Freedom for Sudan’s Slaves?


There is perhaps no greater tragedy on the face of the earth today than the tragedy that is unfolding in the Sudan. —Secretary of State Colin Powell, May 7, 2001

When the president of the United States officially found Sudan’s National Islamic Front government in Khartoum guilty of genocide on October 21, I naively expected there would be significant press play. The New York Times had a photograph of the signing of the Sudan Peace Act the next day on page A18 with only a two-line caption and no mention of the key word genocide.

The name of that internationally recognized crime was also omitted from The Washington Post‘s brief story on page A7 and in a longer Associated Press report. Jon Sawyer of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch got it right in a substantial story on October 22. From what I was able to see on television—broadcast and cable—that medium was clueless. But then, both television and much of the print press have also been clueless about state terrorism against Africans in Zimbabwe and Liberia, among other tyrannies on that continent.

Ted Koppel’s Nightline did do an exemplary week-long series on the Congo last year. And this October, PBS broadcast WGBH-TV’s Liberia: America’s Stepchild, on that country’s maximum leader, Charles Taylor, and the atrocities he and some of his predecessors have inflicted on the people of that blood-soaked land. Otherwise, Africa, to the media, is usually the heart of darkness.

As for the Sudan Peace Act, imagine how the media would have covered an American declaration of genocide on a white country that for years had enslaved many thousands of its white citizens, gang-raping the women during slave raids.

The provisions of the law, signed by George W. Bush after years of pressure, have been summarized by Nina Shea of Freedom House, who has long been one of the pivotal anti-slavery forces in Washington:

“[The law] immediately authorizes aid to the south, with or without Khartoum’s approval, in the amount of $300 million over the next three years. . . . [It] requires the president to certify every six months that Khartoum and the rebel Sudanese People’s Liberation Army are negotiating in good faith [and] specifies four sanctions against Khartoum if the president certifies that Khartoum is not negotiating in good faith, or has ‘unreasonably interfered with humanitarian efforts.’

“The sanctions include: opposing international loans and credits to Khartoum; downgrading diplomatic relations; denying Khartoum access to oil revenues; and seeking a UN Security Council resolution to impose an arms embargo on Khartoum. [The act] also requires the administration to report on oil financing [of the government by foreign corporations], acts of genocide, and on the obstruction of aid delivery by Khartoum.”

Not reported by the media was what George W. Bush said at the signing as he turned to the New Abolitionists around him: “There are times when the government has to be prodded. I know that if we don’t do what we’re supposed to [now], you’ll be out there prodding us again.”

A principal prodder of Bush, and of Clinton before him, is Joe Madison (“the Black Eagle”), host of a syndicated radio show out of WOL in Washington. For years a member of the NAACP’s national board, Joe participated twice in the redeeming of black slaves in Sudan, and was also arrested while handcuffed to the door of the Sudanese consulate in Washington, along with longtime civil rights leader Walter Fauntroy and influential Washington insider Michael Horowitz of the Hudson Institute. (Their attorneys were Kenneth Starr and Johnnie Cochran.) Joe also prodded Jesse Jackson to break his long silence on slavery in Sudan.

After the signing of the Sudan Peace Act, Joe Madison told me that Colin Powell had played a major role in moving Congress and the White House to finally take action. (But as reported on the Fox Television News Channel on October 21, Jesse Jackson said, “Colin Powell is not on our team.” Many former slaves in Sudan would not agree with the reverend, who traveled through Africa with President Bill Clinton without mentioning slavery in Sudan.)

“Our work isn’t done,” Joe says. “It’s just begun. We must keep pressure on the State Department and on Bush, and may need to go to civil disobedience and mass demonstrations to ensure that they do what they say they’ll do.” (Joe was deeply involved in ending apartheid in South Africa.)

I have been informed by one of my fellow members of the Sudan Coalition that the assistant secretary of state for Africa, Walter Kansteiner, has “unambivalently advised me that State intends to fully comply with the terms of the act, and asked me to convey this message to all members of the coalition.”

Kansteiner and the president can be assured that we are watching. So is Bishop Paride Taban, whose Catholic diocese in Sudan is bordered by Uganda, Kenya, and Ethiopia. When he was in New York recently, the bishop told me of how close he came to being obliterated by the Khartoum government: “On July 5 of this year, there was talk of peace, of negotiations, and I was in Kapoeta, a big town in my diocese. Suddenly, the government’s army helicopters came. As I went for the bomb shelter, nine people were killed in front of me.”

The bishop and I spoke after the signing of the Sudan Peace Act. “Up to now,” he said, “we in Sudan have been forgotten. At least now something is on paper. But we need more than words. Many agreements have been broken. We must see that the pledges are carried out and that we are no longer treated as property by the Arabs of the north.”

And Professor Eric Reeves of Smith College—a major prodder of Bush and Clinton about Sudan—emphasizes: “There is no need to wait to seek a United Nations Security Council resolution to impose an arms embargo on the government of Sudan. . . . Such a resolution should be sought immediately, since we know all too well how the Khartoum regime relentlessly uses oil-funded weapons against civilians in southern Sudan.”

But don’t wait for The New York Times, The Washington Post, or the broadcast and cable television networks to report the need for that Security Council resolution. The call for further action will come, and keep coming, from Joe Madison, Michael Horowitz, Eric Reeves, and other members of the Sudan Coalition—along with Bishop Taban on the front lines.