A group of 35 Darfuri and American advocacy leaders called on President Barack Obama to remove Scott Gration, the United States’ envoy to Sudan. They sent a letter to Obama asking him to remove Gration of his duties and ‘assign the Sudan portfolio to experienced diplomats in the State Department with the active oversight of Secretary Clinton’. The letter says that General Gration has taken a conciliatory approach toward the National Congress Party (NCP). It notes that the American envoy cannot be the leading mediator because he has emboldened the ruling party and lost the trust of other parties for being ‘too soft’ on NCP. ‘General Gration has become ineffectual in his role since the NCP knows he cannot successfully facilitate and mediate negotiations between and among the parties’, said the letter.
Citing an earlier Radio Dabanga report of behind-the-scenes meetings between the NCP and the US government, the letter says that the Obama Administration has not been transparent. The meetings took place between the Treasury Department and senior Sudanese political and business leaders who are members of the NCP. Further, the letter describes ‘the Administration’s failure to identify clear, public benchmarks for measuring progress in Sudan’.
Ismail Omer Ibrahim, a Darfuri living in Texas told Radio Dabanga that he decided Gration should be removed after he attended a workshop with Gration at the US Institute of Peace in Washington DC on 26 January. He said he disagrees with US financial support for Sudan’s election as well as efforts to push rebels into negotiations before they are more unified. The meeting in Washington was a two-day workshop for the diaspora, attended by General Gration on the second day. On the night before the meeting with Gration, the Darfuris met and chose three representatives to lead the panel discussion with the US envoy: Mastora Bakheit from Indiana, Dr. Hamid El Tijani of the American University in Cairo and Dr. Ali Dinar of the University of Pennsylvania. These leaders reportedly asked General Gration to increase US efforts to fully mobilize the UN-African Union peacekeepers and work with US Ambassador Susan Rice to widen the peacekeepers’ mandate. They also asked for the USA to enforce a no-fly zone over Darfur to prevent bombings. Gration reportedly responded saying that he was one of the US commanders who implemented the no-fly zone over Iraq and based on his experience he does not believe a no-fly zone is necessary in Darfur because there is no evidence that the government is still attacking civilians with warplanes.
Darfuri participants and Gration also had a factual disagreement about whether humanitarian aid has been restored to full capacity since the expulsion of 16 NGOs by the government in March last year. Gration reportedly stated at the meeting that capacity is restored due to efforts by 4 new aid groups that were subsequently allowed in. Ibrahim disagrees: ‘For us, we call (Darfur) all the time – sometimes three, four, five times a day and that is not true’.
The letter was not signed by Save Darfur nor by the Enough Project, the two most influential advocacy groups. An official at US State Department responded to the letter in remarks to press on Wednesday. Acting Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner said that Gration ‘enjoys the (Secretary Hillary Clinton’s) confidence. He’s in the region. He’s pursuing both improved relations between Chad and Sudan as well as trying to move the process forward on the Comprehensive Peace Agreement’.