Our president of the Government of National Unity (GoNU), His Excellency Mohamed Omer Hassen al Bashir is as much a great man as he is much diminished by his own deeds; and therefore deserve to be both honoured and shamed – but hung on!
He is scheduled for Juba, capital of South Sudan, tomorrow on Tuesday January 4th 2011. Our President of the Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS), His Excellency Salvatore Kiir Mayardit, has warmly welcome this particular visit, just five days from the crowning of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), as the first very important visit of 2011.
Kiir has rightly called on South Sudanese to turn out in thousands to welcome Bashir. Why exactly South Sudanese should enthusiastically hail President Bashir is not fully explained or is thought to need no explanation.
However, one would suppose that this is due to Bashir’s recent positive pronouncements about “respecting the choice of the people of South Sudan even if they chose an independent state of their own”. It is not the first time President Bashir has said this but, somehow, he sounded quite sincere and convincing so close to the D Day on January 9, than when he first uttered the magic words of recognition of an independent South Sudan in Yambio in January 2010.
So comes January 4th and Juba airport and the main streets that will carry Bashir’s party and his host are expected to be thronged by thousands of cheering South Sudanese as requested by their President. There will be fresh green branches plucked off Juba bushes to wave in welcome of “the king of peace and freedom!” Some will be calling for his long life and “long reign”, conveniently forgetting that he has already been ruling the Sudan since 1989. Yes, there will be explicit or implicit calls to crown “emperor” or “king Bashir!” How easily we seem to forget at the utterance of simple words of peace and wisdom from this man!
As a compromise, I would suggest that we undress/strip this emperor/king necked first, then crown him if necessary, indeed an application of both honour and justice at the same time to the same man! The concept is hardly original. In fact I borrowed the line from my favourite science fiction, Babylon 5.
In that story, Captain John Sheridan, a man who had fought galactic legends and defeated them, turned his attention to a despotic Earth’s President, Clarke, who, as Vice President to Santiago, had engineered the death of his predecessor and became oppressive to Earth’s citizens as well as Earth’s colonies such as Mars – it is of course all in the future. When Sheridan outmanoeuvred his forces and was certain to lose, he turned Earth’s defences in space on earth itself, setting the nuclear weapons on automatic to “scorch Earth” and all, then shot himself. Sheridan and his forces saved Earth – of course.
But the question facing the new acting president was what to do with now very popular Sheridan, a soldier who, though undoubtedly a hero, had rebelled against his own government. “Half of the government,” the Acting President informed Sheridan in more or less these terms, “would want to have you decorated as a hero and the other half would want to have you court-martialled and shot. I find both rather appealing to be honest: you should be decorated and then shot!”
The point is: we should not rush at crowning Bashir just yet. It was under his watch and directives that millions of South Sudanese perished or were intentionally uprooted from their land to become refugees at home and abroad; thousands of them are now stranded in North Sudan, not because of choice but because that was the nearest border they could run to when attacked; and in the last six years hardly have any land left to return to – since much of their land is still under oil companies and North Sudanese settlers?
Not to put too fine a point on it, President Bashir has often times before backtracked on practically any commitment; the Abyei Border Commission, the judgement of the International Court of Arbitration on same; the lack of Abyei Referendum Commission and the bizarre demand that the annual guests of the Ngok Dinka, the Misyria nomads, be now accorded the right to vote to decide the future of their host, the Ngok Dinka! Quite daring to say the least!
The border between North and South is not yet demarcated in an attempt to grab as much oil land as possible from the South. Referendum is not yet delivered. Even then, we should be cautious and be on the lookout for what it is President Bashir actually wants in return for this belated courtship of the South and our president Kiir. The man is a natural trader, we must remember. What more oil concessions is President Bashir after now? How much of the debt does he want to load on the South? – Money that was used to bomb the South into stone-age!
Further, is President Bashir not preparing ground for the Government of an independent South Sudan to support him in his continued suppression of other marginalised Sudanese like the Nuba Mountains, Southern Blue Nile, the Red Sea and, above all, the continuation of the universally unpopular war in Darfur?
Given that President Bashir has no intention whatsoever in giving Northern Sudanese the liberties they deserve and to choose their leaders in a transparent democracy, is he seeking an alliance of dictators with an independent South Sudanese leaders to continue his oppressive regime?
What of the ICC warrant? Does President Bashir expect an emerging South Sudan he is willing to recognise to pledge itself in advance to his side – or rather to the side of Africa that supports continued impunity and injustices against their own citizens?
South Sudanese leaders simply have to be very careful what promises they give to President Bashir at this critical period. They will not stand the test of time and will sooner than later begin to hound them out of power in the South.
While we must give President Bashir his due respect, we should not give him any false hopes that South Sudan will stand by him come thick or thin for his recognition of an independent South, important as it is. The right thing to do is to promise him honour for his good deeds and, if and when possible, hand him over to The Hague to account for his alleged crimes.
Jacob J Akol is Director/Editor of Gurtong Trust – Peace and Media as well as Chairman of Association for Media Development in South Sudan (AMDISS).