How New is the Southern Sudan?

January 28, 2011

It has been a while since I last posted but with the intensity of activity in Sudan and across the ME and North Africa I felt it time to reactivate this blog. Some amendments will need to be made to the profiles of the authors that contribute to this site and maybe the focus of the site may change somewhat to reflect some of the areas of interest in which I am now researching and writing, but this needs to be renegotiated with the remaining contributors. Anyway, watch this space for some changes but in the meantime here’s a brief piece on the emergence of the Southern Sudan.

How New is the Southern Sudan?

There is little doubt that in July of this year a new state will join the international system. This state will be greeted with much fanfare from western sponsors who have robustly supported a process of independence for the Southern Sudan. Before analysing some of the issues that might belie the euphoria surrounding the creation of this state, I’ll make a few preliminary comments that will demonstrate that I am no apologist for either the artificially constructed territories that Africa was saddled with at independence or the successive Khartoum governments that have largely been responsible for years of north-south conflict and national instability that followed the end of formal European colonialism in Africa.

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Save Darfur Coalition: Misses the Point

September 24, 2009

The Save Darfur Coalition continues to view the war in Darfur from a narrow Arab v African perspective and as a result fails to really grasp the complexities of the situation. Animated by ideology, Christian zeal or a sense of humanitarianism, most of the people associated with the Save Darfur Coalition have simply placed the crisis within the optic of the  anti-Arabism and Islamophobia that gripped the US after 9/11. What they have failed to grasp most of all is that the victims of the Darfur crisis are 1. Muslims themselves; 2. have seen themselves as Arabized and a part of the wider Arab world for some centuries and following from this point; 3. see themselves as Sudanese. Since America is permeated by the politics of race and by racism, the American Save the Darfur Coalition cannot understand a conflict between putative Arabs and Africans without the war being about being Arab or African.

So, if the war is not about being Arab or African, what is it about? This is a complex question and a question partially answered by studies such as Flint and De Waal (2007), Daly (2007) and Mamdani (2009). While these studies allude to the problem of the Sudan’s failed politics and failing state, none of them go far enough in laying the balance of the blame for events in Darfur on the incapacity of the Sudanese state and the problems that accrue from a state that is ineffective and from a government that is unable to act except in the interests of a narrow ruling elite. Sudan’s economic crisis began with independence and became even worse after the global recession of the 1970s. By the 1980s, Sudan was a major defaulter of loan repayments and was only propped up by the US and the IMF because of its strategic importance in fighting communism in Africa. With the end of the cold war and the rise of an anti-US Islamist government in the 1990s, Sudan’s economic crisis worsened and Sudan was, and remains, the only country expelled from the IMF for non-compliance. In the 1990s, the Sudan was a basket-case and the state fell into complete ruin. The result of this was that the people of Darfur received very little from the Sudanese government and in 2003 rebelled in the hope of securing access to some state resources and funds. The rebellion turned into a civil war and the civil war turned into a humanitarian crisis.

So, from this brief outline it is clear that the best way to deal with the crisis in the Sudan is to assist in rebuilding the capacity of the Sudanese state, especially in Darfur where access to medical care, education and employment are urgently required. This would require the assistance of international financial institutions and the members of the G8/G20. What then does the Save Darfur Coalition recommend for ending the crisis in Darfur?

Save Darfur Coalition Asks G-20 Not to Forgive Sudan’s Debt”

Who would benefit from such a move? The people of Darfur or International creditors and the IMF? We all want the crisis in Darfur to come to an end and for people to be able to return to their homes and to be able to start to rebuild their lives. The most effective way to achieve this is by investing in a strong and stable Sudanese state that can provide its population with employment, education, health care and security. The Save Darfur Coalition and other organisations of similar ilk have missed the point all together on Darfur, and cannot come to terms with the reality that the best way of resolving the crisis is by rebuilding Sudan and not by punishing the Sudanese which only end up punishing the people of Darfur because after all Darfur is a part of the Sudan. Until Save Darfur see this basic fact they will never really understand what the crisis in Darfur is truly about or how to resolve it.

Noah Bassil


ICC Decision to Indict Sudan’s al-Bashir Puzzling

July 29, 2008

I thought that with the continuing conjecture about the decision to indict the Sudanese President I should say a few words. What I have written here will probably lead to accusations that I am an apologist for Khartoum, but nothing could be further from the truth. Anyone, who has heard me speak or read my opinions on Darfur and Sudan will know that for four years I have been arguing that the Sudanese government is responsible for the violence. I have made a case for viewing the janjaweed as merely an unfortunate and brutal distraction from the main game, which is insurgency and counter-insurgency in Darfur. Despite, the position I have taken in the past I believe the ICC decision is a grave danger to the security of the entire region, and should be rethought by the UN.

The decision of the International Criminal Court to seek the indictment of the Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is puzzling to say the least. He may well be the head of a government responsible for a horrendous counter-insurgency strategy which has turned the western Sudan into a humanitarian catastrophe but the cost of destabilising Bashir may be far more than the ICC imagines. The result may well be the collapse of the Sudan into mass civil conflict between the Islamist radicals from the west, the conservatives who currently hold power and the southerners who will see the removal of al-Bashir and the collapse of the state as time for their independence, which will be opposed by the northerners.

Recent Arab League and African Union appeals to the ICC and the UN to reconsider their decision is a response to the fear that the Sudan implodes without al-Bashir. Since 2000, al-Bashir has gradually rebuilt Sudan’s regional and international reputation despite the ongoing crisis in Darfur. The signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement which ended the decades of conflict between north and south Sudan was universally acclaimed. The Sudanese government’s assistance in the “war on terror” has also been welcome amongst its neighbours and by the US, and other western governments. The days of the Sudan as host country for the likes of Carlos “the jackal” and Osama bin Laden are now over and this has done much to rebuild the credibility of al-Bashir with his Arab and African neighbours.

To many in the region, the crisis in Darfur is an unfortunate side-effect of the struggle against radical Islam with many viewing the former Islamist power-broker in Sudan Hasan al-Turabi as responsible for the insurgency that intensified the violence in Darfur. Sudan is now a frontline state in the war on terror in North and East Africa and for the regional and international actors the decision of the ICC threatens what has been the most stable period in North Africa in recent times. While al-Bashir and his cronies deserve to be indicted for decades of human rights abuses, not only in Darfur, but also for atrocities committed against the Beja, Nuba, Dinka and many other groups in Sudan, removing al-Bashir may cause an Iraq like power vacuum and a regional meltdown not seen since the blackest days of the Cold War. I applaud the ICC for its moral stance but consideration of the stability of Sudan and its neighbours, on this occasion requires a different approach to bringing the violence in Darfur to an end.

 Noah Bassil