Western media coverage and our corresponding foreign policy is only ever as good as our last engagement. Just as success in Sierra Leone bred the hubris which lead to disaster in Iraq, the Black Hawk Down scenario in Somalia meant that when genocide contorted Rwanda, the West sat by and watched. Now, the Sudanese people are being punished for the mistakes that we made in Libya and Egypt during the Arab Spring. Whilst protesters are murdered and raped by the same security forces responsible for serial war crimes in Darfur, Western media fusses about Donald Trump meeting the Queen, and a war that happened seventy-five years ago. This tendency to tar a contemporary problem with a previous engagement is particularly acute in Africa. The failures of Western foreign policy, or media prediction in one region, are often extrapolated to the entire landmass, as though Africa were a country, and not a continent fifteen times bigger than Greenland, though few maps will show you that. What is happening is clear to see. Among the British and American commentariat, there is a sense that the crystal ball has broken down. Brexit, Trump, and the blind celebration of the Arab Spring have resulted in bruised egos, and an unwillingness to discuss Sudan, and indeed Algeria. This is no less true for the Foreign Office, which is clearly scared of involving themselves in what many perceive to be an encore for the Arab Spring.
Brexit, Trump, and the blind celebration of the Arab Spring have resulted in bruised egos, and an unwillingness to discuss Sudan, and indeed Algeria.
Yet the revolution in Sudan is profoundly different from those in Egypt and Libya. To lump it in with them is cowardice masquerading as ignorance. Having burnt our fingers once again in Africa, the entire continent is to be punished. Though Mubarak was a tyrant and ran Egypt into the ground through decades of neoliberal gangsterism, he was far more secular than most of the Egyptian opposition. Though Gadhafi was conservative, his fundamentalism was pallid when compared with the forces now ascendant in Libya. The Arab Spring may have been fueled by areligious grievances; unemployment, repression and the price of fuel, but the organs of opposition in many of the countries were hardline religious groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and worse. If we in the West are concerned about supporting the Sudanese opposition because it might seethe into a jihadi groundswell, then we are once again extrapolating events in one part of Africa, and projecting them onto another. The Bashir regime in Sudan was built on a bedrock of hardline Islamism. As is always the way with violent religious dogmatism, women were the primary victim. Interesting scholarship exists on the place of women during the Arab Spring, and women like Tawakkul Kaman in Yemen played significant roles in the popular uprisings. Yet women have been at the heart, and indeed every other organ of the Sudanese revolution. Whilst men have been able to leave the country to seek opportunities, it is often women who have had to remain; maintaining a family, and enduring the strict dress codes and brutal reprimands. It is, then, perhaps quite natural that women have been instrumental in instigating civil action throughout Sudanese society. It is certainly no harbinger of dormant extremism.
A dereliction of duty, and an attempt to avoid reminding us of the mistakes made during the Arab Spring
As with any moment of political rupture, there are extremist elements within the Sudanese opposition. Yet these are dwarfed by the general craving for greater liberty and a less draconian brand of religious governance. This is in stark contrast with the expressly fundamentalist views of much of the Libyan, Egyptian and Syrian opposition. The commitment to nonviolence is also striking, though how long this can last in the face of the regime’s thuggish paramilitaries remains to be seen. As mutilated bodies are recovered from the Nile, videos and stories that would have made headlines had they happened in Egypt, Libya and Syria do not even make the BBC News homepage. This is a dereliction of duty, and an attempt to avoid reminding us of the mistakes made during the Arab Spring. The UN, Security Council and NATO are behaving equally evasively. When the African Union – more a gentlemen’s club than an international organization for peace – has taken a firmer stance than the United Nations, the situation is dire indeed. It should be noted that the Sudanese regime retains the support of Egypt and other Arab League members. Rather than cowering in guilt after a blunder, Western governments ought to be able to appraise what went wrong and ensure that it does not happen the next time it is necessary to act. Instead, Western foreign policy swings erratically from gung-ho to guilty inaction based on the previous battle won or lost. Our refusal to engage the Sudanese regime with genuine intent, and our failure to support the Sudanese people in their struggle against it, makes the likelihood that we are forced to act to avert a humanitarian catastrophe, without adequate planning in place, all the more likely. What the regime believes it can get away with, it will. Without the plausible threat of an overwhelming international response, the Sudanese military and its paramilitaries will continue their campaign of murder, torture and sexual violence against the Sudanese people.
Western foreign policy swings erratically from gung-ho to guilty inaction based on the previous battle won or lost.
Britain has always had a double standard when it comes to Africa. During the Second World War, (the biggest news story of the past few days), Nazi prisoners of war were subject to the Geneva Convention. During the 1960s however, British forces regularly tortured Mai Mai rebels in Kenya. These were indigenous people fighting for freedom. The Nazis, were the Nazis. This double standard; where suffering somehow matters a little less if it happens in Africa, is once again on show. The media has a duty to report on the horrifying violence being perpetrated against the Sudanese people. In turn, we the people have a duty to stand in solidarity with Sudan, and exercise our rights as citizens of a democracy to put pressure on our elected officials, and demand action to prevent an even greater massacre. Let it not be said that the West stood by and watched again.