What will it take to halt the hideous spectacle of an international community that now seems prepared to give an increasingly warm embrace to the Khartoum regime, guilty of serial genocides in the Nuba Mountains (1990s), in Darfur (for thirteen years), and again in the Nuba Mountains as well as in Blue Nile (2011 to the present)?
The question becomes more exigent as the embrace becomes almost daily more encompassing. No one has yet followed the lead of Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic, who in April awarded indicted génocidaire and President of the Khartoum regime, Omar al-Bashir the "Medal of the Serbian Republic." But the roster of European, Arab, and African countries that have extended open arms has grown dramatically over the past year. Recent headlines from Sudan Tribune make for shocking reading:
Poland, Sudan to engage in security and military cooperation
Sudan, UK agree to enhance economic cooperation
Sudan, UK to discuss ways to promote bilateral ties
Sudan, UK to engage in strategic dialogue
Italian commercial delegation to arrive in Khartoum next week
Germany, Sudan sign €51m cooperation agreement
Sudan receives 100 million euros from EU to stem irregular migrants
Belgium, Sudan sign loan to improve water supply
Sudanese foreign minister to meet EU officials in Brussels Monday
Another important Sudanese news outlet, Radio Dabanga, reports:
EU and Sudan to strengthen dialogue and cooperation
Khartoum's strategy when confronted with international objections to its brutal domestic policies has been to wait out the tough rhetoric, calculating rightly, that the world's attention span is short and all will be forgotten soon enough. The wait was long in the case of Darfur, but with the January 2008 deployment of the UN/African Union "hybrid" Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), there was at least a fig leaf of international protection on the ground to protect civilians, and the world's attention to the region withered.
The strong but finally expedient words of candidate Obama on Darfur also took the steam out of a powerful American advocacy movement; and Khartoum worked hard to make the region inaccessible to human rights reporters, journalists, and others--and harshly threatened or abused relief organizations that might speak out about the ghastly humanitarian realities on the ground. Since 2009 the regime has expelled, for no reason, more than two dozen distinguished humanitarian groups. Last week the regime expelled the most senior official for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs without explanation; he was far from the first UN official expelled.
In flagrant violation of a 2005 UN Security Council resolution banning all military flights over Darfur, Khartoum bombs civilians targets on an almost daily basis in the Jebel Marra region in the center of Darfur. The regime also relentlessly targets civilians in the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan and Blue Nile State, where there is active military resistance against the regime's 27 years of tyranny. The National Islamic Front, renamed as the "National Congress Party for expedient reasons, came to power by military coup in June 1989. It has never held legitimate elections, has taken full control of the army and security services, and has pillaged Sudanese national wealth on a scale that staggers. Its longtime ruthless repression of political dissent, including the shutting or confiscating of newspapers, has accelerated even as the international embrace of the regime broadens.
What are these countries thinking? Do they imagine that the regime will become more accommodating because it is treated nicely? There is not a shred of historical evidence to support this notion. Do they think that somehow agreements made by Khartoum with various Sudanese parties will now mean something? This is dangerously foolish: in its entire time in power, the regime has never abided by a single agreement with any Sudanese party--not one, not ever. Even the much-celebrated 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that brought an end to the 22-year north/south civil war has been egregiously violated--most conspicuously by Khartoum's military seizure of the important Abyei region despite the terms of the Abyei Protocol within the CPA. The regime has also repeatedly attacked the sovereign territory of South Sudan, on the ground and from the air. It also has armed militia spoilers in South Sudan, despite a commitment in the CPA to halt all such support.
The consequences of 27 years of rule by kleptocracy have taken a terrible toll on the Sudanese economy, which is now in terminal decline. Khartoum made no meaningful preparations for the loss of oil revenues with the secession of South Sudan in July 2011, and now presides over an economy that desperately lacks foreign exchange currency (Forex) with which to buy critical staples--including wheat for bread. As a consequence there are severed bread shortages, bread lines, and skyrocketing price inflation. For a great many Sudanese--half of whom live below the international poverty line--this is causing acute pain. The same is true for cooking fuel, a refined petroleum product that Sudan does not produce domestically and must import.
The agricultural sector, which should be the country's strongest, has been deteriorating for years--even the "Gezira Scheme," once the crown jewel of Sudanese agriculture, is an unproductive shambles. On top of this, the regime--to raise cash--has been selling or leasing large plots of productive agricultural land to Arab and Asian interests, concerned about their own future food security. The regime is mortgaging Sudan's future to maintain a factitious "solvency." Khartoum abandoned long-time strategic ally Iran recently in order to re-establish friendly relations with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf State in order to secure a financial lifeline. It has enjoyed some success, but this is not a long-term economic strategy, simply short-term begging for money.
What is the Khartoum regime today? A brutally repressive, kleptocratic tyranny that preserves its monopoly on Sudanese national wealth and power by means of ethnically-targeted counter-insurgency efforts against its poor and under-served marginalized regions, which understandably refuse to accept this monopoly any longer.
Looming over all this is the question of U.S. policy toward Sudan. In 2011 Princeton Lyman, President Obama's second special envoy for Sudan, declared in an interview with a highly respected Arab news outlet:
"Frankly, we do not want to see the ouster of the [Sudanese] regime, nor regime change. We want to see the regime carrying out reform via constitutional democratic measures." (Princeton Lyman's response to a question by the respected Arabic news outlet Asharq Al-Awsat concerning Sudan and the "Arab Spring," December 3, 2011)
Did Lyman believe the preposterous notion that the regime I've described here could "carry out reform via constitutional democratic measures"? Of course not. So we are left with the question, why did he say it?
There is good evidence that the U.S. military and intelligence communities are leaning hard on other parts of the Obama administration to seek rapprochement with Khartoum--this in order to solidify the U.S. relationship with a regime regarded as an important source of putatively valuable counter-terrorism intelligence. Will Obama cave to such pressure? He certainly abandoned his 2008 campaign commitment to the victims of genocide in Darfur. Why should we believe that he will not betray the Sudanese people as a whole just as cynically in the present moment, especially with the cover of so many European countries eager to embrace a genocidal regime?