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Scott Gration about new US policy for Sudan: ‘Catch bears with honey’

September 15 - 2009 WASHINGTON

The US envoy for Sudan, Scott Gration, says it is better to use incentives for the government of Sudan, rather than to exert pressures. He defends the new US policy towards Sudan. The Obama administration is regarded by critics as soft toned. But Scott Gration said to Radio Dabanga: ‘There’s an expression that we heard when we were young: “You catch more bears with honey [than with vinegar]”. (…) I think that we all respond better with incentives”.

He adds: ‘’ I believe that we have made a significant difference using some of the incentives. Obviously the pressures are still there. We are not taking the pressures of the table. They are still available to us. The bottom line is we believe that the current course of action, where we work together with the government and work together with the people of Darfur, is a formula that is currently working, and until we see it’s not working, we should continue the force.


The transcript of the interview with US envoy Scott Gration aired for Radio Dabanga


Scott Gration: Salaam Aleikum, Ramadam Kareem

Radio Dabanga: Thank you. What are your thoughts on the unifications going on right now ahead of the negotiations?

Scott Gration: We think it’s very important that we bring the rebel leaders together that they represent their people and in addition to unifying the rebel groups. I think that it’s very important that the civil society and their representatives in the IDP camps, the representatives in the refugees camps in Chad and the representatives in the diaspora have a chance to become part in this process. We are looking for unification across Darfur, so that the Darfuri people have representatives that can speak for them. In a clear, a loud and a unified voice. The issues are important to all the Darfuri people and not just to only one group. In a unified way.

We can get the issues on the table, get them resolved and to negotiations. So that peace can come to Darfur and that issues such as land reform, compensation, power-sharing, all those things to be discussed from the perspectives of the rebel leaders and also the other people who live in Darfur.


Radio Dabanga: Last time you said the situation has been improving, though the UNOCHA has published a report two days ago that says nothing had changed in terms of violence against aid workers and others?


Scott Gration: There are many, many things that have to be improved. We all agree with that. The security situation in Darfur is still bad. There are still people who are being terrorized. There are still women that are victimized by violence and people who are afraid to go out, especially at night. These things have to change. There are many other things that have to be fixed. There are a lot of people who have no access to health care and water and sufficient food. We have to fix the sanitation and water supplies.

I agree that there are things that have to be done. It’s not untrue if I say that we are making progress.

Since the 4th of March the situation has improved. As we have four NGOs in, the capacity of the UN is increased, the capacity of the other NGOs has still remained, they were not expelled.

Yes, there are things we have to work on and the situation is dire and unacceptable, we know. There has been a positive trend. We just need to accelerate this and make it better for the people in Darfur.


Radio Dabanga: Last time you’ve made a statement that things are improving on the ground, and there are ‘remnants of a genocide.’ The government uses these statements for its public relation campaign?


Scott Gration: I think it really doesn’t matter what the government does in terms of public relations. What we want the government to do is to make a difference. We want the government to take a more active role to make it easier for NGOs to bring the humanitarian assistance the people so desperately need. We want the government to take responsibility for the security situation, the security forces, the police forces, for improving the situation.

So that people in Darfur can live lives that includes justice, where people that perpetrated crimes are caught, where they get punished, where people cannot get away with terrorizing the Darfuri people.

These are the things we are holding the government accountable for, not for a media campaign.


Radio Dabanga: Darfur activists said that you are using too many carrots with the Sudanese Government? Now they are leading a campaign in Washington and demonstrating in front of the American embassy in London against the statements you’ve made. What do you comment on that?


Scott Gration: I really cannot control. I can only control what I see. There’s an expression that we had when we were young: “You catch more bears with honey than with vinegar”. In other words, we see things that need to be punished, or we see the requirement for additional pressure. We should exert these efforts, whether you are an individual or whether you are a organization. I think that we all respond better with incentives. And I believe that we have made a significant difference using some of the incentives. Obviously the pressures are still there. We are not taking the pressures of the table. They are still available to us. The bottom line is we believe that the current course of action, where we work together with the government and work together with the people of Darfur, is a formula that is currently working, and until we see it’s not working, we should continue the course.


Radio Dabanga: There was the language used during the electoral campaign for the presidency in the United States. So the commitment made by President Obama during the elections, is that now on the table or is it removed?


Scott Gration: President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton are committed to the people of Darfur and to changing the unacceptable and dire conditions that exist here.When you have 1.2 million people living in IDP camps, when you have hundreds of thousands or more refugees in bad conditions living in Chad, when you’ve people who are forced from their country that are part of the diaspora, spread all over the world. These conditions must change. Where people can voluntarily return to their homes. Where they can have human rights and dignity and where they can get justice and equality. These are the things that President Obama and Hilary Clinton are committed to. These are the things I’ll be working for. You can count on the United States to be partners with you and partners with the Darfuri people to accomplish all of these objectives I just outlined.


Radio Dabanga: Some of the IDPs of the camp were not happy with your visit to Darfur. What do you think are the reasons behind that?

Scott Gration: I can only tell you that some people disagree with what I’m doing. I’ve been treated with the absolute warm hospitality that the Darfuri people are so famous for. I appreciate the hospitality that I received in the camps today.

I will tell you, as I talk to them, I found out they have been given wrong information. They have been told that I was recommending forcible return.

They have been told that I wanted them to leave the IDP camps. This is totally wrong.

What I’ve said that we need to be thinking about an eventual return, we need to be thinking about preparing the places they would return to. With a opportunity for education and health care and community development. We need to be thinking about the security in these homelands, where the people might choose to return to.

I didn’t say the people need to leave, I said that we have to find out how we can fix the conditions where they can get in food. They probably miss their first cycle, as their plants are young and growing and the cattle are young.

I found out that people misunderstand my position. The second thing I found out is that the people thought I said we should remove Sudan from the terrorist list. I never said that. I also found out that people thought I said to lift the sanctions against Khartoum. What I said is we have to lift the sanctions to help the NGOs with humanitarian assistance to come to Darfur.

So there was a lot of confusion on behalf of the people and I think that confusion may have caused people to think that I was not welcome in Darfur.

But if you study my words, if you study what I said on Dabanga, if you study what I said in the Congress, you’ll see that my words are exactly as I stated and not what has been reported by other people to the people in Darfur.


Radio Dabanga: You visited before Abu Shouk camp and ZamZam camp, today you’re doing the same. Why are you not going to the other camps?

Scott Gration: It’s my goal to go to every single camp. It’s impossible to go from camp to camp to camp, without taking time to listen to the people, without taking the time to see the condition the people are living in, without the time to see the facilities where they get their food and their healthcare.

It takes a little bit of time. I made my way to Nyala, El Fasher and other places. I’m visiting the camps and this is the best I can. I’m not going to say that I visited every camp. But I listened and I looked and I learned. That’s my objective, that’s my goal.

You’ll see me continue to make trips and tomorrow I’m going to the Jabel Marra area. So I continue to learn, to see and to listen to the perspectives of the Darfuri people.


Radio Dabanga: Going back to the policy review made towards Sudan, do you think that is an incentive or a major pressure that can lead Sudan to sign a peace in Darfur?

Scott Gration: I think the policy review is more about what the United States approach to Sudan will be. And so, in that policy review we look at the pressures that we can continue to apply. What are the incentives that we can put in place. Not only provide and create an environment where the people of Darfur can bring about the peace agreement but also what we can do for Southern Sudan. To assure that the CPA is fully implemented, to assure that the people in Southern Sudan have the right and have a way they can express their will concerning being united or being separated. And that is what the strategy review does. It lays out those incentives and those pressures the United States can use.


Radio Dabanga: Some people say you are trying to please the Sudanese Government, the rebels and the IDPs all together but that finally you are not successful in that. Is that true?

Scott Gration: Your Radio station is called Dabanga. What we are trying to do is put everything in a dabanga. We can pull all the ideas together, so we can be unified. So that the rebels can be unified, so that the people of Darfur can be unified. So that the international community can be unified. So that we can all be together as part of a team in one dabanga. So that when we work on those programmes it’s not just one camp and another camp and one individual here and one individual in Paris, but it is everybody together. Working in the same way. Everybody in the same dabanga. Working towards a common end. We want to be team players and partners with the Darfuri people to help to achieve peace and to help achieve an environment here in Darfur where you have security, stability, dignity, human rights and safety.


Radio Dabanga: There are people who wrote Washington is selling the Sudanese people by the river. Words as used by Roger Winter, Donald and Prendergast are protesting. All of them are protesting against the way you are tackling the situation in Darfur. What do you think of that?

Scott Gration: I cannot comment about what other people think about me. All I can comment about is me. I have to look in mirror today and say: ‘Gration, do the best you can about the people in Darfur.’ And I hope every day I can say: “Gration, you worked as hard as you can.” That’s who I hold myself accountable to, to President Obama, to Hillary Clinton to the people of Darfur. And not to the other people that may want to comment about me and my activities.


Radio Dabanga: Have received any complaints from the camps you have visited today?

Scott Gration: I have heard concerns. And these concerns I’m working on. Obviously we have heard concerns about the security and I agree. And we are working on that in Khartoum and with the local government here and with UNAMID. I have heard concerns about humanitarian assistance and making sure that the gaps are filled in a sustainable way.

And we are working with the UN, with USAID, and the other donors, to make sure that that happens. And I have heard concerns about freedom and the lack of liberty. We will continue to work with the government in Khartoum to ensure that the people have that freedom and that liberty. But a lot of that comes back to security. And we have to fix the security at the higher level but also on the local level. There has to be more enforcement. There has to be a system of accountability. There has to be a system of justice, where people know that the people who perpetrated crimes will be punished and that those who are innocent will not be punished. And those are the kind of things we continue to work on.


Radio Dabanga: People are still complaining that the UNAMID is not protecting civilians though you were saying that there is an improvement in the situation there. What is your opinion on this issue?

Scott Gration: I think that their complaint is probably right in some ways. First of all UNAMID had only 62% of its manpower up until a couple of months ago. But we insisted on 92% by the end of the year. That would certainly give them more capacity because they have additional people. In addition to that, we are looking to see how we can work on the mandate and how we can implement the mandate so they can take a more active role. We will be working with the government to see if UNAMID can have more latitude to patrol at night and do those kinds of things that will give them more visibility in and around the camps. I think you are right that there are things we cannot do. I am working with UNAMID and I will meet the commanders tomorrow. There are things that we can do with the government in Khartoum to give a little bit more latitude to UNAMID. There are things that need to be done by the local community working with UNAMID in an effort to bring more security to this area. But you identified an area that is a priority for me and that is improving the security in Darfur and UNAMID is a very important part of that process.


Radio Dabanga: Please have a last word to the audience of Radio Dabanga.

Scott Gration: I’m happy to give a last word and I will say to the people in Darfur it is a pleasure for me to be in your part of the world. Every time I come here I am struck again with the hospitality and the kindness of the people. They really know about the issues. When I discuss the issues in Darfur they have clearly thought about these issues. It’s always a pleasure for me to come here because I learn so much of the inside of the Darfuri people I speak with. I will come back as often if I can because every time I come here, I have an opportunity to learn and to listen and to look . Every time I leave here with a renewed passion. I will do whatever I can to bring peace, to bring stability, to bring security to this land that has suffered so much. People do endure so much. Things that are for the future generation in Sudan. We have to make a difference. We cannot fail, we must be successful. We are almost in the same Dabanga. We will be working with each other instead of fighting each other and making things difficult for one group or another. We have to get together and to be unified because only then would we be able to do what is right for the people of this wonderful land.

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