Independence Referendum in Southern Sudan

The most important international political event occurring this week is arguably the independence referendum in southern Sudan. Despite clashes a couple of days ago along the border separating the north and south, which left dozens dead, the New York Times reports that voting is peaceful. As The Globe and Mail’s Geoffrey York notes, while the referendum may ultimately lead to a new state being created in the south, the cost “has been horrific.”

Southern Sudan has been consumed by devastating wars for most of the past half-century. An estimated 2.5 million people have perished in those wars, with atrocities on all sides that were shocking in their cruelty.

After decades of indifference by most of the world, the irony is that Southern Sudan suddenly became a fashionable cause over the past decade. Its oil exports became lucrative, forcing the north and south to try to settle their conflict in order to protect their revenue flows. Simultaneously, there was a rapid escalation of U.S. diplomatic pressure on both sides, including the threat of sanctions – partly because evangelical Christian lobbyists had persuaded Congress that it needed to protect the south’s Christians from Muslim persecution.

Here’s a fascinating set of maps creating by the BBC to show that the north and south of Sudan differ in more than simply ethnicity and oil wealth.

Here’s a report from Al Jazeera about some of the important issues related to the referendum:

UN Peacekeeping Mission in Darfur Failing?

A couple of weeks ago we watched the National Film Board of Canada documentary film, The Peacekeepers, in introduction to IR.   It was a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the enterprise of UN peacekeeping operations, demonstrating the successes and failures of the UN in attempting to create and keep the pace amongst Congo’s warring factions.  We saw the clash between realist views of international sovereignty, security, and power and the liberal ideal of multinational cooperation.  The New York Times reports today on the potential failure of a relatively new UN peacekeeping operation before it has even started.  Those who have been following the atrocities in the Darfur region of Sudan know that it has taken four years to get a UN peacekeeping force on the ground.  It may already be doomed to failure.  It is uncanny how much of this report sounds like it was taken directly from the documentary about Sudan.

un_darfur.jpg ABU SUROUJ, Sudan — As Darfur smolders in the aftermath of a new government offensive, a long-sought peacekeeping force, expected to be the world’s largest, is in danger of failing even as it begins its mission because of bureaucratic delays, stonewalling by Sudan’s government and reluctance from troop-contributing countries to send peacekeeping forces into an active conflict.

The force, a joint mission of the African Union and the United Nations, officially took over from an overstretched and exhausted African Union force in Darfur on Jan. 1. It now has just over 9,000 of an expected 26,000 soldiers and police officers and will not fully deploy until the end of the year, United Nations officials said.

Even the troops that are in place, the old African Union force and two new battalions, lack essential equipment, like sufficient armored personnel carriers and helicopters, to carry out even the most rudimentary of peacekeeping tasks. Some even had to buy their own paint to turn their green helmets United Nations blue, peacekeepers here said.

The peacekeepers’ work is more essential than ever. At least 30,000 people were displaced last month as the government and its allied militias fought to retake territory held by rebel groups fighting in the region, according to United Nations human rights officials.

Janjaweed Militia Renews Scorched-Eart Policy in Darfur

The New York Times reports that the notorious Janjaweed militia is once again active in Darfur.


Abu Surouj, Sudan, after government forces and allied militias burned the town last month. Such attacks in Sudan are a return to the tactics that terrorized Darfur in the early, bloodiest stages of the conflict.

Photo: Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

 SULEIA, Sudan — The janjaweed are back.

They came to this dusty town in the Darfur region of Sudan on horses and camels on market day. Almost everybody was in the bustling square. At the first clatter of automatic gunfire, everyone ran.

The militiamen laid waste to the town — burning huts, pillaging shops, carrying off any loot they could find and shooting anyone who stood in their way, residents said. Asha Abdullah Abakar, wizened and twice widowed, described how she hid in a hut, praying it would not be set on fire.

“I have never been so afraid,” she said.

The attacks by the janjaweed, the fearsome Arab militias that came three weeks ago,, were a return to the tactics that terrorized Darfur in the early, bloodiest stages of the conflict.

Such brutal, three-pronged attacks of this scale — involving close coordination of air power, army troops and Arab militias in areas where rebel troops have been — have rarely been seen in the past few years, when the violence became more episodic and fractured. But they resemble the kinds of campaigns that first captured the world’s attention and prompted the Bush administration to call the violence in Darfur genocide.

I noticed the same pattern during the wars in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, with militia groups acting in close concert with government support.  In my study of the Croatian region of Baranya, I noticed that the villages in which civilians were killed all had one thing in common–they were on (or very near) a major regional road.  This meant that government military forces (with their tanks and armed personnel carriers) had easy access to these villages, allowing the militias to swoop in and do their thing.

It Just Keeps on Getting Worse: Violence Escalates in Chad

From the BBC, we learn that the situation in the African state of Chad is going downhill quickly. According to the Failed States Index compiled by the Fund For Peace, Chad was the 5th most failed state in 2007. Chad has been affected negatively by the ongoing conflict and genocide in the neighboring state of Sudan.

Thousands of people are fleeing the Chad capital, N’Djamena, after two days of fierce fighting between government and rebel forces in the city.

chad.jpgThe government says it has pushed the rebels out of the city but they say they withdrew to give civilians the chance to evacuate. Aid workers report that fighting is continuing outside the city, while dead bodies litter the streets.

The UN Security Council has urged member states to help the government. The BBC’s Laura Trevelyan at the UN in New York says this non-binding statement gives the go-ahead to France and other countries to help President Idriss Deby’s forces against the rebels.

Chad’s former colonial power France has a military base in Chad and has previously helped the government with logistics and intelligence. Thousands of people have been streaming across the Ngueli bridge, which separates Chad from Cameroon.

Local officials have told the UN refugee agency that thousands were also crossing at the border town of Kousseri. “We’re expecting a lot more people coming,” said UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond. He also said he was extremely concerned for the 240,000 Darfur refugees in Chad.

The International Crisis Group released a report back in 2006 detailing the situation in Chad and fearing a return to war in that country. You can view the executive summary here, where there is a link to the full report (the full report is only in French, however). Here is a snippet from that summary:

The April 2006 rebel offensive brought Chad to the brink of all-out civil war. The victory that President Idriss Déby ultimately achieved in pushing the United Front for Democracy and Change (FUCD) back from the gates of the capital, N’Djamena, to its Darfur sanctuary settled nothing on the military front and underscored the political fragility of the regime. The army’s success was primarily due to French logistical and intelligence support, while the setback paradoxically may encourage the armed opposition groups to forge closer links in order to pursue a war of attrition in the north, the east and along the border with the Central African Republic. The crisis is far from resolved, and is likely to be an enduring one.

Only weeks before the 3 May presidential elections, Déby had to fight off spectacular defections of senior figures from the army and the political elite as well as assassination attempts, all likewise aimed at preventing him from gaining a third term but he won the controversial elections with 64.67 per cent of the vote.[1] Though opposition groups challenged the result, France and the wider international community hastily accepted it to avoid further destabilisation, while declaring that they now expected the president to democratise his regime.

Chad (red on the map) is in north-central Africa and is on the eastern border of Sudan.


The “Genocide Olympics”?


(Image from the San Francisco Chronicle)

In a piece published today New York Times op-ed columnist, Nicholas Kristof, addresses the link between China’s foreign policy goals and the continuing genocide in the Sudanese region of Darfur. Hundreds of thousands have been killed or have died from starvation, disease and malnutrition, and millions have been displaced, whether internally or as refugees abroad, for which, Kristof argues, China bears some moral culpability. Kristof is not alone in this view and the NGO, Olympic Dream for Darfur, has decided to try to do something about it by establishing the “Genocide Olympics” campaign, which is meant to shame China into changing its policies toward Sudan.* Will this work? Is it good foreign policy? Is it morally acceptable to mix sport with politics? Remember, there is historical precedent for this type of thing as the United States boycotted the 1980 Moscow Olympics in retaliation for the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Quoting Kristof:

The Beijing Olympics this summer were supposed to be China’s coming-out party, celebrating the end of nearly two centuries of weakness, poverty and humiliation.

Instead, China’s leaders are tarnishing their own Olympiad by abetting genocide in Darfur and in effect undermining the U.N. military deployment there. The result is a growing international campaign to brand these “The Genocide Olympics.”

This is not a boycott of the Olympics. But expect Darfur-related protests at Chinese Embassies, as well as banners and armbands among both athletes and spectators. There’s a growing recognition that perhaps the best way of averting hundreds of thousands more deaths in Sudan is to use the leverage of the Olympics to shame China into more responsible behavior.

The central problem is that in exchange for access to Sudanese oil, Beijing is financing, diplomatically protecting and supplying the arms for the first genocide of the 21st century. China is the largest arms supplier to Sudan, officially selling $83 million in weapons, aircraft and spare parts to Sudan in 2005, according to Amnesty International USA. That is the latest year for which figures are available.

As the highlighted portion of the quote above implies, China is acting in a fundamentally realist manner, eschewing moral concerns in order to increase its power and security.

*Please do not refer to Sudan as the Sudan, or to Ukraine as the Ukraine, but Sudan and Ukraine, respectively, as they are no longer regions within colonial empires, but are independent states in their own right. Adding the in front of their country names is anachronistic.