Sunday, 7 December 2014

Thursday, 30 October 2014

The Sudanese Left

A chapter on the Sudanese left in Mapping of the Arab Left North Africa - a publication of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation.

اليسار في السودان: موارده وتحدياته المعاصرة، فصل ضمن إصدارة مؤسسة روزا لوكسمبرغ "خارطة اليسار العربي" - تونس، مصر، اليمن، السودان، المغرب، الجزائر

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Himeidti: the new Sudanese man

Sadiq al-Mahdi, the leader of the National Umma Party (NUP) and patron of the Ansar brotherhood, appeared on Thursday before the prosecutor of crimes against the state in Khartoum for questioning regarding statements he recently made accusing the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) of committing crimes against civilians and including non-Sudanese nationals in its ranks. The National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) responded with a barrage of charges against Sadiq al-Mahdi under Sudan’s criminal code including ‘dissemination of false news’, ‘instigation of unrest among the armed forces’, ‘defamation’ and ‘threatening of public peace’. Sadiq al-Mahdi, in full bravado, told reporters on Tuesday he was ready to go to court as long as a free and fair trial was ensured. A cache of followers accompanied the former prime minister to the prosecutor on Thursday chanting “no dialogue with evil” and a more flat “Sadiq Sadiq the imam”. He was probably pleased to hear both. 
The commanders of the RSF did not sit idle and held their own show at a press conference of the Sudan News Agency on Wednesday. The RSF is for all practical purposes the government’s most recent attempt to reconstitute a fighting force capable of countering the assortment of insurgents in Darfur, South Kordofan and the Blue Nile. Since their inception in August last year the, the RSF under the leadership of Mohamed Hamdan Daglo (Himeidti), a captain of the government’s cheap counter-insurgency campaign in Darfur, have scored a chain of victories where the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) before them had proved a chronic failure apart from notoriously inaccurate bombing campaigns that only succeed in swelling the ranks of the armed movements in the terrains of Sudan’s wars with angry combatants. Obviously, the SAF laid claim to the gains scored by the RSF, the spokesman of the army regularly appearing on state television to read out the names of the villages, khors and wadis captured by Himeidti and his men. Himeidti himself has slowly moved from the obscurity of militia operation to the limelight of national politics. State governors and senior SAF officers in Darfur receive the man as a war hero, and now he is up against Sadiq al-Mahdi, a lord of the establishment. 
“All allegations against us are lies” shouted an angry Himeidti at the press conference on Wednesday. The commander’s predicament was made clear however by the fact that he was denied the uniform which draped his minder, the SAF officer officially in charge of the RSF Abbas Abd al-Aziz. Himeidti appeared in civilian dress a few numbers larger that his size guarded by an associate who made sure his pistol was on display. A few years back, while still in the jellabiya of a Rizeigati militiaman, Himeidti demanded integration into the SAF as he bargained his way back from a spell of sulky unwillingness to cooperate further with the central government bordering on frank insurgency. He had a trademark red cap back then, a favourite among the Fur peasants who were once his hosts. Abbas Abd al-Aziz, the army officer, said the RSF were administered by the NISS but operate under the SAF. “These troops were gathered from different units and from volunteers. We selected people with fighting experience. We chose them very carefully,” he said. The chain of command above Himeidti and his men, it follows, is camouflaged by design to allow the officers at the helm to claim victory when it happens but avoid culpability for the carnage. 
Dismissing Himeidti and his men, six thousand according to the SAF minder, as an edition of the ‘Janjaweed’ overlooks the agency of these take-away fighters who have come to occupy the recesses vacated by an exhausted state or never effectively controlled by its coercive apparatus. Much like the private companies who have taken over the lucrative venture of managing the irrigation system of the vast Gezira Scheme and made fortunes out of the win, Himeidti’s forces are an instance of ‘private-public partnership’ in the military business of counter-insurgency and related matters. The allegory does not end here though. The companies put in charge of irrigating the fields of Gezira, in the rule owned by headmen of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) and associates, proved a disaster exposing the region between the Niles to one season of thirst after another. Likewise, Himeidti’s advances might provide immediate relief to the officers of an army unwilling or unable to fight the very communities from which the majority of its soldiers are drawn but conclusively dispel whatever illusions still linger regarding the capacity of the state to act as a neutral arbiter in the bloody disputes of Sudan’s hinterlands. If the Janjaweed operated in a zone of legal immunity, Himeidti’s forces constitute the law. 
The best witness of the privatization of the SAF is arguably the defence minister, Abd al-Raheem Mohamed Hussein. He recently told parliament that the army suffers a severe and threatening shortage of recruits, a situation he attributed to the poor pay of its soldiers and the attraction of artisan gold mining in Sudan’s peripheries. He did not mention the lure of joining any of the assortment of militias in the same regions, pro-government, insurgent or communal. To address this situation, said the minister, the SAF resorted to relying on the pool of ‘regular forces’ under its purview through short-term contracts, the Popular Defence Forces (PDF), the Popular Police, conscripts of the National Military Service, and the military units of the NISS. According to Abbas Abd al-Aziz, the RSF were conceived precisely to plug this gaping deficit in the SAF’s fighting power. Himeidti, a businessman with a successful record in livestock and furniture trade and a major investor in real estate in the capitals of Darfur, had already presented his bid in the battle for Heglig with the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) of South Sudan back in March-April 2012 and was in a position to bargain a better deal with the SAF officers than his predecessor Musa Hilal. Unlike Musa, officially a vigilante unmarked by insignia, Himeidti achieved the proud rank of brigadier-general of the NISS. 
Sadiq al-Mahdi’s alarm over the RSF is remarkable in its irony. If the business of counter-insurgency in Sudan has a pioneer it is Sadiq who as prime minister in the late 1980s resorted to arm the Baggara on the southern Sudan frontier, a solid constituency of the NUP, to battle the rebel SPLA. Fadlalla Burma Nasir, Sadiq’s defence minister at the time and today deputy chairman of the NUP, carried out the mission aside the formal structures of the SAF. The National Islamic Front (NIF), the ancestor of the NCP cycling in and out of government coalition with the NUP back then, pressed for the creation of a ‘popular force’ to assist the army, a proposal fiercely opposed by senior officers fearing further dilution of the SAF’s precarious monopoly. A draft law to launch the Popular Defence Forces (PDF) was already ripe for parliamentary approval when the NIF picked power off Khartoum’s streets on 30 June 1989 to paraphrase the memorable words of the late Zain al-Abdin al-Hindi. “Your democracy is but stinking carrion, if a stray dog ran off with it, nobody would give a damn,” he told parliament shortly before the 30 June coup.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

مع قرنق: "الصفوة البيروقراطية المتبرجزة"

حدد المرحوم جون قرنق في المانفستو الأول للحركة الشعبية لتحرير السودان عام 1983، وقبل ذلك في رسالته للدكتوراة عام 1981، محل السلطة السياسية والاجتماعية في السودان بما سماها "الصفوة البيروقراطية المتبرجزة"، يقصد انها صعدت إلى موقعها الطبقي المتميز بفضل سيطرتها على جهاز الدولة البيروقراطي وليس نشاطها الاقتصادي، فهي بذلك ليست برجوازية أصالة، صعودها الاقتصادي والاجتماعي رهين بسلطتها السياسية. ساوى قرنق في تشخيصه هذا الصفوة الشمالية والجنوبية؛ سبقت الأولى الثانية إلى موارد الدولة عبر "السودنة" الشمالية لكن لحقت بها الثانية عبر اتفاق أديس أبابا 1972 الذي سمح لها بتدشين سطوتها "الثانوية" من خلال هياكل الحكم الذاتي الاقليمي في جنوبي السودان.
في أطروحة قرنق صدى لتقدير رتشارد سكلار في مقالته الموسومة "طبيعة الهيمنة الطبقية في افريقيا" (1967) أن  العلاقات الطبقية في افريقيا "تتحدد في قاعدتها بعلاقات القوة وليس الإنتاج". عند سكلار، صعود الطبقات الاجتماعية المهيمنة في افريقيا دالة لنشأة الحزب السياسي، الآلة التي تمكنت عبرها من السيطرة على جهاز الدولة ومن ثم الاستئثار بمواردها. عاد إلى هذه الفكرة مؤخرا كلمنس بينو في مجلة شؤون افريقية لشرح الصعود الطبقي لصفوة الحركة الشعبية العسكرية-السياسية في جنوب السودان. تتبع بينو كيف انتفعت هذه الصفوة من الدورة الثانية لحرب التحرير في جنوبي السودان (1983 – 2005)، عبر سلب موارد المجتمعات المحلية بخاصة غير الموالية للجيش الشعبي خارج مناطق تجنيده الرئيسية وفرض الضرائب العينية والنقدية على السكان حيث استقرت سيطرة الجيش الشعبي والتجارة في الماشية والسلاح. بذلك تحقق لصفوة الحركة الشعبية تشكيل نفسها كطبقة "ارستقراطية عسكرية" في مقابل غمار السكان في جنوبي السودان حتى نالت الدولة، وعبرها فيض الموارد الذي أتاح لها تجذير نفوذها وتوسيعه، بالدرجة الأولى دخل البترول والقروض والمنح الأجنبية. نقل بينو في مقالته تقدير منظمة قلوبال وتنس أن صفوة الحكم الجنوبية نهبت فيما بينها، بمنهج "الفساد التضامني"، ما لا يقل عن أربعة بلايين دولار منذ تشكيل حكومة جنوب السودان شبه المستقلة عام 2005.
انتهى بينو إلى أن صفوة الحركة الشعبية شكلت من نفسها ارستقراطية جديدة من خلال اقتصاد الحرب ثم عززت نفوذها بالغرف المباشر من خزائن الدولة عبر محاباة شبكة الأقارب والموالين التي رعت من حولها وإتاحة المجال للأعداء السابقين أن ينهلوا كذلك ما استطاعوا تحت خيمة الرئيس كير الكبيرة. يعضد الفساد في تقدير بينو الهيمنة الطبقية والسياسية لصفوة الحركة الشعبية على المدى القصير لكن يهدد بقاء الدولة بما يثير من صراعات سياسية وإثنية. بذلك، يرى بينو أن الصراع الجاري في جنوب السودان يعود في جانب كبير منه إلى البون الشاسع بين ارستقراطية الحكم الجديدة وفئاتها الدنيا من قادة ميدانيين ومحليين وجمهور الناس. لكن، ألا يمكن بتمرين عقلي سهل تبديل جنوب بشمال والوصول إلى ذات الخلاصات. إن كان فساد "الصفوة البيروقراطية المتبرجزة" تسارع حادا في جنوب السودان حتى الانفجار الحربي في ديسمبر الماضي فسيرة قرينتها الشمالية مزمنة لا غير ربما، يميزها فيما مضى نجاح الانقلاب كخطة للاستيلاء على السلطة المركزية كلما اشتدت أزماتها. 

Friday, 4 April 2014

Mahjoub Sharif: a secular prophet

Mahjoub Sharif (1948 - 2014)
Mahjoub Sharif had his way with words. Throughout decades of poetic passion he managed to refashion the colloquial Arabic of the Sudanese town and chant it back at its speakers enriched with emancipatory themes. Mahjoub wrote poems for freedom, crisp, pregnant with music, witty, agitating, but always didactic. He proverbially breathed poems, till his very last breath at his Omdurman home on Wednesday 2 April at the age of sixty six. Thousands accompanied the ‘poet of the people’ as he was known to his last resting place in a mass act of baraka that not even the most pious of sheikhs can claim. 
A school teacher by training, this secular prophet spoke truth to power in a creative language that readily transformed into powerful memes, and as a consequence landed him habitually in the detention cells of Sudan’s military rulers. He was incarcerated repeatedly during the reign of Jaafar Nimayri and then under Omer al-Bashir. It would be no exaggeration to say that the long spells of jail in Cooper prison set the stage for the lung ailment that ended his life. Like scores of Communist Party members he was dismissed from government employment during the extensive purges of the civil service in the 1990s. No prison however could blunt the sharp blade of Mahjoub’s poetry. His joyful compositions cut through the fallacious fat of official propaganda to bare the bone of daily existence as experienced by the nas, the toiling women and men who came out to honour him on Wednesday. 
Beyond exposing power’s sins, Mahjoub had the extraordinary capacity to imagine another future in feather-light lines, suitable even for the playful entertainment of children. He nursed dreams of emancipation on behalf of the country and its people. What sounded hollow and barren in the tedious declarations of Sudan’s politicians, Mahjoub could articulate in immediately accessible promises of a tomorrow waiting to be made. He had the will to dream, so much so that Sudan’s chattering opposition occasionally employed his words as an ersatz for action. Mahjoub Sharif wrote and Mohamed Wardi sang; the perfect duo produced songs that became over time part of the politically erotic repertoire of opposition congregation whenever opportunity allowed. High on these valiant chants many overlooked their subversive root: the taxing commitment of an exemplary counter-effendi. That said, Mahjoub survives not in the gushes of individual eulogy but in the indecipherable hum of the masses who carried him to his grave. His legacy is indeed talking out the mind of the collective.
 
Creative Commons Licence
This work by Magdi El Gizouli is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.