SUDAN’S PRESIDENT OMAR el-Bashir has been indicted on genocide and war crimes in Darfur by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
In Southern Sudan, which endured the brunt of a 21-year war against the oppressive rule by of the Khartoum-based northerners, The Nation's correspondent reports that the beer all but ran out after news broke that the ICC had issued warrants for el-Bashir’s arrest.
In the north, there were angry protests against the ICC. Africa, as usual, was divided, with some voices alleging the warrants had endangered the chances of a negotiated settlement to end the Darfur slaughter.
El-Bashir becomes the second African strongman to be indicted while in office, after Liberia’s warlord Charles Taylor. Ordinary folks in Sudan have endured hell for too long. In the rebellion in the south, it’s estimated that 2.5 million people were killed. Another 4 to 6 million were displaced.
In Darfur, over 200,000 have reportedly been killed, while about 2 million have been displaced or fled to Chad. The government-backed Janjaweed militia has carried out most of the mayhem, and it seems when they get tired and take leave, the state army takes over.
Journalists who have covered wars in Sudan say there is something “sinister” in its land. Some years ago, when I was still editing Uganda’s independent daily, The Monitor, there were two groups roaming the bushes and forests of southern Sudan, fighting the government of President Yoweri Museveni. The spectacularly brutal Lord’s Resistance Army led by Joseph Kony was, and remains, the best known.
But there was a second, the West Nile Bank Front (WNBF), led mostly by officers from dictator Idi Amin’s army.
The WNBF reached the height of its activities in 1998, the year when Museveni mobilised the largest effort to defeat it. It should be remember that the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) supported the Sudan People’s Liberation Army rebels partly because the SPLA helped Kampala to contain the activities of groups like the LRA and WNBF.
It was not long before the WNBF was cornered. A large force had camped at a remote place on the Uganda/Sudan border, and it seems it became too comfortable and complacent. One day at dawn, the UPDF moved in on the encampment from the south, east and west. And the SPLA from the north.
It was a long and bloody fight, and when the guns fell silent, nearly everyone and everything in the WNBF camp – including children, women, and goats – were dead. The Monitor had a hard-nosed reporter in the area at the time, and he was to estimate that about 2,000 people were killed. Yet, that wasn’t what shocked him.
IN A CORNER OF A FOREST NEAR THE camp, he came upon a heap of bodies piled high. It had been a couple of days since the attack on the rebel camp, but in the dense greenness of the Southern Sudanese jungle, the reporter was puzzled that the bodies had barely decomposed.
There were no vultures circling nearby to pick at the corpses, and when he moved closer, he noticed that there even weren’t any flies hovering around.
He got so unnerved that he fled. Later, he was to declare that the “devil lives in the bushes of Sudan”.
Perhaps, with the ICC’s indictment of el-Bashir, the devil might finally be put to flight. But because the Khartoum government has been singular in its complicity and/or direct involvement in the killings of, especially southern and non-Arab populations, it is very different from many of the governments in the region that have human rights problems at home.
Forgive us that Khartoum’s ferocity takes our minds back more than 350 years to that famous 1729 satirical essay, A Modest Proposal, by Jonathan Swift. The full title of the essay, as the literature buffs will know, is A Modest Proposal: For Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland from Being a Burden to Their Parents or Country, and for Making them Beneficial to the Public.
Centuries later, Swift’s suggestion that the Irish (indeed societies everywhere) might ease their troubles by selling children from poor families as food for rich gentlemen and ladies, is still shocking in a very fresh sort of way.
As a satirist, Swift was not actually proposing cannibalism. He used the idea as a literary device to drive home his anger that so many people had to endure poverty while a few lived in sinful opulence.
His argument is still valid. Human beings are the only intelligent creatures roaming our planet that we know of, that kill other animals for all sorts of reasons – recreation, petty revenge, and so on – except to eat them.
In the Swiftian spirit, perhaps it would be “understandable” if people like el-Bashir, Taylor, and Central African Republic’s former ruler, the self-styled Emperor Jean-Bedel Bokassa, and their cronies ate the people killed by their soldiers and militias. They could claim that they were hungry.
Until that time, we need the ICC indictments to remind us of the immorality and criminality of what’s happening in places like Darfur.
Originally posted in http://www.nation.co.ke