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NAIROBI — If the election of Barack Obama has been greeted with glee across much of Africa, there is at least one spot where the mood is decidedly different.
In the Sudanese capital of Khartoum these days, political elites are bracing for what they expect will be a major shift in U.S. policy toward a government the United States has blamed for orchestrating a violent campaign against civilians in the western Darfur region.
“Compared to the Republicans, the Democrats, I think they are hawks,” said Ghazi Suleiman, a human rights lawyer and member of the Southern People’s Liberation Movement, which has a fragile power-sharing agreement with the ruling party. “I know Obama’s appointees. And I know their policy towards Sudan. Everybody here knows it. The policy is very aggressive and very harsh. I think we really will miss the judgments of George W. Bush.”
While the Bush administration most recently advocated the idea of “normalizing” relations with Sudan as a carrot approach to ending a crisis it labeled a genocide, Obama’s foreign policy appointees have pushed for sticks.
Hillary Rodham Clinton, the nominee for secretary of state, has called for a NATO-enforced no-fly zone to “blanket” Darfur in order to prevent Sudanese bombing of villages. The appointee for U.N. ambassador, Susan E. Rice — a key Africa adviser to the Clinton administration during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, when President Bill Clinton was sharply criticized for failing to act — has pushed for U.S. or NATO airstrikes and a naval blockade of Sudan’s major port to prevent lucrative oil exports. Rice has vowed to “go down in flames” advocating tough measures.
Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., who was chosen for his foreign policy experience and pressed early for U.S. intervention to stop the fighting in the Balkans, was blunt during a hearing last year: “I would use American force now,” he said.
But it remains unclear how those pre-election views will square with the president-elect, who has outlined a pragmatic, coalition-based approach to foreign policy, while also speaking of America’s “moral obligation” in the face of humanitarian catastrophes of the sort that are plentiful in Africa.
Heading off potential genocide is the focus of a task force report to be released today in Washington. The group recommends, among other things, that the Obama administration create a high-level forum in the White House to direct the government’s response to threats of mass violence.
So far, Obama has been more cautious on Darfur than some of his appointees, advocating tougher sanctions against Khartoum and a no-fly zone that might be enforced with U.S. “help.” He has not called for direct U.S. intervention.
Obama intends to keep Bush’s defense secretary, Robert M. Gates, who has already suggested that the United States will not provide much-needed helicopters to a struggling peacekeeping mission in Darfur because U.S. forces are stretched too thin in Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama has also nominated as national security adviser retired Marine Gen. James L. Jones, a former NATO supreme allied commander who has suggested that NATO’s role in Darfur should be training and support to the current peacekeeping mission rather than direct intervention.
And specialists close to Obama’s presidential campaign said that more generally, the new administration sees a need for diplomatic approaches to security crises across the continent.
“We don’t have the capacity to pacify these places militarily,” said John Prendergast, a Darfur activist and former White House aide during the Clinton administration, citing Sudan and the worsening conflicts in Congo and Somalia. “We need political solutions.”
Sudan’s U.N. ambassador, Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamad, dismissed the calls for military action as “only election slogans.”
“You cannot claim to be disengaging from disasters like Iraq but creating a new disaster in one of Africa’s biggest countries,” he said.
The crisis is in many ways a far more complex conflict than the one the Bush administration confronted. The violence in Darfur began in February 2003 when two rebel groups attacked Sudan’s Islamic government, claiming a pattern of bias against the region’s black African tribes. Khartoum organized a local Arab militia, known as the Janjaweed, to wage a scorched-earth campaign against the three ethnic groups — mostly farmers and traders — thought to be the rebels’ political base.
Some analysts estimate that as many as 450,000 people have died from disease and violence in the conflict. About half the population of the Darfur region — about 2.5 million people — are now displaced.
When Palin says something – it’s better to – go and double check!
SHARE Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin fought to protest atrocities in Sudan by dropping assets tied to the country’s brutal regime from the state’s multi-billion-dollar investment fund, she claimed during Thursday’s vice presidential debate.
Republican vice presidential candidate Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin speaks duringa vice presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., Thursday, Oct. 2, 2008.
Not quite, according to a review of the public record – and according to the recollections of a legislator and others who pushed a measure to divest Alaskan holdings in Sudan-linked investments.
“The [Palin] administration killed our bill,” said Alaska state representative Les Gara, D-Anchorage. Gara and state Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, co-sponsored a resolution early this year to force the Alaska Permanent Fund – a $40 billion investment fund, a portion of whose dividends are distributed annually to state residents – to divest millions of dollars in holdings tied to the Sudanese government.
In Thursday’s debate, Palin said she had advocated the state divest from Sudan. “When I and others in the legislature found out that we had some millions of dollars [of Permanent Fund investments] in Sudan, we called for divestment through legislation of those dollars,” Palin said.
But a search of news clips and transcripts from the time do not turn up an instance in which Palin mentioned the Sudanese crisis or concerns about Alaska’s investments tied to the ruling regime. Moreover, Palin’s administration openly opposed the bill, and stated its opposition in a public hearing on the measure.
“The legislation is well-intended, and the desire to make a difference is noble, but mixing moral and political agendas at the expense of our citizens’ financial security is not a good combination,” testified Brian Andrews, Palin’s deputy treasury commissioner, before a hearing on the Gara-Lynn Sudan divestment bill in February. Minutes from the meeting are posted online by the legislature.
Gara says the lack of support from Palin’s administration helped kill the measure.
“I walked out of that hearing livid,” Gara recalled of the February meeting. Because of the Palin administration’s opposition to the bill, “We could not get a vote in that committee,” he explained. At no point did Palin come out in support of the effort, Gara said.
Gara said that after it was clear the bill had stalled, he and others pressed the administration directly on Sudan divestment.
“We were outraged,” Gara recounted. “We went to the Commissioner of Revenue and said, ‘What the hell are you guys doing? This is genocide. We’re going to keep pushing this until we divest.”
Two months later, at the end of the legislative session, the administration softened its position. Appearing before a Senate committee which was considering a companion measure to Gara’s bill, Palin’s Treasury commissioner, Patrick Galvin, stated the administration supported such a measure, though it hoped to amend the bill to allow for investments held indirectly, for example in index funds.
“At the last minute they showed up” and supported the divestment effort, Gara said. But by then the legislative session was almost over, and there wasn’t enough time to get it passed.
The Alaska Permanent Fund currently holds $22 million in Sudan-linked investments, according to the non-profit Sudan Divestment Task Force. Divestment advocates say the fund does not need an act of the state legislature to divest itself of those holdings.
The McCain-Palin campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has been a strong supporter of Sudan divestment efforts, and has urged Americans to liquidate their holdings in companies who do business there. He was criticized for that position when it was revealed in May his wife Cindy held $2 million in investment funds owning shares of Sudan-linked companies. She sold those holdings following a reporter’s inquiries.