Moral Imperative or “Regime Change” Strategy?

by Wynde Priddy

After two years of violence in western Sudan, in late April the African Union (AU) moved to triple its peacekeeping troops in Darfur to 7,700–and asked NATO for logistical support. NATO agreed within hours of the request and discussions have already started. The United States encouraged NATO’s involvement against French resistance. James Appathurai, NATO’s chief spokesperson, told reporters the intervention would mark “the first time NATO would be engaged in any significant way in sub-Saharan Africa.” If NATO goes in, it will be in defiance of the Sudanese government; leaders in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, insist that only African troops can be involved in the Darfur mission. But Appathurai told the press NATO and European Union (EU) diplomats are frustrated by the limited progress made by the AU.

With the UN now claiming 180,000 dead from hunger, disease and violence, the situation has certainly not improved on the ground. Motasim Adam is president of Darfur Peoples Association of New York, made up of exiles and immigrants from the war-torn region who support some kind of international intervention there. He speaks with gravity of his home village near the town of Al Fasher in North Darfur, which is now swollen with thousands of refugees from villages destroyed by the government-backed militias known as the Janjaweed. “Our town, called Tawilla, 50 kilometers west of Al Fasher, has been attacked by Janjaweed and Sudanese government warplanes,” he says. “My brother is in Darfur right now and some of my family members are still there.”

There are now some 100,000 people at Al Fasher, surviving only on international aid, and still vulnerable to militia attack. “The situation is very bad,” Adam says. “Janjaweed are still raping the girls and women.” He claims that up to 200 rape victims at Al Fasher have given birth in recent weeks.

Mark Crane with World People for Peace, which coordinates groups active around Darfur in the New York area, blames the lack of international action. “The problem is that nobody is dealing with the crisis like you deal with a crisis–which is to bring relief immediately.” When asked for a plausible solution, he says he puts his faith in the International Criminal Court (ICC)–a body that the United States refuses to recognize. “If the ICC could actually get some prosecutions going, that might have a chilling effect on these people in power” in Sudan, Crane says.

But others, in contrast, see an eagerness for intervention–and suspect motives other than the humanitarian. The new zeal of the AU and the entrance of NATO comes on the heels of a Feb. 17 meeting in Washington between George Bush, Don Cheadle, and Paul Rusesabagina, the hotel manager portrayed by Cheadle in the recent movie “Hotel Rwanda.” Rusesabagina, who is credited with saving hundreds of lives during Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, told the press, “What is going on in Darfur is exactly what was going on in Rwanda.” This echoes the finding by Congress last July that the violence in Darfur constitutes “genocide.” Rusesabagina (who now runs a transport company in Zambia) and Cheadle had recently visited Darfur with a delegation of five U.S. Congress members.

But Phil Taylor, who worked at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in defense of accused war criminals with former U.S. attorney general Ramsey Clark, sees more propaganda than genocide at work in Darfur. “The Americans are obviously driving this process,” he says. “They’re recruiting Hollywood to get people who aren’t giving this very much thought to endorse a policy which is going to involve regime change. Everybody has to be very careful about these things.”

Though some might call his recent article, “Carving Sudan” (on his website, Taylor Report), apologetic towards the Khartoum regime, Taylor says: “What I see here is a game, which is Washington’s favorite game, of demonizing. It’s a form of political and psychological warfare that I’m very much against. I’m not making apologetics for Khartoum, but I’m not going to condemn them either.”

Taylor alludes to probable U.S. covert actions behind the emergence of two guerilla groups in Darfur (the Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement), which sparked the crisis early last year. “I know that by all reports a war broke out there initiated by two groups that suddenly just appeared, and they seem to be rather well armed,” he says. “Their leaders say they don’t want the African Union to be the intermediary, they say they want the United States. That’s not good.”

Dr. Ibrahim Imam Mahmoud, Philadelphia-based president of Sudan Liberation Movement, political arm of the Sudan Liberation Army, agrees that the Darfur rebels are suspicious of the AU. “I support a peacekeeping force from outside of Africa,” he says. “Even if African troops are equipped enough, they still need peacekeepers from outside to watch them. We believe African Union troops are helping, but for one thing, they are weak; for another, they are not enough; and for a third, some of them have been corrupted by the Sudanese government.”

Motasim Adam is even more explicit about corruption among AU troops. “We don’t want the African Union because they don’t report the truth. All the African Union troops come from very poor countries like Rwanda, and the Sudanese government can easily change their minds by paying them money. In countries like Rwanda, the army salary is only $40 a month. So the Sudanese government pays them $100 or $200 a month right now… They act like they are a part of the Sudanese military, not as an African Union force to keep peace.”

He also protests that the AU mandate is too limited. “They don’t have authorization to do anything even if there is an incident,” he says.

Adam also emphasizes that Sudanese government forces offer no protection from the militias–and that the two have become almost indistinguishable. “The Janjaweed come wearing the uniform of the policemen, and they attack the people. If you go complain to the police they just tell you that you are a liar and you are working for the Americans, you are an agent.”

Adam says Khartoum uses anti-U.S. and anti-UN sentiment to justify attacks against civilians. “The Sudanese government has announced a holy war against the United Nations; they say that the United Nations is just an umbrella for imperialism…”

Phil Taylor, on the other hand, is convinced that imperialist designs on Sudan are real. He says he titled his piece “Carving Sudan” because he believes the US wants “to encourage the breakup of Sudan. The US does not want to see large African states capable of fending for themselves because that makes them less dependent on London and Washington. They play the game of divide and rule.”

He challenges the Darfur rebel groups’ quest for autonomy or independence. “If someone says ‘Darfur needs to be independent,’ you’d want to look closely and see what Darfurians are they talking about. I’d like to know the demographics. Are we saying the majority would like to break away from Sudan?” He charges that “the State Department wants to encourage–and has across Africa encouraged–minority movements so as to give themselves an excuse to intervene… to make these groups their allies and put themselves in the position to exploit the resources of these countries.”

Recently, major media in the U.S. have been implying that the rebel groups in Darfur are not disciplined enough to enforce a cease-fire within their own ranks–an idea that Dr. Mahmoud of the SLM denies. “They are organized. The problem is that every day, the Sudan government is bombing them, fighting them.” He also argues that repression has given the people of Darfur no choice but to take up arms. “Politically active in people in Darfur are being killed,” he says.

The genocide argument has been raging in the UN alongside the touchy question of intervention. In January, a UN report officially found that the violence in Darfur does not constitute “genocide” (which means that signatories to the Genocide Convention are not obliged to act), even while noting 70,000 killed and two million forced to flee. “The UN talks too much,” Adam says. “There is no action. Now they have adopted three or four resolutions regarding the Darfur conflict. But there is no compliance by the Sudanese government regarding all these resolutions.”

“What we want now is more pressure on the Sudanese government, whether politically or militarily, in order to comply,” Adam says. He warns that if refugees cannot safely repatriate in the following weeks, the humanitarian crisis will greatly deepen. “There is no security in that area, so the people cannot come back to their villages or homes. Most of them are now in Chad, in the camps. The rainy season will come in three months and the situation is really very hard. The people have no good tents or places to sleep.”

And he says that the refugees who have made it across the border to the camps in Chad face a better situation than those still in camps within Darfur. “The people who were displaced to Chad are lucky because there, there is some kind of respect for human beings. But in Darfur, the Sudanese government and the Janjaweed are coming into the camps, attacking the people and raping the women. If you open your mouth they will shoot you down and kill you immediately… There is no person to complain to; you either have to shut your mouth or be killed yourself. That the situation inside the camps.”

U.S. deputy secretary of state Robert Zoellick’s brief mid-April visit to Al Fasher refugee camp speaks to the possibility Washington is seeking to exploit Darfur’s suffering for political ends. But Zoellick’s photo-op also coincided with a visit by Sudan’s intelligence chief, Salah Abdallah Gosh, to Washington, where he reportedly met with CIA and FBI personnel on increased cooperation against Islamic militants in Africa, hailed as a milestone in thawing relations between the U.S. and Khartoum. Whether NATO really intervenes in Darfur may ultimately depend less on the actual conditions there than on whether Sudan’s regime can recast itself as a U.S. ally in the eyes of the Bush administration.


“Sudan Becomes US Ally in ‘War on Terror’,”
UK Guardian, April 30

“Nato poised for first African engagement in Darfur,”
UK Independent, April 28, 2005

“A Sudanese city of refugees with no plans to go home,” NY Times, April 17, 2005

“Sudan death toll: 180,000 die from hunger in Darfur,” UK Guardian, March 26, 2005

“Carving Sudan: Hollywood’s helping hand,”
The Taylor Report, Feb. 17, 2005

“UN ‘rules out’ genocide in Darfur,”
BBC News, Jan. 31, 2005

“U.S. lobbies Security Council on Darfur prosecution,”
NY Times, Jan. 29, 2005

Sudan Liberation Movement/Sudan Liberation Army

World People for Peace

See also:

Wynde Priddy, “Darfur: Power Politics Trump Genocide Convention,”


Special to WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, May 10, 2005
Reprinting permissible with attribution