Sudanese Uncharted Waters
The die is cast. Sudan has entered uncharted waters as a result of the ICC arrest warrant against President Omar al Bashir. And indeed it is a nothing less than roll of the dice, a gamble with unknown consequences. Yesterday marks a turning point. We cannot say for sure in which direction Sudan will turn but there are many reasons to be fearful.
Conflict resolution is in part an exercise in reducing uncertainty, bringing former enemies together, and finding a solution that everyone can live with. For the last eight years, a great deal of effort by Sudanese and their international partners has gone into trying to accommodate diverse and distrustful people, all of whom have the capability to bring the country back into the abyss of war and destruction, within a common agenda of making Sudan function. Incentives, sanctions and pressure were all part of the package. But key to success was a shared vision, often blurry but nonetheless real, that solving the Sudanese problem was a common national challenge and that all without exception have a place in the new Sudan which arises from this effort.
The ICC is the reverse: a human rights absolutism that demands that some people be ruled out entirely. The ICC pretends to be outside politics, representing principles on which no compromise is possible. The key word is ‘pretense’, to paraphrase David Kennedy: it is a nice fiction for the human rights community to believe that it is ‘speaking truth to power’ and not actually exercising power. The ICC arrest warrant is a real decision with real consequences in terms of lives saved and lost and the political life of a nation.
I for one cannot see a political way out of this mess. The International Crisis Group writes that ‘the NCP is likely to look for a way out of a situation, by changing its policies or leadership. To succeed, it will need to change both.’ This is groping in the dark. What is ICG actually advocating here? It seems to me that it is calling for a coup. An internal coup is possible though unlikely and not, to my mind, a solution.
As of yesterday, everything that any commentator or expert thinks he or she knew with confidence about Sudan becomes moot. Wishful thinking took the place of analysis. Nick Kristof wrote a few days ago that fears of aid agency expulsion were ‘overblown.’ He got it wrong. Many among the advocacy groups in Washington DC see this as an opportunity for leverage, a chance for peace. I fear not: the ICC is a terribly bad instrument of pressure, because (a) the pressure can never be removed and (b) pressure only works if the end point to which the pressure is applied can be accepted by the party being pressured. The ICC indictment meets neither of these criteria.
The examples of the arrest warrants against Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia and Charles Taylor of Liberia are routinely held up to demonstrate that good outcomes can prevail against skeptics such as myself. I don’t believe it. Milosevic was in the process of losing a war against NATO and Taylor was in the process of being eased out of power (with a promise of safe asylum). The one international policy towards Sudan that has really worked–the CPA–is focused on a negotiated transition. Milosevic and Taylor ran one-man dictatorships which crumbled when they were removed. Bashir is not a one-man dictatorship–on the contrary he has been overshadowed by his lieutenants for most of the last 20 years–so the idea that his replacement by one of his colleagues would represent a democratic transformation is not well-founded. The precedent of Joseph Kony of the Lord’s Resistance Army is more pertinent. The ICC arrest warrant against Kony initially galvanized the peace process but when Kony realized the warrant could never be lifted it became an obstacle to an agreement. Ugandans who initially celebrated the ICC have become disillusioned.
The international community is playing its second highest card by demanding an arrest warrant (the highest card would be invading the country). That card is a dud. The Sudan Government will ignore it and the leverage that the internationals possessed is shrinking fast. I suspect that we will look back on the last few years as a time when things worked as well as they ever did in contemporary Sudan–when the CPA was implemented as well as could be expected, when death rates in Darfur fell from levels of famine and war to just 150 per month, when there were numerous opportunities for international engagement in moving things forward, slowly and imperfectly, but none the less forward.
Perhaps it will revert to this after a hiatus. Perhaps, with a wave of a magic wand, all of peace, justice and democracy will be realized in an instant. Possibly, some unexpected benefit will arise. Most likely, not. Yesterday was a sad day for Sudan.