Friday, October 05, 2007

United States Foreign Policy Toward Sudan: A Political History

US Foreign Policy Toward Sudan: A Political History

Why the American approach to relations with Sudan will fail miserably

by Abayomi Azikiwe, Editor
Pan-African News Wire

This lecture was prepared for an adult education class sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Church of Farmington on October 4, 2007.

On Wednesday, October 3, 2007, a news report emerged of a conflict between former United States President Jimmy Carter and Sudanese security officials in the western region of Darfur. Darfur has become a household word in the United States with constant claims of genocidal actions taken against the people of this region of the country. According to the prevailing wisdom in the corporate media, the conflict is one between an Arab/Muslim controlled government and the black African population in Darfur.

Carter, who has a reputation for involvement in international affairs on several continents, was supposedly told to stay out of an area which was not on the schedule to be visited by the so-called "Elders" group which was seeking to hold dialogue between the various political groups in Darfur and the Sudanese government.

According to an Associated Press article: "The 83-year-old Carter walked into this highly volatile pro-Sudanese town to meet refugees too frightened to attend a scheduled meeting at a nearby compound. He was able to make it to a school where he met with one tribal representative and was preparing to go further into the town when Sudanese security officers stopped him."

In reading this introduction to the incident as conveyed by the AP story on Wednesday, October 3, the assumption abounds that this former American President has some type of divine right to have complete access to the physical areas and population groups of this sovereign African state that is currently undergoing civil conflict in one of its regions.

The AP continues with what is stated as direct quotes from this incident: "You can't go. It's not on the program!" the local security chief, who only gave his first name as Omar, yelled at Carter, who is in Darfur as part of a delegation of respected international figures known as "The Elders."

"We're going to anyway!" an angry Carter retorted as a crowd began to gather. "You don't have the power to stop me." Carter later told the security personnel that: "I'll tell President Bashir about this."

Could anyone imagine a former or present head-of-state coming into an area of the United States, for example, the Gulf region devastated by the post-Katrina neglect of the Bush administration and demanding full access to communities and leaders within these areas despite the objections of the secret service or other security forces? Particularly if this foreign leader comes from a country whose current administration has adopted an extremely hostile foreign policy towards the host nation.

Yet this incident speaks volumes in regard to the arrogance of the United States and how it conducts its relations with countries in Africa and other geo-political regions of the world. Even though Carter has sought to put some distance between himself and the current Bush administration, his own foreign policy legacy towards Africa during his tenure is far less than desirable was subjected to severe criticism during his presidency between 1977-1981.

It was during this period that the United States refused to impose sanctions against the racist apartheid regimes in both South Africa and Rhodesia (now known as Zimbabwe). These refusals to impose punitive measures against the racist governments of the time stemmed from the vast economic and political interests of the United States in southern Africa. Despite the massive uprising and armed struggles waged by the peoples of South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia during this period, the Carter administration maintained the same imperialist foreign policy towards the white minority regimes that had been the traditional of the United States for decades.

In regard to Sudan itself and the overall region of the continent known as the Horn of Africa, the Carter administration continued support for the dictatorial policies of the pro-US Sudanese leader Jafar Numeri who received millions of dollars in military assistance from America to continue the repression of his own people.

In 1977-78, it was the Carter administration that armed and encouraged a breakaway separatist movement in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia resulting in a civil war. After encouraging the Somali population of Ogaden to revolt against the socialist government in Ethiopia at the time, the administration, suffering from the immediate post-Vietnam syndrome, balked at sending American forces to assist the successionist. Eventually the Ogaden separatists were defeated by the Ethiopian government of Haile Mariam with the assistance of Cuban internationalist forces.

Although the world has changed considerably over the last three decades since Jimmy Carter was in office, the same imperial policies of the United States have created the conditions for continued military interventions and the outright subversion of the popular will of peoples and governments on the African continent and throughout the world.

Today the Bush administration has imposed sanctions on Sudan. They have attempted to bring the issue of the internal conflict in Sudan before the United Nations Security Council, efforts that were only thrawted by the political intervention of China, a major economic partner of the Sudanese government. The current administration in Washington has attempted to link the Sudanese government with "international terrorism." It has vilified the leader of Sudan, President Omar al-Bashir, and portrayed him as being less than legitimate even though he was elected in a popular vote by the people of his country.

What legitimacy does the Bush administration have today in light of its aggressive and imperialist efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Haiti, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, North Korea, etc.? How many people around the world and even in the United States itself, actually believe that anything positive can come out of American military and diplomatic intervention in the so-called Third World?

Can a policy of establishing "no fly zones", as was done in Iraq before the 2003 invasion and consequent occupation, and imposing sanctions that resulted in the deaths of over a million Iraqis, really assist the people of that nation? Or is there a less than honorable desire and interests in regard to US policy toward Sudan? Is the fact that Sudan is emerging as one of the major oil suppliers on the African continent, with the total exclusion of the US oil companies, the real reason behind the aggressive and hostile policy toward Sudan, Africa's largest geographic nation-state?

Prior to the ascendancy of the United States after World War II as the leading superpower, the British were colonizers of Sudan as well as other vast territories throughout Africa. The Sudanese people who have a tremendous and rich history of nationalist resistance to foreign intervention, are instinctively suspicious of the efforts by the United States, the UK and the European Union to shape the terms of reaching a settlement in the Darfur region. What is at stake for the Americans, the British and the European Union is a greater control and influence over the vast oil resources in Sudan. What is important for the Sudanese is the preservation of their sovereignty as a nation and the utilization of their oil and other natural resources for the benefit of the people and not that of the multi-national oil companies.

Sudan: Its Own Historical Path

Africa is the home of the oldest cultures and civilizations in history. According to many archaeologists, the area around modern-day Sudan has left material artifacts that would indicate human habitation and settlement for over sixty thousand years. Some eight thousand years ago there were settlements with fortified mud-brick villages, where hunting and fishing constituted the productive activity of these societies.

The Kingdom of Cush became well known to the inhabitants of distance lands by the Eighth Century B.C. By 740 B.C. expansive cities such as Napapta, the capital of Kush, had extended influence to Egypt and later Assyria. Kashta, a Cushite Monarch had conquered Upper Egypt and became the ruler of Thebes. Later Piankhy, the successor to Kashta, took control of the delta, and brought together the area known as Egypt under the Twenty-fifth Dynasty. As a result of this union, there were a line of monarchs who dominated this area for a century.

With the intervention of the monarchs from this area in Assyria, war soon developed. The Assyrians later invaded Egypt prompting the then monarch Taharqa (688-663 BC), who was the last Cushite pharaoh, pulled his forces out and set up headquarters in Napata. It was from Napata that the Cushite Kingdom continued to extend its influence and control towards the south and east.

During the following century a set of historical circumstances would alter the history of this region substantially. By 590 BC, the Egyptian military overran Napata, which prompted the Cushite rulers to re-locate in Meroe located near the sixth cataract. As the years went by the Meroitic monarchies grew and expanded independently of Egypt. During the second and third centuries BC, the kingdoms of Meroe expanded from the third cataract in the north to Sawba, which is close to where the modern-day capital of Sudan is located at Khartoum.

For the next seven centuries the Meroe kingdoms continued to exist and flourish. Evidence of these achievements can be viewed even today in Sudan by the ruins of temples, tombs, pyramids and irrigation systems. Tools found in the area attests to the artisans' skills utilized by a large workforce that is indicative of a highly centralized society. When during the first century BC the use of Egyptian hieroglyphs faded and the development of a Meroitic script evolved, these changes reflected the greater reliance on the indigenous Nubian-related languages spoken by the people of the region.

Later on in the second century AD, the people of Nobatae entered the west bank of the Nile in northern Cush. They soon set up a military aristocracy and intermarried with the people who had occupied the region prior to this period. During this period until nearly the fifth century, Rome had subsidized the Nobatae people and utilized Meroe as a an ally between Egypt and the Blemmyes, an Ethiopian people residing between the Nile and the Red Sea.

By the sixth century, the influence of the Byzantine Christain empire was evident in this region. Three Nubian kingdoms emerged with strong military forces. Nobatia in the north, which was also known as Ballanah in what is now Egypt. Another central kingdom called Muqurra (Makuria) was centered in Dunqulah, about 150 kilometers south of modern-day Dunqulah. The third monarchy known as Alawa (Alodia), was located in the center of the old Meroitic kingdom. This kingdom had its capital in the area of Sawba, which is today a suburb of Khartoum.

The Nubian kings became Monophysite Christians although Makuria adopted the Melkite Christian faith unlike Nobatai and Alodia. By the seventh century AD and the rise of Islam in the Arabian peninsula as well as north Africa, the Nubian kingdoms resisted the onslaught of the Arab armies. After many failed attempts to conquer Nubia, the Arab military leaders in Egypt signed peace treaties known as AlBaqt (pactum) with the Nubians that guided relations between the two peoples for more than six hundred years.

Eventually by the early fourteenth century a Muslim prince of Nubian royal lineage took over the kingdom at Dunqulah. This was the result of centuries of trade and intermarriage between the Arab speaking and Nubian peoples of the region. The two most significant groups in the region that spoke Arabic, the Jaali and the Juhayna, have physicial characteristics that are continous with the indigenous pre-Islamic ethnic groups and nationalities. In today's northern Sudanese culture there are both Arabic and Nubian traditions still in coexistence.

By 1820 Northern Sudan was under the control of the Ottoman viceroy of Egypt Muhammad Ali. Later armies were sent to conquer eastern Sudan. Between 1863-1879 Ismail Pasha of Egypt attempted to spread Egyptian and therefore British influence south.

In 1885 the Sudanese organized a revolt against British involvement in their country. Muhammad ibn Abdalla, who went by the name of Mahdi (Guided One), led the revolt against the British and their surrogate Egyptian partners which culminated in the overthrow of British rule in Khartoum and the death of the British General Charles George Gordon. The British left Sudan temporarily while the Sudanese established a Muslim state.

However, by the close of the nineteenth century the British sought to regain control of Sudan. At the beginning of the 1890s the British, Belgians and the French established outposts along the Nile. It was the intent of England to seize control of the Nile and to construct an irrigation dam at Aswan.

Lord Kitchener, the British General, initiated military attacks against Sudan between 1896 and 1898. These efforts on the part of the British resulted in the Battle of Omdurman where the Sudanese Mahdists were defeated. In 1899 the British set up Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, where a governor-general was assigned from the colonial capital. Sudan during this period became a complete colony of the United Kingdom.

After World War I a new colonial system was established in this region. Between 1924 and 1956, the British developed a deliberate policy of divide-and-rule in Sudan. The north was systematically run differently from the south. The objective was to maintain colonial control of Sudan and to manage this territory in conjunction with British interests in Egypt.

Sudan gained its independence in 1956 from Great Britain. Just prior to the granting of independence, the southern Sudanese conscripts in the colonial army rebelled. This was the beginning of the first civil war in Sudan which lasted from 1955 to 1972. The social ingredients for such a civil war can be found within the character of imperialist rule in Sudan.

Throughout the period of British colonialism in Sudan the imperialist powers sought to institutionalize the northern region's closer ties with Egypt and the muslim world and the southern peoples practice of traditional African religions and christianity. Both the north and south functioned under separate colonial administrations. After 1924 it was illegal for people residing above the 10th parallel to travel further south and for people residing below the 8th parallel to journey to the north. The result of such a policy was the constantly increasing polarization between the north and south of the country.

In 1972 under President Gaafar Nimeiri, a peace deal was reached between the north and south in Sudan. This treaty lasted until 1983 when Nimeiri enacted policies which sparked a revolt in the south of the country. The Sudan People Liberation Army (SPLA) was formed in 1983. President Nimeiri then scrapped the terms of the Addis Ababa Agreement that had brought peace to the country in 1972.

Nimeiri then imposed sharia law in Sudan during 1983. This civil war escalated until early 1985 when a broad-based popular movement rose up in rebellion against the US-backed regime of Nimeiri. Nimeiri fled the country in 1985, however, the war continued. After an interim military regime took power elections were held. A democratically elected government arose in Sudan that represented the same political interests that had prevailed for decades in traditional politics.

In 1989 a bloodless coup took place where General Omar al-Bashir seized control of the state. This coup was supported by the National Islamic Front (NIF) headed by Dr. Hassan al-Turabi. However, the NIF later developed political differences with Omar al-Bashir who eventually ran and was elected to the presidency.

In 2004 a peace agreement was signed between the Khartoum government and the SPLA. By this time hundreds of thousands and been affected by the twenty year civil war. While the Sudanese people along with concerned people throughout the international community celebrated the new peace deal, another conflict erupted in the western region of Darfur.

The Problem of Darfur

If someone only heard, saw or read the American corporate press they would conclude that Darfur is not really a part of Sudan. In fact Darfur is a region of Sudan, Africa's largest geographic nation-state with a population of 40,000,000. The currency of Sudan is called the Dinar.

Darfur is a large region the size of many western European nations such as France. The region is divided into three states: Northern Darfur which has a population of 1.6 million people with the state capital located in El Fashir.

In addition, there is Southern Darfur state which has a population of 2.9 million people. The capital of Southern Darfur is located in Nyala.

Also there is Western Darfur state with a population of 1.6 million where the capital is located at El Geneina.

The rebel groups that have surfaced in Darfur over the last three years have been extremely fragmented. There is the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). However, there have been splits within these two major movements in Darfur.

On May 5, 2006, the government in Khartoum and the largest of the rebel groups the SLM/A, signed the Darfur Peace Agreement, which claimed to be a document that would end the three year war. The agreement called for the disarming of the militias known as the Janjaweed as well as the Darfur rebel groups. However, despite the signing of this agreement the war in Darfur continues. Several of the factions rejected the peace agreement and formed another rebel coalition called the National Redemption Front, which is composed of four different rebel organizations.

The conflict in Darfur has also spilled over into neighboring Chad. Many refugees from the war in Darfur have fled to Chad. This fact has created greater political tensions between Sudan and Chad, both being oil rich countries, over allegations of the other nation's support for various rebel groups.

The Chad-Sudan conflict started officially in December of 2005 when the government in Chad declared war on Sudan. There were reports of cross-border fighting during 2005 and 2006. Nonetheless on May 3, 2007 an agreement was signed between the two nations in Saudi Arabia which halted the fighting.

US Sanctions and Military Aggression

Since 2004 the Bush administration has utilized the Darfur conflict to call for repressive sanctions against the people and government of Sudan. Just earlier this year, the Washington Post reported on February 7 that:
"President Bush has approved a plan for the Treasury Department to aggressively block U.S. commericial bank transactions connected to the government of Sudan, including those involving oil revenues, if Khartoum continues to balk at efforts to bring peace to Sudan's troubled Darfur region, government officials said yesterday.

"The Treasury plan is part of a secret three-tiered package of coercive steps--labeled "Plan B"--that the administration has repeatedly threatened to unleash if Sudan continues to sponsor a campaign of teror that has left as many as 450,000 dead and 2.5 million homeless. But the administration has held back on any announcement of Plan B, even after setting a Jan. 1 deadline, in hopes of still winning Khartoum's cooperation." (WP, Feb. 7, 2007).

While the American government has stepped-up economic threats against Sudan, the Pentagon announced in February 2007 that it would be setting up a special Africa desk to monitor developments and to place military units on the continent. In an article published in the Guardian on February 8 it reports that:
"This week's decision by the US to create a new Pentagon command covering Africa, known as Africom, has a certain unlovely military logic. Like Roman emperors of old, Washington's centurions already arbitrarily divide much of the world into Middle Eastern, European and Pacific domains.

"Practical more than imperial considerations dictated the White House move. With Gulf of Guinea countries including Nigeria and Angola projected to provide one quarter of US oil imports within a decade, with growing Islamist terrorism worries in the Sahel and Horn of Africa regions, and with China prowling for resources and markets, the US plainly feels a second wind of change is blowing, necessitating increased presence and leverage."

Even though the Guardian article by Simon Tisdall says that the American administration is motivated more by practical rather than imperial considerations, the struggle for the control of oil in Africa and throughout world is the major focus of imperialist's efforts during this time period. Consequently, who are real terrorists? It is the US administration that is waging preemptive wars and making every attempt to not only dominate but to destroy every liberation movement and soveriegn society that is seeking to maintain a political course independent of imperialist designs?

This same above-mentioned article from the Guardian newpspaper in England goes on to place the advent of Africom (the American military's Africa Command), in the context of the overall US military spending in relationship to other nations throughout the globe. Tisdall continues by pointing out that:
"Africom's advent also follows a pattern of perhaps unparalled military expansion under President George Bush, not all of which is explained by the 9/11 trauma. The American military-industrial complex that so troubled Dwight Eisenhower in 1961 has morphed into a boom business with truly global reach. It makes China's business-oriented People's Liberation Army look like a corner store.

"The Pentagon's total budget requests for fiscal year ending September 2008 have swollen to $716.5 billion. That is more than double Clinton-era spending. In contrast, Russia will spend $31 billion on defence that year and China, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, an estimated $87 billion. With Mr. Bush as head of the police academy, the US is becoming, de facto, the self-appointed global policeman it said it never wanted to be."

The two largest economies on the continent of Africa, Nigeria and South Africa, have both had a negative response to the announcement of Africom. In a recent article in ThisDay newspaper published on October 3, 2007 in Nigeria, the oil-rich nation's foreign minister was quoted as saying that:
"Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chief Ojo Maduekwe yesterday gave indications that Nigeria would not support the deployment of United States (US) combatant troops in Africa under the auspices of the new US/Africa Command (AFRICOM).

"Maduekwe said this in Washington DC during an interview with journalists after the 47th Independence anniversary celebration held at the Nigerian Embassy. According to the Minister, stationing US combat troops on African soil is counter-productive, unnecessary and impinges on the sovereignty of states."

In South Africa during early September of 2007, the Defense Minister Mosiuoa Lekota, stated categorically that the presence of American troops on African soil was totally unacceptable. An article in the South African Business Day newspaper published on September 1 read as follows:
"More armed US soldiers are not welcome in Africa, said Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota yesterday. Any country that allowed itself to be a base for the US strategic command in Africa (Africom) would have to live with the consequences, Lekota said.

"Africom’s recent creation has been interpreted as the US suddenly recognising the strategic importance of Africa to the US. Last month it was reported that Lekota was not responding to US requests for him to meet the first Africom commander, Gen Kip Ward."

The Impact of Oil on Foreign Relations

Over the last twenty years there has been much speculation regarding the exploration and exploitation of Sudan's oil resources. Today the level of production in Sudan stands at 520,000 barrels per day. Oil is the main export from the country and the revenues generated by the production of petroleum has fueled other light industries and have expanded export processing zones. Such developments have resulted in a 6.1% annual growth rate during 2003. By 2005 the Sudanese economy was booming with an annual growth rate exceeding 7%.

Most of the concessions for oil production in Sudan are granted to the People's Republic of China. This has taken place while there is a total ban on United States firms doing business in Sudan's oil industry. Consequently, anyone can understand that this must be considered when analyzing the current crisis in United States-Sudanese relations in the twenty-first century.

The Clinton administration bombed a pharmaceutical plant at al-Shifa during August of 1998, the only such plant in the country. This was done in the aftermath of an attack on the United States embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. After a thorough investigation by journalist and US intelligence, there was no evidence that this production facility had produced chemical weapons as the Clinton administration alleged.

Under the current Bush administration this hostile posture towards Sudan has continued. The administration has called for the establishment of no-fly zones similar to those set up in Iraq prior to the occupation. They have imposed sanctions on the country despite the limited economic relations between the two nations. The administration has insisted that a United Nations military force be dispatched in the western region of Darfur even though the African Union has had a monitoring force in the region for some years.

Just recently the rebel groups fightng the government of President Omar al-Bashir attacked AU forces in Darfur killing over ten soldiers and kidnapping twenty others. Yet there is no significant outrage expressed by the Bush administration over the attacks against the AU monitors in Sudan. Neither was there an outcry about the abuse carried out by United Nations monitors and aid workers against Sudanese children, which was exposed during 2006.

China has blocked several attempts to bring Sudan before the United Nations Security Council for punitive action. Many countries in Africa and throughout the developing world view the US and British continuing hostility towards Sudan as a manifestation of the struggle for oil. The western interference in the internal affairs of the African continent is clearly demonstrated by US foreign policy toward Sudan. The nation's head-of-state Omar al-Bashir, has twice been passed over for the chairmanship of the African Union as a direct result of American and British pressure.

Most Americans today oppose the continued military involvement in Iraq. Such an attempt to militarily occupy Sudan would be an even greater tragedy than what is taking place in Iraq. Considering the history of civilizations in Sudan and the legacy of a viable nationalist movement that guards its sovereignty, the only real hope for an improvement in relations between the two nations is a recognition by the United States of the right to self-determination and sovereignty for the people of Sudan.
Abayomi Azikiwe is the editor of the Pan-African News Wire.

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