Root cause of Darfur chaos- Rebels listening too much to Eritrea
By Abdul Raheem Tajudeen
Thursday, 12th August, 2004 - THE untrammeled exercise of power,
without legal or moral restraint is the bane of many countries across Africa.
That is why the abuse of power tends to manifest itself in a more grimly way
amongst our peoples.
It is not that politicians in other societies are not wilful or whimsical (just
look at how Tony Blair threw away his party and country to act as subaltern to
Bush) but there are other institutions that can check-mate them or restrain
them and control their excesses.
These will include the formal separation of powers between the Executive, the
Judiciary and the Legislature and the functionaries of the State.
But outside of that are other autonomous and independent institutions and
organisations that offer alternative centres of power and consensus building on
values and goals of their society so that politicians and their hirelings are
not the alpha and omega of the affairs of the State.
They include vibrant political parties whether in government or opposition,
independent media, religious institutions and, above all, an active citizenship
including vocal public figures and vibrant civil society organisations.
All these will make varying claims on a democratic system that often restrain
those in power. I say often because sometimes there may be a dissonance between
these forces and things may (and do) break down.
But the essence of a democratic state is that periods of extreme pressure on
the system tend t be temporary and society can look forward to a peaceful resolution
of the differences and dynamic chaos.
So democracy may not be the best system of government. However, human genius
has not invented anything better. Therefore we have to keep working at it to
perfect its imperfections.
The continuing tragedy in Darfur makes clear the need for democratic
governance. If their government treated all Sudanese as equal citizens with the
same rights and obligations, the impunity with which one section of the
community can kill or exterminate another section would not have risen. If the
Government of Sudan is one that cares about its people, it will not be aiding
and abetting these sectarian killings and hate campaigns.
Furthermore, if there are reasonable hopes for those who desire a change of
government in Khartoum (as a means of effecting policy changes), then a resort
to arms could have been avoided. This is not in defence of violent changes but
a restatement of the old dictum: “Those who make peaceful changes impossible
make violent change inevitable”.
However, we have had too many bitter and painful experiences of many pretenders
to power and false messiahs, offering themselves and their rebel groups as
liberators, only to become worse than those they claim they had come to
liberate people from.
Therefore, as we rightly criticise the Government of Sudan for abdicating its
responsibility to defend all its citizens and maintain the rule of law, we
should also look critically at the rebels, their promises, their actions and
what alternative vision of society beyond becoming the 'new bosses' they are
Talks between the government and the Darfur rebels are due to begin in two
weeks in Abuja under the auspices of President Olusegun Obasanjo who is both
Chair of the Peace and Security Council and the African Union. The SPLA and JEM
have both said they would attend after failing to show up in a previous
AU-brokered talks in Addis.
That time many observers suggested that their boycott ostensibly because the
Government of Sudan was not giving in to a six-point demand by the rebels was
largely due to listening too much to their key regional ally, Eritrea, which
has a very frosty relationship with Ethiopia and its arrogant President,
Afwerki, who has not many friends in the Union. It was a mistake on the rebels’
part because it left Sudan a field day to portray them as belligerents.
The Sudan Government is very good at showing itself as a victim of
conspiracies. They play whatever music suits the ears of their audience. In AU
circles, they play up Pan-Africanism and the anti-imperialist card.
At the same time, they are arming one section of Africans in their country to
exterminate another set of Africans! When they are in the Arab League or the
OIC, they play to Arabism and Islam. It is not surprising that the recent Arab
League meeting came out in support of Khartoum and was making a plea for more
time for Sudan to comply with the deadline of the end of this month.
Why should the government have more time to continue to kill its citizens?
And they have a baby face foreign minister, well-spoken Dr Mustafa Ismail, to
sell their bad case diplomatically and politically.
I first met the urbane dentist in early 1994. I had gone to persuade the
Government of Sudan to attend the 7th Pan-African Conference in Kampala. They
had been very suspicious of our efforts largely due to the bad relationship
between Kampala and Khartoum and mutual interference in each other’s affairs.
Khartoum was not happy that John Garang and the SPLA were being given prominent
platforms in the Congress.
Mustafa was fronting for one of Turabi’s organisations then as
general-secretary of the Committee for International Friendship with Peoples
and also minister of state at the Presidency. On arrival, he met our delegation
on the tarmac and led us to the VIP room where he broke the news of the
President having departed the same day for some emergency IGADD meeting. I was
disappointed because I had only 36 hours and could not wait for the president
to come back.
The doctor allayed my fears by saying ‘Don’t worry. As long as Dr Hassan Turabi
agrees, there will be no problem.’ Turabi is today in detention; Bashir is
holding hands with Garang; Kampala and Khartoum have restored diplomatic
relations and my good friend, Mustafa, has changed masters without anyone