Sunday, 12 May 2013

Darfur double act

'We were blessed to have the State of Qatar!', declared the head of the Darfur Regional Authority (DRA) on 8 May in London. Not everyone says that, at a time when the Gulf emirate is rising up the international monitoring list for jihadist funding. Along with Tehran, Doha is also Khartoum's main aspiring saviour at this shaky time for the regime.

What El Tijani Seisi Mohamed Ateem was referring to was the Darfur Donors' Conference last month, 'a success', he told his audience at an on-the-record meeting at Chatham House, where Darfur had received 'massive financial support', including 'US$560 million' from Qatar. The word is that the combined other donors – including Britain and the United States – pledged less than that and, as the aid world well knows, pledges are not disbursements. President Omer Hassan Ahmed el Beshir's cash-strapped regime itself pledged most – $2.65 billion. As it is expected to be the main end-user of any aid, Sudanese are sceptical that the people of Darfur will see much of the water-supply, sanitation or health and education provision which El Tijani said they so desperately needed: 'We expect donors to step up their support'. This meeting may not have helped his cause.

No one would have disagreed with most of what this former economist at the United Nations Commission for Africa said. He steered a careful course between on the one hand, describing Darfur's problems (conditions in the displaced people's camps were 'dreadful', which is not how Khartoum usually describes them) and on the other, avoiding mentioning the regime's responsibility for a catastrophe which has now officially lasted a decade (though it is several years more since Africa Confidential began receiving 'urgent appeals' from Fur and Messalit communities about 'genocide' by Khartoum-backed militias.

History has been partly rewritten and indeed still is being. As El Tijani Seisi pursued his careful course, his fellow speaker, the State Minister responsible for Darfur at the Presidency, Amin Hassan Omer, leaned towards Chairman Glenys Kinnock and whispered loudly that he was offering his colleague five minutes of his own speech. 'He wanted to show him who was boss!' observed one South Sudanese afterwards. Tijani took this opportunity to say that one of the 'challenges' for the DRA was that 'We don't have the support of our people'. Khartoum doesn't say that, either.

The sting came when Amin Hassan Omer began by saying he had 'not much to say as we're representing the same government', a fact that Tijani had tried to avoid mentioning. In fact, the man who has demonstrated his position at the core of it all by leading the NCP team on the South Sudan referendum and is also now party Secretary for Thought and Culture had plenty to say, even if much of it did not entirely tally with the title of the gathering at the Royal Institute of International Affairs: 'Sudan's Approach to Darfur: Resolving a Decade of Conflict'.

He immediately launched in on how to 'bring over' the non-signatory groups to the Doha peace process, without of course mentioning that the two Sudan Liberation Movement factions and the mainstream Justice and Equality Movement comprise a majority of the Darfur opposition – and have joined the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF).

Having stressed the importance of negotiation in order to bring peace, he promptly slammed those 'with a strategy of regime change' and refused to negotiate with them. Some detected a contradiction. The SRF, which also includes the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North and others, has signed the New Dawn charter with the main opposition parties, grouped in the National Consensus Forces. This calls for regime change: the only major disagreement between the SRF and the parties is over resorting to armed struggle. They remain allies.

Amin Hassan then attacked the SRF from a different angle: 'No one can claim he is representing the whole Sudan!' This produced a predictable own goal: 'Who gave him the right to speak for the whole Sudan?' asked a questioner from Darfur. Amin's riposte of 'I was elected!' triggered laughter and smiles among the audience.  He then decided to try to win the match and unusually for a pillar of the regime, mentioned the coup which brought it to power in 1989 – overthrowing many of the same civilian politicians who now lead the SRF and NCF. 'Many elections' had taken place since, he declared. More smiles.

The NCP is trying to defeat its critics, at least verbally, by taking on some of their criticisms head on. This may provide a fig-leaf for governments that want to 'engage' but it doesn't work with Sudanese. 'Many say the Sudan government never keeps to the agreements it's signed... Our response is... we followed the [Comprehensive Peace Agreement] to the letter.' It would be hard to find Sudanese or South Sudanese who agree.

Africa Confidential decided to press Amin on his refusal to negotiate with the SRF which, we pointed out, was giving the armed forces a hard time in Darfur and Kordofan. The Minister took refuge in his government's standard 'divide-to-rule' tactic. 'We talk with the components of the so-called SRF separately'. The SPLM-North is of course one such component but Khartoum is still dragging its feet on talks in Addis Ababa, despite (belated) international pressure to get aid to tens of thousands of destitute people in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, known as the 'Two Areas'. Yet Amin went on to say: 'We don’t recognise the SPLM as a counterpart at Addis Ababa. We’re talking to
representatives from the SPLM in the Two Areas'. Dividing but finding it ever harder to rule.

Tijani employed his closing remarks to take a swipe at the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur. Again, though Khartoum does, as one questioner from Waging Peace put it, 'its utmost to hamper Unamid', the NCP doesn't usually accuse the overwhelmingly African force of dereliction of duty: that might lose it valuable votes at the AU. Tijani saw his chance: Unamid does not have a robust policy for addressing the aggression from some of the perpetrators', he complained. 'They abandon their vehicles, their weapons; they flee'.

William Hague and Ali Ahmed Kurti  – FCO

Amin sat grimly silent, indeed, the only time he smiled was when he was warmly greeted afterwards by a former senior Foreign and Commonwealth Office diplomat. This was appropriate – only the day before, his comrade-in-arms Ali Ahmed Kurti (another non-smiley) had sat cautiously smiling in the office of Britain's FCO Minister, William Hague (also smiling in the official photo). The NCP Foreign Minister was a guest at the Somalia Conference, which reminded everyone that his more outgoing colleague, Mustafa Osman Ismail ('Mister Smile') had once declared that Sudan was the 'eyes and ears' of Western intel services in Somalia. As the founding Secretary of the precursor of Al Qaida, the People's Arab and Islamic Conference, Mustafa Osman certainly knows what he's talking about. So does Ali Kurti, founder of the People's Defence Force 'parallel army'. What they tell the West about it remains open to question – as does how Khartoum knows so much about Islamist operations in Somalia.

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