Defiant Bashir no longer a free man

It is no longer business as usual for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.

Eight months after the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Mr Luis Moreno-Ocampo called for the arrest of the charismatic leader, it is clear that his travelling days are over.

For both men, March 4 marked a new watershed.

The moment the Hague-based court released its warrants that accuse President Bashir of crimes against humanity, murder, torture and rape in the country’s western region of Darfur, massive demos erupted in the Sudanese capital Khartoum.

It appeared then that Mr Bashir had become more popular.

On his part, Mr Ocampo said it was a matter of time before President Bashir was arrested. At that time, it was unthinkable that Mr Bashir’s plane would take off even for a neighbouring country.

Months later, it is a totally different story. President Bashir has made visits to Eritrea, Ethiopia, Libya, Egypt, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

But, the president has cancelled many trips among them an invitation to attend the inauguration of South African President Jacob Zuma, two meetings in Kampala including one on the fate of Africa’s displaced persons, an area where Sudan leads with four million IDPs and the UN General Assembly meeting last month.

In Kampala, there was an assurance by President Yoweri Museveni that Mr Bashir was welcome as the head of an AU-member country, but, the Ugandans failed to provide a written guarantee that they would protect the Sudanese president.

Also this month, there was a meeting called in Kampala to review the peace deal with Southern Sudan. The Southern delegation, led by Mr Nhial Deng showed up in Munyonyo, near Kampala but Khartoum did not send any representative.

And, this week, there was a meeting in Abuja that discussed the report of a panel headed by former South African President Thabo Mbeki on ending Darfur conflict.

Only two heads of state attended: Nigeria’s Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Kenya’s Mwai Kibaki. President Bashir was represented by Vice President Ali Osman Taha.

And next month, there is a summit of the regional grouping, Igad in Djibouti. Sudan is a key player in Igad but it is unlikely President Bashir will show up.

The travel limitation means the president’s diplomacy has suffered a major blow. But, he can now focus on domestic issues as the country faces a deadline of April 2010 to hold presidential and parliamentary elections.

At the same time, there is the boundary issue between the North and South that is yet to be settled even after a court ruling at the Hague on the Abyei matter.

On Sudan’s border with Kenya, there is the issue of Toposa gunmen who keep attacking Kenyan security officers.

In Southern Sudan, there has been an escalation of clashes with the Nuer fighting the Dinka, the Nuer fighting the Murle and the Shilluk fighting the Dinka.

Southern Sudan leaders say these militias are armed by President Bashir’s government to try to portray the South as not able to govern itself.

Foreign relations

The issue has even spilled into Kenya’s Parliament where Labour Minister John Munyes has been summoned by a House committee to explain claims that he is Khartoum’s spy and that he is being used to fan conflict in Southern Sudan.

Sudan’s envoy to Kenya, Mr Majok Guandong has denied making the claims.

Back to Bashir, the warrant itself is an abuse of international law as Khartoum is not signatory to the statute that set up the court that now wants to try him, a move that is supported by the US, a country that is also not a member of the ICC.

Henry Owuor is Diplomatic and Foreign Affairs writer, Daily Nation

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