The US Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice, came to visit us in Darfur this week. Somehow she had managed to slot Sudan into her overfilled agenda of Middle East meetings, and quickly waltzed through a gaggle of appointments in Khartoum and El Fasher before taking off again into the turbulent skies of whirlwind diplomacy.
Everybody was so busy taking the visit seriously that I couldn't help but feel naive and simplistic when my observation of "It's a shame she didn't take the time to actually visit a camp" was generally met with quizzical, slightly exasperated stares from the policy wonks (for those of who are interested, she DID manage to spend some time visiting a much more cheerful and photogenic pasta-making project for IDPs). Clearly, political negotitations and rapid-fire briefings were loaded with a kind of value that my poor little aid worker mind simply could not comprehend.
While everyone knows - and regularly insists - that Darfur (never even mind the rest of Sudan) is not something that can be summed up in a few meetings, it seems that no one ever tires of trying.
Though still somewhat dazed from the dizzying pace at which this woman managed to bulldoze through a series of carefully scripted humanitarian platitudes churned out in 20-minute briefings with African Union soldiers, NGOs and womens groups, I did find a little nugget of simplicity in the whole visit that provided me a brief glimmer of hope, or at least amusement: the press briefing.
In an entirely unscripted and beautifully symbolic moment, Condoleeza Rice briefly caught a glimpse of the nastier face of a government that has become just a little too comfortable with brute force and coercion when her press entourage was given a few rough shoves and had their microphones snatched away by menacing security agents who were getting a bit impatient with their tiresome and embarassing questions.
Unused to being forcibly dragged out of the room for daring to ask an actual question in a press briefing, the American journalists were outraged and even Rice herself was ruffled up enough to demand a public apology, which was duly and sheepishly delivered by the Foreign Minister a bit later.
At least you can't blame the Sudanese officials for not trying to make the journalists feel right at home. Hey, this is how we treat people who ask questions here, get used to it...
Tags: Sudan, Darfur, aid worker, Khartoum, El Fasher, Condoleeza Rice, press briefing, journalists