Saturday, 25 June 2011

'Peace' at all costs

Yesterday President Kiir of South Sudan told the visiting German Foreign Minister, Guido Westerwelle, in Juba that the South will surely not claim all the oil for itself but will generously grant the North the assistance it needs to overcome the economic bottleneck ahead. The NCP’s new political commissar, al-Haj Adam Yusif, welcomed President Kiir’s statement with the typical additive mujamala (courtesy). He told the press “We won’t take more than we deserve since we know they need it [oil] more than we do”. To spoil the exchange of courtesies the Khartoum press also reported that President Kiir had asked Germany for military assistance.  
The immediate background to the animated concern over the division of oil is President Bashir’s declaration a few days ago that he is ready to shut down the pipeline in case no favourable deal is reached to replace the current 50-50 division of oil revenues between Khartoum and June. Naturally oil remains the big prize of the post-referendum negotiations between the two governments and not the Abyei side-show where the National Congress Party (NCP) has practically shelled its way through to the 20 June ‘Temporary Arrangements for the Administration and Security of the Abyei Area’.  Speaking to the Khartoum daily al-Ray al-Aam the NCP’s Abyei guru, al-Derdiri Mohamed Ahmed, argued that the agreement effectively abolishes the prospect of the referendum as stipulated in the CPA’s Abyei protocol unless a new vote is decided upon by the two parties in some future deal. He claimed that the Misseriya, for whom access to the pastures south of Bahr el-Arab has been secured, are largely content with the arrangements, and that a significant portion of the Dinka Ngok in the SPLM are equally pleased. However he signalled out Deng Alor as the major spoiler saying Alor refused to sign. Notably, it was Pagan Amum who ornamented the 20 June agreement with his signature. On the grounds of an undisclosed illness the SPLM’s Secretary General has remained conspicuously silent during the quakes of Abyei and South Kordofan. Recently he was quoted once by al-Sharq al-Awsat on 17 June saying that the SPLM will seek international jurisdiction to reclaim the oil of South Sudan in case Khartoum continues to “pirate” the precious commodity following 9 July.
That said the victims of secession in both Khartoum and Juba seem to be the very people who negotiated its referendum. Vice President Ali Osman Taha survives yes but only as a shadow of his former self. To mark his decline a number of articles in the NCP’s mouthpiece al-Raed recently paid him tribute in Stalinist style in the guise of commending the efforts of the CPA’s brokers against the fierce bashing they habitually receive from al-Intibaha. An ardent sympathizer even published a piece warning of a Taha-Turabi come back in a rejuvenated and unified Islamic Movement in case Sheikh Ali’s position is further threatened. The argument he made was that Taha the lawyer still has two major cards to play against President Bashir, reconciliation with Turabi and the ICC arrest warrant. I would bet on neither to actually deliver.   

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Bona the ‘separatist’

Bona Malwal
In one of those very ‘Sudanese’ moments the veteran Southern Sudanese politician Bona Malwal chose the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) Sudan Media Centre in Khartoum late Tuesday to announce his decision to retire from political engagements and dedicate himself to writing.
Bona who entered the Sudanese political scene in the awakening that followed the October Revolution in 1964 when he was elected Secretary General of the Southern Front has a convoluted history to look back to. At the time he was one of the louder voices calling for the secession of South Sudan. To that end Bona Malwal dedicated his first newspaper, the Vigilant, which Nimayri closed down after his 25 May 1969 coup. Bona served Nimayri well as his Minister of Information following the 1972 Addis Ababa Agreement which ended the first round of the civil war in South Sudan. When the rayes declared the implementation of shari’a in 1983 Malwal came out against the ‘Islamic path’ and landed in Cooper Prison, a companion of Nimayri’s many opponents. During the tenure of Sadiq al-Mahdi between the April 1985 Uprising against Nimayri and President Bashir’s coup in 1989 Bona resumed his publishing activities and issued the Sudan Times, an English-speaking Khartoum paper. The Ingaz government closed down the newspaper and Bona found refuge in London where he issued another in 1990, the fiercely oppositional Sudan Democratic Gazette.
Bona, considered Nimayri’s man, never found favour with John Garang. Amongst some quarters he is known as the only Dinka to support the Nasser faction against Chairman Garang in the 1991 split of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M). Politically the eloquent Bona Malwal argued steadfastly for a separate South and criticised with great vigour and conviction John Garang’s notion of a united ‘New Sudan’. He returned to Khartoum a short period before the finalisation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in January 2005 and soon featured as the leader of a new party, the South Sudan Democratic Forum. President Bashir, never to miss a potential ally, welcomed the veteran chief and appointed him as his advisor. The courtesy was mutual. Malwal, fluent in propaganda, defended Bashir’s sanctity in the face of the International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrant, and committedly joined the top rank of the ‘National Association in Support of the Candidacy of the Citizen Omer Hassan Ahmed al-Bashir for the Presidency of the Republic’ at the side of Field Marshal Abd el-Rahman Suwar el-Dahab and other respectable elders. The same body was transformed into the ‘National Association in Support of Unity’ in the interlude between the April 2010 elections and the January 2011 referendum.
When asked Tuesday whether he will settle in South Sudan once secession is declared Bona Malwal the effendi responded “If I receive an invitation from the South I will attend the 9 July celebrations otherwise my house is in Khartoum”. By all means Bona Malwal is likely to remain a Khartoumian. Most Southerners in the North however are in no position to enjoy the prestige and standing of the ardent ‘separatist’. This week the Ministry of Labour declared the termination of employment of all Southern Sudanese public servants at all the levels of government and in all state institutions, and instructed private businesses in North Sudan to do the same in compliance with Decree No. 236 (2011) issued by the Council of Ministers. The Undersecretary of the Ministry of Labour added that any Southern Sudanese who wishes to seek a job in the North as of 9 July will have to obtain a work permit as a foreigner in line with the provisions of the 2011 Labour Act. The greater majority of Southerners who continue to reside in the North earn their living in the informal sector; the price of their labour, now an illicit activity, will probably drop to lower levels than the pennies of racist exploitation. Bona however will write a book, and assist his daughter, Sandra Malwal, who was elected July the previous year Secretary General of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement – Democratic Change (SPLM-DC). 

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Bashir’s choices

Mrs Clinton and Mr Nafie

According to the spokesperson of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), Philip Aguer, troops from the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) attempted to cross Bahr al-Arab/River Kiir into what the Khartoum government considers to be South Sudan proper, namely the territory south of the 1956 border. Apparently, the SAF contingent was repulsed and returned to Abyei town. The SAF has also been busy bombing targets in Kadugli and Kauda in South Kordofan, the first is the capital of the state and the second is the most important stronghold of the now officially declared rebel South Kordofan SPLA.
While the African Union (AU) congratulated itself and others on the presumed agreement between Presidents Bashir and Kiir to declare Abyei a demilitarised zone and install an Ethiopian peacekeeping force between the SPLA and the SAF in the area the delegations of both Presidents returned to their domestic headquarters, Khartoum and Juba, to announce that no actual settlement, temporary as it may be, had been reached. Khartoum turned its battle rhetoric a note higher; the Vice President Ali Osman Mohamed Taha went as far as agitating for jihad in an address to a function of the NCP-loyal women’s union, a term that even President Bashir has avoided using in his frequent moments of inflammation. Taha was also possibly guarding his own back, since he sang the praise of President Bashir to the high sky.
Notably, Taha has lately been largely set aside when matters of the CPA get security serious. He did not get to meet the visiting delegation of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), and he did not make it to the rhapsody in Addis Ababa in the company of Mrs Clinton. In both instances he was replaced by a gleaming Nafie Ali Nafie, the President’s favourite as things stand. Both men however, President Bashir and his aide, Nafie, don’t seem to be in full mastery of the SAF currently freaking out over the event of partition. Rather than assume a figured out masterplan by the Khartoum leadership to manoeuvre itself out of the final station of the CPA, the declaration of the secession of South Sudan on 9 July, a widely accepted interpretation of the recent ominous developments, havoc within the higher ranks of the NCP-SAF condominium seems to be a more considerable factor.
In Addis Ababa President Bashir and his confidante, Nafie, were accompanied by the top officers of the SAF including the commander of the military intelligence branch. If anybody can strike a deal it is exactly these chaps. The fact that a deal was rumoured and then openly denied by the SAF spokesperson in Khartoum, even challenged on the ground by the SAF in Abyei, could possibly translate into a fracturing of the higher command and not necessarily into a thought through plot. The negotiations of calibre may well be in-house right now, i.e. an all cards out game between the allies of the Khartoum powerhouse. President Bashir I presume is probably troubled by the prospect of a war he cannot afford or a peace he cannot guarantee, in both cases with the frustrated SAF wary of the coming transition while some whisper a coup, a coup! Nafie, why hast thou forsaken me? 

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Darfur’s renaissance

Amin Hassan Omer

In an article published on 8 June in the mouthpiece of the National Congress Party (NCP), al-Raed, Amin Hassan Omer, the lead government negotiator with the Darfur movements in Doha, provided a rough testament to Wagner’s wound; the wound that “can only be healed by the spear that made it”. Venturing into a longue durée reading of the Darfur conflict Amin Hassan Omer, one among a few NCP figures who still claim an intellectual project if you like, argued that under the rubble of the war Darfur is about to witness a “phoenix reincarnation”, one that he likened to the emergence of post-war Japan and Germany. Amin entertained his audience with the tale of billions of dollars that are about to be poured into Darfur once a peace agreement is signed in Doha. He wrote:
“The ordeal in Darfur, prolonged as it has become, is about to transform into a blessing, since no force other than the grand mobilisation generated by war is capable of changing the face of life and pushing it forcefully into new avenues. War, although a severe calamity, has an extraordinary power to remould the people afflicted by its fire. The legacy of other nations stricken by war demonstrates how a widespread awakening, a grand renaissance, and general agility follow in the aftermath of the nightmare of war”.
In Omer’s perverse dialectic war begets development so to speak. Without really straining the argument Germany should be thankful for the Nazi adventure since it allowed it to “remould” in the “fire” of the struggle and emerge the economic power that it is today.
The grand renaissance that Omer envisions hinges on the generosity of the multitude of donors who have expressed interest in funding the Darfur rehabilitation effort, a cake that the central government in Khartoum, the Darfur state governments, and the incoming rebel signatories look forward to slicing up in proportions that remain up for grabs before it actually lands on their table. Judging by the comparison he drew to post-war Germany Omer has in mind a sort of Marshall Plan for Darfur, this time with funds from Qatar and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference.
What the fire of war has actually done to Darfur is to transform the mass of the Jebel Marra peasants, dispossessed by the might of firepower, into a reserve working force, a standing army of unskilled labourers, competing for day jobs in the hypertrophied urban centres of the region. To settle them in their new habitat pledges have been made by the state governments of Darfur to include the IDP camps into ambitious master plans of town development. For instance, the government of South Darfur announced on 9 June that it had allocated 2000 residential plots in Nyala to IDP households, with 8000 others in the pipeline.
The rift between policy and practice can be glimpsed live in Omdurman’s slums, the sprawling peri-urban settlements that constitute its western fringes, where hundreds of thousands if not millions of IDPs from Kordofan and Darfur sought refuge during the famine of 1984-1985. The majority of the afflicted never went back and preferred to scratch a living in the circles of the informal economy that crystallized around the now famous Suq Libya (Libya market), for some as a major node in the trans-Saharan arms trade, and for others as a tourist attraction.   
Despite its apparent peacefulness this extra Omdurman remains beyond effective government control. Its interstices provided the leader of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), Khalil Ibrahim, with a safe hideout during the 2008 attack on the capital until he managed to find his way back to Darfur. If the labour settlements of al-Gedaref and Kenana were one recruiting ground for the JEM it can be safely claimed that a considerable chunk of its funds comes from Suq Libya or is funnelled through it. No wonder the government attempted more than once through the economic branch of its National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) to reign in the business interests of the Zaghawa merchants in the Suq.
Back to Omer, the Missouri educated political scientist and poet, he may be right that war has changed the face of life in Darfur, but the dialectic he seems so sure of is pregnant with possibilities he is not able to fathom with his statist logic. 

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Abyei and the Shura Council

The Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) toyed briefly with war in Abyei before succumbing to the de facto division line along Bahr el-Arab/River Kiir. Militarily neither side made any considerable gains. The situation they ended up in is probably the unwritten bargain underlying the squabble over Abyei, namely its division into a Northern and a Southern territory.
In the rump North the SAF made quite a show of its petty adventure. The episode was televised in the jihad style of the 1990s including the voice of the select SAF muezzin calling for the prayers from the repeatedly torched remains of Abyei town. Of course, the voice of the muezzin is not by any means foreign to Abyei. The town, like most others in the region, probably heard a ‘peaceful’ call for prayers from a local chap, possibly even a Moslem Dinka, five times a day. The point however was to stress to the Intibaha-sensitised audience that the SAF had victoriously claimed the day and flung the banner of Islam à la the National Congress Party (NCP) high and wide.
Conscious of the political pressure in the South to conclude the formalities of secession without undue interruption the NCP made a calculated move targeting the boosting of its negotiation position on the post-referendum table, definitely with more than the Abyei territory in mind. Abyei, after all, was never the big fish, despite the claim to its Kashmiri foretaste. The Government of South Sudan (GoSS) however seems to have stumbled into the situation rather than stepped into it. Whatever the exact force behind the attack on the SAF contingent in the escort of the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) that ignited this last episode the SPLA high command was apparently taken by surprise and the political leadership preserved its peace composure so to speak preferring to defer the matter and whatever consequences it may entail to the ‘international community’.
Well the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) excitedly issued a presidential statement demanding the SAF to withdraw from Abyei, the UNMIS opened an investigation into the conduct of its ‘peacekeepers’ who unsurprisingly deserted their duties in the heat of the moment, and the African Union High Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) led by Thabo Mbeki looks likely to lose the lead on the Abyei proposals. Probably Princeton Lyman will pick up with greater input from where Scott Gration left. Amongst the proposals forwarded by Khartoum’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the resolution of the conflict was one calling for the deployment of a peacekeeping force with an ‘African character’ to stand between the SPLA and the SAF along the Bahr el-Arab/River Kiir. Ethiopia reportedly expressed interest in sending in troops to fulfil the task following a flash visit by Khartoum’s Minister of Defence, Abd el-Rahim Mohamed Hussein, to Addis Ababa, step that could not have taken place without President Bashir’s approval. Al-Intibaha, thirsty for a cheap war, bashed the Ministry for what its chief editor, al-Tayeb Mustafa, described as ‘defeatist’ proposals.
Under the urge of an Abyei-like run-over the SAF got embroiled in a rough attempt to disarm or contain the SPLA combatants in South Kordofan. The comparison however was greatly misplaced. The situation evolved into a military confrontation inside Kadugli. While the SAF spokesperson repeated the mantra that the army “reserves the right to respond when and where it sees fit” the costs of such a large scale confrontation across South Kordofan would outweigh its immediate political benefits. Possibly, President Bashir will consider negotiating through this tight bend with his eyes on a more advantageous state of affairs in the near future. Unless the situation does spiral out of control he can rely on a tactful Ahmed Haroun and the numerical majority of the NCP in the state legislature to reduce the risks of the charged popular consultation process ahead.
The two SAF excursions with the warmongering of al-Intibaha in the background fed in a loop fashion into the politicking of the NCP nomenklatura in Khartoum. One message I suppose is the assertion of the authority of the SAF and President Bashir over the shura of the politicians, a point that the President clearly phrased when he stated to the recently convened Shura (Consultative) Council of the NCP that any member who flouts the directives and decisions of the party leadership will be dismissed. One likely candidate for dismissal as things stand is Vice President Taha, probably to the glee of Nafie the royalist.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Sudan attracts Palin

Well, I am not sure if we should blame Bashir for this. Apparently the former governor of Alaska, wannabe President of the United States, and otherwise ‘awesome’ Sarah Palin has expressed the intent to visit the Sudan sometime next July. Don’t we all miss John Prendergast in this constellation? Would it not be a great opportunity to draw even more ‘international’ attention to the plight of the battle-hungry ‘Sudanese’?
Possibly she could intervene in the Abyei showdown, and better still mediate between the Dinka Ngok and the Misseriya. It would definitely be a sight to see her stroll in Kadugli, definitely without getting too close to Ahmed Haroun, ICC and all.
Or may be her good offices could be employed to serve the quest for ‘peace’ between the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army (SPLA) and its contenders, Athor and Gadet. I guess she could start by communicating with Gadet through his Facebook page. He does have one. He could in some battle break possibly explain to her the message of the Mayom Declaration.
Perhaps I am too ambitious, the madam probably just wants to land in Juba for the festivities of 9 July, greet President Kiir and lay a lone rose on John Garang’s grave. Juba rocks Palin. Don’t miss it. 

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Pains of the postcolony

The veteran Sudanese internet forum Sudaneseonline posted lately a poll asking its audience to choose their favourite head of state or prime minister since independence. To the list of fame was added the option “I would have preferred the continuation of British colonial rule”, the necessary twist to complement the probe since the majority of voters actually chose that option. According to the Sudanese online the most popular national ruler is the faceless British colonial administration, independence being but a moment of degeneration.
There are two obvious way of reading this outcome, which irrespective of the poll expresses a recurring theme in the debates of the Sudanese intelligentsia, namely the fantasy of a colonial Sudan where the civil service functioned like a Swiss clock, the economy flourished unhindered, and the government, its colonial nature aside, served the best interests of the supposedly ‘infantile’ population. One possible explanation is the pervasive disillusion with the post-colonial order, best captured by Mansour Khalid’s assertion of the global and perpetual failure of the Sudanese elite, a diagnosis to which he dedicated his two volumes ‘The Sudanese elite and the addiction of failure’. In this book, probably the bible of Khartoum’s liberal opposition, Khalid lashes out at his fellow effendiya in their best style, anecdote and diatribe, for desecrating the colonial paradise they inherited unscathed.
The second I suppose is the proposition that the liberal opposition, robbed of the advantages inherited from its colonial patrons by the serial ruptures of the postcolony, has no other horizon to entertain but a fantasised golden age of colonial discipline where their quasi-aristocratic distinction of birth and education reigned unchallenged. In that lost world the effendi, naturally a graduate of Gordon College/Khartoum University, urban in habits, cosmopolitan in outlook, and nervously attached to the advantages of kinship and male gender in a society he incessantly mocked as ‘backward’, lavished in the joys of the state, his employment and pension guaranteed by exclusive access to its resources, and his hegemony secured by the obedient firepower of its forces.
In that sense the effendi, Fanon’s straw-man, can only bemoan the post-colony as a history of degeneration, the undercurrent of its contradictory tale being the sustained challenge to its colonial origins, grievances and honours alike. One conclusion to be drawn from Sudaneseonline’s poll, to paraphrase Abd el-Khalig Mahjoub, Sudan’s counter-effendi if ever there was one, is that the colonial state has not been smashed enough. It still survives in the imagination of Sudan’s ‘elite’. In that sense it is truly, to twist Mansour Khalid’s dictum, ‘the government they deserve’. 
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This work by Magdi El Gizouli is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.