The View from Khartoum

So it’s almost a week now since the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court revealed his evidence against President Omar al-Bashir. And it’s still pretty difficult to work out where things are going. The consensus among aid workers and UN staff here is that things will stay quiet while Khartoum goes down the diplomatic road, looking to the UN Security Counucil to head things off. If arrest warrants are issued and if Khartoum’s allies fail to have them suspended then we may see a ratcheting up of the usual restrictions on foreign aid workers.
There have been demonstrations – including one where a mob of about 50 people took exception to my presence, something that hasn’t happened since the last demonstration I attended in Khartoum. They have been limited in size and clearly orchestrated. My favourite was the one led by a man in a suit that materialised alongside the Ministry of the Council of Ministers, where by strange coincidence about 100 journalists were waiting for a statement from Ali Osman Taha.
There has been plenty of angry rhetoric, government officials promising to turn Darfur into a graveyard or to fight any foreigner who sets foot in the region. Some of the quotes are spectacularly similar – “foreigners ask us for protection in Darfur, but how can we protect them when our statehood is undermined by the ICC” – suggesting that some government line has been agreed. But for now it seems that the top figures in government are being totally reasonable.
Alex de Waal sums it up:

To date, the application by Moreno Ocampo for an arrest warrant for President Omar al Bashir has not led to disaster in Sudan. The CPA is intact, the UN operations are continuing, there have been no clashes between government supporters and enemies. In fact, the country appears calmer than last week.

Where are we going? There’s plenty of scope for things to get worse. The anti-Western backlash could still happen. But at the end of the day Bashir is interested in one thing only: Survival. And for now that means keeping his head down and working the diplomatic channels. We’ll get a better feeling for whether the ICC move has harmed the chances of peace in Darfur if and when arrest warrants are issued.