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Sudan: It’s more than a game

December 9th, 2010

Two-year-old Nyagod Kuel attempts to eat on her bed in a hospital ward in southeastern Sudan. (AP)

Thousands of miles separate us from Sudan. In fact, I recently encountered an interesting flight schedule on Expedia. Fly from Cleveland to Toronto, Toronto to Montreal, Montreal to Brussels, Brussels to Entebbe, Entebbe to Nairobi and finally, Nairobi to Khartoum, Sudan. So why should we care about it?

The truth is that in an increasingly globalized world, we are very much interconnected. Here is an example of just how much: the Comprehensive Peace Accord was signed in Naivasha, literally five minutes from my house in Kenya.

Six years later, here I am 16,000 miles away, writing about that same peace in Sudan. We are all in intertwined in a global web.

There are political reasons aplenty to care about Sudan and its peace. Maybe we should care that China is deeply invested in the Sudanese oil and is increasingly becoming a threat to U.S. hegemony. Then again, there are numerous and fuller oil wells in the Middle East, and we are trying to go “green” anyway.

With neighboring Somalia, a failed state to its east, another civil war in Sudan would have a far-reaching domino effect on the region’s security. At the very least, an influx of refugees from a war-torn Sudan would complicate internal and food security of its neighbors. But for Somalia, known for perennial lawlessness, terrorist outfits and pirates will continue to thrive.  And by no means are these pirates as nice-looking or as cool as their Hollywood-generated counterpart Captain Jack Sparrow.

A war-torn Sudan would itself be an attractive proposition for budding terrorist groups with the rural and mountainous regions in the far south and northeast especially appealing.

But maybe that has a long shot of affecting the U.S. Perhaps the most pinch you would feel, as a result, would be the lack of Ethiopian or Kenyan coffee, which is some of the very best. Or perhaps the romantics would miss the roses that thrive in East Africa.

Not to trivialize matters, my aim here is to show you that for every politically-oriented angle that we explore as a cause for caring about Sudan, there is an avenue for a rational and irrational argument for justifiable detachment.

But there isn’t a rational or irrational avenue for counter-argument for one reason for which we should care about Sudan. That reason, the most basic of them all, is that we are humans. Sudan is not a political chess game like the northern ruling-elite have made it out to be.

Here is how that game looks so far: The CPA gave the southerners the right to hold a referendum to determine whether to secede from Sudan or not. But in 2003, the Sudanese government moved its “knights” into Darfur and started ethnic and social class-based violence against civilians.

The international community used its “bishop,” ICC prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, to trap the Sudanese government’s “king,” Omar el Bashir, with the hope of ending the conflict in Darfur. But Sudan has used the upcoming referendum as its most calculating and lethal “rook” yet. The referendum is just but a bargaining chip.

Since the world would very much like to see the referendum happen, and in a transparent manner too, Bashir and his contingency, as late as today, have threatened to sabotage or not carry out the referendum altogether.

Their hope is that they can negotiate a deal where they are exonerated and decoupled from wrongdoings in Darfur in exchange for the referendum’s occurrence. Should that be the case, that would be “check” for them.

If the world plays its own “king” and traps the Sudanese “queen” with a “check” of its own through compliance to Bashir’s demands, Bashir would yell “check mate.” He would get away with committing genocide in Darfur in what one analyst refers to as Mis-al-Khitam in Arabic, which means “the perfect ending.”

As humans, we should care when human life is seen merely as pawns in a political chess game. As humans, the distance and the flight connections between here and Sudan should not matter because human brotherhood knows neither borders nor demarcations. As humans, the question should not be, “What is in it for us?” The question should be, “How can I help my fellow human beings?”

We should care because we have had a spectacular example of what happens when no one cares for human lives and plays politics. The world stood by as the Rwandan genocide claimed 800,000 lives in 100 days.

We should care because we understand the value of freedom. Nowhere in this 21st century should someone be denied the right to vote. That freedom to choose should also not bear with it a risk to the very life of the voter either. Neither should the referendum only go ahead on the condition that the world turns a blind eye to the killings in Darfur, because those Darfurians are also humans.

The people of southern Sudan are not going guns ablaze to topple the government. Far from it, their only weapons are a piece of paper on which they will choose in an election that is not even guaranteed to be free and fair, and hope for a better future.

But they still want to vote. That is their choice. This is a moment in their lives where they are actually deciding something. They did not decide to be in perennial civil wars; they did not choose to live in abject poverty while the north prospered out of resources located closer to them than to the northerners.

But they can now choose, and they should be able to choose without risking a civil war. We should care because they seek freedom. By caring, we support the ideal that every human, Sudanese or American, male or female, rich or poor, should not die because they exercise their freedom to vote. This is not a political, constitutional or religious right. It is simply a human right.