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Javier Solana’s Foot in Mouth Problem

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Javier Solana’s Foot in Mouth Problem

Posted by Colin Thomas-Jensen on September 3, 2009

Speaking to reporters in Cairo yesterday, European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana served up a wingtip sandwich.

From AFP:

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said on Wednesday he favoured unity for Sudan, where a referendum to decide the south’s independence will take place in 2011.

"It is very important to have that country united," Solana told reporters in Cairo where he held talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Arab League chief Amr Mussa.

"I do look at the map, I do look at the distribution of resources, I do look at the situation… I am for the unity of the country," he said.

The head of the government of Southern Sudan in Washington D.C., Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth, was suitably taken aback and swift to respond. Gotkuoth was quoted by VOA:

The statement is not in line with the [Comprehensive Peace Agreement] spirit because in the CPA one of the options is united Sudan and another option is separation of the south to be an independent state. So, yes all of us have agreed that we are going to make unity attractive to the southerners so that they can vote for unity in 2011. But if the unity is not attractive to them at all, then they also have another option, which is separation,

As Gatkuoth makes clear, the southerners’ right to vote in a self-determination referendum is a cornerstone of the CPA. It is abundantly clear to most observers that southerners will vote for independence, and their decision must be respected by the international community. Solana’s statements are at best inappropriate. His suggestion that there a “preferable” outcome in the southern Sudanese vote is an affront to southerners and to the external actors—including many European countries—that painstakingly negotiated the agreement. As one colleague noted, “It’s clear to me that almost no one puts the southern Sudanese people into their calculations.”

The setting in which the remarks were made is also a clear indication that the Egyptian government is registering some successes in its own campaign to advocate for Sudan’s unity, which figures directly into its strategic (read economic and security) interests in its neighbor to the South. For Cairo, any disruption to the flow of the Nile would be disastrous. If Sudan were to divide into two states, Egypt would have to renegotiate its access to the Nile River with the southern Sudanese. Ultimately, Cairo believes it can live with the regime in Khartoum—no matter how dreadfully it treats its own citizens—so long as it keeps its rights to the Nile.

But Solana and the Egyptians are peddling faulty logic.  The notion that a unified Sudan would somehow be more stable is clearly absurd; forced unity is a recipe for a new civil a war. The notion that southerners are unfit to govern themselves is equally bizarre, as it seems to assume that the way Khartoum governs now is somehow acceptable. Two and a half million dead and millions more displaced, incubation of Osama bin Laden’s commercial network, the reintroduction of slavery, and the use of starvation as a weapon of war: this is the legacy of the National Congress Party. Reading Solana’s comments, we’d love to know what planet he’s been on for the past 20 years.