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Historic Sudan Peace Accord Marred by Ongoing Violence in Darfur

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The Sudanese government and southern rebel groups signed a comprehensive peace agreement Sunday, ending Africa’s longest-running civil war. The treaty did not cover a separate conflict in the western Darfur region, which has left some 70,000 people dead and 2 million displaced. We speak with Salih Booker of Africa Action. [includes rush transcript]

The Sudanese government and southern rebel groups signed a comprehensive peace agreement Sunday, ending Africa’s longest-running civil war.

Sudan’s First Vice President Ali Osman Mohamed Taha and rebel leader John Garang signed the accord in Kenya’s capital Nairobi, ending a 21-year conflict that has killed an estimated 2 million people mainly by famine and disease.

Under the agreement, the ruling National Congress party and the southern rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement will form an interim coalition government, decentralize power, share oil revenues and integrate the military. Starting in July, the south will be autonomous for six years and will then vote in a referendum to decide whether to remain part of Sudan, or become independent.

The treaty did not cover a separate conflict in the western Darfur region, where almost two years of fighting have created what the United Nations calls one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who attended the signing, urged Khartoum to move quickly toward ending the Darfur crisis which has left 70,000 people dead and 2 million displaced.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn to Salih Booker, of Africa Action. Welcome to Democracy Now!

SALIH BOOKER: Good morning, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: You can talk about the significance of the Sudan accord?

SALIH BOOKER: It is a historic agreement and it represents the southern struggle over so many decades to finally gain a measure of self-determination in this agreement over a period of time. The government is perhaps calculating that it had no choice but to sign this agreement in order to reduce some of its commitments to war in the south because of the ongoing genocide that it’s conducting in the western part of the country. It’s complicated in the sense that it’s hard to celebrate given what’s going on in western Sudan, and yet for southerners and for millions of Sudanese, this really is a historic agreement, an opportunity finally to end what has been the longest running war in the country, and for the continent. It’s not just the past two decades, but actually since independence in 1956 that this war between the north and the south has been going on. There’s only been a decade of peace in the early 1970’s to the early 1980’s. So, it’s a complicated agreement. It’s ambitious. The question is whether it will be implemented, will it meet its time tables, because if not, the south certainly will secede.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what about John Garang, the rebel leader, and where he fits into all of this?

SALIH BOOKER: Well, he will become vice president in this new national government, this government of national unity. The Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement and Liberation Army which John Garang heads will become integrated into this new unity government. They have an arrangement favoring the government in certain central administration roles. The south will have its own administration. And they will share almost evenly responsibility for three regions bordering the south, or in between the south and the north. They’re going to share oil wealth, and Islamic law is going to be constrained to the north, and in the instance of Khartoum itself, that will be determined later by an elected assembly. John Garang and the SPLM have made a decision that agreeing to the six-year political solution during which they would try to have autonomy and a unified state would be better than continuing to pursue a violent conflict. At the end of the six years, southern Sudanese will have an opportunity to vote as to whether they want to secede or remain part of the unified Sudan.

AMY GOODMAN: How does this affect what is happening in Darfur?

SALIH BOOKER: Well, there are certainly two ways to look at it. Some would argue that this agreement augers well for a peace agreement in Darfur, by changing the composition of the central government in Khartoum beginning in six months, you have a different government to negotiate with the Darfurian rebels and to end the violence going on in Darfur. That assumes that this agreement will be implemented as planed and the SPLM will be able to forcefully assert itself on issues in Darfur. On the other hand, I think it can be said that you have to look at the facts on the ground in Darfur, and there’s been a buildup of the Sudanese military, conditions have continued to worsen, the world food program has suspended food deliveries, save the children has pulled out of the Darfur region. And so the government clearly may be using the diplomacy and peace agreement with the south in order to concentrate its forces and its attentions in Darfur, with the intention of defeating this rebellion by continuing to decimate these civilian populations. So, it’s this contradiction that is at the core of yesterday’s signing agreement. And I think it was rather unseemly in fact, that Secretary Powell was there. The United States having said that there’s a genocide occurring in Sudan and that the government is responsible. It seems inappropriate then, that they would be supporting that very government in this signing ceremony, even if there’s clearly a need for the international community to support the effort to give southerners self-determination.

AMY GOODMAN: Yesterday watching Colin Powell being questioned on the networks from Kenya, where he was there for the signing agreement, he was asked about why, though, in the past, the US government has talked about what’s going on in Darfur as a genocide. Powell has seemed to back off that characterization.

SALIH BOOKER: Well, this is the problem with the administration’s Sudan policy. That decision to call this a genocide came in response to widespread civic pressure here in the United States from a very eclectic and broad coalition of forces in this country. But, you know, mainly because of the facts on the ground. The state department undertook this comprehensive study, interviewing Sudanese Darfurian refugees in Chad, et cetera, and was finally forced to acknowledge that what’s occurring does meet the legal definition of 1948 convention on genocide. At the same time, when Powell acknowledged that, at the very hearing in the senate, he said, but no further action is required on the part of the United States. So, in the past, during the Clinton administration, you had an effort to — of denial, to refuse to say genocide, for fear that would require the US to act, now with the Bush administration, you have a willingness to call it a genocide and at the same time saying, but no action is required, as if this genocide in Africa is somehow acceptable.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Salih Booker of Africa Action about the situation in Sudan, both the historic signing of the peace accord between north and south, but also now about the Darfur region. I wanted to move away from Sudan for a minute, though, come back to it. Related to the tsunami, I wanted to look at Somalia for a minute. Somalia next door to Kenya, Kenya did not lose people as a result of the tsunami, but remarkably enough in Somalia, many people were killed as a result of the wave.

SALIH BOOKER: Well, the last official count was in fact approaching 300 people killed in Somalia. In fact, one person died in Kenya, ten in Tanzania, and one in the Seychelles. This was the east African death toll. Some of the country’s furthest away from the epicenter of the earthquake. But this is the height of fishing season, and a large number of fishing boats, seaside shelters, equipment, et cetera, were destroyed and washed away when the waves finally reached east Africa. And it’s been difficult for these countries also to get a share of the assistance focused on other countries more severely affected, but that’s a larger indicator of how difficult it is for African countries to gain sufficient assistance to deal with huge humanitarian crises that the continent faces, both manmade and natural disasters.

AMY GOODMAN: And the issue of the vast amount of aid that’s going to tsunami victims, mainly, of course, in Asia; what about this issue of where aid goes? We had on one of the heads of Doctors Without Borders, and they had put this controversial message on their website saying, please accept if you are going to give us money, that money might go to other projects, because they’re very concerned that money will be sucked away from other desperate situations in the world. But what about what you think this might mean, for example, for Darfur, where you said among other organizations, Save Our Children, has left, one of the last organizations there. Doctors Without Borders had their people on the ground killed there.

SALIH BOOKER: Right. Well, I was certainly encouraged by the statement from Doctors Without Borders. I think it’s a very appropriate statement. I think it helps educate people that in a case such as this, there are limits as to what individual agencies can do and there’s a need to pay attention to the rest of the world. In essence, there really are a set of double standards, almost a class system for how the rich countries respond to humanitarian crises in the world. If it’s an earthquake, say, in Europe it’s going to get a lot quicker response. Eastern Europe after that. Asia, Latin America, somehow represent the lower middle class in this class system of humanitarian assistance, and Africa is the underclass. There is a global predisposition to having a higher level of tolerance for suffering in Africa, almost an assumption there’s going to be a certain level of suffering in Africa. So, the annual appeals for humanitarian assistance that come out from the United Nations to cover the Democratic Republic of Congo, or refugee and displaced people needs in Cote d’Ivoire or Darfur largely go unmet year after year. And the UN has been calling rich countries stingy because of this annual reality. Not commenting on the outpouring to the tsunami victims, which, in part, is also driven by the saturation media coverage. That in turn to some degree is also pulled by the fact there are large European — large numbers of European tourists in the Indian Ocean area that was most affected. So all of these things tied together to have the same affect that Africa’s crisis are always given the least attention and the least amount of resources.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you for being with us, Salih Booker of Africa Action.

SALIH BOOKER: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Thank you.

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