Friday, 24 February 2012

The NCP, oil and Islam

The editor of al-Intibaha’s mujahideen page wrote a notable piece on 21 February calling on Sudan’s Minister of Oil, Awad al-Jaz, to resign his post and save what remains of his reputation as the hero of Sudan’s oil boom. Alas, it did not last, argued Jaafar Banaga al-Tayeb, because three of the Islamic Movement’s hawks, Salah Gosh, Nafie Ali Nafie and Awad al-Jaz, succumbed at the critical moments of examination, the first in the abode of the Presidential Palace, the second in the spas of Addis Ababa, and the third in the quagmire of oil. The editor, while acknowledging the Minister’s herculean accomplishment, the extraction of Sudan’s oil against all odds during the nineties, blamed him for two deadly blunders. These, he detailed, are the surrender of the country’s oil to South Sudan and the failure to extract the oil reserves in northern Sudan in a timely fashion to preclude the eventuality of secession. Jaafar described Juba’s transit fee proposal of 70 cents as an affront to the regime in Khartoum. “The Ingaz (Salvation) [regime] only dwarfs, wastes its self-respect and our respect for it, when it agrees to negotiate with each and every contemptible rogue,”, he wrote in reference to the readiness of Khartoum’s negotiators to engage Pagan Amum, the Secretary General of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) who headed South Sudan’s negotiation team at the recent round of post-secession talks in Addis Ababa. In a last remark Jaafar mourned the Islamic Movement, which, he said, does not exist anymore as an organized structure but only survives in the persons of its members. He implored al-Jaz to discipline himself as it were, since no authority was in place to do so.
Combined in Jaafar’s outburst are the anger at the failure of the regime in Khartoum to maintain its greatest prize, oil rent, and secondarily oil infrastructure rent, and the projection of that anger in racespeak. In the chronology of Sudan’s wars the oil moment is arguably the most significant. Although the confrontation between north and south predates oil the introduction of the mineral into the equation unleashed its destructive potential to the full. Once commercial amounts of oil were uncovered in South Sudan in the early 1980s the Addis Ababa Agreement signed in 1972 between Nimayri’s government and Joseph Lagu’s South Sudan Liberation Movement became almost immediately outdated. The exact details of the Agreement’s implosion are in a sense a matter of circumstance, the decisive factor being that its formulae could not withstand the pressure of the crude. It took the warring parties, the central government and the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement more than twenty years to reach a truce based on an equal division of the oil rent, 50% to Khartoum and 50% to Juba, and self-determination for South Sudan. On these terms, and in the absence of politics proper, the secession of South Sudan was inevitable. The rulers in Khartoum nursed the fantasy that they could win both ways, get rid of the troublesome south, a greater threat to their hegemony in peace than in war, and maintain Juba in their orbit considering its dependence on the northern pipelines. Furthermore, Khartoum looked forward to a decisive improvement in its international standing, generous debt relief from the Western powers and the lifting of multiple regimes of sanctions imposed on the country. The West, in President Bashir’s depiction, did not keep its word, and Juba preferred to suspend oil production altogether rather than continue to share its proceeds with Khartoum.
Oil, in a sense, had liberated President Bashir from a marriage gone nasty with Hassan al-Turabi, and lifted him above the squabbles of the political class altogether. For a few fat years President Bashir and the greater majority of the Islamic cadres who chose to side with him against their sheikh, were almost immune against political challenges. Empowered with the flow of oil revenues the regime was well placed to widen its constituency among the ambitious petit bourgeoisie of the Sudanese heartland, dispense its prizes to all the willing, and reduce the recalcitrant to a state of political vegetation. Where oil did not reach, war replaced politics, in the rule as a tool to secure a handsome negotiation position vis-à-vis the regime.
Bereft of oil rents the regime in Khartoum is today forced to re-engage its political surroundings. On the popular level the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) propagated a nationalist/racist narrative of a (north) Sudanese identity as opposed to the runaway South Sudan, and devised a whole new system of citizens’ identification and registration to translate the notion into a fetish. President Bashir, the wannabe father of the born-again nation, was the first to undergo the procedure of identity verification and received a glossy ID card to document his christening. The campaign, under the fine name of the Civil Registry, faltered at the inefficiency of the government’s own bureaucracy. The narrative, however, developed a separate momentum, even at the expense of the NCP as evidenced by the increasing autonomy of the Just Peace Forum (JPF), a creation of the ruling party commissioned to flare the chauvinist torch. To its contenders in the political establishment the NCP offered inclusion. The regime invited the National Umma Party (NUP) and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) into the cabinet, an offer that the first was tempted to accept but nevertheless rejected in expectation of a higher bid and the second could not resist. 

Neither manoeuvre seems to be sufficient. Rather, the NCP itself, evidently spoiled by the fat years, is moaning aloud from oil withdrawal symptoms. Jaafar’s remarks on al-Intibaha’s mujahideen page are an echo of the greater disillusion in the ranks of the party. From the other flank, Islamist intellectuals at a distance from the NCP are busy writing their way out of the Islamic experiment. The Khartoum press features on a regular basis articles stressing the original sin of the 1989 coup and calling for the ‘reinvention’ of political Islam in liberal colours along the model of the Tunisian Nahda Party and the Egyptian Freedom and Justice Party, the winners of the ‘Arab Spring’. President Bashir, as things stand, has the army, and the Sudanese have Allah. It is still Sudan.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Farewell Wardi

Wardi in young age, ca 1960
Mohamed Osman Wardi, one of Sudan's greatest singers, passed away this day in a Khartoum hospital. Born in 1932 Wardi gave up a typical effendi career as a school teacher and dedicated himself to music since an early age. His voice was heard on Radio Omdurman for the first time in 1957. Like many of his contemporaries he was attracted by the avant-garde motifs of the Sudanese left and became associated with its politics. A song that he performed in celebration of Sudan's independence became a symbol of the day and the age. He sang to praise the 1964 October Revolution and was incarcerated by Colonel Nimayri in the anti-communist purge that followed the 1971 coup attempt. Wardi, in partnership with the poet Mahjoub Sharif, immortalized the experience in a number of prison songs. When Nimayri was deposed in the 1985 Uprising Wardi again gave the event a tenor and a meaning in his songs. Like many others he chose exile to life under the regime of President Bashir. Wardi returned to Sudan in 2003. By that time he had developed renal failure, the condition that ended his life. 

The man will be missed by admirers in his country Sudan as well as the region. His legacy however extends beyond music. As a pupil in an Omdurman primary school I heard Wardi's 'revolutionary' songs and Nasser's Suez Canal speech through crackling loudspeakers almost daily. This routine was the entertainment that the headmaster, Mr Hassan Salim, chose for us during free hours. For the child I was, Wardi's lyrics were probably  a primer in political education. 

Sunday, 5 February 2012

The Sudans: government by war

In an interview on Friday aired simultaneously by Sudan’s three major television stations President Bashir stated that Sudan was now closer to war than to peace with South Sudan. The declaration follows on the collapse of the recent round of negotiations between the two countries over oil transit fees. The details of the row are well documented in the media, and have provided rich material for analyses and forecasts. In brief, Khartoum started to confiscate a share of the South Sudanese oil flowing through the northern pipeline and then seized shipments of the oil in Port Sudan in lieu of transit fees still to be agreed upon between the two countries. In response, South Sudan halted its oil production altogether. Presidents Kiir and Bashir met in Addis Ababa at the helm of the negotiation teams but failed to reach an agreement. Temporary arrangements suggested by the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) and the Ethiopian Premier Meles Zenawi were reportedly accepted by President Bashir but rejected after some hesitation by President Kiir. South Sudan’s top negotiator, Pagan Amum, made it clear that only a comprehensive deal on all pending post-secession issues would satisfy his government. He demanded the transfer of Abyei and five other contested border areas to South Sudan as a condition for the resumption of oil production and export through (North) Sudan. With this announcement the impasse seemed to be insurmountable and war between the two states more or less inevitable. This, in general terms, is the standard reading of last month’s developments. 
In terms of risk assessment the scare of a full-scale war is obviously justified. The contention, however, is that Sudan and South Sudan are already at war. The Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) clashed several times since the secession of South Sudan with the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) in Abyei, and continue to fight the SPLA in South Kordofan and the Blue Nile, since the secession of South Sudan an officially separate force. Almost the entire border between Sudan and South Sudan is in fact a war zone. The transition to an officially acknowledged state of war, if it does take place, will not be a qualitative shift in relations between Juba and Khartoum but an extension of the current state of affairs. Arching further back one could argue that the the interim period of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), from 2005 to 2011, was just that, a peace break on the calendar of Sudan’s wars. To grasp why partition could not deliver the promised peace it is necessary to investigate once more the premises of partition, and the nature of the forces that presided over it. The rulers of Khartoum and Juba founded their separate kingdoms on the notion of an immutable contradiction between North and South, grounded in the differences of race, culture, religion and so forth. The same notion serves them well today as they attempt to tame the forces threatening their hegemony. In that sense, their failure to agree on a mutually beneficial arrangement to share the only resource at their disposal, irrational as it is, reflects a political rationale of the first order. To survive Khartoum and Juba need to disagree, the more suicidal the confrontation seems to be the better. Cooperation, by its mere occurrence, would rob both regimes of the very foundation of their rule, the liberation championed by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the ‘good riddance’ claim marketed by the National Congress Party (NCP). 
The Sudanese, on both sides of the 1956 border, are held hostage to this ideological ambience rooted in the history of the north-south encounter. To overcome this closure it is necessary to dispel the mystifications of national identity propagated by Khartoum and Juba in favour of a unity of purpose that heals the fractured corpus of the dispossessed but cuts through the presumed organic unity of each nation. This is the post-secession issue proper.
Creative Commons Licence
This work by Magdi El Gizouli is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.