"Asking The Right Questions About Darfur, Sudan" Part IV, Exclusive Q & A With Salih Booker, Executive Director, Africa Action
Whether it is an interview in The New York Times, analysis for NBC news or CNN, an appearance on a C-Span panel discussion, or his participation in a protest or rally in the street, Salih Booker and Africa Action have arguably been the most visbile in active advocacy for Africa, in America, in recent years.
Salih Booker is the Executive Director of Africa Action. Africa Action is a new name for an old group of institutions, incorporating The Africa Fund and the American Committee on Africa (ACOA) in New York City; and the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) in Washington, DC. These three related nonprofit organizations became Africa Action through a merger in 2001. Dating back to ACOA's founding in 1953, these are the oldest American organizations devoted to educating and mobilizing Americans and others to fight for positive US and international policies toward Africa and to support African struggles for human rights and democracy, peace and security, and development.
During the past twenty-two years, Mr. Booker has traveled to and worked in 26 of Africa's 54 countries. He lived in Ghana, Kenya and Zimbabwe during ten of those years. A leading adviser to world leaders on Africa, Mr. Booker directed the Council on Foreign Relations Africa Studies Program for 5 years.
Salih Booker recently spoke to BlackElectorate.com publisher Cedric Muhammad for a very in-depth interview regarding the situation in Darfur, Sudan, as part of the website's interview series, "Asking The Right Questions About Darfur".
Cedric Muhammad: I am clear from reading your positions and interviews on Darfur, that you see that what has happened in the last year is a genocide. And you have pushed openly with your petition and your advocacy, that the word “genocide” come out of people’s lips. So I wanted to know how you define genocide in general, and then specifically what is the genocidal activity taking place in Darfur – is it as simple as Arab vs. Black as people say?
Salih Booker:OK, the legal definition of genocide in the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment On Genocide is basically in Articles II and III. And Article II says that there are two elements that constitute the crime of genocide. One is the mental element and the other is the physical element. The mental element is the intent, and here I will quote the Convention, “the intent to destroy in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group as such”. Then the physical element constitutes, in the Convention, five types of violence they describe. And briefly the five types are killing the members of the group, the second is causing mental or bodily harm to members of the group, the third is deliberately inflicting conditions of life on a group that are calculated to bring about its physical destruction, in whole or in part, and the last two have to do with, measures to prevent birth within the group, such as pregnant women who have been killed and their fetuses taken out, and the fifth category is transferring children of one group to another, this also within the definition of rape – changing the identity of children. And rape is seen as one of the acts of genocide. So, in the Convention, that is the legal definition. The intent, the mental element, and the physical element of these kinds of acts of violence. So we believe strongly that the evidence is ample of both the intent and the physical acts, that what is taking place is genocide. We understand that it began as a response to a rebellion in Darfur of two rebel groups that sprang up early last year, challenging the government’s authority, demanding an end to their self-perception of being marginalized and they attacked government military facilities. The government responded not by taking on the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) – the two Darfur rebel groups. It responded with a methodology, a scorched earth campaign that ends up constituting genocide because it is an effort to destroy in part, these three African ethnic communities, that they believe form the base of social support for this rebellion. They are the Fur, the Zaghawa, and the Masalit. But the Sudanese government might say this is just a counter insurgency movement, and that they are just trying to fight these rebels and they armed militias to fight these rebels – militias that self identify themselves as “Arabs” and herders, people without permanently identified land, and so they have their own motive and interest in displacing people from land and claiming land for themselves. Those are realities that are part of this conflict bit they don’t obfuscate the core basis that the methodology that the government used constitutes genocide – that they came in using government power i. e. the airplanes and helicopter gunships they have, to literally attack villages, and there is evidence on film and there are numerous testimonials of Sudanese who have been displaced from their homes. They arm these militias and encourage them and the result was this 30,000 people who were killed in this violence and thousands of women and girls who have been raped and the destruction of villages, crops, water wells and irrigation so that they are also creating conditions, beyond the killings that will lead to the further deaths of even more people, which is what we are now beginning to see because of the impending famine and disease - because people do not have any food, they do not have any homes. There are now a million people displaced in Darfur internally, meaning they are wandering around or they are in these internally displaced camps that are now filling up with water because of the torrential seasonal rain. So that also constitutes an act of genocide - creating these conditions that are going to destroy these communities. That is the short and long answer.
Cedric Muhammad: I appreciate that. I wanted to know, of what you just gave and the Sudanese government position – is it possible that ethnic identity and the rebel/counter-insurgency affiliations perfectly align themselves, meaning, are there other tribes affiliated with the SLA and JEM that are not being targeted (by the Sudanese government) as part of the counterinsurgency? Because that is what I would look for to be absolutely certain that this just isn’t a perfect intersection of ethnic and political opposition?
Salih Booker: Well, I think there are two things. One is the Arab and African split, which in and of itself is a very subjective thing in Sudan. In other words, you have had so much intermarriage in this part of Sudan over generations that people are almost indistinguishable from one another in terms of a sort of physical assumption of identity. But identity then, rests in language in culture, and most importantly in terms of how people self identify - Do they see themselves as an Arab or an African?. And this is a dynamic that is also changing now at the moment in part...
Cedric Muhammad:...because of what’s happening now...
Salih Booker:...Exactly. And because of the identity of this particular government - since it came to power in 1989. It is an “Arab-centric” government, where Sudanese that self-identify as being Arabs have all of the top positions in government, in the military etc...But there is also an Islamist movement (as a factor) that for a moment sought to bridge this racial divide. Hasan Al-Turabi, who was the head of the National Islamic Front – one of his geniuses, if you will, and I’m not a fan of his, was to say, Islamic movements shouldn’t just embrace Arabs, they should embrace African Muslims as well. And of course everyone in Darfur that we are talking about here are Muslims. Religion is not part of the divide in this conflict, but it is beginning to show that race is the fault line even within the Islamist movement of Sudan. That is a long way of getting to the point. To answer the specific point, I would say that to my knowledge I couldn’t say that the SLA and the JEM align precisely as two rebel organizations that are only comprised of people from the Fur, the Masalit, and the Zaghawa communities. The assumption, however on the part of the Sudanese government are these are the three communities most important to any social base of any emerging (opposition) movement. It is the Sudanese government that has made a choice of targeting. The SLA and the JEM are still, to this point, to some degree, not well known, either in terms of their geographic composition or their ideological stance other than, again, a growing self-identification of being “Black” and as being “African”, even if they look physically similar to those who are identifying themselves as “Arabs”. But they (JEM and SLA) are self-defining themselves this way because herein lie their grievances. These are the people in the community who feel that they don’t have access to government resources, that they are passed over within the civil service or within the army.
And there is another important point. There are a lot of people from Darfur who are in the national Sudanese army, which in part is one of the arguments of why the Sudanese government didn’t use the normal army as much as it involved itself in training, arming and using these militias. It is because, a lot of people from Darfur (in the national Sudanese army) would revolt or would refuse to carry out orders to attack their own kith and kin from the Darfur region. So, that is the best I can do on that.
Cedric Muhammad: Well, I appreciate that and this is our big challenge and why we are doing a series of in-depth interviews. Let me give you one more point on this and then we can move on into what you advocate and the larger context.
Salih Booker: OK.
Cedric Muhammad: The last point on this identity issue is that there is a Professor Sean O’ Fahey at the University of Bergen, who has done a lot of work in and on Darfur on ethnology. He says that an Arab and non-Arab divide is very ambiguous, and he sees it is generally unworkable through genealogy because Darfur is one of the least charted areas of Sudan; and, in addition he and others have divided identity among the population in Darfur more in terms of migratory patterns, linguistic and occupational factors. But for the sake of argument say you accept a clear "Arab" vs. Black categorization of this.
The point I am trying to pin down say, in the case of the SPLA (Sudan People's Liberation Army, based in the Southern Sudan), SLA and the JEM - and certainly we know that the SPLA is beyond Darfur - is if political groups and movements arise or come into that region, they stand a good chance of being absorbed by and becoming part of the larger ethnic and tribal feuds. And we know certainly that both sides of this conflict have used tribes as proxies in their war (the Sudanese government and the SPLA in the 21-year civil war).
Wouldn’t these opposition groups naturally also look for friendly and sympathetic ethnic groups as their surrogates and proxies, align with them, and by default, wouldn’t anything that they did in opposition to the government- affiliated ethnic militias and tribes - wouldn’t that also be an ethnically focused campaign? And if these opposition groups were to commit horrible abuses, couldn’t they similarly be termed genocide?
Salih Booker: OK.
Cedric Muhammad: And the reason why I say this is because Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch (HRW), and other groups, and I know you know this, have documented numerous human rights violations by the SPLA, SLA and JEM, yet they haven’t raised that to the bar of characterizing them as genocide. So I am just wondering at what point would not everything become ethnically-centered when you have all of the groups and the government using tribal and ethnic groups in their war with one another, actually riding in on centuries-old wars and animosities between one another? Proactively or reactively, everyone (the government and opposition groups) in Darfur is fighting along ethnic or tribal lines in one way or another.
Salih Booker: The first thing is that I want to draw a clear distinction here between the conflict in the North and South of Sudan and what is happening in Darfur (which is in Western Sudan). The SPLA is the principal force in Southern Sudan in the long-running conflict (21 year civil war) between the government in Khartoum and the South and that was moving to some kind of peace agreement until recently. This other rebel movement SLA is not related. This is a new rebel movement in Darfur. The Sudan Liberation Army. And it, along with the JEM, I would say, are still relatively small movements, as far as we can tell, that have their own roots in Darfur. I mean there have been protests and unrest in Darfur in the past over concerns about the centralized government etc...But there is not a relation between SPLA and SLA.
Now, so those who have documented human rights abuses, and atrocities, and crimes documented by the SPLA in the South, this is true, and that has been part of the conflict, but again in that case, it wasn’t sort of communal violence using ethnicity as the main focus of the conflict. The Southerners have been fighting for equality and self-determination, more or less since 1956 when the country got independence, because the North had been favored under colonialism by the British and the Egyptians – had more schools etc...- and in fact therefore Northern culture and Islam, was privileged over the Southern culture and African religions etc...and in fact they left the South, to some degree, to the mercy of Christian missionaries for education and services during long periods of the colonialism there, which helped to create and harden these identities, which are key to the North-South conflict.
But over in Darfur, on this point of ethnicity, all the way back in the 16th century up until the 1900s Darfur was an independent sultanate. The leading ruling ethnic group were the Fur and they expanded and absorbed smaller ethnic groups, both people who self-identified as Arab or self-identified as non-Arab or African. They intermixed. There was intermarriage and complimentary activities. And yeah, there were certain distinctions like, the Fur were mostly farmers, and the people who self-identified as Arabs were mostly herders, but even there it could be some cross-over – wealthier farmers would invest in livestock and become herders. So those identities are not hard and fast except for - and I think you know this well – when these kind of conflicts emerge they harden identities. And what we are watching now is likely to have long term implications on how people identify. And there is even a growing “Black-consciousness” dynamic, not yet a movement, in Sudan because of what is perceived as an Arab-centricity in the government - a preference for its Arab heritage over its African heritage, in a country that clearly has both heritages. That is a dynamic that is unfolding now. But the SLA and the JEM in taking up arms and making their demands are not targeting and attacking an Arab community. They are identifying the Government of Sudan, the State, as their adversary because it does not provide them equality or equal access to resources as it does other groups who they feel are privileged by the State. But their fight is not with those who are privileged by the State, it is with the State itself. If that makes sense?
Cedric Muhammad: Yes. I understand totally. Now, from your research and your direct contact with what is going on and your knowledge of it, there isn’t a problem of civilian deaths on the other side...
Salih Booker: No, well, to extend the last point further, I have seen some reports about human rights abuses committed by the rebel groups in Darfur. So I would say, yes there have been cases of civilians being abused by the rebel groups. Sometimes these are civilians of the same ethnic community as those abusing them. And so that is true but I would distinguish that from a planned campaign to eliminate a part of those ethnic groups. Their (the SLA and the JEM) political and military strategy to the extent that they have one is aimed against the State...
Cedric Muhammad: (and where it takes place against) civilians it is against anyone – whoever they might be – kinsmen or those not affiliated with them?
Salih Booker: Right.
Cedric Muhammad: In Darfur there is now an inversion - a hardening of race and identity which is now actually a self-fulfilling prophecy in a small sense, because people are now identifying according to whatever status they are now being most victimized by.
Salih Booker: Yes.
Cedric Muhammad: And by the same token, with the West, just overwhelmingly, and the world really, overwhelmingly seeing this as a genocide, as a dominant factor overriding other factors and a larger context, like there being a civil war throughout the whole country, I wanted to know are you concerned at all about there being consequences to uncritically accepting that larger worldview which would prevent structural change on the ground in Darfur? For example, there were serious ecological problems which hardened those historical conflicts between tribes, and that would be a massive economic issue to be dealt with; and of course there is this long standing “beef” so to speak, between these groups, regardless to whether the rebel groups or the State of Sudan was waging a war of political implications with one another. So, in light of that, if we stop what is being called a genocide, do we really bring peace and prosperity to that region? What is the order of events in how you would like to see the entire problem resolved because I know you are concerned with the other factors as well?
Salih Booker: Right, and I like how you set this series up saying that you wanted to ask the right questions and that you are very interested in placing a focus on what the long-term solutions are. I think your examination of how what people are advocating in the short term affects the long-term is the right approach and I admire that. Now on this very issue, not only are these identities hardening in Darfur, and I would say throughout Sudan; if you look at the East African press, you will see it happening more broadly now. So yes it is being framed as an Arab-African split, as a racial conflict, and this is gathering momentum in ways that I think (sigh)are troubling. I mean on the one hand, I think it is important for it to be out in the public that there are racial tensions and there a history of this which has seen Africans as being the more disadvantaged of these communities where there has been competition. And this was something that was sort of covered over by the solidarity of Africans and Arabs at the time of African independence – getting rid of the colonialists...
Cedric Muhammad:...and in some of the pan-Islamic movements as well..
Salih Booker: exactly, exactly. But this is a fault line that does exist in Africa. And what is happening in Sudan could exacerbate that fault line in a negative way, as opposed to promoting some longer time kind of reconciliation, better understanding and tolerance. In terms of the immediate short term needs and how that relates to a longer term solution, I think it is absolutely critical to demonstrate that the lives of these civilians are as valuable as the lives of everybody else, and that the African Union, United Nations and international community broadly, should act to protect these lives. And before I get into the specifics of that, let me just say that we have really struggled, at Africa Action, and I think, in a losing battle, to try and have a more subtle and detailed characterization of the conflict. Because this notion of Arab militias killing Black Africans is the language that the mainstream media uses. Or they like to say the “Arab government” and "Black African” (people). Well, everyone in Sudan is Black and most everybody is both Arab and African, but that is not easy to convey to an American audience. So we use phrases like “the Arab-centric government” because we think that is accurate, but there is not an Arab government (in Sudan). We use the term “Afro-Arab”, we have tried to better explain some of these nuances, but as you know, this is not a society that deals well with nuance.
Cedric Muhammad: And I think there is a political industry that has a vested interest in sensationalizing this.
Salih Booker: Oh, that is right and that complicates things further...
Cedric Muhammad:...because even just as an anecdote, I have seen on television all of the horrible pictures of the very dark-skinned Black victims and those suffering. But I haven’t, on American television seen one picture of a member of the Janjaweed (described as an Arab militia). I saw one on BBC television and he was darker than both of us. And that is just an interesting example of (the angles of this story that are not really being explored in the mainstream media) but I do support what you are trying to do, as you describe it, bringing out a more nuanced description.
Salih Booker: But it is really hard. It is really hard, and we are still trying to figure it out. So we will keep at it. But you can see that it is hardening both in terms of how the media describes it and in terms of how other communities now react to this. So to close off the answer directly to the question you just asked, I think in the short term, you need protection for these communities. The AU, as one of its strengths, recognized that there needs to be a political solution. When the government of Khartoum, in the last year started finally to reach agreements with the people in the South – this long-running war is going to finally come to an end, and there is going to be a six year period of government unity where Southerners are going to occupy an equal number of government posts, and John Garang (leader of the SPLA) will be a vice president and their will be joint rule and sharing of the oil resources, and you would have at the end of this time period, a referendum in the South to determine whether the people in that region would like to remain under Sudan in a federation or with greater autonomy, or whether they want to become a separate state. This has also had an impact on people in the rest of the country who also feel marginalized – people in the Nuba mountains, or in Darfur or in Bahr el-Ghazal. So you have other communities saying ‘Well wait a minute the Southerners, they fought all these years, but look in the end, they are getting a better deal. They are getting joint government, sharing of oil resources etc...’So to some degree, most analysts believe that was a factor in inspiring the rebellion in Darfur (by the SLA and JEM) and it could happen also in other provinces in the coming years. And the government of Sudan, of course, is afraid of this, and uses this as part of its argument that it has to defend the national unity, and prevent the fracturing of the country. And that is why it has responded so harshly to rebellions, because it can’t allow that to spread like wildfire to other regions. So the short term has to be to protect these folks but to find a political process that will allow for greater representation, where communities throughout Sudan feel that they do have representation in government, that they do have a stake and that their interests are legitimately listened to. And this gets to the core concern about whether the current government in Khartoum capable of doing that. It came to power through a military coup, it tried to civilianize itself in Northern elections etc… But it still is very much an authoritarian government and it now has oil, because oil came on line only in the last couple of years, and it is just not clear whether this government will meaningfully engage in a process that would probably reduce central authority and increase local authority. Peace agreements will involve some decentralization of power. This is a government in Khartoum that is really comfortable with the centralization of power, not decentralization. So this does have that long-term implication. Might the whole North-South agreement fray as a result, or might other rebellions spring up in other parts of the country? The international community should be aware of these other possibilities in trying to address the short term problem.
Cedric Muhammad: I see in what Africa Action is calling for that you note that the United States military has around 2,000 troops in neighboring Djibouti who you suggest could be mobilized to help in Darfur. In light of your push to get the word “genocide” into the mouth of Kofi Annan and U.S. Secretary Of State Colin Powell, that it may trigger mandatory action, how would the American intervention work, would it dovetail with a local, regional and national political settlement? Have you thought that through yet?
Salih Booker: Yes, yes. And also let me just preface this by saying that it was real difficult for us to come to a decision to advocate a U.S. leadership role in a military intervention. Because of the history of U.S. interventions abroad, because of the more recent history of the illegal, illegitimate U.S. intervention in Iraq and because it has so alienated so much of the world, particularly the Muslim world, and because Sudan has oil, it was very difficult to expect that the international community would believe the U.S. good intention. In other words, the U.S. has lost credibility and there is a great deal of skepticism. Nevertheless, with that as a backdrop, let me explain how we came to that conclusion.
Ideally you would want a United Nations peace-keeping operation, a formal blue-helmeted peace-keeping operation, that has the full legitimacy of the U.N. backed by the Security Council and would have troops contributed by a variety of countries, hopefully a significant portion of which would be from African countries. But to put together such a U.N. force even if everything went well, in the U.N. Security Council, the minimum would be three months to do it all, according to the U.N.’s own estimate. We believe that is too long. You need to stop the killing now and provide security so that the food and shelter and humanitarian relief can get in literally in the weeks ahead, because this is the time frame where the humanitarian groups and others are predicting that 350,000 people are going to die soon, and it is going to start rapidly increasing because of the conditions that are being created and now, the rains have come and the estimate that as many as a million could die if humanitarian aid doesn’t get there at all. So, you have to ask the question, well what kind of force could intervene in the short-term, provide this kind of security, facilitate the humanitarian relief, and enforce the cease-fire between the government and the rebel groups that the African Union negotiated. And that is what led us to say, well the first criteria has to be, who has the capacity to get there quickly, and to bring others there quickly – who has the physical and technological capacity? So, we note that the U.S. has these troops, 2,000 Marines in Djibouti. Of course, this base was established there, as a precursor to the war in Iraq and as part of the Pentagon’s efforts to have a military presence in larger parts of the world post-September 11th. It is only hours away from Darfur. And the United States has the greatest transportation capacity of any country in the world, that is not just to move American troops, but to pick up and deliver other troops, say, from African countries that might be willing to contribute troops, so that it could lead such a force because it could actually get a force on the ground quicker in Darfur than any other constellation of countries we can think of. We would not ever advocate that this be a unilateral U.S. action. We would advocate the U.S. play a lead role. We would not even suggest that all 2,000 troops would be necessary. We are talking about several hundred U.S. Marines and establishing a command and control to get this operation underway, to send planes to bring the troops to Darfur to spread out to provide protection to these internally displaced people and then finally the United States also has this unique satellite intelligence capacity where they can actually look in very closely to see which villages have been attacked and destroyed, the movements of troops in the region, and these movements of large internally displaced people in the region. So the U.S. has these unique resources and assets that could lead such a mission effectively. We believe the U.S. has a moral and legal obligation under the Convention (On genocide), but we also believe that this is an opportunity, if you will, to do correctly, what should not have been done in the case of Iraq.
In other words here is a chance for the U.S. to use its power to uphold international law, instead of violating international law, to use U.S. power to save lives, as opposed to using U.S. power as a way to destroy lives, with political objectives. We are not naïve, we know as I mentioned before there is a great deal of skepticism, and we feel it is tragic that the price of the U.S.’s loss of credibility in the world may be paid by the people in Darfur because the U.S. can’t exert effective leadership to mount an international effort to save lives there.
Finally I would say we also have a realist view that we know we have to put pressure on the U.S. The Bush administration does not want to do this. They don’t want to do it in an election year. They generally don’t want to commit troops to anything in Africa, after Somalia, which is ironic when one considers that the American armed forces are disproportionately comprised of people of African descent. So we know that there is resistance to that but we believe that putting pressure on the administration is the best way to ensure that the U.S. in turn will try to put pressure on the U.N. system, on the African Union, so that some force is assembled that can provide protection and facilitate humanitarian relief, whether that will involve any U.S. troops or not, we still think its is right to demand the U.S. play this kind of leadership role and already our efforts have been having an impact, the U.S. is talking to South Africa, Nigeria, and Rwanda about whether they might contribute troops to the African Union force. The 300 troops promised to the Afican Union are just a small protection force, mandated to provide protection for the 120 cease-fire observers, with a Nigerian who is heading the mission. They have been investigating the siituation already. The AU has already issued a report about atrocities, people being chained and burned alive, and they have noted other violations of the ceasefire. There work is important but it is only to investigate the matter not stop the violence. And it is just a tiny force. One of the things that people are saying is that maybe that force can be expanded and its mandate can be changed so that it would be an African Union force, but it would be a full blown peacekeeping force mandated to disarm militias, mandated to provide protection of civilians through the use of force. And again, we feel that by putting pressure on the U.S. it helps increase the momentum and pressure on others to act, even while we know the U.S. administration is going to be resistant to this idea.
Cedric Muhammad: It is clear you have given a lot of consideration to that and to me, the devil does lie in the details..
Salih Booker: Right, and the last part of your question is how this would all relate to a political settlement...
Cedric Muhammad:…right because to me, and allow me to insert this. I saw the Lusaka Accords (the peace and political process) happen in the Congo, where you did have tribal and ethnic dynamics there, but this is the bottom line there, the world got involved in a way that I think further empowered Joseph Kabila, and it disempowered others who had a legitimate and vested interest, whether they were armed opposition or just non-violent political opposition. To me, the aid that went to the Congo, the humanitarian and IMF and World Bank support – at the critical moment that a political settlement was being worked out – skewed the process. So what I am worried about in Darfur is the opposite, suppose the opposition is disproportionately empowered by sanctions placed on Sudan government or as a result of humanitarian aid, military or international intervention and you have a repeat (of what took place in Congo) of the corruption of what absolutely has to be a balanced political and peace process, largely because there is a short-term urgency that needs to be addressed and resolved, but responding to it disrupts the process and overrides the proper handling of other critical factors which are delicate and necessary to a long-term solution.
Salih Booker: Well, I think that is a very sharp insight and that is precisely a danger, and this is always the case. Some people think humanitarian interventions are talking about only humanitarian issues and that they are politically neutral or take politics out of the equation. They do not. Any kind of humanitarian intervention is going to favor one side or another in all likelihood and both sides will try and use it to their advantage. And people need to be conscious of that to begin with. So you are right. An armed humanitarian intervention to address a real immediate problem is likely to have, perhaps unintended consequences but consequences nonetheless on the longer-term political settlement. It may encourage greater intransigence on the part of the Darfur rebel groups because they feel that maybe they are strengthened by this international community support, so they can hold out for more in their talks with the government. As I alluded to earlier, it could encourage some other group in the Nuba Mountains or somewhere else to say, ‘well we have legitimate grievances against the government’, and can get international support on our side’. And then you have the history of the international community’s reluctance to see through the long-term solution. So after intervening, like in Somalia, for example, eventually their emphasis was on getting out of Somalia. They felt, ‘well we addressed this issue of saving lives due to famine, but we can’t address this political nightmare and so we will pull out and just let Somalia drift, as a State-less State’. And so there is that danger as well of the international community having a short time span in their attention and commitment of resources.
On the one hand you want to encourage African Union leadership and a key role in resolving this, and the African Union also wants to play that role, but it is also an organization literally without resources, so in an effort to say let’s have an African-led solution, but not providing the kind of resources that the African countries and the AU would need to continue pursuing a political settlement and greater security, it can hurt. It would be to abandon the long-term consequences to Sudan’s neighbors and the struggling African Union to sort it out. So I think the alternative is for the UN and the African Union to get engaged now in saying ‘yes, this intervention is to save lives and facilitate humanitarian aid, but we are now going to have to remain committed to seeing Sudan through this peaceful transition of an end to the war in North and South and long-term political negotiations affecting communities in Darfur and possibly elsewhere.' And that would be a new and unique kind of commitment but I think that is what is called for.
Cedric Muhammad: Well, lastly you know there are people who have great cynicism, with varying levels of evidence to support it, who say that one, a (propaganda and potential military ) war against Sudan is part of a larger agenda to destabilize Africa; secondly, whether it is the Zionist community or neoconservatives, there are certainly ideologues with relations with certain interest groups who are active in Sudan who would like to see a slowing or negating of the “Islamicization of Africa”; and thirdly there is the oil angle, and I don’t know if you have heard but I have gotten conflicting information regarding a pipeline running through the region as it relates to Darfur, and a little-known agreement between Sudan and India, being signed, that could be a factor. Have you heard anything – anecdotally or substantially evident – that any of these tree points of view, just mentioned, are impacting these arguments about genocide in Darfur, and calls for certain policies and responses?
Salih Booker: Well I think that on the first factor the U.S. government is reluctant to call this genocide and doesn’t want to get involved militarily in Sudan. It is really resisting all of this. Again, this is maybe one of those points that may be too subtle or nuanced for people to get, but the U.S. was hoping to host the peace signing agreement, at the White House, between the Government of Sudan and the SPLA, and they were looking forward to normalizing relations with the government of Sudan, as the result of this peace agreement. Because once they normalize relations they would be able to lift sanctions that would allow American oil companies back into Sudan because they have been completely out of the picture as Sudan finally developed and went on line with its oil resources because the U.S. had sanctions on the government. You know it was U.S. oil companies that first started exploring oil resources in Sudan in the 80’s and at that time – in the mid 1980s - their sites were being attacked during the war and all of that, and it was Chevron and some others, and so they decided to pull out. And then later the U.S. imposed sanctions, and right at the time the Sudan starting developing its oil resources, it was Canadian companies and Chinese companies and Malaysian and Dutch companies. And you know U.S. oil companies, they want to be everywhere, and the U.S. government does have this new look at Africa, where they are really interested in gaining access in oil everywhere – oil business in West Africa, from Nigeria down to Angola, and of course, its Sudan, and now Chad. And so I think that the notion that the U.S. wants to destabilize this government or wants to create conflict in the Sudan or has this kind of aggressive posture is just inaccurate...
Cedric Muhammad: ...but what of the possibility which has been suspected by some...
Salih Booker:...in Darfur itself?
Cedric Muhammad:...well, the neoconservative or Zionist agenda that would use an intervention (over charges of genocide)to achieve...
Salih Booker:...oh right, ok, I got you. So, yeah, this is where it really does get trickier. So, the intervention in Iraq is very much part of a larger neoconservative design on redrawing and reshaping the Middle East and that broad definition of the Middle East would come down and include Sudan as well...
Cedric Muhammad:...and if you bring in the war on terrorism paradigm you know the fear (of those who believe that Sudan is a hotbed for Al-Qaeda and radical Islam). And I am personally waiting, not to sidetrack you, but I am waiting for someone to tell me or make the charge that Al-Qaeda is in Darfur!
Salih Booker: (laughter) Yeah right, don’t encourage it...
Cedric Muhammad:...right, but it would seem to me that you can clearly make the case, as you were stating when I interrupted, that this situation in Sudan as it relates to a neoconservative interest, even plays into a Middle-East (focused) view and a larger worldwide concern over the spread of Islam and radical Islam etc...
Salih Booker: So, in the neocon’s case I do think they really do have an interest in redrawing the map of the Middle East, largely in Israel’s interest, but (under the guise) of using language like bringing democracy in the Middle East and promoting human rights for Arabs and Muslims etc… and all that but it is really centered on sort of Israel’s interest, from the neocon’s ideological perspective. And those kinds of folks haven’t really been that focused on Sudan but they would be among those inclined to advocate for regime change in Sudan.
But (those who represent) sort of the mainstream in the administration have a similar interest, but they were taking a different route. After 9/11, Khartoum called the administration and said, ‘Hey, Bin Laden used to live here, we want to play ball, come on over, we have got files you can go through’. And within days, the intelligence community – the CIA, FBI and DIA - all had agents on the ground in Khartoum going through files and that began an interesting shift in the relationship between the U.S. and Sudan. They still listed Sudan as a country that supported terrorism but the U.S. really got engaged negotiating the North-South peace agreement and moving toward promoting a normalization of relations with Sudan. And they sort of saw this as similar to what they argued they accomplished with Libya – that they brought it back from the margins of the international community and they have restored relations because they have convinced Libya to act responsibly in the world of nations. This is what they wanted to be able to say about Sudan, if they had been hosting the peace agreement at the White House. So, I think they had a different approach or strategy for how you may address the threats you may see coming out of Sudan by embracing a Sudan and encouraging a North-South peace agreement.
So then, your third point, there is the question of oil in Darfur. To my knowledge there have yet to be the major oil finds in Darfur. Most of the oil finds thus far in Sudan have been in the Southern region and that is where they have developed production capacity and the pipelines going up to the Port of Sudan. But because there are those lines in Chad and the new Chad-Cameroon pipeline, I mean, I am no geologist, but it may be safe to assume that there may be oil in Darfur. Whether it is in large enough quantities for commercial exploration, I certainly don’t know.
And what happens is here the U.S. has invaded Muslim oil producing countries in Iraq and in the case of Afghanistan – a country that will have a major oil pipeline running through it. So you can see how the notion that the U.S. is going to intervene, even if it is for a humanitarian purpose in Sudan, produces skepticsm. A lot of people would believe that this is just part of a pattern of U.S. intervention in that broad part of the world. I don’t think that is accurate but I think it has credibility in the popular perceptions because of U.S. actions and behaviors in Iraq and Afghanistan and that, you can say, shows you some of the consequences of U.S. policies elsewhere. They definitely influence people’s perceptions of what the U.S. is trying to do in Sudan. And that really does complicate things further. I mean, here we are, Africa Action, trying to push the Bush administration to do much more, meanwhile a large part of the rest of the world with whom we are in sympathies, they are completely distrustful of the U.S. So it does complicate things.
Cedric Muhammad: We are really grateful for this Salih. Thank you Brother.
Salih Booker: Thank You and My Salaam.
Part I: Exclusive Q & A With Professor Sean O'Fahey
Part II : Exclusive Q & A With Joe Madison, President, Sudan Campaign
Part III: Exclusive Q & A With Karen Kwiatkowski, Lt. Col. United States Air Force (ret.)
Tuesday, August 17, 2004