Previously published in Metro www.metro.lu.
Sudan: half a century of civil wars. Mass deaths in Darfur. Poor infrastructure. Potential oil wealth. And now the secession of the country's southern part. On July 9, Southern Sudan officially became an independent country. The secession is the culmination of a decades-long conflict between Sudan's largely African South and its Arabic North.
Omar al-Bashir, Sudan's President, has been issued an arrest warrant by the ICC, accused of genocide in Darfur. As a result, Foreign Minister Ali Karti fills unusually powerful role. In June I met with Karti, a former lawyer, at Sudan's embassy near Buckingham Palace in London.
Mia Farrow, the actress, who often visits Sudan, tells Metro Karti is "brutal, ruthless and a fanatic." But in person, Karti has a ready smile and the demeanor of a friendly professor. During the interview in the modestly furnished embassy, he sipped strong coffee (sugar, no milk), a Sudanese specialty.
As we speak, there are clashes between Sudanese and Southern Sudanese troops in the Southern Sudanese region of Abyei. Can Southern Sudan secede peacefully on July 9?
Everything will go as planned. I don't think clashes here and there will distract us from the process of a peaceful secession of South Sudan.
So you don't worry about increasing violence?
No, because the leadership on both sides has decided not to go back to war. Some incidents like this won't distract us. Sometimes the groups go back to their old habits and clash, but it's not a clash between Sudan's Army and the SPLA [Sudan People's Liberation Army, the southern Sudanese rebel group turned political party].
Southern Sudan will get 75% of oil revenues; the North will get 25%. Do you anticipate a smaller budget and lower living standards?
We're not losing 75% of oil revenues. We're only losing about 26%, because the South already takes about 50%. It's not easy to adjust quickly, but throughout history we've been used to living modestly. It's only recently that we've had added revenue from oil. We'll look at other sources of revenue, for example agriculture and mining, and they're already starting to compensate for lost oil revenue. Of course, total compensation is a long way away. But we'll expand mining and oil drilling, too. Throughout the past six months we've begun new oil explorations, and it looks promising.
Recently the Southern Sudanese government in Jiba accused the North of cutting off fuel supplies. What's your reaction?
The problem is that there are incidents on the border. The authorities in the North have to take measures to stop these incidents, especially when they involve Southern rebels trying to get into the North. So, we had to take action, but that's the result of the actions of some SPLA leaders. They try to send us rebels and problems from the South. They themselves are responsible for the consequences.
So you're saying that the South was trying to export violence to the North?
And Khartoum responded by cutting fuel supplies?
It's not a response; it's a precaution. It's for them to decide whether they want the border to be a means of transporting people and goods, or do they want it to be a means of sending problems to the North?
Earlier this year Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon of Israel told me that Iran is the gravest threat to Israel today, and that Iran is influencing Sudan. What's your response?
The Israelis know that this does not involve the government of Sudan. Sudan is a vast country, and there are many smugglers. The border, especially on the Red Sea, is so long, about 1000 kilometers. It's not easy for the government to restrict the movement of people. Countries like the United States and European countries aren't able to stop smuggling across their borders, so it's not easy for Sudan to stop it either. If Israel wants to connect this smuggling with the government of Sudan, it's up to them, but they know that it has nothing to do with the government. If the Israeli government is concerned about smuggling across Sudan's borders, they're welcome to visit and cooperate with us. But if they're just sending those accusations to find an excuse to attack us, that's not a constructive way of doing things, and it won't stop arms smuggling across Sudan's borders.
There was an airstrike in Port Sudan earlier this year, which killed two people. The government of Sudan has accused Israel of being behind it. Why do you suspect Israel?
They're haunted by the fiction that Sudan is smuggling arms. Guess what happened? They attacked, but they hit a civilian car with two civilians inside. These two people had nothing to do with arms or smuggling. But Israel was misled about these two people and their supposed connection with violence and acted accordingly.
Are Israel attacks a threat to the government of Sudan, or merely a nuisance?
It's aggression. Even if you're shooting with a rifle, it's aggression, let alone when you use aircraft. It's more than terror.
Would Sudan consider striking back?
That's our right.
Sudan claims that Israel carried out the air because Israel wants to delay the process of Sudan being removed from the list of terrorist states.
Yes. The Israelis are not happy that President Obama is trying to take a new track regarding Sudan. They want to put Sudan back in the corner of terrorist states.
Do you worry that there will be more such attacks?
Not at all. There could be more attacks, but they won't lead to the result Israel is trying to achieve.
When most people think of Sudan, they think of Darfur. What do you plan to do about this?
The media is behind Darfur's reputation. There's violence in Darfur, but the media has exaggerated it and lived on it. Darfur's reputation is a challenge, but we're improving the situation on the ground. We're talking to all sides, trying to solve the problems. We've joined the tribes of Darfur and are working for a final document to be signed.
But Human Rights Watch reports that human rights violations are increasing in Darfur.
That's not correct. Sudan's armed forces are there. NGOs are there, too. Increasing human rights violations in Darfur is a mere fiction. NGOs don't tell you that violence is stopping in Darfur. They won't tell you that there are no atrocities in Darfur. Why? Simply because they live on it. If they don't propagate alarmist news like this nobody will donate money to them.
NGOs say that violence is increasing in Darfur in order to get donations?
Yes. It would be hard for them to say, "everything is OK, but please give me money." Why should people give them money if everything is OK?
So at this point, Darfur is a PR problem, not a violence problem?
I don't say there's nothing at all. But it's also not right for media and NGOs to exaggerate things. People have to be accurate, focus on the real incidents and give the outside world an accurate description. Our problem is that people, both NGOs and media, used to live on Darfur as a crisis region. It's not easy for these people to find a new living. I think it would be better for them to go to Libya or a similar country. It would be easier if they left Sudan and focused on another problem.
Sudan's President, Omar al-Bashir, is the only sitting president to be issued an arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court. He's accused of genocide and crimes against humanity in Darfur. How does this affect your work as a diplomat?
Not at all. The ICC doesn't have anything to back up its allegations. The reality is that Sudan's government is democratically elected and abides by the rule of law. Our police and courts operate according to the law. Every setup of justice is in place. Many dozens of people suspected of committing crimes in Darfur have been brought to justice and adequately tried. Some were convicted, some acquitted.
But nobody from the ICC has come to the ground in Darfur to see what's going on. It's easy for anyone to just listen to the media and say, "this is the reality." We're telling everyone to come to Darfur and see the reality there. Do you know what happened after the false accusations by the ICC? President Bashir went to Darfur. People made three rallies to receive him; hundreds of thousands of people came. If he'd committed genocide, would hundreds of thousands of people come out and greet him? In fact, the president is more popular now than before he was indicted by the ICC. They made him a hero.
So the ICC arrest warrant has made President Bashir more popular in Darfur?
Yes! You should compare the atmosphere before and after the arrest warrant.
Does this mean the arrest warrant was counterproductive?
The ICC has to decide that for themselves. But they won't admit to the media that this is the situation.
The West has long been critical of your government. Which Western country is your closest ally?
We don't have allies in the West. We're just a country that's trying to live in this world with no enemies. But we're stretching out our hand and telling other countries that we're ready for friendship.
The Arab Spring is in full force. Are you pleased that popular movements have toppled secular dictators?
This is the West's problem. The West had been supporting these leaders merely because of the fact that they were their allies. The people in these countries were under suppression for a long time merely because their leaders chose to be allies of the West. The Devil himself can't think of a forgery like the ones Mubarak organized to win elections, but nobody in the West said anything, because such forgeries guaranteed the West's allies got to form the government.
Ironically, the West is giving us lectures on democracy, freedom and good governance. Western leaders were essentially deceiving the people of countries like Egypt and Tunisia. They said they were striving with them and said they were trying to make the autocratic regimes democratic, but see what happened. Democratic uprisings by the people, and the West had no inkling this was coming.
Do you worry that there will be similar protests in Sudan?
Protests might happen, but there won't be an escalation like in Tunisia and Egypt. The West was expecting Sudan to be the first to experience popular uprisings. But today we're like an island surrounded by countries with popular uprisings. We're a stable country. Why? Because we, as the government, are part of our communities. Go anywhere in the Arab world or Africa, and you'll see the gap between regular people and the leaders. Not here. This should be a big lesson for the West. It would be good for the West to choose friends according to principles.
And remember that we've been democratically elected and our people know that their government are the leaders they've elected. We had general elections last year, and the whole world was watching us. Thousands of election monitors were there. They know that this government truly has been elected by the people. Why would people revolt against a government they've elected?