Last Tuesday the negotiations teams of Sudan and South Sudan in Addis Ababa initialled two so called framework agreements, the first on the status of nationals of the other state, and the second on the stalled demarcation of the border between the two countries. While the latter, essentially a commitment to form a joint commission to oversee the process, passed almost unnoticed, the deal on the status of nationals in the other state became the focus of intense political positioning and mobilisation in Khartoum. The deal, applauded by the African Union and international observers, spelled out a commitment to negotiate through a joint committee co-chaired by the ministers of interior in the two countries the means to extend the freedoms of residence, movement, economic activity, and property to the nationals of each state in the other, following a transitional period of undetermined length during which efforts are to be accelerated to provide the nationals of each state resident in the other with appropriate identification and relevant documents.
Even if approved by Presidents Kiir and Bashir, supposing that the announced summit meeting between the two does take place, the framework agreement remains just that, namely a suggested framework. It neither commits the two countries to any immediate measures to address the citizenship dilemma of the Sudanese stranded between the two states, nor can it protect the disenfranchised of Sudan’s partition from the impulsive behaviour of the law enforcement agencies to which they remain prey. Where politics failed the negotiators in Addis Ababa had administration to offer. It must be mentioned here that Khartoum and Cairo are also bound by a ‘four freedoms agreement’, but Sudanese travellers to Egypt are still obliged to obtain a visa. Obviously, Khartoum and Juba are under considerable international pressure to reach speedy solutions for their disputes, and as such had to produce at least a token of progress along that path. The four freedoms agreement declared in Addis Ababa serves that purpose well. It looks good and, unlike oil, entails no immediate costs. Well, what the National Congress Party (NCP) negotiators hoped would be a cheap exercise in public relations proved to be a domestic political crisis.
The Just Peace Forum (JPF), headed by al-Tayeb Mustafa, declared the alarm upon announcement of the deal. In a statement published on the pages of its paper, al-Intibaha, the JPF announced its steadfast opposition to the agreement which it described as a “humiliation”, a “threat to national security”, and a second Naivasha. Tayeb Mustafa hurled insults at the NCP’s negotiators and Ishaq Ahmed Fadlalla, the author of a column that appears simultaneously in al-Intibaba as well as the NCP’s mouthpiece al-Raed, asked that the negotiators be sent to the war front in South Kordofan as a disciplinary measure. The JPF appealed to the imams of Khartoum’s mosques to make the four freedoms framework agreement the focus of their Friday sermons, and maintained that it will stop at nothing to prevent the implementation of the “catastrophic” deal. As a short cut al-Tayeb Mustafa implored his nephew, President Bashir, to scrap the deal as he had done before with another worthless framework agreement, the document signed between the NCP’s negotiators and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in North Sudan (SPLM-N) in June 2011. Both frameworks, I presume, were agreed upon with the sole aim of winning the approval of the international beholder. The June 2011 agreement was signed at the behest of the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, and the most recent pieces were penned down in the shadow of her threats and with the immediate intervention of the US Special Envoy to Sudan, Princeton Lyman.
On Friday, a great number of Khartoum’s prominent preachers answered the call of the JPF. The most vocal was Sheikh Tanon, the imam of a posh mosque in the upper class Khartoum district, al-Mamoura. Tanon likened the four freedoms framework to the 1978 Camp David Accord signed by Egypt’s Sadat and Israel’s Begin. The negotiators who approved the deal, he claimed, had in doing so betrayed their faith and their country. Incidentally, the head of Khartoum’s negotiation team, Idris Mohamed Abd al-Gadir, was in the mosque listening to Tanon’s sermon. According to Saturday’s papers in Khartoum he stood up to defend his case to cries of reproach from his fellow worshippers. Overwhelmed Abd al-Gadir broke into tears. The NCP official contended with the claim that the ultimate responsibility for the deal lay not with him but with the President Bashir. In his daily column on Saturday Tayeb Mustafa described Abd al-Gadir as a mild chap incapable of facing up to Pagan Amum, the “predator”. He demanded that Abd al-Gadir and his team be replaced and punished for their repeated failures, the first being the mother of all disasters in Mustafa’s mind, the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement with the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M).
Only Ali Karti, Sudan’s Foreign Minister, the man who gets to feel the international pressure on the country at close range, attempted to defend the four freedoms framework in public. Informed by the experience of the June 2011 framework agreement the usually vocal NCP high priests did not dare an opinion. Ultimately, it is President Bashir, the sultan, who has to decide whether it pays better to bluff the international beholder or his domestic audience. Unlike Abd al-Gadir, he cannot sob his way out of the clutch of his lovers.