On February 7, 2011, the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission presented President Omar al-Bashir and First Vice President Salva Kiir with the results of the January 2011 vote on southern self-determination. It was a formality: During the three-week voting tabulation process, both presidents had publicly accepted the credibility of the vote and the overwhelming majority for southern secession, which turned out to be 98.83 percent. There was some apprehension that Husni Mubarak, then still president of Egypt, might resign on the same day. But Mubarak managed to hang on for another week, securing for Sudan second billing on Al Jazeera’s evening news when, 55 years after independence, it decided to split into two countries.
In January 2011, if they are allowed to, the people of the southern provinces of Sudan will almost certainly vote to declare the independence of South Sudan from the north. The referendum is to be the culmination of an armistice in the longest-running civil conflict in Africa, between the Sudanese government seated in Khartoum and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) of the south. Said to have killed some 2 million people, and displaced 4 million more, the north-south war has largely been in abeyance since the conclusion of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), signed by the parties in Naivasha, Kenya on January 9, 2005.
On the day after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, the wanted man addressed a pre-planned rally of thousands in front of the presidential palace in Khartoum. Bashir was defiant, denouncing the warrant as “neo-colonialism,” and praising his supporters in Martyrs’ Square as “grandsons of the mujahideen,” a reference to the participants in the Mahdiyya uprising against Anglo-Egyptian rule in 1885. The atmosphere was almost one of jubilation; one might have mistaken the crowds for soccer fans celebrating a win.
It has been quite a week. For the first time, the international community indicted a sitting president of a sovereign state. Omar al-Bashir of Sudan stands accused by the International Criminal Court in The Hague of “crimes against humanity and war crimes” committed in the course of the Khartoum regime’s brutal suppression of the revolt in the country’s far western province of Darfur. Having indicted two other figures associated with the regime in 2007, ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo began building a case against the man at the top, and on Wednesday, the court issued a warrant for Bashir’s arrest.
For the first time, the international community has indicted a sitting president of a sovereign state. Omar al-Bashir of Sudan stands accused by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague of “crimes against humanity and war crimes” committed in the course of the Khartoum regime’s brutal suppression of the revolt in the country’s far western province of Darfur. Having indicted two other figures associated with the regime in 2007, ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo began building a case against the man at the top, and on March 4, the court issued a warrant for Bashir’s arrest.
The video opens with a young Sudanese boy being interviewed outside a hut. “They wanted me to become a Muslim,” he says through a translator. “But I told them I wouldn’t. I am a Christian.” “It was then,” a deep male voiceover intones, “that he was thrown on a burning fire.” The boy looks away from the camera as he lifts up his shirt to reveal horrific burns over one side of his thin body. In Sudan, the video later explains, “a government set on jihad” is persecuting Christians. There is footage of soldiers, then of women lying on the ground, their mutilated limbs and open wounds in view. Bodies — violated, damaged bodies — are on display.
“The worst humanitarian crisis in the world today”—so relief agencies and news reports refer to the catastrophe still unfolding in the westernmost Sudanese province of Darfur. With the United Nations estimating that 50,000 people have been killed and 1 million displaced, the description is apt.
But the dead and uprooted Darfuris are not victims of a natural disaster or even a localized civil conflict. Rather, the Darfur tragedy is symptomatic of a larger syndrome afflicting several regions of Sudan.
When negotiations in July 2002 at Machakos, Kenya between the Islamist government of Sudan and rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) produced a "framework agreement" of shared ideas on the future of the country, Assistant Secretary of State Walter Kansteiner touted the possibility of a comprehensive peace deal that would finally end Africa's longest-running civil war. "There is good cause for optimism," Kansteiner declared four months later, when the next round of talks yielded a temporary ceasefire.
As many as five million Sudanese displaced by the country’s 19-year civil war live in Egypt, many on the urban margins of Cairo. Mostly poor and unemployed, the Sudanese displaced get by in an environment where no one — the Egyptian government, civil society or the UN — seems willing or able to help them.
Black clouds off the Nile River hang low over Mandela Camp, ushering in the storms that bring misery to an already wretched existence on the outskirts of Sudan’s capital. The clouds soon open up over the sprawling squatter settlement, and the rain begins its relentless fall. Barnaba Marial Marol, his cheeks hollow with hunger and his eyes heavy with sorrow, begins his story.
The hum of approaching aircraft sends residents of this dusty rebel outpost scurrying for cover. The over-flights may be the United Nations planes from Operation Lifeline Sudan carrying famine relief — or Sudanese Air Force Antonov-27s searching for signs of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), whose army, the SPLA, controls most of the southern third of this strife-torn country. Battle-weary civilians take no chances. Random — and mostly ineffective — air raids have increased throughout the contested south since a “humanitarian cease-fire” broke down last summer. The government has sought to pressure the SPLM to accept a wider truce rather than extending the previous one only in the famine-wracked Bahr el Ghazal region.
For the villagers of Wad al-Abbas in northern Sudan, transnational migration has generated new understandings of what it means to be a Muslim. From the mid-1970s through the 1980s, Wad al-Abbas’s incorporation into the global economy was mediated primarily by Saudi Arabia. The Saudi kingdom exerted influence on Sudan at the national level by pressuring then-President Numeiri to institute shari‘a law in 1983 and funding opposition groups like the Muslim Brotherhood. At the same time, Saudi Arabia attracted ordinary Sudanese from all walks of life as labor migrants. Villagers from Wad al-Abbas found work in Saudi Arabia as truck drivers, electricians, factory workers and sales clerks.
Given that a large contingent of foreign aid workers and UN representatives has been on the scene in Sudan for a decade, why did no one foresee the current famine in southern Sudan, which is affecting more than a million people?