Tag Archives: Sudan

Gender and Religious Freedom

It’s long been noted by development experts that the single fastest and most powerful development tool is protecting gender equality, particularly by empowering women and girls through education and health care. But such goals often run afoul of cultural and religious preferences and beliefs, as the experience of women in countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Sudan attest.

The most recent example is that of Meriam Ibrahim, a Sudanese woman who had faced the death penalty for marrying Daniel Wani, a US citizen and non-Muslim. The case had drawn worldwide attention, particularity from conservative American politicians, who viewed Ibrahim’s case as an example of Islamic attacks on Christians. Ibrahim’s death sentence was overturned on Monday and she was freed from jail. But yesterday she was again detained by Sudanese officials who contend that she attempted to leave the country using illegal documents—emergency travel documents issued by the South Sudanese government.

Gum Arabic: The Next Conflict Resource?

According to a report by the BBC, ongoing fighting in the Darfur region of South Sudan is being fuelled in part by demand for gum arabic. The BBC notes that more than 60 people have died in fighting for control of an arid region of Darfur between two groups seeking to control an area of pasture and acacia trees from whose sap the gum is made.

Gum arabic is a popular stabilizer used in many soda drinks, gumdrops, marshmallows, M&Ms. It has other non-food uses as well, including in show polish, lickable adhesives on stamps or envelopes, and in various printing processes. Sudan is the world’s leading producers of gum Arabic, accounting for approximately 80 percent of global output. An estimated 5 million Sudanese farmers depend on gum Arabic for their livelihoods.

Interestingly, Sudan’s control of the world’s gum arabic supplies has given it a degree of leverage in global politics. In 1997, when the US Congress was looking to impose sanctions on the Sudanese government for supporting terrorism (and for giving refuge to Osama bin Laden), the beverage industry successfully campaigned to limit the sanctions and exclude trade in gum arabic from the list of embargoed items. As a result, Sudan was largely spared the real impact of the sanctions.

Neither Coca-Cola nor Pepsi will confirm the source of their gum Arabic, though given Sudan’s dominant position in global production it seems unlikely they can avoid sourcing at least some of their supplies from the country.

When people learned that the wars in Sierra Leone, Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia and elsewhere were being funded through “blood diamond” sales,  a campaign was launched to stop the practice. The Kimberly Process, however imperfect, was the result. Then there were conflict resources (think coltan used to make cell phones and other consumer electronics and used to finance the war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and later “blood chocolate” in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. One wonders when gum Arabic will make the list of conflict resources.

(This story was originally blogged at Global Food Politics and is reprinted here by permission).

Is State Sovereignty a Privilege of the Strong?

Former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic on Trial in the Hague.

State sovereignty—the right to independence and noninterference in one’s internal affairs—is a bedrock principle of today’s international system.  It is an important international norm (a widely accepted rule prescribing appropriate behavior), it is enshrined in the United Nations charter, and its history can be traced back to the genesis of the modern Westphalian system in 1648.  However, as constructivists have pointed out, sovereignty is an evolving norm: at one time the powerful states of Europe—the leaders of the international system—only viewed fellow white, Christian countries as deserving of sovereignty, a view that justified imperialism in Africa, Asia, and elsewhere.  The norm evolved gradually as a wider and wider group of countries was seen as deserving of sovereignty, and today the principle is widely accepted as applying universally.

While the sovereign equality of all states is a principle that today’s countries praise and claim to respect, there is growing evidence that for a certain class of countries, sovereignty has its limits. 

In March 2011 the UN Security Council authorized member states to use force to protect Libya’s civilians from a brutal crackdown by Colonel Muammar Qaddafi.  NATO forces have essentially taken the side of the rebels in Libya’s civil war and some leaders, including President Obama, have called for Qaddafi to step down.  In a similar case a decade earlier, NATO forces bombed Belgrade, eventually forced Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic from power, and paved the way for an independent Kosovo after Milosevic had unleashed a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Albanians in Kosovo—a province of Serbia and thus ostensibly an “internal matter.”  This week’s arrest of war criminal Ratko Mladic in Serbia and his extradition to the war crimes tribunal in the Hague is only the latest example of political and military officials being held accountable to supranational authorities including the International Criminal Court.  The ICC, under its ambitious Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, has gone so far as to issue arrest warrants for sitting heads of state including Sudan’s Omar Al-Bashir and Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi.

In short, international norms seem to be evolving away from unconditional sovereignty and toward a “responsibility to protect” doctrine that says if governments fail to protect their own people from grave human rights abuses the international community has the right to intervene to do so.  But is this high-minded doctrine applied selectively to target only those countries who lack the political clout, economic pull, or military muscle to defend their own sovereignty?  Do China and Russia get away with human rights abuses because of their great power status and UN Security Council veto privileges?  Does Saudi Arabia get off the hook because of its oil wealth and powerful benefactors?  Does America’s superpower status render its political and military elites immune from ICC action despite allegations that the U.S.is responsible for war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan?  If the answer to each of these questions is “yes,” is there anything that can be done about it, or was the historian and early realist Thucydides correct when he famously said that “the strong do what they can, and the weak suffer what they must”?

The Future of Sudan and Africa’s Artificial States

Voter Registration ahead of South Sudan's Independence Referrendum.

Voter Registration ahead of South Sudan's Independence Referrendum.

On January 9, 2011, the people of southern Sudan will take part in an unusual election that will determine the future of their conflict-ravaged country. They will vote on whether or not they will continue to be part of Sudan, or whether they will break away and form their own, independent country of South Sudan. Rarely have such decisions been taken lightly. While the breakup of the former Eastern European state of Czechoslovakia into two separate states (the Czech Republic and Slovakia) was relatively peaceful, far more often the question of Secession leads to violent efforts to preserve the existing distribution of power. In Biafra (Nigeria), East Pakistan (Bangladesh), Chechnya (Russia), Eritrea (Ethiopia), Kosovo, Bosnia, and even in the United States during the U.S. Civil War, efforts by one group of people to break away from another and form their own state are often met with a sharp—frequently violent—response.

Most observers believe the people of South Sudan will vote in favor of independence, and the international community has slowly begun to mobilize in anticipation. But there will be many issues to deal with: citizenship and nationality, distribution and control over natural resources, security, international treaty obligations, currency and trade, just to name a few. Complicating the situation is the distribution of Sudan’s oil resources. While the oil reserves are located primarily in the southern part of the country, the pipelines to ship it out of the country and sell the oil flow through the north. Any peaceful transition will have to address these complicated issues.

Far more likely, unfortunately, is the possibility of a protracted conflict. Ahead of its break from Ethiopia, Eritrea fought an extended war of independence (lasting from 1961 to 1991). After a referendum and peaceful separation in 1993, the two countries went to war in 1998, fighting along their disputed border. The war, which lasted a little more than two years, cost Ethiopia and Eritrea—two of the world’s poorest countries—hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of casualties.

International observers are mobilizing to prevent a similar occurrence in South Sudan. George Clooney has lent his star power to support an initiative by the United Nations and Harvard University to use satellites to monitor developments in southern Sudan,  hoping to prevent genocide there. Meanwhile, former South African President Thabo Mbeki has called for unity and a peaceful transition, noting that many African states face similar challenges.

The broader challenge for African states rests in the artificiality of their national borders, many of which were set as a result of colonial interventions by European states. Peoples were combined and divided by national boundaries that were convenient for European powers, but bore little resemblance to the lived realities of the people themselves. Consequently, historical rivals were often combined into a single state, while peoples with shared histories and identities were frequently divided into separate states. For several decades after independence, the solution was essentially to ignore the problem. In 1963, the Organization of African Unity formally endorsed the borders established by colonial authorities nearly 100 years earlier. Such a move was perhaps politically necessary. Rather than reopening old wounds and engaging in a divisive discussion of redrawing political boundaries, they chose to go with what was there. But that decision also left many artificial states intact, with populations that desired autonomy an independence. There may be, in other words, many other South Sudans waiting to declare their own independence in an ever fragmenting map of Africa.

Global Land Grabs: The New Colonialism?

Agricutural Land in Sudan

Agricutural Land in Sudan

A World Bank official last week leaked a draft report by the organization dealing with the “farmland grab.” The report, entitled “The Global Land Rush: Can it yield sustainable and equitable benefits?” is intended to be the most comprehensive analysis of the farmland grab, in which countries invest in land overseas to expand food security domestically.

To date, a small number of high-profile purchases have received some attention, but the broader trend has been largely ignored. Using large sovereign wealth funds, obtained mostly from oil exports, countries like Saudi Arabia have been purchasing large tracts of land in Sudan, Ukraine, Pakistan, and Thailand, to establish large-scale agricultural production intended for export back to the home country. The United Arab Emirates is exploring similar deals with Sudan and Kazakhstan, Libya is looking to Ukraine, South Korea is purchasing land in Mongolia, and even China, which has considerable land resources but faces severe water shortages, is looking for investments in Southeast Asia.

According to the World Bank’s President, Robert Zoellick, such investments are a “win-win venture.” His spokesperson argues, “This is a situation that could bring real benefits to people in some developing countries, but to be sustainable, land purchase or lease arrangements must benefit, and be seen to benefit, all parties including citizens of the host country, local communities and investors.”

But the draft World Bank report itself notes a number of challenges associated with the new trend, noting that:

  • “Rarely if ever” were land deals linked to “countries’ broader development strategy.”
  • “Consultations with local communities were often weak” and, as a result, “conflicts were common, usually over land rights.”
  • “The level of formal payments required was low,” encouraging speculative investment. Further, “payments for land are often waived…and large investors often pay lower taxes than smallholders…or none at all.”
  • And perhaps most dramatically, “Investor interest is focused on countries with weak land governance.” Despite promises to the contrary, “investors failed to follow through on their investments plans, in some cases after inflicting serious damage on the local resource base” and not providing the jobs and infrastructure development promised when the contract was signed.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organizations’ Director General, Jacques Diouf, worries that a “neo-colonial” agricultural system is emerging, noting that “some negotiations [between host countries and the investors] have led to unequal international relations and short-term mercantilist agriculture.” may be emerging. Food First’s Raj Patel, concurs, describing the process as neocolonial globalization.

The real food security challenge occurs in countries like Sudan, which faces its own domestic food crisis but has also signed deals to lease nearly 4 million hectares of agricultural land (and thus food exports) to other countries. Under such a situation, countries like Sudan may wind up exporting food to rich nations while, according to UN figures, some 5.6 million Sudanese people face the prospects of famine in their own country.  And with global food prices likely to continue to remain high, the prospect of continued land purchase in the developing world remains high.

The Limits of Sovereignty and Territorial Integrity

Salva Kiir, the president of autonomous government of Southern Sudan, on Sunday moved toward full independence for the region. Southern Sudan has been an autonomous region within Sudan since 2005, when a peace treaty was signed between the government in Khartoum and rebels led by Kiir and others. Prior to the singing of the treaty, the oil-rich region had seen decades of civil war.

At a special church service to pray for peace, Kiir said that anything less than full independence for Southern Sudan would leave southerners “second class citizens” in their own land. In the speech, Kiir said,

When you reach your ballot boxes the choice is yours. You want to vote for unity, so that you become a second-class (citizen) in your own country, that is your choice…You would want to vote for independence, so that you are a free person, in your independent state, that will be your own choice. And we will respect the choice of the people.

Kiir’s comments follow a story released on the Government of Southern Sudan Mission to the United States’ website which described the current situation as “too deformed to be reformed.” Kiir’s comments (and broader statements issued by the government) are likely to increase tensions between the central government in Khartoum, which would like to see Southern Sudan remain part of the country, and those pushing for full independence.

The question of regional autonomy is always a difficult one in international politics. National governments have long hesitated to undermine their territorial integrity [glossary]—witness statements issued regarding Basque separatists in Spain, Flemish in Belgium, Tibet in China, the Hmong in Laos, the Tamils in Sri Lanka, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta in Nigeria, and the Kurds in Iraq, Iran, and Turkey. More than one-third of the states in Africa face at least one group pushing for autonomy or independence, reflecting the artificiality of the historical borders on the continent. In each of these cases, the national government resists—often with force—efforts to establish autonomous regions or independent states by the separatist movement. In some cases, the push for autonomy or independence results from differences in cultural, ethnic, or national identity. In others, such as the current situation in Southern Sudan, identity politics becomes tied up in resource conflicts, making resolution of the crisis more difficult. And where the strength of the government is already challenged, the stakes in the standoff between the national government and the independence movement are even greater.

The ICC’s Problem in Darfur

Earlier this week, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Omar al-Bashir, the current President of Sudan. According to the ICC, al-Bashir is wanted on suspicion of “being criminally responsible . . . for directing attacks against an important part of the civilian population of Darfur, murdering, exterminating, raping, torturing and forcibly transferring large numbers of civilians, and pillaging their property,” constituting war crimes and crimes against humanity.  The ICC has not accused al-Bashir of genocide, as many human rights activists have demanded.

The warrant, which makes al-Bashir the first sitting head of state to be indicted by the International Criminal Court, has sparked sharp debates in the international community.  The government of Sudan responded to the warrant by accusing the ICC of being a tool of neocolonialism.  China has requested that the United Nations Security Council suspend the warrant, a course of action supported by Russia.  The African Union has described the move as unhelpful.  Jean Ping, the Chair of the African Union, commented, “What we see is that international justice seems to be applying its fight against impunity only to Africa as if nothing were happening elsewhere, (such as) in Iraq, Gaza, Colombia or in the Caucasus. Issues of peace are so important that justice must take them into account in Sudan just as elsewhere.”

The U.S. government has been supporting the ICC’s efforts to prosecute al-Bashir, providing information to the court despite efforts by the Bush administration to limit the influence of the ICC with respect to U.S. nationals. 

The ICC’s warrant for al-Bashir has been the subject of much debate in the blogosphere.  At the Financial Times, Gideon Rachman poses the provocative question, “Is the Bashir arrest warrant a good thing?”  At SSRC, Alex de Waal argues that the ICC should not have indicted al-Bashir in the first place

The current standoff illustrates the real limits of international law, particularly international humanitarian law.  While there seems to be a common agreement that human rights should be protected, there remains significant disagreement over the scope of those rights.  Are human rights universal or culturally specific?  And even if we can reach agreement on the universality of human rights, should the ICC have universal jurisdiction (the ability to prosecute national of any country for violations of international law)?  These questions remain controversial—just witness the U.S.’s demand that its nationals be exempted from the ICC’s otherwise universal jurisdiction.