Sudan: An End to War?

Signers of the Sudanese peace accord
Sudan's first vice president, Ali Osman Mohamed Taha (L), and Sudanese northern opposition leader Mohammed Osman al-Mirghani signed a peace pact on Dec. 4, 2003 (Photo: AFP/Getty Images).

When U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell dropped in on the Sudanese peace negotiations in Naivasha, Kenya, on Oct. 21, there was little doubt about his mission. Powell wanted results, and he got them: After attending the talks, he was able to announce that he expected a peace treaty by the end of 2003, at which point, he said, both parties in the conflict would be invited to the White House for a signing ceremony.

The announcement brought hope, for the first time in 20 years, that peace was imminent in the country that has hosted Africa’s longest-running civil war. But while African commentators hailed the news as a breakthrough, many also blasted what they saw as U.S. self-interest masquerading as altruism.

“Mr. Powell certainly didn’t bump over potholes to Naivasha to see Rothschild giraffes,” wrote Chege Mbitiru in the Daily Nation (Oct. 27). “He was seeking a feather his boss needs, and Sudan’s Vice President Osman Taha and rebel leader John Garang weren’t delivering fast enough.”

Al Ra’i al-Aam’s Al-Fatih al-Tijani agreed with that analysis, writing (Nov. 1), “President Bush is threatened by his failures in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Palestine as well as waves of frustration affecting American society…and he is in need of a foreign victory to strengthen his global leadership.”

Sudan has known few years of peace since it gained independence from Britain in 1956. The latest round of conflict began in 1983, when rebel leader John Garang’s Sudanese People’s Liberation Army began fighting the Arab Muslim government in Khartoum, seeking greater autonomy for the Christian and animist South.

In 2002, several peace initiatives were launched, but a full treaty remained elusive. “There would be no prospect for peace even now if not for two new factors: oil, and strong pressure from the United States,” wrote syndicated columnist Gwynne Dyer in an article published in The New Vision (Oct. 28).

Dyer noted that in the last decade, Sudan’s oil production has soared from almost nothing to 250,000 barrels a day—a development of interest to the United States. Another reason for the Bush administration’s sponsorship of the peace process, wrote Mbitiru, is the fact that right-wing Christian groups in the United States have taken up the cause of Sudan’s Christians: “It happens a good chunk of God-fearing Americans and money people are fond of Mr. Bush. Barely two years in office, he signed the Sudan Peace Act.”

While the United States garnered praise for its efforts, wrote Al-Tijani, “It is incumbent…that we not forget who paved the way to this agreement: active organizations, the European Union, Egypt, and certain individuals, especially the [former] Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi.” Meanwhile, in Al-Bayan (Nov. 6), Ahmad Umrabi lamented “the distancing of the Arab League from the Sudanese negotiating process,” seeing this as “a deliberate act advocated by Washington.”

But clearly, alienating the Arab League was a price Washington was prepared to pay. Ending the conflict would be relatively small potatoes for Bush, wrote Mbitiru, but “in an election year…a seemingly healthy potato counts, especially when the rest in the basket are soggy.”