Sunday 31 October 2010

Abyei on the table

In the midst of conflicting positions on the fate of Abyei it is wise I suppose to maintain reserve and distinguish between negotiation offers and negotiation frustrations, an imperative in the Sudanese version of trade politics. The inconclusive outcome of the last Addis Ababa round fuelled a surge of apparently principled no go statements from both NCP and SPLM. Both sides accused each other, as is the rule in NCP-SPLM rows, of backtracking on the Abyei protocol and its finishing line, the 9 January referendum minor. Added to that Missieriya and Dinka Ngok leaders have spared no efforts, war threats included, to exercise leverage on their mightier patrons. Expectedly local leaders called on the popular rage of their respective communities to make a point. Last week reportedly 2000 Misseriya took to the streets in Muglad to demonstrate against their possible exclusion from the decisive vote.
On the drawing board however things look quite different. Implicitly, or explicitly as the NCP senior negotiator al-Dirdiri Mohamed Osman claimed Sunday in an interview, the two sides have effectively shelved the protocol and are looking for alternative exits from the conundrum that is threatening to derail the whole peace process, notably with American support and supervision. According  to press statements made by NCP al-Dirdiri Mohamed Osman and SPLM Luka Biong the Americans, i.e. Gration and Co, made three proposals. The first, to transfer Abyei by presidential decree, and without a referendum, to Bahr el-Ghazal while granting the Misseriya full citizenship in the South and the NCP a compensatory financial package greased with American goodies, one of them a grant for pasture development in Northern Abyei. The proposal was deemed unsatisfactory by NCP and Misseriya, although not altogether as became clear later. A leading Misseriya politician, Abd el-Rasoul el-Nour, speaking in Khartoum said the proposal can be considered however for the price of Sudan’s unity. The second proposal involved the partition of Abyei into a Northern region and a Southern region to be transferred to respective geographies. This was refused by the SPLM delegation, though more vehemently by the Dinka Ngok in the person of the Abyei chief administrator who complained the potential loss of all good grazing land and water. Gration duly withdrew the second proposal before further discussions. The third, or probably the first, reserved the referendum and attempted a calculus of voting rights, which is the central point of dispute. Gration initially suggested that all Misseriya who dwell in Abyei 8 months or longer should be granted the right to vote in the referendum, a cut off that was reduced to 6 months, and then to 200 days, again to the dismay of SPLM negotiators.
SPLM/NCP press fuss aside the two parties agreed at the closure of the last Addis Ababa round to examine the status of Abyei within a wider package, implying in CPAese the readiness to shelve the referendum in favour of a more appetising deal. NCP al-Dirdiri seemed sure that the Abyei referendum would not take place as envisaged on 9 January, and SPLM Pagan Amum after the relay of last week’s political heat admitted to the possibility of postponement. Again if Dinka Ngok and Misseriya are fearing a sell-out they have all the right to. Nevertheless it is justified to ask, would a referendum save Abyei?  

Saturday 30 October 2010

Tears all around

Khartoum’s para-NCP press has lately found quite a hit in the person of Ikhlas Salah-Eldin Garang. The before largely unknown SPLM activist surfaced during a rally organised by the official women union to which a fellow Southern Sudanese, Sarah Elija, has been recently elected Secretary General. Last week Ms Garang’s emotional pro-unity speech gained prominence since it apparently itched NCP vice-chairman Nafie Ali Nafie’s already troubled heart forcing precious tears down his cheeks. The last to speak Nafie picked up on Ikhlas’s talk calling it a glimpse of hope. A day or so later another paper quoted Ikhlas saying that unity is a political decision that can be made within 6 hours, however this time she was described as a leading figure in the SPLM.
Nafie’s tears are not without precedent, a month or so ago Ibrahim Ghandoor, another NCP commissar of lesser relevance, shed unity tears before a rally of the workers union. I guess now we have good reasons to wait for Ali Osman Taha’s unity tears, and may be even Bashir’s. Press reports eloquently detailed the significance and truthfulness of tears as the ultimate evidence of commitment particularly coming from prominent men of power. Patching the reports together one could tap an emerging political economy of tears. If ruthless NCP strongmen like Nafie can be overcome by emotion for the sake of the nationalist cause so can the SPLM’s figureheads. Pagan Amum listening to the tune of South Sudan’s proposed national anthem was also reportedly overpowered by secession tears. Frankly though this tears economy is setting demanding standards.  It would be really asking too much if the finance minister presenting the annual budget would have to break into tears to prove the case for a tax raise, or if the education minister would have to sob to the council of ministers when asking for badly needed funds. The opposition I suppose would have to organise mass demonstrations of crying citizens!
In her sobbing Nafie speech Ikhlas Garang made quite a valid point.  She enquired about a ‘blood and kin’ commission in the calculated CPA referring to the inseparable North-South intermix. The same could be generally said about Sudanese-Ethiopian, Sudanese-Chadian, and Sudanese-Egyptian relationships. In all cases state borders slice through a rich and continuous history of population intermixture and exchange. The point though is the violence of state-making as such. To Messrs Nafie, Ghandour, and fellow sobbing gentlemen, what led to your failure in forging a unified country over the geography of the Sudan you inherited will likewise hamper your fantasy of a North Sudan, the flipside of a fantasy is a nightmare.       

Wednesday 27 October 2010

False options

Speaking on Monday before the legislative council of Khartoum state, the fulcrum of the power and pleasure, Ali Osman Mohamed Taha, the smooth talking Vice President, blasted the doomsday scenarios of the referendum on the future of South Sudan and its consequences, a commendable strategy regarding the tirades of war-mongering all around. The eloquent politician on a more subtle note though watered down the implications of South Sudan’ secession as if it were another of many administrative redesigns his government is so fond of experimenting with. He fuzzily remarked that the referendum and its aftermath will not affect the overall policy of the state despite its negative reverberations on public life. He further promised, on a more melodramatic tenor, that even if the government loses this round for unity it will persevere to win the coming ones! The Vice President somehow promised that the country will emerge more strong, stable and secure after 9th January. Peppering it up a little the man in charge added if the outcome is unity we thank God and if not then it is God’s will and so He has deemed’.
Now despite agreement with the need to rescue public opinion from exactly the war-mongering cries of many in the NCP and the utter Sudan gloom prevalent in international reporting on the country the Vice President got all the rest terribly wrong.
The extreme of war is not the ruler with which to measure Sudan’s partition. Phrasing it so Taha is but spinning false options to a nation whose self-consciousness his wreck politics have painfully perturbed. The options are not war or partition, this pair is but a minimalist baseline beyond which Sudan’s current rulers cannot deliver, but it is certainly not the maxim of state-building. In other words it is a re-articulation of al-Intibaha’s dogma according to which a North Sudan where NIF self-gratifications are well served is commendable to a unified Sudan where they are compromised, or in straight terms Nafie’s famous quote “Pagan Amum’ secession is better than Garang’s unity”.  
If we put war out of the calculus, a failure of politics by all means, the consequences of Sudan’s partition into two states are way too grave, and the NCP’s responsibility much too damning, to be reduced to an administrative-economic misgiving. What Sudan is surrendering to here is the colonial design of the country into races, and what it is surrendering is its attempts, failure-ridden and misguided in most cases, but enlightened and promising in others, at imagining a polity free from the shackles of its colonial heritage. In undoing the Sudan as a state the partners to the CPA are taking the easiest of routes, mere management. True politics would imply some of the ideas Luka Biong suggested in a forum organised by al-Ray al-Aam a few days back and published Tuesday. Biong suggested a generous fix to the citizenship dilemma by providing Southerners in the North and vice versa the freedom and the time to choose which of the two countries they want to belong to, an idea NCP’s Mandoor al-Mahdi hurriedly brushed off as unqualified. Taking Biong’s argument to an ultimate conclusion, what about trusting the humble subjects of this geography with the freedom and the time to decide what country they want to live in?  

Sunday 24 October 2010

Friendly regimes

Last week the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission announced the timetable of procedures necessary for the conduction of the awaited plebiscite on 9th January. After a tiresome exchange of accusations regarding troops builds up on the North-South border both NCP and SPLM are slowly settling for a combination of procrastination and commitment, procrastination over pending issues yet to be resolved and repeated commitment to the timely conduction of the referendum.
In the SPLM camp Northern disillusionment at the demise of the New Sudan shot to a peak with Mohamed Yousif Ahmed al-Mustafa’s sharp criticism of Kiir’s pro-secession statements. The former SPLM minister described the position as a violation of the SPLM manifesto and an intellectual and political defeat of Northerners in the SPLM. In apparent response Atem Garang, the SPLM vice speaker of the national assembly, politely told the Northerners to buzz off and fight their own battle.
Nafie Ali Nafie, NCP vice chairman
After a period of singing the president’s tune of ‘no separation for one nation’ NCP top ranks are now popularising reconciliation with the ‘inevitable’ secession, however in a vein akin if not identical to al-Intibaha’s spin. The NCP vigilant Nafie Ali Nafie speaking to al-Ray al-Aam Sunday seemed more grateful than bothered at the South’s departure. Repeating al-Tayeb Mustafa’s very notions Nafie described the SPLM’s favoured ‘attractive unity’ as a plot to seize the North, and argued that oil revenues were anyway either transferred to the South or invested in security to shield the North from the predatory South. Slowly turning to victimology Nafie twisted political options to become either a Northern exodus from Sudan in case of a united Sudan à la SPLM or secession of the South and retention of a flourishing and virtuous North Sudan free from the Southern thorn.
Nevertheless, in the likely event of South Sudan’s secession it is quite unlikely that the NCP can quickly resume business as usual. Faced with a slump in revenues the government is already intent to repeat the concluded. The council of ministers directed all government-owned enterprises to prepare for a – final – phase of privatisation next year in order to generate needed income. Sudan’s privatisation guru and ex-Finance Minister Abdel Rahim Hamdi optimistically warned of a minimum 5 years economic downturn, and suggested a quick economic fix with the South instead of the preoccupation with border demarcation, a matter he considered of little significance since none of Sudan’s borders with neighbour states is demarcated anyway.
Despite the anti-US rumble of the foreign minister Ali Karti the NCP is quite in a drool over promised US prizes for good behaviour. The Americans’ spy friend, Salah Gosh, responded with reconciliatory phrases to John Kerry’s carrots in Khartoum. Probably the NCP looks forward to US stabilisation assistance in the event of secession, and the US can already celebrate two ‘new’ friendly regimes, but whose friends? 

Thursday 21 October 2010

Ranch them

al-Tayeb Mustafa
al-Tayeb Mustafa, the chief South Sudan secession propagandist from a Northern platform made on Wednesday a very telling suggestion regarding the Misseriya. The man, angered by Ex-Finance Minister Abdel Rahim Hamdi's cautioning remarks on the future of the borderline belt between North and South, expressed frustrated disdain at the ‘ Bedouin’ lifestyle of the Misseriya and Co. Good ‘Arabs’ as they may be the pastoralist populations straddling the North South ‘border’ irritate the race architecture of Mustafa’s New Sudan, and mix up his puritan calculus. Hamdi apparently lost the favour of Mustafa by apparently backtracking on his earlier proposition of a Sudanese socio-economic and cultural heartland, dubbed the 'Hamdi triangle'.  
Proving after all the rhetoric to be a Gordonian effendi stuffed in a jellabiya Mustafa suggested the termination of the backward pastoral existence of the Misseriya and Co via their re-cycling in ranches along the model of ‘developed’ countries, or so he said. To Mustafa the pastoral state is a problem to be dealt with, since in his own words it “is opposed to civilisation, education, and development”. From a Misseriya point of view I wonder what would be better, joining a Southern Sudan where they may be politically excluded but allowed to continue their pastoral liberty, or cushioning up to a North that condemns their mode of livelihood but recognises their political voice.
Mustafa probably wrote his Wednesday column at haste, otherwise I am pretty sure a man of his ideological composition would be cautious enough not to target the very people he claims to espouse with the standard modernist prejudice against the perceived anarchy of pastoral life. To those who assume identity between Misseriya concerns and NCP designs Mustafa’s line of thinking might offer a corrective. The Misseriya’s basic plight is not survival in Dinka neighbourhood, or under an SPLM administration, but against the adversity of state intrusion and policy machinations, Southern and Northern.
Mustafa’s prejudice is not foreign to Sudan’s effendi elite. In the gaze of many Northern Sudanese advocates of a ‘democratic’ New Sudan the rural mass is more a problem to face than a constituency to engage. To al-Tayeb Mustafa, seeking an essential Arab-Moslem North Sudan opposed to and distinct from the treacherous Southern Sudanese African heathen Other, they now prove to be similarly problematic, in need of ‘transformation’ to satisfy the refined tastes of an urban albeit Islamist petty bourgeoisie.  
Everybody’s thorn the occupants of Sudan’s pastoral belt are greatly challenged by the state drive to demarcate borders and establish new modes of control. In both really existing New Sudans they are to be policed, monitored, demarcated, gated, or otherwise overpowered. It is against their fate that the Sudans’ merit is to be measured. 

Tuesday 19 October 2010


The NCP secretary for Southern affairs Gabriel Rorej in a recent interview with a Khartoum paper pushed back questions on efforts of Southern members of his party to achieve unity before the decisive plebiscite on the future of Southern Sudan. Referring to the independence drift in the South the long time NCP fellow was clear that as NCP unionists they stand no chance since in public perception they are regarded as traitors of the cause of the new nation. Rorej declared that he and likeminded are intent on establishing an NCP in the independent South that seeks Southern unity before reunification with the North.
On the other side of the fence Yasir Arman the chief of SPLM-North Sudan responded to a similar set of question with reminiscences about the late Chairman John Garang. Dodging the dilemma of an SPLM-North associated with the ruling party of a neighbouring country, to say the least an inconvenient situation, the life-long SPLM campaigner reiterated his convictions regarding the New Sudan, presented as an idea sure to survive the current squabbles, and even overarch to pan-African significance. Arman also made it clear that SPLM-North is here to stay irrespective of the outcome of the referendum. Implicitly admitting to a rift in the SPLM regarding the fate of its Northern chapter, before all else the brothers in arms in the Nuba Mountains and Ingessena (Southern Blue Nile), Arman seemed to invest his hopes in the coming meeting of the SPLM’s National Liberation Council to secure a happy end.
To advocates of secession in NCP and SPLM the qualms of Rorej and Arman are but unpleasant accompaniments of a greater ‘historical’ truth, namely partition. Their fates, however, are symptomatic of the political landscape in sharp rearrangement. According to news reports the ruling partners, differences aside, agreed in Addis Ababa that the neighbour states in North and South commit themselves not to host opposition groups from across the border. In the probable case that such a pledge applies to own party members with the wrong ‘nationality’ Rorej, true to his claim, will have to shift offices to the South, and Arman can only survive politically in Khartoum. Come secession, any rosy notion of re-unification is sure to become a political no go if not ground for an offence against the state. If the mother parties, SPLM and NCP, are then in need of a face-lift devoid of their natural double the offshoot NCP-Rorej and SPLM-Arman are in need of re-engineering. The difference however is such while the SPLM leadership seems ready to embrace Southern foes, Lam Akol included, in a bid for an all Southern constituency, at least in the peri-referendum period, the NCP is sure to invest considerable energy in doing away with SPLM baggage in the North.
The crucial point is this; devoid of the Southern argument North Sudan’s secular intellectuals and political forces have to face up to delayed homework, how to find back to the largely surrendered jellaba constituency? 

Sunday 17 October 2010

A pessimistic Turabi

In an interview with the Qatari paper al-Sharq Saturday Hasan al-Turabi, the Popular Congress Party chief and deposed leader of the Sudanese Islamic Movement aired out an exemplary bout of Sudan pessimism quite unaccustomed from a politician ever full of ideas. He pointed out the inevitability of South Sudan’s secession and expressed his fear of a Somali scenario in the country. Turabi however gave his argument a radical historical twist, blasting the very idea of a Sudanese nation state. He invoked the colonial making of Sudan from a conglomeration of differing peoples with little to share between them.
The sheikh spoke to al-Sharq en-route to Paris for medical check-ups. His responses reflected a disillusion with the Sudanese polity blaming government after another. Even a coup according to Turabi would save little at this juncture, with the exception of a re-arrangement of centre-periphery relationships and a transition to public freedoms. When asked if he or his party had an initiative to offer Turabi responded with a long but sure no. In the current environment he claimed it is impossible to engage public opinion with any proposition.
It is a sign of the times that Turabi, an untiring political innovator, meekly submits to what he deems more or less fate. Aware I suppose of his own incapacity he resorts to historical inevitability to excuse the drought of ideas he currently finds himself in. The same Turabi who crafted the rise of the Islamic Movement to power in Sudan and subsequently lost its reins to no recovery shares today with fellow travellers of Sudan’s pre-NCP/SPLM political establishment the anguish and the confusion of confrontation with novel political grammar he cannot master.
Comparing recent statements of pre-Naivasha political figures the common tenet is repeated warnings of a doomsday scenario and a frustration with ‘politics’ as such. The Turabi camp in particular has all the bad reasons for frustration. Turabi is no stranger to the making of the history he now so deplores. Blame aside, the figures of the establishment carry the responsibility of at least explaining to the Sudanese and to themselves, I guess, the unravelling of the Sudan they inherited. Without prejudice to the structural causes Turabi now cites the petty feuds of Sudan’s post-colonial elite and their incapacity to imagine a polity beyond their incessant squabbles drowned all attempts at an alternative development.
If anything the referendum on the future of Southern Sudan, if saved from the political marketplace and the deterioration into an act of ‘you pretend to vote and we pretend to count’, offers the country an opportunity to re-carve itself and look ahead. Post-referendum the grammar of Sudanese politics will experience yet another revision. I am afraid for now neither the ruling parties nor the opposition have started to delearn and relearn. 

Saturday 16 October 2010

Abyei: come again

Al-Dirdiri Mohamed  ِAhmed, the NCP negotiator sitting on the Abyei file announced two days ago that it is obviously not possible to hold the Abyei referendum on time, i.e. concurrently with the Referendum on 9th January. Notably al-Dirdiri stated that the two parties, NCP and SPLM, have agreed on this regard. Pagan Amum, who headed the SPLM delegation to the Addis Ababa talks on Abyei, responded describing the NCP’s position as dangerous and unacceptable. He nevertheless affirmed that the SPLM will not take the country back to war even if differences continue to provoke emotions of war. Amum was speaking from Juba, where he took part in the Southern parties’ conference, and where Salva Kiir similarly reiterated the SPLM’s refusal of war. In Khartoum the NCP’s Mustafa Osman Ismail, who had called a week or so ago for war preparations diluted his earlier remarks stating that the secession of Southern Sudan is possible, and that his government ‘works for peace but prepares for war’.
Even if they had not agreed in letter to the postponement of the Abyei referendum it is justified to assume that the SPLM considers in earnest the possibility of delay. Procrastination on Abyei, which Khartoum might well sell to the Misseriya as an option will however be more difficult to market to Dinka Ngok from Juba. In a press conference held in Khartoum on their return from Addis Ababa members of the Misseriya delegation stressed the point that their position had found the understanding of the American envoy Scott Gration. They reported presenting the envoy an 8 articles position paper that argues in essence with the concept of citizenship as promulgated in the Sudan’s Interim Constitution for the right of the Misseriya to share Abyei with Dinka Ngok including the right to vote in the coming referendum according to the clauses of the Elections Act (2010). Apparently the Misseriya’s argument was well taken. Luka Biong in Khartoum expressed his frustration at Grationate pressure on the SPLM. He noted “we felt that Gration was trying to satisfy the SPLM on the people’s account to safeguard the referendum”.
The Misseriya delegation in the aftermath of the Addis Ababa round voiced the demand for direct Misseriya-Ngok talks bypassing NCP and SPLM. With the wider political agenda hovering over Abyei in mind it may be of virtue to contemplate the fate of these communities in NCP-SPLM custody. Personally I trust the Misseriya and Ngok more with the industry of peace than the two parties. Mukhtar Babo Nimir, the Misseriya paramount chief, in the midst of angry language directed at NCP, SPLM and the PCA, correctly pointed out that Abyei remained an island of peace during the stretched-out war in Southern Sudan. It would a flagrant example of political incompetence if it turned to war in times of peace. 

Tuesday 12 October 2010

Bargaining noise

An AFP piece today carried an ominous statement by Bashir before parliament. The President reportedly said “despite our commitment to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement we will not accept an alternative to unity”. The President made no details as to the consequences of the expected yes secession voting in the coming referendum. The statement I suppose comes in tune with Bashir’s supposed disappointment at his deputy’s public support of secession. The corrective though is that Bashir has made a habit of both making fiery statements and eventual retreat. In NCP discourse there is a constant discrepancy between the outpourings, usually fierce and fiery, intended for internal consumption and popular mood management and positions on the bargaining table behind closed doors. The media messages intended for the international community to chew on are a third category, also quite distinct.
Combining Kiir’s statements and demand for UN troops to guard the border zone between North South together with the shared accusation of SPLM and SAF over border encroachments, the declared failure of the American mediated SPLM-NCP Addis Ababa talks over Abyei, and this latest Bashir statement it is easy to conclude that the whole North-South peace arrangement is on the verge of collapse.  On a more serene note, and washing out the ‘Clooney’ effect, the ruling partners are still talking, with more of a media scare involved, but they are still bargaining it out. The talks on Abyei are planned to resume end of October with a view to homing Abyei into the larger political trade arrangements between the two partners, referendum and post-referendum concerns. Two proposals have been tabled in regards to Abyei, the more probable involving a ‘re-division’ into a Northern Misseriya Abyei and a Southern Ngok Abyei, which is to say the least the modus operandi of the whole CPA battle-out. Although media quotes of war ready Misseriya and Ngok are many it is important to interpret them in their appropriate context. Both the Ngok and the Misseriya lack leverage over their respective patrons, SPLM and NCP. In fact, both groups have all reason to fear a sell out. The SPLM that supposedly would not budge on the initial Abyei Borders Commission report eventually accepted a re-drawing of the map by the PCA. The NCP that promised the Misseriya the delivery of Abyei in whole whatever the costs was more concerned with retaining oil fields than securing grazing land for the pastoralist survivalists. In threatening war Ngok and Misseriya are also seeking to pressure their patrons into more resolute bargaining positions.
The joint SPLM-NCP statement in conclusion of the failed Addis Ababa round carried an agreement “to examine Abyei in the context of a larger comprehensive approach to the upcoming referenda and post-referenda arrangements”. Frankly, I don’t blame the Ngok and Misseriya. The fate of Abyei might well be sealed with much beyond Abyei. 

Wednesday 6 October 2010

Nugud's civil state

Nugud, Sudan Communist Party chief
In a recent interview with Khartoum’s al-Ahdath Mohamed Ibrahim Nugud, Secretary of the Sudan Communist Party, re-tabled his concept of the ‘civil state’ as an adequate replacement of the ‘secular state’ marred in Sudan everlasting feud over sharia. Nugud suggests that the notion of a civil state includes by definition the rule of law and democratic institutions, whereby Sudan’s secular experience did not preclude dictatorial rule as under the secular Abboud, and again under the twice secular Numayri, in his pre-sharia phases. In his argument for civil instead of secular Nugud makes notice of the European experience that the idea of secularism suggests, whereby the concept civil guards the virtues of democratic rule, and does not ban religion from public life but seeks to house it within the institutions of a democratic state.
Nugud presented his concept as an opposition MP in 1988 during the short lived 1985-1989 democracy in the midst of the heated constitutional debate over the fate of Numayri’s sharia laws. At the time Sadiq al-Mahdi had just sacked his second coalition cabinet (Umma-DUP) and was about to invite the National Islamic Front into government with the promise of enforcing comprehensive Islamic laws within 60 days. The Umma-NIF government of May 1988 featured the NIF chief Hasan al-Turabi as attorney-general. He declared then that ‘the draft (sharia) laws may stir up controversy, but eventually the assembly is likely to endorse them by a large majority’. The balance of ‘parliamentary’ power did not remain long though in NIF’s hands. Pressured by the public will to peace, and more directly by the army officers’ memoranda of February/March 1989 endorsed by the parliamentary and extra-parliamentary opposition the prime minister eventually gave in announcing a broad coalition government of Umma, DUP, Communists, Ghaboush’s Sudan National Party, Southern Sudan Political Association, Sudan African Peoples’ Congress Organisation, and representatives of trade unions, his fifth and last cabinet. The re-configured house voted on 10 April to delay the debate on sharia till convention of the planned ‘constitutional conference’ with SPLM participation according to the clauses of the DUP-SPLM accord. Sadiq al-Mahdi did not attend the session in person, apparently in protest over a vote to freeze sharia. NIF MPs walked out voting next time with their guns on 30th June 1989 (for a full account see Ann Mosely Lesch, The Sudan, Contested National Identities).
The attempt to house sharia within the institutions of democratic rule, as Nugud suggests, did not succeed at the time. The politics around sharia were perceived by the players as a zero-sum game, where accommodation was not permissible. The NIF, fearsome of lasting marginalization before an alliance joining the political establishment, the left, and the coming SPLM, snatched government and ran away with it over the disparity between ‘freezing the September 1983 laws’ as proclaimed by the coalition, and its upper limit of ‘complementing sharia laws’.  

Monday 4 October 2010

Great expectations!

In the New York Times Nicholas Kristof, obscenely bemusing himself with the fate of a country he hardly understands anything about, well, beyond catchphrases and an obsessive self-proclaimed mission to save it from itself, prophesied a dated Hollywood apocalypse as the fate awaiting Sudan over the next 100 days or so. The coming genocide in Southern Sudan, according to Kristof, is all but inevitable considering the feeble US pre-emption of Khartoum’s expected renegade on the referendum, the ultimate dispensation of the CPA. Kristof invites to the scene Arab militias supported by Khartoum to foil the referendum and prevent secession of the South, thus pushing Juba to declare unilateral independence and precipitating yet another Sudanese genocide.
If anything the CPA has provided Sudan’s major adversaries, NCP and SPLM, with a platform for talking. Despite accusations and counter-accusations and the gloomy atmosphere of internecine politicking the two partners have remained on talking terms without any considerable breach of the CPA ceasefire over the 6 years of the transitional period. The will to talk is of course not by necessity a will to peace, but for all good reasons it transpires of the unwillingness to fight. In the midst of the fury over secession and its consequences the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), contrary to my expectations, has remained remarkably reserved. High pitched war shrieks came not from the ranks of the army or its auxiliary structures but from the frustrated civilian leadership of the NCP. Even Mr. Bashir, quick to catch a flare over perceived ‘plots’ against the ‘nation’ has remained till now declaredly by his promise to deliver the referendum and recognise its outcome.
What Kristof does not recognise is that the current SPLM-NCP scuffle is not so much about the principle of secession, something both blocs seem to have approved, loudly in the case of the SPLM, and more or less tacitly in the case of the NCP, but on the exact terms of that secession, bluntly the calculation and division of spoils. Considering the baggage of war and the appeal of a sovereign South Sudan the mainstream of the SPLM has faced no major qualms in switching from the ‘New Sudan’ agenda to the cause of secession, argument being unity has not proved attractive. In effect the SPLM allies in the Nuba Mountains and the Southern Blue Nile, left out in the arrangement of the New Sudans, are now advised to re-group with the remnant Northern Sector of the SPLM, more or less in the dry. The NCP on the other hand faces greater challenges in popularising ‘secession’ in North Sudan. The latest public outbursts of NCP officials are to be read as attempts at marketing secession without openly approving it. With al-Intibaha back in print the NCP’s line I suppose is to declare South Sudan’s secession a virtue, whereby a homogenous North Sudan emerges purged of its Southern flock. The new gamble of the NCP is redemption before its almost satisfied Western patrons concomitant with preserve of its Islamist fetish to a domestic constituency, by all means weary of war.
That leaves us with Abyei, fashioned in recent reporting as Sudan’s Kashmir, which remains a bone of contention in the division of spoils, point being however ‘division’!

Friday 1 October 2010

Drop the bluff

Mustafa Osman Ismail, the presidential advisor and former foreign minister, called on Sudan’s youth and students to prepare for a coming war in the case South Sudan does secede early next year. He also lashed out at the ‘West’ accusing it of injustice and aggression. The normally dovish NCP foreign affairs official was quoted by Akhir Lahza, an NISS associated Khartoum paper, but his fiery remarks found considerable attention on the radars of Sudan observers. 
Well, with the failure of NCP’s counter-insurgency jihad in mind, a drama well described in al-Mahboub Abd al-Salam’s book on the first 10 years of the Islamic Movement’s rule, I suppose Mr Ismail is stretching his words way beyond what his government and its sympathisers can afford, in military terms, as well as in internal political and international terms. 
Mr Ismail I guess is simply freaking out, and understandably so. The Sudanese pound – US dollar exchange rate reached 3.10 last week in Khartoum’s black market. The government, caught off guard, swiftly announced a range of increases in taxes and duties to curb imports and thus save foreign currency. Travellers leaving Sudan are currently allowed a maximum of 2000 Euros, and only on presentation of supporting documents. Internally the NCP is certainly not in immediate danger, but it is surely challenged. Come secession Khartoum’s sharp tongued politicians and activists will surely rub the event in to exhaustion. True or false, the NCP will shoulder the blame of the North-South divorce unassisted. 
To the disappointment of the NCP public opinion in North Sudan has not swallowed the ‘virtues’ of secession as the price for a homogenous Northern state left unmolested. Incapable of curbing the secession drift of the SPLM/A in favour of a hasty re-division of spoils, and equally incapable of effectively manoeuvring beyond the SPLM/A or within it, the NCP is hard pressed to push the blame on the Western table, and claim the ‘nationalist’ highlands. Now, this may have sold well 20 years ago, but at a time when the same NCP is bargaining investment arrangements with UK firms, and demanding cancellation of Sudan’s debts as the price for a smooth secession, apart from openly admitting intelligence cooperation with the ‘satanic’ CIA, I wonder if it is not just too cynical to catch on. 
That said, the scare scenario NCP officials are now nourishing, considering the series of controversial war-mongering statements made by Haj Majid Siwar, the sports minister, Kamal Obeid, the information minister, Ali Karti, the foreign affairs minister, and now Mustafa Osman Ismail, the presidential advisor, is the announcement of a price hike in NCP cooperation precipitated by the not so promising outcome of Ali Osman Mohamed Taha’s New York engagements. The NCP is not out to get the SPLM/A and prevent secession, it cannot afford that. It’s out to get the price it deems appropriate for facilitating secession, before it is too late.
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This work by Magdi El Gizouli is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.