National Geographic : 2003 Feb
now dominated by Islamic fundamentalists, drops bombs on them from old Russian-made cargo planes and employs famines and modern day slavery as crude weapons of mass destruc tion. So far the death toll-mostly among southern civilians-exceeds that of many of the world's recent conflicts combined, including Rwanda, the Persian Gulf war, the Balkans, and Chechnya. Four million Sudanese have been dis placed by violence and starvation. Yet the calamity of Sudan unfolds largely without witnesses-an apocalypse in a vacuum. Until now. Two factors are bringing new hope to Sudan. Neither has anything to do with the suffering of millions of Sudanese. Both involve the self interest of outsiders. First, the U.S. war on terrorism appears to be pressuring reforms in the northern Islamist regime. When a military coup backed by the rad ical National Islamic Front toppled Sudan's last democratically elected government in 1989, the country plunged into a new dark age. Indepen dent newspapers were banned. Labor unions suppressed. The north's moderate Islamic par ties were hounded into exile. The civil war escalated to the drumbeat of jihad-holy strug gle against indigenous religions and Christian ity in the south. Outlaws ranging from Osama bin Laden to Carlos the Jackal settled into man sions in Khartoum's sandy outskirts. And the fundamentalists' secret police, the feared muk habarat,added a new word to the lexicon of political repression-the "ghost house," or unmarked detention center. Recently, however, Khartoum's extremists have begun mellowing. Chafing under U.S. economic sanctions, they have begun cooperating with the global war on terror. Desperate to shed their pariah status, they have bowed to Western pres sure to enter peace negotiations in the civil war. SResponding to an ad broadcast throughout Sudan-even in war zones-a southern man traveled hundreds of miles to cut sugarcane on the Kenana plantation in the north. The huge commercial farm, which depends on irrigation water drawn from the White Nile, employs 16,000 people and earns Sudan 70 million dollars a year in foreign currency. Cash crops and livestock accounted for almost all export earnings before oil started flowing in 1999.