Encouraging War and Hindering Peace?: The Bush Administration's Policy on Sudan

"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."

--Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, December 1999 (1)

"For the last eight years, the U.S. has had a policy which I strongly disagree with in Sudan, supporting the revolutionary movement and not working for an overall peace settlement."

--Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, April 2001 (2)

The 13 June 2001 resolution of the United States House of Representatives to provide Sudanese rebels with ten million dollars worth of assistance has confirmed the concerns of much of the international community at the negative influence American government policy continues to exercise on the long-running Sudanese conflict. (3) It had been hoped by many that the incoming Bush Administration would adopt a more progressive and better-informed approach to Sudan than that shown by the Clinton Administration. The Sudanese government had also welcomed the possibility of constructive American involvement in Sudan.(4)

While there were some early hopes and encouraging statements by the American Secretary of State, Colin Powell, and despite the clear policy failures of its predecessor, a policy characterised by the disastrous and farcical 1998 cruise missile attack on the al-Shifa medicines factory, it is clear that the new United States government has continued to pursue a very questionable course.

War-weariness within Sudan, which has been at war off and on since 1955, has become increasingly obvious. In January 2001, the Roman Catholic Comboni missionaries condemned the civil war as "immoral and a tragic farce". They stated that "The number of victims is escalating, especially among women and children. Spiritual, human and cultural values are getting lost. Corruption, tribalism and fratricidal hatred are fostered. Degradation, underdevelopment and anarchy increase". The Comboni missionaries also pointed stated that "The word 'liberation' is abused" and that the civil war was "not any longer a struggle for freedom of the Sudanese people and for the defence of human rights". (5)


For all the immediate implications of such clear American assistance, of even deeper concern is the fact that such assistance serves to encourage the SPLA to continue with what is an unwinnable war.


Throughout 2001, the Sudanese government repeatedly called for a peaceful resolution of the conflict. Khartoum has also, 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 (6), most recently during the June 2001 peace talks in Nairobi. (7) It is an offer that has also been acknowledged, but not taken up, by the SPLA. In mid-May, Khartoum once again declared its readiness to enter into "an immediate and comprehensive ceasefire" and to restart negotiations for the achievement of a comprehensive peace: it called upon the SPLA to do the same. (8) On 24 May 2001, at least in part as a response to United States concerns, the Sudanese government stated that it would unilaterally cease air strikes against military targets in southern Sudan. (9) The Sudanese government said that the decision was taken "in pursuance of the state's set policy for achieving peace and stability, bolstering the reconciliation process and the continued call by the state for a comprehensive ceasefire." The Khartoum authorities also stated:

"The government calls upon the other parties for an immediate response for boosting the peace process in the country and appeals to the international community to back up the call for a comprehensive ceasefire." (10)

It was immediately following this declaration and call for peace that the Bush Administration's initial provision of three million dollars worth of assistance to the Sudanese rebels was made public, soon to be augmented by the ten million dollars in assistance announced in June. It was said that the assistance would be used to purchase vehicles and communications and office equipment for the rebels. (11) It was also stated that a contract for providing such services had been awarded to DynCorp, a private company accused of mercenary involvement in other conflicts. (12)

This assistance is going to an organisation guilty of appalling human rights abuses, The New York Times, a vigorous critic of the Sudanese government, has stated that the SPLA: "[H]ave behaved like an occupying army, killing, raping and pillaging." It also described the SPLA leader John Garang as one of Sudan's "pre-eminent war criminals". (13) 'The Economist' summed up the general image of the SPLA when it stated that:

"[The SPLA] has...been little more than an armed gang of Dinkas...killing, looting and raping. Its indifference, almost animosity, towards the people it was supposed to be "liberating" was all too clear." (14)

For all the immediate implications of such clear American assistance, of even deeper concern is the fact that such assistance serves to encourage the SPLA to continue with what is an unwinnable war. Shortly after the announcement of this American encouragement, the SPLA launched a concerted offensive in the Bahr al-Ghazal region of southern Sudan. The offensive continued during the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development peace summit in Nairobi in Early June, with the rebels ignoring further calls for a peaceful solution to the conflict. (15)

History would appear to be repeating itself. Former President Carter has in the past stated that the millions of dollars of assistance to the rebels previously provided by the Clinton Administration had a negative effect on the SPLA's interest in negotiating a political settlement. (16) The Bush Administration's financial support for the SPLA has also clearly encouraged the SPLA to once again ignore calls for a negotiated settlement of the conflict and to continue with what can only be described as a no-win war. As much has once again been noted by key American academics specialising in Sudan. Commenting on American assistance to the SPLA, Stephen Morrison, the director of the Sudan project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington-DC observed that:

"This package feeds false hopes and expectations on the part of the southerners and sustains excessive paranoia in Khartoum." (17)
The results of this overt support for violence are clear. The present American-encouraged SPLA offensive, aimed at capturing several towns within Bahr al-Ghazal, has resulted in massive displacemen,t of southern Sudanese civilians. On 8 June, the International Committee of the Red Cross stated that the offensive had led to the displacement of at least 20,000 civilians. The Sudanese Catholic Information Office reported that most activities within the region had been halted by the offensive: "locations from Tonj northwards remain no go areas forcing both church and humanitarian agencies to suspend their flights to the region." (18) By 11 June, the United Nations estimated that 30,000 civilians had been displaced within Bahr al-Ghazal. (19) Two days later, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Rumbek, Bishop Mazzolari, reported that just under 60,000 civilians had been displaced by the offensive, and that these civilians were in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. (20)

Unsurprisingly, the Sudanese government has reacted to the offensive and has mobilised forces to check SPLA attacks. (21) On 12 June, in order "to defend itself in the face of continued aggression" by the SPLA, Khartoum announced the resumption of military air strikes within southern Sudan. (22)

The international community has been very concerned by the implications of this offensive and the human suffering involved. The European Union stated its concern at the renewed military activity by the SPLA "particularly in Bahr al-Ghazal in Southern Sudan" and by Khartoum's resumption of bombing in response to the offensive. The European Union reiterated its call on all sides "to engage in a continuous and sustained negotiation towards a just and lasting political settlement of the conflict in Sudan, and considers essential that a comprehensive ceasefire, effectively monitored by observers accepted by both sides, be prompted as a matter of urgency within the context of the ongoing IGAD negotiation process". (23) The Arab League stated that the situation is "regrettable and dangerous".

Washington's position towards Sudan continues to be one of hypocrisy. In late May 2001, the American Secretary of State Colin Powell promised to try harder to end the conflict in southern Sudan. He stated that any American special envoy would "engage with the parties to see if we can re-energise some of the peace process that has been in place..." (24) American pressure had also resulted in a marked reduction of air strikes against targets in southern Sudan. The United States then announced that it would be providing Sudanese rebels with millions of dollars worth of overt assistance, all this to an organisation with an appalling human rights record. Washington could not be unaware of the implications of such a move. Clearly encouraged by this development, for example, the SPLA rebels shunned all calls for a peaceful, negotiated settlement of the conflict and launched a major offensive, displacing up to sixty thousand civilians in one of the most famine-affected areas of southern Sudan. In an interesting twist to the issue, having been responsible directly or indirectly for encouraging the ongoing offensive Bahr al- Ghazal, the Bush Administration then expressed outrage when Khartoum was forced to resume the use of air strikes against rebel forces in the
region. (25)

The Bush Administration's Sudan policy can at best be described as confused and uncoordinated. At worst it appears to be a continuation of the deeply flawed policies of the Clinton years. Whichever it is, the simple fact is that Sudan has moved on politically, domestically, economically, regionally and within the international community. The sooner American policy reflects these changes and works towards a peaceful solution to Sudanese problems the sooner Sudan will be at peace.


David Hoile is director of the European-Sudanese Public Affairs Council.,


1 'Carter, Others Say US Has Faltered in Africa', 'The Boston Globe', 8 December 1999.
2 'Carter Says Wrong Time for Mideast Talks', News Article by Reuters on 24 April 2001.
3 'U.S. House Backs Efforts to Aid Sudan', News Article by Reuters on 13 June 2001.
4 'Sudan Welcomes U.S. Peace Involvement but Urges Neutrality', News Article by Associated Press on 28 May 2001.
5 'Declaration of the Comboni Missionaries Working in Southern Sudan', The Comboni Missionaries, Nairobi, 19 January 2001.
6 See, 'Sudan offers South secession', News Article by BBC, 22 February 1999 at 00:16:14 GMT; 'Southern secession better than more war: Sudan's president', News Article by Agence France Presse, 22 February 1999, at 10:04:31; 'Referendum agreed at Sudan peace talks', News Article by BBC World, 7 May 1998, at 11:06 GMT; 'Sudan Says Happy for South to secede', News Article by Reuters, 7 May 1998.
7 'Khartoum Urges Rebels to "Stop Fighting and Talk"', News Article by Agence France Presse on 5 June 2001
8 'Government "Ready for a Ceasefire', News Article by United Nations Integrated Regional Information Network, 15 May 2001.
9 See, for example, 'Sudan Declares End to Air Raids on Rebels in South', News Article by Reuters on 24 May 2001, and 'Sudanese Government Declares Halt to Air Raids in South', News Article by Agence France Presse on 24 May 2001, and
10 'Sudanese Government Declares Halt to Air Raids', News Article by Agence France Presse on 24 May 2001.
11 Sudanese Rebels to Receive Dlrs 3 Million in Assistance', News Article by Associated Press on 25 May 2001.
12 See, for example, Jeremy Bigwood, 'DynCorp in Colombia: Outsourcing the Drug War', 23 May 2001 on Corpwatch at www.corpwatch.org
13 'Misguided Relief to Sudan', Editorial, 'The New York Times', 6 December, 1999.
14 'The Economist', March 1998.
15 See, for example, 'Khartoum Urges Rebels to "Stop Fighting and Talk"', News Article by Agence France Presse on 5 June 2001 and 'Sudan's Government Calls on International Community to Push for Cease-Fire', News Article by Associated Press on 5 June 2001.
16 Ex-President Opposes Policy of Aiding Khartoum's Foes', 'The Washington Times', 25 September 1997.
17 'U.S. Slates $3 Million for Sudan's Opposition', 'The Washington Post', 25 May 2001.
18 'Civilians Flee Town Under Siege', News Article by Sudanese Catholic Information Office, Nairobi, 8 June 2001.
19 'Tens of Thousands Displaced by Bahr al-Ghazal Fighting', U.N. Integrated Regional Information Network, 11 June 2001.
20 'Fighting in Sudan's Bahr el Ghazal Leaves 57,000 Displaced: Bishop', News Article by AFP on 13 June 2001.
21 See, for example, 'Sudan's Beshir Steps Up Mobilisation Against Rebel Offensive', News Article by Agence France Presse on 7 June 2001, and 'Sudan Mobilizes as Rebel Forces Advance', News Article by Middle East Newsline, Cairo on 8 June 2001.
22 See 'URGENT Khartoum Announces Resumption of Air Strikes in South', News Article by AFP on 11 June 2001.
23 'Declaration by the Presidency on behalf of the European Union on Sudanese Peace Process', Brussels, 12 June 2001.
24 'Powell Pledges More Efforts to End Sudan War', News Article by Reuters on 27 May 2001.
25 'U.S. Concerned at Reports of Air Raids in Sudan', News Article by Reuters on 8 June 2001.

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