Thursday, 15 April 2010

The next government

According to Mr Ghazi Salaheldin the NCP is extending a flirtatious invitation to opposition political parties, including the boycotting Umma, to join the next 'Government of National Unity'. So the apparent is a government probably joining NCP, SPLM and the Democratic Unionist Party. The Umma Party, after cashing in two billion Sudanese pounds may well follow suit. Umma Party leader, Mr Sadiq al Mahdi, speaking to Egyptian web-based Africa Alyom has declared his readiness to cooperate with the coming government, while his second in command, Fadalla Burma, cautiously welcomed dialogue with a note that it was too early to commit to a coalition. The notorious Turabi is not expected to be too hesitant. He has already voiced readiness to jump in on the condition that the NCP reverts to the principles of the 1989 coup!

The evident is that the NCP is slowly approaching achievement of the National Islamic Front's penultimate fantasy: hegemony with consent, i.e. a broad coalition led by the Islamists with the two sectarian parties, Umma and DUP, at the flanks. In essence what is crystallizing now is the dialectical opposite of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the umbrella organisation joining opposition to the NIF regime throughout the nineties, SPLM, Umma, Communist Party, and trade unions. Purged in the re-arrangement are the forces accused of capacity to spoil the game. The above follows the logic of Khartoum's saloon politics, marathon talks and tedious tactics. A factor however that may obstruct the NCP's ambitions is pressure from below, particularly that socio-economic shifts in Sudan have weakened the grip of sectarian leaders on their followers. The Umma Party base refused to follow Mr Sadiq al Mahdi hints at possible albeit conditioned participation in the elections following his initial withdrawal from the race and pressured the old leader into holding stubborn ground. The same uneasiness with al Mahdi's line may eventually prevail and keep him out of government.

The NCP, apart from long term visions of ultimate hegemony, is keen to get as many political hands as possible into the upcoming and decisive phase, where the South is expected to secede, a break in post-colonial history that it cannot afford to shoulder alone, but is hard pressed to throw into a national basket of responsibility.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010


In response to the electoral process Sudanese groups are making amazing efforts to point out legal and administrative gaps and flaws, a tremendous undertaking by itself, including cumbersome video documentation on youtube and others, and detailed lists of errors and mishaps.
Despite relevance this approach seems to miss the elephant. The problem with the running election is not its legal and administrative flaws, rather the political context at large. Even if the elections were 'free' and 'fair' they remain questionable in principle. Judging by Sudan's modern history the current phase is one in a serious of foiled transitions from autocratic rule to elected government marred by war or consequences of war , 1953-1956, 1964-1965, and 1985-1986. In all three a decisive shift in power forced a care-taker government into office which shouldered the responsibility to organise elections and establish democratic rule. In all three however failure to resolve the civil war in Southern Sudan with all that it implies proved to be the demise of 'democracy'. Now, in modern Sudan's fourth transition the question of the North-South conflict awaits resolution via a referendum on the future of Southern Sudan. Power, though, has evaded democratic transition, bearing in mind that a balance of weakness dictated the terms of peace. As such the situation bears semblance to the Addis Ababa Accord of 1972, whereby the South gained autonomous rule but the North remained under dictatorship. Once hailed as an achievement of African unity the collapse of the Addis Ababa Accord initiated the bloodiest phase of the North-South conflict, which in turn undermined the short lived democracy of 1986-1989.
From the above the entanglement of peace and democracy seems obvious. The CPA, amongst other concerns, sought to address the two issues simultaneously and thus break out of the post-independence deadlock of war-coup-uprising via an agreed settlement of national issues.
The CPA however has evolved independent of popular decision, into a patchwork of secondary bargains between the two power blocs in North and South, most prominent of which is the last apparent trade-off between NCP and SPLM, maintenance of NCP autocracy as a guarantee for timely conduct of the referendum. Yasir Arman's latest comment on the 'deal' is particularly revealing. He argued that SPLM's boycott of the elections preserves social peace in Sudan. Well, in essence he is right, but in consequence he is surely not. First of all the SPLM did not boycott the elections, it pulled out its presidential candidate, and a faction of the SPLM in North Sudan acted against the declared decision of SPLM leadership and similarly pulled out of the electoral race, Darfur being another question all together. In South Sudan SPLM versus SPLM elections are up and running in a similar vein to NCP hegemony in the North. Second, by declining democracy at a national level the SPLM/NCP pact is not only endangering social peace left to the devices of a potential disenfranchised mob without clear political agenda but endangering the utmost gain of the CPA, the referendum, by its disentanglement from democratic transformation in the centre of power.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Greetings from Gration

Sudan is not voting but the international community surely is. This at least is the impression one gets reading the international news coverage of the vote in Sudan. Simon Tisdall, in a piece published Friday in the Guardian argued against 'rubbishing' the process, admitting however to its logic, namely 'democratic' delivery of the South to the SPLM and the North to the NCP, although not bothered by it.

The broad line is, the international community, the 750 plus international observers included, seem to be satisfied, rather outright supportive, of submitting to the autocratic rationale of delivering the country to the interests of two miltary regimes, without consideration whatsoever to the will of a dienfranchised population. The elections, as they run, simply provide an 'international' stamp of attestation to camouflaged dictatorship(s), similar to the costly recognition of academic certificates by foreign embassies.

The scare however goes beyond the problem of democratic legitimacy. Implied in this attestation is signature of Sudan's partition into two, if not several Sudans. According to the long buried CPA, overruled by Grationate designs, Sudan's unity was an objective to be attained. In CPA jargon the Government of National Unity (GoNU) shoulders the duty of 'making unity attractive'. Well it failed to do so!

The alternative to the GoNU by the gun was supposed to be an elected GoNU representing popular will. One capable by virtue of popular support to address Sudan's intractable conflicts, and by implication to address the question of unity in earnest. This alternative has been aborted in favour of wider geopolitical concerns, and with it the prospect of the Sudanese taking things in their hands and deciding on their future. Uncontested as they stand, the SPLM and the NCP will not lose in these elections, win they must. The Sudanese however lose all but their chains, these remain put, with greetings from Gration!

Friday, 9 April 2010

Election scribbles

According to the prevailing Grationate design securing a win for Bashir & Co on the national level provides a guarantee for the ‘smooth’ conduction of the scheduled referendum on the future of Southern Sudan, and on the other end, endangering the current balance of power may jeopardise the major gains of the CPA, peace and referendum.

The argument is simple and straightforward; Bashir signed and thus should be signed in till fulfilment of pledges. However what the argument fails to capture is the inherent dynamic set free by the CPA despite flaws and gaps.

First: the NCP entering the elections is not necessarily the NCP emerging from it. In the evolving socio-economic environment post-CPA realignment of patronage bonds within the NCP has created several platforms of dissatisfaction, loudly apparent in Gedaref and Gezira over the past year. Nafie Ali Nafie’s control sweep over the past months may have silenced these temporarily; nevertheless bills have to be paid if the NCP is to rule unbothered from within. The election process and the outcome of the election provide further ground for manoeuvring within the NCP between competing factions, regional at most, but also at top leadership level.

Second: irrespective of the vote and Bashir’s expected ‘landslide’ the NCP is hard-pressed to forge alliances beyond the SPLM if it is to secure its rule over the remaining interim period. The penultimate dream of Islamist hegemony would be an all North coalition with NCP in the spearhead and DUP and Umma at the flanks, one that is not all too improbable, if Bashir remains adamant on refusing Turabi’s re-entry, an alternative entertained by some on both side of the Islamist rift.

Third: Bashir may have temporarily silenced Darfuri guns through the remerging Ndjamena-Khartoum axis. Nevertheless, as long as no lasting peace agreement is achieved the current political process offers Darfur no more than crumbs; a resurgence of warfare thus retains attraction.

Third: in his campaign for presidency the incumbent has been riding the national roller-coaster less so the partisan NCP line, however with one major contradiction, in the South quick to promise timely conduction of the referendum and commitment to its outcome, and in the North championing the cause of unity. For the time being he seems capable of pleasing many, including Mr Gration, but which word will he hold?

Monday, 5 April 2010

Gration for President!

Presiding over the Sudanese election is the General from the US playing king maker. Over the past 48 hours the US State Department’s position as expressed by Mr Gration has been the decisive element overhauling the mess of contradictory statements made by the mainstream opposition parties in the North, the last being the (Governor) General’s declaration that the elections would be as “free and fair as possible”, after an apparently candid meeting with members of the National Electoral Commission.
Bashir and Kiir, generals themselves, can rejoice at such high profile approval from the most powerful state in the world, however, for how long, and at what price? If the hypothesis of a Gration-mediated ‘no trespassing’ deal between the two power blocs, Bashir and Co and Kiir/Machar is to be accepted what follows is not necessarily a guarantee of a stable post-elections government nor for that matter a smooth referendum and a peaceful secession. Maintenance of the balance of power requires a sovereign above the wrangling of the two, which both acknowledge, and to which both turn to for respite and consideration. In theory, that should be the Sudanese constituency; and the vote should be the tool to channel the will of this constituency. In practice, however, as has been evident for the last few months, and acutely so in the last few days, the General seems to be the sovereign per procurationem. His word is the final and his judgement the ultimate!
The government expected to emerge from the current situation remains a military one, resting on the ultimate legitimacy of military power. Elections as they are set to take place may well satisfy Grationate criteria of freedom and fairness, but they will, by no means, achieve popular legitimacy. What is taking place is a consolidation of autocratic rule via formal democratic means.
The siphoning of political space via the NCP and SPLM, with the tools of the CPA, has generated a situation of blackmail, where opposition to the status quo is equated with opposition to the CPA, to the referendum, to peace, in other words where opposition is an impossible possibility. The choices left to political imagination are too narrow and, yes, too risky, to consider aloud. In any case, they will not find favour with Mr Gration.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

No trespassing please!

Now, the political scene is at a juncture of reckoning, reaping the consequences of 20 years NIF ‘revolution’ and 20 years civil war. The confrontation that was supposed to be stream-lined and facilitated by CPA arrangements, denied at times and delayed at other, in the guise of a ‘democratic transformation’ is ultimately taking shape, however not across the lines once expected, appearances notwithstanding.
In brief, the CPA was an attempt at restructuring the Sudanese state via a political bargain that both ends the civil war by means of self-determination for South Sudan and provides an exit from the NIF dictatorship through democratic means creating a ‘legitimate’ vote supported government entrusted with making unity attractive. The driving algorithm of the agreement is inherent in the late John Garang’s solution modalities put forward in his Iowa State University speech 2002, namely the choice between a united secular democratic ‘new’ Sudan, two confederal states, or two separate states, one Black African and one Islamic Arab. These two objectives, resolution of the North-South conflict and democratic rule, have been drifting apart since the debate on the Interim Constitution immediately after signing of the CPA. Today they seem irreconcilable.
Despite the critique that can be made against a rationale that equates between citizenship and ethnopolitical identity it has largely withheld, serving the interests of the power blocs signatory to the CPA. However the arrangement designed to address the Sudan as a whole has boiled down to a convenience tactic for the rulers, fencing off competition at all costs. The NCP wants to maintain and consolidate hegemony over North Sudan even at the cost of ‘losing’ the South. The SPLM, already a ruler of a proto-state in the South, cannot afford to endanger its hard won prize from a 20 years long war, the referendum. Accordingly the two are conjoined in pragmatic convenience, relatively resistant to ‘democratic transformation’.
The decisive factor in the ambiguity of the last few days has been the position of the United States on the question. General Gration has not saved an effort to maintain the status quo established by the agreement, SPLM manages the South and NCP harnesses the North, and no trespassing please! Such is the American design for stability in the Sudan. It may well work out and generate two countries post-referendum. What happens next though is beyond Grationate design.
Creative Commons Licence
This work by Magdi El Gizouli is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.