FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

East Africa at the Brink

by RAMZY BAROUD

Once again Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir waved his walking stick in the air. Once again he spoke of splendid victories over his enemies as thousands of jubilant supporters danced and cheered. But this time around the stakes are too high.

An all out war against newly independent South Sudan might not be in Sudan’s best interest. South Sudan’s saber-rattling is not an entirely independent initiative; its most recent territorial transgressions – which saw the occupation of Sudan’s largest oil field in Heglig on April 10, followed by a hasty retreat ten days later – might have been a calculated move aimed at drawing Sudan into a larger conflict.

Stunted by the capture of Heglig, which, according to some estimates, provides nearly half of the country’s oil production, Bashir promised victory over Juba. Speaking to large crowd in the capital of North Kordofan, El-Obeid, Bashir affectively declared war. “Heglig isn’t the end, it is the beginning,” he said, as quoted in the Wall Street Journal. Bashir also declared a desire to ‘liberate’ the people of South Sudan from a government composed of ‘insects.’ Even when Heglig was declared a liberated region by Sudan’s defence minister, the humiliation of defeat was simply replaced by the fervor of victory. “They started the fighting and we will announce when it will end, and our advance will never stop,” Bashir announced on April 20.

Statements issued by the government of South Sudan are clearly more measured, with an international target audience in mind. Salva Kiir, President of South Sudan, simply said that his forces departed the region following appeals made by the international community. This includes a statement by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, which described the attack on Heglig as “an infringement on the sovereignty of Sudan and a clearly illegal act” (Reuters, April 19). A day before the hasty withdrawal, South Sudan government spokesman Barnaba Marial Benjamin claimed there had been no conflict in the first place. His statement was both bewildering and patronizing. He considered Sudan, which was then rallying for war to recapture its oil-rich area, a neighbor and “friendly nation”, and claimed that “up to now we have not crossed even an inch into Sudan” (Associated Press, April 19).

The fact remains, however, that wherever there is oil political narratives cannot possibly be so simple. Sudan is caught in a multidimensional conflict involving weapons trade, internal instabilities, multiple civil wars and the reality of outside players with their own interests. None of this is enough to excuse the readiness for war on behalf of Khartoum and Juba, but it certainly presents serious obstacles to any attempt aimed at rectifying the situation.

With a single act of aggression, a whole set of conflicts are prone to flaring up. It is the nature of proxy politics, as many armed groups seek opportunities for territorial advances and financial gains. News reports already speak of a possible involvement of Uganda should the fledging war between Khartoum and Juba cross conventional boundaries. “As the possibility of a full-fledged war became unnervingly higher, General Aronda Nyakairima, chief of Uganda’s defense forces, said that his army might be compelled to intervene if Bashir did overthrow South Sudan’s regime,” reported Alexis Okeowo in the New Yorker website (April 20). Both Sudans are fighting their own war against various rebel groups. Despite the lack of basic food in parts of the region, plenty of weapons effortlessly find inroads to wherever there is potential strife.

In a statement published last July, Amnesty International called on UN member states to control arm shipments to both Sudan and South Sudan. It accused the US, Russia and China of fueling violations in the Sudan conflict through the arms trade.

US support of South Sudan is already well known. “The US reportedly provided $100 million-a-year in military assistance to the SPLA (Sudan People’s Liberation Army),” according to Russia Today on April 19, citing a December 2009 diplomatic cable revealed by WikiLeaks.

According to political author and columnist Reason Wafawarova, US interest in South Sudan is neither accidental nor motivated by humanitarian issues. He told RT, “It would not be surprising if the US is trying to capitalize on the vulnerability of South Sudan in its efforts to establish the AFRICOM base somewhere in sub-Saharan Africa.” RT goes on to reference Sudan’s Al-Intibaha newspaper for its reports on Israeli weapon supplies to Juba.

US and Israeli military support of Juba is not a new phenomenon. Sudan’s civil war (1983-2005), which cost an estimated 2.5 million lives, could not have lasted as long as it did without steady sources of military funding. And while the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the January 9-15, 2011 referendum, and finally the independence of South Sudan in July were all meant to usher in a new era of peace and cooperation, none actualized. Sudan’s territorial concessions proved most costly, and South Sudan, destroyed and landlocked, was ripe for outside exploitation.

Both countries are now caught in a deadly embrace. They can neither part ways completely, nor cooperate successfully without a risk of war at every turn. Bashir also knows he is running out of options. While Khartoum has already “lost three-quarters of its oil revenue after the secession,” according Egypt’s Al Ahram Weekly, “now it is poised to lose the rest.”

Naturally, a conflict of this magnitude cannot be resolved by empty gestures and reassuring statements. The conflict has been festering for decades, and war has been the only common language. Powerful countries, including the US, Russia, China, but also Israel and regional Arab and Africa players exploited the conflict to their advantage whenever possible. In a recent analysis, the International Crisis Group in Brussels advised that a “new strategy is needed to avert an even bigger crisis.” The crisis group recommends that the “UN Security Council must reassert itself to preserve international peace and security, including the implementation of border monitoring tasks as outlined by UN Interim Security Force in Abyei.”

Expecting the Security Council to act in political tandem seems a bit too optimistic, however. Considering that the US is arming and supporting South Sudan, and that Russia and China continue to support Khartoum, the rivalry in fact exists within the UN itself.

For a sustainable future peace arrangement, Sudan’s territorial integrity must be respected, and South Sudan must not be pushed to the brink of desperation. Rivalries between the US, China and Russia cannot continue at the expense of nations that teeter between starvation and civil wars. And whatever hidden hands that continue to exploit Sudan’s woes now need to be exposed and isolated.

Ramzy Baroud is editor of PalestineChronicle.com. He is the author of The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle  and  “My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story” (Pluto Press, London). 


Dr. Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London). His website is: ramzybaroud.net

Weekend Edition
April 29-31, 2016
Andrew Levine
What is the Democratic Party Good For? Absolutely Nothing
Roberto J. González – David Price
Anthropologists Marshalling History: the American Anthropological Association’s Vote on the Academic Boycott of Israeli Institutions
Robert Jacobs
Hanford, Not Fukushima, is the Big Radiological Threat to the West Coast
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
US Presidential Election: Beyond Lesser Evilism
Dave Lindorff
The Push to Make Sanders the Green Party’s Candidate
Ian Fairlie
Chernobyl’s Ongoing Toll: 40,000 More Cancer Deaths?
Pete Dolack
Verizon Sticks it to its Workers Because $45 Billion isn’t Enough
Richard Falk
If Obama Visits Hiroshima
Margaret Kimberley
Dishonoring Harriet Tubman
Deepak Tripathi
The United States, Britain and the European Union
Peter Linebaugh
Marymount, Haymarket, Marikana: a Brief Note Towards ‘Completing’ May Day
Eva Golinger
My Country, My Love: a Conversation with Gerardo and Adriana of the Cuban Five
Moshe Adler
May Day: a Trade Agreement to Unite Third World and American Workers
Vijay Prashad
Political Violence in Honduras
Paul Krane
Where Gun Control Ought to Start: Disarming the Police
David Anderson
Al Jazeera America: Goodbye to All That Jazz
Rob Hager
Platform Perversity: More From the Campaign That Can’t Strategize
Pat Williams
FDR in Montana
Dave Marsh
Every Day I Read the Book (the Best Music Books of the Last Year)
David Rosen
Job Satisfaction Under Perpetual Stagnation
John Feffer
Big Oil isn’t Going Down Without a Fight
Murray Dobbin
The Canadian / Saudi Arms Deal: More Than Meets the Eye?
Gary Engler
The Devil Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Is Washington Preparing for War Against Russia?
Manuel E. Yepe
The Big Lies and the Small Lies
Robert Fantina
Vice Presidents, Candidates and History
Mel Gurtov
Sanctions and Defiance in North Korea
Howard Lisnoff
Still the Litmus Test of Worth
Dean Baker
Big Business and the Overtime Rule: Irrational Complaints
Ulrich Heyden
Crimea as a Paradise for High-Class Tourism?
Ramzy Baroud
Did the Arabs Betray Palestine? – A Schism between the Ruling Classes and the Wider Society
Halyna Mokrushyna
The War on Ukrainian Scientists
Joseph Natoli
Who’s the Better Neoliberal?
Ron Jacobs
The Battle at Big Brown: Joe Allen’s The Package King
Wahid Azal
Class Struggle and Westoxication in Pahlavi Iran: a Review of the Iranian Series ‘Shahrzad’
David Crisp
After All These Years, Newspapers Still Needed
Graham Peebles
Hungry and Frightened: Famine in Ethiopia 2016
Robert Koehler
Opening the Closed Political Culture
Missy Comley Beattie
Waves of Nostalgia
Thomas Knapp
The Problem with Donald Trump’s Version of “America First”
Georgina Downs
Hillsborough and Beyond: Establishment Cover Ups, Lies & Corruption
Jeffrey St. Clair
Groove on the Tracks: the Magic Left Hand of Red Garland
Ben Debney
Kush Zombies: QELD’s Hat Tip to Old School Hip Hop
Charles R. Larson
Moby Dick on Steroids?
David Yearsley
Miles Davis: Ace of Baseness
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail