By Stephen Brown
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, June 16, 2008
It just shows what is wrong with our media.
The front pages of most newspapers last week carried a story about a horrific plane crash in the Sudan that cost 100 lives. While this tragedy was certainly newsworthy, hardly a single media outlet has been covering the real story in Africa’s largest country that could turn into a human catastrophe for millions of its non-Muslim citizens.
A twenty-year civil war between the Sudan’s Arab and Islamic North and Christian and animist African South that ended with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005 is set to explode again. Fighting broke out last month between the North’s Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), the armed forces of southern Sudan, in the oil-rich Abyei region, resulting in dozens of deaths.
The Abyei region, located between North and South, is technically part of northern Sudan, having been transferred there by the British colonial power in 1905. According to the CPA’s Abyei Protocol, which was put into the accord at America’s insistence, the Abyei area, which is inhabited mainly by Africans of the Dinka tribe, is supposed to hold a vote to decide whether it wants to join the South. In 2011, the entire South Sudan will have its own referendum on independence.
Disgracefully, the world hardly noticed that the town of Abeyei was destroyed in May by aggressive federal forces, which are controlled by the ruling National Congress Party in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, located in the North. As usual, it was the civilians who suffered the most. More than 100,000 Dinka, according to one report, were driven from their homes. Many Dinka arrived in refugee camps with little or no belongings with some grieving for their children who were lost in the flight.
Roger Winter, a highly respected expert on the Sudan who was once appointed Special Representative of the Deputy Secretary of State for Sudan by the Bush administration, visited the area a few days after the attack by the government’s army, which now occupies the ruined and looted town.
“The town of Abyei has ceased to exist,” stated Winter in his report. “Brigade 31 of the Sudanese Armed Forces, or SAF, has displaced the entire civilian population and burned Abyei’s market and housing to the ground.”
Such Arab atrocities are nothing new to southern Sudan’s black African population. This large area of about 227,000 square miles and 11 million people was once one of the main sources of slaves for the Islamic world until British colonization put a stop to the inhuman practice. But when the British left and the Sudan was granted its independence in 1956, the Arab North’s oppression of the non-Muslim, African South quickly picked up where it left off.
As a result, African Sudanese almost immediately formed a resistance movement that fought a civil war against the Arab North that ravaged the South and ended with a peace treaty in 1972. During that time, the odious custom of slave raiding also returned, supported by the Arab world’s new oil wealth. In 1962, a Swiss journalist recorded that hundreds of black African Sudanese were enslaved and sent to northern Sudan, and some even further on to Saudi Arabia, Yemen and other oil sheikdoms.
An Italian journalist, who was in the Sudan in 1966, wrote “…the Arabs continue in the Sudan what could be called their national sport, hunting slaves, and the bondage of Negro Sudanese who are guilty of not only of having a black skin but also of not being Muslim.” Arab slavers even had the audacity to seize a Sudanese African member of the pre-independence legislature and put him up for sale for $1,600; but he managed to escape.
All in all, it is estimated that between 500,000 and one million people died in Sudan’s first civil war.
The second civil war, which ended with the 2005 CPA, began in 1983 when the Khartoum government threw out the 1972 peace accord, squashed the South’s constitutional guarantees, declared Arabic the country’s only official language and made sharia the law of the land. In other words, everyone, both North and South, had to become Muslim and Arabic. This was reinforced when the northern government declared jihad against the South in 1989.
In this second round of civil strife, the racial and religious hatred of the Sudanese Arab for the Sudanese African was in full evidence. More than two million southern Sudanese perished and another two million were displaced, becoming exiles in their own country, as the Islamic government embarked on a policy of genocide.
Evidence of this genocide was on display last January in the United States when dozens of young, southern Sudanese men gathered at Harry S. Truman College in Chicago to celebrate their common “birthday” (since they fled the war as children, many do not know their real birthdays). They form part of the 20,000 “Lost Boys” who had fled to Ethiopia, walking hundreds of miles across harsh and dangerous terrain to avoid almost certain death. The last eight years, the United States has taken in about 4,000 of these refugees, many of whom have gone to college themselves in their new country.
Again, like in the first Sudanese civil war, the slave trade made its loathsome reappearance. Francis Bok, whose story was told in Front Page Magazine, became its most visible representative in the United States. Captured in a slave raid at age seven, the southern Sudanese Dinka boy spent ten cruel years as an Arab slave before he escaped and eventually made his way to America where he has testified across the country and before Congress about his barbarous experience.
With such a record of savage brutality, one wonders why the media, the Bush administration and the rest of the world for that matter, remain silent as the Sudan appears to be sliding into a horrific and unthinkable third civil war. It is all the more puzzling when one considers the justifiable media attention given to, and the international condemnations made, concerning the Darfur conflict.
President Bush himself enjoys great prestige among the people of South Sudan for having helped bring about the 2005 CPA treaty; so much so that the African inhabitants there want to see the Republicans stay in the White House under John McCain. They well remember President Clinton’s bombing of Serbia to force the end of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, while he undertook no action on their behalf against a Khartoum government that was much more inhumanly ferocious and merciless.
‘The Democrats did nothing for us,” said a southern Sudanese journalist. “They were not interested.”
Winter believes the reason the Bush administration’s inaction is that it will soon be out of power and is in “meltdown mode”, which Sudan’s Islamic government well recognises. Moreover, President Bush is currently attempting to “normalize” relations with the Khartoum regime, probably as part of his overall strategy in the War on Terror, holding talks to this end in Rome in April and May. As a result, Bush does not wish to endanger these efforts by vigorously responding to the Abyei attack.
This is disappointing. Appeasement and inaction never work and will only encourage the predatory Arab Khartoum government to commit more depredations against a people that would make natural allies of America, especially if and when they get their own country. Already, the northern leaders are refusing to accept the Abyei’s boundaries that were set by an international committee, a term of the Protocol.
To their credit, during the recent primaries the three main candidates, John McCain, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, issued a joint declaration saying they will “…continue to keep a close watch on events in the Sudan and speak out for the marginalized peoples.” They also condemned the Sudanese government for breaking the CPA. Hopefully, their actions will match their words after January’s inauguration.
Abyei has been called the cornerstone to peace for the Sudan. What happens there will determine whether the Arab North sincerely desires peaceful co-existence with the South. But a southern Sudan army spokesman ominously says the population displacement in Abyei indicates the Khartoum government is actually preparing “a final solution.”
If this is the case, western media outlets should be calling politicians in their countries to account for their inaction regarding the developing human catastrophe in South Sudan. They should also be putting the Khartoum government under the microscope of international criticism and be calling for sanctions. In the long term, the world press’ duty will be to monitor closely the previously agreed referenda in Abyei and the South Sudan to ensure the will of these long-suffering peoples is respected.
Twice in the past half century the African people of the southern Sudan have called for help against a murderous racial and religious hatred that has left their country littered with killing fields; but the West and its media scarcely heard them. So to ignore any aggression by Khartoum’s Arab regime that may cause such heart-rending appeals to be made a third time is both unpardonable and unconscionable.
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