Home | Comment & Analysis    Tuesday 28 October 2003

A promise the U.S. must keep

By Eric Reeves, International Herald Tribune

Paying for peace in Sudan

NORTHAMPTON, Massachusetts, Oct. 28, 2003 — While much U.S. political debate is focused on the enormous budget requested by the Bush administration for reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan, another country ravaged by war and tyranny seems destined to get nothing, despite American promises of help. Sudan is on the brink of a historic peace agreement that could end the world’s longest and most destructive civil conflict. But there has been no formal budget request for emergency transitional aid to Sudan or for the necessary peacekeeping resources.

Sudan has endured a tyranny as great as that of Saddam Hussein or the Taliban; and casualties in Sudan’s 20-year civil war are much greater than those of Iraq and Afghanistan combined. More than 2 million have perished, overwhelmingly civilians in the south; 5 million have been internally displaced or turned into refugees; and in southern Sudan there is a total lack of economic, transport or communications infrastructure. If peace finally arrives, the need for transitional aid will become extremely urgent.

As many as 1 million of the people presently displaced within Sudan, many in squalid camps outside Khartoum, the capital, would seek to return to their homes in the first six months after a peace agreement. This is a huge number of people to be moving back to areas that have seen extreme malnutrition, scorched-earth warfare, the compromising of water sources and a general decline in the already tenuous medical assistance provided by international humanitarian organizations. These people will have no chance of resuming productive lives without very significant assistance; indeed, their chances for survival on return will be substantially diminished if there is not appropriate emergency aid during resettlement.

In May, Walter Kansteiner, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, declared in testimony to Congress that "we stand ready to support reconstruction and development in post-war Sudan." In speaking of the need for the Khartoum regime and the opposition Sudan People’s Liberation Movement to reach peace under presently auspicious circumstances, Kansteiner declared further that "both sides know that there will be a large peace dividend for reconstruction and development if, but only if, there is peace."

Extraordinarily, to many Sudan observers, peace now seems clearly within reach. But the Bush administration is failing in its commitment to provide the resources to sustain peace in Sudan. There has been no budgetary request for emergency transitional assistance or for the U.S. portion of an international peacekeeping operation. This is extremely short-sighted. At the time of the greatest military danger to such a peace agreement, during the perilous process of military disengagement by forces that have almost no trust in one another, there must be a robust, well-funded, international peacekeeping force. It must have substantial transport and logistical capacity, given the vast size of Sudan - the largest country in Africa - and the lack of useable roads.

Such a peacekeeping force, which should be deployed under UN auspices, may be the most important element in any sustainable peace for Sudan. A failure by the United States to commit publicly now to an appropriate expenditure for peacekeeping would leave millions of people at significantly increased risk and would undermine America’s chances of ensuring that peace in Sudan is sustainable. Given the high levels of humanitarian assistance that the United States has provided for victims of the war for well over a decade, this seems the most ill-considered of times to withhold promised funding.

This administration explicitly promised to provide assistance at the moment of Sudan’s greatest need, and now it is reneging. This is dishonest and immoral, and would never occur if the country in distress were not African and cursed with geopolitical inconsequence. Congress should, on an emergency basis, appropriate funding that will make good on the Bush administration promises.

Sudan has suffered decades of invisibility on the global stage, and Sudanese lives have suffered a deeply disgraceful moral discounting. At its moment of greatest hope this broken nation must not be betrayed again.

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