The casual Sudan observer might conclude from recent news stories that George Clooney’s arrest at the Sudanese embassy in Washington on March 16 has been the most significant event of the past week. It takes some digging to find any coverage of the preliminary agreement signed by representatives of Sudan and South Sudan in Addis Ababa on March 13, which is at least a step toward the settlement of disputes over borders, citizenship and oil revenues that have sustained diplomatic tensions and cross-border violence between the two states since the South’s secession in July 2011.
Recent activism–celebrity and otherwise–has focused on the increasingly dire situation in South Kordofan, where residents of the Nuba Mountain region have suffered a ten-month bombing campaign by the Sudanese Armed Forces that has leveled villages, ruined crop fields and killed several hundred. Approaching rains and the lack of stable food supplies make the arrival of food and medical aid crucial to the survival of hundreds of thousands.
But the problems in South Kordofan are neither unique nor uniquely humanitarian. Indeed, the oft-repeated refrain “another Darfur” has an ironic edge. The reluctance of the news media—and too many activists—to see violence in Sudan as fundamentally political has distorted US policy for decades, in ways that have impeded the development of lasting solutions to Sudan’s many conflicts (see Mimi Kirk in the current issue).
While aid to South Kordofan will alleviate immediate needs, the underlying conflicts over regional autonomy and democratic reform in Khartoum will remain. And despite the bad publicity, focusing the bulk of international attention on questions of humanitarian access rather than political transformation suits Omar al-Bashir and his National Congress Party just fine.