Sudan is the largest country in Africa and tenth largest country in the world by land area. It is a predominately Arab country in northeastern Africa. It could also be considered to be in the Middle East—its Red Sea coast is not far from Mecca. Sudan is bounded to the north by Egypt, to the east by the Red Sea, Eritrea, and Ethiopia, to the south by Congo, Uganda and Kenya, to the west by Chad and the Central African Republic, and to the northwest by Libya.
The population is 36 million people (in 2005 according to a UN estimate), most of whom are racially Black Africans. Sudan has two distinct major cultures: Arabicized Black African Muslims (about 3/4 of the population) in the north; and non-Arabicized Black Africans (1/4 of the population), who are mostly Pagan/Animist with some Christians and Muslims, in the south.
Darfur, a part of the country that has been in the news a lot for the past of couple years, is in the Arabicized north and consists of three large provinces, together as large as France, in the west of Sudan extending to the border with Chad.
After a long history of European colonialism, post-colonialism and civil war, Sudan is an underdeveloped country which in 2005 had a per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of US $783 (according to the IMF). Sudan has a lot of petroleum—oil and natural gas—and other natural resources. The estimates of Sudan’s petroleum reserves vary widely, with the most extreme reckoning that Sudan’s reserves rival those of Saudi Arabia while others estimate much smaller but still significant petroleum deposits. Most of this is concentrated in the south and central parts of the country, including southern parts of Darfur. There are also rumors of uranium in Darfur.
Sudan has long been a target of the USA and Israel
This spring, since the appearance of Mearsheimer and Walt’s article “The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy,” anti-imperialist activists have engaged in a lot of discussion about whether US foreign policy is controlled by Israel or whether Israel is controlled by the USA. I’m not going to settle the argument here. In either case US and Israeli policy in the Middle East region is identical: to destabilize or break apart all the countries in the region to make sure that there are no strong independent nations opposing US and Israeli interests; indeed, to make all governments subservient to US and Israeli interests, and to secure control over the natural resources of the region.
Most countries in the region have been attacked one way or another and to a greater or lesser extent by the USA and Israel. For the most obvious examples look at Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Afghanistan. Sudan has been attacked too. The people of Sudan have suffered enormously, and many have died, because of these attacks.
Since Sudanese independence from Britain in 1956, there has almost always been civil war between the north and south. The war stopped for a decade from 1972 til 1983 but then resumed again. John Garang, a man who studied at Fort Benning, site of the infamous School of the Americas, became leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and the main leader of the southern rebels in the civil war.
The USA and Israel encouraged the civil war. Since at least the early 1990s the USA funded the SPLA. Even former U.S president Jimmy Carter acknowledges the US role in destabilizing Sudan in the 1990’s. The Boston Globe in 1999 quoted Carter as saying, “The people in Sudan want to resolve the conflict. The biggest obstacle is US government policy. The US is committed to overthrowing the government in Khartoum. Any sort of peace effort is aborted, basically by policies of the United States…. Instead of working for peace in Sudan, the US government has basically promoted a continuation of the war.”
Perhaps two million Sudanese died because of the war in the 1980s and 90s. Millions more were displaced, primarily southerners fleeing from the SPLA which took over the south and set up an alternative state which, according to Western “human rights” organizations, had a worse human rights record than the Khartoum government in the north. Over a million refugees from the south have resettled in metropolitan Khartoum.
In 1993, the U.S. declared Sudan a “state sponsor of terrorism” on account of Khartoum’s connections with Palestinian groups—that is, because Sudan supports the rights of Palestinians against the State of Israel. In November 1997, the Clinton administration declared Sudan to be “an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.” It was Clinton who implemented the economic sanctions, still in place, which prohibit most trade and financial transactions between Americans and Sudanese.
After the simultaneous bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August 1998, President Clinton ordered a missile strike to destroy Sudan’s as-Shifa pharmaceutical factory, alleging that it was a chemical weapons plant. But in reality there had never been any chemical weapons—or other “weapons of mass destruction”—on the site.
The US missile attack completely destroyed Sudan’s capacity to produce veterinary medicines. Livestock is an important part of the Sudanese economy, and some population groups subsist mainly by raising livestock. The attack severely curtailed Sudan’s capacity to produce human medications to treat malaria and other serious health problems. Importing medicines is difficult given the poverty of the country. There is no doubt that many thousands of Sudanese and other Africans must have died because of the destruction of the as-Shifa plant.
In October 2002, during the George W Bush administration, the US Congress passed the so-called “Sudan Peace Act,” allocating $100 million per year for 2003, 2004 and 2005 “for assistance to areas outside government control,” which could only mean for the SPLA rebels.
The Act further required the US president to make a determination, every six months, whether the Sudanese government is “negotiating in good faith” with the SPLA. If the president determines that the Sudanese government is not acting in good faith then the president is required to “seek a UN Security Council resolution for an arms embargo on the Sudanese government; instruct U.S. executive directors to vote against and actively oppose loans, credits, and guarantees by international financial institutions; take all necessary and appropriate steps to deny Sudan government access to oil; and consider downgrading or suspending diplomatic relations.” The act did say that these actions against Sudan depended on the SPLA also “negotiating in good faith.” But that would be determined at the sole discretion of George W. Bush!
Sudan tries to accomodate to the U.S.
The Sudan government saw the US openly and materially supporting the SPLA rebellion; heard the declarations, sanctions, and threats; and experienced a direct US military “surgical strike” on its capital city. Everyone in the world knew what had happened to other countries that didn’t do as they were told. Yugoslavia was the last country in Europe to hold out against implementing the “free trade” reforms of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). It was bombed and invaded by NATO under a false humanitarian pretext. Grenada, Lebanon, and Panama had all been recently invaded by the USA using false pretexts related to security or the “war on drugs.”
So the Sudanese government began trying to accommodate US wishes in an effort to avert the full wrath of US military might from being unleashed against the Sudanese people. If you are more cynical about the motives of the Sudanese leaders, then you can think of this as their effort to avoid being forcibly removed from power by the US government.
In 1996 the Sudanese government kicked Osama bin Laden out of the country. In 1997 they started to implement “IMF macroeconomic reforms,” reforms that benefited international corporations at the expense of the Sudanese people. The IMF declares that the international investment will help the people through some sort of Reaganomics-like trickle down mechanism. The Sudanese government accepted the US government’s premise of the need for a “war on terror” and agreed to cooperate.
But the Sudanese government didn’t agree to support the Israeli Apartheid state in Palestine.
The Sudanese government also kept trying to negotiate peace with the SPLA, conceding more and more because of the desperate knowledge that military defense against the SPLA was tantamount to military defense against the USA. The SPLA and John Garang also had this knowledge. Garang hoped that with US support the SPLA could achieve a military victory and conquer all of Sudan. So the SPLA continued to attack for years, refusing serious negotiations despite Sudanese government concessions such as an offer to hold a binding referendum vote on secession in the south.
Eventually however, the desire for peace was so great and so nearly universal among Sudanese both north and south, and the willingness of the Sudanese government to make concessions extended so far, that Garang accepted a power-sharing offer to become vice president of Sudan, as well as being recognized as the administrative head of a semi-autonomous South Sudan for six years leading up to a referendum on secession, in exchange for peace.
Having achieved peace, Garang had outlived his usefulness to the USA and Israel who had hired him to keep Sudan in a state of war and chaos. Three weeks after being sworn in as First Vice President of Sudan, in July 2005, John Garang died in a mysterious Wellstone-esque helicopter crash.
Despite the peace deal, the splitting in two of Sudan seems to be moving forward. In November 2005, the US opened a Consulate in Juba, the capital of South Sudan. Rebecca Garang, John Garang’s widow, met with George W. Bush in Washington D.C. in February 2006 to discuss diplomatic relations between the USA and Canada and South Sudan.
The Darfur conflict begins
Just as it was becoming apparent that peace would break out in the south, in 2003 another civil war flared up in the Darfur region in western Sudan. Starting in February 2003, well-armed rebels of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), supported by USA and Israel through the intermediary countries of Eritrea and Chad respectively, launched a series of attacks on police stations in Darfur, killing hundreds of police officers.
With the police infrastructure gone, Darfur, a remote region in an impoverished country, with many groups competing for farm and grazing land, turned into a violent lawless zone. Soon, many armed groups were fighting each other—SLA, JEM, the Sudanese military, the Chadean military, local militias of all ethnicities and aligned with all sides of the conflict, and bandits. The situation deteriorated through 2004. Many thousands of Darfurians were killed by the various armed groups. Life was disrupted so that agriculture, on which most people in Darfur subsisted, became difficult or impossible. Hundreds of thousands of people became refugees. Tens of thousands died from disease and famine.
While all this was happening in Darfur, in the USA a presidential election campaign was going on. The main issue during the presidential campaign was the US war in Iraq. But both major candidates, Bush and Kerry, supported the war.
The issue of Sudan and Darfur became a convenient distraction from ongoing US atrocities in Iraq. The government-controlled US mainstream media began to demonize Sudan more and more, spinning the events in Darfur out of proportion. There was almost no media coverage about other equally severe humanitarian disasters in Congo or other parts of Africa and the world. The media blamed the Sudanese government for all the violence and famine.
Pro-Imperialist “human rights” organizations joined in the demonization campaign. For example, Human Rights Watch (HRW), controlled by billionaire George Soros, with many members of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) on its boards. The Iraq portion of HRW’s website focuses mostly on the trial and crimes of Saddam Hussein and fails to condemn the US war against Iraq.
Candidates Kerry and Bush took turns trying to out-hawk each other on Sudan. The rhetoric quickly rose to the point of accusing the Sudanese government of “genocide.” No one else in the world, not the UN, not Medecins Sans Frontiers, not the government of any other country agreed with the USA to label the Sudanese government as genocidal.
Many liberals in the USA supported Kerry for president in the mistaken hope or belief that he was a real alternative to Bush. Many of these Kerry supporters believed the propaganda coming from the Kerry campaign and the mainstream media and the human rights groups and from Kerry-support groups like MoveOn.org (which is also funded by Soros).
The uses of Darfur
The demonization of Sudan fits the propaganda needs of pro-war on Iraq and pro-Israel forces by providing a distraction which heightens the fear and hatred of Arabs in general. This is bound to undermine sympathy for the Iraqi and Palestinian victims of US and Israeli attacks.
The media has developed a caricature of the conflict in Darfur as consisting essentially of Arab Muslims massacring Black Africans. This might move some African-Americans to hate and mistrust Arabs and Muslims, and to support the Israeli apartheid state and the wars against Iraq and Afghanistan.
In reality, the war in Darfur is not a religious war of Muslim against non-Muslim. Everyone in Darfur is Muslim. And it is not a racial war of White Arabs against Black Africans. Everyone in Darfur is a Black African. It’s not even a war of Arabs against non-Arabs. Arabic is the lingua franca of Darfur and the language of education. Everyone in Darfur speaks Arabic.
A key aspect of the conflict is over water and land usage between nomadic groups—who subsist by raising livestock and who travel long distances for grazing—and settled farming groups.
The nomadic groupst are identified by the media as being the source of the so-called “Arab Janjaweed”. These nomadic groups are some of the most marginalized people in the world. The town-dwellers in Darfur have traditionally looked down on them and pejoratively labeled them as “Bedouins”—often translated into English as “Arabs.” It is true that some, not all, of the settled groups in Darfur speak other African languages at home in addition to being educated in Arabic, but they are Muslims in an Arabic-speaking country and may be better educated in the Arabic language than even mono-lingual Arabic speaking nomads.
The Project for a New American Century (PNAC), a think tank that advocates for US global hegemony and from whence come many members of George W Bush’s cabinet, predicted in an official statement by William Kristol and Vance Serchuk in September 2004, that President Bush or President Kerry will eventually lead a “coalition of the willing” to invade Sudan.
After the US election, the situation in Darfur calmed somewhat. Peace talks were underway. There was less violence. And there was less anti-Sudan propaganda in the US media. But recently, as American popular support for the war in Iraq has lessened, there has been a resurgence of anti-Sudan and anti-Iran propaganda. There is now a civil war in Chad. The mainstream media in the US has been blaming the Sudanese government for the civil war in Chad. On March 1, 2006, a Boston Globe editorial again accused Sudan of genocide in Darfur, blamed Sudan for the civil war in Chad, and called for NATO to send troops to invade Sudan. Just a couple days ago the Globe ran a story on the front page about a village in Chad near the border with Darfur that had been attacked by bandits. The Globe story blamed the Sudanese government and the “Janjaweed.”
We should not be fooled. Proposed further US, NATO or UN direct military intervention in Sudan is not for genuine humanitarian purposes but would be a continuation of US/Israeli intervention, an escalation of US/Israeli attacks on Sudan designed to further destabilize the country and prevent progress towards peace and prosperity for the people of Sudan.
by David Rolde
But just as Lawrence Leeds once stated,”war is a distraction”- it’s your choice now,continue to be distracted like the rest or learn for yourself.
The government can do all your thinking for you,but do you want it to?