Monday, 31 May 2010

Athor in Bentiu?

The Arabic daily al Ray al Aam published today carried the news that George Athor, the former SPLA general turned rebel, has taken over Bentiu, the capital of Unity state in the western Upper Nile region. In addition an SPLA officer, Guluak Gai, has joined forces with the mutinous General. The claim to the capture of Bentiu by Athor's forces  seems to be  a media orphan, mentioned as far as I can find only in al Ray al Aam. Bentiu borders the Thar Jath oil field in block 5A, a concession operated by the White Nile Petroleum Operating Company (WNPOC), a joint venture of Petronas Malaysia (50%) and Sudapet Sudan (50%). Apart from Block 5A WNPOC operates blocks 5B and 8. Thar Jath is the site of a major oil processing facility. 

Death in Dalanj

Monday last week 3 students, Halima Musa (Science), Musa Mohamed Musa (Sociology), and Saa’dia Mohamed (Community Development) were killed by police fire in Dalanj University (Nuba Mountains/Southern Kordofan), and 20 others injured. According to press reports students staged demonstrations against the all powerful ‘Students Support Fund’, a parastatal organisation, effectively an NCP (aka NIF) organ, that has taken over the responsibility for students’ accommodation from university administrations in the early nineties in an effort to centralise control over student affairs, and simultaneously reap profits from the enterprise. In their refreshing mockery students named themselves ‘Support the Fund Students’.  

Dalanj students demonstrated to express their anguish at the death of a fellow female student at the hands of thugs called into a females’ dormitory by the dormitory supervisor in order to disperse a benign party organised by friends and colleagues to celebrate the marriage of one of them. The probably loud dormitory event did not find favour with the responsible supervisor, who decisively called upon an unidentified gang to silence the unwelcome ‘song and dance’. The clash led to the serious injury of one of the students, and her consequent death.

Students angered by the negligence of the dormitory administration, which apparently failed to arrange appropriate medical care for the injured ransacked the premises of the ‘Students Support Fund’, and thus earned the wrath of the university administration and the police. In the ensuing violence further students were killed and many injured.

Sudan’s police force seems structurally prone to such ‘incidents’, a telling fact of its overt militarisation, and its enstrangement from the civil population it is supposedly trained to serve and protect. The police have actually become a ‘fighting force’ rather than a law enforcement agency. The branches and departments of which are no less opaque than those of the intelligence and security squadrons. In effect the lines between the two organs have become so blurred that an apparent distinction between them is indiscernible other than through clauses of ‘law’. In this latest incidence the police behaved as if on a battle field, used excessive force to handle a classical Molotov cocktails throwing bunch of students.

The story, not surprisingly, did not feature in the intensive media reporting on Sudan, an anomaly as it is devoid of the celebrated ‘ethnic’ or ‘tribal’ twist - the standard explanatory framework for all matters Sudanese. The agonies of Sudan’s urbanity of course do not deserve such attention, nor does a citizenry acting under no ‘ethnic’ label. 

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Bashir the ..

On Thursday Omer Hasan Ahmed al Bashir (b. 1944) was formally re-instated in his position as President of the Republic. His inauguration before an audience of ‘elected’ law-makers amidst ‘democratic’ rituals culminating in a lengthy presidential speech aired live on national television and radio is to satisfy the symbolic of peaceful power transition from the self to the self in the name of the people.

Bashir, an obscure Sudan People’s Armed Forces (SPAF) brigadier on the eve of the NIF coup 30th June 1989, and a man whom Sudan’s urban Westernised elite has ever mocked and ridiculed, has survived recalcitrant threats and challenges to become Sudan’s longest ruling post-colonial master. He rose to power as an associate subordinate of Hasan al Turabi in 1989, sidelined the impressive Sorbonne scholar and dodgy orator to the isolation of grudge-soaked opposition complaint politics in 1999, accepted the odds of ‘peace’ and ‘democratic transformation’ in 2005 to manipulate stubbornly through the 6 year transitional period of the CPA heading next year to its zenith, the referendum on self-determination for Southern Sudan, choice being between an autonomous region of a united Sudan or an independent republic. 

At the moment when Bashir’s international reputation as peace-maker and co-father of a re-negotiated multi-identity nation-state seemed secure he was faced with the consequences of the long soaring geo-political competition over the Chad Basin as it unfolded in Darfur, one in which the government of independent Sudan was immersed as a secondary player doing the dirty clean up jobs in the spirit of benevolent neglect towards Darfur inherited from the British administration of colonial Sudan combined with the  supremacist vanity of the riverain elite. He chose the path he knew best in dealing with this unwelcome stroke of historical necessity, in NCPese a divine examination of faith from the Almighty, pacification. With the precedent of the murahilin in the war against the SPLA the job was off-sourced to allow the exhausted SPAF a long desired R&R in which it had already effectively slipped despite a generous feast of arms and logistics financed from the oil boom. The business of pacifying Darfur with tools of tribal design, janjaweed and peshmerga, in the age of globalisation convoluted to become an odious orgy of death and destruction tagged ‘genocide’ and ‘ethnic cleansing’. In March 2009 Bashir earned the title of first ever ruling head of state to be indicted by the International Criminal Court on counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and as of February 2010 genocide.

Wrapped in a burgeoning personality cult where he centres a patronage network of which the backbone is the unholy alliance between Sudan’s ever richer business sector and the military-security cabal of the NCP the 66 year old has much to go for him yet. Next year’s referendum and its consequences may prove to be the most trying of ‘divine examinations’ faced by his rule.  The decisions and choices he makes over the next few months will ultimately settle the defining one line of his biography.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

A state 'ghazwa'

Tuesday’s newspapers reported that the head of Sudanese security, Mr Mohamed Atta, is in Libya asking Ghaddafi for extended solidarity in the Darfur affair, in other words requesting the handover of JEM leader, Khalil Ibrahim, or impediment of his passage into Darfur. The Sudanese government has also sent messages to neighbouring countries asking them not to allow Khalil Ibrahim entry into their territories. It is not stated of course what Sudan has to offer to the Libyan leader. However the messenger is of sufficient calibre to promise a lot. JEM is effectively headless, the man in charge practically a prisoner of his hotel room. If Khartoum’s diplomacy/security operation proves success he awaits at best ‘deportation’ to Doha chained by the smiles and handshakes of tenderly groomed mediators.
In a parallel universe US envoy to Sudan, General Scott Gration, speaking before a Senate committee a week ago or so, expressed US approval of AU Panel recommendations regarding a Sudanese owned process of reconciliation to complement, ok replace, the frankly ‘impotent’ ICC indictment of President Bashir; no surprise then that UNMIS and UNAMID heads, Haile Menkarios and Ibrahim Gambari, will be nodding softly in celebration of President Bashir’s ‘democratic’ swearing in Thursday in Khartoum. The UN Secretary General himself has spoken in justification of the move asking the world not to misinterpret it! Ghaddafi is to attend the happy event too. He brings, may be, the keys to Khalil Ibrahim’s hotel room with him as a token of ‘solidarity’.

Amidst international Sudan fatigue, and more pronounced Darfur fatigue, Bashir and Co have in effect received the ‘go ahead’ to complete the ‘pacification’ of Darfur in good old colonial style of punitive campaigns, the battlefields littered with polling stations. No wonder the NCP is behaving as if it had just crossed the threshold to a Sudanese 1000 years Reich. Presidential advisor and NCP Vice President, presumably a candidate for the Vice Presidency of the Republic, Nafie Ali Nafie, responding to press questions regarding the absence of opposition MPs in the ‘elected’ parliament proclaimed that Sudan’s political system embraces an alternative form of opposition, well beyond the classical version. Well, all else shelved, the NCP is contributing lessons in political philosophy. However, 26 MPs voted for a PCP candidate speaker of parliament in a tiny surprise Monday. The NCP prevailed of course, but in its ranks a number of hearts flutter with dissent, probably more than the clandestine PCP sympathetic 20 or so. Judging by the pre-election signs of largely rural cadre dissent the Northern theatre may well feature an NCP Athor. 

Monday, 24 May 2010

Islamist overtures

Through a combination of robust military blows and targeted diplomacy the Sudanese government has managed to cordon and de-teeth the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) to a point of relative despair, such that JEM addressed the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, and the Joint AU-UN Chief Mediator for Darfur, Djibril Bassolé, on Tuesday asking the two to intervene in facilitating the return of JEM leader, Khalil Ibrahim, to Darfur! The AU-UN mediation team is more interested in shipping him off to Doha to complete a mired ‘peace process’ kicking and screaming.

Evidently the rapprochement between Chadian and Sudanese governments last January marked a turning point in the fortunes of JEM. It lost its major ally and its support and operations base. The Sudan government was quick to table a framework agreement in Doha that both parties signed in April, at a time when the Chadian president was unequivocally demanding JEM to ‘get lost’ and clear Chadian territory. JEM signed but returned shortly with the demand to delay the April elections till culmination of a peace ‘deal’, signifying its will to participate in the electoral process as a political movement seeking a chunk of the national cake. The government, sure of its leverage, refused adamantly, telling JEM to sign or resign. JEM threatened loudly to sabotage the election in Darfur, but could not deliver, exposed as it is with no back-cover or safe line of supplies. Effectually JEM fighters were sandwiched in Western Darfur pushed from Chad into the clutch of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF). JEM negotiators unilaterally withdrew from the Doha talks early May, accusing both the Qatari and the AU-UN mediators of partiality, a step that alienated the movement further in an international atmosphere not particularly sympathetic to the former mujahideen turned liberation fighters.  The opportunity was not one to lose, the ceasefire agreement notwithstanding, and SAF was quick to take over the JEM stronghold in Jebel Moon (West Darfur), demonstrating to the world military upper hand. Peace lovers around the world grumbled but the Sudanese government received no official scolding, rather tacit approval. With JEM and the Chadian rebels in shambles thanks to trans-border Sudanese-Chadian cooperation the Chadian government could afford to be more affirmative in its rebuke of JEM. Consequently a beleaguered Khalil Ibrahim was refused passage through Chad, a regular station, into Darfur and forced under international spotlights back to Libya.  

The AU-UN Joint mediator is expected to meet Khalil Ibrahim in Tripoli to discuss the prospects of negotiations. In Khartoum, security forces locked up the assumed guru behind Khalil, PCP leader Hasan al Turabi, on the 15th this month; an aggressive flirt that JEM has responded to, may be, with the release of captured SAF soldiers, 63 this Sunday and 44 last week. ‘Brothers’ as they are, the two factions of the Sudanese Islamic Movement are talking to each other in a language that does not necessarily mean what it says. 

Sunday, 23 May 2010

We are really lost: an interview with Abdullahi Ali Ibrahim

Abdullahi Ali Ibrahim, PhD (1987) is an emeritus professor at the Department of History, University of Missouri in the United States. He teaches courses on African history and Islam. Professor Ibrahim’s works span the fields of history, anthropology, literature and politics. He is the author of several books in English and Arabic, among them Manichean Delirium: Decolonising the Judiciary and Islamic Revival in Sudan, 1898-1985 and Assaulting with Words: Popular Discourse and the Bridle of Shari’a (Islam). He contributes regular articles to al Ray al-‘Am, and writes a daily column for al Ahdath.

Magdi El Gizouli: In a few months from now Sudan faces a referendum on self-determination of the South. What does this development signify more than 50 years after independence?

Abdullahi Ali Ibrahim: I think there is no contradiction. We are really on the right track of independence. The referendum is not an interception of the path of independence; it is a hard won freedom to renegotiate the colonial state, a state wielded by sheer power and colonial design. Within the colonial state various peoples of different languages, cultures and religions found themselves in the prison of the colonial state. It is necessary to stop thinking of the referendum as a sign of fatigue or a sign of failure. It should be perceived as an exercise at unexplored freedom. If viewed as such it stops being a cause if confusion and helplessness, a cause to freak out.  We have no reason to freak out.

Magdi El Gizouli: Well, the prevailing consensus is that secession of Southern Sudan is inevitable.

Abdullahi Ali Ibrahim: This perception is the end-product of freaking out. It is imperative to analyse, explore and understand what makes secession a must, what interests and visions underlie the call for secession. Secession is currently inevitable because the people who monopolise the discourse on national interests in the country made it so. People like you and me are surprised why the SPLM wavers on the issue of unity. The SPLM invested considerable energy over a long history of its struggle in unity. However, when everything seems to be in place for unity they start dragging their feet. In my understanding this is a consequence of the failure of governance in the South. The political elite in power does not know what to do, they are simply unprepared. What I see in the situation is a failure of governance in the South coupled with a careless regime in the North. Both, SPLM and NCP, seem to have struck a very bad alliance. The SPLM is trapped into this. This is why you and I are surprised. Paradoxically the SPLM is asking the NCP to enhance the chances of unity, a notion that is pure humbug. It simply cannot be. The NCP is hardly a party that cares for a unity of equals. It is a Unitarian block on condition that its terms are supreme. The two are just strange bedfellows.

Magdi El Gizouli: What alternatives does the SPLM have in this deadlock?

Abdullahi Ali Ibrahim: The alternative for the SPLM is being principled. They should advocate for unity, unconditionally. Only the SPLM will see the potential for unity, foremost having a Southern region with a sense of purpose, namely, crowning their relentless struggle for a citizenship and ending it on a positive note.

Magdi El Gizouli: Regarding the fate of Southern Sudan, several historians, including Robert Collins and Martin Daly, suggest that the British lacked consistent strategy towards Southern Sudan, to the point that had the Southern delegates to the Juba Conference of 1947 refused to join the North the British would have been dumbfounded. Accordingly, is the path we are on a consequence of colonial neglect or colonial design?

Abdullahi Ali Ibrahim: Probably Martin W. Daly in ‘Imperial Sudan’ said it best. Southern policy was about what the British did not want the South to get into, instead of what they envisioned for it. They knew one thing: they did not want the South to build bridges with the North. That policy was not just neglect; neglect was a consequence. The British acted on the notion that the South could not handle engaging with the North. In fact, neglect of the South started after issue of the Closed Districts Ordinance. They British only started to get interested in the South after the South started building bridges with the North in the context of the nationalist movement in the post-war period.

I was reading lately how Southern clerks were allowed to sit for the Civil Service Examination only in 1948, after the Juba Conference. Southern clerks were inspired, also provoked, by the nationalist movement in the North to demand equal pay for equal work.

You are right; the British were confused regarding the South. They brought the South to a united Sudan to argue their case when negotiating with the co-domino: Egypt.

Magdi El Gizouli: In your writings you develop an alternative history of liberation grounded in the initiatives of the early labour movement. How do you read the fate of this narrative in the current juncture of Sudan’s history?

Abdullahi Ali Ibrahim: I would like North and South to know about this history. My proposition is simply that Sudan did not have a singular nationalism (a capital-letterd Nationalism) but several nationalisms, or national movements. There was the national movement of the Gordon College graduates, and also a working class national movement, a Southern national movement, and a women national movement. I make these distinctions in order to challenge those who will take a quotation from Muhammad Ahamd Mahjub, for example, and make it sound as representative of “northern” nationalism. In doing so, they ignore taking notice of other streams of the northern nationalist movement. For instance, in the 1953 parliament Hasan al Tahir Zaroug representing the progressive nationalist movement protested during a discussion of draft constitution that wages in the South and wages given to women were unfair although the constitution called for the equality of citizens. In response, Babiker Awadalla, a Gordon graduate and the Chairman of Parliament, interrupted him by saying what did this have to do with the Constitution. Here you see two distinct visions of the future Sudan. The working class vision as represented by Hasan al Tahir Zaroug was evidently ahead of the Graduates’ version.

Magdi El Gizouli: A common denominator of conflicts in Sudan’s peripheries is the claim of citizenship versus the claim of autochthony expressed in ethnic terms, for instance the Baggara-Nuba divide in the Nuba Mountains, and the ‘Arab’-‘Zurga’ collision in Darfur. How do you foresee the unfolding of these opposed claims in the future of the Sudan(s)?

Abdullahi Ali Ibrahim: Frankly, we are at a loss, we are really lost! We are the worst enemies of ourselves. I grew up in a different expectation of racial brotherhood. I knew as a kid in Atbara that a trade union does not discriminate in terms of membership. We carried this education far into the Nuba Mountains in the great experiment of its Farmers’ Union of the 1950s as ably depicted By Dr. al-Batthani. Dr. Mustaf al-Sayyid, a neighbour in Atbara, took this racial tolerance and activism with him as a doctor to Maridi in the South in 1954. Read his book “Mashawir al-Haya “(Walks of Life), his memoirs doing contentious politics in the South. This return to the primordial shells of race and ethnicity is a cultural betrayal. It is the politics of small-mindedness fitting soulless elites. The dilemma we are facing is the fault of the elites who went bananas on the ethnic rollercoaster. Let us not ever give up on the lesson of Atbara. We sure need it when the dust of bad politics settles.

Magdi El Gizouli: Talking of the elites, you have studied the attempts at modernisation of Shari’a in Sudan. With reference to the Islamist Movement, how does the ruling faction of the Islamists relate to Shari’a today, and what role does it play in its discourse?

Abdullahi Ali Ibrahim: The role of Shari’a in today’s Sudan is like the role Marxism plays in contemporary China. Islamism and Marxism serve the two countries’ drive of nationalism and modernization. With the exception of fanatic circles, the discourse of Shari’a today serves solely as a cohesive force in the drive for modernisation. Take the last elections, for instance, where the Shari’a implementation was preached to the choir. It was an election with no ideology whatsoever. I suggest we need to look at the Islamic project as a project of modernization, where Shari’a was a rallying call, employed in a disciplinary rather than a religious sense.

Magdi El Gizouli: You argue for the relevance and utility of the Marxist discourse, how do you interpret the category ‘class’ in contemporary Sudan?

Abdullahi Ali Ibrahim: It is getting very problematic. We are witnessing a de-proletarisation of the traditional sectors of the working class, the railways and mechanical transport department of the colonial era. On the other hand other habitats of the working class are emerging but have not been checked out by radical labour organizers. I never hear about GIAD industrial complex in Marxist circles. The only thing I heard about it once is that it is fake. Remarkably, women constitute 70% or so of the working class today, that is why there is no third shift in the factories. I think my good old fellows in the Communist Party gave up on the working class.  It is their loss.

Regarding the capitalist class, the Communist Party has been telling us persistently for the past 20 years that we are facing a parasitic class. No concrete socio-economic analysis is provided though. For example, why does a class insist on being parasitic for over 40 years? I guess the ijtihad door on class has been closed. I feel the signs of class consciousness and class conflict around me though. However, the only party qualified to investigate the question, namely the Communist Party, is satisfied with describing the regime as a ‘Satanic’ system of evil money lenders. Political ‘vendetta’ took the better of the Marxists. They are expected to lead the way, or else we are getting into a class society blindfolded.

Magdi El Gizouli: You are a vocal critic of the performance of the mainstream Sudanese opposition; even you suggest its ultimate demise. Where does the future line of division lie in your perspective?

Abdullahi Ali Ibrahim: the Sudanese activists and socially conscious have been postponing the day of reckoning with the futility of this opposition perhaps  in a very Sudanese fashion: ride and pause  perhaps an evil in waiting for you would be averted, or a good thing would happen to you. You could have missed it by not waiting.  The disorganization of the opposition is an open book. Their cadres have no idea what ‘tactics’ means. A future vision is postponed until this evil regime is retired. Their total dependence on the SPLA emptied it of relevance. The opposition has only nostalgia to the good old days to provide. In the last election the regime has a better programme; at least it had tangible things to offer or brag about. The opposition is focused on toppling the regime without investing in a vision and a programme. The regime may be toppled, but what after that, we would not have a future. During the election the opposition was begging for a 15 minutes space on air. Over the course of 20 years, could they not have established a radio station or a TV channel? I think, the regime never enjoyed a proper opposition, a predicament that is going to kill the regime itself. At times the regime seems bewildered rather than amused at the incapacity of the opposition.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Secessionist diatribes

Talking on the 27th anniversary of the SPLA/M the Secretary General of the SPLM, Pagan Amum, took a wide stride back into history claiming that the liberation struggle in Southern Sudan started in the 1860s at the time of communal wars involving ‘traditional’ and ‘spiritual’ leaders. In a televised speech he attempted to combine a notion of historical continuity and purpose that leads ultimately to the independence of Southern Sudan next January, presented as the final destination of a long journey of struggle against adversaries, jellaba, British, and Turks. Like all nationalist mythologies this is but an edited, ‘photoshopped’ version of a much more complex and combustible reality, one that Pagan surely knows better.

Once an ardent defender of the ‘New Sudan’, by adopting a mythology of secessionist destiny Pagan has chosen to relinquish the transformative potential he once adhered to as a matter of principle. In his speech he concluded that there is no more chance to make unity attractive and that the people of Southern Sudan are expected to vote for secession, a consequence of the failure of the National Congress Party to make unity attractive over the past 5 years. In a tragic overture Pagan re-directed his skills and competence from the notion of ‘the problem of Sudan’ to the ‘problem of South Sudan’, from self-determination as a hard-won tool to achieve citizenship, voluntary unity and political transformation in an adverse environment, to self-determination as a teleological channel to a historically pre-determined end-station of separation, from the celebration of diversities to a mythology of seclusion and particularity.

In concept, unity is the responsibility of whoever wants unity. Recalling the struggle of SPLA/M against secessionist contenders and adversaries in Southern Sudan, and the history of alliance and comradeship between SPLA/M and a rainbow of Northern based forces since the inception of the movement, and the personal role of Pagan Amum in this history it comes as a surprise that a nuanced leader in his position surrenders to frustration with the ‘ghastly’ NCP and renounces at such short notice a career of opposite intent supported by an active investment in the imagination and pursuit of a future beyond the South/North divide. If the Gordon College Graduates failed at the eve of independence, at the height of their power and prestige, to imagine a Sudan other than the one they inherited form colonial Britain, and thus created a Sudan in their own image, too narrow to survive, the SPLM today, at the height of its political transformative potential but adrift from its inspiring principles of creative unity, is succumbing to lame politics à la Athor or rather à la NCP.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Turabi again

Once again the old master, Hasan al Turabi (78), is sent to prison on the background of ambiguous and undisclosed security threats. The available hint may be the recent upsurge of JEM activity in Kordofan, which made it, at best, to page 2 of some of Khartoum’s newspapers, and did not feature at all in others, focus being on Sudan Armed Forces’ attack on the JEM stronghold in Jebel Moon. Press analyses suggested that Turabi has angered the security apparatus by claiming to have solid evidence to prove electoral fraud, and continually poking the government where it hurts most: the International Criminal Court and Darfur. Well the crackdown did not stop at Turabi, the Popular Congress Party’s (PCP) affiliate newspaper Rai al Shaa’b was closed down, and 3 of its editors were also detained by angered security officers.
However, as has happened behind closed doors in several of Turabi’s previous four detentions under Islamist rule, a number of NCP bigwigs are not particularly happy with his persecution, even ashamed. Qutbi al Mahdi, the leading NCP figure, came out saying that there was no political justification for Turabi’s detention, particularly in the prevailing ‘democratic’ environment, elections and all. Several of NCP’s authorities were actually taken by surprise and had only astonishment to demonstrate. Rather low calibre officials like Rabi Abdel Ati, faced the press and presented the JEM link argument to justify Turabi’s imprisonment.
Apparently the NCP is not one mind about this. Rather, the elections exercise has exposed the false monolith’s lines of disorder. One telling sign is the discrepancy between President Bashir’s 68% (?) and the upper 90s achieved by virtually all NCP candidates at all levels of elections! Yasir Arman’s reading was that the NCP has neglected its president. It seems the decision to win was central however the particular process of winning was left to individual designs. Prior to the elections, and on the background of the framework agreement with JEM, several NCP voices were getting louder about the prospects of reconciliation between the two factions of the Islamist Movement, and even a proposition of PCP participation in government was entertained. Up to the initial declaration of results Turabi seemed to preserve a rather friendly tone suggesting that rigging was not all that flagrant. He was not kept satisfied for long though, the veteran leader and chief ideologue of the Sudanese Islamist Movement was not even allowed into parliament through a proportional representation party list, as opposed to several mediocre singers and football managers who will enjoy the pleasures of the national legislature thanks to the NCP ballot.  

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Rebellion tremors

General Athor, the rebellious leader and former independent candidate for the gubernatorial post in Jonglei, expressed tentative willingness to engage in negotiations with the Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS), a development that followed the confrontation between Athor’s forces and the SPLA last Monday.

It seems GoSS is on the road to foiling a potential wider rebellion through a combination of demonstration of force and negotiation. Hopefully SPLA/M leadership wills succeed in the endeavour and prevent an escalation that may pull a wider area into full-fledged warfare. Contrary to expectations, SPLM/A was more reconciliatory than confrontational, probably in recognition that the General was voicing discontent with local power arrangements rather than outright challenge of SPLA authority.

On Wednesday Athor’s forces and SPLA clashed again, probably in a step by the latter to lax the General’s negotiation position. General Athor’s forces responded somehow on Friday and killed 5 SPLA soldiers in northern Jonglei. One particular risk that GoSS is advised to avoid at all costs, is the conversion of Jongeli, and other areas where there are considerable oil concessions, into a territory contested by warlords heading minor armed factions. Jonglei is the site of a major unexplored oil concession that belongs to the French oil company TOTAL. Territorial breakdown of state authority would breed both armed factions and their financiers, possibly involving transnational corporate interests and adventures of all sorts and kinds.

Only informally has the SPLM hinted at possible NCP meddling, a scenario which also linked Lam Akol to the developments in the area in a wider context of pre-referendum political spoilage. Although plausible, satisfaction with the explanation of the ‘omnipresent’ NCP overlooks the inherent Southern concerns and that have contributed to the escalation of events in Jonglei, foremost the ethnicisation and militarisation of power, and the trajectories of SPLM transformation. If a competent political system is to emerge in the independent Southern Sudan, these questions must be thematised, debated, and adequately addressed. Otherwise the road post-independence may be as rocky and as blood-soiled as the road that promises to lead to independence. SPLM hegemony, phrased in ethnic space as the question of Dinka domination in Southern Sudan, has to justify itself other than by might of the gun and achievement of rule. The politics of exclusion/inclusion in the independent South require channels that feed into a common idea of ‘South Sudan’ rather than to complicity with Khartoum centre. 

Monday, 10 May 2010

Unity for sale

In an environment where the secession of Southern Sudan, a few months from now, is presented as inevitability, particularly from the far stronger powers engineering the fate of the country at a time where its political will and imagination are exhausted in the running of CPA time-tables, the pledge for unity strikes the beholder as an act of obsessive compulsion. While, in fact, the choice between unity and secession is essentially a false one, since neither option, in formality, addresses in earnest the complexities of the Sudanese crisis.

In furthering the cause of unity one bad argument that is being incessantly repeated is ‘unity by incapacity’: the South cannot rule itself; an independent South will immediately slide into civil war, the South lacks infrastructure, and so on. Such argument is music to the proponents of an independent Southern Sudan, since it proves just their point i.e. the South is perceived as inferior and juvenile, and unity implies by default an asymmetric relationship with the North whereby the latter maintains hegemony.

A second bad argument is ‘unity by convenience’, an approach that underlines the difficulties and complexities of the secession process i.e. border demarcation, debt division, Nile waters, oil sharing, citizenship arrangements for Northern Southerners and Southern Northerners, border communities and so on. This is in essence an extension of the first argument with an assumption of transitive direction from unity to secession.

The third bad argument, I suggest, is ‘unity by profit’, implying that the prospects for a prosperous Sudan are greater in unity than in secession, which translates in effect into economic calculus and the odds and bargains of profit extraction and capital accumulation rather than the interests, perceived or actual, of modernity thirsty communities on both sides of the 1956 border.

The fourth, linked to the third above, is ‘unity by default’, recruiting the history of the country to support a perpetual continuation of the past, a line which runs like this: we have inherited this country united and we will maintain it so, take what it takes, an argument that breathes hegemony.

If unity is to be attained it must be ‘unity by creation’, implying recognition of the necessity of transition from a de facto history of ‘secession’ to a yet largely unexplored potential of ‘unity’. Semblances of such ‘unity’ can be found in Sudan’s alternative history: labour! 

Thursday, 6 May 2010

The troubled Sayyid

Last Thursday the NCP in a statement made by Ibrahim Ghandoor welcomed the readiness of Mohamed Osman al Mirghani, Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) chief and Khatmiyya leader, to participate in the coming government awaiting announcement. Mirghani had never refused the notion of participation in government outright. He however had angry words to say in Khartoum airport before leaving for an Egypt/Saudi Arabia trip right after declaration of election results. Apparently he was frustrated at the bad manners of the NCP which declined to provide him with any mentionable breathing space in the election market. Presumably the Egyptian and Saudi patrons pushed him back into NCP arms without further ado. Whatever the particularities of the deal may be the old party is probably in for a not so major a feast. The most generous of reports suggest an offer of four ministerial portfolios plus/minus with no mention of the lucrative governor posts.

The DUP has already suffered repetitive blows from the predator NCP. It has become difficult over the past years to keep track with the number of splinter factions and break-off groups dropping out of the DUP. The home-coming of the old Sayyid back to Sudan after years of ‘exile’ was expected to reverse the tide of splintering, an expectation that failed to materialise. The party remains in shatters. Even its vintage name from its blossoming era under Ismail al Azhari, the National Unionist Party, has been hijacked by a splinter group claiming consistency with the ‘florid’ past. Today the party is only recognisable as itself through the adjunct ‘original’ after its name, in the same manner Khartoum’s mechanics pride with ‘original’ Japanese spare parts in contradistinction to cheaper versions ‘Made in China’.

The demise of the ‘New Sudan’ as promised by the late John Garang, the man who persistently courted the old Sayyid during the life-span of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and kept him relatively insulated from aggressive NCP flirts, resulted in the direct delivery of Mirghani into NCP arms, and worse still, decisive regional pressures. Today it seems, even the prospects of renewed silence in exile are limited. Neither Saudi Arabia nor Egypt is ready to accommodate a grumpy Sayyid. They would rather see him shaking hands with Bashir and losing yet more fingers.

The irony of the Sayyid’s situation is that he was the man so close to signing a home-made breakthrough peace agreement with John Garang in 1988/1989 promising unity rather than secession if it wasn’t for the NIF’s overnight takeover. Today he may have to be satisfied with an ultra-junior position in an NCP/SPLM government probably presiding over secession, the Asmara Declaration (1995) notwithstanding.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

The next rebellion

After several cautious reports the press has decided to christen the military developments in Southern Sudan ‘rebellion’. The first instance in the series post-election was the attack, Friday 30th April, on the SPLA station in Doleib in the proximity of Malakal, Upper Nile led by forces loyal to General George Athor. The general lost the bid for the post of governor of the lucrative oil-rich Jonglei State to the incumbent Kuol Manyang Juuk, however refuses to acknowledge the result.
Then it was reported that a veteran senior SPLA officer, Brigadier General John Jok, has joined forces with General Athor. Still counting, General Dau Aturjong in Northern Bahr el Ghazal is reported to have moved location in the company of around one thousand soldiers. He is also suspected of supporting General Athor’s undertaking. Till the moment of writing the Government of Southern Sudan has issued no formal response to the developments on the ground, nor has the SPLA. It remains to be seen how the GoSS will handle the unfolding situation. 

In the run up to the elections around 340 candidates who initially competed for official SPLM nomination but failed to secure SPLM support decided to enter the poll as independents. In an initial angry response the SPLM stripped them of party membership and prevented them from using party logos and symbol. Among these 340 were General George Athor and General Dau Aturjong, gubernatorial aspirants in Jonglei and Northern Bahr el Ghazal respectively. Following the elections the SPLM relaxed its stance and appeared more conciliatory offering consideration of their return to party ranks provided that appropriate procedures are followed. Well, it turns out the issue is much more thorny than mere party membership.

The dilemma facing the SPLM is that political factions amongst its ranks translate immediately into SPLA blocs and potential mutinies; a concern that raises the old question regarding the capacity of SPLA/M to transform into a political movement commanding an army instead of an amalgam of armed groups with a political wing.

The rebellions facing GoSS seem limited and amenable to resolution if appropriate measures are met to satisfy an angry clientele. However GoSS, possibly governing an independent Southern Sudan in the near future, will have to face the challenge of separating the ballot from the bullet, implying even revisiting the role of SPLA in the dynamics of rule. Otherwise SPLM may well be heading down the path of the Eritrean comrades, purges included.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Secession by design

The voting exercise is over. Bashir is the 68% all Sudan president, and Salva Kiir is the 93% president of the semi-autonomous Southern Sudan, i.e. the two big men preserve total power with a ‘democratic’ topping.

The American press is merrily jingling with the prospects of divorce, imagining scenarios of possible conflict and a probable oil war. The General, Gration, has already presented his default argument conceding that the election was flawed, nevertheless one that sets the stage for political transformation, further stating that the US should focus its attention on getting Southern Sudan ready for independence. According to press reports Khartoum intends to question the General on his remarks regarding the election (al Sahafa, 02.05.10). Apparently the General’s bid is secession of the South and emergence of a new NGO run state which the US is ready to deliver into being.

Public opinion is somehow singing in unison the inevitability of secession, a conclusion resting on the notion of un-attractive unity. However considerations of power may prompt the two ‘big men’ to seriously think otherwise. It seems the two are locked in an ‘arranged marriage’ whereby both can eat the cake and keep it at the same time in case they opt for preservation of the status quo. The oil between the two may well prove to be the necessary glue/grease combination to maintain a complex dual patronage network that is otherwise prone to collapse. Signs of such fractionation became apparent during the elections and in their current aftermath. In the North the Vice President of the NCP, Nafie Ali Nafie, had to threaten local party strongmen in the most violent language to maintain candidacy discipline and prevent an explosion of ‘independents’ from NCP ranks during the run up to the elections. In the South such composure was not readily available and management of post-election dissatisfaction has taken on a military turn.

The dissociation of North from South is a much more intricate procedure than imagined by the American General. He may be looking forward to announcing an independent Southern Sudan next year, but what if Southern Sudan is not, particularly more so that the US has granted the ‘big men’ just the exercise they needed, and stamped their results ‘valid’. The lesson that both have learnt well is that an election is possible without an election. They will be sure to apply the same to the referendum.
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This work by Magdi El Gizouli is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.