Wednesday, January 27, 2010

International Dimensions of the Conflict in the Darfur Region of Sudan

International Dimensions of the Conflict in Darfur

Interview with Professor Hasan Makki

Professor Hasan Makki is an expert on African affairs and chancellor of the International University of Africa in Khartoum, Sudan.

“Darfur has become part of a global agenda and business” says Sudanese expert, Professor Hasan Makki.

Seven countries and international organizations have delegated “special envoys” to Sudan to follow-up on the Darfur crisis and efforts to bring peace in the region.

Grass-roots movements like the Save Darfur Coalition in the United States have pressured governments to take action on Darfur.

Some believe that a new cold-war is unfolding in Africa, and that Darfur is one point of contention.’s correspondent in Sudan, Isma’il Kushkush, interviewed Professor Hasan Makki, an expert on African affairs and chancellor of the International University of Africa in Khartoum, Sudan, on the international dimensions of the conflict in Darfur and the interests of some world powers in this volatile part of Sudan.

IOL: As a response to Darfur crisis, seven countries and international organizations have delegated "special envoys" to Sudan. Why has the international community responded to the Darfur conflict with such great interest?

Makki: [The reason is] the popular grass-roots campaign in the West, which made the Darfur issue entering into the homes of every family, made it an "election issue," and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil-society organizations played an active role in this aspect.

These groups were able to become media pressure groups especially the Save Darfur Coalition [in the United States] which is well connected. Those groups were able to give the impression that Darfur is the most important issue in the world, associating it with issues like genocide, slavery, rape, and child-kidnapping.

Darfur became a part of the global agenda and a business. For many groups, Darfur has become a source of work after the end of the war in south Sudan in order to receive attention and support. The countries that were behind war in south Sudan are the same countries behind war in Darfur.

There are also countries that believe that Darfur is important to it such as France because it affects Chad. In Darfur, Arab tribes were able to become powerful and they [the French] fear a repetition of the same scenario in Chad.

This would lead to the decline of Francophonism, the French language and its institutions [in Chad] and the decline of French influence in the rest of the region, in Niger, Mali and Senegal.

France, therefore, placed troops in eastern Chad and used troops of EUFOR (European Union Force in Chad/CAR) and NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) and was one of the hardliners on the issue of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

IOL: There are those who believe that a new "cold war" is taking place in Africa, with the United States (US), France and China as its players and Darfur being one area of contention. What do you think of this analysis?

Makki: The "cold war" between the US, France and China in Africa is wider than Darfur; it’s about oil. Oil in south Sudan, Cameroon, Nigeria, Angola, Kenya, and Ethiopia. [It is] also about markets; African markets.

Darfur became a reason for other countries to criticize China and accuse it of ignoring the international community, human rights, and that it supports a “rouge state.” [Darfur] became a way to settle old accounts with China regarding China’s relations in Africa and its' interest in African oil.

IOL: What are France’s interests in Sudan generally and Darfur specifically?

Makki: France’s interests in Sudan are limited [since] Sudan was not part of the Francophone [area]. Its interests in Darfur have to do with Chad. There are 26 tribes that share the border between Darfur and Chad and most are Arabized, including by language only, like the Zaghawa.

France knows that this area is influential, and that the Chadian revolution, FROLINAT, started from Nyala [in Darfur], and that Francois Tombalbaye and Felix Malloum, the first Christian presidents in Chad, fell to movements that came from Darfur, and brought to power Muslim “Arabized” presidents.

IOL: Why does France host Abd al-Wahid Nur, leader of the Sudanese Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A)? Is Nur’s refusal to participate in peace negotiations and his hard-line positions an indirect reflection of France’s position?

Makki: There are four reasons why France cannot do anything to Abd al-Wahid Nur: France wants Abd al-Wahid as an element against the Arab-Islamic tendency in Darfur.

Second, [France] wants to have influence among Darfuri movements and to depend on him [Nur] as a pillar among these rebel movements.

Third, France knows that he has the support of pro-Israel organizations and civil-society groups and cannot do anything but to try to exert pressure on him.

Fourth, the rule-of-law in France allows for civil-society groups to legally fight to have Nur remain in France even if the government wanted to-and it doesn’t appear it does-have him expelled from France.

IOL: What is the role of the European Union Force in Chad/CAR (EUFOR) in eastern Chad in which France plays a key role?

Makki: Its role really is protecting the [Darfuri] rebellion by creating a buffer zone where the Sudanese army cannot follow the rebels [into Chad]. EUFOR also has a surveillance force that includes airplanes that can reveal the Chadian opposition’s movements before it reaches its targets and remove [Chadian] president, Idriss Deby.

IOL: What are China’s interests in Sudan and Darfur?

Makki: China has limited presence in Darfur, it was given rights to work on the Inqaz al-Gharbi Highway [from Khartoum to Darfur], to dig several water-wells, and a number of oil exploration rights.

China enters Darfur from the "door of development" to convince the world of its role and that it is not simply as an ally of the Sudanese government or that it doesn’t care about Darfur.

China’s interests in Sudan as a whole however are strong. China participates in %50 of the oil projects, it participates in funding roads and bridges projects and trade with China is booming. Sudan has taken China’s interests into Africa, so Sudan has become an important country on the African map for China.

IOL: China is seen as an ally of the Sudanese government. To what extent has this alliance affected the position of Sudan in the international arena?

Makki: This alliance has strengthened the position of Sudan. China has threatened to use a "veto" in the UN Security Council even though it has not used it yet. China ensured that [Darfur] negotiations were always done outside the realm of the Security Council except with its agreement. The Chinese position also encouraged the Non-Alignment Movement, African Union (AU) and Arab countries to follow suit in their positions.

IOL: What is the reality of Chinese military support to the Government of Sudan?

Makki: I think that China supports the Government of Sudan like it does with any other country, whether it is technologically or by selling [weapons].

IOL: What are the United States' interests in Sudan and Darfur?

Makki: The United States fears any government it perceives to be "fundamentalist." According to its understandings, the presence of Usama bin Ladin in Afghanistan cost it [tremendously] and therefore the existence of an Islamic movement in Sudan may affect regimes in the area friendly to the United States in the [Persian] Gulf, Egypt, Africa and elsewhere.

The United States also fears that the existence of a "fundamentalist" government in Sudan may pose a threat to Israel’s security, because it may support Hamas, Islamic Jihad or other groups.

The United States also wants a "client" state and not an independent one like in Sudan that will open its doors to the United States’ competitors such as China and Russia. The United Sates’ interests in Darfur are an extension of these interests.

IOL: The US government is the only one that describes the war in Darfur as "genocide." The issue of Darfur was present in the 2004 US elections. Why does Darfur gain much more attention in the United States compared to other countries?

Makki: What is important to the United States is the church, the struggle with Israel, countering "fundamentalism," and the fear of the spread of Islamic influence [in Africa]. The United States is the most powerful country in the world and it has strong pro-Israel and Christian lobbies. All these matters are intertwined, especially when there is a desire to topple a "fundamentalist" government.

IOL: The Bush administration renewed and added economic sanctions against Sudan and maintained Sudan on the list of terrorist-sponsoring nations. Does the concept of "regime change" play a role in shaping US policy toward Sudan?

Makki: Certainly.

IOL: What role does oil play in the American-Sudanese relations especially in Darfur?

Makki: Oil does not play a great role; Sudanese oil is not in great quantities. It is true that oil in Sudan was discovered by [the oil company] Chevron, but it is not comparable to oil quantities in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait or the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E).

Oil production [in Sudan] is around 400,000 to 600,000 barrels per day, and that does not affect the United States. Even the oil companies in Sudan are tied to the United States like PETRONAS [of Malaysia], Canadian, Swedish companies and others.

IOL: What effects does the establishment of the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) have on Darfur especially with its focus on the African Sahel region?

Makki: The extension of US political and military influence is a threat to Sudan. Various armed groups in and near Sudan will be connected to these forces [AFRICOM], including rebel groups and the Chadian army.

IOL: What roles do the United Kingdom and Russia play in Sudan and Darfur?

Makki: Britain sees that it has a historic role in the area. It was the British army that annexed Darfur to Sudan. Britain is also responsible for the “Darfur file” within the European Union (EU). Russia’s influence is limited but it is trying to establish a foothold in Sudan, but it does not want Sudan to be an issue that would disturb its European-Atlantic relations.

IOL: The Sudanese government alleges that Israel is playing a role in Darfur, by providing support to the Darfuri rebel groups. What is the reality of Israeli involvement in Darfur? Is there clear evidence of Israeli support to the rebel groups?

Makki: It is not an allegation; Israel is involved in Darfur. There are Darfuri refugees in Israel; some are trained militarily. According to sources, some are brought via the Central African Republic and smuggled into Sudan. Jewish groups in Washington D.C. created an exhibition for Darfur at the [US] Holocaust Museum.

The statements made by Israeli officials, the support given to the international campaign "Save Darfur," the existence of Darfuri refugees in Israel, all show that Israel is involved and present in Darfur.

IOL: The United Nations (UN) has been heavily involved in Darfur. How do you assess its role?

Makki: There are positive and negative aspects to it. UN involvement prevented a famine in Darfur, but the [UN] Security Council became used to achieve alternative goals, like the information that was delivered to the International Criminal Court (ICC) about [Sudanese President] al-Bashir, the exaggeration of the [Sudanese] government’s role in the war in Darfur

IOL: In addition to governments, civil -society and humanitarian groups have played a key role in shaping global public opinion about Darfur, like the "Save Darfur Coalition" in the United States. What do you think of the role of these groups?

Makki: Many may have humanitarian objectives, but in the end, many are “used” and may not know that they are being manipulated to achieve other non-humanitarian objectives.

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