New peace initiatives under way in Sudan

The gravity of the present Sudan crisis is perhaps best depicted by a 1994 Pulitzer-prize winning photo of a vulture intently awaiting the death of a famine-stricken, emaciated child seen crawling towards a distant UN food camp. It is not clear what happened to the child, but there are indications that Sudan is mustering the will to survive.

Revised estimates by the Coalition for International Justice show that as many as 400,000 Sudanese may have died in the two-year-old Darfur conflict. This is more than twice the number cited by the U.S. and the UN. There is evidence the Khartoum government has been arming and favoring Arab-speaking groups over others. Up to 4 million people face food shortages, and refugees number in the hundreds of thousands.

On April 23, the UN Human Rights Commission unanimously adopted a resolution condemning “continued, widespread and systematic violations of human rights” in Sudan’s western Darfur region. The Sudanese government said it is committed to implementing the resolution.

In the other conflict between Khartoum and the Southern-based Sudanese Liberation Movement/

Army, which has killed 2 million and displaced millions more, an agreement signed late last year may bring an end to a civil war that has afflicted the country since 1984. In the new deal, the SLM/A is joining a government of national unity.

Oil exploration and the legacy of colonialism are at the root of these conflicts. Observers point to recently discovered oil fields in Darfur that can produce 500,000 barrels of crude oil per day as a contributing factor. There are also huge reserves in the Christian/Animist south. Major multinational oil companies are active in Sudan, and are working to safeguard their interests.

One of the bright spots is the emerging African approach to solve indigenous problems. The Sudan Workers Trade Unions’ Federation points out that the tragedy of Sudan is happening at a time when “the wisdom of the people have shown” that it could “contain the problem… [giving the Sudanese themselves] a lot of pride in putting an end to that long civil war.” The increasing role of the African Union in Sudan has also been a critical factor in mediating the conflict.

The country’s last democratically elected prime minister called for a South African model of negotiation, constitution-building and reconciliation. Sudan, Africa’s largest nation, has known war for all but 10 years since gaining independence over 50 years ago.