Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Transitional threats

Speaking to al-Arabiya TV on Monday Yasir Arman, the SPLM deputy secretary general for the Northern sector, more or less threatened to go to war in case the NCP prevents the SPLM’s Northern branch from political activity in the North following secession. Arman made it clear that ex-combatants from the SPLA in the North are greater in number than all the Darfur rebels combined. In a press conference on 22 December in Khartoum the leaders of the Northern sector, Arman, Malik Agar from Southern Blue Nile, and Abdelaziz al-Hilu from the Nuba Mountains, lashed out against Bashir’s Gedaref pledge to institute an Islamic constitution in the North following secession. The three made it clear that the SPLM’s Northern sector would not go away, a reconfirmation of Arman’s announcement earlier in the month that the sector would re-organise as an independent organisation in the North. The NCP however was not particularly thrilled. Under pressure from its right flank, namely the Intibaha bloc and further extreme Islamic groups, to effectively purge the SPLM, the party’s political communication commissar, Ibrahim Ghandoor, argued a day before Arman’s war threat that whatever applied to the Southern SPLA would also apply to Northern SPLA forces, i.e. forces under the command of Abdelaziz al-Hilu in the Nuba Mountains, and Malik Agar in the Southern Blue Nile, namely withdrawal south of the 1956 border.
The Nuba Mountains and the Southern Blue Nile, together with Abyei, go by the name of ‘the transitional areas’ in CPAese. Abyei was supposed to decide its destiny, North or South, via a referendum, a hasty arrangement that has now been replaced by the prospect of a last minute political deal yet to be achieved.
The two other areas were granted the compromise solution of ‘popular consultation’ as a means to decide on their relationship with the central government. In the press conference on 22 December Malik Agar surfaced the idea that the Nuba Mountains and the Southern Blue Nile may demand to join the South. He said it was unlikely but stressed it might be an option for Christians in the future. The three leaders of the SPLM Northern sector explicitly stated that they perceive the two areas as an extension of the ‘Southern Question’ which in the current context translates into candidates for partition. Although such an outcome is possible the new rules of the game post-secession imply that the aspiring politicians of the Northern sector will have to dodge their way into viability through the meshwork of Khartoum-Juba arrangements. A Juba just turned independent is unlikely to embrace secessionist anger in the Nuba Mountains and the Southern Blue Nile and risk a showdown with injured Khartoum. In terms of calculations Khartoum may be more inclined to accommodate the two areas and rob the Northern sector of its political capital. In the Nuba Mountains I suppose it has already done so. In that regards Arman’s promise of a new war may actually prove to be counter-productive.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Northern void

Judging by press statements confrontation between the NCP and its Northern opposition is set on an escalation course. After a meeting of party leaders on Sunday Farouq Abu Issa, the spokesperson of the National Forces Coalition, an umbrella framework joining the major parties in the North, reiterated the opposition’s demand for the formation of an interim national government following the Southern Sudan referendum. According to Abu Issa the NCP government loses all legitimacy after the expected secession of the South. When asked how the opposition wishes to overthrow the NCP government Dr Miriam al-Mahdi, the assistant to the Secretary General of the Umma Party, responded to al-Jazeera TV with the regular NCP bashing but failed to name a coherent strategy. Sadiq al-Mahdi himself, the Umma Party chief, put forward what he termed ‘civil jihad’, an approbation of the Sudanese left’s trademark ‘general political strike’.
The NCP’s deputy chairman, Nafie Ali Nafie, refused in clear terms any mention of a national government. The NCP’s argument however was detailed in a statement by the vice president, Ali Osman Taha, to al-Jazeera. Opting for a friendlier language, Taha claimed that discussion of a national government was premature. He stated that the current disposition is the result of the April 2010 election which the NCP had entered virtually uncontested. Taha offered the opposition inclusion in the form of commissions and consultation bodies “without disturbance of the democratic equation born out of the elections”. In Taha’s diagnosis “the coming phase in (North) Sudan requires agreement on national policies and directives regarding national governance which may result in mechanisms wider than the issue of the executive and the government”. To those versed in the jargon of the one party state Taha’s argument is a classic.
As much as the departure of the South robs the NCP of its self-proclaimed ‘protector’ legitimacy it crashes a major claim of the opposition, namely the need to address the ‘Southern Question’ though peaceful democratic means, and in post-Naivasha terms, to implement the CPA satisfactorily. For both, secession of the South signals a dramatic change in the rules of the game in Khartoum. Ahead of its opposition the NCP has already set its ideological message clear, namely a re-boot of shari’a and a reinvigoration of the NCP’s Islamic credentials. What that actually translates into is beside the point. The opposition is however yet to discover a post-CPA political platform beyond lamentation. The Northern sector of the SPLM has already picked its game, namely the Nuba Mountains and the Southern Blue Nile as an extension of the ‘Southern Question’ north of the 1956 border. What lack of imagination! 

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Shari’a competition

Mohamed Abdel-Karim, leading figure of the
Shari'a Association of Scholars and Preachers in Sudan

On Friday security forces stormed the headquarters of the Umma Party and violently disbanded an assembly of the party membership on their way to join the party chief, al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, in prayer. Sadiq had addressed a meeting of the Umma Party’s regional secretaries where he reaffirmed his 26 January ultimatum to the NCP before he departed to prepare for the Friday sermon in al-Hijra mosque. The former prime minister threatened to either resign from politics or to campaign for the regime’s overthrow in case the NCP fails to meet his demand of forming a broad-based transitional government after the referendum. According to Sadiq al-Mahdi  a transitional government in the North after secession of the South should draft a new constitution for the North, organise free and fair elections, address the Darfur crisis, and negotiate a solution for the row with the International Criminal Court.
The NCP’s deputy chairman, Nafie Ali Nafie, was quick to rubbish Sadiq’s demand, but as Friday’s confrontation proves took the matter quite seriously. If the Umma, alone or in coalition with other opposition parties in the North, manages to galvanise public support for the proposition of a transitional government in Khartoum the NCP will have to negotiate, essentially, because the NCP has exhausted its argument for rule. Bashir’s recent shari’a outburst can be interpreted as an attempt to reengage the Northern Sudanese ideologically, i.e. beyond the patronage grease of the NCP machinery. The NCP’s shari’a is however not the only Islamic commodity on the market. Apart from the split inside the Islamic Movement itself, which cost it much of its credibility, the NCP’s monopoly over shari’a as a political slogan is today challenged from both its flanks. There is for instance Sadiq al-Mahdi’s own claim on shari’a, in which he has greatly invested in the past twenty years. Sadiq preaches a liberal shari’a that has made him the favourite Islamic scholar among Khartoum’s secular flock. However, the fact that he is the head of a rural based brotherhood that boasts a national revolutionary history, the Ansar, preserves his appeal in the same Northern mainstream that the NCP claims to represent. On the other end, there is the range of more extreme groups in Wahhabi style which the NCP tolerates, actively supports, or occasionally restrains as need implies. On the same day that the police attacked Umma followers in Omdurman it effectively protected a protest march of an extreme group down the University Avenue in Khartoum after the Friday prayers. The group named "the Shari'a Association of Scholars and Preachers" demanded the prohibition of the SPLM in the North after secession, on the grounds that the SPLM was plotting to impose ‘the secularism of the state’ in the North. In a public statement the group, which had lately gained considerable influence, issued a religious fatwa arguing that the Southern Sudan referendum was a grave violation of Islamic faith in a country where Muslims constitute more than half of the population. Today largely subservient to the NCP’s interests and virtually under the control of the security service these organisations, once big enough, have the potential to mutate into a stubborn enemy. 

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Ghazi, you too Sir!

Ghazi Salah Eldin

In a TV statement quoted in the Khartoum daily, al-Ray al-Aam, on 21 December the NCP’s Ghazi Salah Eldin described the tendency to blame Sudan’s problems on the Islamic Movement as ‘intellectual laziness’. Ghazi then made the valid point that the ‘Southern question’ has been in evolution since the 1950’s, well before the Movement gained the hegemony it now enjoys. I agree in principle to Ghazi’s claim. The Islamic Movement is not to blame for all of Sudan’s calamities. In a sense, the Movement’s failure to manage these problems constructively is a symptom of Sudan’s colonial making and post-colonial entrapment. Much as the Southern nationalist movement has been reacting to this entrapment rather than challenging it the Islamic Movement’s incapacity to challenge the post-colony beyond its standard reactive re-approbation of Islam as a political tool is a feature of its failure to re-imagine the post-colony beyond the coordinates of the country’s colonial political architecture.
That however is not a carte blanche for the Islamic Movement to fail and insist on forgiveness. The same ‘intellectual laziness’ that plagues the opponents of the NCP in Ghazi’s terms has long replaced the vigour and excitement of the Islamic Movement’s youth. Ghazi himself complained to his fellow Islamists in a conference of the Islamic Movement held in 2008 of the sclerosis blocking its intellectual arteries.
Now, if we attempt to judge the Islamic Movement by the themes that engaged it most in an intellectual sense the major issue that strikes out I suppose is the law. Born out of a circle of lawyers the Movement has always regarded the rule of Islamic shar’ia as the ultimate national claim of the Sudanese post-colony. In so doing the Movement in a sense was responding to a public demand for redemption from the colonial wedge driven into the country’s legal culture, whereby the ‘native’ shari’a was subdued to common law if at all considered as deserving of recognition. Shari’a however in the hands of the Islamic Movement remained a reactive instance of no ‘healing’ substance. In the name of shari’a the legal system suffered an undeniable degradation from a budding national institution of justice, striving if you like for independence from a permanently intrusive executive, to a disciplinary instrument of the state. In a recent interview with the Khartoum paper, al-Ahram al-Youm, Khalafalla al-Rasheed, the former head of the judiciary, and a prominent legal scholar who presided over the committee that drafted the NCP’s 1998 constitution, went as far as saying “I don’t know where this notion of Islamic shari’a laws and non shari’a laws came from. There is no Islamic law. All that has been done is the inclusion of the five shari’a penalties in the criminal code”. He further re-affirmed, “There is no such thing as Islamic law in the Sudan, only the shari’a penalties in the criminal code”. Al-Rasheed went on to explain that Sudan’s criminal code in essence is an Arabic version of the respective British code. He added, “Personally I don’t think there is such a thing as Sudanese law. There are various interacting tendencies that have not yet evolved into a body of law. Since the end of colonialism we are involved in amending the laws, and at the end we fail to reach an agreement”.
If anything shari’a and its rehabilitation as a legal framework is the sin qua non of the Islamic Movement’s political project. However as Abdullahi Ali Ibrahim once suggested in an interview, Ghazi’s political Islam compares well to China’s contemporary communism. In what ways you may ask?   

Monday, 20 December 2010

Bashir’s shari’a reboot

“If South Sudan secedes we will change the constitution. Shari’a and Islam will be the main source for the constitution, Islam the official religion of the state and Arabic the official language”. Thus spoke President Bashir on 19 December to a rally in al-Gedaref in Eastern Sudan. The president’s declaration clarifies what the deputy chairman of the NCP, Nafie Ali Nafie, termed a ‘rebirth of the Ingaz project’ come secession of the South.
Bashir is freaking out I guess. A reboot of the 1989 Islamic agenda in the rump North Sudan is an unsurprising NCP tactic; it can claim no other grounds for its continued hegemony. What is notable though is how this claim still challenges Bashir’s adversaries. The Umma Party chief and Islamic scholar in his own capacity, al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, responded to Bashir’s announcement on al-Jazeera TV with his famous formal logic of ifs and ors. He stated if the shari’a that Bashir was referring to is the shari’a of freedom, equality and social justice then his declaration is welcome, whereas if Bashir meant shari’a as a tool of subjugation and punishment it is not acceptable. Sadiq, hopeful in an appeasement with the NCP through an all parties conference, argued that if a new Bashir constitutional make-over was channelled through democratic means the Umma party would be ready to consider it. Sadiq had issued a day before an unsubstantiated ultimatum to the NCP demanding the formation of a broad-based government in the North after the referendum. He declared that he stands before two choices in case the NCP fails to realise his demand, either to decidedly join the camp calling for the overthrow of the regime or to step down from the leadership of the Umma party and relinquish his political role. Sadiq might as well go home and retire now for all the NCP cares. For some undisclosed reason Sadiq al-Mahdi imagines that the NCP would surrender its fate to an all parties’ judgement just for the sake of it! Hassan al-Turabi, the Popular Congress party chief and the mastermind of Sudan’s political Islam, was even more challenged by Bashir’s declaration. Speaking to al-Jazeera TV he failed in making any coherent argument except that Bashir was attempting to buy the people’s favour by stressing his Islamic credentials before a drop of the telephone line put an end to his rumblings.
Whatever is written in the constitution, the pre-Naivasha shari’a or the post-Naivasha bill of rights, never restricted the powers of the NCP security apparatus nor controlled the patriarchal excesses of the country’s police. Shari’a as disposed by the state in Sudan is in essence a biopolitical disciplinary tool. In his re-approbation of shari’a Bashir is tickling the patriarchal fantasies of his constituency. He found no other example of shari’a significance than the row over the leaked footage of a woman being flogged in an Omdurman police station. This is what he had to say “if she is lashed according to shari’a law, there is no investigation. Why are some people ashamed? This is shari’a”. Well Mr al-Mahdi, here is your answer.     

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Repeat Ingaz

In his address to an organisational assembly of the NCP farmers and herders sector on 16 December Nafie Ali Nafie, the deputy chairman of the NCP, ceded the practical inevitability of an independent South Sudan. Nafie’s statement in that sense is not particularly enlightening. Significantly though, Nafie promised a re-birth of Ingaz in post-secession North Sudan. In the same breath he blasted any suggestions of a transitional government that brings in opposition parties in the reduced version of Khartoum’s rule. Nafie equally brushed off the already evident marks of an economic downturn in the rump North, coining a new ‘nickname’ for the country to replace the failed notion of ‘the Arab world’s breadbasket’. Sudan according to Nafie is already ‘the world’s minerals basket’.
Well, economic optimism aside, bread riots have not visited the highly policed Khartoum yet, but have already raged the sleepy towns of the largely depopulated Northern regions of the country, namely Shendi and al-Matamma, the heartland of Nafie’s repeat Ingaz ambitions. Conscious of the urban unrest pre-emptively throttled in Khartoum Nafie responded to Turabi’s visions of a post-partition popular uprising in the style of October 1964 and April 1985 with the not necessarily invalid notion that the NCP has extended a hand to farmers and herders, the decisive majority of North Sudan’s population, which thus finds its interests well served in the continued dominance of the ruling party.
Nafie, conscious of the continued need to appease the party’s constituency, displays in his own way a degree of insight into the class dynamics of Sudan’s political geography that certainly transcends the grievance politics of many Northern opposition parties. The fact that the NCP dedicates an organisational sector to herders is in itself quite telling. Nevertheless, how is a re-birth of Ingaz imaginable in post-partition North Sudan? As much as a common enemy in Khartoum has provided a unifying factor for the Southern political elite the NCP’s domination has depended largely on the perception of the Southern Other who endangers the ‘organic’ unity of a default cohesive North Sudan. Nafie probably does not believe his own bluff, he is too shrewd for that, but he definitely knows how to sell it. Since the projection of an exterior enemy has as a rule provided Nafie’s Ingaz with its raison d'être a re-birth of the same can only take place through the continued invention and propagation of false enemies. The nearest candidates of course are the remains of Darfur’s rebel movements. Already the NCP media machine has hammered into popular consciousness the tale of a multi-layered plot joining the SPLM and a plethora of Darfur rebels. Even the incompetent Ibrahim Ahmed Omer, who rolled down from the leadership of the NCP to the nominal position of an advisor to the President, picked up his political self in an interview with al-Intibaha and joined the chorus singing the treachery of a the Juba-Darfur axis. Facing sharpening class contradictions in the heartland a repeat post-partition Ingaz in Khartoum can only point towards sustainable conflict. 

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Woe.. the pastoralist!

Abdalla Deng Nhial, PCP presidential candidate

In a recent newspaper interview Luka Biong, the prominent SPLM figure, responded to a question regarding the right of the Misseriya to vote in the Abyei referendum with the flash statement “do you know what the word Misseriya means? It means people on the move with no established residence in one place”. Biong was arguing that according to the CPA and the Abyei protocol the Misseriya, being pastoralists, have the right of passage through Abyei, however do not qualify as voters since they are not ‘residents’ of Abyei, a category open to all other citizens, Dinka Ngok and whoever happens to live in Abyei apart from pastoralist travellers. Biong, born in Abyei, a descendant of the Dingka Ngok chief Deng Majok, and a PhD strong scholar, knows for sure that his own people, the Dinka Ngok, are no less pastoralist than the Misseriya whom he ardently disqualified from the vote. Biong is not a freak in his prejudice against the ever resistant pastoralists. Even el-Tayeb Mustafa, the self-assigned arch-Northener, has expressed his desire to see the Misseriya camped in model ranches and ‘saved’ from the treachery of their archaic mode of livelihood.
Knowing that a vote in Abyei seems to be off the table anyway it is in the realm of the politically correct to engage this prejudice without regard to the SPLM-NCP row over the region. On another level other pastoralists, not ‘residents’ of Abyei and not Misseriya, have raised their voice amidst the Khartoum-Juba screams and counter-screams. The Saleem, another pastoralist population that straddles the North-South border, forwarded a written statement to President Kiir on 12 December expressing fears of a possible shut out come independent South Sudan. Moreover, a group of lawyers representing citizens resident in Southern Sudan, who inadequately happen to be of ‘Northern’ extraction, Saleem, Sabha and Ta’aisha from al-Renk, filed an appeal against the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission on 12 December at the Constitutional Court in Khartoum on the grounds that their clients have been denied registration for the referendum. According to the lawyers, officials responsible for the registration process based their decision on the notion that the mentioned groups are not ‘indigenous’ to Southern Sudan. The Ta’aisha, Sabha and Saleem, however, claim that they have been resident in the South since the 1830s, i.e. before Sudan’s independence in 1956, the cut-off established by the CPA and the referendum act.
Judging by the secession confidence in Southern Sudan it is unlikely that the votes of groups who do not fit easily into the categories North and South will tilt the outcome of the referendum. Nevertheless they do challenge the functional claim of indigeneity inherent in the practice of the CPA and its associated acts. Disregard for Abyei’s Misseriya and for al-Renk’s suspended Southerners rests ultimately on an indigeneity scale that disqualifies both, in addition to borderline individuals of mixed heritage or those who are culturally too Northernised to be ‘real’ Southerners. Abdalla Deng Nhial, the presidential candidate of Turabi’s Popular Congress Party, a devout Islamist and ethnic Dinka, said it best. In response to a question regarding his personal fate after partition Abdalla responded “I will be where I will be, anywhere on the land of the million square miles”. In any case, it is known where oil revenues will be, surely not anywhere. Back to Biong, I wonder if Deng Majok would have qualified to register for the referendum. 

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Welcoming a new state

Two recent articles in the East African press thematized the impending independence of Southern Sudan in the context of the evolution of the post-colonial state in Africa. Charles Onyango-Obbo writing in Kenya’s the East African wondered if the secession of Southern Sudan would signal a re-carving of the African political map. He drew a picture of possible secessionist trends that could utilise the Southern Sudanese precedent to argue for their own legitimacy, notably the already independent yet unrecognised Somaliland, and possibly war-stricken Northern Uganda drifting off towards a loose federation with Southern Sudan and the Lendu of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), in addition to the ghost of division hovering over Nigeria and the chance separation of Zanzibar from the mainland. Alan Tacca writing in the Ugandan Daily Monitor suggested that the secession of Southern Sudan would have greater repercussions on the notion of the state in the continent than the Eritrean example. Tacca leaned heavily on the Arab-African race paradigm to argue against Ghaddafi’s recent warning that partition of Sudan would endanger the sanctity of borders in Africa.
In a sense, the referendum on the future of Southern Sudan does challenge the rule long cherished by the Organisation of African Unity and its successor the African Union regarding the preservation of colonial borders on the continent. On another level, an agreed upon partition of Sudan supported by a ‘popular vote’ qualifies as a belated renegotiation of colonial designs, as much as the Rwandan post-genocide arrangements signal a departure from a history of engineered racial division within one state. Failing to accommodate each other ruling elites in North and South are opting for partition as an entry point to a post-colonial future. Preoccupied with the administrative consequences of generating two states where one attempted to rule, the two are weakly conscious, if at all, of the historical trajectory they are about to embark on. South Sudan aspires to situate itself within the East African community, a geopolitical space not necessarily less challenging than the attachment to North Sudan and the wider Moslem-Arab domain. Onyango-Obbo’s remarks on secessionist tendencies in regions of Uganda, Rwanda, and the DRC indicate some of these challenges. What he missed to mention is the continuous ‘colonial’ scramble for the Lakes region rechristened but yet unfolding, and how it plays into ‘indigenous’ politics. A considerable bloc in the NCP ruling North Sudan imagines partition as liberation from African predicaments and an opportunity to fully embrace Sudan’s Arab-Muslim heritage. Nevertheless, a separate North Sudan is unlikely to be redeemed from its ‘multiple marginality’ using Ali Mazrui’s diagnosis. Partition is rather a symptom of the aggravation of that marginality more than being a feature of its resolution. Sudan is renegotiating the colonial state, that is true, but is it really carving its alternative or merely extending its race conventions?  

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Shari’a lashes

male and female models in Khartoum June show
Last week a court in Khartoum fined seven male Sudanese models for wearing make-up under the public order act. The woman who applied the make-up was also fined. The group had participated in a fashion show organised in a Khartoum club in June. The models as well as many of the on-lookers were arrested in a police raid immediately at the end of the show. Fashion shows are not foreign to Khartoum even under the rule of the National Congress Party (NCP). In the elite prosperity of oil the city had started to develop its touch of glamour stretching Islamic codes and breaching them all the same. The president’s wives for instance are the standard honour guests of female fashion shows in Khartoum’s hotels where Sudanese beauties present the latest tob trends. Men also caught up, and beauty parlours dedicated to male customers and run by males are a flourishing business in the capital. In general, the government policy of segregating the sexes never really worked out, and where it did it generated subversive cultures beyond the immediate reach of the authorities.
The novelty of June’s fashion show was that it featured male models, an innovation the public order act does not actually account for apart from a general clause concerning ‘indecency’. Notably, the judge chose the mildest of sentences at his disposal. He could have equally ordered the flogging or the imprisonment of the accused. According to a BBC report the defence lawyer had argued that men frequently had to wear make up to appear on television, I add NCP officials included. 
Under the same law 19 men were convicted of wearing women’s clothes and make-up last August, and consequently flogged 30 lashes each. The police claimed they were caught dancing in a womanly fashion. In principle, the ‘indecency’ incriminated in both cases is ‘effeminate’ behaviour, what under the Islamic codex applied in North Sudan falls under the broad category of ‘men imitating women’. The public order law and its enforcers, the public order police, have in the past years become the target of loud criticism in Khartoum. Accused of blackmailing women into sexual favours and exhorting bribes from an endless supply of victims the public order police suffers a serious deficiency in moral legitimacy even by its own proclaimed standards. Just a few days ago the Sudanese internet community was shocked by footage of a young woman being publicly whipped in a police station in Omdurman. In the narrative of Sudan’s shari’a, hudood punishments, i.e. shari’a sentences against crimes of murder, extra-marital sex, philandery, and theft, should be publically implemented before an audience of Muslim flock in order to achieve awe and deter others from doing the same. Knowing that the public morale does not condone the humiliation of mothers, daughters and sisters before such a crowd the police usually resort to flogging bnat al-balad, largely middle-class women of riverain extraction, behind the walls of detention cells. In response to the public outcry the police department issued an apologetic statement promising a high level investigation into the incident headed by the deputy police chief. Probably the policemen who featured in the footage, one at least attempting to hide his face in giggles, will face the wrath of police bureaucracy eager to regain its own ‘decency’. 
The regular liberal response was a call to ‘false’ arms, human rights and so on. Since its declaration in 1983 shari’a has effectively been the disciplining tool of Khartoum’s rulers targeting in essence the urban under-class, a biopolitical instrument of painfully intimate impact, as much as it has been the liberation cry of a wide NCP rural constituency. Criticism against the implementation of shari’a from a human rights perspective only, I suspect, fails to comprehend these two significant aspects of its durability and appeal.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Abyei or your life

Well now it’s official. The Americans acknowledged on Tuesday that Abyei will not witness a referendum next January, if at all. The idea of a referendum to decide on the future of Abyei was a solution by fatigue tabled by Danforth and Co during the Naivasha talks since the two partners, SPLM and NCP, had no better ideas. The Abyei protocol was signed in haste lest the dispute over the region unravel the entire peace deal. What remains now of the protocol is just the recognition that Abyei is a real problem.
Despite the inflamed rhetoric of the CPA partners I doubt if they are ready to go to war for Abyei, most probably not. What they are doing rather is talking about a whole range of other issues with the vocabulary of Abyei. Pagan Amum repeatedly stated that the NCP is using Abyei as a bargaining chip, that is true, but the corrective is that the SPLM is doing exactly the same. Both sides invest in the public debate on Abyei considerable ‘bluff” or klaam sakit (non-speaking talk) in a bid to impress and satisfy their constituencies. On the bargaining table, though, they are on a level other than the media intensive confrontation.
While the NCP insists that the Misseriya must vote in the referendum, and the SPLM insists that only the Dinka Ngok enjoy the right to vote, both sides are in effect arguing over a set of options that do not involve a referendum at all.
During the past week Dinka Ngok leaders announced their intent to conduct their own referendum and the Misseriya declared an alternative government replete with security chief and army commander. I doubt whether these steps will actually materialise into actions on the ground, probably not. However they do signal a higher degree of polarisation between the two communities, a situation that the NCP and the SPLM are effectively promoting by their klaam sakit. Judging by history the Misseriya and Dinka Ngok are less likely to stumble into a war, rather the NCP and SPLM may push them into one. The two parties have to switch from the current media Abyei scare they are stuck in right now and go public about the trade offs they are actually discussing behind closed doors. First of all, there is no referendum!

Monday, 6 December 2010

NCP today

Considerable analytic energy has been consumed in the debate on the viability of a sovereign South Sudan; a concern that is legitimate albeit guided by a myopic approach to an issue of regional geo-political consequence. Apart from the expectation that movements in other regions in the Sudan, Darfur for instance, and possibly the Nuba Mountains, may follow the Southern example and demand self determination or an arrangement that ensures a version of self-rule, scenarios for a post-partition North Sudan are rare to come by. One reason for this I suppose is the relative scarcity of information on NCP politics.
In popular opinion the NCP is perceived either as an all encompassing power-machine or a conglomerate of thugs depending where you stand politically. The opposition has invested long and persistently in the discredit of the ruling party, and the NCP itself has favoured and promoted the popular notion of its superiority.
In terms of tactics, organisation and funding the NCP is certainly superior to any other opposition party. However since the effective dissolution of the Islamic Movement shortly after the 1989 coup and the fall of Turabi in 1999 the ruling party has been running short on vision and perspective, surviving rather on the bankruptcy of its adversaries and the momentum of state administration. In a largely nominal conference of the state-loyal wing of the Islamic Movement in August 2008 Ghazi Salah Eldin, the only candidate to challenge Ali Osman Mohamed Taha for chairmanship of the Movement, presented quite a bleak reading of the ideological well-being of the Movement that brought the Salvation Revolution to fruition. Ghazi highlighted the widespread disillusion among the rank and file caused by the 1999 split and the organisational loss of the old Islamic Movement in the military-civilian power arrangements of the NCP. Notably Ghazi stressed the intellectual impoverishment of the Movement which seemed to have lost with its veteran chief, Hassan al-Turabi, its once attractive improvisation at approximating Islam and modernity.   
Although a formidable intellectual Ghazi could not cultivate sufficient authority and creativity to supplant the NCP Islamists with the religiously reasoned vigour they needed. He was soon swept back into the everyday of NCP political vegetation and consequently ignored the strategic concerns he raised in his 2008 paper. A fellow of Ghazi in the Movement, party and government, Amin Hassan Omer, contributed a rhetorical piece that sounded more like Soviet self-celebration. However he made the reasonable claim that the Sudanese Islamic Movement in power had successfully established the ideological hegemony of political Islam vis-à-vis competing liberal or leftist political outlooks. What Omer failed to acknowledge was that the Islamic Movement, as its predecessors in power, had failed in renegotiating the post-colony without surrendering its existence. In a sense the Islamic Movement challenged the post-colony in the name of Islam but failed in generating its national alternative. What it has established is the sunna of escape from the clutches of its grip by insurgency, and the re-alignment of its contours by negotiation. The central notion of the state as a super-patron however remains intact, and will likely do so in the emergent South Sudan.
Lacking the vision of its predecessor, the National Islamic Front, the NCP today has degenerated into a convenience arrangement between powerful figures heading respective interest blocs, Nafie Ali Nafie controlling the party, Ali Osman Mohamed Taha ruling over the state bureaucracy, Salah Gosh enjoying the loyalty of the para-military security departments, and Abdel Rahim Mohamed Hussein running the army. The man on the top is paradoxically all powerful yet terribly susceptible. 

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Bashir and fellows

In his address to the Shura Council meeting of the National Congress Party, a sort of extended central committee, last Thursday Bashir made the claim that he had forsaken unity for peace. The NCP is at great pains to make the event of partition look like a sly victory over a pernicious SPLM plot to overrun the whole of the country in a carnival of anti-Islamic rupture. Rephrased what Bashir has done was to forsake unity for the preservation of his office. Peace in NCPese is but a side effect of the scramble for power.

Faced with a self declared Misseriya government in Abyei, in the fashion of Southern Sudanese provisional governments in the sixties during the first Anya Nya war, Bashir had to sound tough at least on Abyei. He declared that no referendum would take place in the area without full participation of the Misseriya. Judging by the course of negotiations on the issue his declaration is for all practical purposes just hot air. A referendum in Abyei seems to be off the table anyway. Discussions are rather focused on a convenient arrangement bypassing the referendum, possibly in the direction of a division of the region between Misseriya and Dinka Ngok.
Bashir the sovereign suffered last week two major slaps in the face. Libya and the Central African Republic both asked him to stay at home and save them unnecessary embarrassment with Western guests. Particularly disappointing was Libya’s position, a major second after Libya refusal to hand over its major Sudanese resident, JEM’s Khalil Ibrahim, to the Sudanese security authorities.
For the time being the man on top can only count on the promise of American ‘cookies’ as a voucher for his future, cookies that seem addressed to his deputy, Ali Osman Mohamed Taha. The hyenas in the NCP are surely fully cognisant of his current weakness. For good and for evil Bashir’s solid constituency remain the army and not the party. The army though, with no Southern Sudan rebellion to fight, needs to invest in a new argument for maintenance of its hegemony. Inside the NCP not necessarily all are at ease with the army’s superiority. Particularly the business-minded see in army contracts, leases and monopolies a lucrative attraction worthy of their involvement. Considering the retraction of oil revenues, whereby el-Fula’s addition of a meagre 30 000 bpd offers little solace, the commissions economy around real-estate and government bids is expectedly to provide the major source of extraction in a post-secession North Sudan. In such a situation competition between state-nurtured NCP elites for chunks of the cake will likely sharpen and with it the appetite of NCP hyenas for the reshaping of power relationships, involving possibly the top office. Now, Bashir’s coming game is how to play the NIF ikhwan against each other and remain safe at the helm. At that he has proved till now judiciously adept. 

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Think Abyei

In Northern opposition circles the demand of a ‘constitutional conference’ is again moving up the agenda. The Communist Party had for long kept the slogan alive, and it gained additional relevance by Sadiq al-Mahdi’s latest re-embrace. The Umma chief suggested that Thabo Mbeki, as a neutral arbiter should take over mediation and invitation. The Communist Party has more of an Asmara 1995 scenario in mind I presume, and Sadiq eyes a platform for his epic listings of problems and solutions.

The idea of a constitutional conference is born of the balance of power that characterised the years 1986-1989, i.e. the pre-Ingaz parliamentary government(s). At the time it was the organisational form through which the SPLM had agreed to interrogate the implementation of shari’a, ever a thorny issue, and the broad features of a united Sudan, including in today’s jargon wealth and power sharing. One motive behind the Bashir/Turabi coup of June 1989 was to pre-empt the convention of this constitutional conference, which possibly would have ushered the SPLM into power in Khartoum according to SPLM terms, and provided political cover for the abolition of shari’a. According to the accord signed between SPLM and the Democratic Unionist Party in November 1988 shari’a was to be frozen till convention of the constitutional conference which would take a binding decision on the question.
In the current constellation neither the SPLM nor the NCP have an identifiable need for such a platform considering the shift of rules from a united Sudan to partition. The two major issues that could have busied a constitutional conference, shari’a and the future of Southern Sudan, have been addressed by the Machakos protocol; the name of the freeze is ‘one state two systems’ and the solution is ‘division’. It takes quite a leap of wishful thinking to believe that the two, SPLM and NCP, would be pressed to act otherwise in the name of national interest, except if the constitutional conference becomes an advocacy forum of an unholy alliance of largely Northern forces to forestall Southern independence, which is decidedly the direction of the SPLM in power, New Sudan well and good.
Proponents of the constitutional conference argue that it would provide space for a Sudanese package for post-referendum issues, broadly spread future relationships between North and South, in other words a mass thinking exercise. Here I claim the opposition might just be bluffing. The Northern opposition has not floated a single concrete proposition to address any of the conundrums in question. If the opposition wants to get back into the politics of the day it had to do the thinking at home, alone.
Take Abyei for instance, the training ground for South-North disentanglement. There are American proposals, an Mbeki proposal, as well as a range of declared NCP and SPLM positions. Possibly eager not to hurt anybody the opposition has remained mute over Abyei, well apart from general principles. As a litmus test for SPLM/NCP differentiation Abyei is a reasonable entry to challenge the current coordinates, and anger everybody.   

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