In his born-again African phase following his recent rejection of Arab nationalism as a racist concept - and perhaps mindful also of the possibility of international rehabilitation following his sending of the Lockerbie suspects to trial in the Netherlands - Libyan leader colonel Mu’ammar Qaddafi seems to be joining in the west’s crusade against Sudan. He has recently increased his dealings with Sudan’s enemies, while criticizing Khartoum for being too adamant in its refusal to share power with Sudanese opposition groups. His unwelcome intervention comes at a time when Sudan’s African adversaries are in disarray, and western church and aid groups are campaigning through their governments to internationalize the issue of southern Sudan and put it under the jurisdiction of the UN Security Council. One of the Libyan leader’s first regional initiatives after the suspension of the UN sanctions against Libya early last month was the arrangement of a peace accord between Uganda - which is virtually at war with Khartoum and backs southern Sudanese rebels - and the Congo (formerly Zaire). Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, and Congo’s Laurent Kabila, both beholden to Qaddafi for past favours, might have signed the deal just to please him. But if the two men settle their dispute, and Kabila is able to restrain the Ugandan rebels operating from his country, Sudan will suffer. If Qaddafi is seeking genuine peace in the region, then he should do so at a regional level. By brokering peace accords between individual combatants, he makes the settlement of other conflicts in the region more difficult. For instance, if Museveni is free from pressure on his border with the Congo, he will have less reason to patch up his quarrel with Khartoum. The Brother Leader of the Revolution might also, in pursuit of his declared role as a peace-maker, turn his attention to the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, two countries that were host to armed northern and southern Sudanese opposition groups before turning against each other in a bloody border dispute. The war is a major strategic gain for Khartoum, which is now on friendly terms with Addis Ababa.
He might even be tempted to intervene in the Sudanese conflict, a move that would be out of character. In the past Qaddafi has backed both the Sudanese government and the rebels, switching sides more than once. He exhibited similar erratic behaviour during his involvement in Somalia’s civil war, before President Siyad Barre was finally overthrown in 1992. Ever ready to spend his petrodollars, the Libyan leader has been involved in almost every African civil war at some time. That explains why he is being courted so assiduously by African president and warlords alike, so soon after the lifting of sanctions.
A report in the British weekly, The Economist, describes the stampede to meet Qaddafi thus: “Nine presidents and a stream of officials from other African countries have visited Tripoli since April 5. The chief lure is the Libyan president’s wallet. Those who do not benefit from it fear their enemies might, so they are prepared to do obeisance in the Qaddafi tent.” If the eccentric Colonel intervenes in the Sudanese conflict, it will not be on the side of the Islamic-oriented government of Omar Hasan al-Bashir. For one thing, he has been waging war on the Islamic movement in his own country, triumphantly declaring in March that he had routed it out. He also believes, like neighbouring Egypt’s Husni Mubarak, that it is more effective to fight îterrorists’ regionally, or even better globally. He has also been publicly critical of the Bashir regime but of no opposition groups. During a recent visit to Egypt, Qaddafi told the academics and students of Cairo university that he had been co-operating with president Mubarak in efforts to mediate a peace deal in the Sudanese conflict. “I and Husni Mubarak are working together to solve the crisis and Sudan needs peace not conflict,” he said. “But the fundamental problem in Sudan is that the regime does not want to share power with any group.”
This kind of talk will encourage opposition groups to step up their demands, and is also likely to play into the hands of Christian aid groups, as well as Christian powers keen to break up Sudan and detach the southern regions. As Qaddafi was speaking at Cairo University, Anglican and Catholic leaders in Britain wrote a joint letter to the British foreign secretary Robin Cook asking him to raise the issue of southern Sudan at the UN security council and to secure a resolution imposing peace on the basis of a referendum. The archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, and the archbishop of Westminster, Basil Hume, told Cook that they were writing to support the request made by the Sudanese church leaders in their February 17 letter to him. They added that urgent action was needed because all mediation efforts to resolve the crisis had failed.
Anglican and Catholic leaders rarely agree fully on a joint course of action. But it is not surprising that they should find common ground over southern Sudan. Western churches and groups have been campaigning for many years to turn the region into a Christian country, even though Christians are a minority compared to Muslims and animists.
The Archbishops’ intervention comes after the most active Christian group in the region, the Swiss-based Christian Solidarity International (CIS), was accused by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on February 5 of promoting slavery and generating funds for arms in southern Sudan. The group had been trying to implicate Khartoum in slavery, claiming that it had bought back many of the children sold. With CIS discredited, the churches themselves seem to be taking up its battle against Sudan.
Muslimedia: May 1-15, 1999