"Many people are surrendering," Mohamed Yousuf Omer says, gesturing toward some of the people leaving the polling station at Hai Jalaba Basic School in Juba, the capital of southern Sudan on Sunday. "I think I also may have to." Omer tells me that he could not find his name on the voter registry list posted at the polling station. No name on the list, no point in joining the line of men and women waiting to cast their votes in the first multiparty elections Sudan has held since 1986 -- the year Omer, now 24, was born.
"Surrendering" was the word used by several voters I spoke to, who seemed to think that perhaps it was not God's will for them to vote. Unfortunately, the polling troubles I've seen so far here in South Sudan are less than divine: They're technical and administrative. This election is more complex, more ambitious, and more byzantine than even most Western countries would attempt. Southern voters, 85 percent of whom are illiterate, have 12 separate ballots to fill in. Voters in the North must fill in six. Just three days of polling will have to accommodate 15.7 million voters. An estimated $300 million to $400 million has been funneled into these polls, including $100 million from the United States, in hopes that Sudan can pull it off.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo is not an obvious candidate to be Africa's turnaround story of the coming decade. This is a country that has been pillaged by outsiders for more than a century, cursed by its extraordinary natural resource base to unparalleled levels of death and destruction. With a seemingly intractable war in the east, one of the worst corruption-fighting records in the world, and some of the highest rates of sexual violence ever recorded, Congo does not, understandably, lend itself well to optimistic prognoses. But sometimes a situation deteriorates so badly that it catalyzes transformative responses. And things can actually change, no matter how entrenched the troubles. That opportunity for real progress is exactly what I found on my recent visit to Congo.
Congo's conflict, the world's deadliest since World War II, is not really a war -- it's a business based on violent extortion. There are numerous armed groups and commercial actors -- Congolese, Rwandan, and Ugandan -- that have positioned themselves for the spoils of a deliberately lawless, accountability-free, unstable, highly profitable mafia-style economy. Millions of dollars are made monthly in illegal taxation of mining operations, smuggling of minerals, and extortion rackets run by mafia bosses based primarily in Kinshasa, Kigali, and Kampala. The spoils are tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold, minerals that go into laptops, cell phones, MP3 players, and jewelry stores in the West. Armed groups use terrifying tactics such as mass rape and village burning to intimidate civilians into providing cheap labor for this elaborate extortion racket.
Early this year, the United Nations sent its favorite dictator-whisperer, Nigerian diplomat Ibrahim Agboola Gambari, to Sudan, hoping to nudge the country's leader and alleged war criminal, President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, toward peace. Gambari, a veteran of U.N. missions from Zimbabwe to Myanmar, has developed his knack for counseling autocrats on the job -- by working for one, Sani Abacha, the notorious late strongman president of Nigeria, whom Gambari served as U.N. ambassador from 1990 to 1999.
Anywhere else, Gambari's Abacha connection might be a career breaker. But since joining the United Nations in 1999, Gambari has thrived, managing crises from Angola to Cyprus and raising money for Iraq's reconstruction. According to U.N. staffers, his old-school capabilities as a diplomat, coupled with his Muslim faith and eminent standing in Africa, make him a formidable mediator. The Sudan assignment provides an opportunity to test whether Gambari's experience and easy rapport with unsavory political players can translate into concrete progress on the main challenges of the day: a settlement in Darfur and resolution of the standoff over the South's quest for independence.
Posted By Josh Rogin Friday, January 29, 2010 - 11:11 AM
A meeting of top U.S. officials on Sudan last week was supposed to yield big recommendations on how to craft the right balance of incentives and pressures toward the Khartoum regime, which stands accused of fomenting genocide in Darfur and stirring instability in its autonomous southern region. Instead, the meeting seems to have left the Obama administration's Sudan policy in limbo, leading to angst among both Sudan insiders and observers, sources tell The Cable.
The meeting, hosted by the National Security Council and carried out at the deputies level, had been greatly anticipated by Sudan watchers as a watershed moment in their long struggle to turn Darfur into a top-tier policy issue. Expectations were so high that Sudan advocacy groups published an unorthodox ad in the Washington Post before the meeting calling out the deputies -- U.N. ambassador Susan Rice's No. 2 Erica Barks-Ruggles, NSC deputy Tom Donilon, Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg, Treasury Undersecretary Stuart Levy, and Michèle Flournoy, the under secretary of defense for policy -- by name.
Several members of the Sudan advocacy community said they were told that the quarterly deputies meetings would be tracking progress and making recommendations on specific "carrots and sticks" to use as leverage in Khartoum.
And they pointed to the October remarks of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who said during the press conference announcing the administration's new Sudan policy: "Assessment of progress and decisions regarding incentives and disincentives will be based on verifiable changes in conditions on the ground. Backsliding by any party will be met with credible pressure in the form of disincentives leveraged by our government and our international partners."
But the deputies, who don't decide policy but make recommendations to their bosses, never got to outlining those incentives and pressures, instead only reviewing the various agencies' "assessments" of the situation in Sudan, one high-level participant confirmed to The Cable.
"This was an opportunity to hear the views of the representative, a number of challenges were outlined, and each of the assessments were in line," the participant said, referring to Sudan envoy J. Scott Gration. "I thought it was a very productive meeting," the participant said, arguing that the assessments were always meant to be the basis of the discussion.
One big problem, though, was that the briefing paper that was to have all the agencies' positions clearly spelled out was not prepared in advance, hurting the deputies' ability to iron out any differences.
According to one person familiar with the meeting, Deputy National Security Advisor Tom Donilon scolded NSC Africa Director Michelle Gavin for a lack of preparation in front of all the other participants. A government source characterized Donilon's comments to Gavin as no different than comments he might make to any staffer at any meeting. Besides, this second source said, it wasn't Gavin's responsibility to prepare the document. The source declined to specify exactly who dropped the ball.
The first source also said that Steinberg, upon learning that the prep materials were absent, moved to leave the meeting in protest but was directed to stay by Donilon, which he did.
Steinberg denied that account. "I didn't move to walk out of the meeting," Steinberg told The Cable. "The meeting ran overtime and I had to leave to attend another meeting on a time-urgent subject that was happening at the same time and which I had previewed to Tom [Donilon]."
Posted by Josh Rogin Tuesday, January 19, 2010 - 11:12 AM
Frustrated by their inability to influence Sudan special envoy Scott Gration, Sudan advocacy groups are moving up the food chain, calling out senior Obama administration officials by name in a series of new ads.
The ads, to appear in the Washington Post and Politico starting Tuesday, take aim at officials who will be participating in a National Security Council deputies meeting this week on Sudan. They accompany a new strategy paper being circulated by Sudan advocacy groups calling on the administration to publicly disclose the measures by which it is evaluating progress in Sudan ahead of the coming elections.
"We're just trying to hold their feet to the fire," John Norris, CEO of the Enough project, told The Cable, "It's not an effort to demonize them, but we recognize they are key decision makers."
The ads name Susan Rice's deputy Erica Barks-Ruggles, NSC deputy Tom Donilon, Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg, Treasury Undersecretary Stuart Levy, and Michele Flournoy, undersecretary of defense for policy.
"They are a hugely influential group of public officials that most of the public knows very little about," said Norris. Underlying the push is a feeling among groups that the Sudan issue has been put on the backburner since the administration's policy rollout last October.
A "secret annex" to the Obama administration's new Sudan policy contains all of the details of what incentives and pressures the U.S. is readying to deal with the Sudanese government going forward, but administration officials aren't telling what's in it.
"We will employ calibrated incentives as appropriate and exert real pressure as needed on any party that fails to act to improve the lives of the people of Sudan," U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice told reporters at a Monday briefing set up to introduce the new policy. "There will be no rewards for the status quo, no incentives without concrete and tangible progress. There will be significant consequences for parties that backslide or simply stand still. All parties will be held to account."
The Obama administration is unveiling its new comprehensive policy toward Sudan this morning, their latest example of its worldwide trend of mixing pressure with engagement in a controversial push to increase American influence with the brutal regime in Khartoum.
As Hillary Clinton was holding talks with Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed today in Nairobi, Kenya -- Mogadishu being far too dangerous for a U.S. secretary of state to visit -- Somalia itself stood once again at a violent crossroads.
A loose alliance of hard-line Islamist groups, some with links to al Qaeda, controls most of the countryside and has pushed Somalia's internationally backed, but institutionally feeble, Transitional Federal Government (TFG) out of all but a few enclaves in the capital, Mogadishu (the New York Times reported Thursday that Sheikh Sharif's government controls "no more than a few city blocks").
Continue reading this piece by Enough consultant Ken Menkhaus on ForeignPolicy.com here.
In a new column for Foreign Policy's The Argument, Enough policy experts Colin Thomas-Jensen and Rebecca Feeley challenge a growing trend of thought suggesting that nothing can be done to end violence in the Congo.
From the column:
"This winter, the militaries of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda -- much to our surprise, given their historical antipathy -- joined forces in an offensive against a rebel group based in eastern Congo: the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, or the FDLR. Led by the architects of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, the FDLR has terrorized Congolese civilians for nearly 15 years. The group's presence has also served as a pretext for Rwandan intervention that has frequently worsened an already grim humanitarian situation in eastern Congo."