12 February 2013

Sudan: A Tale of Two Darfurs


Reading recent government accounts, one might be forgiven for thinking that a parallel universe has now emerged in Darfur, filled with human rights, honest officials and social justice for all. This new region welcomes human rights monitors such as Mashood Adebayo Baderin, shows them around and takes them wherever they want to go. It gives full access to the judicial process and allows such officials to interact with Darfur's residents (who are, of course, free to discuss their situations in full and frank detail). Finally, these cozy chats allow the people to express just how much they are enjoying their lives under the care of the new Darfur Regional Authority (DRA).

In this new world, kind donors such as Qatar will rebuild Darfur in a much better way than it existed in the first place. They will introduce the people to a new understanding of Islam that Darfur's population just didn't know before. There will be roads from Chad, linking the whole Sahel thereby making transport easier. There will be a kind and benevolent Governor, Tigani Seisi who will place the needs of the population before his own. "Honest Tigani", as he will be known to all, will deposit donors' funds in a safe and secure bank in Khartoum, making sure that the money only gets to the projects that it is designated for. NGOs will be allowed to roam freely around the countryside dispensing food and goodwill to all. Darfur will be rebuilt and everyone will live happily ever after.

Sounds nice doesn't it? Almost like a fairytale. Yet the reality in Darfur is now the polar opposite of this universe. Mashood Adebayo Baderin's mockery of a visit to Darfur shows not only his level of naiveté where the Government of Sudan is concerned, but also his lack of concern about getting to the truth. After his recent visit to Abu Shouk camp, residents of this and other the camps such as Kassab were incensed to learn that he had been moved from one group to another, speaking only to carefully selected government supporters. A kind of "human rights tourist", Baderin was deliberately introduced to only those who would give him the NCP message. Happy to hear that things were really not that bad, he obligingly held a press conference in Khartoum to talk about the lack of special courts in the region, but barely touched on any other issues that are happening in Darfur, Blue Nile, Kordofan, South Sudan or any other places where gross abuses of human rights are being perpetrated by the NCP.

To cap it all off, "Economical with the Truth, Seisi" as I prefer to call him, then held a press conference for donors in Darfur, in which he promised that a new financial structure - the Darfur Development Bank - would keep investors' money safe. However, what he failed to mention was that in order for funds to reach this bank, they will first have to be deposited in Khartoum. In Khartoum, the Central Bank of Sudan has years of practice in failing to distribute humanitarian funds to aid agencies. The other choice is the NCP bank (Omdurman National Bank), where money is so "safe" in the regime's hands, that it may never see the light of day again. Irrespective of these issues, Seisi feels confident that with a little help from his fundamentalist friends in Qatar, he can develop Darfur in a much better way. Never mind the fact that there is no support for either the Doha process or Tigani Seisi among the people of Darfur. Never mind the fact that this will create yet another fundamentalist enclave on the Sahel. And certainly never mind the fact that Seisi is saying all of this from the luxurious residence he has just rented in Khartoum, with 100,000 of the people of Darfur's money.

Of course I wouldn't want to imply a "hands off" approach by Khartoum. No, they deserve full credit for being actively involved in Darfur's future. In fact on the 6th February, NCP officials and security personnel arrived in a helicopter to Kutum, Northern Darfur with some "Arab" looking gentlemen from the Gulf. Driving to the army barracks in Kutum, they were joined by a further 10 four wheel drive vehicles full of security people. Rumors abounded of a "tribal reconciliation," although this information proved to be false. Yet the very next day, some strange looking gentlemen speaking French, suddenly appeared in the market and elsewhere with identification cards of the Sudanese Border Police. Unable to talk in the local language they were forced to converse in sign language. Further investigation found that approximately 250-300 Islamists arrived from Mali on February 4th to Hashaba, Northern Darfur by truck. Yet, as if by magic, they were miraculously converted into Sudanese citizens with flick of an NCP official's pen. Amazing!

The NCP's "hands on" approach to security has also been seen in Derbat, where, according to the SLA, 11 Malians were found dead after a battle against SAF forces and militias which killed 100 people. Of course, the Malians aren't just coming in handy to kill Darfurians: they are also now being used as a mobile Sahelian security force. In a joint conference between Idriss Déby of Chad, the NCP and the NTC of Libya, the Malians are now set to police the borders between the three countries. Strange really, that the French went to such lengths to chase them away from Timbuktu. If they'd thought about it, they should have known that a warm welcome was always waiting for extremist brothers in the land that facilitated Osama bin Laden.

For everyone else in Darfur, there is no help to be found. While the international community sits on its hands as the Sahel fills up with fighters, the people of Darfur just starve and die. Today the humanitarian crisis in the Jebel Marra has reached nightmare proportions, with NGOs unable to get to most of the people that are freezing in the mountain without food. Displacements from the fighting in Jebel Marra around Golo and Jildu are far more than 100,000 because many hiding in caves just can't be counted. Across Darfur, there are shortages of food since the food rations have been cut to about 8 days supply, per month. Since the people are now literally starving, they are being forced to return to insecure areas to farm. These returns are then paraded by Seisi and his state governors as evidence of voluntary return. There are also critical shortages of medicine, shortages of fuel to drive the water pumps in the camps and because of the shortage of fuel, shortages of water itself. Yet what happens to those who perpetrate this humanitarian disaster? They get a weakly worded message from the State Department saying that they should try to play nice.

It is, of course, only a matter of time before this indifference will come home to roost for the International community. Today it may be Darfur's problem, but with Ghannouchi in Tunisia, Morsi in Egypt, NTC Islamists in Libya, an impotent government in Chad, extremists roaming the Sahel and a government of Sudan that has gone back to its earlier terrorist recruiting policies, the problem will not remain in Sudan for long. The question is whether Mr. Lyman and his friends at the State Department will wake up from their fairytale snooze before it's too late. Let's hope so, because the big bad bogeyman is waiting just around the corner and this new nightmare is only the beginning of their problems ...

Dr. Anne Bartlett is Professor and Director of the International Studies Graduate Program at the University of San Francisco.

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