The Star (Nairobi)

23 November 2012

East Africa: Sudan Conflict Is Far From Over

opinion

There are no Kenyan media channels. In fact the entire DSTV menu from the East to the West, South and Central Africa do not exist. This is NILESAT country. The menu has close to 500 channels with about 10% in English. This of course includes Aljazeera, BBC and CNN English versions.

The rest of the channels are Arabic that include news commentaries, soaps and a good share of Islamic religious programmes. Incidentally I was pleasantly surprised to bump into a Christian religious channel that was as sobre as any religious programme could be; there were no deafening singing and dancing that we are used to on our local TV channels back home in East Africa.

Since I was meeting 19 factions that have been fighting in Darfur for years but had now chosen the path of peace, I dared to ask one of the commanders whether President El Bashir was rightly accused for crimes against humanity.

The man, a typical black Sudanese told me that the ICC had no business trying Omar El Bashir because there are courts in Sudan to try criminals of that nature.

In his opinion, one can only be tried at the ICC if the country of the accused has signed the Rome Statutes. Any other method of trying none members of the ICC at The Hague was a violation of the fundamental sovereignty of that state.

As commander of one of the militias that had been fighting in Darfur for years, he gave me some analogy that got me revising my thoughts about the ICC process. The analogy made me recall what had happened in Kenya in 2008.

In the commander's words, "When law and order breaks down; it is difficult to know who commits crime and who does not. Human beings have the inherent nature to exploit chaos for their personal benefits.

People who have held grudges against neighbors can easily exploit those circumstances to commit crimes. Criminals can equally choose to exploit those circumstances."

In comparing the Kenyan cases with those of Sudan, most Sudanese seemed to think that the ICC should prosecute Kenyans for two good reasons. One; because Kenya is a signatory to the Rome Statutes. Two; Kenya was given an opportunity to set up a local tribunal but the political class frustrated it in the hope that the ICC process would take much longer to complete. For these reasons the Kenyan political class has itself to blame.

The Sudan conflict is far from over despite South Sudan forming its own country. Darfur alone has close to 39 warlords controlling their separate militias that they proudly call the army.

Of this number 17 have entered into some agreement with the NCP government of Khartoum and have signed some Peace Accord. For this reason, quite a number of their leaders have been in-cooperated into the central government and are now enjoying the multiple positions of government minister, movement official and where possible a military council member.

What remains to be seen is how long this arrangement will last knowing that more than half of the combatants have not joined the negotiation table.

Moreover, even the 17 signatories have yet to lay down their arms. They are waiting to be absorbed into the national army that is financially constrained.

At the moment, members of the Doha Accord are busy trying to transform their factions into one political party in readiness for the 2015 general elections.

This means that in the next two years, these factions must strike an irreversible deal to allow them walk into the elections as one united front to challenge established political parties such as UMMA and NCP at the polls.

In the two shorts years, they must find a common name, a party symbol and an attractive party slogan to begin marketing themselves. In the same period, the new party must register as a political party, open branches in all parts of Sudan and make its presence felt in 2015

Talking to leaders of different factions, who have been to the Doha conferences, once gets the feeling that even among the Doha comrades, there is still deep seated mistrust between black Muslims and Muslims of Arab descent.

Black Muslims feel that they have been marginalized for centuries purely on the basis of their colour skin. The bitterness seems deeply rooted and will need a South Africa type of TJRC to bring peace to the country.

With the nation's president's movement severely restricted to a few African and Middle East countries, lobbying for meaning dialogue within the UN and EU has become minimal.

Yet these are the international bodies that have the wherewithal to finance expensive peace accords such as the one South Sudan and Somalia went through.

However, there is a window of opportunity. Either the IGAD or the EAC can take the initiative to negotiate a permanent peace in Sudan as one way of bringing peace and stability to the Horn of Africa. It can be done just like Julius Nyerere once quipped.

The writer is a media consultant.

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