It’s globalisation, stupid.

It’s globalisation, stupid.

Giad Motor Industry Co. Ltd…. was among the thirty-one Sudanese companies designated in May 2007 for its assistance in providing armored vehicles to the [Government of Sudan] for military operations in Darfur. Approximately one year later, Giad Motor prepared to launch its initial public offering on the Dubai stock market. Brokers refused to participate in Giad Motor’s deal on the Dubai exchange because of the designation and the company’s connec¬tion to the Sudanese military.

– U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), report to Congress on effectiveness of U.S. economic sanctions on Sudan, January 2009

Every other Thursday there was an informal market [at Am Dafok] with arms arriving from Nyala and Tissi. Each Thursday we made a security cordon until ten o’clock at night to stop people coming in. [But] Sudanese security elements came to do business, I don’t know whether authorized or not. And military vehicles arrived directly at the Sudanese base in Am Dafok.

– Centrafrican army officer, member of the tripartite (Sudan/Chad/CAR) border force, present during 2012 near border between Darfur and Vakaga Province, Central African Republic (interviewed in April 2015)


The arms market at Am Dafok, a small Central African trading town on Darfur’s south-western frontier, seems very far from the stock market at Dubai, the Gulf emirate which in some respects constitutes the de-facto economic capital of Africa. Both, though, are significant locations at which supplies of military equipment have been organized for armed actors in Darfur, a conflict now quietly entering its fourteenth year.

One of President Obama’s final acts was to suspend many of the trade sanctions on Sudan that the U.S. has maintained, in part because of the Darfur conflict, over the past twenty years. In public, the Whitehouse argued that theprevious six months had seen ‘positive actions’ by the Government of Sudan including “a marked reduction in offensive military activity, culminating in a pledge to maintain a cessation of hostilities in conflict areas in Sudan, and steps toward the improvement of humanitarian access throughout Sudan”. Perhaps — though the nine month wave of airstrikes and village burnings up to mid-September in Darfur’s Jebel Marra area, still largely unreachable by UN peacekeepers and with most aid organisations excluded from it, makes this a slightly odd time to be trumpeting military restraint quite so strongly.

It seems clear that there are larger strategic considerations at work here — including carrots for Sudan to cooperate in pursuing peace in South Sudan. But there’s also a sense amongst some policymakers that U.S. trade sanctions simply haven’t really worked. There’s been no appreciable behavioural change from the Government of Sudan or the rebels. And indeed there hasn’t been much greater success from the more targeted sanctions measures on arms supplies, and on the finances and movements of sanctioned individuals, which it seems will stay — for now. The Sudanese government has continued to acquire weapons to wage its conflicts. Indeed, over the last decade it has developed one of Africa’s largest domestic arms industries, ostensibly impervious to international embargo. All sides have benefitted from weapons trafficked across Darfur’s southwestern and northern borders, far from the influence of Washington or OFAC. Meanwhile sanctioned individuals like infamous Mahamid war leader Sheikh Musa Hilal seem largely untroubled by the financial and logistical restrictions placed on them. In any case, one diplomat once told me, sanctioning Hilal and freezing his assets is surely pointless: “how do you sanction someone who is content to sit in Darfur and Khartoum, and keeps his wealth as cattle and camels?”

In other words, this diplomat was arguing, how can international sanctions – financial, commercial or military – affect what look to the international community like remote conflicts; fought by illiterate camel herders; and plugged into domestic or sub-regional circuits of guns, money and resources in places like Am Dafok, a long, long way from New York, Geneva, Dubai or anywhere were international sanctions might actually bite?

Last year I had the opportunity to revisit some of my and others’ work over the last six years on the material and military underpinnings of the Darfur conflict, and to try to explain the abject failure of international sanctions either to prevent its protagonists from getting weapons, or to restrain them from using them. The main conclusion of the piece was that this failure has been primarily a political one, not a technical one. Certainly there are critical design flaws in the UN arms embargo on Darfur, its accompanying financial and travel sanctions on individuals, and to a lesser extent the U.S. and EU embargo regimes. But they remain unworkable because no government with significant influence over the supply of weapons to Darfur currently has the political will to improve them. And technical failure breeds political failure: after fourteen years, the international sanctions’ persistent inadequacies has made them irrelevant to all key actors as a policy tool, removing any residual incentives to make them work properly.

I was told that late last year this document’s counsel of despair provided rhetorical ammunition to several states opposing arms embargoes and sanctions in the Security Council. This dismayed me. In fact my central argument, poorly expressed, was that the international community does have levers, even in the most distant and domestic of wars. One thing that never ceases to fascinate me about armed conflicts is that apparently domestic military supply chains – those ostensibly hardest for other countries to influence – are almost always reliant on foreign assistance vulnerable to foreign disruption or interdiction. Foreign suppliers of components and technical know-how for domestic arms production; international brokers and transporters of arms and dual-use goods; overseas companies maintaining and refurbishing weapons platforms; correspondent banks; foreign-registered aircraft; ships carrying Land Cruisers through other countries’ ports and waters. (And, just for the record, Musa Hilal travels pretty regularly across borders by land and air, and almost certainly uses banks.)

To underline the point, we’ve produced a companion document which seeks to map and name the penumbra of international actors that have quietly sustained what appear to be entirely domestic air and ground warfare supply chains for Sudanese Armed Forces in Darfur. It tries to present a (hopefully) surprising, transnational and cosmopolitan depiction of the Darfur conflict. As in almost every war, it turns out that those camel herders somewhere ‘over there’ are engaged in a networked techno-war. And not just in Dubai and Am Dafok. There are dozens of other incongruous pairings of places along the logistical and organizational conduits which have, largely without impediment, furnished weapons, ammunition, vehicles, money and mobility to the perpetrators and sponsors of Darfur’s violence over the past six years. El Fasher and Oktyabrsk. Khartoum and Pulkovo. Amsterdam and Port Sudan. Carshalton and Omdurman. El Obeid and Yerevan.

What that means for sanctions, I think, is that they have to look different. It will always be impossible, and perhaps counterproductive, to hermetically seal off whole regions, armed groups and war criminals from guns and money. But egregious armed actors’ material resources can be degraded by judicious due diligence in global supply chains, both civilian and military. The question is not whether states could do this, but whether they will.


Title image: shattered cabin of ex-Bundeswehr MAN 4×4 miltary truck, photographed in the camp of former Séléka fighters (many originally from Darfur) in Bangui, Central African Republic, August 2014. This truck was exported by sea from Amsterdam to Port Sudan in October 2011 by a Dutch exporter. The buyer was a company in Sudan sharing an address with GIAD Investments Co Ltd, a subsidiary of GIAD, a well-known government-owned military/civil factory. Other trucks in the same shipments have been used by the Sudanese Armed Forces in South Kordofan. After these revelations from Sudan and the Central African Republic, in mid-2015 the Dutch and German governments promised to change their export policies to require case-by-case licences for exports of such vehicles to Sudan, including for ostensibly civilian use.

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