On a hot evening in March, with the temperature still over 100 degrees, I met a veteran journalist named Jacob Akol in South Sudan’s capital, Juba. South Sudan is the newest nation in the world, and it shows: Juba is expanding so quickly that it basically reinvents itself every month. Hotels and offices are constructed out of used shipping containers.
The residents of Abyei, the largest town of the contested border region between north and south Sudan, have deserted their homes in search of safety after the northern government took the town by force this weekend. The seizure of the town follows an ambush by a southern group on a convoy of northern forces who were withdrawing from the town under U.N. escort. According to U.N. deputy spokesperson Hua Jiang, 15 Sudanese army tanks rolled into the town on Saturday evening. Heavy shelling ensued, and a mortar was fired on the U.N. compound in the area, wounding two peacekeepers.
In January, southern Sudan held a historic self-determination referendum. Final results, announced this Monday, show that 98.83 percent of voters cast their ballots in favor of the region becoming independent, and Sudan’s president, Omar Al Bashir, is making all the right noises to suggest he is willing to let one-third of his territory go peacefully. The Obama administration, which played a major role in supporting the referendum and getting Khartoum to accept it, rightly sees this as an enormous achievement.
Abyei, Sudan—On October 19, Bulbul Deng was detained at a government checkpoint as he traveled by bus back from a medical appointment in Khartoum to his home in Abyei, a region situated in the heart of Sudan. At the checkpoint, Deng says the men onboard were forced to lie face-down on the ground, while the Sudanese government soldiers, carrying wooden sticks and AK-47s, asked who among them had fought against the government in violence that destroyed part of Abyei in 2008.
If you've been following developments in Darfur, then you know the situation is dire. Last month, the U.N. reported that fighting between the Sudanese army and an obscure rebel faction rendered the Jebel Marra region in southern Darfur inaccessible to humanitarian aid, cutting off some 100,000 Darfuris who had relied on aid agencies for food, water, and medical care.
President Obama gave a pretty good speech when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize. Maybe it was a little too eloquent. I don’t much like soaring rhetoric; I know there are times to soar, but Obama does it, or tries to do it, every time. Plain speech is also useful, and there was some plain speech in Norway—particularly the reiterated insistence, directed, I think, to our European friends, that sometimes making war is the only way to a just peace.
In late February 2004, Janjaweed militias and Sudanese government forces waged a three-day, coordinated assault on Tawila, a village in northern Darfur. Government aircrafts destroyed buildings, while the Janjaweed broke into a girls’ boarding school, forced the students to strip naked at gunpoint, and then gang-raped and abducted many of them. Video footage shows fly-covered corpses strewn among the village's smoldering ruins.
In an editorial, TNR calls on Barack Obama to fire his Sudan envoy, Scott Gration: Scott Gration is an embarrassment. As Barack Obama's special envoy to Sudan, Gration has a dual mission: to help win justice and peace for the nearly three million Darfuris who currently live in camps after being subjected to genocide by Sudan's government; and to prevent that same odious government from initiating another slaughter in southern Sudan, where a 2005 peace agreement is looking more tenuous by the day. How is he doing?
Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics, and the War on Terror By Mahmood Mamdani (Pantheon, 398 pp., $26.95) The Responsibility to Protect: Ending Mass Atrocity Crimes Once and For All By Gareth Evans (Brookings, 349 pp., $24.95) I. IN THE SUMMER OF 2007, Mahmood Mamdani found himself at a meeting of activists and politicians, listening to sentiments that had by then become quite common among a certain class of politically active Americans. The speakers were calling on the United Nations to send peacekeepers to Darfur.