The new and significant moves towards a peaceful
resolution of the Sudanese civil war (1), as outlined in the
July 2002 Machakos peace protocol, must go hand in hand with
a concerted attempt to stem some of the media mis-reporting
that, together with deliberate propaganda and disinformation,
has artificially prolonged the conflict.
A publication that has been party to questionable coverage
of Sudanese affairs has been the newsletter 'Africa Confidential'.
Sudan "specialist" Gill Lusk has been the deputy-editor of
that publication for several years. (2) 'African Confidential'
presents itself as independent, but its coverage and analysis
of Sudanese affairs has been very far from independent. Lusk
lived and worked in Sudan for many years during the Nimeiri
and Sadiq al-Mahdi regimes, and is a bitter political opponent
of the government that has ruled Sudan since 1989, and this
is clearly reflected in 'Africa Confidential''s work on Sudan.
The newsletter's analysis has been systematically skewed,
based on a combination of wishful thinking and the repetition
of stale disinformation.
Ms Lusk, for example, has been forecasting the end of the
al-Bashir government for a number of years. As early as July
1991, she confidently predicted that Bashir's government "seems
unlikely to complete a third year in power". (3) In January
1997 'Africa Confidential' published an article on Sudan somewhat
optimistically entitled "The Countdown Begins". (4) In August
that year, Lusk equally confidently predicted that the present
Sudanese government would fall by the end of that year or
in early 1998: "The opposition expects to overthrow the government
by the end of the year or the first half of next year. Previously
cautious Western officials agree. It's a matter of time".
(5) In 1998, the newsletter published an article entitled
"Next Year in Kadugli", implying the fall of the government-held
capital of the Nuba Mountains. (6) 'Africa Confidential' has
also repeated several disinformation stories about Sudan,
regurgitating, for example, subsequently discredited early
1990s claims about the alleged presence of two thousand Iranian
"military trainers" in Sudan. (7) The newsletter also saw
fit to repeat equally untrue claims about the involvement
of Sudanese doctors in the mistreatment of patients (8) and
claims of Sudanese government use of chemical weapons, which
"raised fears that chemical weapons are in use" - allegations
that have been exhaustively discredited. (9) All in all, this
would seem to indicate 'Africa Confidential''s reliance on
partisan and questionable sources, and wishful thinking, for
many of its articles on Sudan. (10)
'Africa Confidential' states that it has always "maintained
its independence and sought to print only the truth", and
that it "is trusted and compulsory reading". (11) Far from
independently reporting events in Sudan, or printing only
the truth, 'Africa Confidential' appears to be unable to resist
repeating any item of gossip hostile to the government of
While repeating stale disinformation, 'Africa Confidential'
has also displayed a surprising disinclination or inability
to keep up with even basic changes within Sudan. In an in-depth,
3-page piece on Sudan, including a detailed profile of "Who's
who" within the Sudanese government, published in February
2002, the newsletter managed to get the portfolios of key
Sudanese ministers wrong. (12) The Ministers concerned were
Dr Ghazi Salehuddin Atabani, incorrectly said to be the Minister
of Culture and Information; he is in fact the Presidential
Adviser on Peace Affairs; Dr Nafi'e Ali Nafi'e was incorrectly
said to be the Presidential Adviser on Peace Affairs when
he is the Minister for Federal Government ('Africa Confidential'
continued to get Dr Nafi'e's job wrong, referring to him as
the minister for local government). 'Africa Confidential'
was eight months out of date with governmental changes amongst
perhaps the most important ministries in Sudan (13), at about
the most significant time in Sudan from the point of view
of Sudanese peace process. It was Dr Atabani's appointment
as Presidential Peace Adviser that resulted in the Machakos
Ms Lusk's inability to move beyond her personal prejudices
regarding the Sudanese government is clear. Despite considerable,
documented, reforms and changes within Sudan, she remains
wedded to dated stereotypes. When interviewed, for example,
in April 2002, she denied that there were any moderates within
the Sudanese government, and that its ideology and commitments
have not changed. (14) Yet, only a few months later, somewhat
more objective and independent reporting by Associated Press
stated that "Sudan has come a long way since its militant
heyday in the 1990s...the changes in this country...are too
sweeping and popular to be rolled back. Human Rights and civil
society groups operate openly. Press censorship has been lifted
and independent newspapers freely criticize government policies."(15)
Should the Associated Press article be seen as a one off?
Seasoned BBC reporter Barbara Plett, reporting from Sudan
four years earlier, in 1998, observed: "What was I to make
of signs that Sudan is liberalising? Was this the beginning
of glasnost in Africa's largest state? The IMF seems to think
so...This year it congratulated Khartoum for carrying out
economic reforms and took it off the blacklist...And political
debate is open and fierce. The growing number of private newspapers
freely criticise the government...We have more political freedoms
than almost any other country in Africa, one university professor
told me. The change in atmosphere from previous visits is
truly remarkable." (16) Ms Lusk appears not to have noticed
this change, writing as she does without having visited the
country in a decade and a half.
'Africa Confidential' has also shown blatant partisanship
in covering the Sudanese conflict. In an article mentioning
the deaths of Yousif Kuwa Mekki, a senior SPLA commander,
and the Sudanese minister of state for defence, General Ibrahim
Shams el-Din, 'Africa Confidential' described them as "one
much loved and respected and one widely hated and feared",
while also referring to SPLA "liberated areas" in Sudan. (17)
It is also interesting that the newsletter chose not to report
on the Clinton Administration's cruise missile attack on the
al-Shifa medicine factory in Khartoum. It is surprising that
an Africa information and intelligence newsletter such as
'Africa Confidential', a newsletter that has focused extensively
on Sudan, chose to ignore this, the first ever, cruise missile
attack on an African state, an attack that was virtually an
act of war on Sudan. This would perhaps have been for one
or two reasons. Firstly, Ms Lusk may have realised that the
American action was a disastrous mistake and that to admit
so, as everyone else did or subsequently would, would cast
the Sudanese government in a positive light. And secondly,
to admit American intelligence failure with regard to al-Shifa
and its non-existent links to Osama bin-Laden and "international
terrorism" would greatly undermine claims about Sudan and
terrorism in general. Rather than concede either point, 'Africa
Confidential' ignored an unprecedented attack on an African
country - a somewhat transparent case of partisanship if ever
there was one.
There can be no doubt that the sort of skewed analysis of
Sudan and Sudanese affairs, based upon wishful thinking and
personal prejudice, provided by 'Africa Confidential' has
distorted how Sudan has been seen internationally - certainly
amongst those companies, non-governmental organisations and
embassies that subscribe to the newsletter in the hope of
clear reporting on Sudan. (18) Lusk also interfaces with academia
and business, speaking, for example, at meetings at the School
of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London.
Ms Lusk's approach to peace is also somewhat problematic.
She has been critical of the announcement in July 2002 of
the landmark Machakos peace protocol for Sudan. Although hailed
by rebels, the government and the rest of the international
community, Lusk dismissed the protocol stating that it did
not address "the main issues". (20) Rather than accurately
documenting the widely-welcomed Machakos agreement, Africa
Confidential preferred to dismiss it, writing it off as nothing
more than the Sudanese government's "arch manipulation of
American and British peacemakers". (21)
Given 'Africa Confidential''s track record on Sudan, either
Ms Lusk's analytical skills are surprisingly deficient, her
common sense missing, or she is remarkably biased in what
she wishes to project about Sudan. It is perhaps time that
Africa Confidential chose a more plausible Sudan specialist.
1 See, for example, "Rebels Welcome Sudan Peace Plan", News
Article by BBC News, 5 July 2001. See, also, "Sudan Opposition
Welcomes Deal", News Article by Associated Press, 21 July
2002; "US Says Deal Between Sudan, Rebels is 'Significant
Step' Towards Peace", News Article by Agence France Presse,
22 July 2002; "Sudanese Joy Over Peace Between Government
and Rebels", News Article by Deutsche Press Agentur, 22 July
2002; "Sudan Truce Monitors Optimistic on Peace Prospects",
News Article by Reuters, 23 July 2002.
2 A previous editor of 'Africa Confidential', Stephen Ellis,
for example, went on to teach African politics at the University
of Leiden in the Netherlands.
3 "Sudan: The Islamic Front in Power", 'Africa Confidential'
(London), Vol 32, No 14, 12 July 1991.
4 "The Countdown Begins", 'Africa Confidential' (London),
Vol 38, No 3, 31 January 1997.
5 Newsweek, 18 August 1997, p.18.
6 "Next Year in Kadugli", 'Africa Confidential' (London),
Vol 39, No 1, 9 January 1998.
7 "Sudan: Turabi's Unconvincing Transition", 'Africa Confidential'
(London) Vol 34, No 21, 22 October 1993.
8 "Torture Charge", 'Africa Confidential' (London), Vol
38, No 19, 26 September 1997.
9 "Gas Mask", 'Africa Confidential' (London), Vol 40, No
17, 27 August 1999.
10 'Africa Confidential''s regular predictions of the demise
of the al-Bashir government is somewhat reminiscent of the
coverage by 'The New York Times' of the early years of the
Soviet government. A 1920 content analysis study of 'New
York Times' coverage showed that the newspaper had predicted
the fall or imminent fall of the government in Moscow on
91 occasions - Charles Merz and Walter Lippmann, "A Test
of the News", A Supplement to 'The New Republic', 4 August
11 See 'Africa Confidential' website at www.africa-confidential.com
12 See "Unconstructive Engagement", 'Africa Confidential'
(London), Vol 43, No 4, 22 February 2002. Mahdi Ibrahim,
named in this article, was subsequently identified by 'Africa
Confidential' as the Minister of Culture and Information
- a portfolio incorrectly ascribed to Dr Ghazi (Vol 43,
No 5). He is, however, the Minister of Information and Communications,
the ministry having been restructured and renamed in June
13 For the changes, see "Sudan Names New Peace, Information
Ministers", News Article by Reuters, 15 June 2001.
14 "Sudan Analysis", Broadcast by Voice of America, 14
15 "Seeking Friends in the West, Sudan Tempers its Islamic
Zeal", News Article by Associated Press, 13 July 2002.
16 Barbara Plett, "From Our Own Correspondent", Broadcast
by the BBC, 25 April 1998.
17 "Death Knocks Twice", 'Africa Confidential', Vol 42,
No 7, 6 April 2001.
18 'Africa Confidential''s inability to get other details
on Africa correct is also clear. In one of its shorter "Pointer"
pieces touching on Sudan, the newsletter even managed to
claim that the former apartheid statelet of Bophutaswana
was the Zulu homeland when it is KwaZulu. This is the equivalent
of claiming that Yorkshire is the Welsh homeland, somewhat
surprising for an publication presenting itself as a font
of African information.
19 Lusk spoke at a meeting of the Africa Business Group,
run by the Centre of African Studies at SOAS, in association
with Africa Confidential, on 17 October 2000. Interestingly,
the title of her speechwas "Newspeak: Where Words Mean Their
20 "Rebels Welcome Sudan Peace Plan", News Article by BBC
News, 5 July 2001. See, also, "Sudan Opposition Welcomes
Deal", News Article by Associated Press, 21 July 2002; "US
Says Deal Between Sudan, Rebels is 'Significant Step' Towards
Peace", News Article by Agence France Presse,
22 July 2002; "Sudanese Joy Over Peace Between Government
and Rebels", News Article by Deutsche Press Agentur, 22
July 2002; "Sudan Truce Monitors Optimistic on Peace Prospects",
News Article by Reuters, 23 July 2002.
21 "Calling the Shots at Machakos", 'Africa Confidential',
Vol 43, No 15, 26 July 2002