Lecture by Prof. James Femi Kolapo, Department of History, University of Guelph, Canada at the 10th Professor Wole Soyinka Lecture held at Council Chambers, North York Civic Centre, Toronto, Canada on 14th July, 2007.
I chose this topic because of a number of reasons. Obviously there are various levels of responsibility and culpability for what is happening in Darfur. We all know that it is not just the government of Sudan that is involved in the conflict as it takes two to tango. There are a number of important actors. The international community has attempted to make us understand the need to come together and engage in peace talks regarding the situation on the ground and make sure that the internally displaced people are secure, so that humanitarian activities could be carried on without bottlenecks.
However today I want us to focus on two important actors that I think that people should try to engage much more powerfully. The two are the Government of China and the other is broadly speaking the Arab league and the OIC. Though they are not the main actors their action and or inaction are able to dramatically influence what is happening on the ground. Because of the significance of the positions between these actors and the government of Sudan, it is possible if we are able to device a much more effective way to dialogue with them, and have them listen to the general concerns of the humanitarian organizations and the various bodies that have gone to the Sudan and Darfur and have come up with reports indicating that what is happening on the ground just has to stop. We need to put more pressure on these two actors and the reason is very clear.
However for the Chinese it is important to reiterate what most people have said. First and foremost it looks as if China happens to be the most important country right now that deals economically with the Sudan. In Africa it is said Sudan is the 3rd largest trading partner of China. Chinese investments in the Sudan is quite steaming and in terms of military alliances, diplomatic relationships China is the most important supporter of the Sudan whether you talk about the United Nations or at multilateral level. This is followed of course by countries of the Arab league including countries in North Africa. If you look at some of the discussions going on, the tendency is to criticize the government and fairly too; to criticize the Chinese given the fact that they have tremendous leverage that they could draw on to influence the Sudan. Everybody except the Chinese believes that they have not done that as well. The Arab League is also in this category.
People have raised their voices including those here in Canada. I remember that sometime last year there was a demonstration in downtown Toronto organized by some Darfur people here. One of the points they raised was the general quietness or inaction that has generally been demonstrated by the countries of the Arab League. The fact that not only are the Arab League nations able, if they wish to exert a lot of pressure on the Sudan but that they have the finances that would compete effectively with the European Union in terms of helping the African Union or the UN mission and the hybrid force that has been in the pipeline for about a year now. But up to date not very much has been done by the Arab League. I understand that the Arab League in November last year did pledge US$250 million but as at yesterday they had paid up only about US$15 Million just about 10%. In terms of contribution to the UN force and AU mission, it is less than 50 from members of the Arab League even from North Africa contributing over the past one year, which is a little bit disconcerting. I think that those two particular actors need to be engaged much more dynamically and perhaps much more innovatively. For one China has been very sensitive to anything that seems to challenge its independence particularly since the end of the Cold War; and of course it does seem that China has been trying to assert its increasing ability to influence things in the world.
However their idea of not intervening, not influencing other countries they deal with either way and in terms of Darfur and particularly what is happening in conflict areas in Africa is not very helpful. It is much appreciated that China wants to show the world that it is not imperialistic. Of course there is a lot of argument as to the kind of relationship that exists between China and a number of African countries that they engage with, whether it is turning out to be imperialistic or not but that is beside the point right now. The point now is that for Darfur, China has the ability to influence the government of the Sudan, because in terms of export it is the biggest importer of Sudanese export. I have seen figures ranging from 70 – 80 % of the total export of Sudan going to China and about 20 – 25 % of imports by Sudan coming from China. In terms of military alliances the Chinese have been the most stable, important and significant supporter of the Sudan. Today Sudan is able to manufacture medium sized arms. I was reading through a document produced by the International Crisis Group and there was a list of capabilities the Sudanese government has developed as a result of the influence and participation of the Chinese in the Sudanese arms industry.
Now they are able to produce tanks and not only that, they also import fighter jets from China. The unfortunate part of this is that many groups that have gone to the Darfur region to investigate the humanitarian conditions there and have come back announcing the deterioration of the situation have been able to cite instances where they saw many of these equipment that were imported from China being used by the government and the militia, many of the militias that were aligned with the government all of which has contributed to worsening the situation. Unfortunately despite the fact that the Darfur peace agreement has been signed and that Negotiation 1706 which the United Nations came up with for about a year now, to introduce a much more robust intervention at least in support of the displaced people, the latest report actually has indicated that the humanitarian situation in Darfur has been worse than it was a year ago. Part of the reason is because the Sudanese government which is the principal element in the crisis has been able to bluff the international community and there is no hiding that, excepting for the Arab league and China every other investigation team that has gone to Darfur, including the human rights council has come back with the verdict that the government of Sudan holds the greatest responsibility. If they have been recalcitrant in listening to the voice of the international community it has to be because of the fact that they have support, mainly that of the Chinese. This is not only because China is a major importer of Sudanese oil, but the Security Council has made it clear that China has blocked every attempt to impose wider sanctions on the Sudanese government as well as the Arab League. As a matter of fact the Arab League countries led by Qatar which represents the Arab League in the Security Council at the time the resolution 1706 was taken, these countries have strayed from that resolution and this has continued till date.
During the last meeting of the African Union General Assembly in Ghana, which General Al Bashir did not attend but did make a statement via teleconference he reiterated all he had being saying for a long time, that the intervention of the AU, UN force is not a hybrid operation. They tried of course to distinguish between hybrid operations from a hybrid force. Sudan is opposed to having an AU/UN hybrid force; they keep saying it is simply neo-colonialist. This is a little bit unfortunate because in Southern Sudan you have the UN and the government of Sudan has continued to welcome the UN force there because they contribute to maintain the peace in particular, because a disruption of peace would affect its oil interests. There is no logical reason why what is good for the southern Sudan should not be good for Darfur. Here again the Chinese government can be pressured and encouraged to also encourage Sudan to listen more closely to what the international community is saying, to ensure that humanitarian access is made available, to ensure that INGOs are no longer harassed and to refrain from offensives that keep dragging the peace process.
On the Arab League, I think that the influence they can have over Sudan is equally very significant and if the Arab League is engaged as a partner that could positively influence Sudan rather than their being criticized it might be possible for them to also increase their leverage in Darfur. It is clear of course that the Arab world is one of the most mobilized places, where you have spontaneous demonstrations in such places as Iraq, Palestine, and Kosovo etc. But since the Darfur crisis began a lot of people have noticed that there has been no visible demonstration in that region, this is because the leadership of the peoples in the Arab countries such as the Imams, religious scholars have not publicly come out to condemn what is going on ferverently enough and to consider what is happening in the Darfur as drastic and horrendous as what is going on in Iraq.
In these places the people are easily mobilized to condemn whoever is considered the culprit. The government of the Sudan should also be brought to book and there is no reason why it should be difficult to condemn the government of the Sudan or tell them it is necessary to listen to the voice of the international community and ensure that there are no obstacles placed on the path to seeking lasting peace. Thank you.