Tuesday 29 June 2010

Border woes

The BBC reported this Monday that some 14 000 Luo Nuer have been expelled from Upper Nile, and are on trek to neighbouring Jonglei. The massive population movement into Akobo county, reportedly the ‘hungriest place on earth’, is causing a humanitarian crisis of severe intensity. The area in question has been the site of fierce battles between competing pastoral groups. According to an April 2010 Small Arms Survey report the death toll in Jongeli and Upper Nile in 2009 was above 2000, featuring targeting of villages and killing of women and children in a series of blood-letting episodes between the Luo Nuer and the Murle, and the Luo Nuer and Jikany Nuer, among others.   
The decision to expel the Luo Nuer from Upper Nile is a surgical solution devised by local officials lacking in imagination. However, it puts to the forefront the issue of tribal territoriality, a notion quite in contradiction with the quest for citizenship, so dear to all Sudanese, the Southern Sudanese in particular. Apparently local officials are acting on the grounds that the Luo Nuer have no right to reside where they are now following border re-drawing between the neighbouring states, Upper Nile and Jonglei. On extrapolation what will the consequences of border demarcation between North and South be if an internal Southern border results in disenfranchise of entire populations and their expulsion en masse from their places of dwelling. The post-conflict situation in Southern Sudan certainly presents local administrators with similar conundrums elsewhere, considering the large-scale population movements resulting from the 20 years North-South and South-South civil war. The precedent of an industrial solution to such an organic problem does not promise well, on the contrary it violates a basic tenet of liberation: citizenship.

Thinking ahead, what sort of industrial solutions will local administrators devise for the seasonal movement of Northern pastoral groups into Southern state territory; or for that matter the ongoing return of Southern Sudanese IDPs from the squatters of Khartoum and other Northern towns to the Promised Land? Along the South-North border from West to East entire communities move on seasonal basis in their annual quest for water and grazing: the Rizeigat, the Misseriya, the Habbaniya, the Hawazma, the Fellata, Awlad Salim and others. The closure of borders and their freeze on the basis of indigeneity is an explosive recipe that can only breed warfare.

Southern Sudan has the opportunity to groom citizenship unfolding from the imminent plebiscite on self-determination instead of dissolving it in the fissures of tribal territories. This promising act of liberation however is doomed if it does not invent a category of belonging beyond the ever divisive claims of autochtony. Well, let us hear Roger Winter’s take on this! 

Saturday 26 June 2010

Convince Winter

On Thursday the new US embassy buildings in Khartoum were inaugurated in the presence of lead US Sudan diplomat, Scott Gration, and assistant secretary of state for African affairs, Johnie Carson, and in the absence of a US ambassador to Khartoum. The new structures comprise 9 buildings including marine barracks and consulate quarters at the cost of 170 million USD. In terms of money the US government is the number one donor to Sudan. Since 2005 USAID has provided around 6 billion USD largely as food aid, compare that figure with the 10 billion USD volume of Chinese investments in Sudan.

That said, probably the most significant US donation to the country is Roger Winter, since 2006 voluntary advisor to the government of Southern Sudan, described by the New York Times Magazine as ‘the Man for a New Sudan’.  Southern Sudan has been the focus of the man’s career since 1981. At the time he served as Executive Director of the US Committee for Refugees and continued to do so until 2001 when he became Assistant Administrator of USAID. In 2005 he was appointed special representative of the deputy secretary of state for Sudan. On his retirement in 2006 he chose to continue his mission in voluntary fashion and remained in Juba as advisor to GoSS.  

Speaking in July 2009 before a congressional committee hearing on Sudan policy and the implementation of the CPA Roger Winter argued persistently for the inevitable separation of Southern Sudan, via the 2011 referendum, or if need be via a unilateral declaration of independence. In an emotional defence of GoSS and the SPLM Winter declared that the ‘people of the SPLM are democrats’, in parallel to what he described as an NCP 100% track record in violating agreements. Apparently, Roger Winter believed in the ‘New Sudan’, in the clause of the CPA that obliges the two partners to make unity attractive, and in the potential of ‘democratic transformation’. However the NCP killed his hopes in ‘all that jazz’, and he changed his views. His pursuit now is what he terms a ‘soft landing’ post-referendum; and his recommendation to the US ‘to fully embrace the people of the South and Abyei’, as a moral obligation.

The ‘Man of the New Sudan’ will probably rejoice at the secession of the South more than many a regular inhabitant of the new country, and enjoy the deep satisfaction of a life’s mission accomplished. I only wonder what his contribution will be in easing the pain of those stuck on the barricades of the two new states, the disenfranchised across the ‘soft border’, and the creoles of the North-South entanglement. Whom will he yet embrace? 

Monday 21 June 2010

Not good riddance: an interview with Alfred Lokuji

Alfred Sebit Lokuji (PhD) is an independent consultant specialised in governance and development issues and a Lecturer at the Catholic University of Sudan. His most recent report, published by the North-South Institute, focuses on police reform in Southern Sudan. I met Dr Lokuji in Rumbek (Southern Sudan) where he was teaching on the annual Sudan Course of the Rift Valley Institute. 

Sudan is steadily heading towards the referendum that marks the finish line of the CPA. What are the immediate challenges facing self-determination of Southern Sudan?

Before all else a highly credible referendum commission must be set up, one that is autonomous and independent, not an agent or a tool of either the NCP or the SPLM. If this is done a credible voters list must be produced, box stuffing must be prevented. There should also be a clear agreement on who has the right to vote. The organisation and procedure of the referendum must be better than the elections.  Actually, the elections should have been a stepping stone towards the referendum, an exercise if you wish in the conduction of a proper vote. I think, neutral symbols are also important, ones that do not affect the choice of the voter, since most voters cannot read and write. There are also other concerns to be addressed. It has been agreed that a turnout of over 60% of registered voters constitutes the threshold of an acceptable result. There are opportunities for manipulation, and these must be addressed. For instance, how to deal with spoiled ballots, and how to guarantee an authentic count?  

There is a debate in the press that a secession vote does not necessarily imply independence of Southern Sudan.

A secession vote means independence, however between the two events there is a legal and constitutional process that may take some time. Putting the will of the people as expressed by the vote into effect will be a difficult process. The caution is however, how long the people of Southern Sudan are ready to wait; and the elites in Southern Sudan, are they ready for the popular expression of that will? I sincerely warn of confusing elite level calculations and tactics with popular will. Consider as an example what happened to Samson Kwaj when he supported the notion of transferring Ounduruba from Juba County to Lainya County.

In case of secession, what Southern Sudanese interests remain to the north of the border?

Two primary concerns I suppose. The first is the fate of Southern Sudanese citizens in Khartoum. I do not mean here the established Southern professionals who enjoy stable livelihoods and careers but the bulk of destitute IDPs who cannot even manage to come back to the South. The worst thing Khartoum can do is to use these people as a bargaining chip. The elite in Southern Sudan do not pay this issue sufficient attention. Additionally, the Southern elite have acquired properties of high value in Khartoum, largely real estate. I wonder if they are sincere in their call for secession considering the economic interests they have in the North. There are also Northern citizens in Southern Sudan, however their properties do not compare in volume with Southern properties in the North. It is important to be accommodating on both sides. Other than that, oil as a communal property may provide the basis for a friendly relationship. For instance, why should the South bother to spend money on constructing a new pipeline when there is an existing pipeline to Port Sudan? Khartoum and Juba can become economic partners provided that greater transparency of the oil industry is ensured. It is commendable if North and South can work on this for their mutual interest.

Khartoum has recently launched a campaign for unity, while a parallel campaign for secession is underway in the South. How do you expect Khartoum to behave in the case of secession?

The ideal scenario would be a win-win game, where both countries cooperate for the sake of common interests. Alternatively I expect Khartoum to militarily occupy the oil fields, intensify its military presence in Abyei, and naturally question the South’s share of oil revenues. In that case the SPLA may be tempted to embrace war generating a lose-lose situation. Is it advisable though that the South restrains itself for sometime bearing in mind the need to consolidate nationalist sentiment in the South and the need to make independence attractive and thus buy time to allow better handling of Khartoum’s hostilities. The South needs to invest in the international support and recognition of its independence in the face of Khartoum belligerence, before resorting to military means.

Regarding international support, the US government through its Envoy to Sudan, General Scott Gration, has been intimately involved in management of the CPA and its implementation. What do you make of US policy towards Sudan?

I think the US government first and foremost wants to avoid another Iraq or another Afghanistan, or a new Libya in the region for that matter. That is why it has not intervened in Sudan militarily beyond the bombing of the Shifa factory. Despite domestic and international pressure the US refrained from declaring a no-fly-zone over Darfur. Another factor is that the US is currently not reaping any benefits from Sudan’s oil despite the early engagement of Chevron. The Americans will be satisfied if things just don’t get worse.

What do you think then is the American position on secession of the South?

It is natural to hear non-provocative statements from the US administration. I think the US wants to inspire some sense of neutrality vis-a-vis the North, as opposed to the line taken by agents like Philip Winter who have been associated with the liberation movement in the South since the 1960’s.

The state(s) aside, how do you see the future of North-South relationships at popular level?

I think the belief in Islam generates a superiority complex, one that is not actually grounded in religious text, but nevertheless. This sense of superiority breeds condescension and outright dismissal on both sides. You can overcome this barrier in the field of cultural exchange and interaction whenever social norms and beliefs allow. If you notice, in their confrontation with the Soviet bloc the Americans always insisted on forwarding cultural exchange as a means of influence. Northern and Southern intellectuals have always created personal bonds between them, so in essence it is possible. However, it has to be recognised that the common man bears common prejudices.
I suggest the promotion of theatre, not parody by Northerners about Southerners, but theatre of the self, where Northerners enact their own behaviour towards Southerners and vice versa. We may thus be able to break prejudices and move away from stereotypes. Moreover an open media policy is needed so that North and South can see each other and maintain exchange. This is actually part of our mutual liberation, since perpetuation of prejudices indicates the level of imprisonment in the self.

Is there a future then beyond the North-South conflict?

Your question has bearing on the entire African scene. If you observe interaction between young people, for instance between Kenyans and Ugandans, you see incredible bonding across tribal affiliations. The condition for bonding at grass roots level is reduction of restrictions to cultural exchange and promotion of media. With provision of the right channels and means of information young people can grow up free of the prejudices of their parents generation, because of the different sources of information and means of communication they are exposed to.
People in the North and South can do just that. You may have noticed how popular Northern singers and musicians are in the South. Instead of just singing love songs they should also sing material that bears on the daily life of Northern and Southern Sudanese. Instead of guns music can carry the message across the border.

What does independence of the South mean more than 50 years after independence of the Sudan?

I think it is a wonderful thing for the South, and equally so for the North. It frees both from the preoccupation with conflict and the hegemony of military governments and agents. It certainly creates opportunities as well as dangers for both North and South. An independent Southern Sudan will make the Southerners realise that they do not have an accountable government. In the South, we are inheriting the same autocratic mode of government we have been subject to all these years. On independence Southerners will discover that they have merely drawn a line on the map calling it a border, but the hakuma (government) has not actually changed. The citizen in the South will then begin to think I want to control this thing called hakuma. That is the start of the real struggle, a struggle for a truly democratic government that reflects the will of the people, one that has not been accomplished in either South or North. John Garang had a fantastic idea of a New Sudan, however it ended up in mere sloganeering and rally cries. The South must pay attention to minorities and their concerns. My Dinka brothers need to devise a correct interpretation of the status of a majority, and how this majority expresses itself.
If Khartoum continues to be ruled by Bashir the North will fail further in analysing history and understanding its predicament. In that case peoples in Darfur, in the Nuba Mountains, in Southern Blue Nile, and in other marginalised areas will push in the same route that the South has taken. South Sudan has gone down that route because of Khartoum’s failure to handle the Sudan correctly. The independence of the South is not on any account good riddance of the South but rather a feature of the disintegration of the country called Sudan.

Sunday 20 June 2010

Beyond flags

Sitting on Juba’s Nile bank this Sunday, in one of many camp hotels that capture the venture/frontier nature of this booming town, I watched how a cargo barge steered loudly along the White Nile hoisting two flags in seeming reconciliation, Numairi’s version of the Sudanese national flag as inspired by the pan-Arab motivations of the 1960’s, and the SPLM flag bearing a yellow star, the insignia of liberation movements all over the world.

Passing the main streets of Juba I could not help noticing how businesses, and not GoSS institutions, announced themselves in both Arabic and English, apparently a necessity of the market. The barge and the shop signs signify a large domain of what constitutes the North South entanglement: enterprise. The ever cited image of the vicious jellaba, tradesmen, entrepreneurs, adventurers and above all slavers, is the defining motif of this relationship. Over time the term jumped out of its historic context and developed an essential nature that overdetermines the perception of the North in Southern minds, before all else the jellaba-hakuma complex.
Speaking to the Round Table Conference in 1965 Abdel Khalig Mahjoub, the Communist Party leader pointed out the need to break away from the perpetrator-victim dichotomy that titles the North South entanglement in various forms. He eloquently declared that the grandchildren of Zubair Pasha move with the times while making the new Sudan, and that new democratic and progressive institutions grow up among them. Well as much as the emancipation of the South seems straightforward today – essentially separation from the North – the liberation of the North from its self-defeatist political imagination appears yet more distant. Mahjoub’s tenant of progress has proven to be more elusive than wished for. Concurrent with the duty to imagine a future beyond the perpetrator-victim trap Mahjoub vigorously criticised the surrender to colonial state structures and culture, sudanised yet persistent and subservient to elite interests conjoined with imperialist needs rather than popular will. Since replacement of British rulers by Northern Sudanese did not necessarily transform the colonial state he cautioned of the seduction of identity politics, making the valid point that replacement of Northern Sudanese by Southerners will in and by itself not necessarily deliver the state to the people in the South. Mahjoub stressed that if separation must be it has to be guarded by independence from the colonial powers citing the Katanga crisis and the demise of the Congo at the hands of Moise Tshombe and Belgian associates.

These two issues, conflicting identities and the nature of the state, adamantly haunt North and South alike, pending an informed outlook investing in the future rather than power-brokering hardwired into the past. 

The rump republic

On all accounts nationalist sentiment is flooding the South, and a sensation of fresh hard won liberation is overwhelming a Southern elite gearing up for independent rule, and a Southern population awash with expectations of a new world beyond the CPA finish line. Self-determination of Southern Sudan, in this form or the other, has been the loud call of Southern nationalists since the early 1950’s, intercepted for some time by two linked projects of largely leftist extract, Joseph Garang’s unity of the ‘proletariat’ on both sides of the 1956 border, and John Garang’s unity of the ‘marginalised’ from Halfa to Nimule. Both projects however did not bite into sufficient Southern ground, although attractive to stretches of the communist left and the trade union movement in the 1950 and 1960s in the case of Joseph, and the populations of the three areas plus intellectual associates in the North in the case of John. Today however these unionist notions do not compete with the drive for a new country, a drive grounded in the ugly history of the South-North encounter.

Despite concerns and anxieties nationalist sentiment, the promise of a new beginning and immediate ownership will probably drive the SPLM in the South a considerable stretch. The new state will supposedly be well received in the East African Community, and shall, for a honeymoon period, receive relatively generous nourishment from a host of enthusiastic donors and sympathetic assistants. Northern Sudan, on the other hand, the remaining rump of the colonial state construct and stark evidence its ‘failure to thrive’, is faced with questions of self re-discovery in multiple spheres. Apart from the dominant concern with economic calculations a considerable political and ideological dilemma faces the remaining ‘Sudanese’. Granted that the South goes its independent path forces in Darfur, the Nuba Hills and the Southern Blue Nile may well heighten the tone of demand for some form of self-determination, a concept that has already been tabled, and shall probably consume political discourse on the fate of these areas post-2011. The Hamdi triangle, as it were, devoid of the peripheries that support its notion of self, and legitimise the authority of its rulers, is ripe for further flourishing of the current siege mentality. Singled out as the oppressors and surrounded by hostile forces the Northern Sudanese may well succumb further to the racespeak of the NCP cabal, perceived as the protector and guardian of an endangered species. The NCP is likely to nourish such visceral fears in an attempt to maintain legitimacy. I suspect the remaining rump of Northern Sudan may be driven to yet greater illusions of grandeur i.e. xenophobia.  

Wednesday 16 June 2010

Remember SAF!

The tide of ‘making unity attractive’ is gaining momentum in the planning schedules of the NCP. Particularly state-controlled media are taking the matter pretty seriously in a fanfare of cultural celebration, an attempt at better ‘representation’ of the South on the national radar. The logic behind the outburst of Southern adoration, I suppose, is to convince a Northern constituency - not Southerners - that the NCP had done its best, and can on no account be held responsible for driving the country into separation. The rationale of secession from the Southern perspective is a different domain of argument altogether.   

NCP propaganda in that regard is twofold but not ambivalent. The NCP has long promoted the notion of qualified divorce from the South through its associate newspaper al Intibaha, and in general through tirades of anti-South sentiment that link back to the Jihad years in the 1990s. Recently, and in the eye of public indignation at the nearing prospect of ‘losing’ the South, largely from the perspective of ‘integrity’ nationalism, the NCP is investing in a face-saving campaign designed to satisfy Northern expectations rather than genuinely address the calamities of referendum and its consequences in any concrete fashion.

Yet more significant is the largely ‘unknown’ position of the army in this question. ‘Opposition’ wisdom has it that the army does not constitute an organic entity anymore, secondary to the waves of NIF indoctrination and selective NCPness based recruitment. Nevertheless, it would be a considerable understatement to deny the army any degree of autonomy at all, I mean from the machinations of the NCP.

Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) constitute an institution ever proud in its ‘modern’  and ‘organised’ nature in contradistinction to what it considers ‘messy’ civilian politics uninformed by the imperatives of strategic national security. In gross, it bears an ideology akin to Nasserite visions of national creed and land integrity, particularly amongst its higher ranks. Even Bashir is largely a product of this institutional ‘culture’. In times of dire need, as was the case during the confrontation with Turabi and Co in 1999, it was the army that backed the president against the shrewd politics of the akhwan. The ‘actual’ opinion of President Bashir on the question of secession/unity remains elusive; this may not at all be that significant. What is significant though is the position of his bottom-line constituency, the army generals he still reshuffles with apparent ease.

A final point, considering the divorce of the South an immediate gap emerges in the self-conception of SAF, dedicated essentially to the forceful, or paranoid, maintenance of the South in Khartoum’s orbit, or rather Cairo’s, whatever way you wish to interpret it. 

Saturday 12 June 2010

The ‘new’ government

Over the past week rumours of new bedfellows joining the ‘elected’ NCP government got louder and bolder. A news piece published by al Sahafa said that the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) had accepted a deal to enter government for the bait of 3 federal ministers, 3 ministers of state, and a number of positions at state level. The announcement was soon annulled and declared shear blasphemy by an angry Hatim al Sir, DUP presidential candidate, who went as far as saying the DUP would not accept participation in government even at the price of a full cabinet. A day after it was reported that the DUP chairman, Sayed Mohamed Osman al Mirghani, expressed willingness to enrol in the cabinet, however under the umbrella of the clinically dead National Democratic Alliance (NDA), and not in the name of the amoebic DUP. Khartoum’s informed citizens also got to know that Sayed Sadig al Mahdi, the Umma head and Ansar patron, had presented his son, Abdel Rahman, as a candidate for the post of state minister of defence in the context of an extensive make out with the NCP. True or false, Khartoum’s political bowels are rumbling loud, and the new government has not yet been announced, despite the NCP’s landslide victory.

Apparently the NCP is not one mind about which way to go. The ‘hardcore’ security cabal, presumably led by Nafie Ali Nafie, is pushing for an NCP only government that tolerates invited SPLM ministers, while the politically sly, probably led by Ali Osman Taha, are suggesting embracing Umma and DUP, in the intention of spreading responsibility for the ambiguous near future rather than sharing power. Both Umma and DUP are thirsty for a sip of power, small or large, lest attrition present the two with even more embarrassing predicaments than the regular Hajj to the Presidential Palace in search for cash, and the ever delayed committee meetings with the NCP thick-hides.  

Bashir though did his homework well and has re-shuffled the high command of Sudan Armed Forces (SAF), probably in expectation of ‘challenges’ to come, bearing in mind the strong feelings, an understatement, in the officer corps against the prospect of letting Southern Sudan go. It is no secret that the whole Naivasha package does not find much favour with SAF. If loss of the Northern enemy robs the South of a major unifying factor, loss of the South essentially robs SAF of its narrative of legitimacy as defender of the ‘nation’ and rule worthy ‘super-party’. 

Wednesday 9 June 2010

Take on the ‘internationals’

This week, the European Coalition on Oil in Sudan (ECOS) released a report investigating the role and possible complicity of international oil companies in the gross violations committed in Unity State over the period 1997-2003. The period under investigation witnessed fierce and vicious military confrontations between SAF and allied militias on one side and the SPLA and its allies on the other over the control of oil fields in which the civilian population was fodder and target. The area in question is Block 5A, at the time a concession of a consortium of oil companies led and operated by Lundin Oil AB (Sweden), and joining Petronas (Malaysia), OMV Exploration GmbH (Austria), and the Sudanese Sudapet.  

ECOS, a network of European organisations involved in Sudan, suggests in the report that the oil companies may have provided government forces with direct material support, in addition to their knowledge of gross human rights violations and their complicit agreement to the forced displacement of the area’s inhabitants. According to the report oil exploration in Block 5A instigated 3 rounds of fighting: the first (1997-1999) between 2 government-allied groups, Riek Machar’s versus Paulino Matiep’s forces; the second (2000-2001) featured Riek Machar and Paulino Matiep in coalition versus the SPLA; and the third (2002-2003) involved Riek Machar and the SPLA versus Paulino Matiep and SAF. The strategy of the government, thinking in tandem with the oil companies, was to secure the oil fields through creation of depopulated buffer zones inside which no settlements and no economic activities would be allowed.

Satellite images commissioned by ECOS are attached to the report and demonstrate the extent of agricultural land use before, during, and after Lundin’s involvement. Apparently Lundin’s presence coincides with a considerable drop in land use in the area. ECOS is demanding a full investigation into the companies’ role and conduct, and compensation for the populations affected.

In fact, the CPA and the Interim Constitution provide for compensation on the basis of a legal process (CPA, §4[5]), and thus claims can be made to that effect, at least from a formal point of view. The Interim Constitution also promises a ‘comprehensive process of national reconciliation’, a clause that many supplement with the demand of transitional justice measures including uncovering and investigation of atrocities committed during the course of the war. To the SPLM and the NCP an investigation of the war events, judicial or otherwise, is a Pandora’s Box that they would rather keep shut, or will simply force shut.

The twist is however, what would an investigation of the possible role of international NGOs in the war bring out? 

Tuesday 8 June 2010

Strike update

The Sudanese security apparatus has maintained its 'freakish' stance towards the on-going doctors' strike. The head of the Doctors' Committee, Dr Ahmed El Abwabi, and his deputy, Dr El Hadi Bakheet are still in custody and have been shifted to the notorious Kober (Cooper) Prison in Khartoum North. Additionally three more members of the Doctors' Committee have been arrested, Dr Abdelaziz Ali Jami', Dr Mahmoud, and Dr Ashraf Hammad. 

The government's position towards the strike is simply 'no mercy'. More than a hundred striking doctors have been sacked by the Khartoum Ministry of Health, and further punitive measures have been promised in case the strikers do not give in and return to the casualty departments. In a drive to replace the striking doctors the Ministry of Health has been extraordinarily active in employment of fresh graduates entering the training period 'housemanship', however the majority, it seems, have joined the struggle of their colleagues and refused to commence duty in hospitals. On the other hand university lecturers at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Khartoum, have declared the freeze of instruction in hospitals in a token of solidarity with the striking doctors.

Sunday 6 June 2010

Unity between whom?

In his speech before an extraordinary meeting of the Shura Council (a consultation body) of the National Congress Party President Bashir tuned on the ‘unity’ wave, declaring that Sudan’s integrity ‘as inherited from forefathers’ is to be maintained. He suggested the initiation of a nation-wide nafeer (communal campaign) for the sake of unity stressing the importance of each and every day in the remaining period before conduction of the referendum January 2010.

Violently poking the SPLM Bashir stated that ‘no elections took place in the South’ referring to discrepancies in the electoral register and other irregularities, he added that the NCP will not accept similar conduct in the upcoming referendum, and warned that an independent state in Southern Sudan would face serious problems pointing to the possible emergence of an Ethiopia-Eritrea or India-Pakistan situation. In concert Sudan TV has launched a pro-unity propaganda onslaught featuring leaders of the SPLM-DC and smaller Southern Sudanese parties.

Whatever Bashir is ‘really’ considering the country is set on an explosive course where the agenda of the ruling partners seem meddled and confused. Factional divides inside both blocs are not easy to map out however the assertive even violent language used by various leaders seems to address internal party concerns rather than reflect a strategy to conquer the challenges facing the nation. Regarding the question of unity and secession both parties are caught in internal bickering and factional intrigues, some loud as is the case in the SPLM even armed, and some throttled and silently heating up as in the NCP. The ruling parties have largely sustained the CPA till now, at the cost of ‘democratic transformation’, and on the basis of convenience and procrastination, but faced with the ultimate premise of their agreement, the referendum, they have recoiled to petty politics for which the sectarian parties, Umma and DUP, have long been criticised. The parallel with Sadig al-Mahdi’s indecisiveness and incapacity to lead in the late 1980’s is worthy of consideration. Today the stakes are much higher though.

The potential of unity between North and South is yet unexplored, an inventory of political imagination beyond the scope of Sudan’s current rulers, united or divided they constitute the major threat to Sudan’s peace and stability, the unity of North and South however is another question altogether. 

Saturday 5 June 2010

Hands off Dr El Hadi Bakheet

Last Thursday Dr El Hadi Bakheet, a member of the Sudan Doctors’ Committee, was reportedly seen in el Amal Hospital, an institution of the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS). NISS cadre arrested Dr El Hadi Wednesday last week in front of Khartoum Hospital. Eye witnesses who saw him in el Amal Hospital reported that he was in a state of confusion and had sustained several injuries marked by a facial haematoma presumably as a result of torture. Following a brief visit to the hospital Dr El Hadi was transferred back to his unidentified location of detention.

There are serious concerns regarding the well-being, and considering the track record of the NISS vis-à-vis striking doctors, the life of Dr El Hadi Bakheet. In the first instance of organised civilian resistance to the NIF military coup of 30th June 1989 Sudanese doctors went on a strike that started on the 26 November 1989. Endangered and angered the security apparatus of the NIF hunted down the leaders of the doctors’ movement and arrested among other Dr Ali Fadl Ahmed on 30th March 1990. Dr Ali Fadl survived 52 days of security ‘hospitality’ and passed away in the casualty department of the Military Corps Hospital in Omdurman as a result of severe injuries to the head and internal bleeding.

Compared to the November 1989 strike the current one has a wider base and a more precisely defined target. The doctors on strike are demanding better terms of service, not the overthrow of ‘government’. In response the Ministry of Health has gone a long way in attempting to fracture the unity of the doctors, and in a twist from labour dispute to security threat the NISS freaked out threatening with its firm fist. As such, a negotiable conflict over service terms escalated to become a headline national affair.

The intolerance of the ‘democratically’ elected government towards organised civilian demands is however expected, bearing in mind the ‘democracy’ it preaches, paralleled only by the Orwellian notion of war is peace, in this case autocracy is democracy. In the gaze of the organised mass the NCP security cabal can only see ‘insurrection; as such today it is merely fighting its nightmarish fantasies, rather than an actual threat to its rule. One thing however is sure; the striking doctors have ripped down a wall of fear, and demonstrated a novel model of organisation and leadership, intuitively decentralised and democratic, well beyond lame opposition politics.

Dr El Hadi still in security custody is in his mid thirties, married and a father of two sons ages 2 and 4 years. Since his detention he was allowed to communicate with his family once per telephone. His whereabouts remain unknown. 

Wednesday 2 June 2010

Strike update

The students' association of the Faculty of Medicine, University of Khartoum, has announced this evening a strike tomorrow in solidarity with the detained doctors and medical students.

Sudanese doctors on strike

The Sudan Doctors' Committee, an ad hoc union body formed this April, has declared a comprehensive all Sudan strike today to protest the detention of the Committee's heading members, Dr Ahmed El Abwabi and Dr El Hadi Bakheet, as well as two other doctors detained this afternoon, and 5 Khartoum University medical students who were also arrested whilst demonstrating in solidarity with the detainees.

The perception that the Committee would collapse upon detention of its leaders has proved to be a false one. In contradistinction to Sudan's historical union movement, largely under central 'political' command in the tradition of 'central committees' and leadership bureaus the new trend is rather 'decentralised' and relatively free of open political affiliation. The essential organisational tool in this current strike and the previous one in April has been the internet social utility 'Facebook'. Discussions and decisions take place largely on-line, and without an apparent hierarchical structure. As such the detention of the supposed 'ring-leaders' achieved nothing in terms of sabotaging the doctors' movement, since the will of the collective nevertheless prevailed, and new leaders immediately emerged, multiple leaders! What the security apparatus is faced with today are not the classical 'clandestine' cells of activists it is so used to bust but a shockingly transparent and horizontally structured movement, more a communication network than an intrigue pyramid. 

Sudan’s physicians: strike back

Civilian dressed personnel, presumably National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS), assisted by policemen detained and tortured 3 medical doctors, Dr Wala El Din, Dr El Hadi Bakheet, and Dr El Abwabi (photograph right) on Tuesday. The first has been released, and the two, El Hadi and Abwabi, are till the moment of writing in detention in an unknown location.

The three are leading members of an all Sudan Doctors Committee that has been relentlessly campaigning in the last few months for the improvement of working conditions and salaries of the profession. Shortly before the [April] elections the Committee had succeeded in staging a widely popularised and well organised strike that forced the Ministry of Health, and the Presidency, to negotiate better terms of service. However, as is the case with the Government of Sudan in any and all negotiations and agreements, the Ministry and the Labour Department failed to abide by the terms of agreement, set for implementation starting May, delivering merely false promises.

Accordingly, the Committee reorganised and called for an all doctors’ assembly to be held in the Khartoum Hospital mess Wednesday with the objective of agreeing on subsequent steps. Pre-emptively NISS decided to ‘decapitate’ the doctors’ movement by detaining its supposed ring-leaders, and thus avoid an embarrassing strike that would further expose the hallow nature of presidential decrees and pronouncements, one of them being the pledge to deliver on doctors’ demands. On the evening of the same day that the ‘ring-leaders’ were arrested the President issued yet another decision to improve the service conditions of registrars and house-officers.  

NISS and NCP (aka NIF) have long believed that they had ultimately tamed Sudan’s urban monsters through the large scale ‘shock and awe’ campaign of the nineties. And truly, the security apparatus succeeded in draining Khartoum and the major towns of their finest organisers, trade unionists and political activists. For an interlude of 1o years, 1995-2005, civil obedience was the norm, and the NCP had total control over the Sudanese urban scene, disturbed only as of 1999 by the fratricidal Popular Congress Party. The emergent protest ethic, as exemplified by the doctors’ strike, the student demonstrations in Dalanj, the demonstrations for water in the working class Omdurman district, Um Badda, carries a feature that should surely worry NISS and NCP; it transcends political divisions and bridges between identities. In essence, it is the ethic of displeased tax-paying citizens worthy of policies, administration, and government by choice! 
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This work by Magdi El Gizouli is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.