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Al-Bashir’s British spin doctor

When there is any controversy about the International Criminal Court (ICC) and its attempts to prosecute Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for war crimes, David Hoile is sure to appear.

This week, the man who once wore “Hang Mandela” paraphernalia in the UK in the 1980s shared a platform with African leaders at the African Union summit in Sandton, and was widely quoted, as he often is, as an independent expert on Sudan and a critic of the ICC.

He joined the many who voiced their criticism of the court this week, when al-Bashir skipped the country and evaded arrest. But the British academic’s independence has been in question for years, which has led to long-standing suspicions that he is a proverbial hired gun for the Sudanese government.

He has written extensively on the question of whether the ICC is a political rather than a legal tool, in particular for the al-Bashirs of the world who are accused of heinous war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Hoile did not respond to a request for comment this week, but there is ample evidence that he is aligned to the Sudanese government, and to al-Bashir in particular, which renders the question of his impartiality moot.

Officially, he is the director of the European-Sudanese Public Affairs Council (Espac). According to its website, the council was established, originally as the British-Sudanese Public Affairs Council, in London in 1998. It claims to be privately funded but provides no information about who its funders are.

Its research is widely quoted in academic analyses of the Sudanese situation. But where it is cited it is sometimes done with a caveat. For example, in a paper written by German historian Helmut Strizek, Hoile’s work is described as follows: “David Hoile’s … writings give a different picture of what is normally considered politically correct.”

Scathing review
A scathing review of one of his publications, Darfur in Perspective, was published widely, including in the Irish Journal of Anthropology. The authors, respected scholars Abdullahi Osman El-Tom and Tahir Adam Mohammed, said a reader would be “forgiven for concluding that the book was either an evil joke or other­wise a work commissioned by the like of Musa Hilai, the notorious Darfur militia leader, whose name is certain to top the United Nations list for Darfur war criminals”.

Hoile’s name also crops up in court papers filed by lawyers acting for al-Bashir. Following the arrest warrant issued against al-Bashir in 2009, Hoile’s lawyers submitted an application to the ICC requesting that, in their assessment of the case against al-Bashir, they take into account various documents.

“Furthermore, the applicants (al-Bashir) attach extracts from the book of David Hoile (not retained by the applicants and who is known as a pro-government academic based at the European-Sudanese Public Affairs Council, London) which record various sources suggesting that (Sudanese expert) Eric Reeves’s credibility on Darfur is questionable,” the court record states.

The context of this was that al-Bashir’s lawyers wanted to discredit research by Reeves on the number of deaths in Darfur by suggesting they were exaggerated.

Reeves, on the other hand, has publicly questioned Hoile and his council’s funding. “Hoile has used a variety of organisations to give apparent substance to his interminable propaganda efforts,” he wrote in 2001.

“In addition to the Espac, he also uses the name British-Sudan­ese Public Affairs Council and Westminster Associates. The latter is important because, as the authoritative Africa Confidential has revealed, the parliamentary register of interest lists the client of Westminster Associates as the Sudan government.”

Hoile rose to infamy in 2001 when reports surfaced that he had worn a sticker saying “Hang Mandela” on his tie during his student days, in the 1980s and had opposed the release of former president Nelson Mandela.

This returned to haunt him at an AU press conference on Monday, when an reporter asked Hoile about the anti-Mandela sentiment.

Hoile reacted angrily to the question, calling it “propagandist nonsense … I’ve met Mr Mandela and think he was one of the greatest leaders in the world. Events 30 years ago have got no bearing on what happens now on the continent.”

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Sarah Evans
Sarah Evans

Sarah Evans interned at the Diamond Fields Advertiser in Kimberley for three years before completing an internship at the Mail & Guardian Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane). She went on to work as a Mail & Guardian news reporter with areas of interest including crime, law, governance and the nexus between business and politics. 

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