Published January 2001
ISBN: 1-903545-00-0





The Washington Post has published several articles and editorials regarding Sudan over the past several weeks. Most recently, on 15 October 2000, it published an editorial entitled 'The Sudan Sequel', commenting on the Clinton Administration's frenzied, and ultimately successful, attempts to deny Sudan a United Nations Security Council seat during recent elections to that body.

It is regrettable to have to state that these articles, and 'The Sudan Sequel' in particular, have provided a clear example of the poor, undemanding journalism that has come to characterise The Washington Post's coverage of Sudan. Even more regrettably, this deeply flawed journalism claims to inform American, and even world opinion on Sudanese issues.

The editorial starts out with the false premise that the United States' denial of a Security Council seat was an overwhelming victory for American diplomacy. If it was indeed a victory, then it was a phyrric victory. The editorial then calls for the targeting of Sudan's newly-developed oil industry, and particularly those international oil companies involved in the industry.

The Washington Post also claimed that the Sudanese government had "resisted peace talks with the rebels" and "has refused to hold elections". The editorial also stated that Khartoum has "callously frustrated international relief efforts directed at its starving people", and that "under continued pressure, there is a chance that the regime will crack; the rebels have reportedly made some battlefield gains recently".

While one can understand, and even expect, a degree of subjectivity in the reporting and editorialising of journalists, what is less forgivable are blatant untruths and distortion. The errors can, of course, be for any of several reasons. It might be that they can simply be put down to poor journalism on the part of those writing the editorial. Perhaps the journalists in question were out of their depth. Or, perhaps what they wrote simply reflected entrenched prejudice on the part of The Washington Post. In any instance, the article contains glaring inaccuracies and prejudice for which The Washington Post is responsible. It would appear that "the Ugly American" is not only alive and well, but is writing editorials for The Washington Post.


The Washington Post's editorialists have unhesitatingly and unquestioning sucked at the bosom of the Administration's claims of unqualified success in defeating Sudan's candidacy for membership of the United Nations Security Council. What they did not appear to grasp is that whereas even two years ago, such a candidacy would have been totally unthinkable given Khartoum's almost total international isolation. Yet, in July 2000, the 53 countries of Africa chose Sudan above Uganda and Mauritius to represent the continent as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. Sudan's candidacy was approved by the Organisation of African Unity, and supported by close American allies such as Egypt and Ethiopia. The Egyptian Foreign Minister said that "There is an African and an Arab decision in Sudan's favour concerning this issue."

Because Washington persuaded Mauritius to go against the convention of unanimity for regional candidates, the issue had to be voted upon by the broader General Assembly. Sudan secured 69 votes in the first round of voting against 95 for Mauritius. On the fourth round of voting Mauritius received the necessary two-thirds of the votes needed. The United States was forced into putting as much energy into this particular contest as it would have done in the Cold War days when it competed with the Soviet Union for votes at the United Nations. The difference is that far from being up against the Soviet Union, they were up against one of the world's weakest and most indebted Third World countries

A further indication of Sudan's new position within the international community can be seen by the draft resolution tabled before the Security Council on 13 June 2000 calling for the lifting of the limited sanctions imposed on Sudan in 1996. The United States has twice delayed discussion of the resolution. Sudan has agreed to delay the Security Council discussion on the lifting of sanctions until mid-November. Reuters has reported that "[e]xcept for the United States, all council members as well as Egypt and Ethiopia believe the sanctions should now be lifted."

Sudan has had unprecedented support from the international community over the sanctions issue. South Africa and Algeria, in their capacities as chairmen of the 114-member Non-Aligned Movement and the 22-member Arab Group of states respectively called on the Security Council to withdraw the sanctions. The Organisation of African Unity has also urged the Security Council to rescind the sanctions in question. In a letter to the President of the Security Council, OAU Secretary-General Salim Ahmed Salim stated that the lifting of the sanctions was an urgent matter:

The lifting of sanctions imposed on Sudan is not only urgently called for, but would also positively contribute to efforts aimed at promoting peace, security and stability in the region.

The Clinton Administration's heavy-handed approach with regard to Sudan and Security Council membership has led to considerable international resentment. Reuters has reported that "The U.S. interference in the selection process of African nations has raised some eyebrows here - even beyond the African and Arab nations which typically resent U.S. influence in such matters."

It is clear that there has been a remarkable shift in attitude towards Sudan within the international community over the past two years. Sudan has moved from a position of relative isolation to a place nearer the centre of the family of nations. This new position is partly a response by the international community to positive changes within Sudan itself. It is also clearly a response by many countries within the Non-Aligned Movement to the aggressive stance taken towards Sudan by the United States. U.S. belligerence was highlighted, of course, by Washington's disastrous attack on the al-Shifa medicines factory in Khartoum - an attack which is widely accepted to have been an ignominious mistake on the past of American intelligence. Washington's bullying tactics during the Security Council vote can only but be seen as having yet again strengthened Sudan's position internationally.

It is not just from within the ranks of the developing world or Non-Aligned Movement that support for Sudan has emerged. The French Ambassador to the United Nations, Jean-David Levitte, President of the United Nations Security Council, also recognised positive developments regarding Sudan:

There are evolutions for the better in Khartoum, and France is not the only member of the Council to consider that these positive evolutions should be registered.

The French ambassador to the United States, Bujon de L'Estang, has commented on the American isolation with regard to Sudan:

The government in Sudan has made some effort to open up. We Europeans think there is hope for improvement, but as the situation seems to be moving in the Sudan, it does not seem to be moving in Washington.

It should perhaps be noted in passing that the tone taken in The Washington Post's editorial is starkly in variance to previous, somewhat more lucid reporting by the same newspaper. The Washington Post, in a February 2000 article entitled 'Reassessing the Stance Towards Sudan', clearly outlined the "near-collapse of the isolation strategy" so enthusiastically advocated in 'The Sudan Sequel'. The February article reported that:

European nations have entered a dialogue with the Sudanese government. The "front-line states" bordering southern and eastern Sudan - Uganda, Ethiopia and Eritrea - have made pacts with Khartoum to refrain from supporting rebels on each other's territories. And Egypt has joined with Libya in seeking a solution to Sudan's civil war.

The February article also quoted one Washington-based Africa expert as saying: "The Sudanese government has come out of its isolation. We're the ones isolated now". This feeling was echoed by Bujon de L'Estang, the French ambassador to the United States, who has also publicly stated that the Clinton Administration's policy towards Sudan "pitches the United States against the rest of the world".

It is obviously not just the Clinton Administration which is out of touch with the international community On the strength of 'The Sudan Sequel', it is also The Washington Post. It is surely the job of a newspaper such as The Washington Post to hold the Administration's blunders to account, not vie with it to see who comes closest to recreating scenes from 'The Ugly American'.

It may be that The Washington Post does not care for the international system, that it does not place any value or worth in the opinions of the developing world, or even the views of close European allies. If this is the case then it is a remarkably prejudiced and reactionary position for a paper ostensibly as liberal and internationalist as The Washington Post.


It also ill-behoves The Washington Post to adopt the bullying attitude it has shown with regard to Sudan's natural resources, dictating in somewhat neo-colonialist terms what is in the best interests of black and brown Africans in Sudan. The editorial's demands that the Sudanese oil project should not be allowed to succeed, and that the Sudanese should not be allowed to exploit their own natural resources border on the sort of imperialist paternalism supposedly unthinkable as we enter the twenty-first century. It is all the more questionable given the false premise and inaccuracies that accompany the rest of the editorial.


The Washington Post's inaccuracy regarding peace talks and elections is self-evident.. It states that Khartoum has "resisted peace talks with the rebels" and that it has "refused to hold elections".

Far from having "resisted" peace talks with the rebels, the Sudanese government and the rebels have been engaged in peace talks for several years, most recently under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, a group of seven east African nations. It is hard to fathom how The Washington Post came to have made such an inaccurate statement, a claim which all by itself irretrievably undermines the credibility of the editorial. Perhaps editorialists at The Washington Post are too grand to read any wire service reporting, let alone such reports on the on-going peace talks - the most recent round of which was only weeks before the editorial.

Political and armed opposition to the Sudanese government has been vested in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), a grouping which includes the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA). On 26 September, three weeks or so before the editorial claiming no talks with the rebels, the Sudanese President met face to face with the NDA leadership in Asmara, Eritrea. Not only has Khartoum engaged in peace talks with rebels, but the biggest Sudanese opposition party, the Umma party, led by former Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi, the mainstay of the rebel coalition has left the opposition alliance, and entered into domestic politics within Sudan. The former Prime Minister, Sadiq al-Mahdi, himself ousted in 1989 by the present government, and a pivotal rebel leader, has declared that:

There are now circumstances and developments which could favour an agreement on a comprehensive political solution.

Once again, these developments have been widely covered by the international news media, with titles such as 'Opposition Leader Predicts Solution to Sudan's Conflict', 'Sudanese Rebel Group to Enter Khartoum Politics', and 'Mahdi's Withdrawal Dents Opposition Alliance'. These also appear to have escaped the attention of editorialists at The Washington Post.

And as part of its peace negotiations with the rebels, Khartoum has since 1997 offered an internationally-supervised referendum whereby the people of southern Sudan would be able - for the first time since independence - to chose their destiny, either within a united Sudan or as a separate state. This offer was incorporated into Sudan's new 1998 constitution and has been repeated on several occasions. It is an offer that has also been acknowledged, but not taken up, by the SPLA.

And, far from refusing to hold elections, Sudan's government has announced the holding of internationally-monitored, multi-party elections in December this year. Once again this announcement is a matter of record.

Perhaps the editorialists at The Washington Post should occasionally leave their ivory-towered existence and engage in some real journalism from time to time: at the very least one would expect that they should occasionally read wire service reports about subjects they chose to write upon.


The editorial's claims about the obstruction of the Sudanese peace process, and who is to blame - that is to say the Sudanese government - are starkly at variance with less prejudiced and somewhat better-informed observers. Former President Jimmy Carter, for example, has been very candid about who he perceives as being to blame for the continuation of the Sudanese conflict:

The people in Sudan want to resolve the conflict. The biggest obstacle is US government policy. The US is committed to overthrowing the government in Khartoum. Any sort of peace effort is aborted, basically by policies of the United States.Instead of working for peace in Sudan, the US government has basically promoted a continuation of the war.

This is not the Sudanese government speaking. One assumes that The Washington Post accepts that he is a man respected the world over for his work towards peace in various conflicts. Former President Carter is also a man who knows Sudan, and the Sudanese situation well, having followed the issue for two decades or more. He has also stated:

If the United States would be reasonably objective in Sudan, I think that we at the Carter Center and the Africans who live in the area could bring peace to Sudan. But the United States government has a policy of trying to overthrow the government in Sudan. So whenever there's a peace initiative, unfortunately our government puts up whatever obstruction it can.

Carter bluntly stated that he also believed that this behaviour by Washington had a negative effect on the SPLA's interest in negotiating a political settlement: "I think Garang now feels he doesn't need to negotiate because he anticipates a victory brought about by increasing support from his immediate neighbors, and also from the United States and indirectly from other countries". It is sad to see this position unquestioningly echoed by The Washington Post.


The Washington Post editorial states that the Sudanese government "has callously frustrated international relief efforts directed at [Sudan's] starving people". The editorial is referring, of course, to Operation Lifeline Sudan but neglects to mention some of the more relevant details. Operation Lifeline Sudan was unprecedented in post-war history when it came into being in 1989. Operation Lifeline Sudan was unprecedented in as much as it was the first time that a government had agreed to the delivery of assistance by outside agencies to rebel-controlled parts of its own country. As the London Guardian newspaper observed: "Most of the people affected live in areas controlled by anti-government rebels and.they were reached by flights from Kenya. Governments involved in civil wars usually refuse to authorise cross-border feeding."

The Sudanese model, developed during the tenure of the present Sudanese government, has subsequently been used in several other areas of civil conflict, including several in Africa. It is also a matter of record that the number of Khartoum-approved Operation Lifeline Sudan feeding sites in southern Sudan has grown from twenty in the early 1990s to well over one hundred by 1998. During the 1998 famine, the number increased to more than 180 locations. The Washington Post's portrayal of Sudan as obstructing the delivery of food aid is therefore somewhat dented by the fact that the number of food delivery sites (almost all of which are to rebel-controlled areas) has increased eight-fold in the past several years. The editorial's claims are further undermined by the fact that unanimous United Nations resolutions have acknowledged "with appreciation" the cooperation of the Sudanese government with agreements and arrangements facilitating "relief operations".

The editorialists would appear not to be aware the Roman Catholic church in southern Sudan has publicly and unambiguously stated that the SPLA were stealing 65 percent of the food aid going into rebel-held areas of southern Sudan. Agence France Presse also reported that:

Much of the relief food going to more than a million famine victims in rebel-held areas of southern Sudan is ending up in the hands of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), relief workers said.

Additionally, in March 2000, the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) rebel movement began to expel international non-governmental organisations which had refused to sign an aid Memorandum drawn up by the SPLA. The SPLA Memorandum made unacceptable demands of aid agencies including SPLA control over the distribution of humanitarian assistance; a requirement to work "in accordance with SPLA objectives" rather than solely humanitarian aims. Eleven international humanitarian aid agencies felt themselves unable to remain active in southern Sudan under the conditions demanded of them by the SPLA. These NGOs handled 75 percent of the humanitarian aid entering southern Sudan. The withdrawal of these NGOs directly affects US$ 40 million worth of aid programs. The expelled aid agencies stated that one million southern Sudanese were at risk as a result of the SPLA's decision to expel the NGOs. The United Nations explained that the SPLA's expulsion of the NGOs:

This has created a void in the OLS consortium's ability to provide adequate humanitarian assistance to the people of southern Sudan, already made vulnerable by decades of war and deprivation. Emergency response, health, nutrition, household food security, and water and sanitation programmes will be hardest hit.

There would appear to have been no Washington Post editorialising on this particular issue.


Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of 'The Sudan Sequel' was The Washington Post's apparent advocacy of continuing war in Sudan. The newspaper writes eagerly that "[u]nder continued pressure, there is a chance that the regime will crack; the rebels have reportedly made some battlefield gains recently". In this respect the editorial has a distinctly Colonel-Blimp-esque feel to it. Such claims have been heard at least every six months since 1984, "next year", "one more push", "one more offensive". Perhaps The Washington Post's arm-chair warriors believe as a previous generation of Colonel Blimps did, that the war could be over by Christmas.

In any event, the armchair warriors and lunch-time strategists at The Washington Post who call for a military solution in Sudan from the safety of their eighth-floor corporate cafeteria, and from where they appear to be prepared to fight to the last drop of southern Sudanese blood, in order to act out their own, all too obviously ill-informed, prejudices are ignoring, amongst other things, the fact that the war cannot be won by military means. A negotiated settlement is the only solution. The Washington Post's "ugly Americanism" comes full circle when it holds out for a military solution to the Sudanese civil war just as to previous Colonel Blimps sheer military force appeared to have been the only solution to the Vietnamese conflict.

It is all very well enthusiastically supporting war, but what then is the nature of the SPLA movement The Washington Post seemingly wishes to see triumph in Sudan? Eight US-based humanitarian organisations working in Sudan, including CARE, World Vision, Church World Service, Save the Children and the American Refugee Committee, no friends of the Sudanese government, have publicly stated that the SPLA has:

engaged for years in the most serious human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, beatings, arbitrary detention, slavery, etc.

The New York Times, a vigorous critic of the Sudanese government, states that the SPLA:

[H]ave behaved like an occupying army, killing, raping and pillaging.

The New York Times also stated that the SPLA leader John Garang was one of Sudan's "pre-eminent war criminals".

To take but one example of SPLA behaviour, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights in Sudan documented an incident in which SPLA forces attacked two villages in Ganyiel region in southern Sudan. SPLA personnel killed 210 villagers, of whom 30 were men, 53 were women and 127 were children. The Special Rapporteur stated that:

Eyewitnesses reported that some of the victims, mostly women, children and the elderly, were caught while trying to escape and killed with spears and pangas. M.N., a member of the World Food Programme relief committee at Panyajor, lost four of her five children (aged 8-15 years). The youngest child was thrown into the fire after being shot. D.K. witnessed three women with their babies being caught. Two of the women were shot and one was killed with a panga. Their babies were all killed with pangas. A total of 1, 987 households were reported destroyed and looted and 3, 500 cattle were taken.

This then is the SPLA whose military victory The Washington Post apparently seeks, men capable of burning, shooting and hacking 127 children to death. This was sadly only one of many similar instances of gross human rights abuses involving civilians. Amnesty International, African Rights, and Human Rights Watch have all documented example after example of SPLA attacks on villages and villagers - a self-evident war on civilians. That this continues to this day is evident. In June 1999, the BBC reported on "Growing friction in rebel-held southern Sudan", stating that non-Dinka ethnic groups "have accused the SPLA or becoming an army of occupation". Another BBC report, in late November of that year, entitled 'Tensions in southern Sudan", documented continuing "ethnic tensions" involving the SPLA. These and numerous other independent reports of SPLA ethnic cleansing of non-Dinka southern tribes provide a clear picture of an SPLA-controlled Sudan.


Recent Washington Post commentary on Sudan has poorly served both the American and Sudanese people. Sudan is a complicated country with complicated problems. This was not reflected in 'The Sudan Sequel'. Indeed, the editorial merely reflected stereotyping of the worse kind, prejudice and weak and inaccurate journalism. As long as the American media remain transfixed with an anti-Sudanese outlook, an outlook encouraged by a discredited American Administration and a "slavery" agenda in large part dominated by far-right Christian fundamentalists, the American public remains poorly served and its government at odds with the international community.

The Washington Post's recent editorial stance on Sudan is strange given the newspaper's somewhat more objective investigation into the al-Shifa fiasco. This was because journalists in this instance had had the time and opportunity to investigate the story and the claims made by the Clinton Administration in some depth and detail. They found a very different picture to that provided by the Administration and - for want of a better word - its propaganda outlets. The writers of 'The Sudan Sequel' were obviously unable or unwilling to exercise a similar journalistic professionalism to what they claimed or repeated about Sudan.

That there have been significant changes within Sudan, and with regard to Sudan's regional and international standing, is undeniable. These changes have included a Constitution safeguarding civil liberties and human rights, legislation entrenching multi-party politics - and the return to Sudan of all major political opposition parties because of these changes - constructive developments in the Sudanese peace process, and the freeing of all political prisoners. And as touched on, Khartoum has also announced the holding of multi-party parliamentary and presidential elections in Sudan in December 2000. Ongoing economic reforms and progress have also been enough for the IMF to restore Sudan's IMF voting rights. A particular feature of the past two years have been improved relations with neighbouring countries such as Egypt, Ethiopia and Eritrea and the international community.

Where the Clinton Administration's policies have succeeded, however, is in preventing a peaceful resolution of the Sudanese conflict. As former President Carter pointed out Washington is the obstacle to a negotiated settlement. The Administration's continued encouragement of southern rebels to pay lip service to peace talks while continuing with their ultimately futile war against Khartoum is virtually all that keeps the war going. The Clinton Administration makes much of human rights abuses within Sudan. It is widely acknowledged that the vast majority of human rights abuses in Sudan are a direct consequence of the vicious civil war that is being fought in that country. Human rights always suffer grievously in war, and particularly civil war - as the United States should be only too aware of from its own history. It is a simple fact that, as former President Carter has stated, the Clinton Administration is artificially sustaining the Sudanese civil war. It is itself at least partly responsible for any human rights abuses that take place. In encouraging the continuation of the war, The Washington Post must judge if it will also not now be partly responsible for this situation.

The "Ugly American" appears to have resurfaced during the Clinton Administration. Even Time magazine dedicated a cover page and story in 1997 to the question "Power Trip. Even its Best Friends are Asking: Is America in Danger of Becoming a Global Bully?". The Economist has also stated: "The United States is unpredictable; unreliable; too easily excited; too easily distracted; too fond of throwing its weight around." What is very sad is that, at least as far as Sudan is concerned, The Washington Post appears to be willing to serve as the bully's handmaiden.

If anything remotely positive is to come out of an awareness of how unprofessional and prejudiced recent Washington Post commentary on Sudan has been, let us hope that it might be a watershed in American media reporting on that country.
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Espac Published by The European - Sudanese Public Affairs Council Copyright © David Hoile 2005
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