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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Sudanese Distress

The recent sexual scandal involving Congressman Foley and North Korea’s test of a nuclear device stole momentum and media attention from the budding movement calling for the deployment of UN Peacekeeping forces in Sudan’s Darfur region. It did not slow the government of Sudan, however, in its campaign to cleanse Darfur of the Zaghawas and the Furs, indigenous African ethnic groups now scattered in refugee camps in neighboring Chad.

The conflict in Darfur has been ongoing for over three years, although it began receiving international media attention only last year. The conflict began on the eve of the signing of the Naivasha Accords, the agreement which brought an end to the 30-year long civil war in the south of Sudan, when two rebel movements, the Justice and Equality Movement and the Sudan Liberation Army, took up arms to protest the marginalization of the Fur and Zaghawa ethnic groups. Emerging from a long civil war in the South, the Sudanese army was taken by surprise when the seeds of rebellion began to bear fruit in Darfur, an area of Sudan the size of France. Major setbacks suffered by the Sudanese army in its initial response to the mounting challenge posed by the rebel movements necessitated a change of strategy for the government, which turned to the notorious Janjaweed, a proxy army of men riding on horse back, sowing pain, misery and death in their wake. Thus far, the Janjaweed and their allies in the Sudanese army, are responsible for 400,000 deaths and for over 2 million displaced people, mainly in refugee camps in Chad, where they continue to be attacked in cross-border raids.

While the international community has acknowledged that what is happening in Darfur is indeed genocide, as with the case in 1994 when Hutu militias murdered 800,000 Tutsi’s within the space of a month, the international community continues to merely talk. While Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al Bashir and the Janjaweed ratchet up the offensive currently under way, the international community continues to proffer one futile resolution after another.

Thus far, the UN has passed roughly ten resolutions dealing with the situation in Darfur. The most noteworthy are: Resolution 1590, establishing the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS), Resolution 1591, strengthening the arms embargo on Sudan and imposing sanctions on individual Sudanese such as Janjaweed leader Musa Hilal, and Resolution 1593, referring suspected perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC). In August this year, the UN passed resolution 1706 which called for the deployment of a Peacekeeping force numbering 17,300 with 3,300 civilian police.

For the time being, Sudan is insulated by the support of China and Russia from any drastic actions in the Security Council. Arab League countries also support Sudan in a rare agreement with the most radical Islamic fundamentalists such as Al Qaeda’s Ayman al Zawahiri, who recently called on his followers to resist “Western imperialism” on Sudan. This implies that both the Arab League and the Islamic fundamentalists share the opinion that Arab lives are more important that non-Arab African lives. This will not last, however, for the ire of Islamic fundamentalists is focused on secular states like Egypt, and secular leaders such as Amr Moussa, the current Secretary General of the Arab League and former Egyptian Foreign Minister, and his former boss, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

While the Sudanese government fought the thirty-year war that resulted in the death of 2 million people in the Southern Sudan, it appeased Darfurians and other Muslim communities in Sudan by claiming the fight was a jihad against Christian infidels in the South. National characters, such as Hassan al Turabi, the former speaker of Sudan’s rubber stamp parliament and main ideologue behind Sudan’s so-called “Islamic Revolution,” currently under house arrest, provided the religious backdrop against which the carnage in the Nuba Mountains unfolded.

No mention was made about the legitimate demands of Southern Sudan for a greater say in national decisions and a greater piece of the national pie. No mention was made of the racial issues under girding the war: that the governing classes of Sudan, who are fairer in complexion, consider themselves as Arabs of superior origins than the indigenous Africans who happened to be mainly Christians.

In Darfur, the racial paradigm has taken precedence over the religious paradigm because people on both sides of the conflict are Muslim. So, Arab Janjaweed are cleansing Darfur of indigenous Africans, ‘Arabizing’ as they ride along. Their audacity, striking in refugee camps deep inside Chad, does not bode well for regional security, especially for the long-term stability of Chad. Chad, which has suffered six military coups since its independence in 1960, is perennially unstable. Just four months ago, the government of Chad was barely able to repel rebels funded by Sudan from Chad’s capital city, N’djamena. It is uncertain how much longer the regime of Idriss Derby will last.

The genocide in Darfur focuses attention once again on the need to reform the United Nations. It is absurd to expect the government of Sudan, which is committing most of the atrocities in Darfur, to be the one to invite a UN Peacekeeping force into its territory. Why would they? Would Russia invite UN Peacekeepers to observe its atrocities in Chechnya? Would Indonesia have invited UN Peacekeepers along for the ride as they invaded East Timor in 1975? Would the Nazis have invited the victorious allies to observe the atrocities they committed in refugee camps?

The ability of two states, Russia and China, to block serious action against Sudan in the Security Council, by wielding their veto power, is evidence that in the Security Council world peace and security rarely takes precedent over the economic interests of members states, especially when the conflict happens to be in Africa.

The record of UN interventions in Africa is a complicated one. While the UN has been able to provide stability in the transition of Liberia and Sierra Leone from civil wars, in the Democratic Republic of Congo where Dag Hammarskjold, a former UN Secretary General and godfather of UN Peacekeeping lost his life in a plane crash, UN Peacekeepers have been accused of trading food for sex.

The mandates of UN Peacekeeping Forces are never clear, and their troop levels never adequate, leaving them incapable of protecting themselves and civilians in harms way. But UN Peacekeeping forces are the best hope we have now of putting an end to the misery of Darfur. The African Union force of 7000 has done the best it can with the meager resources at its disposal. It is now time for the UN force to step in and relieve the pressure on the African Union Force.

Sudan’s persecution of its indigenous African populations will not stop. After the Darfurians have been conquered, the Sudanese state will find new indigenous foes to fight. Sudan’s failure to enfranchise the indigenous Africans living within its border calls for a more drastic solution than sending-in 20,000 UN Peacekeepers.

Sudan should be partitioned into three autonomous regions: the south, the west and the North. General Bashir, Hassan al Turabi, Crown Prince Abdullah, and Ayman al Zawahiri can maintain control of the North so that out brothers and sisters in western and southern Sudan can live in peace.