Bush’s obfuscation

During a recent interview with the BBC’s Matt Frei, President Bush talks about his upcoming trip to Africa and his stance on the genocide in Darfur. Even though one might be inclined to applaud Bush for his African AIDS policy (which I do think is admirable, particularly for this administration), his response on the Darfur issue is ridiculous with regards to both content and his unceasing negative characteristic of the left, who are the most ardent supporters of a peaceful end to the violence in Darfur.

Frei: You were very tough in your speech about Darfur. And, yet again, you called what’s happening there genocide?

Mr Bush: Yeah.

Frei: Is enough being done by your administration to stop that?

Mr Bush: I think we are. Yeah. You know, I had to make a seminal decision. And that is whether or not I would commit US troops into Darfur. And I was pretty well backed off of it by – you know, a lot of folks – here in America that care deeply about the issue. And so, once you make that decision, then you have to rely upon an international organisation like the United Nations to provide the oomph – necessary manpower… You know, I read – did call it (SOUND GLITCH) genocide, and I think we’re the only nation that has done so. Secondly, I did remind people that we’re sanctioning leaders. That we have targeted [Sudanese] companies and individuals, including a rebel leader, who have yet to be constructive in the peace process. We [are] beginning to get a sense of these things as they’re affecting behaviour. We’re trying to ask others, by the way, to do the same thing. Some of who are reluctant; some who aren’t. And then, finally, I pledged that we’ll help move troops in. And yeah, and as I also said you might remind your listeners, that I’m frustrated by the pace.

Frei: I’ll get on to that in a minute. But, I mean, genocide is just a loaded – it’s such an important word. And you have committed troops – American troops around the world in other cases throughout… Afghanistan. Why not in this case?

Mr Bush: Well, that’s a good question. I mean, we’re committing equipment, you know? Training, help, movement. I think a lot of the folks who are concerned about America into another Muslim country. Some of the relief groups here just didn’t think the strategy would be as effective as it was. I mean, actually, believe it or not, listen to people’s opinions. And chose to make this decision. It’s a decision that I’m now living with. And it’s a decision that requires us to continue to rally the conscience of the world and get people to focus on the issue. You know, you’re right. I mean, we sent marines into Liberia, for example, to help stabilise the country there. And Liberia’s on my itinerary where I’ll meet with the first woman, you know, elected president in Africa – history. And – but, I just made the decision I made.

Frei: Yesterday, Steven Spielberg – the Hollywood director – pulled out of the Beijing Olympics over Darfur. He said the Chinese aren’t doing enough to stop the killing in Darfur. Do you applaud his move?

Mr Bush: That’s up to him. I’m going to the Olympics. I view the Olympics as a sporting event. On the other hand, I have a little different platform than Steven Spielberg so, I get to talk to President Hu Jintao. And I do remind him that he can do more to relieve the suffering in Darfur. There’s a lot of issues that I suspect people are gonna, you know, opine, about during the Olympics. I mean, you got the Dali Lama crowd. You’ve got global warming folks. You’ve got, you know, Darfur and… I am not gonna you know, go and use the Olympics as an opportunity to express my opinions to the Chinese people in a public way ’cause I do it all the time with the president. I mean. So, people are gonna be able to choose – pick and choose how they view the Olympics.

Personally, I find it difficult to take the President’s position on Darfur seriously. Even though he’s admitted that genocide has taken place in Darfur, his continued lack of pressure on Sudan, and his fairly obvious disinterest in committing military personnel gives his entire position a hollow, political feeling. Not unlike Clinton’s stance and repeated obfuscation on the Rwandan genocide.

Chad rebellion disaster for Darfur

As the government backed janjaweed ravaged the Darfur region of Sudan, the region’s civilians beat a retreat across the arid landscape to find safety in neighboring Chad. Despite being in another country, the former Sudanese have been consistently hounded by attackers.

At the end of last week, a rebel movement began a siege against the Chadian government, leaving the fate of thousands of refugees in question. This morning, the first sign of potentially disastrous news made its way to the AP.

Chad rebels said they overwhelmed government troops Sunday and seized an eastern town along the border with Sudan’s war-ravaged Darfur region in an area with more than 400,000 refugees.

While there’s been no word from the camps themselves, and even the spokesman for the rebels wasn’t able to comment on what was currently happening in the area, it’s clear that the rebel movements aren’t localized to the capital of N’Djamena. With twelve camps operated by the United Nations in the area, containing 420,000 displaced persons, it’s difficult to imagine a worse set of circumstances.

Even more alarming are the recent reports that the Chadian rebels are being armed by the Sudanese government. With their utter lack of concern for the people of Darfur, it’s hard to see how the camps will escape the grasp of the janjaweed if the rebels are able to disrupt the governing of Chad.

Bush signs divestment bill (sort of)

With the unanimous votes of both chambers of Congress, the Sudan Accountability and Divestment Act reached President Bush’s desk and was signed into law this week. Not surprisingly, the final document wound up with a signing statement attached to it:

…in which he said he was reserving the authority to overrule state and local divestment decisions if they conflicted with foreign policy. The statement said the measure “risks being interpreted as insulating” state and local divestment actions from federal oversight.

I realize the Executive Branch is often dealing with complex laws, but worrying over “insulating” legislative action, particularly with regards to such a minor proposal, is a rather blatant nod of contrition to the fact that we enjoy being stuck in a policy quagmire when it comes to dealing with acts of genocide.

US diplomat killed in Sudan

The New Year began with violence in Sudan as a United States diplomat was gunned down during his drive home in the capital of Khartoum.

In Washington, the Agency for International Development identified the diplomat as one of its officials, John Granville, 33, originally of Buffalo. American officials said it was “too early to tell” if the shooting had been random or planned, but Sudanese officials said the circumstances were suspicious, especially because gun crime is rare in Khartoum, considered one of the safest cities in Africa.

The United Nations had recently warned its staff in Sudan that there was credible evidence that a terrorist cell was in the country and planning to attack foreigners.

According to Western officials, Mr. Granville left a New Year’s Eve party at the British Embassy around 2:30 a.m. and was being driven to his home in an upscale neighborhood in central Khartoum. Shortly before he arrived, a car pulled up next to him and 17 shots were fired, Sudanese officials said.

Mr. Granville’s driver, a Sudanese employee of the American Embassy, was killed instantly, and Mr. Granville was shot in the neck and chest. He was taken to the hospital and died several hours later.

Considering Granville was an employee of USAID, an agency that frequently participates in regime change, it’s probably equally likely that the Khartoum government lent a hand to whoever was planning the attack. The New York Times itself seemed to be alluding to the same idea:

Mr. Granville had served the Agency for International Development in Sudan as well as Nairobi. A photo on the agency’s Web site shows Mr. Granville standing amid a crowd of African women, each holding a radio distributed by the agency.

Mr. Granville had been deeply involved in a project to distribute 450,000 radios equipped with generator cranks and solar panels, which work in places with no electricity.

The goal was to prepare southern Sudan for elections in 2009 and a possible referendum in 2011 on independence, according to Shari K. Bryan, who is a senior associate and regional director for East and Southern Africa at the National Democratic Institute, a nonprofit, pro-democracy group based in Washington.

Regardless of who was ultimately responsible for the killing, it seems likely that Granville’s death is a backlash to the ongoing conflict in Darfur. The attack followed only a day after the African Union handed-off autonomous control of the peacekeeping forces in the region to a hybrid United Nations-African Union force.

A host of factions

As the Darfur peace talks continued, even without the key rebel leaders, the Herald Tribune takes note of the fact that hoping to bring both “sides” of this conflict together is an utter misnomer. The fact is, the rebel groups themselves have fractured and splintered into so many different factions that it’s almost impossible to tell who should be at the negotiating table.

It’s not easy being a Darfurian rebel, especially if you’re a member of the B team. Instead of being praised for coming here in the interests of peace, as the world begged them to do, they have been gaped at, criticized for being ineffective and dogged by questions about where the big guys are, like Abdel Wahid el-Nur, a founding father of Darfur’s rebellion, and Khalil Ibrahim, the commander of one of the strongest rebel armies, both of whom are boycotting the talks.

But the reality that international negotiators are beginning to grudgingly accept is that the rebels here in Sirte, Libya’s government center, represent the facts on the ground. After years of fragmentation and isolation, Darfur’s resistance movements have broken down into a fractious bunch of men, many of whom have never met before, who hail from different corners of the land and who belong to different tribes and command their own little armies.

According to the United Nations best estimate, the rebels have fractured from two main groups into twenty-eight separate causes. This recent Libyan attempt at peace talks only managed to bring seven of those leaders to the table.

Darfur “quarrel over a camel”

During a televised discussion with students at Cambridge University, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi said that the violence in Darfur was nothing more than a “quarrel over a camel.”

“You might laugh if I say that the main reason of this issue is a camel,” he said.

“Africa has thousands of issues – they are about water, about grass – and Africa is divided into 50 countries, and the tribes are divided amongst so many countries, although they belong to each other.

“The problem we are having now is that we politicise such problems between tribes.”

He said that in Darfur the issue had been politicised because “there are super powers who are interested in oil and other things”.

He also said that the crisis had been prolonged by international aid agencies because the local population increasingly depended on the support it received and, therefore, wanted the conflict to continue.

Ironically, there are a number of valid points in Gaddafi’s argument, despite the fact that he over-simplifies the entire conflict, and adds his own political spin to the issue. Nonetheless, he is correct in that these sorts of disputes used to be handled by local, tribal leaders before they were ever given a chance to escalate out of control.

Unfortunately, when the government of Sudan began arming forces to propagate the conflict, the violence turned from a local issue into a regional (and thus humanitarian) concern.

Systematic rape continues in Darfur

A new report by the United Nations Office for Human Rights implicates Sudanese military forces and allied militia groups (Janjaweed) in the capture and rape of fifty women. According to the latest release, the women were taken to a government facility where they were held for a month and repeatedly abused.

Women in Darfur are also at risk of sexual violence outside the context of large attacks. Women risk being raped if they leave their camp for internally displaced people to search for firewood. In some areas, the current African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) has provided “firewood patrols” to accompany groups of women once or twice a week as they gather firewood. But these patrols have often been ineffective due to poor organization, lack of resources, and lack of communication with the people who benefit from the patrols.

As Peter Takirambudde, Africa director at Human Rights Watch, pointed out, the upcoming UN/AU peacekeepers need the authority to intervene in such situations.

Khalifa dies in accident

Majzoub al-Khalifa, an advisor to Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, died in a car accident, along with his brother, on his way to Shendi.

Khalifa graduated from Khartoum university’s faculty of medicine in 1976. He had previously held the positions of governor of Khartoum and agriculture minister.

Known for his gruff manner, he was energetic, large of stature and said to be one of Bashir’s close inner circle.

Sometimes called a “thug” by his critics, he was blunt and to the point in his diplomatic dealings.

The United Nations paid tribute to Khalifa on Wednesday, offering its condolences to his family.

Khalifa was one of the point men on the 2006 Darfur Peace Accord. Unfortunately, with only one of the various rebel factions involved, and a lack of interest in stopping the bloodshed on the part of the government, the violence has continued unabated.

Aid worker killed in Sudan

Even though Sudan recently agreed (on paper) to accept a mixed UN/AU force into the Darfur region, the violence in the western part of the country has continued unabated. Reuters reports this morning that an aid worker for the NGO ACT-Caritas was killed near the DP camps in Zalingei, bringing the total number of deaths in the area to five.

“This killing follows a spate of attacks in the camps around Zalingei,” the charity said in a statement on 19 June. “Since the beginning of June, five camp residents have been shot and killed, huts have been set on fire, people have been beaten, and women assaulted almost daily. Hijackings of vehicles belonging to the UN and other international organisations also continue.”

Adam Adam, a guard and pump operator at a water point in Khamsa Degaig camp for internally displaced persons in Zalingei, was shot on 17 June. He was one of the local leaders in the camp.

“The incident was witnessed by three women on their way to the water point,” ACT-Caritas noted. “People in the camp tried to react, but the attackers fired shots into the crowd, dispersing them and allowing the gunmen to escape.”

According to the NGO, security in and around Zalingei, where about 100,000 people are camped, has continued to deteriorate over the past year yet people keep arriving every day.

This recent spate of violence against NGOs and displacement camps follows closely behind an announcement that Oxfam would be ceasing its operations in the Gereida region.