How Bashir ruined Sudan by exploiting Islam
Marc Lavergne talks to Marco Cesario 16 March 2010

Elections at last in Sudan, the first multi-party elections since 1986…

Yes, that is true. But in totally different conditions. In 1986 elections were held after protests by the people caused the regime to fall. Today’s elections are organised by a military junta that came to power in a coup d’état. They are multi-party elections in appearances alone, power is exercised by the National Congress which is an emanation of the National Islamic Front that organised the military putsch in 1989. There is no democratic organisation behind these elections.

Al Bashir appears to be the candidate for his own succession. He can rely on the state apparatus and it does not seem that his victory is up for discussion…

Al Bashir came to power thanks to a revolutionary clandestine organisation. His junta has committed so many crimes that he has lost the support of the people. The power he exercises is absolute and only seemingly shared with other political movements. The 1989 coup d’état implicitly acknowledges the fact that this group could never have risen to power in a democratic manner. The Sudanese people could, at the time, rely on parties that really did represent them. There were secular and Muslim political parties people identified with and there was no room for extremist movements such as the one that rose to power.

In the past you have said that in Darfur one is not observing an ethnic or religious conflict, but a political one. In your opinion, why then is the Sudanese government continuing to massacre the non-Muslim and non-Arab population in Darfur.

I said that in an interview given in 2004, when it appeared that the crisis in Darfur seemed to be drawing to an end. The Khartoum regime is one of profiteers. If there is an ethnic element in this conflict it is purely an excuse. The regime provides a fanatical ideology that does not oppose western-styled secularism, but Sudan’s old religious alliances. The regime uses history to apply pressure and the Islam it presents is like ‘fast food’. In the absence of any real support for the people, Shari’a is used to oppress them. There is a rejection of Sudan’s ‘African’ dimension and it is in the sense that the people of Darfur are considered citizens of an inferior rank. There is, however, an ideological front that conceals the exploitation of the provinces’ wealth and the systematic elimination of those who oppose this.

Last February 23rd in Doha, the Sudanese government signed an agreement with the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). What do you think of this agreement?

The Sudanese government is intelligent and manipulative since it relies on a small rebel movement. The JEM, whose main ethnic group is the Zagawa, only represents 2% of Darfur’s population. The JEM acts as a private militia for the President of Chad, fighting against the rebels (supported by Sudan) who want the government in Chad to fall. This agreement between the governments of the Sudan and Chad is of no importance to the over 2.5 million refugees (who do not belong to the Zagawa ethnic group) living in camps. These are people who want to return to their land and are asking for the Janjaweed to be disarmed. It is an ideal agreement for the regime since it does not envisage the possibility of refugees returning home or the disarming of the Janjaweed.

A year ago, the International Penal Court (CPI) issued an international arrest warrant for Al Bashir, accused of crimes against humanity. At the time the Movement for the Liberation of Sudan (MLS), reported the en mass expulsion of NGOs. What is the situation today?

Unchanged. But the NGOs were expelled from Darfur, not from Sudan. NGO’s bring a great deal of money to Sudan, especially to the regime’s ‘barons’ who provide them with planes, cars, homes and offices. This is a contradiction managed by balancing the regime’s superior interests and the individual ones of its members. Al Bashir continues to move around freely. However, he is not the only one responsible for this situation. Responsibility also lies with the international community that, since 2003, has done nothing to prevent the massacres. World powers knew perfectly well what was happening in Darfur. At the time, the American government and the European Union focused on peace negotiations between the government and the rebels in the south. Once the agreement had been signed by both parties, the expectations were that peace would automatically come to Darfur. This was a mistake that resulted in the death of three hundred thousand people and created over two and a half million refugees. Before Khartoum, responsibility lies with Washington, London and Paris.

Translated by Francesca Simmons