The new and significant moves towards a peaceful resolution
of the Sudanese civil war (1), as outlined in the July 2002
Machakos peace protocol, must go hand in hand with a concerted
attempt to stem some of the media mis-reporting that, together
with deliberate propaganda and disinformation, has artificially
prolonged the conflict.
The 'Telegraph' group, including 'The Daily Telegraph'
and 'The Sunday Telegraph', has been party to what can at
best be described as poor journalism regarding Sudan. The
group is owned by newspaper magnate Conrad Black, who is
the third biggest owner of newspapers in the world. In addition
to owning the Telegraph group, his company, Hollinger International
Inc. also owns major newspapers in the United States, Canada,
Israel and Australia, including 'The Chicago Sun Times',
'The Jerusalem Post', 'The National Post', and 'The Sydney
Morning Herald'. It must be said that the 'Telegraph Group'
also seems to have been remarkably accident-prone with regard
to disinformation, especially regarding Sudan. (2) In 1994,
for example, the foreign editor of 'The Sunday Telegraph',
Con Coughlin, repeated disinformation claims about thousands
of Iranian Revolutionary guards being present in Sudan.
(3) In his account of his time in Sudan, for example, former
United States ambassador to Sudan, Donald Petterson, revealed
such claims to be disinformation:
"Reports appeared in the media that hundreds, even
thousands of Iranians, many of them Revolutionary Guard
military and security police advisers, had come to Sudan.
Reports also persisted that the Iranians were training Palestinian,
Egyptian, Algerian, and other radical Islamist terrorists
at sites in Sudan, some of them quite large. The
reports were based in part on information provided by Egyptian
intelligence sources, which were conducting an assiduous
disinformation campaign against Sudan. The truth was something
far less alarming. There were Iranian advisers and technicians
in Sudan, and Shiite propagandists and clerics as well,
yet their numbers were relatively small, certainly nothing
like the numbers being reported by the Western press."
A year later, in 1995, 'The Daily Telegraph' was repeating
Christian Solidarity International claims about "slavery"
in Sudan. (5) Reputable human rights activist, and Sudan
specialist, Alex de Waal, when director of African Rights,
was particularly sceptical of the sorts of claims made by
"(O)vereager or misinformed human rights advocates
in Europe and the US have played upon lazy assumptions to
raise public outrage. Christian Solidarity International,
for instance, claims that 'Government troops and Government-backed
Arab militias regularly raid black African communities for
slaves and other forms of booty'. The organization repeatedly
uses the term 'slave raids', implying that taking captives
is the aim of government policy. This despite the fact that
there is no evidence for centrally-organized, government-directed
slave raiding or
slave trade." (6)
In August 1998, 'The Daily Telegraph' claimed that the
Iraqi air force had somehow been flown to Sudan to avoid
its destruction in the Gulf War. (7) The newspaper did not
explain quite how several hundred Iraqi bombers were able
to fly over Saudi Arabian or Israeli airspace without being
challenged or destroyed at that somewhat sensitive time.
In an equally inventive 1999 article, 'The Daily Telegraph'
claimed that Osama bin-Laden was buying child slaves from
Ugandan rebels and using them as forced labour on marijuana
farms in Sudan in order to fund international terrorism.
(8) When asked about this claim, the British government
stated they had seen no evidence for such allegations. (9)
And, 'The Daily Telegraph' was one of the first newspapers
to repeat discredited
United States government claims of Iraqi links to the al-Shifa
medicine factory following the disastrously inept attack
on that facility in 1998. (10)
Aficionados of disinformation may be amused to learn that
in July 2000, in an article written by its diplomatic correspondent
Christina Lamb, 'The Sunday Telegraph' published claims
that the Iraqi President Saddam
Hussein had sent specially-trained belly-dancing assassins,
including one by the stage name of Maleen, to London to
kill Iraqi dissidents. (11) When asked in Parliament about
these serious claims, the British government stated that
there was no evidence to support this allegation. (12) 'The
Sunday Telegraph' subsequently retracted the article and
publicly apologised to Ms Maleen for the claim, admitting
that "she is not linked in any way to the regime, has
never been employed by the Iraqi intelligence service, and
has never been trained as a terrorist or assassin".
On 26 August 2000, 'The Sunday Telegraph' newspaper published
an article, also written by Ms Lamb, alleging that China
was deploying 700,000 soldiers to Sudan to protect Chinese
interests in the Sudanese oil project. (14) When asked in
Parliament asked about this allegation, the British government
stated that "We have no evidence of the presence of
any Chinese soldiers in Sudan, let alone the figure of 700,000
alleged in one press report". (15) Even the Clinton
Administration, as hostile as it was to the Sudanese authorities,
dismissed the claims, stating that even "the figure
of tens of thousands of troops is just not credible based
on information available to us". (16)
In September 2000, 'The Sunday Telegraph' published an
article alleging that Abdel Mahmoud al-Koronky, a senior
Sudanese diplomat who had served as Sudan's Charge d'Affaires
in London between September 1998 and April 2000, had kept
a "slave girl" in his house. (17) This article
was also written by Christina Lamb. Legal action against
the newspaper established that the Sudanese woman said to
have been the "slave" had come to London as an
au pair for the diplomat's family. Ms Lamb did not even
speak to the au pair before writing the article, relying
instead upon Sudanese opposition members and Baroness Cox's
Christian Solidarity Worldwide for the "story".
'The Sunday Telegraph' subsequently admitted the article
was untrue, and acknowledged that they had "greatly
wronged" the diplomat in question, "unreservedly"
withdrew the allegations, and "sincerely and unequivocally"
apologised for the "distress and gross hurt" the
article had caused. The newspaper also paid "very substantial"
damages to Mr al-Koronky. (18)
The al-Koronky "slave girl" story was a variant
on similarly untrue claims made in 'The Observer' newspaper
in London that the Sudanese president had four slaves in
his home. (19)
A Entrenched Disregard for Facts?
'The Daily Telegraph' in particular provides observers
with a clear example of how a newspaper of record, Britain's
largest circulation title, has repeatedly, and perhaps even
knowingly, seriously misrepresented the issue of Christianity
in Sudan and southern Sudan especially. The newspaper has
referred to the "Christian" south in Sudan
for a number of years, since, for example, 1995. (20)
Christians make up perhaps between 10-15 percent of the
southern population. Christians therefore account for less
than one-fifth of the southern population, and there appear
to be marginally more Christians than Muslims. Christians
comprise 4 percent of the national population. (21) Speaking
in 1970, Joseph Garang, perhaps the most prominent southern
politician in the 1960s, a former Minister of Southern Affairs,
stated that "less than one per centum of the Southern
population is Christian." (22) Muslims make up well
over 75 percent of the Sudanese
By far the majority of southerners are neither Christian
nor Muslim, and are adherents of native animist religions.
Claims of a "Christian south", forced to live
under Islamic law, with all the implications for religious
conflict, merely perpetuate an inaccurate stereotype of
Sudan, and an equally inaccurate and superficial context
for the Sudanese
conflict. This is somewhat similar to claiming that Northern
Ireland is Catholic. Such elementary mistakes would not
be allowed in reporting of First World affairs, but apparently
appallingly inaccurate journalism is perfectly permissible
in "coverage" of the developing world.
The newspaper has also repeatedly referred to the SPLA
as a "Christian" organisation, ignoring the fact
that if that were the case it would be representative of
a small minority within southern Sudan itself. (24) It has
made these claims, at least since 1998, having been made
perfectly aware that its assertions were widely inaccurate
and distorted perceptions of the Sudanese conflict. (25)
It cannot be said that it is inexperienced, cub, reporters
who are making such elementary mistakes. A 'Daily Telegraph'
article, "The Church in Rags", written by the
reporter Lord Deedes, demonstrated a continuing disregard
to facts in speaking of "the Christian south".
'The Daily Telegraph' is also the same newspaper that claimed
Islamic sharia law was applied to southern Sudan, whereas
the South has been exempt from sharia law since 1991. The
Sudanese civil war is about the political status of southern
Sudan. It is not a religious war. The conflict predates
the present Islamic government by 34 years, and the most
recent phase of the war started six years before the present
government came to power. The most recent phase of the war
also predates the imposition of Islamic sharia law in 1983.
'The Daily Telegraph' has provided other examples of questionable
claims. The previously mentioned article, "The Church
in Rags", demonstrated clearly biased reporting. The
article referred to the Sudanese Catholic Archbishop Gabriel
Zubeir Wako being released from a police cell in Khartoum,
"having been arrested on a trumped-up charge involving
an unpaid grocery bill." There are several facts with
regard to this which Lord Deedes appeared to have ignored
or missed. The "grocery bill" in question was
more than US$ 660,000. This bill was incurred by Sudanaid,
the Sudanese Catholic Church's own relief agency, in 1988-90,
and was owed to the private Sudanese trading firm Abu Huzaifah.
The firm has gone to court on numerous occasions over the
past decade to recover the US$ 660,000, and in 1998 secured
a court order freezing Sudanaid's accounts as well as seizing
vehicles to be held against the outstanding bill. The civil
court on learning that Sudanaid personnel had resisted the
seizure of vehicles ordered the arrest of the head of Sudanaid,
Archbishop Zubeir, on 1 May 1998. In considerably more accurate
coverage of the issue Agence France Presse on 1 May 1998
"Sudanaid...was unable to get the Omdurman civil court
ruling overturned when it first went to the appeal court
and then to a tribunal of five judges set up by the chief
justice. Under the initial ruling, the Omdurman court ordered
the freezing of Sudanaid's accounts with Citibank and the
seizure of the relief agency's vehicles. The court ordered
Wako's arrest after being informed by police that Sudanaid
personnel had 'resisted' the taking away of the vehicles."
That this was a civil rather than a political decision
was evident in the Sudanese government's embarrassment given
that Archbishop Zubeir was to be present during peace negotiations
that month in Kenya. The Sudanese President intervened to
request the suspension of the arrest, but the local courts
went ahead. The Archbishop was subsequently bailed.
One can only hope that the Telegraph group may start to
take stock of its many mistakes in reporting on Sudan. Balanced
coverage of Sudanese affairs can only but enhance attempts
to ensure a peaceful solution in that country.
1 See, for example, "Rebels Welcome Sudan Peace Plan",
News Article by BBC News, 5 July 2001. See, also, "Sudan
Opposition Welcomes Deal", News Article by Associated
Press, 21 July 2002; "US Says Deal Between Sudan, Rebels
is 'Significant Step' Towards Peace", News Article
by Agence France Presse, 22 July 2002; "Sudanese Joy
Over Peace Between Government and Rebels", News Article
by Deutsche Press Agentur, 22 July
2002; "Sudan Truce Monitors Optimistic on Peace Prospects",
News Article by Reuters, 23 July 2002.
2 It should also be noted that it was 'The Daily Telegraph',
in an article on 5 September 1990, which first ran with
the claims that following their invasion of Kuwait, Iraqi
soldiers had been removing babies from incubators in premature
baby units in order to take the incubators back to Iraq,
action said to have resulted in the deaths of
many babies. This was subsequently exposed as disinformation
- see John MacArthur, New York Times Op-Ed, 6 January 1992
and ABC's '20/20' program, 17 January 1992, and "Did
PR Firm Invent Gulf War Stories", 'In
These Times', 22 January 1992, p.2.
3 "Sudan Trains Terrorism's New Generation",
'The Sunday Telegraph' (London), 15 May 1994.
4 Donald Petterson, 'Inside Sudan: Political Islam, Conflict,
and Catastrophe', Westview Press, Boulder, 1999, pp.42-43
5 See, "Villagers in Sudan 'sold as slaves'",
'The Daily Telegraph' (London), 24 August 1995.
6 Alex de Waal, "Sudan: Social Engineering, Slavery
and War", 'Covert Action Quarterly', Spring 1997.
7 "Did Saddam pull the strings of the terrorist bombers?",
'The Daily Telegraph', 12 August 1998.
8 David Blair, "Bin Laden Buys Child Slaves for his
Drug Farms in Africa", 'The Daily Telegraph', 29 March
1999. This particular story was also carried in other articles,
such as "Bin Laden and his Quest for Slaves",
'The Chicago Tribune', 23 January 2002, and "Searching
for Slaves in bin Laden's Attic", 'Jewish World Review',
25 January 2001.
9 House of Lords Official Report, Written Parliamentary
Answer, 5 March 2001, column WA 10.
10 "Iraqi scientists 'helped Sudan make nerve gas'",
'The Daily Telegraph' (London), 26 August 1998.
11 "Saddam Sends Female Assassins on London Murder
Mission", 'The Sunday Telegraph' (London), 30 July
12 House of Lords Official Report, Written Parliamentary
Answer, 7 March 2001, column WA 31.
13 See published apology, "Sanna Karim, aka Maleen",
'The Sunday Telegraph', 5 August 2001.
14 "China Puts '700,000 Troops' on Sudan Alert'",
'The Sunday Telegraph' (London), 26 August 2000.
15 House of Lords Official Report, Written Parliamentary
Answer, 5 March 2001, column WA 10.
16 "U.S.: Reports of China's Role in Sudanese War
Are Overstated", News Article by UPI, 29 August 2000.
17 "Sudan Diplomat 'Kept Slave Girl in London Home'",
'The Sunday Telegraph' (London), 17 September 2000. The
story was also carried internationally. See, for example,
"Sudan Diplomat Kept Servant Girl as Slave in London
Home: Report", News Article by Agence France Presse,
17 September 2000.
18 "Statement in Open Court", Case No. HQ006869,
In the High Court of Justice, Queen's Bench Division, between
Abdel Mahmoud al-Koronky and Dominic Lawson, Christina Lamb
and The Sunday Telegraph Limited, 4 July 2002.
19 See, "Sudan Revives the Slave Trade", 'The
Observer' (London), 9 April 1995.
20 See, for example, "Ugandans 'helping rebels' in
Sudan", 'The Daily Telegraph' (London), 31 October
1995, which refers to "the Christian south"; "Rebel
victories revive 'forgotten war'", 'The Daily Telegraph'
(London), 11 January 1996, refers to "the predominantly
Christian south"; "Sudan rebels take control of
south after key
victory", 'The Daily Telegraph' (London), 9 May 1997,
refers to "the largely Christian African south";
"Talks on Sudan offer scant hope of averting famine",
'The Daily Telegraph' (London), 5 May 1998, refers to "largely
Christian southern rebels"; "Charities buy freedom
for Sudan's child slaves", 'The Daily Telegraph' (London),
24 May 1998, refers to "mainly-Christian southern Sudan
region"; "The Church in rags", 'The Daily
Telegraph' (London), 30 March 1999, refers to "an African
Christian south"; "Old War claims new victims",
'The Daily Telegraph' (London), 15 February 2000, refers
to a "mostly Christian south".
21 There is a certain amount of divergence in respect of
estimates of the religious breakdown of the southern population.
Human Rights Watch states that 4 percent of the population
are Christian and that about 15 percent of southern Sudanese
are Christian (Testimony of Jemera Rone, Human Rights Watch,
Before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Subcommittee
on Africa, 25 September 1997). The Economist Intelligence
Unit in its report entitled 'Sudan: Country Profile 1994-95'
also puts the Christian population of southern Sudan at
15 percent. The definitive United States government guide,
'Sudan - A Country Study', published by the Federal Research
division and Library of Congress, states that "In the
early 1990s possibly no more than 10 percent of southern
population was Christian." Muslims may make up a similar
percentage in southern Sudan.
22 "An Historical Perspective", in 'Horn of Africa',
Vol. 9, Number 1, 1985.
23 See, for example, 'Annual Report on International Religious
Freedom for 1999: Sudan', U.S. Department of State, Washington
DC, 9 September 1999.
24 "Little faith in Sudan's Islamic regime",
'The Daily Telegraph' (London), 15 July 1995, refers to
"Christian rebels in the south"; "Sudan regime
'blocking food aid'", 'The Daily Telegraph' (London),
2 August 1995, refers to "Christian rebels"; "Spectre
of famine creeps up on Sudan", 'The Daily Telegraph'
(London), 12 April 1998, refers to theSPLA as "a largely
Christian southern rebel group".
25 There were several letters from the British-Sudanese
Public Affairs Council to the foreign editor of 'The Daily
Telegraph' outlining in detail the independently-verifiable
facts of the religious composition of southern Sudan and
26 "The Church in Rags", 'The Daily Telegraph' (London),
30 March 1999