Mark Goldberg of the American Prospect reports on a rather stunning development in Sudan:
Grinnell College alumnus, University of Iowa–educated doctor of agricultural economics, and most recently vice president of Sudan’s National Unity Government John Garang died in a helicopter crash in southern Sudan over the weekend.
The timing of his death could not have been worse. In January, Garang — the long-time leader of the Christian and Animist rebels in South Sudan — signed a peace deal with the Islamist government in Khartoum, effectively ending a 20-year civil war. Just a month ago the peace accord entered into force and Garang was installed as vice president of Sudan.
Sudan’s north-south civil war—which Garang had helped to end—existed mostl yapart from the ongoing conflict in Darfur, and as Sudan expert Eric Reeves wrote a few weeks ago, it was highly unlikely that Garang’s “National Unity Government” could do much to end the genocide-by-attrition going on in the west. So this may not affect Darfur one way or the other: the Sudanese government officials responsible for genocide were still going to be holding the levers of power no matter what.
On the other hand, Garang was in a strong position to oversee the reconstruction of southern Sudan, which has been utterly ravaged by twenty years of war. More critically, southern Sudan is still facing very serious threats by roving militias allied with the central government, militias that have still not agreed to the north-south peace treaty. Reeves suggests that many in Sudan’s government have not yet accepted the treaty either, and may have been working to undermine or eliminate Garang. As such, the international community should certainly investigate to see whether any of these government elements had a hand in Garang’s helicopter crash. The ongoing genocide in Darfur is bad enough; but a resumption of civil war in Sudan would transform an intolerable situation into something far, far worse. This, for instance, is exceedingly dangerous. The Christian right in the United States had a strong role in pressuring the Bush administration to broker peace between north and south; they need to resume that pressure now.