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.

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