Such statements were also made at a mass demonstration in Khartoum, last Wednesday, against the so-called transition from an African Union peace force in Darfur to a UN force. The words “graveyard” and similar statements as quoted above were repeated by Ministers leading the demonstration. The Ministers of Defense, Interior and Communication, well-known as hardliners in the Government, have taken the lead in the campaign against the UN.
The threats are nasty indeed. An award of $100.000 has been promised to the person who will kill me. This has been published in the newspaper Al Watan, with the name of the organization and its leader who have announced this award. It goes with the job and we cannot afford to be intimidated. Particularly alarming is, however, that individual UN staff members are receiving anonymous threats. Some were threatened by phone, one was abducted in the street, blindfolded, threatened and released with the message to leave the UN or else…..
The attacks on the United Nations cannot be attributed to the Government only. The Government is under pressure by powerful groups. Sudan is not a democratic society, far from it. The regime is a conglomerate of power groups, dependent on each other, checking each other and wheeling and dealing behind the scenes. Political pressure is not exerted in a democratic fashion, in a free and independent parliament, a free press and public meetings. Since the formation of the Government of National Unity mid last year and the adoption of the new Constitution the political system has become more open. The parliamentary debate is less controlled than before. The press is no longer being censored, anyway not before the news is printed. Critics speak out. However, all of this takes place within limits. There is always the risk of being visited by National Security. That means that there are no public checks and balances. Much pressure takes place behind closed doors. Political deals as well as political threats are mostly secret.
Initially the position of the Government towards a UN force in Darfur was not so negative. Ministers had told me that they understood that such a transition would bre inevitable if the African Union itself would decide in favor. For them the mandate of a UN force and its composition were crucial. A UN peace keeping force with a Chapter 6 mandate and without NATO troops would be acceptable. However, when some powerful groups in Sudan demanded the Government never to accept any new foreign peace keeping force, the President changed his position. It is like always in Sudan: policies are determined by one overriding motivation only: how to stay in power.
There is a backlash, however. The Government, which initially had orchestrated all this - or, anyway, elements within the Government, such as National Security - has become aware that it had gone too far. Some newspapers have started to criticize the Government. The Government has started to moderate the attacks. The editor of Al Watan has been arrested. The police guaranteed that demonstrations would take place without violence. I was invited by the State Minister of Foreign Affairs to discuss possible cooperation between the Government and the UN in order “to change the perception of the people”. In the light of the language used by his colleagues during the demonstration this was quite a surprising request. However, it showed that the Government understood that matters might get out of control.
In a meeting of the African Union Peace and Security Council, last Friday, the Sudanese Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lam Akol, launched a severe attack on the UN. He got a harsh response from nearly all his African colleagues. They could not understand that Lam Akol, notably representing SPLM in the Government of National Unity, was denouncing the very United Nations that the SPLM had so eagerly welcomed to Sudan in order to help safeguarding the peace between North and South. They decided to reconfirm the decision to support a transition towards a United Nations peace keeping force in Darfur. We now will see whether this decision will be respected or whether the attacks will continue, in whatever form.
Early March in Paris a meeting took place between the Government of National Unity of Sudan, the Government of Southern Sudan and the international community. It was a so-called Consortium meeting, under the auspices of the World Bank, the IMF and the UN. There were not many new aid pledges. Yet it was an important meeting, because a consensus was reached about a necessary breakthrough of the stalemate resulting from inadequate approaches towards the development of Sudan after the war. Allow me some theoretical remarks order to explain the importance of the discussions in Paris.
Highlighting the above is necessary to explain where we may fail in Southern Sudan. Humanitarian assistance was abundant. However, since the war there is no economic development. The reason is that so far hardly any reconstruction has taken place. Some de-mining has been carried out, but far less than necessary. Refugees and displaced persons are returning, but most of them without any help. Visitors to Juba and other towns in Southern Sudan see the same desolation as before. The rural areas still lack the basic necessities. The financial aid for economic development that had been promised at the Oslo conference in April last year has not yet resulted in the start of development projects and programs. This is partly due to bureaucratic procedures. Donors are always slow in the translation of commitments into disbursements. Moreover, it had been decided to channel aid through multi-donor trust funds, led by the World Bank. We had advised against this, knowing that the Bank's procedures are quite cumbersome. However, the Sudanese had, under some pressure, decided in favor of the Bank. This was not wise, because the Bank has no experience with post conflict reconstruction programs and applies the same procedures in case of reconstruction as for development programs. Because the donors and Sudan had agreed to follow the Bank as the lead agency, alternative international finance for reconstruction was not available.
There was another reason. Sudan has oil and oil revenue. However, it was unclear to which extent the oil money had been made available to Southern Sudan, as had been agreed in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. In earlier weblogs I have written about the dispute which had arisen between the North and the South concerning this part of the agreement. It was also unclear to which extent the Government of Southern Sudan had spent oil revenue, in so far as they had received this money, on reconstruction and development. Donors doubted that this had been the case. They started to question the quality of the governance of the Southern authorities and declared good governance a condition for aid allocations. This was perfectly legitimate. However, as I indicated above, such conditions make sense in development finance, but are too strict in case of reconstruction.
The meeting in Paris provided a breakthrough. First, donors and the Bank agreed that reconstruction had been neglected and that this should be corrected. They also agreed that, after the establishment of peace in Darfur, possibly later this year, similar mistakes should be avoided. They decided in principle to establish a separate trust fund for Darfur, post-relief and pre-development, with procedures attuned to the specific requirements of reconstruction.
Second, Khartoum and Juba seemed to have solved their disputes concerning oil. They had understood that they had to get their act together in advance of the Paris meeting. Otherwise they would loose credibility. Vice President Salve Kiir, who led the united delegation of the two, declared that there was no disagreement anymore about the oil receipts. (There was one exception: a relatively small figure of thirty million dollars 'costs' that Khartoum had deducted before the money was put on the bank account of the South. However, the confidence was expressed that this would be solved soon). Both governments had gone further than solving their dispute. They presented an outline of their 2005 accounts and disclosed the 2006 budget. In addition to this they committed themselves, announcing rather detailed measures, to good financial and development governance, transparency and accountability.
This augurs well. A belated start with reconstruction can be made. Donors left Paris with enough confidence in the sincerity of both governments with regard to good economic governance. After Paris donor conditions do no longer have to act as a straight jacket. Donors explicitly stated that a peace agreement in Darfur, though essential, would not function as a pre-condition for the disbursement of aid to the South. The people in the South had waited already too long. They urgently need a reconstruction of the environment in which they live, in order to be able to participate in the development of their country, to contribute to the building of their nation and to make peace in their society sustainable.
In February I had had difficult encounters with tribal and traditional leaders in Nyala and El Fashr. Most of them were strongly against a UN force in Darfur. They accuse the United Nations of being manipulated by the United States. They fear that Western countries and NATO want to re-colonize and occupy Sudan. They speak about a conspiracy against Islam and against Arab nations. They referred to Irak and Afghanistan. They threatened with a war to defend their territory. Since mid January I have had many similar discussions with Sudanese. They are less friendly than before. Sudanese leaders do not hesitate to influence public opinion with strong wordings. Vice President Taha has publicly said that the UN should stay away. Minister of Foreign Affairs Lam Akol has declared himself a fervent opponent of UN peace keepers in Darfur. This is remarkable, because he belongs to the SPLM in the Government of National Unity. One might expect that in particular SPLM, having experienced a Khartoum led war against Africans in South Sudan, would take a different position. I still remember how the late John Garang criticized the United Nations for not taking action against what he, without any hesitation, called genocide in Darfur. This week President Beshir has said that the United Nations will find their graveyard in Darfur. So far no SPLM politician has argued otherwise.
No wonder that opinion leaders in Khartoum and traditional leaders in Darfur speak out very negatively against a transition from the AU to the UN. However, so far, the demonstrations are non-violent and the discussions orderly, though heated and emotional. I can still argue that the UN is not the same as the US or NATO, that Irak has not been invaded by the UN, that the international forces in Afghanistan are not led by the UN, that Sudan is a member-state of the United Nations, that the UN is bound by its Charter, with two pillars: respect for the sovereignty of nation-states and protection of human rights. That Charter has also been subscribed by Sudan. “The UN”, I argue, “is Sudan plus two hundred other countries. Sudan cannot illegally occupy itself”. The audiences will not easily be convinced, but people are listening. And I understand very well that many Sudanese are really afraid for a repetition of the events in Irak.
I also try to make clear that the UN is exactly the opposite of what they are afraid for. Peace-keeping by the UN is a guarantee that the sovereignty of a nation is respected, that the protection of the people is the sole objective, that there is no second agenda or, at least, that the second agenda of other nations can be neutralized.
The protection of the people requires robust action. During my most recent visit to Darfur, before going to New York, I saw again how robust the action has to be. In one of my previous weblogs ( I referred to the situation in Gereida and Sheria, two towns in South Darfur and in the mountains of the Jebel Mara (see weblog nr 13). I visited these places again. In the Jebel Mara I stood at the grave of the young Sudanese girl who had died in the helicopter crash. The SLA commanders in that region expected new attacks and requested assistance. They said that they could defend themselves, but we knew that the army in conjunction with the militia would have more sophisticated weapons and that an attack would make many victims.
In Sheria all citizens belonging to the Zaghawa tribe had been expelled from the town. Minnie Minawi has recruited many Zaghawa's into his wing of the liberation army. Presently all Zaghawa, including all women, children and elderly people, are seen as belonging to a fifth colon. I addressed a rally of about thousand citizens, all belonging to the Birgit and the Miserya tribe. They were not very friendly. Armed youngsters in fancy uniforms, clearly belonging to militia's, formed a silent threat in the background. Others were carrying posters against “occupation by the UN”, warning me “not to play with fire”. I said that instead I had come to stop the fire and that according to the Sudanese constitution all Sudanese people have the right to live wherever they choose to live. The audience listened and the authorities promised me to stop giving arms to groups who claim the need for self-defense, but have chased women and children out of their homes and out of town. I said that I would return to see whether the situation would have improved. I promised the Wali of South Darfur assistance in his tribal reconciliation efforts, in particular with the Zaghawa's. But whom can we trust?
The situation in Gereida is even worse. In my weblog two weeks ago I described how the SLA rebels had taken Gereida, violating agreements to demilitarize this town. Colonel Mubarak, their leader, whom I had met quite a few times in the field, denied ever having agreed to keep his troops out of town. “We only made some remarks”, he said. He also denied having made a new agreement with the African Union to leave Gereida as soon as the AU would have enough troops to protect the people. According to the AU he had indeed agreed, but later on refused to sign….
Mubarak claimed that he and his troops are in Gereida at the invitation of the
population. I responded that such claims have been made by all occupying forces, always and everywhere. But he convinced me by inviting me to come to a rally of about ten thousand people, who hailed the UN - a scarce experience in Darfur - and yelled that SLA should stay. I knew from AU reports that thousands of militia had cleansed all villages in the neighborhood and had killed hundreds of unarmed civilians during the last two months. The town harbors tens of thousands of citizens and displaced people who have sought refuge. Most of them belong to the Masalit tribe, who are in conflict with the Rizeigat, the Miserya and the Falata. The AU commander told me that he had neither the capacity nor the mandate to protect the population in case of a militia attack. No wonder that the people, shouting that they no longer trusted the AU, wanted the SLA to stay and called for the UN to come to their rescue.
I addressed this rally too. (video) I could not guarantee protection by the international community, but got away with a strong denouncement of the ethnic cleansing and the killings and with the promise to raise the need for effective protection in New York.
So I did. But I brought two messages to my colleagues in New York and to the ambassador members of the Security Council. First: the people must be protected and we can no longer wait. Second: do not organize the protection in such a way that the peace keepers become part of the problem, rather than the solution.
In Sheria and Gereida my thoughts went back to Srebrenica, 1995. Will we make the same mistakes, or other, with similar consequences?