Sunday, 30 August 2015

Abd al-Khalig Mahjoub's speech in the University of Khartoum 1970

Apart from his speech to the roundtable conference on southern Sudan in 1965 this is as far as I know the only surviving recording of Abd al-Khalig Mahjoub, leader of the Communist Party of Sudan, speaking in public. He made the address to students of the University of Khartoum in 1970, at a time when the contradiction between his mass revolutionary line and the agenda of the 1969 coup was sharpening. The dispute eventually resulted in the fracture of the Communist Party with almost half of its central committee siding with Nimayri against Abd al-Khalig's policy line. Within a year or so from his speech, Abd al-Khalig's life came to an end on order of Jaafar Nimayri on the gallows of Cooper Prison in the aftermath of the 1971 Communist coup attempt.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Sixty nine years of the Communist Party of Sudan

According to its official history, today marks the 69th anniversary of the Communist Party of Sudan. During a large chunk of its history, the party was a workshop of creative dissent, sufficiently threatening to the Sudanese establishment as to earn its wrath time and again. Today, it is a reservoir of an idiom and certain skills of underground struggle but not the vanguard it once perceived itself as. Whether the creole Marxism of the Sudanese communists and their skills are of any relevance to Sudan's struggles today is a matter of debate. I believe some are and will attempt in articles to follow to demonstrate to what use these resources of emancipation could be employed today. 

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Bashir, the ICC and jirtig

President Bashir’s return to Khartoum after the drama of his ‘missed’ arrest in Johannesburg was to say the least anticlimactic. The microphone set up for him to address the ‘spontaneous’ crowd which gathered at the airport to greet him home did not work. Turned to mute by a mysteriously untimely intervention, the president shouted a few sentences from the roof of a white pick up and that was it. To the disappointment of journalists there were no defiant sentences to quote for next day’s headlines. The only memorable picture was Ghandour, the former senior presidential assistant and new foreign affairs minister, wiping what seemed like tears from his eyes in a press conference to announce the president’s return. The government, fresh in office, was by no means ready to grant the big man a hero’s welcome. I guess, everybody was a bit exhausted. In a sense, the entertainment was cut short, no fiery speech and no jellabiya groove and ceremonial ululations. 
I wonder what he did for the rest of the day. The president probably needed time to rest from the agitations of his South African adventure, and most likely sought the assuring company of family and relatives. Well-wishers of all sorts probably stalked him wherever he eventually settled. At seventy one years old, Bashir is in a position to enjoy the full catalogue of patriarchal privileges in Sudan, projected in this case to the national scene. Indeed, one of his favourite leisure time activities is to attend the formalities of marriage consummation restricted to males and to carry them out himself as trusted elder. Hassan al-Turabi and al-Sadiq al-Mahdi are in the same business. Turabi, the sheikh, invites both bride and bridegroom to the mosque attend the declaration of their marriage ‘contract’ breaking with established tradition whereby an ‘agent’, in the rule father or uncle, represents each. A scholar of constitutional law and a ‘victim’ of constitutional violation Turabi has come, at his twilight, to consider the idea of ‘contract’ paradigmatic for Muslim dealings in the world, from the private sphere to the market and the state! Sadiq al-Mahdi, on the other hand, crosses into a matriarchal role to play grandmother and officiate the the ancient fertility rituals of jirtig. Bashir is no innovator in these affairs but is famously keen to attend wedding parties and mingle with the ladies, almost always accompanied by his former defence minister, Abd al-Raheem Mohamed Hussein. 
Why did Bashir take the risk, it must be asked. Seemingly, the president was sure he could count on South African government cooperation in evading judicial challenges. Events played out in such fashion, and Pretoria was left to deal with the domestic consequences of its African Union (AU) commitments. Overlooked in the debate over the toothless International Criminal Court (ICC) and the political and diplomatic bargains that frame its actions or inactions is Bashir’s investment in the ICC indictment. While perceived by Bashir’s many foes, domestically and internationally, as a threat, even if in waiting, the ICC has paradoxically become one of the president’s resources, a propaganda tool that he invokes at will. Over time, the efficiency of the handy tool has worn off though as evident in Bashir’s inglorious return home. Only Ghandour has maintained the ICC passion alive. Just appointed foreign affairs minister and arguably among a handful of surviving Islamic Movement politicians in Bashir’s government, he has a lot to lose. When the indictment was announced back in 2009, businessmen paid for advertisement pages in Khartoum’s newspapers ridiculing the former ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo and declaring solidarity with the president. A government board of religious scholars even issued a fatwa forbidding the president to travel to the League of Arab States summit in Doha in March 2009, his first foreign trip after the ICC indictment. Attention to the issue has since waned off considerably, and the president’s foreign travels have remained restricted to safe regional neighbours and allies. 
The elections last April were supposed to rejuvenate support for the president and the ruling party but were effectively a register of absent voters. NCP candidates competed among themselves in the pre-election jockeying for nominations and the president was more or less campaigning against his own twenty six years record in government with a negative argument warning voters of the political void that awaits them if he vacates the seat of sovereignty. Designed to help the NCP adjust its alliances on the basis of a managed expression of popular will, the main outcome of the process was the cynical abstinence of the electorate. The government pretended to hold elections and people pretended to vote as it were. According to NCP figures, total voter turnout was lower than the number of registered party members as if the ballot was a fard kifaya, an obligation of all that is absolved when performed by some. 
The elections however offered the president an opportunity to settle scores with the more demanding leaders of the party, the remaining Islamic Movement politicians who still had the nerve to imagine an autonomous space for politics aside of his will after the purge of December 2013 in which he dismissed the NCP high priests, Ali Osman Mohamed Taha, Nafie Ali Nafie, Awad al-Jaz and others. The new cabinet was further expunged of old-timers and staffed with a pick of NCP juniors and leaders of allied parties who have only the president to thank for their careers. Ali Karti and Mustafa Osman Ismail will now have to make do with parliamentary incentives and prepare for political retirement and the storytelling expected of figures from the past. One can already imagine Mustafa Osman Ismail welcoming Turabi to preside over the marriage contract of a daughter or son, Sadiq al-Mahdi to lead the jirtig, and awkwardly catering to the rayes Omer (al-Bashir) and his buddy Abd al-Rahim (Mohamed Hussein), appropriately rewarded with a retirement package as governor of Khartoum, when they crash into the wedding party. To seal the fate of parliament, the president favoured Ibrahim Ahmed Omer as speaker of the house, while rumour was strong that Taha was the lead candidate for the position. The NCP bloc in parliament voted handsomely in favour of the the soft-spoken veteran of the Islamic Movement who eagerly avoids controversy and probably even opinion; voting against him would be simply inappropriate. For the party, Bashir chose the former agriculture minister Ibrahim Mahmoud Hamid to replace Ghandour as deputy chairman for executive affairs. Ghandour was compliant but a chattering media man. Ibrahim will adorn compliance with the virtue of silence. Signalling a further downgrade of the party’s influence over the presidency, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) acting chairman Mohamed al-Hassan al-Mirghani, son of the ailing Mohamed Osman who withdrew to London after the September 2013 protests, was appointed senior presidential assistant, a position usually reserved for a deputy chairman of the NCP. Taha and Nafie doubled as deputy chairmen of the ruling party and vice president and senior presidential assistant respectively while Ghandour was deputy chairman of the NCP for executive affairs and senior presidential assistant.
The ICC-shadowed trip to South African was the president’s response to the political malaise left behind in a political arena cleansed of able foes and capable allies alike and the accelerated bureaucratisation of the NCP. Indeed, the ruling party, thanks to Bashir, is shedding off advantages of the third tareeqa it aspired to become and slowly but surely assuming the features of Nimayri’s Sudan Socialist Union (SSU), a party of the state under the authority of one man. The president probably calculated that the adventure would bring him back home a hero. Well, he pretended, and people pretended not to notice. In fact, he would have gained more from yet another late hour mingle with the bold and beautiful of the capital, iPhones zapping in WhatsApp time the gold shine and glitter on the background of magnificent tobs and dazzlingly white jellabiyas on selfies with #Bashir.

Friday, 8 May 2015

Himeidti and his president: war as a livelihood

The media simply can’t get enough of him. The commander of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, famous as Himeidti, a motherly diminutive version of his first name, is as ubiquitous as Zain advertisements. Two major newspaper published interviews with the ‘hero’ of al-Nakhara in one day. The official Sudan TV and the government-associated al-Shurooq TV recycle reports about the man and the RSF victory over forces of the Justice Equality Movement in South Darfur’s al-Nakhara and Goz Dango on 26 April generously illustrated with images of the fast-bloated corpses on the battlefield and the fear-stricken faces of teenage JEM combatants in captivity.
The RSF entered Nyala in a victory parade to demonstrate the vehicles and weaponry captured from the JEM, now on display in a town square. The governor of the state, Adam Mahmoud Jar al-Nabi, himself an officer of the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF), declared the RSF victory unprecedented in the history of the Sudanese army. The SAF commander in Nyala, a jolly if not clownish chubby figure, stood beside Himeidti as a minor, cheering his throat sore. It was on the battlefield of Goz Dango though that Himeidti had his finest moment. The president, the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) director and the defence minister flew in on 28 April to congratulate the RSF soldiers. A confident Himeidti read out a long list of war booty to enthralled soldiers and then stood aside. 
The NISS director had a message to deliver though. He dedicated the RSF victory to the president, saying it was their way of marking the president’s electoral fete, and then talked business. “We want a new political phase with no khamaj”, he addressed Bashir. Khamaj in the dictionary of riverine Sudan is usually reserved for the playful mess of children and in another context the wasteful behaviour of indulgent wives and spoiled sons. The NISS director was arguably expressing his institutional opinion on the government’s political behaviour towards enemies he considers fit for the sword. To describe the JEM fighters at his mercy, the NISS director repeated the word bughaa (sing. baghi), classical Arabic from the dictionary of Islamic jurisprudence that translates into aggressors, a determination meant to justify war against fellow Muslims. The minister of defence had only his trademark battle cry amsah..aksah to add, i.e. wipe out.. crush, which the soldiers of the RSF eagerly repeated in tandem. 
Hoisted on the top of a Land Cruiser to speak, the thankful president skipped the introductory niceties to announce that rewards and incentives for the fighting force were ready to pay. “I signed the list of promotions that I received from you without even looking at it,” he told the RSF soldiers adding that every combatant in the battle will be granted Sudan’s ‘badge of courage’. For a moment there it was not immediately evident who was commanding whom. The president, obviously overwhelmed by the smouldering heat, the mass of soldiers in arms and the stench of the battlefield, grimaced in discomfort. The cheers around him were no more the familiar religious phrases of the Popular Defence Forces (PDF) era but thoroughly secular war cries of machismo and vengeance. Loyalty on the battlefields of the really existing New Sudan, as the president recognised, was a function of rewards and incentives, a transaction unmediated by the promises of heartbreaking compliant virgins in heaven. No wonder the president’s speech was particularly short; it did not feature the customary celebration of sacrifice and martyrdom for the sake of the Almighty. Judging by the slogans the JEM combatants had on their vehicles, they appeared more convinced of carrying out a mission of divine providence than the RSF chaps. The JEM gave its attack column the name al-shaheed (martyr) Khalil Ibrahim, its late leader succeeded by his brother Gibreel. 
The government, following Himeidti’s lead, announced the ultimate demise of the JEM, a declaration that stretches the victory in South Darfur beyond its merit, considering that the JEM has repeatedly managed to bounce back from crushing defeats, in Omdurman in 2008 and in Kordofan in 2011. Himeidti claimed that surviving commanders of the JEM force fled back into South Sudan’s Bahr al-Ghazal where they still maintain a hundred or so combat adjusted Toyotas, in disrepair he alleged. The militia leader appeared better informed about the situation of his enemies than the SAF spokesman, or the minister of defence for that matter who parroted further his amsah..aksah whenever opportunity allowed. In Khartoum the security authorities seized on the opportunity offered by the killing of a NCP student leader in clashes with opposition Darfur students in a Khartoum university to clampdown on Darfur student associations, repeating a pattern of ethnic profiling and targeting seen after the 2008 JEM attack on the capital. The show of force in Nyala and Khartoum was an end in itself, an attempt to suppress dissidence with the shock of unrestrained power. 
Assertive and and self-satisfied, Himeidti promised the media audience new victories in South Kordofan, reiterating as if to convince himself and his troops that the RSF were ready for deployment anywhere in Sudan, not only Darfur. In the particular ways of the political marketplace, to use a concept developed by Alex de Waal, Himeidti might be asking for a higher price. In Darfur, Musa Hilal drew the ‘right’ conclusions from Himeidti’s changing fortunes. The Revolutionary Awakening Council, a political umbrella under Hilal’s authority, demanded a place at the table in the government-led national dialogue, posts in the new cabinet and at least one governorship position in Darfur while offering back a loud condemnation of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement in North Sudan (SPLA/M-N) and the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF). The demands coincided with rumours that Osman Mohamed Yusif Kibir, current governor of North Darfur and Hilal’s main rival, will be transferred to Gedaref in a post-elections shake up of governors. Who would take over as chief of North Darfur is in the stars, but some stars shine on Hilal’s guns or Himeidti’s. 
In July 2014, Ismail al-Aghbash representing Hilal signed a memorandum of understanding with the SPLA/M-N commander Jagoud Mikwar Murada pledging cooperation on building a democratic system of government in Sudan. Earlier in the year, Hilal’s militias seized control of the western localities of North Darfur, Saraf Amra, Kutum, Kebkabiya, al-Sireif and al-Waha, where the man now exercises authority through local administration councils, liberated areas under autonomous rule? When asked about the possible role of the RSF in reigning in ‘tribal conflicts’ in Darfur, Himeidti said the RSF lacks the mandate to do so but would welcome the challenge. The depiction ‘tribal conflicts’ has become Khartoum’s blanket diagnosis of the multiple sources of violence engulfing the devastated western periphery of the country. While the vehicles of violence are in many instances tribal, its self-propagation seems to be a structural adaptation to the abject collapse of the rural economy of the region, whereby guns are employed as means of livelihood, tools of prey in an austere environment of lawlessness. Himeidti, now a uniformed officer, spoke of “rogue elements” in Darfur as the next target of the RSF. The khamaj he has in mind, I suppose, might well involve prey on his predecessor Hilal.

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.
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This work by Magdi El Gizouli is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.