Nothing Else Seems to be Working…
Attempting to make a snap judgment on the outcome of the ICC’s intervention is perhaps a mistake. Commentators on both sides of the argument have skilfully demonstrated the complexities and possible consequences involved. While not wishing to add to the list of possible scenarios, I would like to query some of the arguments used by those urging caution. Namely, that the humanitarian situation will possibly be made worse and the UN and international community, albeit hesitantly, have at least been doing something. While this argument works if selectively confined to the present, when cast against the longue duree of liberal internationalism in Sudan things look less certain. Arguably the aid industry has, for a long time, been part of the problem rather than its solution.
In teasing out this position, the similarities and differences between Sudan and Burma are a useful starting point. Both have unsavoury military regimes regularly condemned for mistreating their citizens; Sudan stands accused of genocide. Both countries have attracted the attention of vocal and dedicated human rights lobbies; Sudan even has George Clooney. Despite these similarities, however, the differences are marked. While the Burma human rights lobby is in the driving seat regarding aid policy, the Sudan lobby it is more or less ignored. Until cyclone Nargis, and even now there is uncertainty, Burma was best described as an aid orphan with the few UN agencies operating there doing so under HQ imposed restricted mandates. Comparatively, and regardless of Darfur, Sudan is choking on aid with the UN working in full-frontal, business-as-usual, government support mode.
How can this difference be explained? Without resorting to the metaphysics of resource competition (as if aid workers think about oil, etc, when saving lives), one explanation lies in how the two countries have chosen to engage liberal internationalism. Since the 1960s, Burma and Sudan have taken two distinct paths. The Burmese state chose isolation and the deliberate restriction of Western influence; something it has perfected over the years. As Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran suggest, if there is one thing that liberal internationalism hates is autonomy or non-integration. Autonomy equates with risk and unpredictability. Beginning with the refugee incursions of the 1960s, Sudan chose to play liberal interventionism differently. It has consciously used international aid agencies to solve its ever-present internal security dilemmas, and these agencies have been more than willing to oblige. Following the end of the first civil war in 1972, for example, the South was thrown open to the UN and NGOs to provide the peace-dividend that the North was both unwilling and unable to furnish. This intervention had contributed to the collapse of the South’s emergent fragile state even before the rekindling of civil war in 1983. Since the 1960s, the Sudanese state has acquired considerable institutional expertise in playing off donor governments, UN agencies and NGOs against each other. Not only co-opting the language of liberal internationalism but, in particular, knowing when back-off, thus dissolving any transitory alliance that may have formed against it. While liberal internationalism hates autonomy, give it a sign of redemption or the possibility of change, even if miniscule, and its forgiveness is great.
Despite Darfur, Sudanese gamesmanship has kept liberal internationalism happy enough to keep the aid flowing. Through the CPA, the aid industry is currently involved in a multimillion dollar effort in the South to once again turn a rebel movement into a fragile state. In many respects, it is a re-run of the 1970s. Under the “˜one country, two systems’ slogan, this fragile state is being constructed within the frontiers of a stronger sovereign entity. Even efforts to reintegrate returnees look no further than the seeds, tools, plastic sheeting, basic services and the mandatory insistence on “˜self-reliance’ of thirty years ago. The main difference is that whereas ten aid agencies did the work then, so to speak, it now requires literally hundreds to do the same thing. Mobilising this massive and, due to security fears, increasingly self-contained aid bureaucracy requires all the paraphernalia of “˜coherence’ and “˜integration’ to just to be able to stand and watch the most tangible outcome of the CPA: the rapid and unplanned urbanisation of South Sudan.
Given its promise of redemption, liberal internationalism has invested so much in the CPA it has limited its ability to act in relation to Darfur. As already argued in these pages, what has happened has been to turn Darfur into the largest humanitarian operation in the world. While this undoubtedly keeps people alive, like in the South, it is also part of a wider process of forced urbanisation and a new wave of impoverishment. In his context, the ICC’s Chief Prosecutor, Luis Ocampo, has predictably put the cat among the proverbial pigeons. In one gesture, it highlights the complicity and self-delusion of the aid world. It is understandable that UN agencies, for example, are nervous. Ban Ki Moon, it would appear, is already denying rumours that his office had given the nod to the Sudanese that it will derail Ocampo.
Unknown to itself, the ICC has thrown into relief what forty years of liberal internationalism has achieved in Sudan. It is not a particularly edifying sight.
Mark Duffield is Professor of Politics at the University of Bristol.