Colonel Mu’ammar Qaddafi, Brother Leader of the Revolution in Libya, arrived in Khartoum on July 17 for two days of talks with president Omar Hassan al-Bashir in connection with the peace proposals sponsored jointly by his country and Egypt. He arrived shortly after playing a starring role at the African unity summit in the Zambian capital, Lusaka, and just one day after talks in Kampala, the Ugandan capital, with John Garang, leader of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), and president Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, who supports the southern Christian rebels (who are funded by the US to the tune of $10 million). In Khartoum, he also met Ali Osman Muhammad Taha, the first vice-president of Sudan, and Southern leaders led by second vice-president Moses Mashar, ostensibly to discuss practical ways to push the Egyptian-Libyan peace proposals forward.
In fact, he gave the impression that his object was to sabotage the peace initiative, not to work for its early implementation, as urged by both the government and opposition groups on the day he arrived. He launched a virulent attack on the government and northern opposition groups for their ‘Islamic slogans’ and ‘hostile policies’ towards southerners, providing with ammunition those who accuse the ‘Muslim-dominated government’ of killing “Christians or those who would not convert to Islam” (in the recent words of US president George W. Bush). He also proposed a “mini African summit” to be part of the peace process, a proposal which could delay the implementation of the peace initiative that his country co-sponsors, and strengthen the hand of those aiming to deny Islam any role in public affairs.
Qaddafi made his attack after receiving an honorary doctorate from Juba University at a ceremony held in Khartoum on July 18. “Provocative slogans like Jihad and opening up the south should have no place in today’s Sudan, since Sudan belongs to all — Muslims and non-Muslims alike,” he said. “And attempts at exacting obedience [from Southerners] are unacceptable, as only peace is acceptable.”
In an apparent explanation of “the attempts at exacting obedience,” the Libyan leader warned that neither the Arabic language nor Islam could be imposed on the South by force. “If you want to introduce the Arabic language into the South, I say to you, on behalf of Garang, go but you won’t be able to do so by force,” he said. “And if you want to introduce Islam by force you won’t succeed, since teaching Islam and the Arabic language cannot be accomplished by sending in tanks and warplanes.”
Qaddafi appeared unaware of the irony of his words, coming from a dictator who uses all the means available to the state, including military force, to crush the Islamic movement in his own country. In fact, it is his antipathy towards Islam that has placed him in the ridiculous position of blaming the wrong party for the failure of every attempt to end a war that is being stoked by an alliance of church groups, western and African governments, and southern adventurers. His posturing as a champion of Pan-Africanism in recent years (since the abandonment of his Arab unity dream) and his misguided ambition to emerge as the African continent’s main leader also play a role in his decision to side against Arabic-speaking Muslim northerners.
It is true that Qaddafi made a half-hearted attempt to apportion blame for the failure to end the war. For instance, hesaid at the Juba University ceremony that Garang “cleverly exploited” the government’s anti-southern and pro-Islamic rhetoric to secure the backing of “Black Africa, Europe, the US and the Council of Churches”. He also warned Garang that his insistence on fighting on would put him in a difficult position because southerners “will opt for peace”. He even said that if the south secedes it will not achieve peace or unity because it is populated by “sundry tribes at odds with each other”.
But the colonel also presented Garang as a leader committed to the territorial integrity of the country who would accept any secular constitution. He quoted Garang as saying that he would “accept an interim government at any time, attend a constitutional conference to be held anywhere any time, accept any constitution not based on religion, and consider anything guaranteeing Sudanese unity as sacred.” Qaddafi also confirmed that Garang did consider war as a valid instrument of policy.
Northern opposition politicians did not receive similar support from a mediator who is supposed to be even-handed and fair. He said that they were merely interested in achieving power, which explained why they had been fighting Garang when they were in office but joined him as allies after losing power. He also accused them of ditching the Addis Ababa accord (1972), “destroying the confidence of southerners in the possibility of concluding another agreement.”
Equally controversial is Qaddafi’s proposal of “a mini African summit”. He said that he had asked African heads of State at Lusaka to participate, and that they had agreed on condition that religion was kept out of any constitution to be agreed. The colonel did not specify whether the proposed mini-summit would replace the Egyptian-Libyan initiative or complement it. The African leaders in question are thought to be Kenya’s Daniel Arap Moi, Uganda’s Museveni and Obasanjo of Nigeria, a ‘born-again’ Christian. All three, like Qaddafi, are opposed to any active role for Islam in Sudanese public life and have long been instruments of US policy in Africa.
President Husni Mubarak of Egypt, who is party to the joint peace initiative, was busy locking up Ikhwan al-Muslimeen activists in Egypt while Qaddafi was busy derailing it, and so is not likely to be exercised about efforts designed to impose a secular constitution on his southern neighbour. But as he is committed to Sudan’s territorial integrity in order to protect the River Nile, Egypt’s lifeline, he would be well advised to intervene before the volatile Brother Leader irretrievably destroys it.