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January 15, 2009

Reporting on Sudan: a master class

Me: Hello Mr [senior government figure]. I've heard you've been arrested...Although I suppose the fact that you've just answered your mobile phone suggests that you haven't been arrested... Is that right?

Senior government figure: Yes.

Posted by aheavens at 8:59 AM

January 13, 2009

Sudan skeletons

Reuters didn't want this story yesterday. So here, in an exclusive Meskel Square production, is:

Centuries-old skeletons found at UK's Sudan embassy

By Andrew Heavens

KHARTOUM, Jan 12 (Meskel Square) - Builders uncovered fragments of three, centuries-old skeletons buried deep in the grounds of Britain's embassy in Sudan, officials said on Monday.
The contractors discovered the small pieces of skull and other bones while digging in the central Khartoum compound on Sunday, embassy spokesman Piers Craven told Reuters.
Police called in to investigate found the remains were up to 300-years-old, meaning they pre-dated the foundation of Khartoum as a major settlement in the early nineteenth century, he said.
"It is something of archaeological interest rather than anything more recent or more sinister," said Craven adding officers had not been able to work out the gender of the bodies or their age when they died.
Historians say humans have lived for thousands of years at the site of Sudan's capital at the meeting of the Blue and White Niles.
But it was little more than a fishing village until the 1820s when a Turkish-Egyptian expedition set up an outpost on the spot.
Embassy staff passed on the bones to the Sudanese police who were making arrangements for a re-burial, Craven added.

Posted by aheavens at 6:34 AM

January 11, 2009

If you thought you had problems ...

... here's a rough list of the issues facing Sudan in 2009 that I put together for a feature I was writing . No doubt many are missing. Feel free to add more in the comments section.

The wildcards

  1. The International Criminal Court
    This is the only thing people are talking and thinking about in Sudan right now. What will happen when, as widely expected, the global court turns Sudan's president into a wanted man?

    Expected: Any day now

  2. President Obama
    Will he follow President Bush's lead and keep the "normalisation" talks going with Sudan? Or will he follow President Clinton's lead and start ordering missile strikes on pharmaceutical factories?

    Expected: 20/01/2009

  3. The economy
    The global slump has slashed the price of oil - Sudan's main source of export revenues. What happens when Khartoum and Juba stop booming?

    Expected: Happening now

The Comprehensive Peace Agreement

With all the attention that Darfur has been getting over the past six years, most people have forgotten about the much longer and bloodier north-south civil war. Darfur's conflict has killed between 10,000 and 500,000 people, depending on who you believe. The north-south civil war killed at least 2 million people in its last 21-year stretch.

The north-south conflict came to an end in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement. But here are some of the things that could test that deal to breaking point in the coming months and years.

  1. The census
    A population count that took place last year, seen as a vital pre-requisite of elections promised under the peace deal. The south may reject it when its initial results finally get published in February. At best, the resulting wrangling will delay other parts of the peace deal.
  2. The elections
    Everyone you speak to privately admits these can never happen by the deadline of July 2009, not least because the rainy season makes large parts of the south inaccessible around then. But no one will admit to it publicly. Southerners will greet any delay with suspicion and disappointment. The elections, when they come, will be hugely complicated, with their multiple votes and weird mix of proportional representation and first-past-the-post counting. If they go ahead, the current carve-up of parliamentary power between north and south is going to change with inevitably divisive results.
  3. Abyei
    Fighting has flared in this disputed central oil town twice since May. Both times, the clashes were sparked by relatively minor incidents. It wouldn't take much to set it going again. And what will happen when the Hague's Permanent Court of Arbitration finally rules on the border? The north has already rejected the findings of another independent body.
  4. Disarmament
    The country is still filled with young men with guns.
  5. South Kordofan
    There has been a series of research groups, queuing up to describe the region as the "next Darfur". Here's what Foreign Policy had to say about it. And here's the Small Arms Survey [PDF].
  6. The southern referendum
    The peace deal promised southern Sudan a referendum on secession in 2011. At best, all the problems listed above will give the country less time to prepare for it. A contested result would be a disaster. See what Alex de Waal has to say about it:

    With little progress towards making unity attractive, the fundamental question is whether the referendum on self-determination will take place and if so, how it will be managed. If the process or outcome are contested, few have any doubts that the result will be a violently-contested partition of the country. A new war of this kind would not only be a humanitarian disaster but would scar the political futures of both north and south Sudan, and drag the entire region into the conflict in one way or another.


People are still fighting. No one is talking. Peacekeepers and aid workers are still facing regular attacks and harassment.

Problem neighbours

Or, to be more accurate, Uganda's truly heinous Lords Resistance Army rebels, who keep on slaughtering south Sudanese villagers and abducting their children.

Which is supposed to be going through a friendly patch with Sudan at the moment. But the countries keep on accusing each other of harbouring each other's rebels. The relationship will come under enormous stress if Darfur's rebel Justice and Equality Movement - which has strong links with Chad - has another go at attacking Khartoum after the International Criminal Court makes its ruling. Which is where we started.

Posted by aheavens at 2:34 PM

January 4, 2009

How to get from Sudan to Star Trek in one jump

Sadiq al-Mahdi, former prime minister of Sudan, is the uncle of Alexander Siddig, the actor who played Dr. Julian Subatoi Bashir, the chief medical officer in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

The challenge - to get this into a story by the end of the year.

Posted by aheavens at 12:37 PM

Cartoon Darfur

There is the brutally simplified version of Darfur - Arab militias vs "black African" villagers.

And then there is the cartoon version, brought to you this time by UPI:

There was the continuing genocide of Christian African tribes in Darfur in Western Sudan. The United States, the European Union, the United Nations and the African Union all proved totally useless in even stemming the violence.

Just for the record, there are no Christian tribes in Darfur. Everyone is Muslim. Everyone is black. And everyone is African (through the fact of everyone being Sudanese and Sudan being in Africa).

Posted by aheavens at 5:40 AM