Africa News blog
African business, politics and lifestyle
On Monday U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration announced its new Sudan policy after months of speculation and lobbying from those opposed to any positive overtures to Khartoum and those who said further isolating Sudan would derail years of peace efforts.
U.S.-Sudanese relations have seen many ups and down in recent years. U.S. sanctions were imposed in 1997 and the United States bombed a Sudanese pharmaceuticals factory in 1998. There was praise for a 2005 north-south peace deal ending more than two decades of civil war, but it was overshadowed by outrage over atrocities in the 2003 Darfur uprising where Washington accused Khartoum of genocide.
The new policy outlined broad engagement, although no direct talks with President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes in Darfur. Khartoum was offered unspecified incentives for tangible progress towards ending the Darfur crisis and implementing the 2005 north-south peace deal. But the government was warned of penalties for any stalling tactics.
Most analysts agreed the strategy was middle of the road with something in there to please everyone. The reaction from most sides of Sudan’s multiple conflicts was one of cautious welcome indicating that, at least for now, it was a good compromise.
African countries often complain about getting a bad press. They say there’s much more to the continent than war and poverty and starvation. Then there’s the huge coverage given to the International Criminal Court and the fact that all four cases the body is now considering come from Africa.
But what’s strange about the complaints is that the world’s poorest continent is the most heavily represented in the ICC, with 30 member countries. In the March 2009 elections for ICC judges, 12 out of the 19 candidates were Africans nominated by African governments. And Fatou Bensouda, the court’s Deputy Prosecutor, is from Gambia.
Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has orchestrated a defiant response to international efforts to arrest him for war crimes in Darfur but this is seen as hiding vulnerabilities that could signal trouble ahead.
Bashir has been travelling in the region in defiance of the arrest warrant issued against him by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity. His travels demonstrate the court’s inability to arrest him and have won support from Arab countries and at home. He has also closed down aid groups accused of helping the court and addressed a string of nationalistic rallies.
Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has seen off other challenges in almost 20 years in power and there is no sign that he is going to give in to the arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.
Some supporters of the court’s move hope it will eventually persuade Sudan’s politicians to hand over their leader in a palace coup, end the festering conflict in Darfur and do more to repair relations with the West.
Look down the list of the cases the International Criminal Court is pursuing – Congo, Central African Republic, Darfur, Uganda – and it doesn’t take long to spot the connection.
Of the dozen arrest warrants the court has issued, all have been against African rebels or officials. On Monday, the court begins its first trial - of Thomas Lubanga, accused of recruiting child soldiers to wage a gruesome ethnic war in northeastern Congo. Earlier this month, former Congolese rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba was in court for a decision on whether to confirm charges of ordering mass rape to terrorise civilians in the Central African Republic.
Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir was in a jubilant mood when he announced to crowds of supporters that he was declaring a ceasefire in Darfur.
From his body language, you might have thought he had already ended the crisis and achieved his goal of avoiding a possible indictment by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes in Darfur.
Driving from Gulu town in northern Uganda to Kitgum, you’re struck by how normal it all seems now. People are walking up and down the main dirt road that connects the two towns, bicycles dodge potholes and passing cars with precision, and the occasional bus plows through, leaving billows of dust in tow. But before Uganda and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) signed a ceasefire in August 2006, the high bush grass and sparsely populated villages made good cover for ambushes, and easy access for rebels abducting new recruits. This road, now full of life, used to be almost empty, people had moved furtively and quickly from one place to another, always watchful, fearful of running into rebels, in a war that has claimed thousands of lives.
But more than twenty years since LRA leader Joseph Kony began his rebellion, northern Uganda is seeing the first effects of peace; both good and bad. Agriculture output is rising as people return to the fields — the north could become Uganda’s bread basket. At the height of the war, some 2 million people were forced from their homes. Now, the majority have returned to their villages or to transition areas. But, it hasn’t all been easy. In fact, many new problems are emerging. An outbreak of highly-infectious Hepatitis E has killed more than 100 people so far. Many northerners are returning to villages, which have rotted during the long course of the war. Aid groups say conditions were often better in camps than in home villages. Many residents are returning to areas with little access to clean water or good sanitation. And this breeds more disease and more suffering.