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 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
is responsible. It would appear that "the Ugly
American" is not only alive and well, but is writing
editorials for The Washington Post
THE UNITED NATIONS SECURITY COUNCIL VOTE: A PYRRHIC VICTORY?
The Washington Post
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
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
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
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
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
THE WASHINGTON POST AND SUDAN'S NATURAL RESOURCES
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.
PEACE TALKS AND ELECTIONS
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
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
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.
WHO IS OBSTRUCTING SUDANESE PEACE EFFORTS?
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
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
INTERNATIONAL RELIEF EFFORTS IN SUDAN
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
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
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.
THE WASHINGTON POST: ADVOCATING CONTINUING WAR IN SUDAN
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
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,
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
This then is the SPLA whose military victory The Washington
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
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
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
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
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
commentary on Sudan has been, let us hope that it
might be a watershed in American media reporting on that country.