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Question of Leadership After the End of South Sudan Crisis

By James Okuk, PhD

Quote: “If a sect or republic is to survive for any length of time, it must return frequently to its beginning.” – Machiavelli.

May 23, 2014 (SSNA) -- It is the question of leadership within the SPLM that brought South Sudan to the current shame of devastating rebellion. It is also the question of the same leadership that is now being negotiated in Addis Ababa in order to end the unbearable crisis of the rebellion. I am saying these because South Sudan has not been lacking the substance for its building but achievements-oriented leadership. What is meant here is the good leadership that is achieved, not by formality of structures, but the integrity of the participants and their willingness to work together with larger vision inspiration.

Fair enough, a political roadmap for peace negotiations has been drawn and agreed upon on 9th May 2014 by the highest authorities of the government and the rebellion in the country. The first significance of that roadmap is recommitment to the implementation of the previously violated agreement on cessation of hostilities. The second significance was a new commitment to the inclusive negotiations of the substance of the peace talks where all the stakeholders are supposed come up at the end of the process with a satisfactory and comprehensive peace document to be signed finally by the highest bosses in the city and jungle of South Sudan.

With the peace roadmap at hands, it is now the time to get down into serious business of ending the war practically by addressing the root causes of the crisis. The hot stage is to commence. Different proposals have been floated already, both from national and international perspectives. Most of the proposals carry commendable consensus on the substance of the expected peace agreement document, though they differ on issues of leadership in the coming post-crises era.

There seems to be a consensus from the spectra of stakeholders that the next era should avoid fatal political errors. Nonetheless, this will not occur unless utmost attention is paid to what Political Philosopher Antonio Rosmini said in his book, the Summary Cause for the Stability or Downfall of Human Societies, that “Anyone who errs in politics, must first err in logic.

What is then the expected sound logic and truth that needs to be known in the question of leadership after the end of current South Sudan crises?

A - PROPOSAL OF DIASPORA PROFESSIONALS:

The first comprehensive proposal was released on 1st February 2014 by ‘South Sudanese Professionals in Diaspora’ (i.e., Prof. Laura Beny, Prof. Charles Bakheit, Dr. Eluzai Hakim, Dr. Mairi J. Blackings and Dr. Martin Mikaya) under the title “Unleashing the Potential for Good Governance in the Republic of South Sudan: A Proposal Addressing the challenges to Nation Building, National Healing and National Reconciliation Following the Mid-December Crisis”.

Jotted down on 24 pages, the professionals took off the substance of the proposal from the premise that “the model of government adopted on 9th July 2011 when the South Sudan became the world’s newest nation is faulty, does not work well and has not served the people of south Sudan well.”

Therefore, the newly proposed sound model, according to them, should be “A federal system of government based on the three traditional geographical regions of Bahr El Ghazal, Equatoria and Upper Nile” and have to be lean and efficient with the aim of releasing “money for vital developmental projects.

In the epilogue of the paper, they concluded that President Salva Kiir Mayardit should be the one leading the nation up to the time of the next elections so as to avoid setting “a dangerous precedent.” Meanwhile, he should form an inclusive government that will conduct the national census, complete the writing of the constitution and run “the forthcoming election on time.”

MY CRITIQUE:

For me, the proposal of the aforementioned professionals is commendable as far as the substance of the peace agreement and its government is concerned. However, they failed to be decisive on who should lead the inclusive government in case the elections could not be conducted on time in the first quarter of 2015:

Will it be “a dangerous precedent” too to postpone the elections?

Will it be Gen. Salva Kiir continuing as the President of the Republic even after the elapse of his ‘legitimate term’ on 9th July 2015?

Where will Dr. Riek Machar, Dr. Lam Akol and the rest of leaders of political parties be in the inclusive government of post-crisis South Sudan?

Where will the ten current existing States be when the government structure gets reduced to the three traditional geographical regions, and will the three regions be called Bahe El Ghazal, Equaotira and Upper Nile States or will have new name?

I think it is high time for the ‘South Sudanese Professionals in Diaspora’ to improve on their good proposal and be clear on the crucial issue of leadership of their proposed “inclusive government”. This is so important because, as Napoleon Bonaparte said, “A leader is a dealer in hope.” Also they need to be clear on the new or the renewed nomenclature of the federal states so that it is known that South Sudan is going to have three, and only three federalized states.

B - PROPOSAL OF EBONY CENTRE:

The second comprehensive proposal has been advanced on 10th May 2014 by the Ebony Centre under the title:“Mandating the proposed interim government with the laying of the foundation for resilient institutions and effective governance in the post-conflict South Sudan: A Policy Paper Presented a the 2014 First Development Policy Forum.

Accordingtothe 20-page proposal, the current government structure should be maintained (state, county and payam) as it was stipulated in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (2005), Interim Constitution of Government of Southern Sudan (2005) and Transitional Constitution of South Sudan (2011). The type of the proposed national government should be a mixture of Presidential with Parliamentary systems whose size should be lean and effective with mandate for achieving specific objectives: 1) Conducting day-to-day business of the government; 2) Implementing peace agreement; 3) conducting reviews and reforms that ensure the laying of firm foundation for South Sudan.

The proposed leadership of this government shall be the following: 1) Five-Member ceremonial and rotational collegial Presidency symbolizing national unity/consensus/trust and social cohesion; 2) Executive Prime Ministry with two deputies, 3) Eighteen Ministers; and 4) Twelve Commissions/Authorities members. The total number of the executive constitutional post holders of the interim national government shall be thirty eight only.

The composition of the proposed national government shall encompass regional and gender balance with a mandatory representation of an Army General and a Woman in the Collegial Presidency; the head of which is rotated every six months based on the three traditional regional representations.

The tenure of the proposed interim government shall be thirty six months (i.e. three years), starting from 9th July 2015 when the term of the current elected government ends constitutionally.

The criteria for selection of candidates for the proposed interim government shall be as follows: 1) Persons with certain qualities of personality and character, supported by relevant technical knowledge and experience; 2) Persons with career trajectory largely outside the realm of party politics; 3) Persons with no further ambitions in the political realm, particularly elections in the 10-year time following the end of interim period.

The current sitting national and state parliamentary committees shall be tasked with proposing specific eligibility criteria for short-listing of the candidates. But separate parliamentary committees will undertake the vetting of the candidate so as to ensure their diversity, integrity, experience and qualifications.

To this effect, the Intellectuals of Ebony Centre went a head to propose that President Salva Kiir shall appoint One Hundred national lawmakers from the Eighty Nine Counties of South Sudan each, One from Juba Capital City and Ten from some crucial specialties. The total number of national MPs shall be one hundred only.

If this is not working, they proposed a second option of extending the tenure of the current national legislature to the interim period (i.e., another three years).

Otherwise, they finally proposed that the Collegial Presidency takes the legislative functions since what is mostly needed in the interim period, after all, is execution of specific government programmes and not legislations.

The proposal acknowledges that legitimacy of the interim government should come from the people, but since it is difficult to do this directly any of the following options could be adopted to do it indirectly: 1) Broad national consensus garnered from all inclusive national dialogue conference; 2) Extraordinary Act of the current National Legislature with clear terms of reference; 3) Extraordinary Presidential Act decreed by the current President.

The proposal of the Intellectuals of Ebony centre is hinged on the premise that South Sudan needs a new start based on acceptance of the responsibility by all its elites that they are the masters of their own country and its destiny, and that the system of governance they have adopted in 2005 is not effective and resilient institutionally.

MY CRITIQUE:

I think the proposal of the Intellectuals of the Ebony Centre is a good start as far as the substance and leadership of the post-crisis interim/transitional government is needed for rigorous discussion. The substance they presented is not complicated. However, their proposal on leadership of the interim government is controversial, especially the idea of five-member rotational Collegial Presidency:

How can somebody becomes a Head of State within the presidency institution and then later step down to become a Deputy Head of State or a normal member? Will this not create protocol irritation of humiliation?

Are the representatives of the Army and Women within the Collegial Presidency allowed to become Head or Deputy Head of State or they shall be condemned only to ordinary membership of the Presidency?

Given the criteria of selection is it not going to be an interim government without participation of Political Parties? How will interim politics make sense without involvement of political parties in the government?

Is the Judiciary of South Sudan so perfect that it does not need reviews and reforms in the interim government?

Are the States and Counties governments going to be re-structured like the national interim government and how?

What is the significance of reference to the three traditional regions (Bahr El Ghazal, Equatoria and Upper Nile) when there are already states representing the decentralized mode of the government of the Republic of South Sudan?

I think it is high time for Intellectuals of Ebony Centre to come out clearly with their answers to these questions in order to improve their commendable proposal.

C. PERSUASIVE APPEAL AS ALTERNATIVE PROPOSAL:

An appeal in regards to leadership aspect of the post-crisis government was released by Peter Biar Ajak on 12th May 2014 under the title “The Alternative Proposal: Consideration on the ongoing peace negotiations between South Sudan’s Government and the Rebels SPLM/A IO”.

The 13-page proposal presented a persuasive appeal to President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Dr. Riek Machar to consider a bold decision of not taking part in the upcoming negotiated transitional government of national unity for these reasons: 1) to create the most optimal environment for national reconciliation and institutuitional development; 2) to manifest the most noble leadership in the region and the world; 3) to restore confidence to a young nation overtaken by self-doubt; 4) to put aside selfish ambitions or grievances and consider larger interest of the people of South Sudan; and 5) to ensure glory of their names, the sake of South Sudan’s national interests and the promotion of regional security interests.

According to Mr. Biar,  President Kiir and rebel leader Dr. Machar should be doing the following as they retire willingly for the interim period:1)draw up the agenda for the interim government; its work plan, budget, security forces and public service in order to restructure the state; 2) supervise the government work plan during the interim period while sitting in a group of six guarantors (including the Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, Ambassador Seyoum Mesfin, Gen. Lazaro Sumbeiywo, and Gen. Mohamed Ahmed M. El Dabi); 3) sign a mega deal for laying a solid constitutional foundation for the country, clears its payroll, its army, police and all its institutions; 4) actively engage in national reconciliation process, and later seek public office in the elections if they want to return to power; 5)monitor the implementation of the agenda within the context of regional and international mechanism; 6) enjoy the old age of freedom fighter comforted by the memories of honorable acts while their legacies remained secured.

The foundational premise on which Mr. Biar took the courage to present his thought in the “Alternative Proposal” is that “It is not possible for a significantly reformed state to emerge in South Sudan if Kiir and Riek return to the helm; past mistakes are likely to be recommitted.

That is, the leadership style (either combine or separate) of Kiir and Riek cannot be successful during the interim period. The evidence proves that both of them were given nine years to lead South Sudan but they continued to make bad mistakes that landed South Sudan into crisis: 2) they missed the opportunity from the abundant oil money that could have facilitated the implementation of the SPLM/A promise and obligation on the delivery of ‘New Sudan Vision’; 2) they betrayed the high expectation of the marginalized people whose cause they were advocating, especially when they allowed the centralization of spree of corruption in Juba that caused macro-economic imprudence; 3) they resigned governance to the realm of personal and factional struggle for power that depends on ethnic and tribal clientele networks; 4) they allowed war-lordism and entrepreneurship in violence to serve as the means to secure a seat at the political table without minding about simmering ethnic hostilities that risk exploding into genocide; 5) they created a South Sudan full of undesirable social indicators like widespread unemployment, acute malnutrition, dire poverty, and high infant mortality rates; 6) they created a political system characterized by highly volatile and individualistic forms and personnel structure; 7) they resisted separating political powers that would have imposed limitation on authority so as to underscore the importance of institutions instead of individuals in sustaining the existence of the state and fulfillment of its functions; and 8) they repeatedly defied calls to act responsibly on sensitive political issues.

Also according to Mr. Biar, the leadership of Kiir and Machar is a failure because both of these principals don’t understand political philosophies that underscore that the purpose of being a leader of a country is to ensure: 1) security from all threats to human life and dignity; past, present and future aimed at improving the living standards of the citizenry within the solidarity on the common good; 2) knowledgeable, political and ethical community are guided by constitution and the rule of law in the course of performing civic duty; 3) Government authority that promote prevalence of justice and order that allow all to live a more fulfilling life through a social contract or consent of the members; 4) right of the citizens to change a government that fails to perform the substantial functions it was contracted for; and 5) building competent and credible institutions for development and democratization.

In short, both Principals seem unable to cogitate well on the concepts of state as widely accepted in political intellectualism and academia: 1) Sovereign jurisdiction over a territory and population; 2)legitimacy through sense of nationhood at home; and 3) legal and diplomatic recognition as equals abroad.

That is, not all South Sudanese at the moment believe that either Kiir or Riek is their right leader. Not all of them are convinced that they could be a one nation under the leadership of either Kiir or Riek. Not only these, but South Sudan diplomacy has become so degraded abroad due to the disastrous crisis created by Riek and Kiir, paving ways to justified dictatorial intervention of super powers.

Given all the above weaknesses, missed opportunities and lack of understanding by Kiir and Riek, Mr. Biar proposed that an alternative leader after the persuasive (not forceful) exit of the two principals should come from the SPLM/A only. For him, the SPLM/A is “to critically look among the mid-level cadres of potential for a leader with intellect, sound judgment, vision and charismatic ability who would implement the peace agreement with rigor and determination.” The alternative leader has to implement the peace agreement that will be signed by Kiir and Riek before they retire, and restore the image of the country that they tainted.

MY CRITIQUE:

I think the proposal of Mr. Biar is commendable because it is avoiding the common culture “pushing out leaders” from leadership positions in a militaristic manner. Instead, the proposal is trying to cultivate the culture of “persuasion for voluntary relinquishing of power” in a diplomatic manner. Nonetheless, I doubt whether his persuasion seeds will fall into the right hears, especially with the fear from The Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC), which might spoil the retirement enjoyment and legacy of the two Principals.

But Mr. Biar did not care about what kind of government system, what size, what composition, what tenure or what legislative processes are to be adopted during the interim period. He seems to believe that, at the end of the day, everything will trickle down to leadership. Bad leadership can water down good proposals of what and who need to be led. Good leadership can initiate right things that need to be done and persuade people to join hands in doing this. I think Mr. Biar is right here.

However, Mr. Biar recommendation for SPLM/A mid-level cadres as the only panacea for South Sudan leadership during the interim period could be seen as naivety and lack of recognition of other stakeholders of South Sudan. What faction of the SPLM/A he is talking about (‘SPLM/A–Government’, ‘SPLM/A–Opposition’, ‘SPLM/A–Former Detention’, SPLM–Democratic Change)?

If Mr. Biar means the current SPLM/A system that claims to be a political party while at the same time owing an army, then this will continue to be a crisis. Whoever tries to emerge from within that systemic deformity could also prove a failure in leadership even if he/she is bright or surrounded by the brightest.

It would be better to encourage formation of political alliances or mergings, and then device a new system (far from anything called SPLM/A) within which a new leader could emerge for leadership of the new government. It is time to get rid of Sudanese names in South Sudan political parties. We need a new era for South Sudan based on political maturity; not a renewed error of SPLM/A hangovers of dictatorial ‘uni-partism’ and lack of recognition of other stakeholders in the country.

THE POINT I WANT TO PUT ACROSS:

The political maturity can come if a considerable attention is paid to what Denis Cleary philosophized that “The supreme, mortal error is to lose sight of the substantial reality which sustains society, and devote total attention to what is accidental…A materially privileged people, full of whining malcontents, is not a society on the march to greater well-being, but a group in need of salvation.

The maturity that is direly needed for ending the current crisis is to get back to the drawing board and the beginning, remembering what Gen. Salva Kiir’s said during the occasion of the Announcement of Final Referendum Results, 9th February 2011, that “Our purpose is to give to our children what the war took away from us: peace, rule of law, food security, health care, good education, running water, clean water, electric power, and opportunity for pursuit of happiness and prosperity. Let us all work to give our children hope for a better future.”

The peace agreement that is being cooked in Addis Ababa through mediation of IGAD and facilitation of the U.S, EU, Trioka and other friends/partners, and that is waiting to be endorsed finally by all the stakeholders, should dispel the hopelessness created by the SPLM/A leadership in the middle of the journey of the new state and nation building. It should bring back the happiness that was demonstrated by all South Sudanese during the voting for the referendum for self-determination and at the declaration of independence. Notwithstanding, the desired South Sudanese salvational happiness lies outside the former deformed system of the SPLM/A that has tried to run the new country wrongly on a bush liberation mentality.

The expected comprehensive peace agreement should put it clearly that an interim period is too short for a successful federal system in South Sudan. Political science shows that centralism is the best practical option for governments of interim periods. As federalism is the most popular demand of the people of South Sudan, it should then be stipulated in the forthcoming Addis Peace Agreement that the centralized interim government have to prepare the ground for implementation of Federal system of government immediately at the end of the interim period, in order to start the beginning of the normal period of the elected governments. That federal system should be a union of the current ten states rather than the traditionalized geographical regions of Bahr El Ghazal, Equatoria and Upper Nile.

Also the expected peace agreement should not allow the civil society groups, the faith-based organizations and other non-political entities to participate in the government. Instead, they should be encouraged to remain as pressure groups to both the government and political parties. The members of such non-political entities who have interest in active politics should join political parties. It is the members of political parties only that should be allowed to be in the government. The programmed activities of political parties should be funded by the government. This is in the interest of promoting multiparty pluralistic democracy in the Republic of South Sudan. Participation in peace negotiations should not be equated to participation in the government top positions. However, members of the civil society, faith-based and other non-political entities could be hired on contract basis to do some specific duties for the government or for political parties.

The expected peace agreement should put it clearly that no independent candidates shall run for elections in to government seats in South Sudan. This is to discourage individualism in politics because politics is supposed to be a socialized public affair. Any one who is unhappy with his/her political party is free to cross to any other political party but not to become himself independently.

A political party that is popular in a particular state should be allowed to operate as a state political party and not a national one. It should not get into the federal union directly but indirectly through alliance with national political parties that enjoy popularity across a sufficient number of states.

Lastly, the past should become history. The future should usher new hope. The present should appreciate the good history and maintain the right steps in the journey towards a prosperous and bright future for the Republic of South Sudan. The new era should not be erroneous. It should be led by leaders who are dealers in hope and not selfish perpetrators of unnecessary sorrow.

Dr. James Okuk lives in Juba. He is reachable at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

South Sudan Slips into Vicious Chaos Amidst International Belatedness, Lack of Commitment

By Eric Reeves

May 22, 2014 (SSNA) -- Ethnic violence has engulfed South Sudan in a vast humanitarian crisis, already affecting millions of people in the world's newest country.  Continuing violence—which began five months ago—threatens to disrupt entirely the current planting season, ending in May.  Millions are already at risk from severe to extreme food insecurity according to UN figures; and as the rainy season descends on the region, transporting food, medicine, and clean water resources becomes hugely more difficult.  A failed harvest next fall makes it likely that hundreds of thousands will starve.  Children will suffer most.

After the ravages of the long civil war (1983 – 2005), South Sudan will be at risk of food shortages for years to come, indeed until the agricultural sector becomes dominant in the economy.  To this grim fact we must now add the consequences of the brutal violence that began last December and has become increasingly ethnically defined.  This confluence of forces has made catastrophe inevitable; the question is not whether famine will strike, but where and how hard—and how many thousands of lives will be lost.

Violence emerged explosively in Juba, capital of South Sudan, on December 15, growing out of political rivalries and competing visions of South Sudan's future.  President Salva Kiir, following the initial violence, incarcerated a number of political opponents; however, a key opponent, former Vice President Riek Machar, escaped capture, made it to the bush, and began a military effort to overthrow the democratically elected Government of South Sudan.  Salva is a Dinka (the largest ethnic group in South Sudan) and Riek is a Nuer (the second largest group): what began as a political dispute over governance reform quickly took on a vicious ethnic character, with mutual ethnic slaughter.  Even seasoned field workers are shocked by the nature of the violence.

Despite an obvious escalation of military violence, there was little meaningful international diplomacy.  A January cease-fire was short-lived, and matters have deteriorated ever since, despite increasingly dire warnings from the ground; humanitarians already face intolerable risks in many places. In addition to threats to civilians and humanitarians, regional conflict has become a growing threat.  Uganda early on threw its military support behind the Juba government, and other bordering nations such as Kenya are deeply alarmed.

So matters festered for months—from collapse of the January cease-fire until late April.  Finally, serious international attention came to focus on the crisis.  There were trips to Juba by UN human rights chief Navi Pillay (May 1) and Secretary General Ban Ki-moon (May 6), threatening all parties with prosecution for crimes against humanity.  U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, also belatedly, became involved in the effort to secure a cease-fire and threatened U.S. sanctions against those responsible (May 3).

Subsequently, a cease-fire was torturously negotiated in Addis Ababa (May 9), an outcome unlikely without high-level attention and clear threats.  Even so, few predicted success for the cease-fire, largely because of the belated nature of diplomatic efforts and lack of effective monitoring forces prepared for deployment.

What can we learn from this tragic moment?  First, attention to a crisis of the sort we are witnessing must be timely and forceful, bringing to bear all necessary resources when the possibility of tens or hundreds of thousands of deaths first becomes apparent.

Second, without a standing or ready force of ceasefire monitors, fragile moments of opportunity are likely to be lost.  Again, the May 9 cease-fire had no real chance because the Monitoring and Verification Mechanism stipulated in the agreement was not ready for immediate or near-term deployment.

When cease-fires are possible in conflict situations, the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations should have a force that can be assembled and deployed within 48 hours.  A larger peacekeeping or peacemaking force may be necessary subsequently; but the best way to halt fighting is holding parties accountable to cease-fire agreements already negotiated.

Contributions to this standby force should come from many militarily capable nations, with firm and specific commitments to deploy at the command of the Secretary-General.  Alternatively, if Russia or China objects to the formation of a standing or ready cease-fire force, then a multilateral coalition of militarily capable nations—determined to halt atrocity crimes before they gather momentum—should be assembled. This requires significant surveillance equipment and trained personnel: helicopters, small fixed-wing aircraft, and surveillance drones.  Expensive—but not nearly so costly as war or a full-blown peace-making mission.  Of one thing we may be sure: if responsibility cannot be assigned for violations of a cease-fire, chances for its survival are slim.

South Sudan is the grimmest object lesson in the costs of belatedness and the lack of cease-fire surveillance capabilities.  There will be other such conflict situations, and we should be guided by the lessons of effective, concerted international pressure as well as the consequences of failure to apply such pressure in timely fashion.

Eric Reeves is a professor at Smith College and author of Compromising with Evil: An archival history of Greater Sudan, 2007 – 2012.

The Refusal to See Darfur's Agony: Myopic and lazy reporting, political expediency have left millions to suffer and die invisibly

By Eric Reeves

May 17, 2014 (SSNA) -- While the news media in most of the world focus with relentless obsession on some three hundred girls kidnapped in Nigeria by the barbaric Boko Haram, stories of much greater human magnitude continue to unfold without so much as a glancing notice.  It is hard not to feel the pain of these girls and their families; but it is dwarfed by the plight of so many girls, in so many places around the world.  And yet, as if determined to attune U.S. foreign policy to the most telegenically compelling news stories from around the world, the Obama administration's response has been absurdly out of proportion, given the reality of places like Darfur.  There many tens of thousands of girls have been killed during what has become a grim genocide by attrition, now entering its second decade with almost complete invisibility.  It is almost certain that tens of thousands of girls, many very young, have been raped—some brutally, even fatally gang-raped.  These outrageously cruel assaults often occur in front of families in order to magnify the social stigma attached to rape.  Thousands of non-Arab or African girls and women have been abducted to become sexual slaves of Arab militia groups, sometimes for extended periods of time.

Why do these massive atrocities receive no commensurate attention from either the news media or the Obama administration?  To be sure, the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime in Khartoum grants no news-reporting access to Darfur, except for an occasional carefully controlled visit to one of the three capital cities of the region.  The fact that Radio Dabanga so regularly and fully reports on developments in Darfur must also be discouraging of international news efforts, which at best could glean, even with Arabic speaking journalists, but a few telling facts from interviews in the limited time that Khartoum might allow them.  Moreover, all signs are that the regime is cracking down yet harder on news media, both domestic and international.  Without greater resourcefulness by journalists, Darfur will move even further into eclipse.

This, however, is no excuse for the Obama administration, which must be fully aware of what is occurring—if only because so reliably and consistently reported by Radio Dabanga.  Also, humanitarian aid organizations and their staff can be confidentially de-briefed on returning from Darfur; satellite imagery can be readily produced; communication with various leaders and figures of importance in Darfuri civil society is also possible (including those in the diaspora).  But the U.S. seems determined to ignore Darfur.  Indeed, it was well over three years ago that the Obama administration explicitly "de-coupled" Darfur from the key issue of counter-terrorism cooperation between Khartoum and Washington (the word "de-coupled" was used by a "senior administration official," unnamed in the State Department transcript).  But if nominally bearing only on counter-terrorism cooperation, the "de-coupling" of Darfur has in fact become complete, and the signs of this are everywhere in the administration of a president who did not hesitate to make bold use of the Darfur issue in 2008, deploying the strongest possible rhetoric in demonstrating his "Darfur credentials" to voters.

This suggests why senior officials of the Obama administration have waxed so indignant about the Boko Haram kidnappings, and "declared to Congress that freeing the schoolgirls abducted by the radical Islamist group last month has become one of the Obama administration's top priorities" (Associated Press [Washington], May 15, 2014).  This is a shameful pandering, and badly skews real priorities.  Republicans have behaved in a manner just as appalling and self-serving, trying to politicize the issue by asking why then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did not declare Boko Haram a terrorist organization in 2012.  The narrowness of vision, the parochialism, the constant testing for the most visceral issue on the minds of voters—all this grotesquely distorts public understanding of the problems that really deserve to be "top priorities."

Why isn't the terrible and much greater plight of hundreds of thousands of girls in Darfur a "top priority" for the Obama administration?  The answer all too clearly is that the Darfur crisis is challenging and would require commitment of substantial resources; international consensus is thin; and responding meaningfully would endanger the counter-terrorism cooperation that defines U.S. Sudan policy in the Obama administration.  There is, finally, no evidence that this administration is committed to ending the suffering, insecurity, and human destruction endured by millions of Darfuris.

As I've argued previously, the case of Syria has also provided occasion for hypocrisy on the part of the Obama administration.  The administration response to Syria’s use of chemical weapons against civilians, including hundreds of children, has created an expedient moral framework out ultimately in service of political goals. The implicit claim has been made repeatedly, most notably by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, that children’s deaths from chemical weapons are more "heinous" or  "morally obscene” than all others. I believe this to be a dismayingly invidious comparison. The claim that a child who dies from a chemical attack dies a more horrible death than the child in Darfur who dies in agony—over many hours, having been eviscerated by the shrapnel exploding out a bomb dropped from a high-flying, grossly inaccurate Antonov cargo plane—is perversely expedient.

In fact, the Obama administration has a dismally weak record of condemning the many hundreds of aerial attacks on civilians in Darfur, as well as in South Kordofan and Blue Nile.  Certainly nothing that is said amounts to more than boilerplate, a fact not lost on the Khartoum regime.  It's hardly surprising that U.S. and international condemnation of such war crimes has been not only tepid but utterly inconsequential.  Khartoum bombs civilians wherever and whenever it wishes, not deterred in the slightest by international statements.  Indeed, every aerial attack in Darfur—whether it be of military or civilian targets—is a direct violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1591 (March 2005).  And although the UN/African Union "hybrid" peacekeeping force (UNAMID) is scandalous in its failures to report such attacks, a number of the UN Panels of Experts on Darfur—created to monitor compliance with the arms embargo and a ban on all military flights in Darfur—have reported in detailed fashion on numerous egregious violations of all terms of Resolution 1591.  There have been no consequences, and Khartoum's violations continue apace.

In effect, the international community—led by the U.S., the UN, the EU, and the African Union—has conceded Khartoum's "victory" in Darfur.  There has been no concerted effort to control the violence that has now spiraled out of control, imperiling all remaining humanitarian capacity.  The more than 2 million internally displaced persons are more vulnerable than ever—from lack of food, water, and medicine, but also from attacks by the ever more brazen reincarnation of the Janjaweed known as the Rapid Support Forces (RSF).  Rape of girls and women, by the thousands, continues with complete impunity.  Displaced persons camps are attacked more frequently and more violently.  Land appropriated from African farmers by Arab pastoralists has permanently changed the demographics of Darfur, precisely the genocidal ambition announced in August 2004 by Musa Hilal, the most infamous of the Janjaweed leaders earlier in the conflict and still a cruel and potent force in the region:

The ultimate objective in Darfur is spelled out in an August 2004 directive from [Janjaweed paramount leader Musa] Hilal’s headquarters: "change the demography" of Darfur and "empty it of African tribes." Confirming the control of [Khartoum's] Military Intelligence over the Darfur file, the directive is addressed to no fewer than three intelligence services—the Intelligence and Security Department, Military Intelligence and National Security, and the ultra-secret "Constructive Security," or Amn al Ijabi.  (Julie Flint and Alex de Waal, Darfur: A Short History of a Long War, Zed Books, 2005)

Accepting that this ambition continues to animate Khartoum's actions in Darfur has proved too awkward for the Obama administration, despite the success of the strategy announced a decade ago.  For of course the overwhelming number of displaced persons are African; those who have lost their lands and livelihoods are overwhelmingly African; and the some 500,000 people who have died from violence and its consequences in Darfur and eastern Chad (including violent displacement) are overwhelmingly African.  The people bombed by Khartoum are overwhelmingly African; the girls and women raped, often while being forced to hear hateful racial epithets, are overwhelmingly African.  The fact that Arab tribal groups have also begun to fight one another in much more serious fashion changes none of this.

And yet it is clear that the international community has essentially conceded victory to Khartoum's génocidaires. Stopping the regime's efforts, which now take a wide range of forms, including denial of humanitarian access to critically needy civilians, would require real effort.  Building consensus among those with the power to threaten Khartoum economically is challenging.  And the UN/AU force on the ground, while a terrible failure, at least provides the fig-leaf of protection in the region, however ineffective UNAMID is in preventing or reporting violence against civilians.  When these challenges are coupled with the lack of news reporting and the absence of any credible human rights reporting presence, even public opinion—so strong in the years leading up to Obama's election as president—is no longer a problem.  Few still care about Darfur and even fewer have any real sense of what is happening.

In response to this last challenge I can do no more than organize the recent dispatches from Radio Dabanga, by date and the nature of events.  But let us be clear that there is not a total absence of information.  And the UN, which has performed erratically in Darfur over the years, has issued a statement through UNICEF that should put the kidnapped girls of Nigeria in at least statistical perspective:

The UN children’s rights and relief organisation, UNICEF, has warned that an entire generation in Darfur may be lost as a result of more than ten years of violence in the region."Life in the camps might produce a new generation without ambition," the UNICEF Representative in Sudan, Geert Cappelaere, said in a press statement issued on Saturday. In particular as about 60 percent of the displaced in Darfur are minors."He warned that the children growing up in the Darfur camps for the displaced may not be able to return to a normal life. Many are traumatised after having witnessed attacks against their families or being themselves subjected to violence, abduction, and other assaults.In addition, the malnutrition figures are very high. Cappelaere pointed to North Darfur which is listed first of the Darfur states suffering from an acute food crisis. "More than 80,000 children in North Darfur are severely malnourished. South Darfur State comes second in the list.""The world should not turn its back to the tragedy of the children in Darfur," the UNICEF official urged.  (Radio Dabanga, May 12, 2014) ("Severe Acute Malnutrition" [SAM] is typically fatal in children under five if untreated with therapeutic feeding—ER)

Search engines suggest that only Radio Dabanga and Thomson Reuters Foundation (London) reported on this extraordinary announcement by UNICEF.  A similar search for "Nigerian girls" + "Boko Haram" yields a figure measured in the millions.

Perhaps this is a moment in which news organizations might feel compelled to reflect on their journalistic choices.  They may continue to report as they have, driven by what seem the "sexiest," most audience-drawing, most accessible stories of human tragedy.  Or some may see that the obsession with Malaysian Flight 370 and the Boko Haram kidnappings permits consumers with a prurient love of spectacle to drive news content, indeed to define "news."  Perhaps, just perhaps this may be a catalyst for re-committing to reporting news that is most consequential, in the broadest terms, for well-informed citizens of the world.  A present, however, such commitment is nowhere in sight, so for Darfur at least we must rely on Radio Dabanga.

FROM DISPATCHES OF THE PAST FEW WEEKS (with links)

•  Rape of women and girls, sexual violence
ZAMZAM CAMP (15 May 2014) - Militiamen and troops of the paramilitary Central Reserve Forces (known as Abu Tira) gang raped seven women of the Zamzam camp for the displaced in El Fasher locality, North... FULL STORY
SHANGIL TOBAYA / TAWILA (11 May 2014) - Militiamen raped three women of the Shadad camp for the displaced in Shangil Tobaya, 60km south of El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur, this morning (Sunday). On Friday... FULL STORY
BIRKAT SEIRA (11 May 2014) - Militiamen captured a woman and two of her children in Birket Seira town in North Darfur’s Saraf Umra locality on Saturday evening. A witness at the central market of Birkat Seira... FULL STORY
BIELEL (5 May 2014) - Uniformed gunmen raped two women of El Salam camp for the displaced in Bielel locality, South Darfur, on Saturday and Sunday. A resident of El Salam camp resident was shot dead on... FULL STORY
NYALA LOCALITY (4 May 2014) - Elements of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) gang raped three young women of the Kalma camp on Thursday. Yagoub Mohamed Abdallah, the coordinator of the South Darfur... FULL STORY
KALMA CAMP (1 May 2014) - The Kalma camp for the displaced in Nyala locality, South Darfur, has witnessed 19 rape cases within a period of 12 days. Eight men were assaulted. Saleh Eisa, the secretary-... FULL STORY
TAWILA / KHARTOUM (27 Apr 2014) - Militiamen raped a young woman from the Rwanda camp for the displaced in Tawila locality, North Darfur, on Saturday. “Two government-backed militiamen assaulted a young woman (16... FULL STORY
NYALA/GARSILA (25 Apr 2014) - The residents of El Salam camp, south of Nyala in South Darfur, gathered for a mass demonstration against the killing of a displaced woman by pro-government militiamen on Friday.... FULL STORY
KALMA CAMP (22 Apr 2014) - Five displaced women from Kalma camp in South Darfur were seized and raped by government-backed militiamen in North Darfur on Tuesday. Jaqoub Mohammed Abdula, coordinator of Kalma... FULL STORY
KUTUM (18 Apr 2014) - Elements of a pro-government militia have abducted a woman in Disa in Kutum locality, North Darfur, on Thursday. The mother of a four months old baby is called Maida Yousif... FULL STORY
 
•  Aerial attacks on civilians:
ROKORO (16 May.) - The Sudanese Air Force destroyed a health center in Kaguro, northwest of Fanga, in East Jebel Marra on Friday afternoon. A resident told Radio Dabanga that the Antonov aircraft... FULL STORY
NIERTETI (16 May 2014) - Three children were killed south of Golo town in Central Darfur state in a missile attack by government forces on Wednesday. One of the relatives of the dead child herders told... FULL STORY
EAST JEBEL MARRA (15 May 2014) - Aerial bombardments in East Jebel Marra on Wednesday caused the death of two men and a woman, and the injury of others. Livestock died, and a number of houses, and shops caught... FULL STORY
TABIT (28 Apr 2014) -Three sisters were burned to death, and two others sustained injuries when the Sudan Armed Forces… FULL STORY
ORSCHI (27 Apr 2014) - Aerial bombardments on the area of Khazan Orschi, Um Baru locality in North Darfur on Saturday, destroyed the Orschi water reservoir, the only source of water in the region, and a... FULL STORY
JEBEL MARRA (29 Apr 2014) - A woman was killed and her son (8) seriously injured when the Sudanese Air Force bombarded the area west of Jebel Marra on Tuesday morning. “An Antonov fighter jet dropped three... FULL STORY
ANKA (20 Apr 2014) - The nine-year-old Khaled Isa Mohamed has died of severe head wounds he received last Sunday when a bomb he and two friends found at a roadside in North Darfur detonated. As... FULL STORY
 
•  Humanitarian indicators, conditions in displaced persons camps and urban areas (including security conditions):
SHANGIL TOBAYA (8 May 2014) - Haroun Yahya Abakar (4) and Dar Elnaeem Omar Saleh (3) died of starvation in the area of Shangil Tobaya on Wednesday. Their families belong to the more than 3,000 newly displaced... FULL STORY
KUBUM (7 May 2014) - The displaced in the Kubum and Shattai camps in South Darfur have not received food rations since nine months, without the knowledge of the UN World Food Programme (WFP). A... FULL STORY
MURNEI (15 May 2014) - The 76 water pumps at the Murnei camp for the displaced in Kereinik locality, West Darfur, have been idle for three months. “The Murnei camp population, consisting of 127,000... FULL STORY
ZAMZAM CAMP (15 May 2014) - Militiamen and troops of the paramilitary Central Reserve Forces (known as Abu Tira) gang raped seven women of the Zamzam camp for the displaced in El Fasher locality, North... FULL STORY
NYALA (13 May 2014) - Two children were killed and three others seriously injured in South Darfur’s capital of Nyala on Monday, when the ammunition they had found detonated. “Three children of Dagash... FULL STORY
KALMA CAMP (13 May 2014) - Militiamen assaulted residents of the Kalma camp for the displaced in South Darfur on Monday. They stole their horses and donkeys, beat a man, and abducted another. On Sunday... FULL STORY
OTASH CAMP (15 May 2014) - The residents of the Otash camp for the displaced in Nyala locality, South Darfur, are complaining about the ongoing insecurity in the area. “Government-backed Janjaweed continue... FULL STORY
KASSAB CAMP (11 May 2014) - 151 newly displaced families have arrived at Kassab camp in North Darfur’s Kutum locality. Speaking to Radio Dabanga, Sheikh Taher Ismail, the head of Kassab camp in Kutum... FULL STORY
KHARTOUM (11 May 2014) - The paramilitary Rapid Support Forces’ (RSF) widespread attacks on rural areas in El Fasher locality, North Darfur, last month, caused the displacement of 27,751 people... FULL STORY
KALMA CAMP (8 May 2014) - On Wednesday, militiamen stormed Kalma camp for the displaced in Nyala locality, South Darfur. They said they were searching for their stolen sheep. Speaking to Radio Dabanga,... FULL STORY
KABKABIYA (7 May 2014) - Large numbers of militia troops are entering Kabkabiya town in North Darfur since Friday. On Monday evening, a policeman was killed by bullets.  “Large numbers... FULL STORY
SHEIRIA LOCALITY (7 May 2014) - An acute shortage of staple food in Sheiria locality, East Darfur, is forcing people to dig into ant hills in search of stored sorghum grains. The director of the Department of... FULL STORY
Cataloging of the bulk of Radio Dabanga dispatches continues at  http://wp.me/p45rOG-1iK

Eric Reeves' new book-length study of greater Sudan (Compromising With Evil: An archival history of greater Sudan, 2007 - 2012; www.CompromisingWithEvil.org)

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