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What about the Sudanese?

(Alamy)

Earl of Sandwich

Earl of Sandwich

4 min read

During emergencies abroad our first thoughts are, and should be, with our own friends and relations and whether they can be evacuated safely.

In the current crisis in Sudan, where two warring generals are tearing the country apart, there is an imperative to escape as fast as possible. Our government is helping our citizens as best it can against such a dangerous background. At the same time, however, everything FCDO does, especially for divided families, must be properly measured. We do not want to repeat the mistakes made during the evacuation in Afghanistan.

The media, of course, also tend to follow the emergency in terms of the suffering of the United Kingdom’s own embassy staff, including Sudanese, and of the large numbers of UK citizens still residing in Sudan. So the general concern for the UK very often overshadows what is happening to the Sudanese people on the ground – literally speaking in the case of this conflict if there is gunfire close by. All we know is that hundreds of people have been killed and many more wounded, most caught up in the fighting while carrying out their normal business.

We do not want to repeat the mistakes made during the evacuation in Afghanistan

One way of looking at the Sudanese people is through NGOs, both international NGOs which have local Sudanese staff and Sudanese NGOs and faith groups, sometimes referred to as civil society.  These organisations are still in being during an emergency and are fully stretched, with hospitals attacked, schools emptying and people fleeing.  Humanitarian aid in these circumstances is reduced to people helping one another as best they can, whether or not they belong to NGOs.

I have suggested to FCDO that they might like to look on these indigenous NGOs as their local partners, as a form of diplomacy when the embassy is closed and UK staff are absent. In fact, I think there is a case for building this principle into all of our humanitarian and aid policy. Communications are suffering almost as much as food and water, and I have suggested that FCDO, even from the UK, could be assisting Sudanese NGOs with appropriate technology to restore their mobiles and bring their iPads back to life.

Getting closer to NGOs during this crisis could place the UK at a diplomatic advantage as well.  Better communications with civil society mean more everyday contact with those who, in time, are going to contribute to a genuine peace settlement, once a permanent ceasefire is in place. 

A lot of work had already been done when the shooting began and some of the strands of the framework agreement could be picked up immediately.  There needs to be a convention to establish a new constitution which could attract members of the old political parties, both Islamic and secular. Youth groups, women’s associations, street committees and many other semi-formal NGOs have already shown an appetite for low-level democracy through street protest, even until now at the serious risk of getting shot.

Those are all aspirations. But to bring two opposing armies back to the table must be the number one priority, alongside the requirement to merge them into one national army. It is a tall order but it is possible. The peace agreement following Nepal’s civil war set a good precedent. It was achieved through years of painstaking work by a specially constituted United Nations committee – and of course the willingness of the parties. Beside this there was a truth and reconciliation process. This will be difficult in Sudan because of the impunity of both armies following years of genocide in Darfur.

And finally, if national stability is secured, there must be elections, so often deferred in the past. Again, the experience and the machinery of elections are available. South Sudan, while is still suffering from its own brand of local conflict and leadership struggle, is now setting a good example, with president Salva Kiir even offering to mediate in the north.

 

Earl of Sandwich, crossbench peer. 

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