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