November 12, 2004


Sudan belatedly tries to sharpen its act (Alice Thomson, 05/11/2004, Daily Telegraph)

"After Afghanistan and Iraq, Bush could go for us next," said his friend, Imad Musa. "It's either us, Iran or Syria. He can do what he wants now he has won such a big victory."

In northern Sudan, this is their fear - that they will become the next Iraq, just as their lot seems to be improving. They know the world's attention has swung to the largest country in Africa. In the past three months, they have received visits from Hilary Benn, Colin Powell, Jack Straw, Kofi Annan and Tony Blair. They are becoming used to the motorcades and cameras.

The "Western elders" all lectured them on the atrocities being perpetrated in Darfur. Hilary Benn, the International Development Secretary, called the 1.5 million refugees, and the reports of rape and looting, "unacceptable". Colin Powell made it clear that the Janjaweed irregulars terrifying Darfur had to be bought under control. Kofi Annan begged for peace. And you know, said Mr Blair, it really would be better if the Khartoum regime sorted itself out and held independent elections. Hanging over their words was the threat: if you don't get your act together, you could be next.

In many ways, Sudan is in dire straits, particularly in southern Darfur, where villages continue to be torched by the Janjaweed. But the situation in the rest of the country is improving. In the north, the imams are relaxing their grip. Women walk with their heads uncovered. At an orphanage I visited two years ago, babies found on the streets by the police were often left to die; single mothers were stoned. Now the same police beam as they rush the babies to the doctors.

It is no longer illegal to talk negatively about the regime. As a result, many I met were openly outraged by corruption. Even the ministers are trying belatedly to sharpen up their act. "Iraq has been a lesson to us all," said one Sudanese minister, who didn't want to be named.

"If Americans troops arrive, our country will suffer for another 40 years."

In the Darfur refugee camps, foreign intervention is welcome. The area is suffering from a crippling famine and US Aid, the EU and Britain have flown in enough food to feed one million people for the next six months. The refugees no longer trust their own government, whom they believe armed the nomadic Janjaweed against the farmers.

But everyone else I met wanted to keep the West out. "They are what you call a sticking plaster with their aid, and for that we are very grateful. But what we need is more African Union troops; at present, we only have 3,000 of them to keep the peace," said one Sudanese director of an aid agency. "This continent needs to prove we can change on our own."

The capacity to make governments liberalize just because they're scared you'll do it for them otherwise may be the greatest accomplishment of any president.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 12, 2004 12:04 PM

Fear focuses the mind...

Posted by: M. Murcek at November 12, 2004 12:12 PM

Closing off the camps this week -- something that seems to have gotten little attention from reporters and none at all from Bush -- does not strike me as an act of someone who is afraid.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at November 12, 2004 2:11 PM

The Arabs want the other Africans in because they know they can be bought off with a free bowl of soup.

This is the problem with humanitarian intervention. America and its allies will have to jump in significantly at some point in order to stop the slaughter. But there are other similar spots around the world, so where do the interventions stop or do we have to consider conscription to generate enough soldiers to handle all the hellholes.

Posted by: Bart at November 12, 2004 5:50 PM


We need to develop the Africans until they can handle it. Meanwhile, there are plenty of Western troops to handle it.

Posted by: oj at November 12, 2004 6:32 PM

Sudan is almost a million square miles and has more people than Iraq. While its military are little more than jumped-up fuzzy-wuzzies, the country's sheer vastness requires a large presence.

Of course, we should start off by splitting off the Christians and animists in the South into their own free, democratic nation.

Posted by: Bart at November 12, 2004 7:13 PM

There is no military. The Janjaweed can be chased away from the population by a few guys with guns.

Posted by: oj at November 12, 2004 7:34 PM

Wasn't that what they said about Aidid?

Posted by: Bart at November 12, 2004 7:58 PM

There are a few guys with guns there, Orrin, but they haven't chased the Arabs away, have they?

Posted by: Harry Eagar at November 12, 2004 9:45 PM


I think we're talking big guns, here. You know, like AC-130s or at least Blackhawks.

Posted by: jim hamlen at November 12, 2004 10:20 PM


The rape and killing was stopped with minimal effort.

Posted by: oj at November 12, 2004 11:49 PM

Hasn't stopped yet.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at November 13, 2004 5:10 PM


Posted by: oj at November 13, 2004 6:27 PM