The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) says it won’t return to the Government of National Unity until President Omar al-Bashir implements key democratic reforms. Sudan’s leader agreed to the actions when he signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) with the SPLM in 2005. The reforms include the transparent sharing of oil wealth and measures allowing free and fair elections. The agreement ended a long war between the North and South that killed and displaced millions of people. Observers of Sudan’s peace process say the CPA won’t be successful unless the Sudanese diaspora unites to put pressure on Khartoum. In the final part of a series on Sudan’s latest challenges, Darren Taylor focuses on the role of this significant group.
Deng Deng Nhial, Trade and Investment Officer with the Government of Southern Sudan’s Mission to the United States, says “too much” is sometimes made of the international community’s ability to solve the country’s problems.
“But what about the Sudanese themselves?” he asks. “The intervention of the international community has to be championed by the Sudanese people. It is our case. Our problem.”
Nhial says it’s essential that the Sudanese diaspora claims “ownership” of the current crisis surrounding the stalled peace agreement.
“We have a huge population of Sudanese in the United States, and I think engagement of our people is extremely important. The organization part is the most important thing; it’s how people can politically organize themselves and come up with a program that is viable.”
Nhial gives credit to the international activist movement that has over decades focused the eyes of the world on Sudan. But he asks that the diaspora “joins hands” with the lobby groups to educate the world about the dangers of the collapse of the CPA.
Roger Winter, the United States’ former special representative to Sudan, says it’s especially necessary for Sudanese organizations to become involved as the Khartoum government is ignoring world outrage about developments in the region.
“They don’t see the international community as a credible threat right now – including the United States. They look us dead in the eye and they have done that on Darfur. They look us and the UN (United Nations) dead in the eye and say ‘no, no, no.’”
Winter says President al-Bashir’s administration remains afraid of free and fair elections – a key provision contained within the CPA. This, he maintains, provides the basis for the international community to hold it to account.
But Winter doubts whether this will happen. He points out that despite the US labeling the Darfur atrocities “genocide,” the international community has essentially done little to prevent violence against the people of Darfur.
Representatives of the government of Sudan did not respond to a number of requests for comment regarding this article.
One of the most prominent members of the Sudanese diaspora in the US is Omer Ismail. He was born in Darfur, and is a veteran aid worker for a variety of international organizations. Ismail fled political persecution in Sudan in 1989, and later founded the Sudan Democratic Forum, a think tank of Sudanese intellectuals dedicated to freedom in their homeland. Ismail’s also a Fellow at Harvard University’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy.
He says it’s the Darfur situation that’s awoken the world about the suffering of the Sudanese people at the hands of an autocratic elite. He gives credit to some in the diaspora who “from the beginning” have sought to tell the world the truth of what’s happening in Sudan.
“It is not the guns that are rumbling down there, it is the voices of the people here that are taking this issue to the heart of the international community and saying: ‘Look, we have waited a long time (for democratic change).”
According to Ismail, it’s the Sudanese diaspora’s task to convince the international community that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement is the “road map” to a democratic Sudan.
But he’s concerned about what he perceives as a “lackadaisical” attitude amongst some Sudanese in the diaspora.
“They say, by signing peace agreements, then the job is done and we can go home…. They will jump in their planes and they go back and they say, ‘Okay, the heavy lifting is done, now it is the easy business’. No. Actually, the heavy lifting is yet to start.”
Ismail says those Sudanese living in foreign countries must not turn their backs on the country of their birth, and must make sure that the CPA does not collapse. If this happens, he says, it’ll destabilize at least five countries neighboring Sudan, with “disastrous consequences” for millions of people.
“This is my worst nightmare, this scenario. I pray every day that it doesn’t happen. But in the context of what we are seeing today and what we have been through, if history is any indicator, then we cannot say this might not happen. But we will all have to work hard so it doesn’t happen,” Ismail states.
He says the Sudanese diaspora must maintain close contact with international activist groups, to make sure that the implementation of the CPA is monitored closely.
“This is a way…. for this government to save itself from itself!”
But for this to happen, Ismail is admant, then the diaspora must become involved and not demonstrate apathy.
“We cannot do it by being bystanders, by standing by and being indifferent. The burden is on us to end this madness!” he exclaims.