Monday, September 28, 2009

Cookies for a dictator?

In an article in the Washington Post, U.S. Special Envoy for Sudan Scott Gration is quoted as saying, "We've got to think about giving out cookies. Kids, countries, they react to gold stars, smiley faces, handshakes, agreements, talk, engagement."

He said this on the eve of a major Sudan policy review by the new Obama Administration and that comment, among other statements, is raising eyebrows across the Darfur peace movement.

Cookies for a Sudanese government that has repeatedly broken promises? Cookies for a Sudanese government that expelled humanitarian groups, thus endangering the lives of millions, but then insisted on getting a reward for letting these same groups back in?

I believe the main concern from the Darfur peace movement’s leaders is that these Gration statements reflect the Administration's official Sudan policy. Such an apparently "soft" approach flies in the face of the bold statements and commitments to action made by former Senators Obama, Biden and Clinton on the campaign trail.

The leaders of the Enough Project, Save Darfur Coaltion and the Genocide Intervention Network released a statement in response. To quote Sam Bell, the director of the Genocide Intervention Network: “If Washington is going to start taking war criminals at their word, despite the long list of Khartoum's broken commitments, an even larger tragedy will soon unfold.” [Full disclosure: I am a 2009 Carl Wilkens Fellow with the Genocide Intervention Network]

Personally, I want to trust the Envoy. I want to believe that offering incentives is shortest route to ending the suffering of my friends and their families in Darfur. If his tactics have gained him the trust and ear of the Government of Sudan (GoS), then perhaps cookies are what need to be served.

However, the leader of the Darfur Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) rebel group was quoted in the Sudan Tribune on Sept. 28 saying the Envoy “does not have a program or strategy for a solution” in Darfur. This does not give me condidence that Gration has the trust of the rebels, who will be key in ending this mess.

So…is Gration fumbling away a chance for real peace by losing the confidence of a key ally in JEM, or is his strategy of paying attention and giving “cookies” to the GoS the right focus and key to long-term solutions? Let me know what you think.

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