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The politics of peace

The war in Darfur may be over, but that is not the end of Sudan’s troubles

Darfur is no longer in intense conflict, despite what some American campaigners would like you to believe. The situation in that troubled region is in fact a sideshow to a much bigger event in Sudan, namely the referendum in the southern part of the country, tabled for January 2011, on whether Sudan will remain united.

Partitioning a state is a risky business, no­where more so than Sudan. After 50 years of on-off civil war, the depth of distrust and animosity between northern and South Sudan is such that the great majority of southerners want to take their chance with independence. But with a host of unresolved issues, ranging from an undemarcated border to the millions of southern Sudanese resident in the north, it is likely that any split will be not just acrimonious, but disorderly and violent. Both sides have used the past four years - in effect a truce, not a true peace - to buy weapons and reorganise their respective armed forces.

Neighbouring countries are worried about a resurgent conflict involving the young, desperately fragile state of South Sudan and an embittered north, driven towards political Islam, in a war that drags in other nations along an Arab-black African fault line which threatens to split the continent. The US special envoy for Sudan, General Scott Gration, sees it as his task to avoid this disaster.

Before the current instability, southern Sudan was already in trouble partly of its own making, partly not. When a truce finally came with the comprehensive peace agreement of 2005, the region had experienced virtually no development in half a century and faced a legacy of destruction and division, much of it manipulated by successive governments in Khartoum. It also had the curse of oil - 90 per cent of the revenue of the autonomous government of South Sudan comes from petroleum.

Sharing in the oil bonanza was one reason that the rebels of the southern Sudan People's Liberation Movement were keen to sign the peace agreement, but the transformation from guerrillas to government has yet to be fully accomplished. Vast sums of oil income remain unaccounted for and last year's crash in oil prices cut the government's income by 70 per cent. The seizing up of the financial system led to salaries for more than 200,000 men on the army payroll being paid late or not at all, contributing in turn to an upsurge in banditry.

If a new north-south war starts, peace talks, international pressure for humanitarian aid and a new mandate for the UN peacekeepers in South Sudan will all be necessary. What is needed now is a political process that builds enough trust between sides for the northern and southern Sudanese to make common decisions about their future. Whether as one nation or two, they will still be neighbours.

Designer activists

There is not much time left to grapple with these huge challenges, but the conditions are propitious. The Darfur crisis in western Sudan, which has taken up so much time, energy and resources, is stabilising. After war broke out in 2003, rebel groups were defeated in a counter-insurgency in which tens of thousands of civilians were killed in the space of two years and which unleashed a humanitarian crisis. Now, however, armed conflict has subsided substantially. There is a huge legacy of displacement and destruction to overcome, but with the UN-African Union Mission in Darfur (Unamid) increasingly effective and most areas stable, the opportunities for progress are strong.

In August, General Martin Luther Agwai, the outgoing Unamid force commander, confirmed this when he said: "As of today, I would not say there is a war going on in Darfur." He continued: "If war is a conflict whereby today you attack and then go back home and stay [for] three, four, five months and come back . . . then there is a war in Darfur. But if that is not the definition, then there is no war as of now in Darfur . . . I think the real thing now is to speed up the political process."

Agwai is an experienced military officer with strong personal morality. He has served in Sierra Leone and Liberia, and rose to become chief of defence staff in the Nigerian army. He sees the file on every violent incident reported in Darfur, and his staff compile the numbers killed in violence in the still-troubled region. In July the figure was 40; in August it was 50. The numbers are probably an undercount, but by only a margin. Agwai's emphasis on the need for a political process fits with the movements of Sudan's civil society organisations and political parties, which are working to prise open the political space in advance of next year's general elections, the first multiparty contest since 1986. They welcome the decrease in violence - and the increase in their leverage - and have no illusions about their brutal government, seeing their best hope in step-by-step dismantling of its monopoly on power.

International campaigns, particularly in the US, claim that they want the same things as the Sudanese - peace and democracy. The Save Darfur Coalition and the Enough project, which calls for robust US action to end genocide, have built up a head of steam. At its best, this movement - which includes an extraordinary array of film stars, private philanthropists and a new breed of "designer activists" - provides awareness about wars and mass atrocities in faraway lands, but, at its worst, it can become a pulpit for latter-day philanthropic imperialism.

John Prendergast of Enough condemned Agwai's words: "The perception . . . that if it is not getting worse . . . it [must be] getting better is something that takes the wind out of the sails of international action." While the Unamid commander imagined peace negotiations in which the various Sudanese parties would sit around a table and make compromises, Prendergast wants a show of US power.

A more nuanced approach came from Donald Steinberg of the International Crisis Group, who feared that a statement of success might harm political support for Unamid: "We saw such difficulty in drawing up the mission . . . it's still not where it should be . . . Premature declarations from prominent officials might undermine existing political support for Unamid and other peacekeeping and aid efforts." This is an odd argument - that demonstrating the success of a peacekeeping mission undermines it. The implication of this is that there can be success only when "we" decide there is success.

The atrocity story

The sort of liberal internationalism that the Save Darfur campaign represents - a legacy of the neocon moral fervour engendered by the Bush administration - conflicts with the other hallowed liberal principle emphasised by President Barack Obama, which insists that a nation should be able to determine its future free from foreign diktat. Sudan needs a judicious balance between the two approaches. But it has become clear that the Save Darfur Coalition, with its campaign for Obama to "end the genocide", can handle only the atrocity story, not the politics of peace. This is shamelessly misleading about what is happening in Darfur.

It is a form of dishonesty that has a wider import, too. It turns Sudanese politics into a high-stakes international game of bluff, feeding the Khartoum government's paranoia that it faces an American regime-change agenda and fuelling the rebels' readiness to persevere in order to get that intervention. If the Save Darfur campaign succeeds, the political failure of Sudan will become a US-owned problem in the heart of Africa. This is what Gration most wants to avoid - while his domestic adversaries seem intent on bringing it about. "Saving Darfur" risks losing Sudan.

Most likely, however, political realism will succeed and the human rights fundamentalists will snarl at the heels of the Obama administration, barking "betrayal". But should the activists get their way, the limits of humanitarian imperialism in dealing with complex political problems will have to be relearned, painfully.

Alex de Waal is the co-author, with Julie Flint, of "Darfur: a New History of a Long War"
(Zed Books, £12.99)

This article first appeared in the 28 September 2009 issue of the New Statesman, The 50 people who matter

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The lost magic of England

The great conservative journalist Peregrine Worsthorne reflects on a long life at the heart of the establishment.

In a recent editorial meeting, our subscriptions manager happened to mention that Peregrine Worsthorne was still a New Statesman subscriber. A former editor of the Sunday Telegraph and, during a long Fleet Street career, a self-styled “romantic reactionary” scourge of liberals and liberalism, Worsthorne used to be something of a pantomime villain for the left, a role he delighted in. He had close friends among the “Peterhouse right”, the group of High Tory intellectuals who gathered around Maurice Cowling at the small, conspiratorial Cambridge college. He was a frequent contributor to Encounter (which turned out to be funded by the CIA) and an ardent cold warrior. His social conservatism and lofty affectations offended lefty Islingtonian sensibilities. On several occasions he was the Guardian’s reviewer of choice for its annual collection of journalism, The Bedside Guardian, and he invariably delivered the required scornful appraisal while praising its witty television critic, Nancy Banks-Smith. There is no suggestion, he wrote in 1981, that the “Guardian ever sees itself as part of the problem; itself as having some responsibility for the evils its writers described so well”.

His prose style was Oxbridge high table, more Walter Pater than George Orwell. It was essential not to take Worsthorne too seriously, because he delighted in mischief-making and wilful provocation – one of his targets for remorseless ridicule was Andrew Neil, when Neil edited the abrasively Thatcherite Sunday Times. He ended up suing Worsthorne, who was famous for his silk shirts and Garrick Club lunches, for libel; he was awarded damages of £1, the then cover price of the Sunday Times.

“I wrote that in the old days editors of distinguished Sunday papers could be found dining at All Souls, and something must have changed when they’re caught with their trousers down in a nightclub,” Worsthorne told me when we met recently. “I had no idea he was going to sue. I was teasing. I occasionally run into him and we smile at each other, so it’s all forgotten and forgiven.”

After his retirement in 1989, Worsthorne, although he remained a resolute defender of aristocracy, seemed to mellow, and even mischievously suggested that the Guardian had replaced the Times as the newspaper of record. In the 1990s he began writing occasionally for the New Statesman – the then literary editor, Peter Wilby, commissioned book reviews from him, as I did after I succeeded Wilby. Like most journalists of his generation, Worsthorne was a joy to work with; he wrote to length, delivered his copy on time and was never precious about being edited. (Bill Deedes and Tony Howard were the same.) He might have had the mannerisms of an old-style toff but he was also a tradesman, who understood that journalism was a craft.

Shortly before Christmas, I rang Wors­thorne at the home in Buckinghamshire he shares with his second wife, Lucinda Lambton, the charming architectural writer. I asked how he was. “I’m like a squeezed lemon: all used up,” he said. Lucy described him as being “frail but not ill”. I told him that I would visit, so one recent morning I did. Home is a Grade II-listed old rectory in the village of Hedgerley. It is grand but dishevelled and eccentrically furnished. A sign on the main gates warns you to “Beware of the Dog”. But the dog turns out to be blind and moves around the house uneasily, poignantly bumping into objects and walls. At lunch, a small replica mosque in the dining room issues repeated mechanised calls to prayer. “Why does it keep doing that?” Perry asks. “Isn’t it fun,” Lucy says. She then turns to me: “Have some more duck pâté.”

As a student, I used to read Worsthorne’s columns and essays with pleasure. I did not share his positions and prejudices but I admired the style in which he articulated them. “The job of journalism is not to be scholarly,” he wrote in 1989. “The most that can be achieved by an individual newspaper or journalist is the articulation of an intelligent, well-thought-out, coherent set of prejudices – ie, a moral position.”

His Sunday Telegraph, which he edited from 1986 to 1989, was like no other newspaper. The recondite and reactionary comment pages (the focus of his energies) were unapologetically High Tory, contrary to the prevailing Thatcherite orthodoxies of the time, but were mostly well written and historically literate. Bruce Anderson was one of the columnists. “You never knew what you were going to get when you opened the paper,” he told me. “Perry was a dandy, a popinjay, and of course he didn’t lack self-esteem. He had a nostalgia for Young England. In all the time I wrote for him, however, I never took his approval for granted. I always felt a tightening of the stomach muscles when I showed him something.”

***

Worsthorne is 92 now and, though his memory is failing, he remains a lucid and engaging conversationalist. Moving slowly, in short, shuffling steps, he has a long beard and retains a certain dandyish glamour. His silver hair is swept back from a high, smooth forehead. He remains a stubborn defender of the aristocracy – “Superiority is a dread word, but we are in very short supply of superiority because no one likes the word” – but the old hauteur has gone, replaced by humility and a kind of wonder and bafflement that he has endured so long and seen so much: a journalistic Lear, but one who is not raging against the dying of the light.

On arrival, I am shown through to the drawing room, where Perry sits quietly near an open fire, a copy of that morning’s Times before him. He moves to a corner armchair and passes me a copy of his book Democracy Needs Aristocracy (2005). “It’s all in there,” he says. “I’ve always thought the English aristocracy so marvellous compared to other ruling classes. It seemed to me that we had got a ruling class of such extraordinary historical excellence, which is rooted in England
almost since the Norman Conquest.

“Just read the 18th-century speeches – the great period – they’re all Whig or Tory, but all come from that [the aristocracy]. If they didn’t come directly from the aristocracy, they turned themselves very quickly into people who talk in its language. Poetic. If you read Burke, who’s the best in my view, it’s difficult not to be tempted to think what he says has a lot of truth in it . . .”

His voice fades. He has lost his way and asks what we were talking about. “Oh, yes,” he says. “It survived when others – the French and Russians and so on – were having revolutions. It was absolutely crazy to set about destroying that. There was something magical . . . the parliamentary speeches made by Burke and so on – this is a miracle! No other country has it apart from America in the early days. And I thought to get rid of it, to undermine it, was a mistake.”

I ask how exactly the aristocracy was undermined. Even today, because of the concentration of the ownership of so much land among so few and because of the enduring influence of the old families, the great schools and Oxbridge, Britain remains a peculiar hybrid: part populist hyper-democracy and part quasi-feudal state. The Tory benches are no longer filled by aristocrats but the old class structures remain.

“Equality was the order of the day after the war,” Worsthorne replies. “And in a way it did a lot of good, equalising people’s chances in the world. But it didn’t really get anywhere; the ruling class went happily on. But slowly, and I think unnecessarily dangerously, it was destroyed – and now there are no superior people around [in politics]. The Cecil family – Lord Salisbury, he was chucked out of politics. The Cecil family is being told they are not wanted. The institutions are falling apart . . .

“But there were people who had natural authority, like Denis Healey. I’m not saying it’s only aristocrats – a lot of Labour people had it. But now we haven’t got any Denis Healeys.”

Born in 1923, the younger son of Alexander Koch de Gooreynd, a Belgian banker, Worsthorne (the family anglicised its name) was educated at Stowe and was an undergraduate at both Cambridge (Peterhouse, where he studied under the historian Herbert Butterfield, the author of The Whig Interpretation of History) and Oxford (Magdalen College). “I have always felt slightly underprivileged and de-classed by having gone to Stowe, unlike my father who went to Eton,” Worsthorne wrote in 1985.

Yet his memories of Stowe remain pellucid. There he fell under the influence of the belle-lettrist John Davenport, who later became a close friend of Dylan Thomas. “He was a marvellous man, a famous intellectual of the 1930s, an ex-boxer, too. But in the war he came to Stowe and he was preparing me for a scholarship to Cambridge. He told me to read three books, and find something to alleviate the boredom of an examiner, some little thing you’ll pick up. And I duly did and got the scholarship.”

Can you remember which three books he recommended?

“Tawney. Something by Connolly, um . . . that’s the terrible thing about getting old, extremely old – you forget. And by the time you die you can’t remember your brother’s name. It’s a terrible shock. I used to think old age could be a joy because you’d have more time to read. But if you push your luck and get too far, and last too long, you start finding reading really quite difficult. The connections go, I suppose.”

Was the Connolly book Enemies of Promise (1938)?

“Yes, that’s right. It was. And the other one was . . . Hang on, the writer of the book . . . What’s the country invaded by Russia, next to Russia?

Finland, I say. Edmund Wilson’s To the Finland Station (1940)?

“Yes. Wilson. How did you get that?”

We both laugh.

***

Worsthorne is saddened but not surprised that so many Scots voted for independence and his preference is for Britain to remain a member of the European Union. “What’s happening is part of the hopelessness of English politics. It’s horrible. I can’t think why the Scots would want to be on their own but it might happen. The youth will vote [for independence]. This is part of my central theme: the Scots no longer think it’s worthwhile belonging to England. The magic of England has gone – and it’s the perversity of the Tory party to want to get us out of the European Union when of course we’re much more than ever unlikely to be able to look after ourselves as an independent state because of the quality of our political system.

“The people who want to get us out are obviously of an undesirable kind. That the future should depend on [Nigel] Farage is part of the sickness. I mean the real horror is for him to have any influence at all. And when you think of the great days of the Labour Party, the giants who strode the stage – famous, lasting historical figures, some of them: Healey, Attlee, who was probably the greatest, [Ernest] Bevin. I’m well aware that Labour in the good days produced people who were superior.”

He digresses to reflect on his wartime experience as a soldier – he served in Phantom, the special reconnaissance unit, alongside Michael Oakeshott, the philosopher of English conservatism who became a close friend, and the actor David Niven, our “prize colleague”.

“I remember Harold Macmillan saying to me, after the Second World War, the British people needed their belt enlarged; they’d done their job and they deserved a reward. And that’s what he set about doing. And he wasn’t a right-wing, unsympathetic man at all. But he didn’t – and this is what is good about conservatism – he didn’t turn it into an ‘ism’. It was a sympathetic feel, an instinctive feel, and of course people in the trenches felt it, too: solidarity with the rest of England and not just their own brotherhood. Of course he didn’t get on with Margaret Thatcher at all.”

Worsthorne admired Thatcher and believed that the “Conservatives required a dictator woman” to shake things up, though he was not a Thatcherite and denounced what he called her “bourgeois triumphalism”. He expresses regret at how the miners were treated during the bitter strike of 1984-85. “I quarrelled with her about the miners’ strike, and the people she got around her to conduct it were a pretty ropey lot.

“I liked her as a person. I was with her that last night when she wasn’t prime minister any more, but she was still in Downing Street and had everything cut off. The pressman [Bernard Ingham] got several of us to try to take her mind off her miseries that night. There’s a photograph of me standing at the top of the stairs.”

In the summer of 1989, Peregrine Wors­thorne was sacked as the editor of the Sunday Telegraph by Andrew Knight, a former journalist-turned-management enforcer, over breakfast at Claridge’s. He wrote about the experience in an elegant diary for the Spectator: “I remember well the exact moment when this thunderbolt, coming out of a blue sky, hit me. It was when the waiter had just served two perfectly poached eggs on buttered toast . . . In my mind I knew that the information just imparted was a paralysingly painful blow: pretty well a professional death sentence.”

He no longer reads the Telegraph.

“Politically they don’t have much to say of interest. But I can’t put the finger on exactly what it is I don’t like about it. Boredom, I think!”

You must read Charles Moore?

“He is my favourite. Interesting fellow. He converted to Catholicism and started riding to hounds in the same week.”

He has no regrets about pursuing a long career in journalism rather than, say, as a full-time writer or academic, like his friends Cowling and Oakeshott. “I was incredibly lucky to do journalism. What people don’t realise – and perhaps you don’t agree – but it’s really a very easy life, compared to many others. And you have good company in other journalists and so on. I was an apprentice on the Times, after working [as a sub-editor] on the Glasgow Herald.”

How does he spend the days?

“Living, I suppose. It takes an hour to get dressed because all the muscles go. Then I read the Times and get bored with it halfway through. Then there’s a meal to eat. The ­answer is, the days go. I used to go for walks but I can’t do that now. But Lucy’s getting me all kinds of instruments to facilitate people with no muscles, to help you walk. I’m very sceptical about it working, but then again, better than the alternative.”

He does not read as much as he would wish. He takes the Statesman, the Spectator and the Times but no longer the Guardian. He is reading Niall Ferguson’s biography of Kissinger, The Maisky Diaries by Ivan Maisky, Stalin’s ambassador to London from 1932 to 1943, and Living on Paper, a selection of letters by Iris Murdoch, whom he knew. “I get these massive books, thinking of a rainy day, but once I pick them up they are too heavy, physically, so they’re stacked up, begging to be read.”

He watches television – the news (we speak about Isis and the Syrian tragedy), the Marr show on Sunday mornings, and he has been enjoying War and Peace on BBC1. “Andrew Marr gave my book a very good review. He’s come back. He’s survived [a stroke] through a degree of hard willpower to get back to that job, almost as soon as he came out of surgery. But I don’t know him; he was a Guardian man.” (In fact, Marr is more closely associated with the Independent.)

Of the celebrated Peterhouse historians, both Herbert Butterfield (who was a Methodist) and Maurice Cowling were devout Christians. For High Tories, who believe in and accept natural inequalities and the organic theory of society, Christianity was a binding force that held together all social classes, as some believe was the order in late-Victorian England.

“I was a very hardened Catholic,” Worsthorne says, when I mention Cowling’s book Religion and Public Doctrine in Modern England. “My mother was divorced [her second marriage was to Montagu Norman, then the governor of the Bank of England] and she didn’t want my brother and me to be Catholic, so she sent us to Stowe. And I used to annoy her because I read [Hilaire] Belloc. I tried to annoy the history master teaching us Queen Elizabeth I. I said to him: ‘Are you covering up on her behalf: don’t you know she had syphilis?’

“Once I felt very angry about not being made Catholic. But then I went to Cambridge and there was a very Catholic chaplain and he was very snobbish. And in confession I had to tell him I masturbated twice that morning or something, and so it embarrassed me when half an hour later I had to sit next to him at breakfast. I literally gave up going to Mass to get out of this embarrassing situation. But recently I’ve started again. I haven’t actually gone to church but I’ve made my confessions, to a friendly bishop who came to the house.”

So you are a believer?

“Yes. I don’t know which bit I believe. But as Voltaire said: ‘Don’t take a risk.’”

He smiles and lowers his head. We are ready for lunch. 

Jason Cowley is editor of the New Statesman. He has been the editor of Granta, a senior editor at the Observer and a staff writer at the Times.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle