In the middle of a roundabout from the airport to the town of Juba, the capital of Southern Sudan, there is a sign that reads "Armed Conflict Is a Health Risk." The people of Sudan should know. Their land is stained by the blood of millions of innocent men, women and children who have died during the long North/South civil war and the "genocide in slow motion" in Darfur.
Since the signing of the north/south "Comprehensive Peace Agreement" (CPA) in 2005, the violence generally has subsided in the south. And since the "Darfur Peace Agreement" (DPA) of 2006, the mayhem, murder and misery in Darfur has been reduced, yet every week more are killed and many more die from malnutrition and disease. The ethnic horror has not ended. In July the UN Security Council voted to send 27,000 African Union/UN peacekeepers to Darfur.
Many hope the possibilities and promise of peace are at hand. After a recent trip to Sudan, I fear a return to violence.
Among the competing factions in Sudan there are no clean hands. For years killing, slavery, rape and pillage have been a way of life for government forces, their allied militias and many rebel groups. And while leaders struggle for position, privilege and power millions of innocent victims have suffered death, displacement, disease and deep despair.
For most of the world these conflicts are far away and little understood. They gain only occasional notice. So with the CPA, DPA and now the expected deployment of a large scale peacekeeping force, the bright light of world attention will shift to other areas of global concern. But there is reason to believe that Sudanese President Omar al-Bashire and his radical Arab-Islamic government continue to contribute to a constant cauldron of conflict in the South and in Darfur. And there is reason to fear that at a time and place of his choosing, Bashire will break the CPA and DPA and hurl Sudan back into the horrors of holocaust in Darfur and savage slaughter in the south.
In the south, the Sudanese army remains heavily armed. It appears Bashire also is supporting other armed groups in the South, fueling an environment of insecurity where refugees fear returning home. The Border Demarcation Commission, created by the CPA, has rendered its north/south divide but Bashire, in defiance of his agreements, refuses to accept it. Transparency for oil revenue is denied and the required revenue sharing is a fraction of all reasonable expectations. The census necessary for the specified 2009 electrons is being delayed. And few expect Bashire will allow the 2011 referendum on southern independence to proceed.
In Darfur, the Arab Janjaweed, the devils on horseback who ravaged African villages, have not been disarmed. Many have been absorbed into the Sudan Army and Border Security forces. And an estimated 20,000 marauding Janjaweed, armed by Bashire, continue their assaults. Also Bashire continues to provide safe haven to Chad rebels who, in turn, have committed atrocities in Darfur. And so far Bashire has provided less than ten percent of the money to the Darfur Transitional Authority specified in the DPA.
So Khartoum's pattern of defiance, denial, diversion and delay is documented and distressing. Signed commitments are not seen as obligations instead they are transitory promises of convenience to allow attention to wander. To Khartoum, the human suffering seems inconsequential. The conflict and insecurity are means to keep opponents weak and divided. The imperative is to retain power, to advance Pan-Islamic aspirations and to hold onto Sudan's vast oil reserves.
Khartoum relies on various buffers from robust prosecution for its transgressions. The African states are reluctant to act forceably against one of their own. Islamic solidarity broadens the circle of protection. China gets 6 percent of its oil from Sudan. America remains preoccupied and drained by Iraq and its closest allies are hesitant. In the ebb and flow of time attention wanders as other humanitarian crisis emerge. And the joint AU/UN Peacekeepers will be over extended.
To confront this deteriorating situation, the United States cannot drift but must remain engaged and energetic.
America must rally the international community to keep focus on Sudan until the murder, mayhem, mutilation and misery ends. The Security Council must ensure the peacekeepers are supported and their robust mandate executed. Those, like China, that help prop up Bashire in exchange for oil concessions, must be held to account. And targeted sanctions must be used against those responsible for the ongoing atrocities.
Also, it is critical that America and other donors help the south and Darfur build their own capacity; their indigenous economies, their political parties, their infrastructures and so on. These regions, long marginalized, need a great deal of help. For example, the south is the size of Texas yet has only 20 kilometers of paved roads. As their capacity grows, they can begin to counterbalance Khartoum and set their own path forward.
Among the many people with whom I visited on my recent trip to Sudan was Fahima Hushim of the Salmmah Women's Resource Center. She told me, "It is difficult. But you must be optimistic to gain change. I am optimistic. We will never give up."
I admire Fahima's optimism. I hope the change she seeks will be realized. And for that to take place, America must do its part and lead.