Strange Bedfellows In Khartoum
Khartoum hosted the fourth conference of the Committee for Intelligence and Security Systems in Africa (CISSA), which operates under the African Union (AU) umbrella. At least 46 African agencies were present, plus nearly all the main western intelligence agencies. The senior CIA and British Secret Service representatives were naturally wary of publicity: Sudan is, according to Washington, still listed as a state sponsor of terrorism. Khartoum has bent over backwards to provide intelligence to the west, especially on al-Qaeda's penetration of north Africa.
Africa News Update
Washington continues to face a contradiction in dealing with Sudan.
The US administration is genuinely concerned about the Darfur tragedy,
but it also needs Khartoum's support in the long war against al-Qaeda.
Hence the high-level CIA presence at a somewhat surreal intelligence
summit earlier this month in the Sudanese capital.
Khartoum was the venue for a week-long conference of all the heads of
African intelligence agencies, to which - bizarrely - a small number of
journalists was invited. In the same week that Washington tightened the
sanctions screw, Khartoum wanted to underscore that it had the support
of its brothers on the continent. It was also intended to show that
Africa could set its own intelligence agenda, sidestepping the flawed
policies of US President George Bush.
Khartoum hosted the fourth conference of the Committee for Intelligence
and Security Systems in Africa (CISSA), which operates under the
African Union (AU) umbrella. At least 46 African agencies were present,
plus nearly all the main western intelligence agencies. The senior CIA
and British Secret Service representatives were naturally wary of
publicity: Sudan is, according to Washington, still listed as a state
sponsor of terrorism.
As it happens, Khartoum has bent over backwards to provide intelligence
to the west, especially on al-Qaeda's penetration of north Africa. In
addition, it was reported that Khartoum is providing intelligence on
jihadist operations in Iraq.
CIA attendance was a public statement in itself. Top western spooks
mingled fraternally with their opposite numbers in Sudan's National
Security and Intelligence Service (NISS). Its chief, Salah Al-Din
Abdulla Mohamed, was in good spirits, back-slapping his western
counterparts and even dancing on stage, while a band entertained the
visitors at the imposing new intelligence headquarters in Khartoum.
In the past year, the Pentagon has beefed up its new US Africa Command
with an investment of $50m. So far this is big on geography, but light
on troops, for a structure that will eventually cover nearly all of
Africa. US military and intelligence experts know that they have to
recover from the Somalia syndrome and concentrate on the Mahgreb and
sub-Saharan Africa, which are perceived as a growing front in the war
on al-Qaeda. Recent Islamic terrorist attacks in Algeria, Morocco and
northern Nigeria, as well as Islamic extremist resurgence in Somalia
following the invasion by Ethiopia, added extra urgency to the summit.
Some of the sentimental "suits" in the US administration may shed real
tears for the Darfurians, but the hard-nosed warriors know that Sudan
is a vital element in regional security. Hence the paradox of
Washington imposing sanctions in the same week that it sends a top
intelligence delegation to Khartoum.
Sudan's leader, President Omar Al-Bashir, has long resisted United
Nations (UN) demands for blue-hatted peacekeepers to enter Darfur. A UN
military intervention without Khartoum's permission would be
seen as an invasion, and could prompt a jihad to match Iraq and Afghanistan.
A few days after the conference, Al-Bashir reaffirmed his compromise
position to allow UN troops to augment the current ill-performing AU
force of 7000 troops and police.
Darfur was a major issue for the CISSA delegates, who were invited on a
whistle-stop visit to El-Fashir, the capital of North Darfur. The
governor of North Darfur state, Osman Khibir, told the visitors that
there "could be no winning in this war". A political settlement was
Peacekeepers cannot keep a peace that does not exist. Even if all US
troops in Iraq were suddenly transplanted to Darfur, they would not be
able to police a region the size of France. What is required is neither
troops nor sanctions, but energetic western political engagement with
the rebels, and Khartoum, and those African states backing the
Darfur is an international tragedy in what is perhaps the first
environmental war of the 21st century. After a peace deal comes the
hard part: resolving the fundamental causes, the lack of water and
arable land caused by the desertification of the region.Â
As the south of Sudan rebuilds after its 50 years of war, and as Darfur
struggles to provide the basics of life, is this a good time to impose
further sanctions on a country that desperately needs to develop its
The US has strict economic sanctions on Sudan. The UN has imposed an
arms embargo, which prevents weapons being used in Darfur. But China
and Russian still sell arms to Khartoum, which technically are not for
use in the western war.
While the intelligence conference was going on, in SA, Archbishop
Desmond Tutu called for more sanctions against Sudan to replicate the
antiapartheid embargoes. "Especially when they are targeted, sanctions
are effective," he said.
At the same time, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued its
first warrants for suspects accused of war crimes in Darfur. The ICC
wanted to extradite two middle-ranking Sudanese to The Hague. But is
this helpful? The ICC's Eurocentric legal approach has retarded the
peace process in Uganda by demanding extradition of the leaders of the
Lord's Resistance Army, instead of allowing local reconciliation
methods to work. Isn't the Truth and Reconciliation process, SA's
model, a better route?
Likewise, the west is calling for more pressure on Robert Mugabe, as
Zimbabwe totters on the edge of total implosion. Zimbabwe's Central
Intelligence Organization (CIO) was active at the Khartoum conference,
allying with Khartoum's charge that western pressure is all about
It is true that the west wants to topple Mugabe and, until the enhanced
intelligence co-operation, also wanted to get rid of Bashir. But many
of the delegates at the conference completely bought the imperialist
conspiracy line, without looking at the many internal factors undermining African countries.
While the delegates talked about co-operating to fight against the
threats of external terrorism, most of the agencies need first to put
their own houses in order. Zimbabwe's CIO, for example, is far too busy
bashing the heads of its own citizens and spying on Zimbabwean
dissidents in SA to worry about much else.
Sudan's NISS does have real wars to fight, and not just in the west, in
Darfur. Peace deals in the east and south have to be policed.
And its external role in monitoring al-Qaeda has been increasingly
praised, albeit discreetly, by Washington. The NISS put on quite a show
in Khartoum â€“ playing both to the African and western galleries. The
Sudanese government knows that a tsunami of Islamic extremism threatens
the region, and so Washington has to back-pedal on condemnation of
Khartoum's policy in Darfur.
Moreover, US and European Union isolation has allowed in a flood of
competitors in a vital energy market. Khartoum has boomed, despite
sanctions: all part of the oil bonanza and an 11% growth rate, the
highest in Africa. China buys perhaps 64% of the oil from Sudan, now
the third-largest producer in Africa. Much of it is paid in barter
agreements - oil for weapons.
This has created a recent squeeze in government funding, already
strained by reconstruction deals with the government of southern Sudan.
Nevertheless, Khartoum has modernized dramatically in the past decade,
and it is still probably the safest city in Africa. Islamic austerity
and discipline inspire a very low crime rate, especially against
foreigners. Sudanese are famous for their hospitality, though the
conference delegates trooped off to the refurbished airport moaning
about the heat and the lack of alcoholic refreshments.
For once, hacks and spooks were in agreement.
Professor Moorcraft is the director of the Centre for Foreign Policy
Analysis, London, and visiting professor at Cardiff University's School
of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies.Â Â Â (www.BUSINESSDAY.CO.ZA)
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