Tuesday 15 September 2009

From Juba to Juba

The political scene awaits the convention of the Juba Conference, now adjourned to 26th September, in cordial SPLM response to the NCP's request. The SPLM in its invitation to the conference named 5 major issues for deliberation: unity and its conditions, democratic transformation, Darfur, the census results and upcoming elections, and the referendum. The opposition parties proposed two additional issues, economic policies and foreign relations.

Fiery at first and full of disdain for the mere idea of an SPLM-Northern parties 'get together' the NCP is now actively seeking participation. At the onset, NCP officials described the conference as a meeting of the 'opposition', unworthy of 'national' relevance. Nevertheless the NCP was quick to shift tone from the regular patriarchal confrontational jargon to a more conciliatory note. Just two days ago Bashir made a loud announcement of commitment to the notion of 'political freedom'. He even gave the rhetoric a philosophical twist defining 'political freedoms' as inalienable and basic principles, and not tokens of generosity, in the same gusto he described human rights as elements of faith to be protected by the power of the state. Add these to the friendly proclamations of the Vice President, Ali Osman Mohamed Taha, and the impression is NCP is yet again in moulting.

NCP in or out, the parties gathering in Juba on the 26th are about to re-enact a formative scene from the history of the modern South-North encounter, namely the June 1947 Juba Conference on the Political Development of the Southern Sudan, when British administrators, aware of the consequences of their policy shift vis-a-vis Southern Sudan i.e. from insulation from the North and independent development to integration, invited delegates representing main Northern parties to join Southern politicians in a discussion addressing 5 major issues spelled out in a memorandum by J. W. Robertson, civil secretary of Sudan government at the time and chairman of the conference: recommendations of the Sudan Administration conference about the Southern Sudan - the question of whether Southern Sudan should join the East African colonies or be integrated into North Sudan; the advisability of the Southern Sudanese being represented in the proposed Assembly; possible safeguards in the legislation setting up the new Assembly, to ensure that Southern Sudan with its difference in race, tradition, language, customs and outlook is not hindered in its social and political advancement; the advisability of an advisory council for Southern Sudan to deal with Southern affairs; matters not strictly relevant to political development albeit essential if the unification of the Sudanese people is to be achieved.

The same questions - political power, identity and the state, unification - continue to haunt the relationship between North and South, and largely within the same coordinates stated by J. V. Marwood, governor of Equatoria and host of the 1947 Juba Conference: "The policy of the Sudan Government regarding the Southern Sudan is to act upon the facts that the peoples of Southern Sudan are distinctly African and Negroid, but that geography and economics combine (so far as can be foreseen at the present time) to render them inextricably bound for future development to the Middle East and the Arabs of the Northern Sudan, and therefore to ensure that they shall by educational and economic developments be equipped to take their places in the future as socially and economically the equals of their partners of the Northern Sudan in the Sudan of the future".

If the Juba Conference of 2009 is not to be a Marxian farce of its predecessor the utmost necessity is to blast the racist hegemonic doctrine inherent in the reading above, British-born and re-christened with different names at the hands of the Sudanese post-colonial state. South Sudan is not a vestige seeking refuge amongst superior neighbours, in East Africa or down the Nile, it is the Sudan.

Friday 11 September 2009

Stumbling into war

Apparently Gration's efforts have failed to connive the two 'rivals' of the CPA into an agreement on the two outstanding issues, candidates to thwart the short-lived 'peace' since signing of the CPA (2005): census results to be used for determination of geographical constituencies in the upcoming elections, and mainstay of the referendum law: who is to vote, and what is the cut-off?

The General expressed disappointment at the fruitfulness of 'excellent discussions', and promised continuation of debate on the margins of the UN general assembly or any other appropriate opportunity, signalling an unhappy end to the 'tri-partite' arrangement: NCP-US-SPLM. Pagan Amum from the SPLM excited about the failure blamed the NCP for placing impediments before a possible agreement on a final formula for the referendum law. From the NCP Qutbi al-Mahdi, head of political sector, speaking in Khartoum pledged to defeat the secessionists within the SPLM in liaison with pro-unity Southerners and national parties in the South (Sudan Tribune, 11/09/09).

What does this translate into? The unmentioned here is that the NCP is frustrated at the possibility of a South-North alliance being born out of the Juba conference joining the SPLM and the northern opposition, particularly that the pre-emptions of Sadiq al-Mahdi, irrespective of tactical motives, have already invited such a broad electoral pact. In Khartoum the whispers are: NCP has offered concessions on the referendum law granted that the SPLM supports Bashir's candidacy for president i.e. refrains from naming a candidate or supporting one. In essence, it is the NCP that is pushing full thrust for secession; the SPLM is largely rolling along.

Commenting on these developments the UN regional coordinator for Southern Sudan, David Gressly, said: "neither side seem to want a renewed conflict", adding "the alternative is a renewed conflict and that is a very real threat out there". Stumbling along into the Torit events of 1955 the Sudan Government also did not want a conflict, however it got one. Effectively jeopardising the Addis Ababa accord Numeiri did not want a conflict, and he also got one 1983. These guys may not want a conflict, however they are plunging into one, no doubt about it.

Against all odds it is the moment for maximalists and not the Grationate middle ground: if the threat of war in Southern Sudan is to be avoided a much larger unity is the due of the challenge. If in 1947 the Juba conference of North and South ended with a pledge of unity, a vote for independence, and a promise of federation, never to be realised, the Juba conference of 2009 has to realise the deepest fears of the NCP and bring them to the wake of day. To that end the delegates, esteem and prestige preserved, must rise to the moment. SPLM has to drop its paranoid stance that once undermined the post-1985 democracy, and the major parties must grasp that the South is Sudan, not its periphery; the NDA was the laboratory for requisite lessons in that regard.

According to CPA paragraphs democracy is a transformation, delayed, effectively denied. The Juba conference, non-Grationate thankfully, has to defeat the denial and generate a political subject beyond the stalemate of the CPA.

Tuesday 8 September 2009


Global Witness, an NGO focused on the investigation of natural resources related conflicts and corruption, published this week a report on the oil revenues in Sudan with the central claim: the Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS) cannot verify the oil figures published by the Government of National Unity (GoNU), a fact that fuels mistrust between the two already mistrustful ruling partners. According to Global Witness discrepancies between Khartoum's figures and other estimates of oil production, including reports of the Chinese National Petroleum Corporation, range from 9 to 26%.

According to CPA wealth sharing arrangements the government's net oil revenue from oil wells in Southern Sudan is divided as follows: income from export sales above a benchmark price (currently $ 65/barrel) is allocated to the Oil Revenue Stabilisation Account, 2% to the oil producing states/regions in proportion to output, what is left is split 50:50 between GoSS and GoNU. For GoSS, this share equates to 98% of its income, making it the most oil-dependent government in the world. What GoSS cannot verify according to Global Witness is the total from which it gets its share, 50% of what?

Jotting down CPA rows quite a list of disputed figures immediately come to mind, oil production volumes, Southern Sudanese IDPs in Northern Sudan 2 - 2.9 m or 518 000, Southern Sudanese just 21% of the 'nation' (8.2 m), Darfur's population 4.09 or 2.15 m. Not to mention the grand and obscene numbers' war of Darfur's dead, Bashir's 10 000 admitted dead, Save Darfur's 400 000, Eric Reeves's well over 450 000, and the UN's 200 000 - 300 000.

A new figure to join the ones above is the death toll of assumed 'tribal violence' in Southern Sudan. The UNMIS regional coordinator for the South said 1200 since January this year and 250 000 displaced; AFP quotes another UN source and claims 2000. In the last six incidents it has repsonded to MSF has counted 1057 deaths and 259 injuries. The figure of all figures of course is the human price of the CPA and its discontents: 1.5 - 2 million lives lost during the civil war.

Is there a lesson here, I claim no, figures do not tell us any truths. In the census dispute numbers were cited to support a 'racial' agreement on constituency and power. In Darfur, mortality figures had to satisfy the label 'genocide' despite no settled cut-off point, so they kept going up and up, they reached a peak, and then Adada and Agwai announced recession. And as long as it is called 'tribal' violence, and 'inter-ethnic' conflict, the figures from the bloodshed in Southern Sudan are wrong, they are telling us the wrong message.

Friday 4 September 2009

Unity for whom?

Last week witnessed a flurry of statements from foreign dignitaries on the future of the Sudan, one state or two. Libya's Gaddafi in his usual confusion stated that he would support an independent South Sudan whilst warning of the consequence that it would be a 'very weak state'. The EU's foreign policy chief Javier Solana expressed frank opposition to an independent state in South Sudan. In the meantime the devilish details of the referendum law are up for grabs. The Monday meeting last week between the National Congress Party (NCP) and the Sudan People's Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M) apparently did not achieve the expected breakthrough on two decisive issues: who is to vote, all Southerners or residents of Southern Sudan only? And the cut-off percentage, a simple majority 50 plus for both choices, unity or secession, or a 50 plus for unity and a 75 plus for secession?
In the absence of domestic ingenuity political space effectively awaits the designs of the US policy review on Sudan, a process subject to a battle of interests and visions within the US administration over which the Sudanese have no substantive influence to reckon with. 
In this gloom Sadiq al Mahdi flew off to Juba sharing the same plane with SPLM Deputy Chairperson Riek Machar and pre-empting the announced 'all parties' meeting to declare a piece of wisdom long defunct: the right of self-determination for Southern Sudan should not be turned into a political feud. Well, it is, and it has been so for very long indeed!
Sadiq himself was not particularly happy with the inclusion of self-determination in the master-piece of the National Democatic Alliance, the Asmara Declaration of 1995. And his partner on the plane, Dr Riek Machar, launched a South-South civil war against the late John Garang on the grounds that the latter had false aspirations of unity. Paradoxically, Machar at the time rushed off to the camps of the adversaries to sign the forgotten Khartoum Peace Agreement, claiming to having won the right of self-determination for the South. Khartoum before him was quick to table its calculated acceptance of self-determination as early as 1992 during the Frankfurt talks, a step that fuelled the SPLM/A split between Nasir and Torit. 
The lesson here is that self-determination does not provide in formality, in itself and by itself, a resolution to the Sudanese conflict. Proponents of a quick secessionist fix, from North and South, are thus equally misguided in that they offer an administrative solution to a protracted and complictated history, one that has long resisted statist machinations, from the likes of the Closed Districts Ordinance (1922) to the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling on Abyei (2009). This history is not amenable to quiet reversal by virtue of an international border that promises on one side realisation of a chauvinist jellaba dream and on the other the first NGO-run state. Both are false options. The only 'attractive' unity that remains is one thrust in the future: the unity of the disenfranchised across the rifts of this history. Read Joseph Garang for an imagination of what that could possibly mean.

Tuesday 1 September 2009

A fatwa

In a furore of supposed religious fervour and piety a young university teacher in his thirties educated in Saudi Arabia in Islamic doctrine declared last week that members of the Communist Party of Sudan (est.1946) are obviously and definitely infidels, and as such their association should be banned. As individuals their belief should be subject to investigation and legal scrutiny, either they do believe in Islam and must therefore by necessity relinquish communist convictions, or they do not believe in Islam and must then face persecution as renegades of faith. The angry young sheikh clarified the consequences of communist affiliation for the family. He warned parents of marrying off their daughters to communists, since they are to his judgement apostates, and their marriage to Moslem women a violation of sharia; children born out of such matrimony are to him criminal products of extra-marital fornication. He went further and declared that a Moslem community has the duty of subduing these apostates and halting their subversive activities. To this end he quoted the toppling of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan born out of the Saur revolution of 1978, the concurrent Soviet intervention in Afghanistan and its aftermath - CIA-run Jihad. His written fatwa borrowed heavily, of course without declared reference, from Abdullah Azzam's text 'al Saratan al Ahmar' (the Red Cancer). Abdullah Azzam (1941-1989), the pioneer of Afghan Jihad, was till his assassination in 1989 the leader of the Afghan Arabs, the league of Arab militants who answered his call for Jihad in Afghanistan against the regime of Nuur Mohammed Taraki and the consequent Soviet occupation. Azzam was a central figure in the liaison between the CIA and the mujahideen. Notably Azzam also called for Jihad in Palestine, his home country, but never managed to shift to this higher cause.

What the young Sudanese ethusiast of Azzam & Co, running down to bin Laden and Zawahiri, is proclaiming with such violent conviction is not particularly new. It has been a permanent feature of anti-communist propaganda, in Moslem countries and in the secular West for that matter. What is of concern here is timing, vehicle, and proponents of such false battles. In 1965 Turabi's Islamic Charter launched a similar assault on the Communist Party of Sudan, and managed to rally around its call the political mainstream, Umma and DUP, an assault that ended with the subversion of the young democratic institutions born out of the 1964 revolution and its progressive upheaval, parliament and high court; eventually Communist MPs were expelled from parliament and the Party was banned. Today the sheikh's call resonates in solo. The mainstream parties chose the pro-communist stance, and so did Turabi's Popular Congress. Even the National Congress Party did not dare official approval of the young sheikh's fatwa, offering him the shadow of support.

The young chap needs to be reminded that the Sudanese have since 1946 offered their Communist Party support and approval; it has grown and developed in their midst and under their protection. Communist women and men occupy the high grounds of esteem and respect among their fellow citizens. It is not in his hands to reverse history, his noise will soon abide and the Sudanese and their Party shall prevail.

Friday 28 August 2009

War or no war?

Last Thursday the departing UN military commander in Darfur, General Martin Agwai, announced with a secondary qualification that the war raging in the region for the past 6 years is effectively over. According to Agwai the region now suffers from low level disputes and banditry. In historical perspective this is was Darfur has recently been suffering from since the mid-80's. The problem that President Bashir's, and Sadiq al Mahdi's government before him attempted to solve via military engagement masqueraded as a policing operation in achieving peace and stability.
The actions of Khartoum's rulers essentially followed the path of the colonial master, superego; Darfur featured as a stagnant ahistoric entity whose population vegetated in tribal continuum. Customary authority and customary land rights were the real land-lock of Darfur, facilitating, legitimising and minimising the costs of central control. In a sense Darfur's war marked the quest of the region for modernity, for citizenship, beyond the ties of tribal organisation. If the war is over, the conflict is certainly not.
The war as it was has been drenched of its conflictual content, presented mostly in the terms of a humanitarian catastrophe, an outburst of African violence that requires no further explanation. And in its so called end it suffers the same 'anonymity'. In his statement Agwai chose the term "security issues" to refer to the prevalent nature of the conflict, now beyond hardcore war. Isn't this the station where it all started? Under the title 'security issues' he cushioned "banditry, localised issues, people trying to resolve issues over water and land at a local level". In actual fact this is the 'real war' in Darfur, the rebellion of 2003 being a mutated attempt at giving it a name and a form beyond the disqualification of security qualms. In agreement with Agwai this attempt has largely failed, yes, the line of conflict has been blurred by the fractioned Darfuri leadership lost in the maize of identities, tribal and racial. Darfur's 'real war' has been in effect hijacked by a multitude of interests, as its 'peace process' currently is. The split in the Islamic Movement, the aspirations of the SPLM, the regional powers Chad and Libya, domestic US politics and the war on terror, to name some, are all factors that contributed to subversion of the conflict and rejoice at war. No wonder that a political settlement seems beyond reach despite diplomatic fervour.
If finding politics for Darfur is to be achieved a divorce from the misnomer 'security issues' is surely the first step. The framework of conflict that the Darfuri movements assumed has failed in that regard, and has been replaced by the obscenity of numbers, 10, 000, 300 000, or more dead, the only long-standing debate on the conflict, one fuelled by the dictates of US policy-making reduced to the singular question, is it a genocide? Apart from academic pursuits only a few institutional attempts have been made to retain, or discover, the politics of the conflict. One of these is the fieldwork done by the African Union High Panel. The report of the Panel is expected in the next few weeks. For those still interested in Darfur's crisis, not only in the spoils of its war, this is an initiative from which to re-start. The dead and dying in Darfur deserve a more informed distinction, a name, not only a count.

Monday 24 August 2009

Useless victims

A few months back the US administration was still adamant on its diagnosis of the Darfur crisis as an unfolding "genocide" along a racial divide, and the worst humanitarian crisis that disturbs the conscience of the civilised world. On the agenda of American action was the proposal of a NATO orchestrated intervention in the region coupled with enforcement of a no-fly zone and tightening of sanctions. In the imperial imagination Darfur's wars were a single event of reckoning between good and evil, and the US was entitled to save the day. Images of American actors/activists flooded the media, busy saving Darfur in the company of the self styled "Internationalist" John Prendergast booting his way through the dry terrain of eastern Chad. In the American dream of Darfur the populations "in action" were reduced to iconic victims and perpetrators, not more differentiated, and for that matter not more human, than figures of a video-game. In actual fact the "Save Darfur Coalition" featured a video-game on its website where the sympathetic user could identify with the plight of displaced women venturing outside the camps in search of firewood to be attacked by the bad bad Janjaweed. Darfuris were still "useful victims" in the imperial rationale of the US, a card to play on the table of geo-strategy. Those days are effectively over. Even Prendergast has given up on the cause and is now under commission to stage yet another saviour's mission in the Congo. Twisting the logic of Abdel Wahid's angry description of Gen. Gration, Obama's envoy to Sudan, as being an obstacle to peace, it seems today that Darfur as such is an obstacle to the machinations of imperial "peace and stability" in the Sudan. The American rationale, for those who do grasp it, remains however the same. It was never about Darfur, as it is today not about Darfur.

As "useless victims" the new instructions to the Darfuris are: "get yourself together and sign an agreement, and if you don't we will sign one for you." Over the weekend Gen. Gration met in Cairo with NCP's Ghazi Salah Eldin, Egyptian foreign minister Ahmed Abu al Ghait, Egypt's spy chief Omer Suleiman, and Libya's foreign minister Mohamed al Sayala. The announced objective of the meeting was simply the dubious phrase "to prop us peace and stability" in the Sudan, of course in the absence of all but the regional powers and the newly celebrated US allies in Khartoum. Before arriving in Cairo he had toyed 4 factions of the disintegrated Darfuri rebellion into a "unity road map" after days of "efficient" talks in Addis Ababa. Abdel Wahid after a drama of stubborn refusal acquitted and joined the train. The four factions, SLM-Unity, SLM-Abdelwahid, SLM-Abdelshafi, and the United Resistance Front, agreed to hold a meeting inside Darfur within sixty days to achieve unity "in disintegration" and to engage in negotiations with the government without preconditions. On the surface of things, and in Gen. Gration's words, it is indeed a remarkable achievement. In a statement to Radio Dabanga Scott Gration explained his view of the adventure in the following benevolent terms: "this is about rebels from all different factions unifying to help and ensure that the will of the people of Darfur is carried out in a process that can make a difference."

Now, what is missing from the process is exactly this will of the people of Darfur, victims this time of the direct designs of Empire; the will that expressed itself in the long and tedious but truly constructive meetings with the African Union High Level Panel on Darfur. The will that speaks of land tenure, livelihoods, environmental degradation, evolution of local authority and democracy, and yes justice!

Saturday 22 August 2009

A note on the vote

Recently President Bashir has made it a habit to reiterate his commitment to a democratic transition in power, understood as surrender to the due of the ballot box and the logic of numbers. With each reiteration Bashir also makes it clear that he is sure the Sudanese will make the "right" choice and transfer power through the instrument of elections from his hands to his hands, only this time with the ceremonial grunts of submission, as stated in Khartoum's numberless Bashir election signboards, my favourite is: "Bashir, once our choice today our fate"!

In the same context both the security apparatus and the police force have been hammering the message home that the coming elections will be a violent and bloody feat. The latest statements of the leading figures of both institutions were an exposition of the possible patterns of violence, in terms of spatial and temporal arrangement. Apparently the statements were supposed to ensure us that the security forces are in full grip of affairs and are capable of containing any misbehaviour anytime anywhere. The sublime message however I claim was "beware, there will be violence, and alot of it". In that sense, what the police and security officers were demonstrating was more or less the "darker" side of President Bashir's utter confidence - though shall be elected. One has to be continuously reminded of the fact, lest one gets used to it, that Bashir today is one of the longest ruling African heads of state. He has ruled longer than any other Sudanese head of state or government, longer than Gamal Abdel Nasser (1956 - 1970), and longer than Anwar al Sadat (1970 - 1981) in Egypt.

To stay on the saddle Bashir needs to recruit his adversaries to his logic of numbers, i.e. the ballot as a stamp of legitimacy irrespective of context, in that sense his state continues, he calls the shots. Following pro-Bashir propaganda on radio and TV one gets the impression that he has already won the race, and his opponents are such poor spirits that they cant admit his victory. Judging by the statements of senior security and police staff these organs are already drilling for a scenario, in which Bashir wins and an angry mob, also possibly instigated and staged, attacks in discontent; the exit being an NCP offer to share power in yet another coalition of "national unity", whereby Bashir stays put and the country accommodates itself. This type of throttled compromise has become the endstage of celebrated "transitions" in the continent: Kibake and Odinga in Kenya, Mugabe and Tsvangirai in Zimbabwe, and lately Sassou-Nguesso and Poungui in Congo-Brazzaville.

The web-based Sudan Tribune reported today that a certain bloc in the American administration was entertaining the idea of pushing for postponement of the referendum on the future of Southern Sudan to 2013. In the current Juba-Khartoum constellation the two partners to the CPA might well accept such a proposal, bearing in mind how badly they both need Washington's legitimising approval, the SPLM running a bankrupt government in Southern Sudan and the NCP breathless for international de-demonisation. In any case, in Washington's imagination of the near Sudanese future Bashir is irreplaceable.

Tuesday 18 August 2009

The writing on the wall

Khartoum is busy entertaining General Gration. Actually the US presidential envoy is to visit Juba, Malakal and al-Fasher, to hold talks with the two Vice Presidents, Kiir and Taha, and to "inspect" the IDP camps in Darfur. At home - in America - he is under fierce attack from the Save Darfur Campaign and Prendergast's Enough Project for being too soft on Khartoum. In a public letter these "home" forces accused the General of "failing to recognise human rights violations" and of failing to hold Khartoum accountable for "its lack of commitment to peace and justice". Quite an interesting constellation if you think it through: Gration the patron in Sudan the protectorate, and Prendergastians as the minor guardians of the juvenile Sudanese. In a speech in Wad Medani a two years back or so Mohamed Ibrahim Nugud, Secretary of the Communist Party, commenting on the Abuja talks where Robert Zoellick, the American mediator, practically bullied the two Darfur movements to achieve a "fix" and came out with the DPA and an exhausted Minni Minawi, proclaimed that Darfur has slipped out of our hands. Well, I guess Sudan has slipped out of our hands. Its fate, at least for now, is the calculus of American domestics: Obama's electoral promises, the vanities of self-staged saviours, and the "realpolitik" of the war on terror.

In the absence of Sudanese politics proper the stage is set for the more ominous. While Grationites and Prendergastians battle is out in the heart of the Empire, and Sudanese political forces dramatise as much as they can to attract attention and ally from this camp or the other the cracked wall of our tired country demonstrates big letters written in the crimson of blood. The impotence of our "domestic" politics is fuelling a rapturous wave of political assassinations, a name nobody has given these ominous events yet. During the past month or so local NCP officials have been paying the price of their affiliation in the currency of life. One was killed in al-Bawga in Northern Sudan, the site of construction of a new dam that a wide sector of the area's population vehemently opposes, another was killed in an IDP camp in Darfur, and a lady official, the local Chairperson of the National Congress Party's Women Desk in Yambio (Western Equatoria) was gunned down.

Till now the official response to these developments has been the statist choice of criminal investigation, i.e. incapacitated administration, plus the usual political ruminations of the two ruling parties. What these incidents are bringing to the surface however is the exhaustion of politics as such, even politics of organised armed resistance or rebellion. They are surely not criminal offences pure and simple but political acts in the naked. The narrower the room for effective political action the wider the space for the anarchist drives of popular grievance. Its just the second law of thermodynamics - the universal principle of increasing entropy, or lets say entropy in the absence of evolution.

Friday 14 August 2009

In a Grationate Sudan

In his statement before Congress Scott Gration, Special Envoy of the US President to Sudan, expressed his discontent with the continuation of American sanctions - imposed 1997 - against Sudan. A few days later, probably responding to criticism from US pressure groups, he expressed his support for the sanctions. Clinton on her part chose a note of caution, if not compromise between the blocks competing to determine American policy towards the country, and preferred to talk of a policy review inside the administration while stressing that no decision has been made to lift Sudan off the list of "rogue states", where it has been since 1993, or to ease sanctions against the country. Notably she made the statement during a joint press conference with the Saudi foreign minister. 
The National Congress Party (NCP) voiced disappointment after brief optimism over the prospect of smoothing bilateral relationships between the US and Sudan. On Friday Mandoor al Mahdi, NCP Secretary of Political Relations, expressed the hope of his party that Gration would return today to Khartoum with more useful results. 
Well, the message is a confirmation of Mahmood Mamadani's diagnosis of the American reading of Sudan, that the fate of the Sudanese has become an element in the domestic politics of the US, largely however as some sort of moral dilemma, whereby competing blocks battle it out for the moral high ground. Following the American debates on our country, one cannot help but note the "responsibility to civilise", christened "the duty to stabilise" that runs through the arguments of the contenders, Grationites or Prendergastians. The revealing comment I suggest was the one made by State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley in response to press interrogation concerning Scott Gration's initial comments. After a lot of dodging he concluded "there are a number of critical, critical issues inherent in the relationship between the United States and Sudan. Replace Sudan and US with maiden names and you would immediately drift into Dr Phil logic. 
One critical critical issue I guess is Africom, the US Command in Africa. President Obama (not Bush) on the subject stated that "there will be situations that require the US to work with its partners to fight terrorism with lethal force. Having a unified command fighting in Africa will facilitate this action". In the Ghanaian parliament Obama (not Bush) poured out similar verse saying "we have a responsibility to support those who act responsibly in the region and to isolate those who don't, and that is exactly what America will do". Place that statement in 19th century London and the American policy review would sound more like a Gladstone versus Disraeli quarrel on matters of the colonies. In any case, critical issues in mind Bashir and his party are candidates for a Musharaf position in the American list of partners. 

Friday 7 August 2009

The gaze of democracy

In the ongoing debate on Sudan, indigenous and international, there is a general consensus on democracy, debilitated to the term democratic transformation, as a horizon for settlement, as a coupon to a lush future of tolerance and mutual understanding. But is democracy itself not denied from the outset in the guise of a transformation? Is the promise of chartered transformation, from dictatorship to liberal democracy, not in itself a submission to the governing status quo? Would the men in rather than on the throne simply surrender their spoils of war, percentages and quotas, to the free choice of the masses? Would the current coordinates of power as spelled out in Naivasha and other accords, allow in any serious sense of the word, a restitution of mass power, a reinvention of a mass political subject that reigns in sovereignty, or so the dream of formal democracy goes?

The fresh, and largely ambiguous, notion of New Sudan promised to many a redesign of the political game that would allow for a fairer share of power to the marginalised. However, thinking through the legacy of the SPLM, has this promise not culminated in a process of integration within the established coordinates of Old Sudan? And has not the threat of secession as a final solution, without prejudice to the nationalist sentiments in Southern Sudan, corrupted in essence the call for a New Sudan rendering it obsolete? History does repeat itself, as a fraud. Following the 1985 Intifada against Numeiri's rule the late John Garang was quick to disrepute Khartoum's reborn democracy as a fraud, as a second May. I claim, it was an opportunity missed. That was the moment of potential historic compromise not the signing of the Naivasha agreement in 2005 between Garang's movement and the NIF military dictatorship. Awaiting the SPLM's political thrust in 1985 was a state amenable to re-invention, conditions compared to which the Naivasha deal seems a fraud. The NIF regime fulfils the tag May 2 much more than the vacuum of 1985 - 1989 which the NIF correctly identified as such and subsequently occupied with the event of it's coup d'etat. What could have been achieved through a North-South alliance in the late 1980's returned as a caricature of itself post 2005 as an unholy alliance between two hegemons, whose rule is sustained by the threat of renewed conflict, an alliance of the weary.

In that sense, is democracy packed in the opaque wrappings of legislations not but an injunction of the state? Is democratic transformation not but dressing for a bivalent dictatorship? My claim is simply that within the set coordinates of power democracy remains a formal qualification of authority, a predicate as in the self defeating concept democratic transformation. To achieve democracy, to achieve a New Sudan in earnest a shift in coordinates is mandatory, one that undermines before all else the paradigm of identity. New Sudan, if there is to be one, lies beyond the framework of identity politics. In the far horizon citizens defeat their identities, and that horizon begins now.

Wednesday 5 August 2009

Whither the tribe

Over the last weekend 180 individuals were killed in Jonglei state, Southern Sudan. The incident was described in the media as a revenge attack by armed Murle tribesmen against a Luo Nuer village, a delayed response to a round of bloodshed between the two ethnic groups last February when 200 Luo Nuer and 452 Murle were killed in a Luo Nuer assault on a Murle village. In April the Murle attacked a Luo Nuer area leaving 300 dead. Such clashes, described universally as tribal, have left more than 1000 people dead this year, the victims being largely women and children.

Pro-NCP newspapers practically rejoiced at the predicament, arguing that the situation proves the inability of the South to rule itself. SPLM politicians responded with the same argument on its head. A major general in the SPLA accused the central government of providing arms to the militias responsible for the attacks. He said the SPLA was trying to disarm the civilian population however its efforts were being thwarted by the continuous supply of arms supposedly from the North.

In essence, the NCP may well be providing militias in Southern Sudan with weapons, and the Government of Southern Sudan is surely having a rough time managing the legacy of a 22 year long war on its now semi-autonomous territory. However, both possible conditions of the situation are not satisfactory in themselves as an explanation for such a scale of violence, unless one buys in to the notion that Southern Sudan is in fact a constellation of warring tribesmen locked up in demonic pre-history. In that light the self-satisfied, even inert, determination of these outbursts of violence as tribal in nature obscures, even distorts the reality and historicity, I dare say modernity of the situation to justify and excuse combined state failure and an ambiguous intervention in the tradition of colonial maintenance of silent stability/dormant conflict.

The intuitive tribal explanation I claim is false. Murle and Nuer are neither tribesmen in any traditional sense of the word, nor is any party a simple passive tool of NCP conspiracy albeit plausible involvement. The realities of Southern Sudan deserve a better informed investment in understanding, most of all from the Government of Southern Sudan, the responsibility lies on its shoulders. If there is to be an investigation of the violence it can not be one based solely on the administrative rationale of disarmament and crime management. Communities don't battle it out at this cost for the sake of a tribal token. This violence has, no doubt, more superficial causes, the deep and dark notions of tribal animosity are but an ideological imaginative. Instead of tribe a more demanding exercise is needed, one that involves understanding the dynamics of local livelihoods, land ownership and relationships, administrative borders and political patronage systems, demobilisation and reintegration, demography and population movement, displacement and communal organisation, and yes private property, and so on and so forth. What we are witnessing is not the consequence of tribal divides, that is but a shadow of itself, rather the combined effect of war and state building, both are acts of violence - a modern conflict, a detribalised conflict despite appearances.

Tuesday 4 August 2009

Reinvention of Sudanese coordinates

One poignant characteristic of the current situation in Sudan is the damning static framework of possibilities politics moves in. At a certain level there are no politics, only a variety of attempts, more or less within the same ideological coordinates, at administering a situation that is cracking, sliding from the grip of the state. If you read political Sudanese literature from the 60's you get, may be, a (false) impression of diversity in a more promising sense of the word, not the dreary superficial current "human rights" version, a bureaucratic term of reporting, popular in the Western gaze on Sudan and its adherents in the Sudanese scene. I dare say a colonial gaze, not even a neo-colonial one, a gaze that transmits through its apparent excited innocence the obscene"will to civilize" that has fed the conscience of the scramblers for Africa. This obscenity becomes even more apparent if you indulge with a critical Fanonian mind in the anthropologised discourse on ethno-cultural diversity in Sudan.

Not to lose the point I wish to make briefly, if you flash through the current political discourse of political parties and movements in the country, rulers and opponents, irrespective of concrete political tactics, a startling similarity even consensus emerges: a formal recognition of the conditions of marginalisation and its consequences on the various populations of the country, a universal recognition of the facts of diversity, religious, ethnic and so on, a demand for liberal democracy with varying shades depending on the particular party or movement. However, it is also (not) surprising to miss any serious attempt at remaking the socio-economic structure that breeds marginalisation and injustice, that is apart from the claim of cultural divide as a ground for resolution.

Of course, with the Naivasha model this administrative rationale has become the guiding principle of the political game, thinking outside the Naivasha box is already blasphemy, from the perspective of predominant political actors and, more importantly no doubt, from the perspective of global guardians, the powerful politicians, and the nomadic NGO and media population, who keep flying in and out of the country. Naivasha, a geometric solution that ends with one, unity proved, or two, unity denied, was envisaged as a political process, at least in the mind of the late John Garang, judging optimistically by his promises, has degraded in essence to a state exercise, and the politics emanating from it to a formal procedure that has the notion of constitution/law as its paradigm. The fate of Abyei in this context is exemplary, a complex problem harboring a complex socio-political and historical reality submitted after much dodging to a court of law to decide upon. After the Abyei ruling the NCP was quick to declare that further points of disagreement between the two partners of the CPA should also be resolved in a similar fashion. My suggestion is, the PCA should open a local branch in Khartoum or Juba, that would at least allow for interesting watching, and may be reduce the costs, or on a second thought in Abyei, it is a North/South interface.

Sunday 2 August 2009

Sanctions calculus

It is quite a mental exerice to follow the lines of argument put forward by the "partners" of the CPA in response to the declaration of the Obama envoy in front of the Congressional Foreign Affairs Committee, the declaration that a review of the US sanctions against Sudan is due. Again, we are confronted with the damning fact, the obvious state of affairs that we seem committed to evade, that the fate and future of our country is the product of a calculus of factors and choices made beyond our embattered "national" reach. Government and formal opposition seem to be "actors", no metaphor here, playing according to an ad hoc scenario charged with the the colonial spirit of intervening saviours. The NCP expressed pleasure with the statements of General Gration (yet another General for our history books), and SPLM's Pagan Amum was quick to announce that it was to early to ease the "pressure" on the NCP, with whom he shares the power bed. JEM's Khalil was close to saying the American have lost their mind, there is genocide around here.

One thing is clear, US policy towards Sudan is changing lanes, not reversing course, course has long being reversed, not under Obama but under Bush, when post-9/11 considerations positioned NCP to play a reasonably prominent role in the war on terror in the African realm and in Iraq for that matter, a state of affairs that has surfaced in the American media since 2007 (Los Angeles Times, 11/06/07). It comes as no surprise then that the General, talking to Sudanese businessmen in Cairo, goes as far as saying Bashir is the only option you have for the near future. Considering the audience he was talking to and the power he represents the choice is well justified. The US wants a Sudanese Musharaf and it has one.

The demand made by Pagan Amum and Khalil Ibrahim to maintain sanctions against Sudan is in this context political bigotry. These sanctions have been in place since 1993, and effectively they have harmed the whole country except the NCP, particulary the thin sector of politically conscious professionals and trained workers who could manage to stay in the country despite repression, persecution and loss of livelihoods or the threat thereof. The US is not commissioned by SPLM and JEM to bring down the NCP rather the NCP seems now in a position to collect international, particulary, US satisfaction, and so it may. If there is to be any credible opposition to the current system of shares and cuts in Sudan it must find foot in the country before seeking a foreign constituency.

Monday 27 July 2009

Misseriya against Bashir

Yesterday, another Misseriya leader and notable, Kamil Babo Nimr, lashed out openly against Bashir in a meeting of 30 or so interested individuals, mostly Misseriya professionals resident in Khartoum. The meeting took place in the Graduate's Club of Khartoum University. He repeatedly described Bashir as a liar on the grounds of promises he failed to keep. According to Kamil's position what matters most to the Misseriya is whether they can get to the river or not (Bahr al Arab), oil aside. In that light the ruling of the PCA on Abyei may have well satisfied the government, but not the local Misseriya, adamant as they are on securing their grazing routes irrespective of the Noth-South divide. Kamil made the point of declaring that he carries a Kalshnikov rifle ready and loaded in his automobile. I wonder what use it will be.


During the latest phase of its clandestine existence (1989 - 2007) al Midan, the organ of the Communist Party of Sudan, welcomed its readers with a permanent demand as a footer: print, copy and distribute. In those days the paper was 6 - 12 pages size A4, published at an erratic rate of around once per month depending on available funds, materials, and of course underground circumstances.

Following the agreements in Naivasha and Cairo al Midan returned to the newspaper stands with a corrective note in its header: a daily newspaper published provisionally once per week; direct reasons being lack of cash, lack of staff and and sublime fatigue. Well, after a crash period of ups and downs al Midan slowly gained grasp of itself and its message, and has lately been able to publish twice weekly, a routine edition on Tuesdays and an extra, usually with focus on a single issue (elections, the economy, health care, housing..etc) on Thursdays. Two major obstacles face the future of this veteran paper (established 1954), obstacles that have grown with it since its inception, first and foremost poor funding, a permanent feature of resistance politics that remain unmillitarised and thus fail to claim international appeal; and second, but of primary importance, censorship. The censorship that Midan faces today has precedent only in the colonial past, it is officially on the market, yes, but its message and content is tightly controlled by a regular visitor who has taken more or less the function of editor in chief. Today the paper will simply not be issued, the late evening visitor from the Security Bureau decided to rip off approximately 60% of its content, news articles and Op-Eds. The pieces prevented from public display this edition include:
  • Leading editorial on water shortages in Khartoum: Khartoum suffers a chronic deficit in water supply. Where I live for example, in Omdurman, water taps have been largely dry for the past 6 weeks or so. A family of 5 needs to buy water delivered in a barrel on a donkey driven cart at a daily cost of 40 SDG (approx. 17 USD). Note that the salary of a university lecturer is in the range of 400 - 500 USD per month. Most daily papers have reported the problem of water in town, however Midan went a step further and dared to report a women led demonstration for water in Omdurman this week.
  • a public statment from the Communist Party in Um Rwaba (North Kordofan) demanding a review and reduction of the high taxes imposed on petty traders, teas sellers, taxi drivers and local nurseries. The statment also mentioned the annual cycle of teachers' strikes in the town, and demanded negotiation between teachers' representatives and the local authorities to ease the situation in the already forsaken public schools.
  • An interview with Joseph Modistu, former MP in the last elected parliament (1986) and prominent Southern Sudanese communist. Modistu criticized GoSS and spoke of rampant corruption and nepotism in the South. He went further to demonstrate similarities between NCP dictatorship in the North and SPLM rule in Southern Sudan. For Modistu unity is the unity of the disenfranchised and impoverished on both sides of the celebrated politco-cultural divide.
  • An article on the economic utility and ecological consequences of the government project to raise the Roseiris Dam on the Blue Nile. The article debates the government plans associated with the project in terms of transparency, property relationships, and effects on the ecology of the river and the region.
  • A column criticising the government's adherence to IMF blueprints and the latest request by the Minister of Finance for IMF financial and technical supervision, the first flash of which is an announced raise in indirect tax.
  • A report on the situation of residential land allocation in al Bawga South, an area South of Khartoum on the eastern bank of the Blue Nile, where squatter settlements are being forcibly cleared and land is being reallocated according to conditions and standards perceived by the population in the area as unjust.
This evening the security officer demanded from Midan's administration a signed committment not to publish any of the censored pieces on-line or in any other form. I don't know if they have actually signed, or what this signature would legally imply. One thing is clear however, we might as well go back to print, copy and distribute!

The image is of an issue of Midan dated 2 September 1965 celebrating its first edition 1954.

Sunday 26 July 2009

15 000 died

In today's edition of al Rai al Aam an official from the Popular Defence Forces (PDF) provided some statistics on the size of this force and its contribution to the war in Southern Sudan, for the first time as far as I know. The occasion being the "graduation" of 3500 PDF conscripts today in Dongola.
He claimed that no less than 3 million individuals have received some form of military training and taken part in PDF activities, military or otherwise. 500 000 have participated in military action in one or the other of the Sudanese-Sudanese frontlines, most prominently the war in Southern Sudan, in addition to the Nuba Mountains, Southern Blue Nile, Eastern Sudan and lately Darfur. Of this figure 15 000 died on the battlefield and 50 000 returned wounded.
Abdalla Osman, army general and current high commander of the PDF announced a plan to train 10 000 new recruits in the near future, to his side was the new paramilitary leader of the force, Abdalla al Jaili, the coordinator general of the PDF.
The mainsheet of Rai al Aam today reads: "15 000 PDF martyrs in the South". I was struck by the ambiguity of the statement. What is it? A celebration of death, a demonstration of loyalty through sacrifice, a declaration of cost. The obscenity is, the PDF is inclined to raise its sacrifice figures to prove its worthiness and the necessity of its mission. However, the greater the figures the less credibility it can claim as a fighting force of any efficiency. Exactly this point about inefficiency has been repeatedly made by professional army officers commenting on the PDF's contribution to war.
All that aside, what is it today that the PDF can do? It is a terribly helpless fighting force in case of war, that is clear, but it can provide a handy strike force against civilian dissent and a recruitment base and filtration sieve for the more rigidly controlled security apparatus. The PDF is a handy tool in rural politics, it provides an association based on a loosely defined political identity apart from the traditional brotherhoods and Sufi orders but in their communal masculine spirit, and a much more exciting one for that matter, since one actually learns how to use a rifle. If the PDF was an Islamist force in the 90's its ideology today is more racial than anything else, the same shift in NCP ideology from modernist Islamist doctrine to a vulgarised cultural notion of Northern Sudan centred around tribal affiliation and a set of patriarchal traditions and racial prejudices. An interesting point in this regard is the fact that former PDF fighters in peripheral Sudan constitute a large proportion of the rebel movements currently opposed to NCP rule, the high profile example of this dynamic is Khalil Ibrahim's JEM. Khalil himself was a PDF commander in Bahr al Ghazal before he became state minister of health in Darfur. This time round it seems the PDF will concentrate on NCP heartland, the river and the Gazira, I wonder if they will also experience a "third birth" and rebel.

Friday 24 July 2009

Abyei or no Abyei oil is the question

According to Asharq al Awsat a Misseriya leader, the head of a self-proclaimed mujahideen group, has announced his rejection of the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration, his major argument being the loss of water and grazing land. The gentleman attacked the NCP full thrust; the ruling party in the North in his perception is only interested in oil and thus let Abyei town go to the Dinka Ngok jubilant at the gain of the oil fields further North. The interesting twist is the point he made about shifting alliances. He entertained the option of siding with the SPLM in response, since interests of the Misseriya in pastures and water dictate that they look for political leverage down South rather than in Khartoum. It is no secret that the leaders of the Misseriya community have for long being natural allies of whoever rules in Khartoum, essentially for reasons pertaining to survival in a war-zone. It is the militarisation of the Misseriya and other frontline communities and their organisation in paramilitary groups that has gained them notoriety in the war between central government and SPLA. For Khartoum they have been for decades a sharp claw in its by proxy war effort.

The calamity that befell this relatively demonised community, pictured in Sudan's political mythology as blood-thirsty warriors - a parallel can be drawn here to the Abbala of Darfur - was multiplied with the advent of oil exploration. Human rights literature on oil has done a good job documenting the consequences of the industry on the communities of Southern Sudan proper, however it is difficult to find a note that refers to the fate of these so called "Arabs". According to this leader Khartoum used them in its war and now betrays them after it got the oil wells.

Conscious of the consequences of a fall out with the Misseriya Bashir speaking to NCP supporters and among them a number of Misseriya leaders laid great stress on his goverment's solemn committment to their cause, particulary their right to pastures and water, and promised coming benefits in reward for their sacrifices, in war and in "oily" peace.

Monday 20 July 2009

Southerners of the North

A few days ago, speaking to a large audience in the outskirts of Omdurman mostly IDPs from the late 80's and early 90's, SPLM Chairman and First Vice President Salva Kiir reiterated the position of the SPLM concerning the eligibility to vote in the upcoming referendum on self-determination for Southern Sudan. He stated that a Southern Sudanese is exclusively a person resident in Southern Sudan, and that Southern Sudanese who wish to vote should consequentially resettle in the South, otherwise they will loose their "right" to cast their votes on the question of self-determination. He added that Southerners who choose to stay in the North should consider themselves citizens of the North. They may well do so, but it is pretty unlikely that NCP authorities in the North, most probably they will maintain grip on power elections or no elections, will adhere to such a notion of citizenship. In that sense Southerners who do remain in North Sudan may well become, once again, a stateless population, simply non-citizens, not good enough for both states. I do not even want to imagine the possible consequences of such a situation. Those acquainted with the history of Khartoum know that the city's conscience is heavy with racial violence. The bloody incidents of 1965 (Clement Mboro's delayed plane) and 2005 (John Garang's death) demonstrate the ease with which the city can surrender to the anger of the mob.

Readers of al Intibaha newspaper, Khartoum's version of Rwanda's genocide radio stations would recognise with ease the identity doctrine that imprints on the political debate on Sudan and the irreconcilable dichotomies that characterise it: Arab vs African, Moslem vs Christian, and I dare say centre vs periphery. Only al Intibaha dares to carry the logic of these opposed poles to its ultimate consequences, in straightforward vulgarised form without the subtleties and qualifications that are the lot of "dignifed" anthropologised politics on Sudan. What the paper proposes is the final solution for Southern Sudan, its secession. With that secession the Arab Moslem identity of Northern Sudan should be restored, which means also all Southerners in the North - according to the questionable 2009 census half a million, according to other estimates triple or four times that figure - should disappear, either migrate to Southern Sudan, which many do not even recognise as home, or I fear face a Sudanese brand final solution. It seems the disenfranchised of unity may well in this framework emerge again as the prosecuted of secession.

Sunday 19 July 2009

In another world

A few days from now, next Thursday, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague will announce its ruling on the Abyei issue. Both parties, SPLM and NCP, have nominally agreed to maintain peace, and uphold the ruling of the court. Nevertheless, news of military build up in and around Abyei are heard and getting louder. Sudanese Armed Forces have a standing contingent, and the SPLA has mobilised 2 battalions of its forces from the Nuba Mountains to the area. At least that is the news in Khartoum. Assuming that Scott Gration, Obama's mission man in Sudan together with some foreign dignitaries and state officials will be in Abyei on the day of the ruling it seems unlikely that hostilities will break out immediately. Malik Agar from the SPLM gave a statement to the BBC saying there is bound to be disappointment on one side or the other. Ghazi Salah Eldin from the NCP said the two sides are working together to prevent renewed conflict. Both have just stated the obvious. Nevertheless it's good to know that party officials know this much. On the other hand, when such big men speak of peace the man on the street should surely suspect war.
A far fetched idea when talking about Abyei would be to imagine the impossible possibility of an in-house settlement. Would it be possible in some other world that a committee of Sudanese professional civil sevants and historians together with community leaders from the area work out a settlement that makes sense in terms of Abyei, and not just the Khartoum-Juba conundrum. I guess not, we have passed that point beyond regain or it is yet in front of us, way in front. It just sounds weird, a court in the Hague ruling on Abyei and an American general playing peace-maker in a Dinka-Misseriya dispute. Well, a counterpoint would be he did grow up in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and his parents were missionaries. So, he must by default have a touch for African predicaments. I guess he would. The better point would be it is not a Dinka-Misseriya dispute, with that I agree fully.

Monday 13 July 2009

What is in a flogging?

Khartoum's emailers received today an invitation by Ms Lubna Ahmed Husein, a prominent columnist with a reputation for annoying the authorities, to attend the court session where she, the accused, may well be punished with 40 lashes for "indecent dress" - a police Islameeze term which translates in this case into trousers. She was arrested together with a number of other young ladies from a Khartoum restaurant, some of whom immediately pleaded guilty, received 10 lashes and went on with their daily lives with another trauma on the pile. She, however has chosen to consult her lawyer and face a judge. The BBC caught up with the story and gave it a place on its Africa news pages under the title "Sudan women lashed for trousers". 
The practice of flogging women for "indecent dress" in Sudan, Khartoum in particular, is 20 years old, and dates back to the declaration of Sharia by Bashir & Co in 1990, and the establishment of a Sharia-based criminal law. A distinct police authority, largely recruited from the overzealous and determinately sexist, racist, chauvinist and younger poorer elements of the NIF lower cadre is responsible for enforcement of sections of the this Sharia based law pertinent to public behaviour - the Public Order Code, articles of which go as far as announcing the act of a man and a women sitting "thigh next to thigh"as criminal and "approaching fornication".
It is amazing how Khartoum's society has managed to subvert these declarations of false piety and chastity. Over the years and in flagrant disregard of all aspirations of the Public Order Code Khartoum's young women developed tactics and language that caricature the sexual fantasies of the men in beards enacted into law. The first phenomenon was probably the introduction of the ibaya - a wide black garment not popular previously in the Sudan. Young women would dress as they please, sometimes a minimum, and over their clothing of choice wear a ibaya for public appearance to their safer destination. This protective article of dress was dubbed in some circles al Islam. It became very popular particularly among young university students who would cover up when entering campus, where a female guard from the security apparatus is sure to check for appropriate clothing and prevent the "indecently" dressed from entering, and once inside would discard the ibaya into the handbag. To counteract such dress subversion female guards started to check not only the ibaya but what is beneath it.
Those exposed to Khartoum's subcultures probably know that two sections of the society have remained adamantly resistant to the Islamist dress code, the richer westernised class who can bribe their way out of police encounters, or who can afford to evade police control in their air-conditioned cars and concrete villas and relatively exclusive clubs; and the impoverished many. In the latter's case a whole new world of symbols came to express their disillusion with the Islamist pledges of justice and righteousness; well known are the slang songs of young girls and women that praise the boyfriend who sneeks into the house to satisfy the common needs of love, or the poignantly erotic lyrics that celebrate a potential husband whatever his ethnicity or social background, or the extensive rhymed annotations of a hooker's day on the road: names of streets and neighbourhoods and brands of cars. My favourite examples are the names given to articles of dress that obviously challenge the authorities' Sharia: "religion and politics" for cleavage exposing low cut tops; "separation of state and religion" for crop tops, and the "civilizatory project" (Islamist project) for miniskirts.
Now the nastier part of this note. Khartoum's liberal intellectuals rose in a flurry to support Ms Husein in her predicament, and organised a largely habitual gathering of solidarity in the premises of the SPLM-supported newspaper, Ajras al Hurriya, that was attended by senior party officials, Yasir Arman from the SPLM and Kamal Omer from the Popular Congress Party (Turabi's faction of the Islamist Movement). Ms Husein was there to demonstrate to the onlookers the article of clothing she was arrested for wearing, baggy pants. She is to attend court next week after being released on bail. The other young ladies who were also arrested in the incident did what most Sudanese young women would do in this situation, and remained nameless. Some bribed their way out of police custody and others surrendered to an immediate 10 lashes. This is how they have been surviving NIF madness for the past 20 years, largely unnoticed. In any case, they never made it to the BBC news service, their lot never deserved politics, may be sympathy. In essence, a flogging and another are not the same, there is always a class distinction.

Friday 10 July 2009

9th July 2009

According to the coalition of opposition parties, salient member of which are the Umma, DUP, Communists and the Popular Congress, the GoNU has lost constitutional legitimacy as of 9th July, and thus their diagnosis is a country in constitutional vaccum. In an initial response to this situation opposition representatives in parliament, who constitute a bloc of 14%, announced their pull out from the legisaltive assembly.
The opposition also voiced refusal of census results, and their objection to the unbalanced formation of electoral committees at state level.
The proposal made by the opposition is formation of an all inclusive national government to supervise elections and push the process of "democratic transformation". In a fiery spirit the opposition called on its supporters to take to the streets in support of the demand of a national caretaker governement.
The NCP's repsonse, as expected, has been adamant disregard to the arguments of the opposition. More interesting however is the formation of a joint NCP-SPLM committe that is to respond to the opposition's position.

Tuesday 30 June 2009

From the diary of an exhausted opposition

Today is the 20'th anniversary of the 30'th June coup that brought Omer al-Bashir and Co to power. I still remember in the early 90s when the National Democratic Alliance - a coalition of oppostion parties - was organising in Omdurman how much disbelief was in the air, particularly after the summary execution of the 28 officers (proposedly pro-Ba'ath) who had the guts to stage a counter-coup and eventually met their fate at the hands of the late Vice President Zubeir Mohamed Salih, who later died in a plane crash in the vicinity of Nasser, and the security chief of the time Nafie Ali Nafie, still alive and kicking as ever.
The general assumption of the political class at the time was that the NIF coup will not survive a few months, at the maximum a year. This perception survived into the mid-90's. In 1995, I was a freshman in Khartoum University at the time, the student movement in cooperation with opposition parties operating in clandestine organised a series of demonstrations, that came to be known as the "1995 Uprising" in the urban resistance mythology of Khartoum. At the time the sensation was "freedom around the corner", even more so when news of scattered military gains of the NDA, in particular Abdel Aziz Khalid's Sudanese National Alliance began to reach Khartoum. Later on we came to understand how inconsequential the whole attempt at military action via Eritrea and into Northern Sudan was. In essence, the more military action raged in the border regions the more political resistance in the North lost ground, and to a greater degree surrendered to the hope of a victorious NDA liberating Khartoum through a military campaign. This particular false wish was to prove deadly to political recruitment and initiative inside the country - al-dakhil in NDA jargon. The weaving of hopeful expectations became the political act per se, and nothing else.
Reflecting back, it is amazing how much time and energy was spent tending to the injured pride of Khartoum's elite, and how little on political activism in the positive sense of the word. At the core of this misguided approach was the political imagination that a reversal of developments and a return to the zero hour of the coup, was the objective to attain, a perception that still prevails in some circles of the "opposition". Well, history has proven the futility of return, Ingaz simply survived all that fuss with the virtue of perserverence on one hand, and the ages old tactic of divide and rule combined with a mastery of perpetual procrastination on the other. The ruthlessness and violence of the regime need not be mentioned in this regard. It is difficult but necessary to state that the Northern opposition simply failed to recover from the trauma it suffered in the first years of Ingaz. The legacy of those years of terror has had a much deeper effect on our collective psyche than we wish to admit, as individuals and as institutions. The victim status that we came to accept lingers as ever ridding us of the urgency of agency and the creativity of subjective action. Comparing the demonstrations and activism of 1995 - 1996 with the throttled politcal initiatives of today we were then free in a sense we are surely not today. At least we had the nerve to break the rules and embrace dissent. Today dissent is tricky, not primarily because of the security grip, that is a secondary cause, but because of the exhaustion of our common political imagination. In the greater number of instances the political opposition in Khartoum simply has no idea "what is to be done?" A salient example is the response to Ocampo's arrest warrant. Irrespective of the judicial integrity of the process, and the wider political repercussions. In Khartoum the opposition paradoxically responded expressing fears of "constitutional vacuum". At the time when in anti-war protest we were tearing down life sized pictures on metal sheets of NIF martyrs in Southern Sudan from University Avenue (Sharia al-Jama'a to those familiar with street signs in Khartoum) it was exactly such vacuum that we were looking for. It comes then as no surprise that the gut response of the opposition to all political issues is let us organise a national conference for that. It is admirable to see so much willingness for debate, but in its reverse side this generosity signals how little in terms of programme or plan is on the table.

The image captures sentiments of the four opposition leaders from left to right Ali Mahmoud Hassanien, Deputy Chairman of the Democratic Unionis Party (DUP), Mohammed Ibrahim Nugud, Secretary of the Sudanese Communist Party, Hassan Abdallah al-Turabi, Chairman of the Popular Congress Party (PCP) and al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, Chairman of the Umma Party, brought together in a meeting with Jan Pronk at a Khartoum hotel in June 2006.

Saturday 27 June 2009

What is it with foreign intervention? (3)

In an angry response to Scott Gration's new diagnosis of the current situation in Darfur as non-genocide/consequence of genocide SLM/A Paris-based leaded Abdel Wahid fired back with the claim that the Darfur conflict constitutes an on-going genocide expressing his disppaointment at such high profile back tracking from the US Administration on a question it had raced to name with the G word.
Irrespective of the accuracy of the diagnostic dilemma it is interesting to see how these claims play out in the internal politics of the region. Talking to the AU Panel an IDP chief in Zalingei, Adam Boush, insisted on the case that the conflict is one between Darfur and Khartoum, with an interpretation of history that set the onset in 1874, the overthrow of the Fur Sultanate by the aspiring Zubeir Pasha Rahama. In the same line the IDP representative denied the existence of inter-communal conflict in Darfur and pulled the argument through to demand self-determiantion for Darfur. The IDP representative went further to voice diasappointment and anger at AU and UNAMID, and followed on with the statement: "We are the victims, and we do not object to American soldiers coming to protect us". An account of the encounter is posted by Alex de Waal http://blogs.ssrc.org/darfur/2009/06/23/it-went-well-we-told-them-the-au-panel-in-zalingei/.
Another spokesperson of the IDPs, Hussein Abu Sharati, expressed similar anger at Gration's remarks homing on the genocide claim in relation to land. For him the essence of the Darfur conflict is land: "The militias are engaged in this genocide because the government had promised them our fertile land that they are now occupying illegally after changing its features." …"So what we want is our land not any other land because what Gration is saying is exactly what the government is trying to implement: settle the IDPs in other places while their lands are given to the pro-government militias and we will never accept this issue."
As such the two intersecting planes of the Darfur conflict are demonstrably in play: the insurgency-counterinsurgency and the civil war, and in both land is the essential contention for the communities involved.
Mbeki's response to the call for American soldiers was the following “You can make this demand for American or European forces to replace UNAMID. It will not happen. We should not operate on the basis of a dream that is not going to be realized.” I think it is a bad dream. Actually, how did we get here at all?

Tuesday 23 June 2009

What is it with foreign intervention? (2)

In a piece of news from Reuters today http://www.reuters.com/article/homepageCrisis/idUSHEA243369._CH_.2400 it was announced that the attendees of the Washington conference on Sudan will list amongst others China's Sudan envoy Liu Guijin and representatives of the countries and bodies that witnessed the signing of the CPA including the United Nations, the Arab League, Britain, Italy and Egypt.
Remarkably absent are the Sudanese in continuation of the conflict resolution logic that exhausts the Sudanese dilemma in the binary configuration of South (African Christian/Animist) versus North (Arab Moslem). A logic that seems to resist both factual evidence on the ground and a burgeoning discourse in Sudan and in critical Western academia, however it remains the guiding principle of political action on Sudan, more so on the part of the two adversaries/partners of the CPA, and as such it has never faded away from media reporting on the country.
One reason for this is that it serves to a great degree the interests of the two hegemons of the country, NCP in the North and SPLM in the South, as justifier for power and as a battle cry. And it serves in parallel as a simple paradigm of action for foreign interests involved in the Sudan looking for a quick pragmatic fix that maintains a centre of authority, or for that matters two centres of authority, to address.
The cost of this trade-off here is this bizarre situation were coalition partners in a government that goes by the name of "National Unity" cross the wide ocean to negotiate on matters of "national" concern in a foreign capital with mediation from all over the world but not from their own country. To fantasise the reality of this one would have to suppose a situation where the Tories and Labour, be they in ruling coalition, flying off to Harare to settle their disputes with Mugabe as mediator!
It is noteworthy that the NCP delegation in Washington was supposed to be headed by Vice President Ali Osman Mohamed Taha, a man Western powers consider since signing of the CPA a person to do business with. Now, in light of the not so insignificant distrust between Taha and Bashir he was put off the job and the Machakos chief negotiator Ghazi Salah Eldin was installed in his place. In angry response Taha announced his intention to perform the pious procedures of umra in Mecca and boarded a plane accompanied by his family to Turkey, his regular refuge and planning hub in times of crisis. Talking to Islamists from the Turabi faction their initial comment was Khartoum is not big enough for both Ali Osman and Ghazi, like a pair of pistons if one goes up the other goes down. Considering Ghazi's announced position regarding the CPA Bashir is looking for a "new deal", one that reflects his survival of Ocampo's aborted charge and the refractioning of SPLM post-Garang. He is on the offensive this time.

Friday 19 June 2009

What is it with foreign intervention? (1)

Whenever I talk to international activists/officials involved in Sudanese affairs the question they raise almost instinctively is “what can the international community do for Sudan?”, rephrased “what is the role of the international community?”
I guess the question, repeated so much yet not satisfactorily answered, must be inherently false, and it is in the nature of false question to provoke the hottest of debates, whilst answers to it are rendered irrelevant by the sheer momentum of events. I will try in the following to briefly articulate the Sudanese responses to the question and highlight the backdrop of each.
The National Congress Party (NCP) committed polemically to a stance of national sovereignty will ultimately go down in Sudanese history as the regime that witnessed and tolerated the widest foreign intervention, military and otherwise, in Sudanese affairs, paradoxical as this may seem. Today Sudan is a carrier of a massive contingent of UN troops, much larger than the forces once required for its conquest and subjugation in the late 19th and early 20th century. Yet this presence is still not sufficient to maintain peace and order!
In political terms Sudanese peace (dis)agreements are an itinerary of foreign travel: Frankfurt, Geneva, Naivasha, Cairo, N’djamena, Abuja, Asmara, Sirte, Doha...etc. A number of great powers employ an official for full time high level engagement with the Sudan with the title “Special Envoy”: e.g. the American, the Chinese, the Russian, and the Canadian at some time. It is no secret that Khartoum goes through great pains to reconcile with its foreign “adversaries” compared to its dismal disregard to “indigenous” dissent. For that matter, meetings between the rulers of Khartoum and foreign envoys or officials define the rules of the game much more than internal political debates, unless these evolve into open warfare.
The latest demonstration of this pattern are the tripartite talks between the two partners of the Government of National Unity (GoNU), NCP and SPLM, and the US Administration, with Scott Gration, the current Special US Envoy to Sudan, as senior mediator; a political process that should have been well served within the Sudanese domain, with involvement of other political parties, something Sudanese debates refers to with the idiom of a “constitutional conference” to coordinate and refine peace agreements and foresee their implementation. An idea both partners of the GoNU continue to refuse or undermine by staging parallel tracks of political theatre, the Kenana Forum (NCP) and the Juba Conference (SPLM), however they jointly welcomed the idea of US mediation in preparation for an international conference on Sudan to convene in Washington next Tuesday.

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This work by Magdi El Gizouli is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.