The Obama Administration, Khartoum, South Sudan, and a Tenuous Ceasefire

south sudan_the guardian
Photo/the Guardian

As reporter Michael Richard wrote in his piece titled “The Deadly Plagues and Social Crimes of South Sudan the Youngest African Country“,  “the East African country gained her independence from the Republic of Sudan officially in July 2011, after much struggle and deadly protests from civilians, in the first months post independence; a civilian government was briefly formed for the first time.”

“Leadership evolved into a federal system of government, and since then South Sudan has witnessed several instances of political unrest, ethnic conflict and many other periods of violence culminating in the first civil war in 2013. As one of the major large-scale oil producing countries it still remains a very poor nation as oil revenue does not imply growth, but fuels rebellions and war.”

As the Sudan Tribune reported on Monday: “Rival leaders in South Sudan have unilaterally declared cessation of hostilities to stop a four-day fighting period between their forces in the national capital, Juba. Heavy fighting had been going on between forces of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) loyal to President Salva Kiir, and the SPLA in Opposition (SPLA-IO) loyal to First Vice President, Riek Machar.”

The report continues: “Hundreds of soldiers have been killed on both sides for the cause none of the two leaders could explain. On Monday, probably in response to the mounting pressure from the international community, the two leaders agreed to ceasefire. President Kiir issued an order read on national TV by his information minister, Michael Makuei Lueth, in which he declared the ceasefire”.

Its not enough that South Sudan is currently, once again, attempting to enact peace dialogue under a tenuous ceasefire, but as expert on counter-terrorism in Sudan Eric Reeves writes they are dealing with a flood of “thousands” of refugees from Sudan, in what Reeves is calling an obscene disregard for human rights violations.

Eric Reeves

The Obama administration has from the beginning found it difficult to speak honestly about the ghastly realities defining Sudan under the National Islāmic Front/National Congress Party regime in Khartoum. This is particularly true of human suffering and destruction in the western Darfur region, but also in the southern states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile.


In a telling example, former administration special envoy for Sudan Scott Gration badly misjudged the appropriateness of returns by displaced people in Darfur, prompting a stern rebuke from humanitarian organizations and UN agencies. Gration also terribly understated the effects on humanitarian capacity created by Khartoum’s March 2009 expulsion from Darfur of thirteen of the world finest relief organizations. Gration’s was the Obama administration response to an egregious and highly consequential violation of international humanitarian law.

His successor, Princeton Lyman, refused to credit clear evidence of ethnic slaughter by Khartoum’s forces in the early stages of fighting in South Kordofan (June 2011)—slaughter that was later confirmed by a leaked UN human rights report compiled by UN human rights observers on the ground at the time. In December 2011 Lyman committed the Obama administration to the preposterous notion that the current Khartoum regime should not be changed, but allowed to “carry out reform via constitutional democratic measures.”

Omar Hassan al-Bashir has ruled with an iron fist for more than 25 years. He came to power in a coup in 1989 and was elected president in 1996. He was re-elected several times since, most recently in 2015 when he gained another five-year term. Most opposition parties boycotted the vote. Photo/Getty Images

So absurd was such a notion that it could barely disguise the real engine of Obama administration Sudan policy: a lust for the counter-terrorism intelligence that Khartoum—which hosted Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda in the 1990s—could purportedly provide the U.S. It has seemed not to matter that this entails rapprochement with a regime whose president, Omar al-Bashir, has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for multiple counts of genocide as well as crimes against humanity in Darfur.

At various times statements coming from the Obama administration State Department have been misleading about facts on the ground, indulged a specious moral equivalence between Khartoum and its rebel opponents, or diminished the scale of human suffering and deprivation. Recently, however, the State Department has outdone itself in declaring its support for al-Bashir’s announcement of a unilateral ceasefire in South Kordofan and Blue Nile (not in Darfur). No mention was made of the fact that the announcement came at the start of the heavy rainy season, when Khartoum’s massive advantage in mechanized transportation and weaponry is effectively neutralized. But most startling was the characterization of those who might be assisted by a permanent ceasefire:

We find this [cease-fire declaration] an important and welcome step towards a peaceful resolution to conflict in those states, which we would like to see extended to the Darfur region. An end to military offensives and fighting in these areas would bring much needed relief to thousands of Sudanese and create an improved environment for dialogue leading to a political solution.

“Thousands of Sudanese”?

This is not understatement: it is disingenuous obfuscation. There are quite literally millions of people affected by the assault on humanitarian relief efforts in Darfur and the humanitarian blockade that Khartoum continues to impose on South Kordofan and Blue Nile.

Some figures of note. Khartoum’s genocidal counter-insurgency in Darfur has forced more than three million people their homes in Darfur—overwhelmingly from African tribal groups of the region.Some 300,000 of the displaced live as refugees in terribly inhospitable eastern Chad. Many of the displaced have no access to adequate food supplies, clean water, primary medical care, or other resources that could be provided by unfettered humanitarian access. UNICEF, in a report leaked to journalists, estimates that some 2 million children in Sudan suffer from severe or acute malnutrition, with malnutrition rates in Darfur among the worst. A top EU humanitarian official recently estimated that more than 5 million people in Sudan are in “urgent need” of humanitarian assistance; they are concentrated in Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile.

Photographer Quasai Akoud captures a man drinking tea. “Humans of Khartoum”, is a small tribute photo project to the people of Khartoum, Sudan, one street portrait at a time.


Hundreds of thousands of Sudanese have fled their homes in South Kordofan and Blue Nile—many to South Sudan. They have been forced to leave by Khartoum’s relentless, indiscriminate aerial assault, primarily in the form of inaccurate, shrapnel-loaded barrel bombs. To the extent there is targeting, civilians and civilian agriculture are the primary victims. Growing numbers of people face extreme malnutrition and may well starve, although Khartoum prevents even international humanitarian assessment efforts.


Does the price of counter-terrorism intelligence include an obscene downplaying of massive human suffering and destruction? The evidence is that the Obama administration thinks it does.

Eric Reeves has written extensively on Sudan for almost two decades; he is a Senior Fellow at Harvard University’s François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights. His website is; he is on Twitter @SudanReeves