Failing to think in other than their self-defeating legalistic categories the leaders of the Khartoum opposition, lumped together in the rather wobbly National Consensus Forces (NCF), could only ruminate yet again the claim that President Bashir’s government has lost its ‘legitimacy’. The opposition had made the same pronouncement at each and every major milestone of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), notably after the April 2010 elections, following the announcement of the results of the January 2011 referendum on the future of Southern Sudan, and now that the South has been christened an independent state. The argument this time is that the Interim National Constitution, an amalgam of the CPA and the National Congress Party’s (NCP) 1998 constitution is no longer valid considering that the CPA has reached its final station. On each occasion, the secretary of the NCF leadership, Farouq Abu Issa, busied the local media with the pledge of a nation-wide political campaign to challenge the NCP, a declaration of next to no substance.
The ‘legitimacy’ argument while formally presentable cynically exposes the opposition for what it currently is; a domestic but detached observation mission with little political muscle to back its proclamations. During their years of abstinence from power the crown leaders of Khartoum’s political parties have done little more than rehearse a fantasy of post-NCP ‘democracy’ that will restore the status quo ante of the pre-1989 Khartoum and simultaneously do away with the country’s many ills in an instantaneous puff of freedom. Paradoxically the major proponent of this Newfoundland beyond the NCP’s Sudan is Hassan al-Turabi. To that end the veteran leader of the Islamic Movement has recently developed a new look altogether. Revising his political career he declared himself the prime leader of the 1964 October Revolution against the military government of President Abboud and reinterpreted his entire adventure with power as a continuous battle to wrestle freedom from the grip of evil dictators.
The democracy in question I suppose, paraphrasing Georges Sorel, is the paradise of which unscrupulous effendiya dream. Of course, the standard wisdom of Khartoum’s opposition it to blame the chronic crises of the country on the recurrence of military rule, and thereupon to conclude that once democracy is restored the suitable conditions for the resolution of the country’s incessant dilemmas would be created. The argument obviously supposes an unqualified divorce between form and content, a rift through which the tanks of the army have repeatedly rolled. Rarely does it cross the minds of Khartoum’s elite that the doom of their democracy may not necessarily be an imposition of fate but a consequence of its very nature.
In its heyday the Communist Party attempted with a degree of nuance to address this question and develop an alternative historical narrative of the post-colonial Sudan. To overcome the impasse of Sudan’s abortive democracy, formally sound but by necessity reliant on a rural-urban schism whereby Sudan’s hinterlands are condemned to provide the rulers in Khartoum with votes and resources, the Party suggested alternative forms of government borrowed from the experience of third world liberation movements. In the 1960s the Communist Party advocated for ‘direct democracy’ or ‘popular democracy’ led by a ‘national democratic front’ uniting the nation’s progressive forces as it were. Once the fantasy became reality under Colonel Nimayri the communists were quick to reconsider and soon rediscovered the safe mode of parliamentary rule albeit with a taste of bitterness. Shocked by the bloody confrontation with state power in 1971 the Party simply dropped its critique of the concrete Sudanese mode of democracy without further investigation, to the detriment of both itself and the country.
While the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) in South Sudan has chosen its particular response to Khartoum’s democracy, namely breakaway, the Khartoum opposition, if it is to develop into a credible alternative to the NCP, has to rethink its own. What democracy, and for whom?