15 APRIL 2009


Why do the Sudanese people, one of the proudest in Africa, have to witness their President, the symbol of the country, indicted for crimes against humanity? Why do they have to accommodate his darting all over the country, once dressed in military fatigues, once almost undressed with a long spear in hand but always with a clubby stick shouting, cajoling, promising -- generally acting like a demagogue at a time when he should disarm his accusers by acting as a serious head of state.

Moreno-Ocampo must have driven Omar Bashir beyond limits of reason. But President Bashir officially represents all Sudanese, including those neglected and victimized in Darfur. To only mention them in speeches is not enough. To stampede them through a swift convoy in Al-Fasher would neither heal their wounds nor guarantee him immunity. Yes, he got some other heads of state on his side, mainly for fear of setting precedents. Yes, Ocampo rushed into indictment perhaps without adequate documentation and loaded with political baggage. But that does not justify pushing the whole country into a state of frenzy against foreigners and international aid groups who were always welcomed by the hospitable Sudanese. Admittedly, there will be some opportunists or even security risks amongst them, but that did not justify wholesale expulsion. More important, the President's rash actions do not reflect the kind and sincere sentiments of his own people.

Our sorrow for the current status of Sudan was compounded with the passing of a great Sudanese -- indeed an outstanding Arab writer. Tayyeb Saleh, a sensitive friend with an understated sense of humour had lived most of his last years abroad but his heart was breaking at the dysfunction of his beloved country. He could not believe how much Sudan had changed. A country that used to be exemplary in its civil service and educational systems has been severely weakened.

"Relations between nations are not just a smart game. It is humans dealing with humans, minds meeting minds, interests that give and take and cultures embracing cultures" he wrote in "My Country, Sudan." He could never imagine that a Sudanese would act in any way to embarrass his country. Even when writing about former dictator, General Jaafar Numeiry, he described him as "an initially shy man" -- a strange description for a man who bombed inhabitants of an island, hung a leader of a party, killed his closest colleague, and ran the country into near bankruptcy. "He did not wish any of that to happen," Tayyeb went on, "but events start with a whimper yet end in a bang; one thing leads to another and the shy man becomes a butcher." If that soldier just resisted the temptation of eternal power, did not wake up very early one morning to take over authoritarian power, perhaps he would have ended up a regular Commander of the national army and retired with his dignity, and that of his country, intact.

Tayyeb Saleh's most famous novel was entitled "The Season to Immigrate South." Perhaps General Bashir, a former army general, could read the writing on the wall.