Two weeks have passed since the release of Brigadier-general Mohamed Ibrahim Abd al-Jalil, better known as Wad Ibrahim, and his associates from detention thanks to a presidential pardon. Around ten days before their release, the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) officers were convicted by a military court for attempting to overthrow the regime in November 2012 and sentenced to up to five years imprisonment and expulsion from the SAF. The order issued by President Bashir, apparently the result of a mediation effort led by seniors of the Islamic Movement and relatives of the officers, set the men free and replaced the punishment of expulsion from service with the wholesome retirement package of the SAF officer corps. Wad Ibrahim was received by a crowd of exalted supporters, mostly veterans of the war against the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M) in the 1990s, when he walked out of prison. The same crowd held a brief protest a day before close to Khartoum University to demand freedom for the coup plot detainees, one that the police incidentally did not notice. The Secretary General of the Islamic Movement, al-Zubeir Ahmed al-Hassan, arrived at the site of the protest to deliver exactly the message the protestors wanted to hear, and next day Wad Ibrahim had his Mandela moment. The media was there to receive him and hundreds of supporters gathered at his house in Jabra, south of Khartoum, freshly painted for the occasion, to rejoice. The order to release the SAF officers was followed this week by a second amnesty for the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) operatives accused of involvement in the coup plot, again after a court handed out prison sentences against the group. Only Salah Gosh, the former NISS chief, remains in jail. The justice ministry formed a special committee of investigation into his case, and unconfirmed reports said he was being questioned on charges regarding illegal accumulation of wealth.
Ghazi Salah al-Din al-Attabani, the crown-dissident of the National Congress Party (NCP), hurried to welcome Wad Ibrahim and his fellows into freedom as did the Popular Congress Party (PCP) war veterans, chief among them al-Naji Abdalla. Wad Ibrahim himself had little to say to the press. The putsch-celebre announced that he will dedicate his future efforts to ‘dawa’, a term that strictly denotes proselytizing Islam but in the wider context of Islamist politics could involve almost any activity that directly or tangentially serves the cause, from starting a neighbourhood supermarket to launching a rebel movement. ‘Reform’, said Wad Ibrahim, is what motivated him and his fellow officers and reform he will continue to pursue. The man answered with the silence of wisdom when asked whether he did actually petition President Bashir for clemency as reported by the SAF spokesman.
Writing in al-Intibaha, al-Tayeb Mustafa asked his nephew President Bashir to demonstrate even greater tolerance and return Wad Ibrahim and his accomplices to active service in the army. “Wad Ibrahim and Fath al-Raheem and the others…are not only military officers but mujahideen who have great influence among the mujahideen of the Popular Defence Forces,” he argued. Mustafa can claim to have a stronger case today considering the embarrassment of the hit and run attack launched by the rebel allies of the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) against Um Rwaba in North Kordofan, a humiliating surprise comparable only to the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) attack on Omdurman and Khartoum on 10 May 2008. Wad Ibrahim and his associates, on the other hand, can claim justification with an added whiff of Schadenfreude considering that their fury was mostly directed at the Minister of Defence Abd al-Rahim Mohamed Hussein, President Bashir’s trusted companion, the man blamed today for the SAF’s mishaps. Islamist urban myth has it that Wad Ibrahim heard of the SPLA takeover of Heglig in April 2012 while recovering from illness in his Jabra home, immediately sprang out of bed in response to the pressing jihad urge, put on his military fatigues, parted with his family in the grace of a warrior, and raced to the SAF headquarters and from there to the field of battle. Wad Ibrahim, officially the deputy commander of the operation, is credited by his sympathizers with the success of the campaign to regain control over the Heglig oil field. Whether true or not, the narrative fits well with the greater accomplishment of his career in the SAF, the lengthy and bloody operations to clear the Western Upper Nile oil fields of their human occupants in the late 1990s sub-contracted largely to Paulino Matip’s militias. Wad Ibrahim was decorated in 2001 for four years distinguished service in the region.
Wad Ibrahim was pictured a few days ago paying his condolences to the bereaved family of a teenager who died in clashes with the police during demonstrations in Um Dom, east of Khartoum North, against the seizure of agricultural land for the benefit of a Saudi investor. I wonder if the souls who perished in Western Upper Nile under his watch crossed his mind as he spoke to his hosts about police accountability. Now a retired army officer, Wad Ibrahim joins a category that features strongly in the annals of primitive accumulation in Sudan’s peripheries. With the lump sum retirement payments in their accounts, the credit forwards of friendly lenders like the SAF-affiliated Omdurman Islamic Bank and their convenient contacts in state institutions, many of the former officers are pushed by boredom and pulled by the promise of easy profit to the adventurous enterprise of land grabbing in Sudan’s conflict zones. Obviously, they also need to make a living and a significant number end up becoming absentee landlords of swathes of rich agricultural land acquired at discount prices paid to a state keen to sell what it only nominally owns in South Kordofan, the Blue Nile, and the southern stretches of Sennar and the White Nile states. The human occupants of these lands, the natives, enter the transaction as squatters to be coerced into surrendering to the will of the proud title holders. Of this art Wad Ibrahim of course is already an accredited master, and I almost forgot, with the self-anointed mandate of a preacher.