Monday, 27 July 2009

Misseriya against Bashir

Yesterday, another Misseriya leader and notable, Kamil Babo Nimr, lashed out openly against Bashir in a meeting of 30 or so interested individuals, mostly Misseriya professionals resident in Khartoum. The meeting took place in the Graduate's Club of Khartoum University. He repeatedly described Bashir as a liar on the grounds of promises he failed to keep. According to Kamil's position what matters most to the Misseriya is whether they can get to the river or not (Bahr al Arab), oil aside. In that light the ruling of the PCA on Abyei may have well satisfied the government, but not the local Misseriya, adamant as they are on securing their grazing routes irrespective of the Noth-South divide. Kamil made the point of declaring that he carries a Kalshnikov rifle ready and loaded in his automobile. I wonder what use it will be.


During the latest phase of its clandestine existence (1989 - 2007) al Midan, the organ of the Communist Party of Sudan, welcomed its readers with a permanent demand as a footer: print, copy and distribute. In those days the paper was 6 - 12 pages size A4, published at an erratic rate of around once per month depending on available funds, materials, and of course underground circumstances.

Following the agreements in Naivasha and Cairo al Midan returned to the newspaper stands with a corrective note in its header: a daily newspaper published provisionally once per week; direct reasons being lack of cash, lack of staff and and sublime fatigue. Well, after a crash period of ups and downs al Midan slowly gained grasp of itself and its message, and has lately been able to publish twice weekly, a routine edition on Tuesdays and an extra, usually with focus on a single issue (elections, the economy, health care, housing..etc) on Thursdays. Two major obstacles face the future of this veteran paper (established 1954), obstacles that have grown with it since its inception, first and foremost poor funding, a permanent feature of resistance politics that remain unmillitarised and thus fail to claim international appeal; and second, but of primary importance, censorship. The censorship that Midan faces today has precedent only in the colonial past, it is officially on the market, yes, but its message and content is tightly controlled by a regular visitor who has taken more or less the function of editor in chief. Today the paper will simply not be issued, the late evening visitor from the Security Bureau decided to rip off approximately 60% of its content, news articles and Op-Eds. The pieces prevented from public display this edition include:
  • Leading editorial on water shortages in Khartoum: Khartoum suffers a chronic deficit in water supply. Where I live for example, in Omdurman, water taps have been largely dry for the past 6 weeks or so. A family of 5 needs to buy water delivered in a barrel on a donkey driven cart at a daily cost of 40 SDG (approx. 17 USD). Note that the salary of a university lecturer is in the range of 400 - 500 USD per month. Most daily papers have reported the problem of water in town, however Midan went a step further and dared to report a women led demonstration for water in Omdurman this week.
  • a public statment from the Communist Party in Um Rwaba (North Kordofan) demanding a review and reduction of the high taxes imposed on petty traders, teas sellers, taxi drivers and local nurseries. The statment also mentioned the annual cycle of teachers' strikes in the town, and demanded negotiation between teachers' representatives and the local authorities to ease the situation in the already forsaken public schools.
  • An interview with Joseph Modistu, former MP in the last elected parliament (1986) and prominent Southern Sudanese communist. Modistu criticized GoSS and spoke of rampant corruption and nepotism in the South. He went further to demonstrate similarities between NCP dictatorship in the North and SPLM rule in Southern Sudan. For Modistu unity is the unity of the disenfranchised and impoverished on both sides of the celebrated politco-cultural divide.
  • An article on the economic utility and ecological consequences of the government project to raise the Roseiris Dam on the Blue Nile. The article debates the government plans associated with the project in terms of transparency, property relationships, and effects on the ecology of the river and the region.
  • A column criticising the government's adherence to IMF blueprints and the latest request by the Minister of Finance for IMF financial and technical supervision, the first flash of which is an announced raise in indirect tax.
  • A report on the situation of residential land allocation in al Bawga South, an area South of Khartoum on the eastern bank of the Blue Nile, where squatter settlements are being forcibly cleared and land is being reallocated according to conditions and standards perceived by the population in the area as unjust.
This evening the security officer demanded from Midan's administration a signed committment not to publish any of the censored pieces on-line or in any other form. I don't know if they have actually signed, or what this signature would legally imply. One thing is clear however, we might as well go back to print, copy and distribute!

The image is of an issue of Midan dated 2 September 1965 celebrating its first edition 1954.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

15 000 died

In today's edition of al Rai al Aam an official from the Popular Defence Forces (PDF) provided some statistics on the size of this force and its contribution to the war in Southern Sudan, for the first time as far as I know. The occasion being the "graduation" of 3500 PDF conscripts today in Dongola.
He claimed that no less than 3 million individuals have received some form of military training and taken part in PDF activities, military or otherwise. 500 000 have participated in military action in one or the other of the Sudanese-Sudanese frontlines, most prominently the war in Southern Sudan, in addition to the Nuba Mountains, Southern Blue Nile, Eastern Sudan and lately Darfur. Of this figure 15 000 died on the battlefield and 50 000 returned wounded.
Abdalla Osman, army general and current high commander of the PDF announced a plan to train 10 000 new recruits in the near future, to his side was the new paramilitary leader of the force, Abdalla al Jaili, the coordinator general of the PDF.
The mainsheet of Rai al Aam today reads: "15 000 PDF martyrs in the South". I was struck by the ambiguity of the statement. What is it? A celebration of death, a demonstration of loyalty through sacrifice, a declaration of cost. The obscenity is, the PDF is inclined to raise its sacrifice figures to prove its worthiness and the necessity of its mission. However, the greater the figures the less credibility it can claim as a fighting force of any efficiency. Exactly this point about inefficiency has been repeatedly made by professional army officers commenting on the PDF's contribution to war.
All that aside, what is it today that the PDF can do? It is a terribly helpless fighting force in case of war, that is clear, but it can provide a handy strike force against civilian dissent and a recruitment base and filtration sieve for the more rigidly controlled security apparatus. The PDF is a handy tool in rural politics, it provides an association based on a loosely defined political identity apart from the traditional brotherhoods and Sufi orders but in their communal masculine spirit, and a much more exciting one for that matter, since one actually learns how to use a rifle. If the PDF was an Islamist force in the 90's its ideology today is more racial than anything else, the same shift in NCP ideology from modernist Islamist doctrine to a vulgarised cultural notion of Northern Sudan centred around tribal affiliation and a set of patriarchal traditions and racial prejudices. An interesting point in this regard is the fact that former PDF fighters in peripheral Sudan constitute a large proportion of the rebel movements currently opposed to NCP rule, the high profile example of this dynamic is Khalil Ibrahim's JEM. Khalil himself was a PDF commander in Bahr al Ghazal before he became state minister of health in Darfur. This time round it seems the PDF will concentrate on NCP heartland, the river and the Gazira, I wonder if they will also experience a "third birth" and rebel.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Abyei or no Abyei oil is the question

According to Asharq al Awsat a Misseriya leader, the head of a self-proclaimed mujahideen group, has announced his rejection of the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration, his major argument being the loss of water and grazing land. The gentleman attacked the NCP full thrust; the ruling party in the North in his perception is only interested in oil and thus let Abyei town go to the Dinka Ngok jubilant at the gain of the oil fields further North. The interesting twist is the point he made about shifting alliances. He entertained the option of siding with the SPLM in response, since interests of the Misseriya in pastures and water dictate that they look for political leverage down South rather than in Khartoum. It is no secret that the leaders of the Misseriya community have for long being natural allies of whoever rules in Khartoum, essentially for reasons pertaining to survival in a war-zone. It is the militarisation of the Misseriya and other frontline communities and their organisation in paramilitary groups that has gained them notoriety in the war between central government and SPLA. For Khartoum they have been for decades a sharp claw in its by proxy war effort.

The calamity that befell this relatively demonised community, pictured in Sudan's political mythology as blood-thirsty warriors - a parallel can be drawn here to the Abbala of Darfur - was multiplied with the advent of oil exploration. Human rights literature on oil has done a good job documenting the consequences of the industry on the communities of Southern Sudan proper, however it is difficult to find a note that refers to the fate of these so called "Arabs". According to this leader Khartoum used them in its war and now betrays them after it got the oil wells.

Conscious of the consequences of a fall out with the Misseriya Bashir speaking to NCP supporters and among them a number of Misseriya leaders laid great stress on his goverment's solemn committment to their cause, particulary their right to pastures and water, and promised coming benefits in reward for their sacrifices, in war and in "oily" peace.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Southerners of the North

A few days ago, speaking to a large audience in the outskirts of Omdurman mostly IDPs from the late 80's and early 90's, SPLM Chairman and First Vice President Salva Kiir reiterated the position of the SPLM concerning the eligibility to vote in the upcoming referendum on self-determination for Southern Sudan. He stated that a Southern Sudanese is exclusively a person resident in Southern Sudan, and that Southern Sudanese who wish to vote should consequentially resettle in the South, otherwise they will loose their "right" to cast their votes on the question of self-determination. He added that Southerners who choose to stay in the North should consider themselves citizens of the North. They may well do so, but it is pretty unlikely that NCP authorities in the North, most probably they will maintain grip on power elections or no elections, will adhere to such a notion of citizenship. In that sense Southerners who do remain in North Sudan may well become, once again, a stateless population, simply non-citizens, not good enough for both states. I do not even want to imagine the possible consequences of such a situation. Those acquainted with the history of Khartoum know that the city's conscience is heavy with racial violence. The bloody incidents of 1965 (Clement Mboro's delayed plane) and 2005 (John Garang's death) demonstrate the ease with which the city can surrender to the anger of the mob.

Readers of al Intibaha newspaper, Khartoum's version of Rwanda's genocide radio stations would recognise with ease the identity doctrine that imprints on the political debate on Sudan and the irreconcilable dichotomies that characterise it: Arab vs African, Moslem vs Christian, and I dare say centre vs periphery. Only al Intibaha dares to carry the logic of these opposed poles to its ultimate consequences, in straightforward vulgarised form without the subtleties and qualifications that are the lot of "dignifed" anthropologised politics on Sudan. What the paper proposes is the final solution for Southern Sudan, its secession. With that secession the Arab Moslem identity of Northern Sudan should be restored, which means also all Southerners in the North - according to the questionable 2009 census half a million, according to other estimates triple or four times that figure - should disappear, either migrate to Southern Sudan, which many do not even recognise as home, or I fear face a Sudanese brand final solution. It seems the disenfranchised of unity may well in this framework emerge again as the prosecuted of secession.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

In another world

A few days from now, next Thursday, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague will announce its ruling on the Abyei issue. Both parties, SPLM and NCP, have nominally agreed to maintain peace, and uphold the ruling of the court. Nevertheless, news of military build up in and around Abyei are heard and getting louder. Sudanese Armed Forces have a standing contingent, and the SPLA has mobilised 2 battalions of its forces from the Nuba Mountains to the area. At least that is the news in Khartoum. Assuming that Scott Gration, Obama's mission man in Sudan together with some foreign dignitaries and state officials will be in Abyei on the day of the ruling it seems unlikely that hostilities will break out immediately. Malik Agar from the SPLM gave a statement to the BBC saying there is bound to be disappointment on one side or the other. Ghazi Salah Eldin from the NCP said the two sides are working together to prevent renewed conflict. Both have just stated the obvious. Nevertheless it's good to know that party officials know this much. On the other hand, when such big men speak of peace the man on the street should surely suspect war.
A far fetched idea when talking about Abyei would be to imagine the impossible possibility of an in-house settlement. Would it be possible in some other world that a committee of Sudanese professional civil sevants and historians together with community leaders from the area work out a settlement that makes sense in terms of Abyei, and not just the Khartoum-Juba conundrum. I guess not, we have passed that point beyond regain or it is yet in front of us, way in front. It just sounds weird, a court in the Hague ruling on Abyei and an American general playing peace-maker in a Dinka-Misseriya dispute. Well, a counterpoint would be he did grow up in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and his parents were missionaries. So, he must by default have a touch for African predicaments. I guess he would. The better point would be it is not a Dinka-Misseriya dispute, with that I agree fully.

Monday, 13 July 2009

What is in a flogging?

Khartoum's emailers received today an invitation by Ms Lubna Ahmed Husein, a prominent columnist with a reputation for annoying the authorities, to attend the court session where she, the accused, may well be punished with 40 lashes for "indecent dress" - a police Islameeze term which translates in this case into trousers. She was arrested together with a number of other young ladies from a Khartoum restaurant, some of whom immediately pleaded guilty, received 10 lashes and went on with their daily lives with another trauma on the pile. She, however has chosen to consult her lawyer and face a judge. The BBC caught up with the story and gave it a place on its Africa news pages under the title "Sudan women lashed for trousers". 
The practice of flogging women for "indecent dress" in Sudan, Khartoum in particular, is 20 years old, and dates back to the declaration of Sharia by Bashir & Co in 1990, and the establishment of a Sharia-based criminal law. A distinct police authority, largely recruited from the overzealous and determinately sexist, racist, chauvinist and younger poorer elements of the NIF lower cadre is responsible for enforcement of sections of the this Sharia based law pertinent to public behaviour - the Public Order Code, articles of which go as far as announcing the act of a man and a women sitting "thigh next to thigh"as criminal and "approaching fornication".
It is amazing how Khartoum's society has managed to subvert these declarations of false piety and chastity. Over the years and in flagrant disregard of all aspirations of the Public Order Code Khartoum's young women developed tactics and language that caricature the sexual fantasies of the men in beards enacted into law. The first phenomenon was probably the introduction of the ibaya - a wide black garment not popular previously in the Sudan. Young women would dress as they please, sometimes a minimum, and over their clothing of choice wear a ibaya for public appearance to their safer destination. This protective article of dress was dubbed in some circles al Islam. It became very popular particularly among young university students who would cover up when entering campus, where a female guard from the security apparatus is sure to check for appropriate clothing and prevent the "indecently" dressed from entering, and once inside would discard the ibaya into the handbag. To counteract such dress subversion female guards started to check not only the ibaya but what is beneath it.
Those exposed to Khartoum's subcultures probably know that two sections of the society have remained adamantly resistant to the Islamist dress code, the richer westernised class who can bribe their way out of police encounters, or who can afford to evade police control in their air-conditioned cars and concrete villas and relatively exclusive clubs; and the impoverished many. In the latter's case a whole new world of symbols came to express their disillusion with the Islamist pledges of justice and righteousness; well known are the slang songs of young girls and women that praise the boyfriend who sneeks into the house to satisfy the common needs of love, or the poignantly erotic lyrics that celebrate a potential husband whatever his ethnicity or social background, or the extensive rhymed annotations of a hooker's day on the road: names of streets and neighbourhoods and brands of cars. My favourite examples are the names given to articles of dress that obviously challenge the authorities' Sharia: "religion and politics" for cleavage exposing low cut tops; "separation of state and religion" for crop tops, and the "civilizatory project" (Islamist project) for miniskirts.
Now the nastier part of this note. Khartoum's liberal intellectuals rose in a flurry to support Ms Husein in her predicament, and organised a largely habitual gathering of solidarity in the premises of the SPLM-supported newspaper, Ajras al Hurriya, that was attended by senior party officials, Yasir Arman from the SPLM and Kamal Omer from the Popular Congress Party (Turabi's faction of the Islamist Movement). Ms Husein was there to demonstrate to the onlookers the article of clothing she was arrested for wearing, baggy pants. She is to attend court next week after being released on bail. The other young ladies who were also arrested in the incident did what most Sudanese young women would do in this situation, and remained nameless. Some bribed their way out of police custody and others surrendered to an immediate 10 lashes. This is how they have been surviving NIF madness for the past 20 years, largely unnoticed. In any case, they never made it to the BBC news service, their lot never deserved politics, may be sympathy. In essence, a flogging and another are not the same, there is always a class distinction.

Friday, 10 July 2009

9th July 2009

According to the coalition of opposition parties, salient member of which are the Umma, DUP, Communists and the Popular Congress, the GoNU has lost constitutional legitimacy as of 9th July, and thus their diagnosis is a country in constitutional vaccum. In an initial response to this situation opposition representatives in parliament, who constitute a bloc of 14%, announced their pull out from the legisaltive assembly.
The opposition also voiced refusal of census results, and their objection to the unbalanced formation of electoral committees at state level.
The proposal made by the opposition is formation of an all inclusive national government to supervise elections and push the process of "democratic transformation". In a fiery spirit the opposition called on its supporters to take to the streets in support of the demand of a national caretaker governement.
The NCP's repsonse, as expected, has been adamant disregard to the arguments of the opposition. More interesting however is the formation of a joint NCP-SPLM committe that is to respond to the opposition's position.
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This work by Magdi El Gizouli is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.