Unclench your bloody fist for me

Category: Writing aboard the Kenya Airways: A story on coming to Rwanda for the first time
Published on Friday, 10 July 2009 21:42
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Mariar Wuoi

There are a lot of surprises and intrigues when it comes to US-Sudan relations. On the surface, the two appear hostile to each other’s intentions; therefore precluding any possibility of cooperation. Interestingly enough, there have been reports that the two countries cooperated on intelligence matters and even Sudan’s intelligence
chief Salah Abdallah Gosh had the opportunity to visit CIA’s Langley center for heart to heart consultations. We may have an idea of how Sudan managed to willingly go along with cooperating with US. It is one of a handful of countries that hosted and helped al-Qaeda during its formative years when it was thrown out of Saudi Arabia. After al-Qaeda’s attack on the US, Khartoum feared that its past or continued association with al-Qaeda might come to haunt it and put it in the crosshairs of US war on terror. Given this dire situation, Khartoum was ready to share whatever information it has on al-Qaeda leaders and its operations. Salah Gosh
put it pointedly that the NCP government might have faced real threat of being on the Bush’s target list had it not cooperated with the US. This is clearly the reason the US cultivated its covert relations with Khartoum while overtly criticizing its counterinsurgency methods in Darfur.

With these contradictions characterizing US-Sudan relations, it is no surprise the Obama administration has decided to use carrots with sticks conveniently tucked away. The US envoy to Sudan, Gen. Scott Gration, is at the forefront of “unclench fist” diplomacy. When your face is on the homepage of government’s mouthpiece website – the so-called Sudan Media Center (SMC) – you must be at the good grace of Khartoum’s ruling NCP establishment. Gen. Gration is a man of military background and understands his orders very carefully. His equivocation on the question of whether atrocities in Darfur amount genocide was very revealing. The US appears
ready to revisit genocide label to appease Khartoum and get cooperation on other issues of mutual importance. Khartoum’s bluff appears to be working because the US is willing to waver of critical issues like humanitarian access.

At the outset, the Obama administration has been on a mission to “repair” the damage done to US image by the policies pursuit by previous administration. For all its electioneering rhetoric about doing something about the conflict in Darfur, Obama administration has taken an unexpected turn. There was a time when Khartoum ruling party was praying for more time to deal with the Bush administration because many of those supporting Obama were vocal critics of Khartoum administration. Obama’s own vice president has largely been silent and so has many others like Hilary Clinton – who now heads state department. Dr. Susan Rice is away at the UN where unanimity is required to get anything done. Sudan file is now in the hands of career Sudan specialists at the state department. Career specialists are more concerned with how a particular approach will further the overall foreign policy of the US. It is clear that they are advising Gen. Gration to carry out the “unclench fist” policy that is central to Obama’s overall diplomacy.  What these individuals fail to see is that some fists are clenched for a reason: They are too bloody and unsightly to wave at will.

The new US administration behavior is not peculiar to Sudan. Even Israel is having a hard time understanding why the new administration is failing to see the world from a realist perspective. Focusing on Sudan, Obama administration is giving Khartoum government a breathing room it needs to drag its feet on implementing key aspects of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). What is more disturbing is lack of progress on border delineation. Every student of electoral politics will tell you that there
is no way of conducting credible elections without a well-defined geographic demarcation of constituencies. The North-South border is still amorphous and nebulous at best. Instead of discussing a menu of issues that the Khartoum has been itching to discuss for a long time, the new US envoy needs to focus his energy on pushing Khartoum to take concrete steps in the direction of implementing the CPA. Then and only then can other issues like sanctions and diplomatic representation be tackled.

With the new administration accommodating Khartoum’s behavior, the SPLM must look inward for real insurance against current and future actions that the NCP might entertain. The US will not do much to stop Khartoum from reneging on its responsibilities with respect to the CPA. One can guess with a high degree of confidence that the current American administration will act within the confines of diplomacy even if genocide escalates in Darfur and CPA falters. If the current attitude in Washington is anything to go by, Southern Sudan must take steps to make any attempts to gut the CPA a costly affair for Khartoum.

Mariar Wuoi is a Sudanese living in the US. You can reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.