Thursday, 16 April 2015

President Bashir’s elections: victory by default

Two days before the start of polling in Sudan’s ongoing elections on 13 April a quarter-page insert in the Khartoum newspaper al-Intibaha congratulated the former finance minister and leading figure of the ruling National Congress Party, Ali Mahmoud Abd al-Rasoul, on winning the parliamentary seat of his home town, Rihed al-Birdi, in South Darfur. The former minister had no need for a campaign, at most telephone calls as he spent lazy evenings in his fashionable Khartoum mansion and received visiting delegations from the area. His victory was secured because he faced not a single competitor. Seasonal migration routes of Sudan’s Baggara - cattle herders - converge in Rihed al-Birdi, the site of a large cattle market. Prominent cattle merchants in Rihed al-Birdi probably consider Abd al-Rasoul an asset, a man well connected in the centre of power whom they trust to represent their interests, knowing that he still shares their trade. 
Unlike Abd al-Rasoul, who could afford a frictionless re-election without losing face among the cattle merchants of Rihed al-Birdi, president Omer Bashir needs the decorum of competition, not so much for Sudanese voters but for the keen electoral observers from the region who busy official media with their statements of encouragement and endorsement. The secretary general of the Arab Lawyers Union announced the Sudanese vote an historic breakthrough and a landmark in Arab democracy, because he was invited to observe it. The incumbent president Bashir, in power since 1989, faces over ten contenders, but it is a challenge for a regular voter to name even one. The president nevertheless campaigned vigorously, not so much to win votes as to project authority primarily within his own party, a mutable coalition of military officers, security men, business barons, professional politicians of an Islamist mold and many who are ready to serve power whatever its character, and very importantly, patriarchal figureheads like the merchants of Rihed al-Birdi. 
The president’s electoral message, spoken in readily accessible Sudanese colloquial Arabic, has been a consistent pledge of more of the same, but contrasted with the turmoil of the Arab region. “Do you want to be like Yemen?,” president Bashir asked the crowds wherever he spoke drawing a roaring “no”, in a cycle with Libya, Syria and Iraq as further examples of state involution. The irony being that the president and his regime managed to lock the country under his rule in a comparable fulcrum of low grade civil war and displacement parting with a third of its territory in the process in the hope of maintaining power in the rump northern Sudan. The president cast his ballot in an electoral centre in St Francis school in central Khartoum, close to his professional address, the high command of the Sudan Armed Forces. A stringer for Western media scavenged after voters as the president departed only to discover that the elegant men in the short cue were themselves candidates for various parliamentary positions, ready rewards for their loyalty to the big man. Voters are hard to come by in today’s Sudan! Paradoxically, a rally of the mainstream opposition campaigning for a boycott of the elections did not attract the absentee voters either. Speaker after speaker rose to the podium to address themselves, a front row of amused listeners and a crowd of empty chairs.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Wave of arrests on eve of elections, Sunday 12 April 2015

Salwa Adam Banya - Khartoum
Musa Jojo - Khartoum
Sandra Farouq Kadoda - Khartoum
Adlan Jamal al-Din - al-Suki
Shamo Hamid Zakariya - al-Suki
Taha al-Fatih - al-Suki
Mohamed Yusif - al-Duem
Ali Omer al-Faki - al-Duem
Ahmed al-Tayeb - al-Duem
Naji Abd al-Jalil - Khartoum
Hussam Mohamed Adam - Port Sudan
Ibrahim Ahmed Jumaa - Khartoum
Musa Mohamed Osman - Khartoum
Harun Kanjum - Khartoum
Yusif Kafi - Khartoum

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Rift Valley Institute Field Courses 2015

The Rift Valley Institute's field courses on Sudan and South Sudan, the Horn of Africa, and the Great Lakes take place from June to July 2015. Now in their twelfth year, the courses provide a basis for understanding current political and developmental challenges in the region. They are taught by teams of leading specialists—from the region and beyond—and offer a unique opportunity to spend time with an outstanding group of specialists, away from routine distractions. RVI courses are designed for policy-makers, diplomats, investors, development workers, researchers, activists and journalists—for new arrivals in the region and those already working there who wish to deepen their knowledge. A dawn-to-dusk programme of seminars, lectures, group discussions and special events examines the key social, environmental, political and cultural features of each of the three sub-regions.

Horn of Africa Course

13 - 19 June 2015

The Horn of Africa Course, held in Kenya from 13 to 19 June, covers Somalia and the Somali territories, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Northern Kenya. This year’s will focus particularly on 'borders and borderlands. The Horn’s remote borderland areas were once peripheral and largely ignored, but today are taking on new prominence thanks to oil exploration, major development projects, cross-border trade, insurgencies, federalism, regional integration proposals, and political devolution. Borders—defined along political, livelihood, and ethnic lines—remain deeply contested and flashpoints of political violence across the region. The course will also explore critical political, economic, and foreign relations issues in the Horn today, as well as providing cultural awareness sessions.

The Director of Studies is Ken Menkhaus, supported by Mark Bradbury. He will be joined by a teaching staff of—amongst others—Christopher Clapham, Lee Cassanelli, Dereje Feyissa, Laura Hammond, Nimo-ilhan Ali, Michael Woldemariam and Matt Bryden. 

Great Lakes Course

27 June - 3 July 2015

The Great Lakes Course, held in Kenya from 27 June to 3 July, covers the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Rwanda and Burundi. Elections, conflict, and changes in the region’s political economy will be at the forefront of our discussions. Presentations on the region’s complex history and society will provide the larger context for a stimulating week of discussion and learning. The Congo will again take centre stage, with a focus on the controversial electoral process, President Kabila’s succession struggle, and armed violence in the Kivus. The Course will take place shortly after Burundi’s elections, scheduled for May and June. We will take stock of the process and analyse the likely impact of the results on the country’s politics and stability. Finally, Rwanda faces the prospect of a hand over of power from Paul Kagame in 2017. We will explore this potential shift against the backdrop of governance and development in the two decades since the genocide.

Jason Stearns will direct this year’s Great Lakes Course, supported by Emily Paddon and Judith Verweijen. The directing team will be joined by Aidan Russell, Emmanuel de Mérode, Jean Omasombo, Koen Vlassenroot, Michael Kavanagh and Willy Nindorera.

Sudan and South Sudan Course

11 - 17 July 2015

Over one year into a bloody and stubborn civil war in South Sudan, political enmities, its war economy and ethnic tensions have steadily worsened, destabilising the the region. Peace deals have come and gone as quickly as deadlines and the threat of sanctions from the region and beyond. Defections, rejections, rebellions and accommodations only add to the exhaustion of efforts to build peace. In Sudan, the government manages an ever tighter grip on the state, despite insuppressible regional insurgencies, growing constellations of opposition voices, internal succession intrigues and perennial economic uncertainties. Deftly creating and exploiting political rivalries and patronage opportunities, the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) maintains its own centrifugal stability and seems in casual control of power. Oil unites and divides within and between both countries, but in Sudan especially, the need to understand the post-oil economy is stronger than ever. Elections are scheduled in both nations for 2015, yet their significance remains opaque. Seasoned commentators will feel that we have been here before. This is precisely why understanding the histories of state formation and conflict is vitally important. This year's Sudan and South Sudan Course, held from 11 to 17 July in Kenya, addresses the challenge of working in this complex, fluid environment, linking analysis of current events to contextual understanding of the region, society and economy. 

Sharath Srinivasan will direct this year’s Sudans Course. He will be joined by Daniel Large, Douglas Johnson, David Deng, Cherry Leonardi, Magdi el-Gizouli, Nada Ali Mustafa, Laura James and Suliman Baldo. 

To apply online—and to obtain further information on courses, staff, and locations--please visit and download the 2015 Field Course Prospectus. For a general introduction to RVI courses please see our one page overview of the courses. Applications are considered in order of receipt. Places are limited. You can apply here.

Accounts of previous years' courses can be found here, and testimonials from previous course participants can be read here. In the coming months the RVI will be sending out updates on the courses, including on teaching staff and locations. In order to receive these, please subscribe to the RVI mailing list. You can also follow the Institute on Twitter and Facebook.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Long live the struggle of the Sudanese Writers Union

A departmental head at Sudan’s Ministry of Culture issued a letter dated 29 January to the Sudanese Writers Union revoking its licence for unidentified violations of procedure. Effectively a ban, the decision was communicated to the union in a Kafkaesque statement of three lines devoid of a specific accusation or a reference clause of regulations, the type of statement that is the naked language of power. 
In a sense, this second ban of the Sudanese Writers Union brackets a history, the first ban was in 1989 when President Bashir and his fellow officers assumed power. Like other independent trade unions and professional associations, the union was prohibited, its property confiscated and its headquarters at the mugran (confluence) of the Niles in Khartoum handed over to the General Union of Sudanese Students, a mobilisation agency of the new government. 
Disbanded, the union remained a network of relationships and a staple of documents in the office of its secretary general, the lawyer and poet Kamal al-Gizouli, for sixteen years. Only after the signing of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M) was it feasible to reconstitute the union and regain its legal status, an effort that I had the opportunity to contribute to in 2006. Kamal chose the term ‘second birth’ to celebrate the undertaking, and it certainly was. 
Kamal invested a chunk of his poetic soul in the Writers Union but the project expanded beyond his old network and soon grew out of his mantle contrary to the expectations of many critics. The Writers Union is an association of largely urbanite and Khartoumite intellectuals and has thus been famously criticized by ‘New Sudan’ advocates as a union of’ Arab Muslim’ Sudanese writers. Considering the voracious appetite for democratic procedure at the time of its ‘rebirth’, elections for the leadership of the union were hotly contested, its mandate subject to excruciating scrutiny and its activities closely monitored by detractors and sympathisers alike. 
For many of its members, the union was a replacement political party. It was expected to issue position statements on current affairs and mobilise for political struggle. The union, however, continued to operate on known ground. It organised and hosted cultural events peaking in an annual themed conference and reissued its irregular journal. Over time, it developed a certain routine, established new headquarters after a period of nomadic operation and settled to a limited bureaucracy and an elected executive. In the process, it entered into a ‘partnership’ with business and its events featured advertisements of the telecommunications giant Zain (Sudan) for a year or so. 
The radical bend the Writers Union had in its beginnings, when it was densely inhabited by leftist intellectuals, has been greatly ‘straightened’ in recent years, whether in consequence of the general fatigue of the left or the implications of Sudan’s neo-liberal transformation. Today, it is largely an association of liberally minded intellectuals, but that is already too much for the caretakers of power. The explanation, I presume, is that it continues to cherish a threatening principle. It is a free association accessible to all willing Sudanese writers without religious, ethnic, sectarian or gender restriction, and beyond that it successfully funds itself without need for government largesse and it organises! 
The threat of this simple principle continues to enrage the security authorities each time they are reminded of the existence of the Communist Party. Tijani Tayeb, the late veteran leader of the party, probably had this principle in mind in a brief speech he made to a celebration in Cairo exile back in 1996 marking the fiftieth anniversary of the Communist Party. “The early communists stormed an unknown to them and to the Sudanese society by establishing a party of a new kind without prior experience,” he stated. The authorities might ban the Sudanese Writers Union but this principle, a living legacy of the Communist Party which it once vigorously transplanted into the trade union movement, it can never ban. Hence, long live the struggle of the Sudanese Writers Union.
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This work by Magdi El Gizouli is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.