I know it’s unusual, if not unheard of, to read a kind word about Jimmy Carter in these pages. But praise is nevertheless in order for his confrontation with Sudanese security officers during a visit to the troubled Darfur region last week. Carter had wanted to visit a refugee camp in southern Darfur, but was dissuaded by United Nations officials who advised that such a trip would be too dangerous. Carter instead chose to visit a World Food Program Camp in a town called Kabkibaya in the northern part of the region. There, the Associated Press reports,
[N]one of the refugees showed up and Carter decided to walk into the town, a volatile stronghold of the pro-government janjaweed militia, to meet refugees too frightened to attend the meeting at the compound.
He was able to make it to a school where he met with one tribal representative and was preparing to go further into town when Sudanese security officers stopped him.
“You can’t go. It’s not on the program!” the local security chief, who only gave his first name as Omar, yelled at Carter, who is in Darfur as part of a delegation of respected international figures known as “The Elders.”
“We’re going to anyway!” an angry Carter retorted as a crowd began to gather. “You don’t have the power to stop me.”
However, U.N. officials told Carter’s entourage the Sudanese state police could bar his way. Carter’s traveling companions, billionaire businessman Richard Branson and Graca Machel, the wife of former South African President Nelson Mandela, tried to ease his frustration and his Secret Service detail urged him to get into a car and leave.
“I’ll tell President Bashir about this,” Carter said, referring to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.
This incident has won Carter many heroic headlines in the international press. It’s all well and good for Carter to speak truth to power like this. But perhaps, as a follow-up to this bravura performance, Carter could pay a visit to the starving and oppressed people of Zimbabwe, ruled by a tyrant whom he and his former ambassador to the United Nations, Andrew Young, were instrumental in bringing to power.