Clooney Says “You” and Diplomacy Can Save South Sudan

I have a few thoughts about this which I will take from a comment I left on the very excellent A View From the Cave blog.

Like most appeals to Western guilt and self-righteous appetite for conflict in Africa, this ad over-simplifies the civil war in Sudan between the government and the south, as well as the current state of affairs there.  Of course, in such a short ad it would be nearly impossible not to do so.  But  I take issue with the impression it creates that there is no international presence in Sudan, no diplomatic team, no peacekeepers, no nothing. It also makes little sense to me to make a comparison with places like Rwanda and DRC, where “we” were “too late,” and follow that by saying diplomacy can still help prevent another war in Sudan. Diplomacy is time consuming; the referendum is barely more than a month away. It took a cumulative 12 years to get to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, starting with a diplomatic process led by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).

Diplomacy is also extremely tricky when you’re dealing with a ruling elite that is so shrewd and manipulative. The ruling NCP has proven adept at manipulating foreign agents, like Western governments, and activists like those from the Enough Project. Any mediation team that knows what they’re doing will have to be just as clever and take their time reaching agreements with the parties.

Southerners’ fears of renewed conflict are totally understandable and not at all far-fetched. In one sense, I have a hard time imagining Khartoum being thrilled at the idea of spending more money on war. On the other hand, the NCP has a long history of pursuing highly effective strategies for staying in power. So who knows. There is every reason, I think, to be nervous about Khartoum’s reaction, and the reaction of other groups and regions, if the south votes for secession.  There are reasons to be nervous if they don’t vote for secession as well.

If the Enough Project is worried about violence erupting because of referendum results, they should probably focus a little more attention on advocating for more peacekeeping and civilian protection. Diplomacy is definitely important, but it works slowly and requires trust and good faith in the process on the part of the parties to the conflict.  While that process is taking place, you need some kind of buffer or force with a robust mandate in order to keep the peace until an agreement is reached or things calm down. It’s unlikely diplomacy alone would achieve much within the space of a month unless it’s something that the mediation team has been working on already.

We are already late to Sudan. They already had a war. “We” missed it. IGAD and the UN helped bring a peace agreement to the table. It took IGAD eight years just to reach the point where the parties agreed to start negotiations; it took another four years to hammer out the CPA. Conflict prevention is also important, but it doesn’t start one month before a potential catalyst for violence is scheduled.

It is unclear what Mabwana Prendergast and Clooney expect “us” to do, exactly. Who’s going to send troops and logistical support to UNMIS? Who’s going to lead the diplomatic team? Where will the resources come from? Are we to donate money to the Enough Project so they can hire civilian protection officers in case government troops come in to attack villages again? How will they guard against air attacks? Part of the problem in Rwanda was not just cowardice and lack of political will, but also bickering over who was going to pay for things and who was going to send resources.

If Khartoum already has a contingency plan, one month of diplomacy is not going to change it. It’s really up to international forces, the AU to the extent possible, to over-prepare and be ready for the worst. The Security Council and its members have had plenty of time to prepare and ensure that peacekeeping forces will be ready for the referendum. I’m not sure to what extent they’ve done so.

But the Clooney video seems kind of pointless. Doesn’t shed light on the conflict, doesn’t explain anything, and doesn’t say anything about what “we” are supposed to do about it, despite being told that there is only one thing standing in the way of more war– “You.” Which is bollocks in itself, of course.

About Carol Jean Gallo

PhD student at Cambridge. Interested in local context and global affairs and the crossroads and misinterpretations between them.
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4 Responses to Clooney Says “You” and Diplomacy Can Save South Sudan

  1. Joe Turner says:

    Seems to me that anyone expecting a peacekeeping force is living in cloud cuckoo land.

    • Carol says:

      There’s already a peacekeeping mission there.

      • Joe Turner says:

        OK, I’m an idiot. beyond the existing ineffective UNMIS force then.

        • Carol says:

          Well, I don’t disagree with you. But it’s not entirely without precedent. It’s totally possible, if the right people were to make the right calls, to get at least an interim force. The UN moves incredibly slowly, but, for example, in the case of Mozambique the SRSG was able to convince the Italians to provide an interim battalion that could secure transport corridors and other critical sites while the UN rounded up the peacekeeping mission. And in that case, there really wasn’t a mission there at all. So it’s not entirely impossible.

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