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Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Comment on an Unfair Report

I was in the Sudan last month when the All Party Parliamentary Group for Sudan and South Sudan

launched its report:" Engagement Beyond the Centre----An Inquiry Report on the Future of UK-Sudan Relations". One of the first things I did when I returned to London was to get hold of a copy. The Sudan is so pivotal, geographically and politically in the region, that there are now two All Party Parliamentary Groups at the British Parliament that keep track of its latest developments. One, with impeccable credentials, is chaired by Lord Sheikh, the second which issued this report is headed by Mark Dorkin MP (with the messianic Baroness Cox whose DNA can be traced on all pages) as a Vice Chair. This is a disappointing and biased report that is designed to derail the Strategic Dialogue which was started last year as a result of cooperation between the Sudanese Ambassador to London and his British counterpart in Khartoum. As such it is detrimental to the cause of good trade and cultural relations between the two countries. The report resorts to three ploys to achieve its goal. (Fabrication, omission and distortion).


The 104 footnotes are meant to give the impression of precision and authority. Number 34, for example, does the opposite and exposes the inbuilt tabloid-like bias. The text states boldly an Islamophobic allegation that is calculated to smear the Sudan:"Punishments such as lashings, beatings, and even amputation are prescribed as Sharia punishments, and stoning is used regularly for public order offences". The source of this allegation is cited as the Redress Report of 2012.Actually, the Redress report says the following: "Recent practice indicates that there is a de-facto moratorium on amputation and stoning". To claim that stoning is used regularly is a fabrication that is unbecoming of a parliament-based Group. As far as lashing is concerned, the Redress report states that it was applied during the colonial era and that even in the UK it took the Commission that was tasked with reviewing it ten years to eventually abolish it in 1948.The unfair report did not mention the commendable prohibition of lashing in schools in the Sudan.


Eager to derail the current Strategic Dialogue, the report cuts it off from previous laudable engagements that enabled British diplomacy to play a substantial role in the Addis Ababa Agreement that gave the Sudan 11 years of peace and the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 05 that put an end to the destructive civil war. Both demonstrate that the current engagement is a continuation of sound policies. In both cases the opposition too was engaged. The report reinvents the wheel when it makes the call for involving the opposition one of the main pretexts of suspicion of the current engagement policies.
Another omission is the silence about results of previous failed policies of blinkered isolation of the Sudan. If lessons of those policies are not learned errors would probably be repeated. The Context Analysis section misses one of the main drivers of current changes in policies toward the Sudan..In August 2014 the F. Times writer William Wallis wrote the following about questionable policies toward the Sudan and Africa:"America's perceptions of Africa have long been swayed by the noisiest US constituencies with a vested interest in the continent. More often than not, these have been faith-based groups----notably the Human Rights lobby" not the diplomats interested in commerce and bilateral relations. A former US envoy to the Sudan, Dr Andrew Natsios wrote something similar in July 2015 in Foreign Affairs : "For 25 years NGOs, churches and human rights organisations ....have driven US and European government policy toward Sudan" and strategic self- interest came second. The current tragic situation in South Sudan is partly the result half-baked NGO –dictated policies. The yearning of Southern Sudanese for secession is indisputable; but the oversimplification in engineering the process is an eye-opener that is costing lives. A third omission is the way the partial acknowledgement of impact of the 1999 split that marginalised the hard liners and led to the transformation of the Sudanese regime to" a pragmatic  government willing to build bridges with international foes" . What is omitted is the end of the International Project that dreamed of leading all Arabs and all Muslims from Khartoum in a confrontation with the West. The People's Arab-Islamic Conference is no more. Not to encourage such a decisive shift would play in the hands of extremists in the region who can argue that since moderation is penalised by the West (as the treatment of the Sudan shows) there is no point emulating the Sudanese shift.


Documented references to the real situation in Darfur are quoted:"The UN Panel of Experts on Sudan confirmed in January 2017 that both the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudan Liberation Movement-Minni Minnawi (SLM-MM) no longer have a significant presence in Darfur, with their forces mostly operating in South Sudan and Libya respectively" The Sudan Liberation Movement-Abdul Wahid (SLM-AW) was "almost wiped out". Instead of calling for isolating them and treating them  the way the Lord's Resistance Army is treated, their representatives ,masquerading as "academics" are lionised and given pride of place in the report. Allegations that attempt to give a different picture about Darfur (including a badly -researched and hastily released Amnesty International release) are highlighted to distort the real situation. The outcome of the reconstruction efforts achieved by the Darfur Regional Authority in which roads, schools bridges, universities and hospitals were built is not cited as significant.
The cause of delay in humanitarian access in Southern Kordofan is well known. SPLM-N keeps captive civilians hostage and obstructs humanitarian delivery to them in an attempt to prolong the conflict maintain sanctions on the Sudan. Even the US offer to deliver humanitarian aid has been refused; but the APPG's report refers to "Both sides of the conflict seeking to apportion blame to the other for the blockade". The assessment of the US is clear- cut and has been repeated by the US Charge de Affaires in Khartoum in his public appeal "We urge the SPLM-N to allow humanitarian assistance ". The Sudanese government has already accepted the US plan. Furthermore, the report pays lip service to the Roadmap for Peace (brokered by the AU and led by the former South African President Thabo Mbeki) but it quotes extensively those who have already issued anti peace and anti-Rapprochement statements such as Eric Reeves, Enough Project and Waging Peace. References to press freedom are misrepresented. Osman Mirghani, Chief Editor of Attayyar, whose case is quoted has recently written an article explaining that when he resorted to the Constitutional Court on two occasions, he won and was allowed to continue publication. Striking the right balance between freedom of the press and national security is extremely complex as the experience of the US after the 9/11 terror attacks and the experience of the UK shows.
Those in the APPG for Sudan and South Sudan who cite Human Rights against closer engagement with the Sudan would do well to remember that there is another narrative. The US academic Eric Posner has written in the Guardian that when the International Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948, it didn’t entail a US commitment for civil rights of African Americans (which were duly achieved, after a long struggle, in the 1960s)and it didn't entail  a commitment by Britain and France to set free their colonies. He also argued that "both foreign aid and human rights enforcement can be corrupted or undermined because Western countries have strategic interests that are not always aligned with the missions of those institutions". The wave of populism that is lamented by Sudan's liberal critics is seen by C.R. Kaltwasser as "a kind of democratic corrective which gives voice to groups that do not feel represented by the elite" and "are obligated to react and change the political agenda"
Those in the Sudan who admire British culture and fairness will be shocked by this report. We should remind them that the APPG for Sudan and South Sudan never claimed to be impartial. It describes itself as a "political campaigning group" which means that it is an advocacy group with certain agendas. To garner a measure of credibility, it recommends some positive action and quotes Foreign Office praise of the Sudan; but do not mention the declaration in 2010 of one of those who signed the report that there are no British sanctions on the Sudan. That statement by the British coalition government paved the way for President Obama's much overdue 13 January Executive Order.
Unfortunately for this one-sided report which tries to derail the Strategic Dialogue and scupper trade and cultural relations with the Sudan, events are moving in the other direction. The release and pardon of 295 rebels and the release of government troops by the rebels has consolidated the conciliatory atmosphere that was created by the National Dialogue and increased hopes of overall peace and stability. The way the Sudanese government and people have responded to the news of famine in South Sudan bodes well for future friendly relations between the two Sudans. The easing of US sanctions, improved EU relations and the British-Sudanese Strategic Dialogue complete the bracket of hope in the Sudan.