Carrots for Khartoum - by Faith J. H. McDonnell

Now is not the time to reward Sudan’s repressive regime.


While defending the Obama Administration’s policy of engagement with Sudan’s genocidal Islamist National Congress Party (NCP), Sudan Special Envoy Major General R. Scott Gration (R) put a new spin on the carrot-and-stick approach to engagement. He told reporters,

“We’ve got to think about giving out cookies. . . Kids, countries – they react to gold stars, smiley faces, handshakes, agreements, talk, engagement.”

Hold on to your cookies, General Gration. This is definitely not the time to reward Khartoum.

Carrots and sticks in U.S. Sudan policy is nothing new. Promises of rewards for good behavior and warnings of punishment for bad were used frequently by the Bush Administration to coax the Islamist regime to the peace table, to complete the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between the NCP and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), and to try to stop the Darfur genocide waged by the NCP through its proxy janjaweed.

But Khartoum has exploited every approach and managed to avoid every stick. The United States has doled out so many carrots to Khartoum that the Islamists should be suffering from carotenemia. And the only reward the United States has received has been empty promises. Contracts and covenants mean nothing to a regime permitted by the law of taqiyya to lie to infidels and promote Islam.

Taqiyya has been practiced in Sudan for over 1200 years. After the death of Mohammed, Arab armies from the Middle East attempted to conquer Sudan, then called Kush. Because they were defeated and humiliated militarily for 600 years by fierce Nubian warriors and archers (known as the Pupil Smiters), they entered into a treaty of “non-aggression,” or a baqt, with the Christian kingdoms of Kush. That action was Christian Sudan’s downfall. Just as the Arab Islamists used the baqt to gain time until they could achieve domination, Khartoum gains time through both the signing of the CPA and the Darfur Peace Agreement, and through its constant reneging of both of these modern treaties of so-called non-aggression.

Even if the slate of past atrocities were to be wiped clean, the regime’s behavior has not changed. Its agenda of delay, deceit, and destruction remains the same. Khartoum refuses to implement key provisions of the CPA to which it agreed when it signed with the SPLM in January 2005. Some of these provisions have been re-negotiated, to Khartoum’s advantage and in a manner which is unjust and unfair to the SPLM.

Remaining issues have to do with the upcoming election in 2010 and the referendum on secession by South Sudan in 2011. Next year Sudan will hold its first presidential, parliamentary, and local elections in 24 years. In the provisions of the CPA, this election must take place in order for the secession referendum to go forward. But Khartoum continues to delay passing vital laws concerning voting eligibility, border demarcation, and security. Recent events demonstrate how far Khartoum is willing to go to obstruct the process of registration for voting.

Registration for Sudanese living in the United States to vote in Sudan’s 2010 election took place on November 28 and 29, 2009. But in the Washington, DC area, the registration process was like participating in a progressive dinner without food. First the people were told that registration would be at a church in Annandale, Virginia. As people began to travel to Annandale from all over Washington, DC, Maryland, and Virginia, they received word that the Sudanese Embassy had changed the venue to a recreation center in the city of Alexandria, Virginia since a church was not a neutral location. When people arrived at the recreation center, there were no Embassy officials to be found. When the potential voters called the Embassy they learned that the venue had been changed to the Sudanese Embassy itself, a location where parking is almost impossible.

“This was a deliberate act to frustrate and prevent people from registering,” declared SPLM official Angelos Agok. He said that many of the people who had driven long distances to register gave up at that point and returned to their homes.

Those who continued to the consulate were in for another shock. Although Sudanese who have become U.S. citizens are eligible for registration and voting under the CPA, U.S. passports, driver’s licenses, green cards and other forms of identifications showing Sudan as the place of birth were rejected by the Sudanese Government officials. They would accept only Sudanese passports and birth certificates. Agok reported that of thousands of Sudanese living in the National Capital area, only six or seven were registered. The Embassy personnel later boasted that 300 people had registered, but “when, where, and how they were registered remains a mystery,” Agok retorted, adding that they must have been “pro-NCP.”

Furthermore, Agok discovered the same pattern seemed to be repeated elsewhere in the country. Sudanese in North Carolina reported that Sudanese officials had registered only 20 out of 4,000-5,000 in their state. Agok also received a report that less than 20 Sudanese had been registered in Nebraska, a state with one of the largest Sudanese populations in America.

Even more egregious behavior by Khartoum was soon to come, however. On December 7, 2009 Sudan security forces arrested the SPLM Secretary General, Pagan Amum, the SPLM Deputy Secretary General for the North, Yasir Arman, and other demonstrators outside the Sudanese National Assembly in Omdurman. The arrests took place at 7:45 a.m., just after the SPLM officials and supporters had gathered for a peaceful protest of Khartoum’s delays in passing laws related to the elections and referendum. They were surrounded by police armed with batons and shields who beat and arrested the demonstrators. Others were arrested outside the Omdurman police station later that morning following the detention of the SPLM leaders.

Arman managed to contact Al-Jazeera by cell phone from the police station and told the news agency that the SPLM “had received permission from the interior ministry to carry out the demonstration.” Perhaps because of this communication, or perhaps because Arman is a Northern Sudanese of Arab Muslim ancestry who is committed to religious freedom and secular democracy in Sudan, he received the brunt of the Sudanese government’s wrath. Although the SPLM leaders were released after nine hours of incarceration, according to the Sudan Tribune, Arman was “brutally beaten” and required treatment at the hospital.

Just before this latest display of bad behavior by Khartoum, the U.S. Congress held a hearing on the Obama Administration’s Sudan policy with Sudan Special Envoy Gration as the star witness. At the hearing, sponsored by the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Africa, members from both sides of the aisle expressed concern about the Administration’s attitude towards Khartoum. Subcommittee chair, U.S. Rep. Donald Payne (D-NJ), indicated that while he fully supported the objectives of the new policy, “the question remains what if the regime continues to obstruct these efforts?  What are we doing to promote justice and accountability?” Payne said that he “sometimes wonders if we will ever get a just peace in Sudan as long as the el Bashir regime is in power.”

In a rare display of bicameral, as well as bipartisan, brotherhood, Payne invited Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) to share leadership of the hearing. Brownback warned, “the Obama Administration’s new policy would actually provide a package of incentives to offer to the perpetrators of genocide, to the indicted war criminal Omar el Bashir. . . ” He continued that he strongly opposed a policy that “sends the wrong message to tyrants around the world that they will not be brought to justice.” They may even “receive American concessions for merely rolling back the intensity of their brutality,” he marveled. “Our government is trying to apply nuance to genocide -- an approach that would be comical, if it were not so reprehensible,” he concluded.

In Southern Sudan: Too Many Agreements Dishonored, Southern Sudanese politician and high court judge Abel Alier documents how Khartoum has broken every agreement it has made that stands in the way of Islamist domination. For instance, the Addis Ababa agreement, which granted autonomy to South Sudan, was broken by President Gafaar al Nimeiry ten years after it was signed. In commenting upon the character of the Khartoum regime, most Southern Sudanese refer to the title of Alier’s book.

If Khartoum is behaving like this now, obstructing the registration process, failing to provide laws guaranteed in the CPA, and using repression and violence against the opposition party in such a blatant fashion, what does this say about whether or not the NCP will allow a free and fair election process in 2010, or a free and fair referendum on secession in 2011?

The only chance for either vote to take place in a democratic manner is if the international community, and particularly the U.S. government, immediately begins holding Khartoum accountable, as we have promised in the new Sudan policy. The history of Southern Sudan is marked not only by suffering and persecution, but by broken promises. The U.S. government has a chance to change that history, just by keeping a promise.

Faith J. H. McDonnell directs The Institute on Religion and Democracy’s Religious Liberty Program and Church Alliance for a New Sudan, and is the author of Girl Soldier: A Story of Hope for Northern Uganda’s Children (Chosen Books, 2007).