Saturday, 17 March 2012

Sudan: Why Clooney's arrest is both good and bad

Sudan, to most Westerners, is a place of war, genocide, famine and little children with big bellies. It is a place where an Islamist central government is fighting a religious war with Christians. It is where Arabs kill Africans. It is a place of suppression, racism, bigotry and Islamic violence. The funny thing though is that Sudan is exactly that, but not that at all.

The current regime in North Sudan took power in 1989 in a coup that saw the prominent National Islamic Front to power. Since then, it has vigorously attempted to bring the whole of the Sudan under the control of the ruling party currently known as the National Congress Party (NCP).

The NCP, in 1989, inherited the war with the South from its predecessors. Using Islam as a tool to foster its power, the NCP branded the war with the South a 'Holy War'. It was far from that. The NCP was engaged in a war with the late John Garang's Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), which, according to Dr Garang's visions, was fighting for a New Sudan, a united Sudan. This New Sudan vision, as was explained by Dr Garang, would afford all Sudanese of all ethnic backgrounds, representation in the central government in Khartoum.

Like the SPLM, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) - established by the late Khalil Ibrahim - took up arms to seek representation for the people of Darfur in the central government in Khartoum. The consequence of this rebellion was military suppression by the Sudanese government. The events that followed, genocide or not, saw the indictment of president Bashir by the International Criminal Court.

During the North-South civil war, the inhabitants of the Nuba Mountains, under the leadership of Abdul Aziz Al-Hilu, saw an opportunity to address their plight and joined the ranks of the SPLM. After seeing what Al-Hilu claimed as rigged elections for the governorship of South Kurdofan, Al-Hilu took up arms - independently this time - against the central government in Khartoum with what was left of his Nuba SPLM soldiers.

Despite the Western media's portrayal of the situation in the Nuba Mountains, the so called "genocide waiting to happen" is actually a rebellion. The distortion of such causes is what makes this whole activism by Hollywood celebrities so deplorable.

Earlier in the week, George Clooney pleaded with the US government to take action on the "atrocities" happening in the Nuba Mountains. This act alone highlights Clooney's ignorance of the situation that North Sudan is currently in. It is very obvious that the US has very little leverage with the current Sudanese government. This lack of cooperation between the two nations dates back to 1995 when the Sudanese government gave Osama Bin-Laden safe haven. Since then, the US had put detrimental economic sanctions on North Sudan. Another reason is the US's broken promises to North Sudan's government following South Sudan's independence. The US had promised the removal of Sudan's name from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism, and possible removal of sanctions, of which the US had done neither.

The US's stance on Sudan is questionable to say the least. In 1983, when Garang formed the SPLM/A and took up arms against Jaafar Nimeiry's - then Sudanese president - regime, the US supported Nimeiry, despite the fact that Nimeiry's government at the time was "Islamist", primarily because of Garang's communist inclinations. At the time, Garang was supported, militarily, by the USSR, through Mengistu's regime in Ethiopia. After the fall of the USSR, Garang sought the West for support, which he eventually got under the false pretense of fighting fighting an "Islamist regime".

These contradictions in foreign policy have been entrenched in the Western media's reportage. In John Avlon ridiculous post for the CNN on Clooney's arrest, he shamelessly insists on how we shouldn't let the world be ignorant about the "slaughter of their fellow human beings". Forgetting of course that the US is currently involved in two very questionable wars with more civilian casualties that one can fathom. Unfortunately, Mr Avlon himself doesn't understand the history behind the conflict in the Nuba Mountains nor does he understand the US's stance on Sudan.

Statements like "That's why Clooney envisioned the Satellite Sentinel Project, administered by the DigitalGlobe and the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, which uses satellite surveillance technology to pierce the isolation of the Islamist nation" are exactly why such bad press from Mr Clooney's campaigning is bad for Sudan. The word "Islamist" has no meaning whatsoever in the aforementioned statement. Unfortunately for us Sudanese, so called activists like Mia Farrow use twitter to publicize the conflict in Sudan using tweets like this "Omar Al Bashir is wanted by the ICC for genocide in Darfur-is now slaughtering civilians along oil-rich borderland #arrestBashir". Again, terms like "oil-rich" have no pertinence whatsoever to the matter at hand.

The current narrative on South Kurdofan is misleading, hence why you had people like Congressman Jim Morgan from the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People at the protests yesterday in front of the Sudanese Embassy in Washington. He probably thinks that the Arab Muslim government in Khartoum is deliberately targeting helpless coloured Africans in South Kurdofan.

After being released from 3 hours of detention, Mr Clooney told the press that the situation in South Kurdofan is a "man-made tragedy by the government in Khartoum to get these people to leave". Again, Mr Clooney is failing to understand that what's happening in South Kurdofan is a war between rebels and an ill-equipped government. Which begs the question, why isn't Mr Clooney campaigning against all the "accidental" civilian deaths in Afghanistan by US and NATO forces?

The reportage gets even more distorted when people like Mukesh Kapila, Special Representative for the Aegis Trust, visit South Kurdofan and release statements report that they saw "two churches hit by over head bombs, while a mosques was left untouched".

We are not doubting the concern that these activists and officials have for the people of South Kurdofan, but unless they understand the roots of the conflict and the consequences of their reporting, they will not be helping anyone. They seem oblivious to the obdurate nature of the Sudanese government and Mr Bashir. These reports only give Mr Bashir and his government more of a reason to continue their war in South Kurdofan. What's more, other than the fact that the Mr Al-Hilu's forces might be supported by the government in the South, foreigners like Clooney and Kapila coming in to South Kurdofan from the Southern border is counter productive to the already tense North-South relationship.

I will concede that George Clooney's arrest has shed some light on Sudan's issues, but it's shedding it wrong. Sudan's problems are far more complicated that Mr Clooney might think, and Sudan's situation is extremely volatile.

However, there's no reason for Mr Clooney to be concerned with situations such as the one in South Kurdofan while there are those suffering in Palestine. Yes, this is a naive observation, but it still holds. If human suffering is his concern, then he should at least join the protests against the occupation of Palestine. He should be against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he should also be campaigning against any hostilities towards Iran.

What most Western activists fail to understand is that the political climate in countries like Sudan is no place for philanthropy. If anyone wants to help, they can fight for freedom of press in Sudan, the release of political prisoners and the end to corruption. They can also try and persuade the US government to lift the economic sanctions from Sudan, which is hurting the people more than the government. The people of Sudan are not incapable, they are forgotten.