|Mohamed Ibrahim Nugud|
With his ever crisp wit the Secretary of the Communist Party, Mohamed Ibrahim Nugud, arriving on 9 March to the site of the opposition’s planned demonstration to find but a few scattered onlookers and journalists, picked a carton box from the litter of the street and wrote on it the standard note of the unannounced Sudanese visitor “we arrived and did not find you”. Nugud’s remark made the headlines of the Khartoum press the next day, and will probably join a list of other pithy allegories under his name.
According to the announced plan all the leaders of the opposition alliance, the National Consensus Forces (NCF), were supposed to congregate in Abu Jinzeer square in Khartoum and address the awaiting masses. Apart from Nugud the leaders did not keep their promise, and the masses apparently knew better. Conspicuously absent were Sadiq al-Mahdi and Yasir Arman, the chief of the Umma Party and the Secretary General of the SPLM-North. Both men have other agenda to groom. The first is in the midst of negotiations with the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) targeting respectable inclusion in President Bashir’s coming government, and the second is politically handcuffed by the Khartoum-Juba rules of engagement. Nugud in a sense remains the orphan of the political establishment, a ban he has tried long and hard to dispel through a liberal reformulation of the Communist Party since he assumed its reigns after the murder of its radical chief, Abd el-Khalig Mahjoub, in the aftermath of the 1971 Communist coup attempt against Colonel Nimayri.
Throughout this period Nugud’s essential contribution to the legacy of the Sudanese communists has been a determinate shift of theory and practice from the early visions of revolutionary social transformation to the full embrace of reform-minded parliamentary politics. Accordingly, the Communist Party shed off its once sharp criticism of the political establishment which pitted it against the leadership of the sectarian parties, the Umma Party and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), assuming a catholic commitment to parliamentary rule whatever its content with the unqualified conviction that it is inherently self-corrective.
During the post-1971 years of Nimayri’s dictatorship the communists remained underground strangers to the politicking of the Umma, the DUP, and the Islamic Movement, tainted as they were with the accusation of bringing Nimayri to power in the first place. The ‘democratic’ renaissance of the Communist Party materialised however in the 4 years of parliamentary rule between the demise of Nimayri in 1985 and the National Islamic Front’s coup in 1989. Reflexively, the communists aligned themselves with the sectarian parties in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the umbrella opposition coalition against the Bashir-Turabi regime, and effectively became its sole flag-bearer witnessing how the wagon emptied one by one. First, the Umma chief, Sadiq al-Mahdi, signed an appeasement arrangement with President Bashir in 1999 following the Turabi-Bashir split, then, Mohamed Osman al-Merghani, the DUP chief, signed a similar arrangement with Vice President Taha late 2003 while the Naivasha talks were underway. In a sense, even the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement (SPLM) betrayed the terms of the coalition when it opted for bilateral negotiations with the National Congress Party (NCP) leaving behind its minor partners.
In the wobbly post-Naivasha Sudans the Communist Party tried the same yet again favouring an even looser, if not escapist, alliance with the Umma Party, Turabi’s Popular Congress Party (PCP), and what remains of the SPLM in the North, over the (im)possible challenge of re-inventing politics for the really existing Sudans. To me Nugud once expressed the irony that the same figures who sacrificed the very democracy they espouse in 1965 in order to ban the Communist Party and force its representatives out of parliament, Sadiq al-Mahdi and Hassan al-Turabi, now congregate in its Khartoum premises to lament the loss of public freedoms under Bashir. Nugud may have succeeded in rehabilitating the ‘democratic’ credentials of the Communist Party, as opposed to its putschist inclinations. Locked in these two false options however he effectively compromised the most original contribution of the Sudanese communists to the politics of the post-colony, to paraphrase Abd el-Khalig Mahjoub, the creative application of Marxist political economy.