, , ,

The ICC officially issued its arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir last Wednesday around 4pm Khartoum local time. The wearily anticipated news has had everyone on edge for some time now. Some fearing violence would erupt immediately after the press conference. Thankfully, no violence, just thousands of people out in a government organized protest in central Khartoum. Thursday was followed by more protests that drew even larger crowds. All government offices were given the day off and were highly encouraged to attend these protests.

It took me a couple of days to sit down and write this because I wanted to get a feel for various murmurs and whispers that underlined the roars of Al-Bashir supporters. It’s all over the headlines; every major news agency has covered the immediate reaction of the government and Bashir’s defiant dance to the West.

The general consensus here in the capital is that the issuance of this warrant is regrettable. Not necessarily because they are sympathetic with the president but more so worried about the outcome of this event. Many fear that this will lead Sudan into a downward spiral with its citizens bearing the brunt, particularly those in Darfur.

As someone who grew up in the West, I could understand how someone outside this country can see it in black and white….yes Al-Bashir should be tried at the ICC. But having spent time here working, I have begun appreciate the point of views of citizens of this country. I cannot say that there is a homogenous Sudanese point of view, but getting the chance to hear varied voices has led me to reevaluate this situation. The situation is far more complex and a message such as the ICC’s indictment has some serious consequences. From a western point, the approach to this entire situation is 1 dimensional. I would say many of the repercussions of this indictment were not fully accounted for.

Politics and self-appointed political figures and pundits aside, the voices of regular citizens speak volumes and shove all the propaganda aside. From what I have gathered even those who strongly opposed Al-Bashir and his regime, are not in favor of the ICC’s decision, for the following reasons:

  1. Dislike for the government aside, many see it as a ploy by Western nations to meddle in Sudanese affairs and extort its natural resources. Bottom line they do not feel that anyone actually cares about the citizens of Sudan but are actually pushing for this indictment for ulterior motives. There is a very strong vibe of mistrust of the West here.
  2. Some see it as another Iraq waiting to happen. Even though many Iraqis hated Saddam, he was the glue that held the country together. With so many ethnic groups in Sudan and the fragile North-South peace deal, Al-Bashir in a way is the glue that is holding this country together.
  3. Others believe that it should not be a Western power (or Western backed power in the case of the ICC) to bring Al-Bashir to justice. “Sudanese people should find a solution to a Sudanese problem” one guy told me.
  4. this warrant will ruin the country economically and millions will suffer as a result
  5. The constant bombardment of propaganda from government and opposing groups will dominate the local media. All attention will be directed to this issue and everything else will be put in the backburner.
  6. forget the word DEVELOPMENT… as now all focus will be directed to battling the “evil Western powers who are trying to bring down this nation”

Although the ICC’s chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, now a household name in Sudan stated the greatest implication of this warrant will fall on Al-Bashir himself as it will restrict his international travel, many see that will not be the case. The ICC has no enforcement powers and many countries are not signatories of the Rome Stature, which created the ICC in the first place. Many believe the ICC and “Ocambo” are “not firmly planted on the ground” implying that they are not being realistic to believe that Sudan will comply and hand over Al-Bashir, especially since they have already vehemently refused to turn over 2 other government supporters/officials heavily implicated in the Darfur crisis.

What is more unfortunate and appalling is the government’s decision to expel 13 NGOs, which were some of the most active in delivering basic needs and services to hundreds of thousands of people. For someone how is currently working in the development sector this decision is making my head spin. Really I cannot fathom how the government or the remaining agencies will be able to fill the gap of those who were expelled.

In talking to friends and acquaintances in some of the expelled NGOs, the mood is frantic and melancholy. The means by which the government went about expelling these organizations is uncalled for. Many have had many of their possessions seized, not even being able to take paper from their offices….. they were told to evacuate immediately. But even that could not happen as many who made it to Khartoum are currently waiting to get exit visas, which are complicated further by the cumbersome government bureaucracy.

I really do hope the government rethinks this decision as it is detrimental to the well being of hundreds of thousands if not millions of Sudanese citizens. When Sudan’s issues were brought to the international stage, I was excited as it finally highlighted the plight of millions who could not properly voice their situation. The past 2 years in particular were good in the sense that the government began to take notice and allocate funds to alleviate the suffering of those disenfranchised citizens. These past few years saw some progress in roads to inaccessible regions, funds to establish and strengthen government sectors working in developing the underdeveloped regions of the nation. The means by which the international community has applied pressure in recent years has helped the situation somewhat.

Sadly the ICC’s indictment has set the nation on the path to taking ten steps backwards….after its first step forward.