Some sort of natural law of the universe must ensure that anyone engaging in diplomacy with the Islamist regime in Khartoum must be snookered personally by that regime. Some universal principle prohibits them learning from the decades of experience of those that were snookered before them. After all, there has to be a reason for what otherwise seems insanity.
There’s the chap who has faith that regardless of what has taken place in the past, he is the one who will hand a Bible to Omar al-Bashir (that he can toss onto the pile of Bibles he has already received from other self-appointed evangelists) and change the course of history. There’s the fellow who sees himself as the one gifted mediator who will finally succeed in clearing away the National Congress Party’s “misunderstandings.” And there’s the presidential administration that believes it is the one that truly resonates with Africa as no other has before, and yet who would force the African Government of South Sudan to make damaging concessions once again to the great big sulking baby, the Islamist regime of Arabists in Khartoum.
President Barack Obama’s Sudan Special Envoy, retired Air Force Major General J. Scott Gration, “is pushing toward normalized relations” with Sudan, said The Washington Post on September 30, 2009. Gration, says the Post, has “seen signs of goodwill from the government of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir” a government he believes “is ready to change.” Where have we heard that before? This has been a recurring part of Khartoum’s “change the face” game. That (slavery, slaughter, deception) was then; this (peace-loving, ready to change) is now. The State Department cognoscenti would parrot assuringly, “Of course, the hardliners are out of favor now. We can engage these people!” Meanwhile, Southern Sudanese and Sudan’s other marginalized (read: black African) peoples would warn that “the leopard does not change his spots,” or quote the late Dr. John Garang who said that Khartoum was “too deformed to reform.”
General Gration is looking for a win-win outcome on Sudan. That’s understandable. We Americans, generous to a fault, think that the Islamists of the National Congress Party want what we want – for everyone to happy. In this case, he is looking for an outcome which both mollifies the outraged Islamist sensibilities of the regime and keeps Southern Sudanese and Darfurians alive (even if consigned to dhimmitude). But win-win has never been an objective of Khartoum. That would undermine the whole concept of jihad that has been declared against the South and other areas numerous times and never revoked. In spite of signing the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, (CPA) Khartoum has not changed its long-term agenda of an Arabized, Islamized Sudan. Sudanese human rights activist Adam Mudawi says that “in six months” General Gration will find out that the National Congress Party “are liars.” President Salva Kiir Mayardit of the Government of South Sudan is concerned that the envoy’s approach “is emboldening the ruling party to dictate unfavorable terms for the south’s secession vote.” Southern Sudanese, along with most of the civilized world, believe that the Islamist regime is undermining the peace by arming militias of Southern tribal groups and the rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) to wreak havoc through the South and undermine efforts for free and fair elections and the secession referendum.
According to the Post, Gration has “backed the ruling party’s argument, saying that it had legitimate concerns about the referendum.” During a news conference that seemed to be located in Bizarro World, Gration “urged Southerners to trust the government that waged a brutal war against them for 20 years.” The President of South Sudan responded that it was the responsibility of Khartoum to build trust. “How will you trust that person that was killing you yesterday?” Kiir demanded. And how will Sudan’s marginalized trust an American government that is expressing empathy with a brutal Islamic regime that, for one thing, delighted in murdering 15,000 Uduk Christians who refused to convert to Islam – some by driving three-inch nails through the tops of their heads? Understandably, Southern Sudan officials, Darfurians, and others believe that Gration “is being manipulated by government officials who talk peace even as they undermine it.”
Reports claim that Khartoum currently is undermining the peace by recruiting and arming proxy militias to massacre innocent men, women, and children. The militia attacks – Lou Nuer on Dinka, Murle on Lou Nuer, Murle on Dinka, etc. – have left over 2000 dead, hundreds wounded, and hundreds of thousands displaced since January 2009. Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul (Episcopal Church of Sudan) joined SPLA officials pointing out that previously the tribal groups comprising the militias had been cattle raiders. But these militias were now attacking administrative headquarters and towns where no cattle are held. Deng Bul said, “In the view of the Church, this was not a tribal conflict as commonly reported, but a deliberately organized attack on civilians by those that are against the peace in Southern Sudan.”
There appears to be no hard evidence to prove that which the South Sudanese and others who have had long familiarity with the Islamic regime are certain. But at a July 2009 hearing on Capitol Hill, the SPLM Secretary General Pagan Amum Okiech warned that the Khartoum regime had distributed 79,000 AK-47’s to militias throughout Sudan. At the same time, the Government of South Sudan has been pressured by the UN, USAID, and other international actors, to collect guns from civilians in South Sudan. This idealists’ dream scenario is currently leaving hundreds of thousands vulnerable to nightmarish attacks by Khartoum’s proxies, who, unfortunately, have not obeyed the same directive.
In a recent attack, on September 19, 2009, a militia of heavily armed Lou Nuer waged an early dawn attack on the local government center (payam) of Duk-Padiet, Bor County, Jonglei State. They overcame local youths and organized forces trying to defend the area, and ambushed several places at once, according to South Sudan military (SPLA) spokesman Major General Kuol Diem Kuol. The attack left 80 dead and 46 wounded.
In August, a militia of Murle attacked Akobo, Jonglei State, killing 185 Lou Nuer—mostly women and children. Also in August, northern Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), the rebel group led by Joseph Kony that has captured as many as 35,000 children in the past 25 years, attacked Ezo Town in Western Equatoria State. They killed three people, including an Episcopal lay reader, and took ten children from the Ezo Episcopal Church. In all the attacks, the militias have been armed with new automatic weapons, dressed in professional uniforms, and were well-trained and organized.
On Saturday, August 29, 2009, the same Lou Nuer militia that later attacked Duk-Padiet killed 43 people and wounded 62 in Wernyol, a Dinka town. Episcopal Church of Sudan Archdeacon for Wernyol, Joseph Mabior Garang, was killed while officiating at a Morning Prayer Service. Mabior was also the Archbishop of Sudan’s Commissary for the Diocese of Twic East, newly formed from the burgeoning Diocese of Bor.
Most likely, the militia (and its sponsors) targeted Mabior because he was a prominent, beloved leader in the community. Witnesses reported that he was shot twice in the legs and that his attackers may have also used a military knife, a “sonki.” in killing him. After the first shots, 30 men and women from the church and town, including tribal chiefs, soldiers, a university student and other youth leaders, and several of the town’s oral historians, covered Archdeacon Mabior with their own bodies. All 30 gave their lives in their valiant effort to protect their shepherd, who died two hours later.
A number of Americans who met Mabior this past June were hit hard by his murder. Mabior hosted a mission team from St. Philip’s Anglican Church, Moon Township, Pennsylvania. One team member, 18-year-old Bethany Storm, wrote to President Obama about Mabior’s death, urging more US action to protect the Sudanese. Bethany told Obama, “He was a kind and gentle man and has left a family and a community of people who relied on him.” With her letter she included a copy of a photograph taken by her father, team member Nick Storm, of Mabior playfully presenting “availability” beads, the Dinka traditional necklaces worn by girls of marriageable age, to her and her sister, Danielle. Mabior was smiling broadly, full of life, as he draped the beads around their necks. “People who I now know and love are dying,” Bethany told the President.
“It appears that the Northern government is violating the comprehensive peace agreement,” the college student continued, with a frankness that should shame equivocators in the State Department. “It appears that the Government of South Sudan needs international assistance. Who is keeping Northern Sudan in check?” she demanded.
No one. And if the reports and rumors are correct regarding the direction of U.S. policy on Sudan under the Obama administration, it would seem that no one will be keeping Khartoum in check in the future, either. Let’s hope that this is not the case, and that the U.S. government, and particularly General Gration, will see that Khartoum really does not deserve the “cookies” and “gold stars” of uncritical engagement. Let’s hope that they will adopt a policy of supporting all of the marginalized people of Sudan rather than their persecutors, and that U.S. policy is directed towards empowering the fledgling democracy in South Sudan. Because if in order to salvage both the North/South and Darfur peace agreements, U.S. policy continues to play win-win with Khartoum, “salvaging” the peace agreements will mean forcing the marginalized people to make all the concessions, all the compromises, and giving everything to the terrorist regime in Khartoum.