Just back in Khartourm from a trip to Darfur with President Omar al-Bashir, who is waiting to find out whether the International Criminal Court will issue a warrant for his arrest. The trip was astonishing and fascinating in many ways. It was a whistle-stop tour of El Fasher, Nyala and El Geneina with five-minute visits to schools and lengthy rallies in front of as many as 20,000 people.
The sight of someone accused of orchestrating genocide in Darfur doing a jig in front of thousands of cheering people rightly dominated much of the coverage.
At the same time, Bashir’s message of peace and development shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. He admitted injustices had happened in Darfur and appealed to all parties to join talks. He also promised electricity, schools and hospitals to a chronically under-developed region of Sudan.
Fine words. But much of it was pretty vague. Journalists were kept well out of his way (although I did manage to slip the cordon and fire in a quick question, which earned me nothing more than a withering look) so it is difficult to know how genuine he is. Bashir has after all broken his word many times before, on disarming the Janjaweed and bringing Ahmed Haroun to justice, for example.
The question now is what difference the looming ICC indictments make and whether they will pressure him to make a real difference. So far he has hardly put a foot wrong, keeping the rhetoric under control and trying to built a diplomatic coalition at the United Nations. As a western diplomatic source put it:
“The rhetoric has been managed and the demonstrations haven’t got out of hand while the political manoeuvring is under way. You have to say, he’s played a blinder.”
Now President Bashir must match his fine words with action to help end the suffering in Darfur.