Monday, 30 August 2010

What to do with Bashir (3)

In the latest spark of non-military oppositional initiative the DUP figure, Ali Mahmud Hassanein, announced in distant London the inauguration of yet another quick fix alliance, the Broad National Front (BNF), with the explicit objective of ousting Bashir and his NCP at the shortest notice possible. The London gathering featured prominent (semi)-exile figures and a contingent of Darfuri movments’ members suitably resident in European capitals.

Well, good luck in any case, but the whole point of Bashir is again missed at a mile. The veteran politician Hassanein (76) left Khartoum under the threat of death, reportedly from the NISS, for publicly supporting the ICC’s arrest warrant against Bashir. His bargain, as many in the mainstream opposition, was to win international legitimacy via raising the banners of international justice as promulgated in the ICC arrest warrants targeting the NCP patron. Paradoxically the international community did not prove to be sufficiently interested in Bashir’s immediate demise. On the contrary Bashir’s political theatrics have till now outplayed his opposition in extraversion.

The grievances against Bashir inside Sudan are many and uncountable, registered and rehearsed in each and every opposition statement. Nevertheless, he has been able to repeatedly negotiate the conditions of his power, and grease the wheels of his expanding patronage machinery with flows of oil money and flash investments. Bashir’s basic game in power has been the gross expansion of the ruling elite, well beyond the barricaded ‘old Sudan’ of the veteran Hassanein and fellows in Umma and DUP. It is essentially with the might of the neo-elite of the ‘marginalised’ that Bashir has managed to outlive Sudan’s post-colonial cycle of coup and popular revolt. In this sense, Bashir’s power lies more in his ‘inclusion’ politics rather than the exclusion Sudan’s veteran politicians so sourly complain of. The rationale of Bashir’s strategy is quite straightforward. He started out with the rank and file of the Islamic Movement; an aspiring post-colonial elite of largely rural extraction,   sufficiently organised to maintain power once they had it, organically hitched to a comprador class of entrepreneurs, and secured by a new breed of military and security cadre. The common ground between these three integrated blocks is a history of marginality in relations to the heirs of Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. The split in the Islamic Movement 1999, rather than discredit Bashir, allowed an expansion of this network to include interest groups not necessarily congruent with the ideological baggage and organisational nuances of the pseudo-clandestine Islamic Movement. Today, Bashir’s Islamism is more a fetish than an ideological project, and thus its occasional venom and its pragmatic laxity.

Bashir’s make or break bargain though is the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, and to a lesser degree its minor equivalents, DPA and EPA, not just their written letter, but the political space they opened and the unexplored possibilities of political alliance and extractive enterprise that they ushered in. The inclusive pull towards the centre of power, however, comes with hyperfragmentation at the periphery. The media glossy split inside the Kalma camp between the ‘pro-Doha’ and the anti-Doha’ is exemplary. Less violent but adherent to the same rule is the pathological factionalism of Hassanein’s own party, the DUP.  

Sunday, 29 August 2010

What to do with Bashir (2)

In response to Bashir’s Kenya adventure the ICC prosecutor made a set of muddled statements that drag him further in the political mud he set out to avoid. Furthering the cultural argument Ocampo stated that Bashir was abusing African hospitality. The Kenyan authorities however made the politically valid point that the stakes were simply too high. As a neighbour of Sudan and a guarantor of its land mark peace agreement Kenya’s interests do not permit endangering the region’s stability. Ocampo, in the course of enlisting Bashir’s arrest evasion strategies, further named threatening Western nations with backtracking on the peace with Southern Sudan, and providing incentives for Western companies, French, British and American. He then asked members of the Security Council to implement the measures necessary to confront Bashir’s tactics.

Of course, it is these same members of the Security Council, whom Bashir attracts with investment packages, and tantalised with threatening regional stability. The prosecutor is surely not so politically naive as to believe that the president of a state, African even, could be arrested without international diplomatic approval. For the time being, that approval remains lip service to domestic blocs in Western constituencies, but on no account a serious proposition. Emasculated, Ocampo proposed in conclusion that the Sudanese authorities arrest Bashir! Here, he fathoms a political truth without really meaning to. Bashir’s fate, as an individual accused of criminal responsibility, cannot be divorced from the office he occupies. Overcoming impunity at this level and wrestling it away will surely require more than a legal framework even if as exquisite as the Rome Statute, it is a political task of first degree.  As long as Bashir can manage power in Khartoum he is relatively insulated from claims made by a facsimile prosecutor. Bashir’s government is not just a domestic oppression machine. It has a local constituency and power base, and it is run by a shrewd elite versed in exteriority.

Western powers on the other hand, may well abhor genocide when publicised, but may even admire the social engineering experiments of the Sudanese government targeted conclusively at subjection of Darfur’s resources, human beings included, to the ‘rational’ rule of free market enterprise. What Bashir has done in Darfur is not entirely an exception to the administrative ideology of the colonial Sudanese state and its post-independence heir, whereby territory precedes population and resources outmerit life. The claim can even be made that Bashir’s punitive campaign in Darfur, economic calculations considered, carries reasonable resemblance in methods and objectives to the British punitive campaigns in the Nuba Mountains during the 1920’ and 1930’s, whereby the British administration of Sudan sought to extend state rule and to re-aggregate populations as to allow more profitable land use and the commodification of agriculture.

I guess before the Sudanese state captures Bashir, the Sudanese people will have to capture the state and rein it to their demands. In the mean time, Ocampo is advised to read some African political economy. 

Saturday, 28 August 2010

What to do with Bashir

The press in recurrent flurries of excitement reported and re-reported on Bashir travels despite international arrest warrants. His most recent trip to Kenya to attend the signing ceremony of the neighbour’s new constitution was a focus of great attention. More so, because this time the International Criminal Court had approached the Security Council and the host to take the necessary measures, i.e. detain him. Kenya’s response according to the East African was a cultural rather than a legally based refusal. The neighbouring nation just told the ICC, which incidentally is also investigating Kenya’s post elections violence, that insulting or embarrassing a guest is not considered African at all. So Bashir arrived back in Khartoum waving the flags of victory.

Over time the ICC’s insistence that it will not consider political factors in pursuing what it perceives as purely legal ends, arrest of an accused criminal, has boomeranged to scar its credibility and question its function. Bashir’s case has demonstrated how deeply embroiled in political calculus the ICC is even if it denies so. In essence, Bashir is safe from the ICC as long as he has something to deliver to his Western spectators, namely an intact referendum, a smooth post-referendum transition, and additionally a Darfur clean-up operation. The ICC one the other hand can do fairly little about it. Where does all this leave the question of justice in Darfur? I suppose the primary flaw of the ICC approach is its disregard of local agency, and the inability of its judicial categories to comprehend the entanglement of local agents within an international market of interests and agenda.

Today, the degeneration of the Darfur conflict into a situation of lawlessness, largely devoid of political verse, has forced a re-diagnosis of its nature. From the current position of hindsight the US, which initially proclaimed genocide, has come to endorse the NCP’s ‘domestication’ plan, nothing else but a law enforcement campaign, however this time with international patronage. With this move, and considering the abject failure of the rebel movements’ political leadership, the de-politicisation of the Darfur conflict seems sealed. The effective consensus of US, UN, AU and others, compliant with NCP reasoning, is that the Darfur dilemma today is largely humanitarian and administrative. What is needed then is an efficient government capable of enforcing its power and creating the suitable conditions for a return to ‘business as usual’, not a turmoil round of politicking in search for a new one. Till further notice, the ICC has no place on the international Darfur management board, it is headed by Bashir. 

Monday, 23 August 2010


Yasir Arman, the SPLM presidential candidate for the April 2010 election who slipped out or was swept out of the race hours before it started has lately made it a habit to issue short fatwa like statements on current affairs in a manner between commentary of a columnist and position of a politician, signed in his personal capacity however with the resounding tag Vice Secretary General of the SPLM.

In the last such curious item of writing signed 22 August 2010, more like a proclamation of the Sayed Abdel Rahman (SAR) or his rival Sayed Ali Mirghani (SAM), Yasir promised in the title to expose the underlying iceberg of the conflict between the Minister of Sport and Youth, Haj Majid Suwar, and the Sudan Football Association chief (or ex-chief), Kamal Shadad, on the grounds that many a concerned citizen has asked him to delineate the SPLM position on the matter. After reading the statement one is still left with the tip of the iceberg and nothing of its mass. Instead of findings Yasir, and rightly so, in the manner of the regular commentator, demands restoration of the popular democratic nature of sports clubs and criticizes the aggressive business transformation and politicisation, read NCPisation, of sports, meaning here football clubs.

What is relevant here is not the matter of Yasir’s cursory remarks or the content of his insights into affairs of public interest, rather his wild ride outside SPLM institutions, since not even Salva Kiir, Chairman of the SPLM, makes such abound proclamations signed single-handed, and prefers to pass them shift and toggle through the SPLM Politburo. What we are reading are features of disillusion combined with a passion of grandeur; the attempts of one man to capitalise on the name of a whole organisation for an agenda it does not deem interesting anymore. The Arman fatwas tell us two things, the leader of the Hope and Change bloc is too weak to enter the political game proper; and believes he is too strong to pass out. The alternative is to maintain a voice, and so he does, the voice of a politician out of business turned columnist, but too proud to admit it.

With all due respect to his commitment and fervour for the New Sudan he imagined as he swept into Garang’s SPLM Yasir the politician needs to rediscover his grounds in the ‘really existing New Sudan’, one partitioned into two where he paradoxically and consequentially lands on the wrong side. Instead of the twisted unbecoming sentences, Mr. Arman, humble down, recuperate, and write a history. It would do us all good. Or else, find a political party, or establish one. 

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Blame game

The Sudan African National Union (SANU) issued a statement Saturday declaring the dismissal of its pro-unity position and the embrace of a separate South Sudan. The statement was issued and signed in Khartoum where SANU is still based. With this turn of heart there remains not a single organised political entity in Southern Sudan, apart from the NCP South, that officially calls for unity of North and South. In fact such a call has become an impossible, and only as such truly ‘political’, not purely an administrative concern. The SANU Chairman, Toby Madot, and the SANU leadership, is well excused to run away from a position that may well cost immediate political survival in the South.

The not so serious discussion on the possibility of unity has gone back to the pre-Machakos situation where sharia law and secularism where the terms of the polarisation between NCP and SPLM. In arguing implicitly for its version of secession the NCP cites the preserve of sharia law as a motive and justification, the SPLM thus argues that it is sharia law that precludes unity. In essence, no political party has conviction enough to shoulder the responsibility of partition without recourse to counter-blame. Lately the SPLM complained of NCP negotiators for refusing to thematise re-structuring of the state in the case of unity, and focusing solely on a secession scenario! The message being, it is them who want secession not us. The NCP of course makes even thicker claims to that effect, for instance Nafie Ali Nafie’s press conference outpourings on the SPLM’s boycott of the President’s unity ‘get-together’ last week.

Partition is a fate that the political class in North and South is surrendering to and trying to sell to a constituency basically wary of war. Conscious of the repercussions and consequences of their decision both are spreading blame all around. Ali Osman Mohamed Taha talking to a function of the long time NIF allies, Ansar al-Sunna, laid greater hopes in pulling the Southern Sudanese public towards unity admitting in effect that no ‘unity deal’ with the SPLM is currently on the table.

Particularly Ali Osman has all the reason to worry. Come partition the NCP needs a scapegoat to carry the toll of the whole episode starting from the promise of self-determination. Considered the NCP mastermind of the CPA he may well be the target of many an enemy in the party and more significantly in the military and the security apparatuses. As much as adhering to unity comes with a great cost in the South delivering partition in Khartoum comes with major historical blame. The propaganda campaign that the NCP is currently busy with for the sake of unity has to backfire in conclusion on those responsible. The NCP media machine is already spreading the grease: the SPLM is essentially secessionist, neighbours are conniving for secession, the Americans are involved; what it still misses is the man inside.  

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Who doesn’t love China?

“Whether  anybody likes it or not, China is providing leadership in the development of developing countries”, this is neither the notorious once NIF political commissar for military officers and oil champion Awad al-Jaz speaking nor the more vocal once spy chief and today NCP strongman, Nafie Ali Nafie, but SPLM deputy secretary-general, Anne Itto. The strongwoman in Southern Sudan made these remarks with regard to the future of Chinese interests in Southern Sudan. According to the same news report (Sudan Tribune, 20.08.2010) she told Chinese officials that if they wanted to protect their assets they had to develop a very strong relationship with the government of Southern Sudan and respect the outcome of the referendum. Then “we will be doing business” said Itto.

What is interesting in these remarks is not the fact that oil interests will set the stage for a Peking-Juba affair, although adulterous considering the on-going Peking-Khartoum marriage but the implicit admission that come the promised ‘liberation’ business continues as usual in Southern Sudan. Oil in Sudan has become the constituency of its rulers replacing its population. It is with the oil rents that the NCP has managed to re-structure the political plane as to preclude the emergence of a counter-block. Even the SPLM surge against the NCP does not essentially constitute a confrontation of alternatives, although so it seems on the face of it, rather a competition of elites on shares resting on a history of divide. Ethnicity and religion in this context are materials of political design.

Instead of the ‘sale offer’ that Itto made promising business as usual under the condition that the new dispensation in the South, in plain the new recipients of oil revenues, is recognised I had the ambitious fantasy that may be the SPLM would want first to investigate the management of this resource including impact on environment and host populations. Other than anthem and flag the SPLM needs to think aloud about the economy. Given the political will of many in the SPLM to rebuild the South it is mandatory to consider how exactly this is supposed to be done. Clutching on the revenues of a rentier Southern Sudan the SPLM’s elite has enough to keep it long on the saddle. However this model is not necessarily the road to a sustainable future for a young and ambitious population as the Southern Sudanese are.

In the North oil rents have allowed the NCP state to hover more or less in total above public scrutiny and accountability, and provided the funds to replace any politics proper with the bargains of the market-place. Correspondingly, only military force could challenge the NCP. An extraverted rentier Southern Sudan may just be the same. 

Friday, 20 August 2010

Meet the Nas

Yasir Saeed Arman, the former SPLM candidate for the Presidency in limbo, reacted to the NCP organised consultation meeting on the referendum which started last Thursday with a sentence much telling of the political stakes today: “we will not eat food which we have not participated in preparing”. Well contrary to proclamation the organisation to which Arman belongs is preparing and eating, may be not on this particular plate, but on all accounts when it comes to the national cake. As such Arman is misled or misleading, however in admission cognisant of the algorithm in action: cuts and shares.

Knowing and implicitly involved in curtailing Sudanese politics to a plate of two the SPLM boycotted the meeting as did other major political forces, however the SPLM’s boycott does not belong in the same category since it is persistently involved in referendum talks with the NCP, beyond being a partner in the national government and sole controller of Southern Sudan.

The political parties, soaked in their own tears, decided to escape the political arena unable to de-learn old habits and acquire new ones compatible with the current balance of power. Fantasising about own cuts and shares the parties simply cannot stomach the notion that their road back to hegemony is currently blocked. To survive and re-emerge, let alone gain hegemony, the parties must learn to see beyond their immediate desires. This implies an examination of the Sudanese communities, their internal stratification, and their historical trajectory, and a location of political choices within this context. The parties, investing in current grievance, have only the catch-all ‘anti-NCP’ stance to declare, but fail to provide an imagination of a future beyond NCP gates. The last such attempt was probably the Asmara declaration of 1995. However, whatever the opposition had then envisioned, mostly of a ‘transitional’ nature, has become CPA practice devoid of the transformative potential. In essence, the NCP has already occupied the political space carved in principle in the Asmara Declaration, foiled though in the premise of ‘democratic transformation’.

Submitting without hesitance to extraversion the main bargain of opposition to the NCP has long been international influences and pressures, sanctions and the like. Over time, the NCP has outplayed the opposition in its own game, not necessarily in the human rights market but via the much more significant international monetary organisations, and definitely riding the leverage of oil rents and Chinese soft power. Despite appearances the NCP is well cushioned in the international game, blessed be the ‘war on terror’, and has long outwitted the opposition in subservience to foreign interests.

The space ignored by NCP and its adversaries is essentially domestic. With that in mind it might do the opposition more good to rest from ‘preparing food’, i.e.  talk less to Gration, attend less meetings with the Egyptians, and for the sake of it meet the nas (people). 

Thursday, 19 August 2010


The Government of Southern Sudan is urging the estimated 1.5 million Southerners resident in North Sudan to return to the ‘homeland’ in time for the January plebiscite. Till now this urge has not resulted in mass population movement into the South, people being more cautious with their livelihoods than they are with political agenda. Considering the rising temperature of referendum politics in Khartoum voicing the demand for return now is a political move that puts the Southern Sudanese on the bargaining table of NCP-SPLM negotiations.

Considerably more important that the number of votes is the potential turnover that GoSS can strike from creating a humanitarian crisis from the plight of returnees, en route, or in their final destinations of resettlement in South Sudan. The GoSS Director of Repatriation, Arop Mathiyang Amiyock, speaking to AP said it all: “we are looking for resources from the government and from donors”, and “we are concerned about the resources we have to support the returnees. That’s why we are appealing to the international community”. The ‘politically correct’ explanation for a Southern Sudanese resident in Khartoum not returning to the South is that he or she cannot afford the journey. What this commonly held wisdom implies is that no Southern Sudanese can be crazy enough to remain in the North, according to the run-off term an IDP, whilst he or she has the opportunity to return to the ‘homeland’. This straightforward track of thinking reflects well what may be the aspired for ‘clean cut’ between North and South, however reality as evidenced by the missing reverse exodus is much more messy. Southern Sudanese of Khartoum as common sense would demand are not a homogenous bloc sharing a common fate, but are greatly stratified and differentiated. Some are long established Khartoumians that they do not recognise a home beyond the capital, including several generations of young men and women born and raised amongst kin and friends in Khartoum. On another scale, it is informative to ask about the fate of the fancy and glossy Southern Sudanese, established elite of lead politicians, diplomats, administrators and high ranking academicians long in the service of Sudan Government or in its circles. Add to these the significant catchment of Southern Sudanese professionals, employees and workers who make a living in Khartoum. Like all labouring women and men, they essentially belong where they make a living.

In similar fashion to the persistent waves of migration to Khartoum, a great mass of the Southern Sudanese have long moved from the ‘IDP trap’ and integrated into the market economy of Khartoum and surroundings. Who amongst them will willingly return is primarily a question of who earns better where. Sudan does not have to face an India-Pakistan secession scenario, so do not create one. 

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Commission troubles

The chairman of the referendum commission, Mohamed Ibrahim Khalil, expressed his disillusion over rough tactics amongst commission members, a reflection of the much rougher game between the parties to the CPA, SPLM and NCP. According to Khalil Southern members of the commission are voting as a bloc to prevent the nomination of a Northerner to the position of commission secretary general. The post is of significance since the office controls budget and funds of the commission. Faced by this starter deadlock Khalil warned that he may be forced to resign.

Khalil already in his 80s can look back to a long history of political involvement in ‘Old Sudan’. Once a minister of local governance, justice and foreign affairs, as well as speaker of parliament, the old professor - on the face of it - is a best candidate to provide the commission with an informed leadership. His demand that members of the commission rise to the occasion and approach their duty with a sense of national responsibility exposes his grand misunderstanding of the situation. It is exactly because this national tale is not selling that there is a referendum on unity versus secession. The rearrangement of ‘Old Sudan’ via war and agreement is symptomatic of the disillusion with the Sudan he helped to make.

Instead of suggesting leadership solutions to the dilemma he now faces the Professor is threatening to throw in his towel with an argument worthy of a young schoolteacher disgusted at adolescent delinquency. I guess even Mr Khalil has to rise to the occasion and shoulder his responsibility as fit of man of his repute. If he resigns now he threatens to push the commission back to baby stage.

He needs the information and the acuity to read through the machinations of the two blocs, and if he is to serve his country he needs to learn how to walk it through the land mines that the two CPA partners plant for each other. In brief, he needs to grasp the rules of the ‘really existing New Sudan’, one created by the gun. If he cant, he then better resign.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Commend Nafie

In statements made Sunday before a crowd of Egyptian opinion makers Nafie Ali Nafie, NCP Vice President, and reputed hardliner described secession of Southern Sudan as preferable to unity à la John Garang. In the same vein he said that the failure of the SPLM in managing the South constitutes the guarantee for unity, this time around à la NCP. Nafie, I suppose, was expressing the real of the NCP perception of the South, a hinterland to be subdued and exploited, unity or secession being modes of the same rather than distinct categories.

Nafie made the remarks a few days after the end of the last round of ‘secession talks’ between SPLM and NCP in Cairo. Apparently the recent round just consolidated the two parties opposed positions on border demarcation and the Abyei referendum, both of which can slip the impending referendum on the future of Southern Sudan into delay, as recently stated by the alone speaking official of the referendum commission, Tariq Osman. He made the claim that ‘technical’ considerations and prerequisites may force a delay of the referendum for 6 months. The NCP then experimented with floating the idea, and a headline in one Khartoum paper at least read “SPLM and NCP agree on delay of the referendum for six months”. SPLM’s response to the claim of a ‘deal to delay’ was rather mute judging by the whole excitement surrounding the referendum. Pagan Amum sent out the now usual fiery lines including an unqualified pledge of unilateral declaration of independence from inside the Southern Sudanese parliament; Atem Garang, deputy speaker of parliament criticised the referendum commission official with balanced words; Yasir Arman made the regular anti-NCP tirade but did not state a position. GoSS proper however, in particular the referendum task force headed by Riek Machar, kept a cool head. It may be even safe to say that in the South proper only the ‘Youth for Separation’ campaigners made a strong point of opposing any possible delay.

So asking the question of delay, I guess its Nafie’s philosophy that is to follow. It is not necessarily about the referendum i.e. the vote. What matters is the ‘deal’. The break-off directions post-referendum, into unity or into secession, are not ideal categories of distinction. The dispute over territory and riches between the ruling blocs in North and South, and of more importance the essential contradiction between elites and population will not end with secession or unity. 

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Explain this

Today sees the end of the two days round of discussions/negotiations between the CPA partners, SPLM and NCP, on post-referendum issues, dubbed by observers as the ‘secession talks’. This round held in Cairo in the premises of the Egyptian spy agency and mediated by Egypt’s spy chief, Omer Suleiman, follows on the trail of talks that started in the Ethiopian town Mekele end of June.  The partners signed a memorandum of understanding in Mekele delineating modalities and structures of future talks. GoSS has the Vice President, Riek Machar, on top of the issue; he heads the GoSS Referendum Task Force. It is not immediately clear what NCP structure is concerned with the referendum? I lately learnt from Khartoum papers that Awad al-Jaz, constant cabinet member, heads an NCP commission dedicated to Southern Sudan. While Nafie Ali Nafie and Pagan Amum were talking in Cairo the intensity of their discussions was reflected, if not camouflaged, by a series of statements from leading NCP figures, not necessarily of the same clay.

Speaking to an NCP Youth function in Khartoum last Saturday the Vice President Ali Osman Mohamed Taha launched a rather ‘intellectualised’ attack on the notion of secession, describing what he called secessionist ideology as introverted and narrow. His fellows, Awad al-Jaz and Salah Gosh, were not particularly discrete. The first stated that the secession of Southern Sudan will not be allowed whatever the costs are, and the second that the Abyei ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration was neither just nor satisfactory. Judging by their current ‘seats’ and the audience they were talking to both men, al-Jaz and Gosh, can afford fiery language. Apparently the NCP is also adamant about completion of border demarcation before conduction of the referendum, a condition that may imply delay of the referendum, anathema to GoSS and the SPLM.

According to press sources the SPLM delegation in Cairo re-surfaced the idea of demanding abolition of Shari’a as a prerequisite for a united Sudan, more or less a pre-Machakos state of affairs, with the pivotal difference that SAF and SPLA are at rest. What does this demand mean today though? The role of Shari’a in the state-project of the Islamic Movement today is more a fetish than an all enveloping dogma, a factor that makes a publically announced departure from commitment to Shari’a ever more problematic. On the other hand, it is questionable if abolition of Shari’a, from which South Sudan is excluded anyway, would swing Southern opinion, or SPLM/A opinion, to unity. I guess, Shari’a here is either a smokescreen or the feature of a price hike.

In explaining the daily rants of SPLM and NCP officials two considerations are relevant, first the audience addressed, and second the state of affairs in issues were statements are scarce. What is on first glance ‘doublespeak’ is probably the language of the ‘political marketplace’ à la Alex de Waal. 
Creative Commons Licence
This work by Magdi El Gizouli is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.