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Kidnappings targeting foreign workers in Sudan for ransoms have become a dangerous phenomenon in Darfur in the past year with 10 separate cases and at least 22 expatriate victims. These are not the al Qaeda kidnaps of West Africa. The Darfuri criminals so far have demanded money and have not killed any of their victims. Some have threatened to sell their captives onto al Qaeda-linked groups if they do not get paid. The abductions have severely restricted the operations of those aid and U.N. agencies still working in Darfur, with foreigners mostly relocated to the main towns and rarely travelling into the rural areas where people are arguably most in need of help. The question always debated by Sudan watchers is: “Is it that Khartoum can’t protect foreign workers in Darfur or that they won’t?” Many point to the timing as an indication — these politicised abductions became a regular crime after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir in March 2009. Others speculate that the government, which has long had a hostile attitude to the international humanitarian agencies in the world’s largest aid operation in Darfur, does not want them to travel and report on the worsening situation in the rural or more remote areas. This is one way to prevent that. But the problem now negatively affects the government too, making them look weak and unable to control even the region’s main towns. Russia voiced rare criticism of its African ally after three members of a Russian aircrew were taken from the middle of Darfur’s largest town Nyala, just days after another Russian pilot was detained by Arab militia loyal to the government. The Russian envoy said it was clear Khartoum was unable to control the security situation, striking a blow to Khartoum’s argument that the conflict in Darfur and the “isolated” cases of banditry are under control. Nyala, Darfur’s largest town and economic hub, was largely insulated from the brutal revolt and counter-insurgency campaign which has for seven years terrorised Darfur’s inhabitants. Now it is the epicentre of the abductions, with criminals taking foreigners from inside their guesthouses or in the town centre in broad daylight. Fuelling the kidnaps are constant reports of Khartoum paying money for many of the hostages, another expensive reason why the government would want to end the crimes. Kidnappers told me hundreds of thousands of dollars had been paid out to abductors. The government says they know who these kidnappers are – their tribes and their families. They threaten to arrest them. But the threats appeared empty as after the release of the longest-held hostage ICRC staffer Gauthier Lefevre when there was a two month kidnap-free window, no action was taken to prosecute or bring the kidnappers to justice. Cue the abduction of Samaritan’s Purse Flavia Wagner two months after Lefevre’s release. She then endured a 105-day ordeal alone in captivity with her kidnappers threatening to rape or kill her on numerous occasions. And new spate of shorter kidnaps also began. Those who support the theory that the government is sanctioning the kidnaps ask why they have not apprehended any of the criminals. But Khartoum is not in an easy position. The kidnappers are usually young men from mostly Arab tribes – the same powerful tribes who Khartoum mobilised to help quash the Darfur rebels. One government official told me they feared any attack on the young Arabs would provoke the entire tribe — already disillusioned by the government who they feel has not delivered on promised development and services — to defend their own. The local government in Darfur is often run by those from the same tribes as the kidnappers, creating a reluctance to act against them and risk losing their support base. In remote regions far from Khartoum, the tribe provides and therefore rules. Central policy set in Khartoum is not always in the interests of the Darfur state authorities run by the governor and vice versa. But it seems that Khartoum’s interests are now clearly in line with the international community’s – to stop the kidnaps. Some officials in Khartoum are convinced action must be taken to stop the crimes. And in the last kidnap, the army acted quickly — closing down on the kidnappers before they could whisk their victims away to a desert hideaway. Again now Khartoum has a brief moment of kidnap-free time to apprehend the abductors as threatened. The world will be watching closely to see what they do.
Kidnapping foreign workers in Sudan for ransom has become a dangerous business in Darfur in the past year with 10 separate cases and at least 22 expatriate victims.
These are not the al Qaeda kidnaps of West Africa. The Darfuri criminals have so far demanded only money and have not killed any of their victims. Some have threatened to sell their captives to al Qaeda-linked groups if they do not get paid.
The abductions have restricted the operations of those aid and U.N. agencies still working in Darfur, with foreigners mostly relocated to the main towns and rarely travelling into the rural areas where people are most in need of help.
But the question always debated by Sudan watchers is: “Is it that Khartoum can’t protect foreign workers in Darfur or that it won’t?”
Britain’s new coalition government made its priorities on Sudan very clear as Henry Bellingham, the minister for Africa, used 90 percent of his opening remarks at his first press conference in Khartoum to outline how Britain could increase trade with Sudan.
The other 10 percent dealing with the run-up to the south’s referendum on secession, which is likely to create Africa’s newest nation state, and the International Criminal Court arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for genocide all seemed like just an afterthought.
One of the few positives of Sudan’s elections, dubbed to be the first open vote in 24 years but marred by opposition boycotts and accusations of fraud, was a tiny opening of democratic freedom in Africa’s largest country.
Direct press censorship was lifted from Sudan’s papers and opposition politicians were given an albeit limited platform to address the population through state media.
On the face of it, Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir got the perfect election result.
His victory with 68 percent was not too high that it would spark concerns of fraud but high enough above the 50 percent needed for a win for him to be able fly in the face of the disapproving West.
This is likely to be the question hotly debated in the more self-aware international observer missions covering Sudan’s elections, due to start on Sunday and marred by a wave of boycotts and claims of fraud.
Sudan’s first multi-party polls in almost quarter of a century had promised to be fiercely contested until revelations of irregularities caused boycotts by several parties.
The talk of the town for Sudanese is the position of Washington’s envoy Scott Gration after he met the National Elections Commission, the body accused of irregularities and bias towards the ruling National Congress Party.
“They have given me a lot of information that gives me confidence that the elections will start on time and that they will be as free and fair as possible,” Gration told reporters.
“This has been a difficult challenge but I believe they (the NEC) have stepped up and met the challenge,” he added.
Hosting a rare debate between Sudan’s much-maligned National Elections Commission (NEC) and opposition parties, the privately owned Blue Nile television was taking a risk broadcasting live to the nation.
In a country where, ahead of April’s first multi-party elections in 24 years, party political broadcasts are pre-recorded and censored, the evening promised to be fun.
In a shock unilateral announcement, the leading south Sudanese party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), withdrew its presidential candidate, Yasir Arman, and said it would also boycott elections on all levels in Darfur.
It paved the way for incumbent President Omar Hassan al-Bashir to win the April 11-18 polls. Arman was viewed as his main challenger, with much of south Sudan’s support – about 25 percent of the 16-million strong electorate.
Only the most foolhardy commentator would dare to say anything optimistic about the coming year in Sudan, four months away from highly charged elections and 12 months from an explosive referendum on southern independence.
So here goes — five reasons why Africa’s largest country might just manage to reach January 2011 without a return to catastrophe and bloody civil war, despite the worst predictions of most pundits.
from Global News Journal:
It's more than six years since mostly non-Arab rebels in Sudan's western Darfur region revolted after accusing Khartoum of neglecting their remote corner of Africa's biggest country. Khartoum's U.N. ambassador, Abdalmahmoud Abdalhaleem, declared in New York this week that the "war in Darfur is over."
But Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, disagrees. Although levels of violence in Darfur have fallen, he told the Security Council that crimes "are continuing." He said those crimes include indiscriminate bombings of civilians, creation of inhumane conditions for displaced people in order to "exterminate" them, rapes and sexual violence, and the use of child soldiers.
The ICC has already issued arrest warrants for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, another government official and a former Janjaweed militia leader for war crimes in a government-led counter-insurgency campaign that drove more than 2 million from their homes. The United Nations says as many as 300,000 people have died since the conflict erupted in 2003, but Khartoum rejects that figure.