Turning a blind eye

October 29, 2003|By Eric Reeves

WHILE MUCH of American political debate is currently focused on the enormous budget requested by the Bush administration for reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan, two countries ravaged by war and tyranny, another country seems destined to get nothing.

Sudan, despite the prospect of a historic peace agreement that could end the world's longest and most destructive civil conflict, has been left out of the $87 billion budgetary picture. This staggering sum permits $50 million to be devoted to research (and research only) into an Iraqi postal system. But scandalously there has been no formal budget request for either emergency transitional aid to Sudan or the necessary peacekeeping resources.

Sudan has endured an Islamic fascism in Khartoum that has been as great a tyranny as that of Saddam Hussein or the Taliban. And casualties in Sudan's 20-year civil war are much greater than those of Iraq and Afghanistan combined. More than 2 million have perished (overwhelmingly southern civilians) and 5 million have been internally displaced or turned into refugees, and there is in southern Sudan a total lack of economic, transportation or communications infrastructure. If peace finally comes, this will create a dynamic generating extremely urgent transitional needs.

For example, as many as 1 million of the people presently displaced within Sudan, many in squalid camps outside Khartoum, will seek to return to their homes in the first six months after a peace agreement. This is a tremendous number of people to be moving back to areas that have seen extreme malnutrition, scorched-earth warfare, the compromising of water sources and a general decline in the already tenuous medical assistance provided by international humanitarian organizations.

These people will have no chance to resume productive lives without very significant assistance; indeed, their chances for survival on return will be substantially diminished if there is not appropriate emergency aid during resettlement.

So why hasn't the Bush administration directed some of the $87 billion earmarked for Iraq and Afghanistan to Sudan? The question is made more exigent in light of recent administration testimony to Congress.

Walter Kansteiner, the assistant secretary of state for African affairs, told Congress in May that "we stand ready to support reconstruction and development in postwar Sudan." And in speaking of the need for the Khartoum regime and the opposition Sudan People's Liberation Movement to reach peace under the current auspicious circumstances, Mr. Kansteiner said further that "both sides know that there will be a large peace dividend for reconstruction and development if, but only if, there is peace."

Peace between Sudan's government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) could well be reached by the end of the year. But the Bush administration is failing in its commitment to provide the resources to sustain peace in Sudan. There hasn't been a single budgetary request for either emergency transitional assistance or for the U.S. portion of an international peacekeeping operation. This is extremely shortsighted.

At the time of greatest military danger to such a peace agreement, during the perilous process of military disengagement by forces that have almost no trust in one another, there must be a robust, well-funded, international peacekeeping force. It must have substantial transport and logistical capacity, given the vast size of Sudan (the largest country in Africa) and the lack of usable roads.

Such a peacekeeping force, which should be deployed under U.N. auspices, may be the most important element in any sustainable peace for Sudan. A failure by the United States to commit publicly now to an appropriate expenditure for peacekeeping will leave millions of people at significantly increased risk and will undermine our chances of ensuring that peace in Sudan is sustainable.

Given the very high levels of humanitarian assistance that the United States has provided for victims of the war for well over a decade, this seems the most ill-considered of times to withhold promised funding.

This administration explicitly promised to provide assistance at the moment of Sudan's greatest need, and now it is reneging. This is dishonest and immoral and would never occur if the country in distress were not African and cursed with geopolitical inconsequence, the greatest form of poverty. Congress should, on an emergency basis, appropriate funding that will make good on the Bush administration pledge.

Sudan has suffered decades of invisibility and Sudanese lives have suffered a deeply disgraceful moral discounting. At its moment of greatest hope, this broken nation must not be betrayed yet again.

Eric Reeves is a professor at Smith College in Massachusetts and has written extensively on Sudan.

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