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