11 July 2012

How the US Became Involved in South Sudan's Independence

A new in-depth piece of reporting looks into the early days of the US involvement in South Sudan's struggle for independence. Specifically, it focuses on a small group who began meeting in the mid-1980's and called themselves 'the Council.' These meetings and their efforts throughout the 90's and early 00's were integral in building US support for an independent South Sudan.

The 5,000 word piece by Bec Hamilton is a unique work for Reuters. Known more for its immediate reporting, this type of depth of reporting and style is more akin to something you may read in the New Yorker or as a feature in The Atlantic.
Here is a short excerpt, but it is well worth you time today to read the entire piece which is a part of a concerted effort by Reuters Africa to provide comprehensive reporting to mark South Sudan's first year of independence.
After his time in the Carter administration, Winter had vowed never to work in government again, preferring the less bureaucratic non-government sector. But USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios convinced him that Bush was going to make peace in Sudan a priority. Winter agreed to return to government. With his new role as an adviser to Danforth, the Council was back at the center of Sudan policy.

As with Dagne, it was an open secret that Winter was biased. Danforth says he asked for Winter's help because of his detailed knowledge. Winter himself felt tension with many of the diplomats he was now working alongside. "The State Department was used to working with Khartoum," Winter said.

Progress came that summer, when Khartoum's chargé d'affaires in Washington, Ahmed Khidir, flew to Danforth's home in St Louis, Missouri. Khidir had just one question, Danforth recalls: "Are we damned if we do and damned if we don't?" In other words, if Khartoum agreed to peace, would it still be a pariah to the U.S. government?

The answer mattered. Ever since the rulers in Khartoum had taken power in a 1989 coup, their ability to maintain control depended greatly on patronage networks. Because the United States had effectively black-listed Sudan, Khartoum had to rely on loans from non-Western nations and revenue from the south's oil fields to fund these networks.

To sign a pact in which they risked losing the oil-rich south, northern leaders needed an alternative source of income. Normalizing relations with Washington would be a sure pathway back to the international financial system.

After consulting with Bush, Danforth told Khidir that Washington looked forward to normalizing ties. "That was an important message," Danforth said in an interview. Khidir couldn't be reached for comment.

The biggest breakthrough, however, came not as the result of diplomacy or advocacy, but of Al Qaeda's attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001.

When Bush told the world that Washington would "pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism," the U.S. relationship with Khartoum changed overnight. Sudan had expelled Al Qaeda leader bin Laden in 1996, but it worried it might be a U.S. target. Washington suddenly found itself with enormous leverage over Khartoum, which the Bush administration used to push for a peace agreement.

Almost all the key issues that would end up in a landmark 2005 peace deal between Khartoum and the SPLM were agreed in the first five months of 2002. Most surprisingly, Khartoum agreed to let the southerners hold a referendum on whether to remain part of Sudan.