Fresh drums of war can today be heard from Juba and Khartoum across the Nile through Lokichogio all the way to neighboring East African capitals. Just the other day, top South Sudan officials were in Nairobi pleading with Kenyan authorities to intervene and avert the imminent humanitarian crisis.
As they consulted with top Kenyan officials, there were reports of Khartoum bombs dropping in selected regions of South Sudan even as Omar El Bashir kept on denying the new provocations. And with these air raids, refugees from the South started flocking at Kenyan border points for the next round of displacement and life of misery in refugee camps along the Kenyan and Ugandan borders.
The gravity of the situation forced Sudan’s fugitive president, Omar El Bashir to cancel his peace talks with President Salva Kiir that was to take place in Juba. Now the same talks have to be held in Addis Ababa, considered a neutral ground for the two warring parties.
At the heart of this hostility is the dispute over oil fields based in South Sudan that for years boosted the rest of Sudan’s economy. Now that the GOSS government has switched off oil taps and discontinued transporting its oil through the North, the Khartoum regime is in a rage.
This belligerent behavior of the Northern Sudan should not surprise any right thinking person in our region. This is the regime that used modern weaponry to bomb helpless villagers in South Sudan for over two decades. It is the same regime that sponsored Joseph Kony’s murderous militias for years to destabilize both Northern Uganda and perpetuate the war in South Sudan. As if that was not enough, the same regime opened another front for the massacre of its citizens in the Darfur province, at times using the Jangaweed militias as its proxies.
Because of the extermination of Darfurians on account of their skin colour, the same President Omar El Bashir is now facing criminal charges at the international Criminal Court in The Hague.
And he is not facing common criminal charges; he is accused of the worst crimes any individual can ever be charged with on earth- that of genocide and crimes against humanity.
We in East Africa have every reason to be weary of the Khartoum regime’s antics under Omar El Bashir. Being a war monger and an international fugitive, Bashir will have no problems causing havoc and destabilizing the region. Like Joseph Kony, his fellow fugitive and the once comrade in arms in causing chaos and misery in Northern Uganda and South Sudan, Bashir will just be too happy to have a chaotic situation in both Sudans such that handing him over to The Hague will prove difficult.
This brings me back to the role of the AU in all this mess. Had the AU seen sense and stopped shielding Bashir from the ICC prosecutions we would today not be entertaining a common criminal as Sudan’s president. Had there been a good regime change before Garang died, I don’t think the South would have clamored for separation. In fact John Garang had fought for a just, free, democratic and united Sudan. The more reason he agreed to be sworn in as Sudan’s first Vice President upon signing the Peace Accord in Nairobi in the last decade.
The East African states must do all they can to stop Khartoum from intimidating and molesting South Sudan. The southerners made their choice to divorce from an unfair regime that had exploited and suppressed them for more than a century on account of their colour and religion. Now that they have established their independent state recognized by the AU, UN and the rest of the world; it is only fair that they are allowed to determine their destiny without being harassed for their God given natural resource- oil.
If you have visited South Sudan in the last few years as I have done on several ocassions, you will notice that the young state is still far from developed. The few structures that were left by the British at independence have been bombed to Stone Age era by two decades of war with Khartoum. In fact as I write this column, Juba the capital city still enjoys the dubious title of being the largest grass thatched city in the world. In other words, entertaining another war with the North will only make things worse for the already sorry GOSS state.
If East Africa in keen on averting another humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa, if the EAC, IGAD and the International Conference of Great Lakes Region are to be taken seriously; this is the time to say enough is enough to crimes against humanity and stop Bashir from re-escalating the Sudanese humanitarian tragedy into the region.
If need be, peace loving countries in the region should apply economic and political sanctions against Khartoum so that Bashir realizes he cannot be condoned forever. Our heads of state must bite the bullet and deal with a rogue elephant in the house.