|By Dr. Justin Ambago Ramba, M.D.
November 29, 2008
Posted to the web on November 29 2008
The Sudan is a country that has been at war with itself for the last five decades. While the fighting in the south has now come to a halt since the signing in 2005 of the comprehensive peace agreement (CPA) between the south and the north, sadly enough it was immediately replaced with another civil war in the western region of Darfur when the black African population took up arms to fight the injustice and underdevelopment imposed on them by the minority clique rule of Khartoum.
The war between the south and the Arab Islamic North led to the death of over 2 million and the displacement of another 4.5 million people over the 21 year period. And now the Darfur war has cost 300,000 lives and the displacement of 3 million people as Internal Displaced Persons (IDPs) and refugees across the Sudan- Chad border. As could be expected the majority of the victims in these wars happened to be children due to their high vulnerability as a result of chronic malnutrition, repeated infections and inability to tolerate the harsh conditions imposed by the war.
In a bit of a reflection on the second liberation war fought in the south, it happened that between the years 1984 – 91, thousands of innocent south Sudanese children as young as 8 years of age were taken away from their parents with the false promise for them to pursue their education in the neighbouring Ethiopia but unfortunately they all ended up being forced to fight in the rebels’ ranks where many lost their lives while on their way to the training camps or on the battle fields and more even so during the split wars of the SPLA. This is however just one of our several negative experiences with our children and how much we have exploited their innocence and robbed them of their childhood either directly or otherwise.
When the North – South peace was signed in 2005, we were all aware or at the least should have been so, of the fact that our children are the future of our nation. Though we didn’t live up to our promise to allow them pursue their education during the war by forcing them to become combatants at a very young and tender age, again now we are also breaking our promise for the second time by not providing enough classrooms and books for them. We also on many occasions fail to pay their teachers on time. If we really value our children then we have the moral obligation towards these teachers who have willingly accepted to teach the children under the existing harsh conditions which still prevail in most areas of south Sudan. These teachers deserve to be paid and praised more so even than our leaders who are all the time busy shuffling millions of dollars of the public money outside the country, to buy homes and establish businesses in Europe, USA, Canada, Australia, South and East Africa, leave alone the mega investments in the Middle East countries like Lebanon.
Further on the line which undoubtedly portrays Southerners as mere reactionaries, the north still sets the pace of everything in the Sudan. Now because the Sudan Armed Forces ( SAF) have bought 30 or more Russian MIG 29 fighter planes, the parliament in the south immediately went ballistic, and currently the military expenditure of the government of south Sudan’s (GoSS) has been doubled.
Are we seriously building up arsenals for yet another civil war? Can dialogue not resolve the remaining issues? I am asking these questions because we should have learnt from the past two civil wars that it is only through negotiations that political issues can be resolved. And if at all we want our country, the Sudan at the moment , and then the independent south Sudan after 2011 , to come out of the vicious cycle of ignorance, poverty, disease, underdevelopment, dependency and so on ……. We need to educate our people, provide them with medical services and encourage them to produce their own food and this should be our priorities.
However if we still look for salvation through the barrel of the gun, while neglecting the basic needs of our people with our children taking the priority , we can readily prophesy that the Sudan as a country and the south Sudan in particular will forever remain at the bottom of the list in as far as national development is concerned. The oil money which we are now spending carelessly on the crazy military built up rather than engaging in sustainable human development projects, undoubtedly portrays the NCP /SPLM partnership at both levels of the GoNU and GoSS as being formed of a group of people who just behave as if the oil is there to remain for ever.
Below is the real situation of the Sudanese economy.
The Sudanese finance and national economy minister Awad Al-Jaz acknowledged that world financial crisis would impact the economy more than previously announced.
Al-Jaz speaking to Sudan official said that drop in oil prices is the determining factor on the magnitude of the effect on the country. “Sudanese economy is hugely dependent on oil revenue. The price collapse from $147 to $40 a barrel provides a realistic insight into the impact” Al-Jazz said.. Oil exports represent 65% of revenue for Sudan and helped fuel its unprecedented economic growth despite US economic sanctions.
“Sudan escaped the direct hit of the crisis but we are not isolated from the rest of the world” the Sudanese official said. . Al-Jaz called for taking advantage of the world food crisis this year and focusing on marketing Sudan as an investment spot for agriculture. “This will only happen through hard work so Sudanese exports can compete in world market” he added
This month – Sudan has been forced to cancel its tender to sell 500,000 barrels Nile Blend crude for January delivery because of low bids.. Sudan’s offer came after already skipping October & December spot sales for unknown reasons. The Greater Nile project which produces this heavy sweet, high-quality, Nile Blend crude has experienced diminishing productivity lately from 325,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 200,000. (Sudan Tribune 27/11/2008)
Our army is surely important for our national sovereignty come the 2011 referendum, but we as a very poor economy can not afford to stage an arms race at this point in time. Our priorities should be in fact aimed more on building the culture of peace in our war torn south Sudan. If we built robust diplomatic machinery, we can be able to engage our neighbours even the most traditionally hostile ones in a warm dialogue which can save us all the nasty ailment of yet another civil war. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration if I say that with the cost of one jet fighter we can educate more than 40,000 of our desperate children, and with just the cost of one modern tank we can built more than 400 rural pharmacies.
To everyone’s disappointment, all the news on the Sudan in the world media has recently been hijacked by how the former foes and now peace partners in the government of national unity, are busy purchasing weapons. Recently it has been reported in the media that Khartoum is continuously purchasing sophisticated military hardware from countries like China, Russia and Iran. It is also a common knowledge that the Sudanese government is engaged in the production of modern military tanks, ammunitions, arms, as well as armoured personnel transport vehicles within its military production complex. The GoSS was also reported to be consigning weapons and ammunitions through the neighbouring countries of Ethiopia and Kenya.
Worse still is the huge numbers of the illegal guns in the hands of the citizens in many parts of the Sudan especially in south Sudan, Kordofan, and Darfur. In these areas the arms race has come down even to the levels of tribes and clans and the popular slogan is “Al endu klash yaakul balaash”, which in Arabic means, “anyone who has Kalashnikov eats free of charge”.
My straight forward question to the Sudanese Government in Khartoum is that, against whom does it intent to use these heavy arsenals? Is it meant to be used to silence the insurgence in Darfur or is it going to be used to block the secession of the south if ever it votes for an independent sovereign state in the 2011 referendum ? Or is it that the predominantly Arab Islamic regime of the Riviera cliques, are finally preparing to lounge an over all war against the marginalized black African people all over the Sudan after realizing that the current regime may mark the end of the Arab rule in this big African country ?
And how much does this crazy Sudanese arms race relate to the international criminal court’s (ICC) stand towards Sudan and its leader Omer al Bashir? Can these MIG -29 ever stop Luis Moreno- Ocampo the ICC attorney from securing the arrest of the Sudanese president and the other named perpetuators of crimes in the war torn Darfur region of western Sudan?
Anyway which so ever way Khartoum intents to use its arsenal, it is bound to fail. The Sudanese people especially those hailing from the worse marginalized areas had been used in all the previous civil wars as war fodders. But now that the people are becoming more aware and conscious of the divide and rule policies of Khartoum in playing the marginalized people against one another, it can be said that Khartoum’s chances of winning an over all Sudanese war, by engaging the different dissatisfied groups in the south, centre, east, north and the west at the same time is really gloomy, unless it resorts to outside assistance from the other Arab countries which would be of course on purely racial basis.
However before we all get carried away by the mere imagination of yet another devastating war erupting simultaneously in the different regions of the Sudan, we should ask ourselves as to who is really going to benefit from such a war when it is more likely to destroy the entire nation? Are we not yet satisfied with the miseries we had seen and continue to see in the refugee and IDPs camps? Are we not yet fed up of seeing the war amputees all over the place? Are we not yet enough moved by the miseries of the many widows and orphans who loiter our streets in the search of food when their male bread winners have been killed in the war? Are we not yet fed up of seeing illiterate young people who missed their chances for education as they were caught up in the war?
If we are really true statesmen, then we should have our people’s interests at heart. Do we think that our masses will benefit more from yet another war or should we preferably promote more negotiations in dealing with our traditional rivals in the north? Does our future lie in training our youth more of the modern ways of warfare or should the CPA be better utilized for learning the art of conflict resolution, constructive dialogue and warm diplomacy. Which direction do we think can bring us close to the realisation of the aspirations of the average citizen in the Sudan at large and the south in particular?
The frustrations voiced by the civilian population in Darfur are basically because the international community has chosen to deviate from the CPA which was meant to be a template for solving all the other Sudanese regional problems. So far much money and time have spent on having peace keeping forces in the region. Unfortunately to everyone‘s dismay non of these forces ever succeeded in preventing any of the many massacres and actions of rape which took place in the IDP camps and the black Africans’ villages in the hands of the government troops and their notorious right hand Arab Janjaweed militias.
The way forward would have been through a dedicated mediator in the calibre of Mr. Lazarus Sambayo and a specialized body like the IGAD which brokered the CPA between the government of Sudan represented by the ruling National Congress Party of Omer al Bashir and the Peoples Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A). A similar structure is badly needed to broker peace in Darfur.
In the south it is obvious that the international community has turned its back to the implementation of the Naivasha CPA signed in 2005. All the attention is now on Darfur and if the situation continues this way this very peace truce in the south is more likely to fail in delivering some of its very sensitive protocols particularly so, is the vital demarcation of the borders between the north and the south as it remains crucial to the verification of the 2008 Census results, the 2009 elections and the referendum to be held in 2011.
Further more much resentment in south Sudan has been due to the failure of the international donors in keeping with their promises of initiating development in this war torn part of the world. Not more than 1.5 billion dollars of the 4.5 billions promised for the reconstruction of south Sudan has been so far released, at a time when the same international community has already spent more than 4. Billion dollars in Darfur in the form of peace keeping operations and food aid yet without any sign of a possible peace in the horizon.
There is really a great need for the Sudanese parties to the conflict to reconsider their positions properly especially so, is the position of the two partners to the CPA in the Government of National Unity (GoNU). If the two partners put the interest of the Sudanese masses to live in peace and never ever to revert to war at any stage, they can be able to responsibly implement the CPA in a timely manner thus making it possible for them as well, to negotiate a peaceful settlement in Darfur.
If we can do all the above, and non is outside our mental scope once given the political will, we can proudly move to the same level as the other nations. We really do not need all those jet fighters, or the sophisticated military tanks. If China, Russia and Iran want to help the Sudan, they should do it by contributing in finding a peaceful settlement in Darfur and helping the north/ south CPA partners to implement the agreement as scheduled
To bring my point home, I say if indeed there are people outside there who really think that they are our friends, then they should help us to acquire the necessary technology in order to exploit the vast resources in our country so that we can alleviate the sufferings of the people and in turn guarantee a political stability to the country and the entire region, but not any more of those deadly weapons. The future of our children comes first and NO to your fighter planes, NO to your sophisticated tanks and NO to your proxy wars.
This article is of course not meant to stop south Sudan from exercising its right to self defence, while putting in mind that war means destruction which is the direct opposite of development.
The author is a south Sudanese doctor living in the UK, and can be reached at: [email protected]