties. They have enviable legal protection, too. When they commit murder, getting them to court is right out of Kafka. These people are known as diplomats.

Officially their job includes making their countries look good, prosperous, stable, solid bases for investment and, in Africa, fountains of wise leadership at state and government houses. Unofficially, the real job for these men and women is to tell those who doubt the existence of these virtues to go to hell and make the lot happy doing so.

Diplomats were invented because it’s considered a declaration of war for a head of state or government to tell another to go to hell. That’s why a recent statement by Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir amounts to abundant diplomatic impudence.

A week ago Mr El-Bashir commented on proposals by the Inter-governmental Authority on Development on how to end what is inaccurately described as a 20-year war in southern Sudan.

"We welcome a new acceptable draft framework by IGAD," Mr El-Bashir told a crowd at Wad Medan. For strange reasons, Wad Medan, a town 175 kilometres southeast of Khartoum, has seen outrageous happenings. "Otherwise, let the IGAD and those with it go to hell," Mr El-Bashir thundered.

IGAD is a grouping of six states, Sudan included, in eastern Africa. Each has a president. Like all human beings, these gentlemen presumably have feet of clay, possibly heads of gold, but truly other metals in between. But when it comes to Sudan’s woes, they mean well.

There are other governments, including members of the European Union, which IGAD leaders have roped in to help Mr El-Bashir out of quite a mess. These countries have leaders. According to Mr El-Bashir’s reasoning, these, too, can go to hell.

Apparently Mr El-Bashir doesn’t want peace. Otherwise his foreign minister and ambassadors should have suffered heart attacks.

Mr El-Bashir’s frustrations are understandable, although not the outburst. Dr John Garang’s Sudan People’s Liberation Army controls a third and prosperous chunk of Africa’s largest country. Mr El-Bashir’s sheikdom is split. But even if Mr Garang were to be struck by lighting, Mr El-Bashir will, territorially, remain less of a president.

The war in southern Sudan isn’t 20-year-old. That’s the latest round. Accompanied by afflictions of war, it has claimed more than 2 million souls. Millions of dollars have gone down the drain. Foreigners, some out to make fortunes out of misery, have perished.

The war began long before the Mahdists butchered British Gen. Charles Gordon in 1885. Before then hordes of northerners plundered the south. That they were Muslims and Arabs is immaterial. Plundering was the rule. The British, Egyptians in tow, bungled the job, too, up to independence in 1955. Dr Garang was 10 years old. No one loves everlasting oppression. The southerners rebelled.

Nobody enjoys fighting for ever, either. In 1972, the southerners accepted a deal brokered in Addis Ababa. Six years later, President Gaafar Numeiry scuttled it. Southerners squabbled and helped Mr Numeiry along and were at war again in1983.

The southerners have always said they want a share of the country’s wealth, which includes oil revenue. They don’t want to collectively be made to face Mecca. They hate Islamic law. A majority only want to be accorded, by their country, what every Sudanese is entitled to. A few don’t care about Khartoum. After all when the British and Egyptians began disengaging from Sudan in 1953, southerners wanted and were promised a federal government. They’ve seen only plunder.

The IGAD-sponsored talks haven’t been useless. But a few key issues remain, including the make-up of the armed forces, details on wealth and power sharing and percentages of southerners in national institutions.

No imagination is needed to know the SPLA wants to remain intact until a referendum on self-determination is held. After all, who will physically protect the southerners from Khartoum’s machinations?

Abel Alier, a lawyer and southerner, wasn’t a very enlightened politician. But in a book titled Southern Sudan: Too Many Agreements Dishonoured he wrote: Distrust has begotten distrust, which has virtually been built into mutual bad faith.

Dr Garang would like to be president of a united Sudan. He even has a martial swagger. Mr El-Bashir is president of a divided nation. Both are in a dilemma.

Wee-wee knowledge of southern Sudan indicates if a tight-knit deal to block future "too many agreements dishonoured" isn’t in place, the southerners shall, in a referendum, tell Khartoum to unhappily go to hell.

That’s what IGAD is trying to avoid, Mr El-Bashir.

Mr Mbitiru, a freelance journalist, is a former ’Nation’ Managing editor.