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Archive for the ‘Sudan’ Category

Khartoum. April 2007

April is upon us and that means only a few weeks to go till summer holidays have me in their grip. I can only say that Sudan, for all the bad news people might read about it, is a very quiet place. Not much happens, certainly not in Khartoum.

That said, we did have a wee bit of excitement in the last day or two when a military truck, carrying ammunition, exploded. There were at least two large explosions, one which rocked my desk and made my flat windows rattle. I stood on the roof looking at a huge pall of black smoke, listening to the sound of gunfire and wondering why there were no ambulances or police sirens going off. The lack of those made it pretty clear that nothing serious was afoot and it was soon on the wire services that no one had been hurt in the incident. The gunfire we heard was obviously ammunition going off in the fire on the truck. It happened close to the airport, which I might add is right in the city. Yes, on the way to the supermarket, I pass the airport. Weird really, but perhaps all major cities had airports close to the centre of their cities before they grew. Unfortunately, I’m told that a new one is being built far further out of town. I say unfortunately because I love that airport. Journeys there literally take five minutes, the downside being that all flights taking off or coming in are very loud, but you get used to them really.

However, life was soon back to normal, with very little happening as it was Easter long weekend and the government declared a three day holiday. I did manage to get out for the best part of a day though….my first trip outside of Khartoum…well on the outskirts anyway. I went to a place called Jebel Olia, jebel meaning mountain, I’m told. Well, I shall get to this mountain in just a moment.

I got on a bus without any problems and sat for an hour looking for scenery other than the cityscape, and I got it. The landscape is pancake flat and lacks any sort of greenery other than an occasional stunted, scrubby tree, usually laden with fruit of windblown plastic bags. We did pass many villages and one could easily forget one was in Africa, where grass huts are commonly seen. I did not see a one. The villages here are all mud rendered affairs, some of brick, but others not.
Each tiny home is within its own little compound, high fences surrounding, more often than not, a one room box square shelter, but others contained several of these, indicating extended family living within the walls. The housing is much more Arabic than African, but it lacks any of the ornateness. The dung coloured render almost matches the grey brown of the dirt on which they stand. The only colour is found in the brightly coloured topes the women wear over their clothing. Goats seemed more numerous than people as our bus trundled along a relatively good road.

Once deposited in the market of Jebel Olia, we got a look at the mountain, which gives the town its name. If it is more than 50 metres high, I’ll go he. Still in this flat land, I expect that any thing higher than a house might be expected to be called a mountain. The market is a small town affair and was only half working due to the holiday, but my destination that day was to be the dam.
The dam is not a huge hydro affair like you might see elsewhere, but it does sit on the Blue Nile. On one side the dam holds back waters that have at some stage flooded and formed a sort of a lake. On the other side of the dam, the Nile flows on as normal.

At this stage it’s probably an apt time to tell you how awkward it is for a foreigner to travel anywhere in this country. Outside of Khartoum, you need a permit to go anywhere, but the rules seem to be vague and not widely published. That, of course, is due more to the fact that there is not a great tourist trade here than anything else. Strangely enough, if I was to fly to Port Sudan, I would not need a permit, but if I went by road, I would. That’s about the closest as I can get to what rules and regulations there are.

Again, I do believe that this is a left over from the civil war when movement might have been restricted. I suspect that it hasn’t been changed since then, but I could be wrong. However, at the start of the dam wall, which I had intended to walk, a young man stopped us (I was with two other teachers). He wanted to see passports, which I never carry with me. One of the others did though but before she handed it over, I interrupted. This man had no uniform and we didn’t know him from Noah. Once I started to ask him just who he was and what authority he had, a policeman joined the fray. With limited Arabic, barely enough to get by, we finally convinced him that we lived in Khartoum and that we didn’t need a permit to visit the dam. He eventually accepted that and let us go.

We did walk over the dam, though not all the way as it is five kilometres long and about two thirds of the way over the heat had become so strong that we turned back. Of course, early on we had caught a tuk tuk to the dam from the market, but lunchtime had arrived and there was no sight of any transport to get back to the township. However, I stuck my thumb out and we picked up a lift in a nice air-conditioned car, which felt like heaven just then. Back at the market a cold coke was well in order, having only hot water left in our own bottles. We sat in a small shelter with the men, who amused themselves in Arabic at the strange western women who had invaded their space.

As i told you before, taking photographs here is stirctly controlled and you must have a permit. even with a permit, taking pictures of things like dams and bridges etc are definitely not allowed and so you dont get to see the Nile in all its glory. Its not worth losing a camera and spending a day or so in jail jsut for a picture…or worse still being deported. The law is the law and that is that.

This last few weeks have been horrendously busy as one would expect at the end of a school year. Exams have been written, final internal assessment tasks undertaken; the graduation ceremony for senior students and the primary production. Still to come is the prize giving and final exams. For teachers of course, there is still marking and reports before we can finally take off. The school is quieter without the seniors and my teaching load halved, which gave me a chance to catch up on all the tasks required.

In a normal situation I would be right on deadline, but when you have four subjects to do these things for, it takes so much more time. That said, I have caught up and even managed a field trip with my business and economics students.

We went off to the local Pepsi factory where they also make juices and got a tour from the beginning of the production cycle, to the end. It was very interesting and the kids were quite excited by it. It was good for them to see a fairly modern production set up in their own country.

Schools are funny places. They are their own little communities and along with that comes all the gossip, and the highs and lows that are normal in any community. This academic year we have had two teachers die unexpectedly and we have had several births, the latest living only briefly, dying in his mother’s arms whilst waiting at a clinic for some help. How very sad.

Several teachers have gone during the year; some of their own accord, others helped out the door. Things have previously been left to run themselves here, but this year has seen a massive change in the primary and some to the secondary. Next year will see more change and teachers starting to fall into line with the way things should be run. For the Head, its been a pretty tough year, but one during which she has already made several much needed changes. Its not a job I would want, but she does it well, and fairly.

That said, I’m more than eager to start my summer holidays; eleven weeks of not thinking about balance of payments problems, why foreign aid doesn’t work or how to account for depreciation; eleven weeks of not having to control the noise in a classroom; essentially, eleven weeks of relaxation. That’s the go for me this summer. I need to veg rather than travel and see new things.
I have a short time in London before flying to Thailand for a month and then the last 3 weeks will be spend at home with family. It’s a while since I’ve had a holiday so long and this one is to be purely regenerative in nature. So if I don’t get another Chronicle off until July, please forgive me, but I’ll be shopping at Oxford Circus or laying by the pool in Hat Yai, having a foot massage or playing with my grandbaby, depending on where I am. It all sounds like heaven to me.

When I get back, there will be a whole new bunch of teachers to get to know along with the ones who stayed. Three of the new ones I know. My friend Joy, from Estonia and Pakistan will have joined us and Peter and Shivani from my Thailand stint. Its nice to have people you have known come to join you again. International education is a small world and there is even one woman here who worked in Hat Yai the same time I did, but we never met. There will be 3 or 4 expat couples with children in the new year, and school flats will be more widely spread throughout the city, but with my scooter, that’s not a problem really.

Strangely enough this is more like new year to me than January 1; its strange how your perception changes from a normal year to an academic one. We do finish early here, I’m not sure why, but am guessing that it is to avoid the heat of summer. Temperatures here nowadays are in the forties and it is bound to get hotter. The locals don’t like it and tend to complain about the heat far more than we do, but they love their winter, and the rainy season holds much excitement for them. The few rain storms they get are all they are likely to see during the year.

Yesterday we had the worst dust storm here that people can recall for several decades. You could see it coming, like a huge black rolling mass that threatened to consume us. And consume us it did. It blew hard for about 18 hours and for a good part of that, I could not even see the school, which is right outside my window. Even with the windows and doors tightly shut, the flat filled with dust and breathing had that horrid taste of dry earth. A shower before I went to bed showed me just how much of the dust had come inside and settled not just on my furniture, but on me! Outside this morning, the balcony and stairs were completely coated with a layer of dark brown dust. My balcony plants had turned brown too.G he morning did dawn clear skied and sunny though, a welcome change after the darkness of the day before. Good thing my cleaner comes twice a week is all I can say. It was interesting; I suppose something akin to staying indoors while the rain pelts down at home, yet different to sandstorms in the gulf or Algeria.

Well, that’s it for now folks.
Stay safe, be healthy and keep smiling

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The time has flown since Xmas and Sudan, by my own estimate is generally a sleepy place where life seems to amble slowly, rather than move forward at any great pace. Being unable to read news in Arabic is a distinct disadvantage for those of us who would like to know what is going on.
Certainly the Darfur debate is a continuing event with the West claiming dastardly deeds committed by the Khartoum government, and President Bashir claiming the West’s exaggeration. What the truth is, is anyone’s guess, but that there is a bias (on the part of the West) against the Muslim north, is plainly obvious.

Very little is written about the Christian south, where violence is a daily occurrence, and where 10,000 UN peacekeepers sit back and watch without taking any action at all; where corruption is as prevalent as it is in many African countries. A recent example is the leader of the SPLM, the main rebel group there. He has been ordered (by Khartoum) to account for a missing sum of $60 million, but he is keeping mum. That amount of money would certainly arm your militia very well…or line your pocket. Who knows, because for the moment he is saying nothing.
Very little is said about the ‘unfinished’ nature of peace agreements brokered by the West, but their bashing of the Khartoum government is consistent.

As a Khartoum resident, I have no real concept of the trouble in Darfur. Virtually no news comes from there, not from credible sources anyway. Interviews with rebel leaders guarantee an anti-govt slant. I find it highly irresponsible on the part of the media, but I long ago learned to accept that much of the media blindly chooses to believe, rather than question or investigate, in order to make news more saleable, or more palatable to their own govts.

In the streets of Khartoum, one would never know that anything untoward was happening. Street traders hawk their wares, tea-ladies sit under trees and gossip, traffic moves in an orderly fashion, and few give any thought to troubles in other areas.

Foreign investment is obvious in the shape of new buildings and foreign oil companies and though unemployment is still rife, many more are employed now, than before. The number of cars and scooters on the roads shows a certain amount of wealth distribution and so as I see it, this government has achieved some very good things, regardless of what the West thinks of them.
There are, of course, many frustrations for expats. Getting things done requires endless patience and then an even temper when you find it done badly, or only half done. Lying is endemic, especially if blame is going to be laid, and it is seemingly an acceptable part of life…..unless you’re an expat. Productivity is not part of the vocabulary and things move on African time, as one would expect.

Prices, when shopping outside of the main shops, vary wildly. Pretty much all of them will charge you a premium for being foreign. That in itself isn’t so bad. One expects that. But when you have traders asking for ten times the price, it is ridiculous. This is not uncommon and is incredibly annoying, not to mention highly opportunisitic. The attitude seems to be to get as much as you can now, rather than thinking of any return or recommended custom. It is frustrating, but in the end, the trader misses out on any kind of sale and you find one who is much more honest. There are enough of the honest ones to outweigh the blatant rip off merchants.

For all that, life here is easy and pleasant. On the streets, my blonde hair attracts a certain amount of attention just by dint of being different, and I attract even more when riding the scooter. Women don’t drive scooters here, although it is not forbidden. The attention is always friendly, not disapproving and so nothing to worry about. This is not the first country I’ve been in where staring is an accepted habit, so I am pretty much used to it. The most difficult thing for me, is finding my way about. There seem to be no maps available of the city, so I fall upon an area purely by accident usually and then struggle to find my way back, but I always do. Having no sense of direction at all is not a plus.

The kids here are different from others I have taught. Not difficult as such, though we do have those too., but they can be quite manipulative until they work out that it doesn’t work on you. Fights seem to carry endless fascination for them, both boys and girls, and they relish them as sources of gossip and excitement. That said, there is little for kids to do here. Yes they play football and such, but there are no real places for them to meet and hang out.

With the country having experienced decades of civil war, guns and violence are not given a second thought, and in some cases respected as a valid way to deal with things. Young lads in particular, seem to think so. At our school bazaar recently, some young boys, (not from our school), came into the grounds and started a fight. Our head boy broke it up fairly quickly, taking a risk since there were knives involved. Outside the gates, there have also been fights involving young boys, they, having some kind of grievance against a boy from the school. The boy was sent home for a few days till it blew over, for his own safety more than anything else.

On the whole though, life is sleepy and quiet.

My workload is not however, having had to take over all commerce subjects in this second half of the year. There is a never-ending amount of work to do it seems, and I look forward to next year when I am back to two subjects, rather than four. At the end of the week, we have a four day weekend and I plan to get as much done before that as possible so that I can just relax.
I’ve joined a health club at a local hotel and I rather fancy spending a fair amount of time swimming and just doing very little. I try to get to the pool about three times a week, but in essence, this depends largely on the amount of work I have to do.

Mock exams for the year 11s are next week and I suspect we will see none of them afterwards. We see few of them now, many of them preferring to stay home rather than come to school. They are actually supposed to attend school till April 19, but I doubt we will see more than a handful. My workload will reduce dramatically if that is the case as all my classes are years 10 and 11.

The weather here is heating up now and I expect that the dust storms will soon be upon us. It gets hazy late afternoon nowadays but as yet, we’ve not had a real dust storm. Everything gets locked up tight during that period. At normal times there is a lot of dust, but during the storms, it is just not feasible to leave a window open. Good thing I have a cleaner I think.

There are only ten weeks to go until the summer break and that is eagerly looked forward to. It’s a long time since I had so much time off and I am taking the opportunity to relax and regenerate, rather than a hectic summer of travel.

On that note, I will stop until next time.
Stay well, keep healthy and keep smiling,

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Khartoum December 2006

It feels like a long time since I’ve written but I suppose if you’re busy, time tends to pass quickly.
The best news, of course, is the birth of my grandson Caspar, who finally arrived a week or so late….but healthy and strong, and mum came through very well too.


The term has gone by in a flash of work for me. Having never taught History before, I expect that I’m making it difficult for myself in some ways by devising activities for the students to make remembering the data easier. For the year 7s, this is especially important as they have no idea how to learn history, so other than straight learning, we are painting posters, writing short plays and writing raps to remember dates and chronological events.
As for economics and my year 11s, as the old saying goes, you can lead the horse to water, but you cant make him drink. That’s much like what I’m facing with these students, but I refuse to lose sleep over it. I will do what I can, but if they don’t want to play, then it wont do any good anyway.
Unfortunately, the education system here, like so many, is based on memorising and regurgitating and trying to get them (the year 11s) to think laterally is not easy, but that’s life…and I do love a challenge.

On the home front, Sudan continues to reject the proposal of a UN peacekeeping force in Darfur. Two NGOs (working in Darfur) have recently been expelled from the country for reasons undisclosed, another has gone of its own accord. The Red Cross too, have evacuated their personnel from a northern Darfur town after unknown gunmen entered their compound and fired shots, and the UN have withdrawn all their non-essential staff from another area that has recently come under attack. The violence continues and the situation seems to be deteriorating.
That said, the Sudanese Government has agreed to allow the UN to support the AU financially and logistically and to this, the UN has responded, after making this very suggestion, by saying that it would be worthless without political stability and a cease fire in place. The rest of the world continues to make noises and threats. This has been the situation ever since I got here, and I admit to wondering how serious they really are about doing something constructive, or is it just another distraction from the real disaster, Iraq. Of course, it could be something else entirely.
“Africa is growing in strategic importance for the United States. It
holds economic potential.” Carolyn Davis, Enquirer, 2006
President Bashir has never denied there is a problem and recently, at the ACP conference, publicly agreed that the situation has worsened, but he blames the rebel groups that didn’t sign the peace agreement. He makes a valid point when he says that the west is quick to blame his government but rarely, if ever, draws attention to the actions of the rebel groups. He also claims that numbers published by the international media are highly inflated and challenges those with proof to provide it. I doubt that will happen. Whether right or wrong, there is a definite bias against the Khartoum government from the west. Jan Egeland, head of UNHA, is the only one I have seen giving a balanced point of view. According to him, the Darfur crisis is being fuelled not only by the Khartoum government, but also by parts of the rebel movement, ethnic leaders in Darfur and the government of neighbouring Chad. Unfortunately, he retires this month.
Fresh fighting in the south between government military forces and southern rebels recently left in excess of 100 people dead, civilians included. It is unclear who started the altercation and reports are, not surprisingly, unreliable and biased towards the south. It seems the peace agreement between the north and south is on rocky ground and this is the worst incident since the agreement was reached; not a good sign.
There are 10,000 UN peacekeepers in the south, but they apparently do not have a mandate to intervene. One wonders what their mandate is then, since that was obviously a breach of the peace agreement of 2005. Would a peacekeeping force in Darfur have the same illogical mandate?
Both the peace agreement between the north and south, and that of Darfur, were negotiated under the guidance of the west, and neither was complete. I would have thought it obvious that if you do a half job, then only half a result can be expected. As I see it, that is what we have here, the result of a half job, which is now in trouble.
It may seem to some of you that I am supporting the violence in Darfur; I am not. I do however, not support interference from western nations who have so willingly, and blindly, caused the chaos presently in Iraq, and in Afghanistan for that matter. I do not support interference from nations who obviously do not understand the people they would wish to subjugate. I say subjugate purposely as I have no faith in the altruism of the west after their performance of the last few years. And I do believe in the sovereignty of nations.
It’s very difficult to actually learn the truth about what is happening in Darfur. Very little new news comes from there and foreign newspapers repeat the same thing over and over again, obviously having nothing new to say. Sudan newspapers too, give very little that offers insight, and one does have to wonder if censorship is in play. The violence traverses the border into Chad and depending on whose opinion you read, absolutely everyone involved is to blame. Clearly, the picture is muddied by biased views from all angles.
That said, it is clear that there is a humanitarian disaster of some proportion and that something has to be done, but I doubt very much that bullying this government is the way to do it. They are clearly against a foreign peacekeeping force, having been under foreign rule for more than their fair share of time. Surely it is not unreasonable for the government to insist on African peacekeepers; Africans do, after all, understand other Africans. And having agreed to logistical and financial support for this African peacekeeping force, the west has shown its hand by stalling, using excuses to refrain from actually doing what is possible. The US has gone one step further, after having made so much noise about having to help Darfur; they have withdrawn their aid to Darfur and re-allocated it to Afghanistan; another of their failures. One can only hope that the re-allocated money goes to help the people of Afghanistan, rather than bolstering yet another NGO.
Fighting there is still at its worst ever level and the snows have come. I hear from a student of mine there, that Kabul is blanketed and I send you here some of his words. They tore at my heart and I am sure he will not mind if I share them with you.

“Now one can see only the sparkling white mattress laid everywhere. This joyful sight is not long lasting and is suddenly shattered when one thinks of the hundreds of thousands of families who can’t afford to buy fuel for heating.
One starts to abhor snow when one sees child peddlers or beggars running after cars, attempting to persuade those inside to buy their goods or give them some money. It is painful to see women in wet burkhas following cars and begging. One hears stories about families who sleep to cope with starvation, and yet cannot sleep because of the cold.
Children are stood in traffic, hands pulled into their sleeves as an alternative fashion to gloves, their sleeves white with snow. They run, many of them, after cars. Their faces appear at half misty windows, shuddering and begging, “Khyrat Bedeh”, their breath frozen on their lips. Their eyes tell the tale; they have not had breakfast; their skinny faces show clearly that they have had no food for an unknown period. Their torn jackets complain; they cannot protect them from the snow and cruel cold. Snow falls constantly and covers their hair, then slowly dissolves, changes to drops and slides down, freezing again before they hit the ground.
Some people think of snow as an elixir that helps them triumph over the fear of drought, but snow, for all its beauty, makes some people cry. Cry for a father whose children cry for food and a little warmth. Cry for a mother who begs out in the cold to bring food to her children, while her children cry at home for their mother to be with them. Cry for a mother who squeezes her tiny baby under her jacket to keep him warm, but can’t do anything to feed him. She, herself has not eaten enough, how can she feed her baby?
I can’t cry anymore. Help me cry for a family who live not in a protective shelter, but a tent with many holes in it, camped on a wet piece of ground, crying for enough food and dreaming of a little warmth.
Yes, these parents dream too. They are ordinary people and dream as we do. However, we have much more and dream of a better tomorrow. They dream for today. They dream of bread for their children. They dream of a time when their children are not hungry, and are warm. They dream of a time when they can look at each other knowing their children are satisfied.”
Sayed Farhad Hashimi, Kabul, 2006

It’s hard to follow that with anything of substance, so I won’t even try. It still tears at me each time I read it.
I hope you all have a superb Xmas and I wish you and your loved ones health and happiness in the year to come.
That’s it for now,
Stay safe and keep smiling

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Well the month has gone quite quickly; I seem to have settled in and I’ve even managed to get out and about a bit within Khartoum itself. Khartoum lies at the meeting point of the White and Blue Niles and together with Khartoum North and Omdurman forms an urban centre known as “the three towns.” Khartoum is the centre for commerce and government; Omdurman is the official capital; and North Khartoum is the industrial centre, home to around 70% of Sudan’s industry.

I spent one lazy Sunday walking along the banks of the Nile. The paved Boulevard was likely quite lovely years ago under British rule, but it has fallen into disrepair as one might expect of a country that has seen two long civil wars since independence some fifty years ago. Still, the trees are large and shady and it is still a popular spot for locals. The level of the Nile had settled again after the first time I had seen it….but this was not to last long.

This is the rainy season and although that usually means little here in Khartoum…..yes…..I have arrived….and with me….the rain. Come now, you know how I love floods!!

We have had two major storms here since I arrived, both resulting in minor floods in the city. The streets in the centre were awash in one to two feet of muddy water, and although I live on the third floor, the cant of the balcony is such that the water just flows in under the doors and the heavy driving rain also shows up the lack of sealant around the windows. It’s quite amusing to get out of bed and step into a lake of water first thing in the morning.

It isn’t quite so amusing for the residents of Tuti Island, situated barely 100 yards from the Boulevard in the confluence of the Niles. The low-lying island is home to some 15,000 people and was under serious threat by the rising waters.

The people of Tuti, originally Nubians who came from the North, were given the island to live on instead of being allowed into the city. They have seen much worse than this (as recently as 2001) and have built up solid knowledge on how to prepare for, and deal with, disasters. Every able citizen in Tuti has a specific task when it comes to floods, providing tools, filling and emptying sacks, making timetables for the rotating shifts of community volunteers monitoring the river, preparing for the worst. Fortunately, this time, the damage was minimal.

However, floods here have both a good side and a bad side. The good side is that the waters bring fertile silt for the fields and helps substitute the earth torn off the island’s sides by the waters. The bad side, apart from the damage, is that there are more crocodiles in the river and a marked increase in malaria, snake and scorpion bites. In other parts of Sudan, more than 90,000 people have been affected by floods, which have devastated large tracts of land in Sudan over the last few weeks.
Watching from the balcony, the sky was a wonderful display of long horizontal forks of lightning followed by huge flashes of sheet lightning, whilst down below, cars and buses went on through the waters and a homeless man moved his rope bed to the higher ground on our side of the street.

Midway through the month, the government seized another set of edition plates from a local newspaper, effectively stopping the press for that day, the second within a week. The reason given was that articles might damage an ongoing investigation. Journalists went on strike for a week, but I imagine that this played right into the hands of those who wanted to silence them in the first place. Since then however, newspapers have been printed without interference, but a week later, a Sudan internet discussion board was blocked by government, in the same way that they block all pornographic sites. Reason? None was given.

Internationally, the argument over whether to send UN peacekeepers into Darfur continues, with the US and Britain, once again, the most vocal. President El-Bashir continues to vehemently refuse entry to UN troops and has vowed to attack any troops, which enter without his express approval. It is something to be grateful for that countries, which have volunteered for the mission, have done so on the proviso that the Sudanese government agree to it.

Darfur occupies an area larger than Iraq, about the same size as France in fact, and the UN proposal is to send in 20,000 peacekeepers. I am left to wonder at the foolishness of planners who decide these numbers when currently, there are some 150,000 troops in Iraq….many less in Afghanistan….and one could hardly say that either of those has been a success. Still, Bush and Blair continue to throw out threats that the Sudanese government knows are empty. They simply do not have the troops to fight their way into the country. The international community is clearly not united, and any thinking man can see that deploying UN peacekeepers against the wishes of Sudan effectively means that there would be no peace to keep.
In May, it was these very powerbrokers who walked away from the Darfur peace talks when only one rebel group of the three had signed the treaty. How then, can these same people be so surprised that the agreement is not working?

I also have to wonder at the likes of someone like George Clooney, who visited Darfur for a period of 5 days and has now become such an expert that he deems himself a suitable person to tell International bodies what must be done. After five days, his understanding of the situation would be minimal at best. Don’t misunderstand me, passion is a fine thing, I’ve been known to suffer from it myself, but it should be fed by solid information from all sides, rather than a 5 day tour of an area that has been at war for the past three years. The complexity of the problem is not something you can ignore because of a recently discovered sense of altruism.

The most illuminating comments of all though, illustrating clearly that there are different rules for different nations, are extracted from the recent Rose Garden speech by G.W. himself, where, as usual, he trips over his own contradictions.

“I’d like to see more robust UN action. What you’ll hear is, ‘Well, the government of Sudan must invite the UN in for us to act.’ Well, there are other alternatives, like passing a resolution saying, ‘We’re coming in with a UN force in order to save lives’,”
“Pakistan’s a sovereign nation. In order for us to send thousands of troops into a sovereign nation, we’ve got to be invited by the government of Pakistan.”

Where does he find his speech writers, I wonder?

The hypocracy of today’s leaders can only be sneered at and their intentions are debateable at best. Where was the outcry of rage when Israel attacked Lebanon? Not one was heard from the major powers. In fact, they defended the action and were content to let it take its course whilst large numbers of civilians were killed, the country’s civilian infrastructure destroyed, for what can only be described as questionable reasons. Where were these same leaders, or their predecessors, when Tibet was being systematically raped and plundered, the masses killed whilst not raising a hand in defence? Again, conspicuous by their absence. Hardly engenders trust does it?

At the moment, Sudan appears to hold all the cards. The US has put sanctions in place, but Sudan has lived with sanctions for years. The fact remains that Sudan has considerable oil supplies and produces a hefty number of bpd whilst being nowhere near full production capacity. Large new fields have recently been discovered in the Darfur region and millions of dollars of oil equipment have just arrived in the country, delivered, I believe, by the Chinese, who are one of the main beneficiaries of the oil industry here. They also have solid trading partners in Malaysia, Pakistan and India. The Arab League has openly supported Sudan’s sovereignty claim and Al Qaeda has threatened to attack any foreign troops in Sudan without an invitation. Nearby also, are Somalian Islamic rebels. This is dangerous ground to be playing in. Sudan will do all it can to retain its sovereignty and should the West decide to breach that, I fear the consequences will be much greater than they realize.

That said, Darfur is in serious crisis, but how accurate accounts are is unknown as government claims that figures are overblown by the West and very few are left to report. Very little news comes out of Sudan in reality considering all that is happening. Many aid workers are located in Khartoum and there are reportedly as few as 100 aid workers actually in Darfur. Also, Khartoum is said to have managed to keep journalists out of the region for some time. Currently, Sudanese troops are deployed in Darfur and major offensives are underway in the north and west of the region, where large swathes of land are controlled by rebels. There are reports of indiscriminate bombing and more people violently displaced, mostly written by reporters outside the country. However, there can be no doubt that tens of thousands have died over the last 3 years, and that huge numbers have been displaced, but government claims insist that this is a civil war over land and water rights, as well as control, not organised genocide.

There is much speculation about why President El Bashir refuses to extend an invitation to the UN, but the most consistent line is that he feels there are imperialistic intentions involved, although the line from the West is quite different. I am not in a position to judge. And although he did take over the government in a military coup, it seems that his view on sovereignty is not unpopular, here in Khartoum at least.

I don’t know what the answer is, but I maintain that whilst sovereignty is covered by international law, and whilst a sovereign nation is not attacking other sovereign nations, then the outside world has no choice but to try diplomacy because anything else would be tantamount to declaring war.

Diplomacy however, does not seem to extend to good manners. By all accounts, G.W. refused to grant visiting Sudanese officials an audience and passed them off to Madame Rice. Also, the dignitaries felt they were subjected to “unfair scrutiny” by homeland security. People on diplomatic passports do not usually have that thrust upon them and as a result, from the 26/9, no American official visiting Khartoum will be allowed to travel further than 15 miles from the Presidential Palace without a special permit. The restrictions have now been extended to at least one NGO in Khartoum.

Two can play that game it seems.

While the world concentrates its attention on Darfur, 7000 UN troops are already resident in the southern capital of Juba. They are there as a result of a peace agreement negotiated under pressure from the US and Britain, and which ended the long running civil war between the largely Arab, Islamic north and the black, Christian south.

The Peace Agreement (CPA) is basically a ‘one country, two systems’ arrangement, which grants the south autonomy and comes to a referendum in 2011 on whether the country should split in two. The UN is present to assist the southern government.

In the meantime, the south remains largely a tribal society and fighting between different factions is still quite common; disputes are still settled in a traditional manner rather than by an organised legal system. The north and south argue over the settling of boundaries, and for good reason; the majority of the country’s oil, which accounts for almost all its wealth, is in the disputed areas.
I think it is unlikely that the north will allow the south to secede in 2011 unless favourable boundaries are agreed upon.

In the north and west of the country, a cholera outbreak is keeping the WHO busy…..as if there wasn’t enough going on.

Here in Khartoum though, people appear to live together peacefully regardless of religious affiliation or ethnic background. This is the holy month of Ramadan, and though restaurants are not open till sundown, everything else operates as normal. Eating, drinking and smoking are not forbidden here as they are in Qatar or Pakistan. Ramadan is very relaxed for those of us who do not fast.

Life here is generally pleasant and it’s lovely to walk through the souq nearby and get lost, which I invariably do. It is a maze of little streets and although they generally follow a square pattern, I still manage to lose my way. With all the rain recently, there are still large puddles of mud that need to be negotiated. I also made my way to a place called Ozone, which is an outdoor café come ice cream parlour, with bakery attached, situated smack in the middle of a busy roundabout. This is one of the most popular places in the city and several of the teachers go there regularly for ‘therapy.’ It is surrounded by trees and shrubbery and whilst sitting in this little oasis, you are barely aware that there is traffic buzzing around you constantly. You could be anywhere in the world and now and then you need that. There are tiny lights in the trees and irrigation type hoses spew out a fine mist, which believe it or not works just like a cooler. You don’t get wet, but you do stay cool. They serve a fine cappuccino and the ice cream is rather good, in a variety of flavours that I have not seen in a long while. I can well understand why it does so well and I believe that there is another being built on a roundabout closer to home, which I shall look forward to. A little touch of heaven never goes astray.

Well that’s it for now. My first grandson is due anytime now, so I am very excited and waiting patiently for his arrival, though I’m sure his mum is more impatient than I am.

Till next time, stay healthy and keep smiling

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