In January 2011, the population of Southern Sudan is tasked with deciding whether the region should remain part of the Sudanese state or seek autonomy. According to recent polls, more than 90 per cent of the population are in favor of creating a second Sudan. If the referendum succeeds, it would be the first time since 1993 that a new African state comes into existence. But its birth will not be quiet. The epicenter of screams, machine-guns and bomb explosions will be Abyei, wedged between the North and the South.
The idea for the popular referendum was one of the provisions established in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that succeeded in ending a civil war with more than two million casualties. Only last month did it occur to Western diplomats that something was not quite right. Less than two months before the scheduled date of the referendum, not even the election commission has been staffed. Sudan’s president Bashir refuses any signature. He has his hands tied up in other business – evading an arrest warrant from the ICC for genocide, for example.
The diplomatic efforts of the West need to accept political realities: Bashir’s party is going to prevent Abyei’s secession by all means. Even the tactics are foreseeable. In December, allegedly “unexpected” riots will break out. Bashir will use them as an exuse to occupy the region of Abyei in order to “protect” the people. After South Sudan declares its independence, its troops will move north into Abyei as well, setting the stage for yet another clash of militias and another round of bloody fighting.
It is still possible to thwart this scenario. Abyei needs international observers that monitor and investigate all kinds of alleged “riots” and “clashes“. Five thousand soldiers of the African Union could be sufficient. Military observers would make it impossible for one of the warring parties to appoint themselves as knights in shining armours.
Working with Bashir
The case of Abyei raises the question – again – of how the West can deal with a head of state who has been accused of orchestrating two genocides. Who would possibly trust him? The answer: everybody. Many in the West believe that it is possible to do decent diplomacy with Bashir.
But Bashir’s policy is laid out to equip rebels in Southern Sudan who are going to destabilize the new state until it collapses into civil war – and enable Bashir to seize access to the vast natural resources and wealth of Abyei and the South. “Trust” merely exists as a category for perpetrators of genocide.
There is a certain desperation to the trust the international community is putting into Bashir. We have seen this strategy before, when figures like Hitler and Milosevic were accepted as legitimate diplomatic partners who could be appeased. But appeasement has always turned a blind eye towards the genocidal atrocities perpetrated by these supposed “partners”.
Years ago, the Bush administration demonstrated a strategy of how to deal with Bashir. After September 11, Khartoum refused to share intelligence information on Osama bin Laden. CIA agents met in London with representatives of Bashir. They threatened to bomb oil refineries, ports and pipelines. The information they sought was handed out immediately. The international community could re-emphasize their willingness to intervene militarily to stop the violence. But apparently, the War on Terror is more important than the war on genocide.