Sunday 30 January 2011

30 January first death

Mohamed Abdel Rahman, a student from al-Ahliyya University, passed away a few hours ago in Omdurman Hospital suffering from wounds sustained today during the demonstrations at the hands of the police force.

30 January

The facebook call for a popular revolt -30 January- materialised into a series of student-led demonstrations in downtown Khartoum and its twin town Omdurman, as well as al-Obeid and Kassala. The protesters seemed to emulate the Tunisian and Egyptian precedents acting in independence of the political parties, and depending largely on autopoietic forms of organisation with a minimum baggage of programme. The demonstrators decried the rising costs of living and demanded President Bashir’s step down from power.

Despite the relatively small number of participants, estimated in the few hundred altogether, the police force seemed quite challenged by the stubbornness of the young agitators. Rather than coalesce in one big demonstration protests sprang up in several locations in the Sudanese capital. Where the students chose to gather inside university campuses the police force was more successful in preventing them from entering the streets, and less so in cordoning off smaller groups in public transport stations and marketplaces.  
Guessing rather than knowing who the ring leaders could be the police arrested amongst others involved young men and women who happen to be the sons and daughters of political figures, the sons of Mubarak al-Fadil, the Umma Party leader, and the daughter of Hussein Khojali, the Turabi-leaning Islamist and editor in chief of the once influential Alwan, a newspaper aligned with the National Islamic Front (NIF) in the 1986-1989 democracy.
More just than point to the National Congress Party’s (NCP) crisis of rule this wave of political agitation is also symptomatic of the shortcomings of the political establishment in Northern Sudan as such. Just as the political parties had failed in comprehending the rural crisis in the country, whereby regional insurgencies emerged and matured beyond the reach and influence of Khartoum’s politicians, they seem to be equally disconnected from the dynamics of the urban Bashir generation so to speak, the young women and men whose whole lives have been moulded by the NCP’s adventure in power. One link between the two, the rural and the urban crises, is possibly the dissatisfaction, political, economic and cultural, of masses of young women and men who have little to expect from a political-economic order characterised by corruption and nepotism despite school and higher education, the rite of passage to wellbeing in the post-colony. If all of today’s demonstrators are angered by the NCP most are equally frustrated by the inadequacies of the oppositional political parties, a concern that found its expression in the slogan shabab la ahzab (youth, no [political] parties).  
Expectedly, the opposition parties will attempt to capitalise on today’s agitation and polish the intifada card on the negotiation table, announced or clandestine, with the NCP. The NCP on the other hand is likely to invite its militarised youth and student wings to provide an antidote to the urban unrest. In one university at least, Omdurman al-Ahliyya, armed NCP students did a better job than the security and police forces in suppressing their colleagues.  

Saturday 29 January 2011

Stones at Bashir

Sadiq al-Mahdi’s meeting with President Bashir on 22 January threw the Khartoum opposition coalition, the National Consensus Forces (NCF), back into disarray. To salvage their common line the leaders of the coalition met with Sadiq al-Mahdi on 25 January and issued a statement decrying the divisive tactics of the National Congress Party (NCP). The NCF leaders adopted Sadiq’s ‘national agenda’ as a basis for engagement with the NCP provided that negotiations take place with a joint NCF delegation. The statement, obviously a compromise by accumulation between the members of the NCF rather than a targeted political message, listed around ten pre-conditions for talks with the NCP, topped by the release of all political prisoners, the star among them the chief of the Popular Congress Party (PCP) Hassan al-Turabi, and the rollback of fuel and basic commodity prices. The PCP and the Communist Party seemed particularly wounded by Sadiq’s move. Siddiq Yusif from the Communist Party stated that the NCF was not obliged by any unilateral agreement between the Umma and the NCP, and the PCP’s al-Sanosi expressed his party’s disillusion at the Sadiq-Bashir rendezvous demanding the release of Turabi before any mention of talks. In concrete terms, the NCP has paralyzed the PCP by silencing its one-mind, Turabi, and wooed the Umma chief, Sadiq al-Mahdi, into an open-end flirt, and thus more or less hollowed out the wobbly NCF.
Acting apart from political party structures activists in Khartoum and abroad called on their fellow Sudanese to wage demonstrations against Bashir’s regime starting on 30 January. In Tunisian/Egyptian style the e-agitators busied internet social networks with messages prompting for a popular uprising. In a release to potential participants, one group advised demonstrators to put on sports gear in preparation for the hustle, and always carry a cell phone. Judging by the means and the message the constituency addressed I suppose are the young educated Sudanese who enjoy access to the internet and the possession of sports gear. These have grievances, true, but evidently risk more than their chains.
Both the political party opposition and the alternative ‘youth’ agitation seem to be oblivious to the question of constituency. The political parties take their public backing more or less for granted, and the youth groups suppose a default discontent with the NCP in the Northern heartland. Bashir bothered by the prospect of a mass revolt, a classic form of regime change in Sudan long before the Tunisian model, told a rally on 25 January “The day we feel that the people reject us we will go out to them in the streets so they can throw stones at us”. Rather than bluffing outright Bashir, I claim, was expressing the self-doubt of the regime at the current juncture. In the same speech the President reaffirmed his commitment to the implementation of shari’a, and declared the secession of the South a non-event. His bid remains the cultivation of a siege mentality in the rump North perpetually fearful of a threat from the South and suspicious of regional demands. The challenge before the opposition is how to overcome the construed contradiction between Bashir’s ‘people’ in the heartland and the pauperised of the peripheries, reified as ethnic communities, in other words de-ethnicisation.   

Wednesday 26 January 2011

A martyr without a cause

Last Friday, 21 January, a young Sudanese man stood out of the crowd emerging from the Friday prayers in Omdurman’s busy marketplace, al-Suq al-Shaabi, and set himself ablaze, presumably following the example of the Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi. On Monday, 24 January, al-Amin Musa, passed away on a hospital bed in Khartoum surrounded by nervous security officers. In contradistinction to Tunisia, where Bouazizi’s act evolved into an inspiration for political change Khartoum remained aloof. Musa’s death was registered in reserved if not indifferent phrasing on the inner pages on some daily newspapers in the Sudanese capital, and that was that!
The official version robbed Musa of consciousness and suggested that the young man was intoxicated with alcohol at his moment of despair. Just a few days before Musa’s act the state-sponsored Muslim clerical association in Sudan, officially the highest religious authority in the country, issued a fatwa dated 18 January prohibiting suicide in the pursuit of the expression of opinion, knowing that Islam prohibits suicide anyway. According to the clerical authority the fatwa was a response to queries from the public asking for the religious judgement on Bouazizi’s self-sacrifice.
One is tempted to caricature the u’lema (religious scholars) on state pensions, judging by their history of convenient proclamations. During Numayri’s phase of infantile socialism the same institution declared the enemies of Numayri enemies of Islam, and Numayri’s ‘socialist’ revolution the embodiment of Muslim faith. My favourite I must admit is the Bashir fatwa from late March 2009, two weeks or so after the International Criminal Court (ICC) had issued an arrest warrant for the President on 4 March 2009. In a statement closer to a petition than an authoritative religious opinion the association of u’lema addressed the Sudanese head of state asking him to stay at home and decline travel to the Arab summit in Doha, lest the ICC and its allies snap him from the sky. “We believe that many a factor have converged as to imply the prohibition of your travel for this mission, which another can shoulder. You do know that the enemies connive against you, your country, and your faith”, spoke the u’lema to Bashir. The President nevertheless travelled to Doha, and came back to a hero’s reception in Khartoum. The u’lema’s proscription was styled to invite public violation, and therefore highlight Bashir’s bravado rather than condemn it.
In the ideological matrix of today’s Sudan Musa’s gesture is more likely to fade in translation. Neither Sadiq the negotiator nor Turabi the prisoner or even Nugud the observer are ready to pick it up. Class for the time being is a denied category in Sudan’s affairs, and Musa a martyr without a cause. 

Sunday 23 January 2011

Sadiq connecting

Sadiq al-Mahdi
On Saturday Mr Sadiq al-Mahdi, the chief of the Umma Party, the head of the Ansar brotherhood, the former prime minister, and the prominent figure of the Khartoum opposition alliance – the National Consensus Forces (NCF) – met President Bashir in the presidential guesthouse in response to an invitation by the latter to discuss Sadiq’s reform proposals, named now the ‘national agenda’.
Mr al-Mahdi had previously declared 26 January his moment of decision between relinquishing political activity and declaring frontal opposition to President Bashir’s National Congress Party (NCP). In a recent speech to his supporters in the historical Ansar stronghold, al-Jazeera Abba, Sadiq al-Mahdi flanked by his daughter, Miriam, and his newly reconciled cousin, Mr Mubarak al-Mahdi, made the point that his departure from politics would rob the NCP of a potential negotiation partner in the opposition, and thus the ruling party is advised to defuse further polarization through extending a hand to the man occupying the wise middle ground compared to the ‘hawks’ of the opposition.
Addressing the press following the meeting the NCP’s deputy chairman, Nafie Ali Nafie, announced the formation of a bilateral NCP-Umma committee to formalise discussions between the two parties and forward the outcomes to the leadership. Similar but of lesser flare is the NCP’s offer to the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of three central ministerial posts and a presidential advisor within President Bashir’s post-secession broad-based government.
The NCP, albeit with hesitancy, is approaching the two sectarian parties, the Umma and the DUP, committed to leave the NCF’s radicals, the Communists and Turabi’s Popular Congress Party (PCP), in the blaze of Khartoum’s political heat. The fantasy the NCP is now entertaining out of pragmatism is in essence a strategic bid of the Islamic Movement since Turabi’s days of hegemony, namely to play the role of vanguard in an ‘Islamic’ front together with the two sectarian parties in juxtaposition to the ‘secular’ trends in the country. Today this fantasy has replaced some of its Islamic zeal with a chauvinist notion of Northern Sudanese nationalism. While the NCP does not intend to surrender power, President Bashir at least seems ready to save it through sharing it with the least demanding of his rivals.
Mr Sadiq al-Mahdi on the other hand had twice before tried President Bashir’s good faith, with minor gains each time. In November 1999, coincident with Turabi’s fall from grace, Sadiq inked with Bashir the ‘Djibouti Agreement’ that allowed him the return from exile to semi-open political activity in Khartoum at the price of a breakaway faction led by his cousin Mubarak al-Fadil who at the time preferred participation in government to Sadiq’s supposedly subtle calculus. Again in May 2008 Sadiq signed the ‘National Conciliation Agreement’ with President Bashir in the aftermath of the attack on Khartoum by the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and Turabi’s consequent detention, the third at the behest of Bashir’s security apparatus since the split in the Islamic Movement. This second agreement eased the Umma Party’s dire financial situation and allowed the flow of NCP funds, albeit meagre, to the starved Umma treasury. As a token of cordial relationships Sadiq al-Mahdi’s eldest son, Abdel-Rahman, was invited back to service in the officer corps, and his youngest, Bushra, was recruited into the state security apparatus, the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS).
This current flirt with Bashir coincides with Turabi’s sixth imprisonment on the background of ‘new’ evidence linking the Islamist chief of mischief to the rebel JEM. This time, however, Sadiq al-Mahdi, is presumably eyeing a bigger prize, and Bashir ever more so for that matter. 

Saturday 22 January 2011

Kujoor politics

Last Wednesday a forum of the opposition alliance, the National Coalition Forces (NCF), in the premises of Turabi’s Popular Congress Party (PCP), located in the posh neighbourhood of Riyadh, Khartoum, turned into a mini demonstration soon to be dispersed by the well prepared police forces. The opposition leaders speaking at the forum, among them the Communist Party chief, Mohamed Ibrahim Nugud, pledged to overlook their differences in favour of the overall objective of doing away with President Bashir’s regime by popular revolt. Nugud stated that everyone needs Turabi at this moment to contribute in resolving the issues of Sudan. The PCP’s Ibrahim al-Sanosi, inviting a precocious 1985 scenario, called on the Sudanese army to side with the people’s choices. He promised with little to substantiate his claim “in the same way we brought them to power we shall overthrow them to repent our sin”.
Rather than tapping the resources of radical change in Sudan the opposition, I am afraid, is simply invoking popular revolt in the same manner a village kujoor (rainman) attempts with a combination of theatre and sacrifice to invoke rain. Basically wishing for a cheap transition of power on the shoulders of the revolting masses the opposition is overlooking critical features of the really existing New Sudan that is has yet to conceptualise and creatively transcend.
The most challenging of these is presumably the ever entrenched divorce between the rural and the urban spheres, a rift institutionalised in Sudan the colony via the administrative and legal divide between the urban civil and the rural customary domains, the civil and the native administration respectively. Sudan the post-colony made two attempts at de-ethnicisation, the first a memorandum written in January 1965 by the Communist labour leader al-Shafie Ahmed al-Sheikh as minister of the council of ministers in the radical October 1964 transitional government, and the second Numayri’s authoritarian reforms in the 1970s. The Islamists initial wariness of the native administration translated into envy. Once in power they approbated the resilient colonial structures of the native administration to serve their own survival re-inventing what Mamdani terms the decentralised despotism of the colonial state.
Resistance to the dominance of the National Congress Party (NCP) thus took on the same format of the state structure, namely regional or rather ethnic revolts as it were. In today’s Sudan the rallying cry for this form of resistance is marginalisation and the demand across the board is self-determination. South Sudan is this respect is a paradigmatic case with specific historical features rather than a racial/religious exception. Khartoum’s opposition is more perplexed by this dynamic than informed of its significance.  
The sectarian parties, the Umma and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), once held an effective monopoly over rural politics in Northern Sudan whereby the native administration mediated between the urban-based party leadership and the rural clientele. Sectarian loyalties, the Ansar of the Umma and the Khatmiyya of the DUP, thus acted as an overarching political identity transcending the ethnic fragments of the native administration. The NCP via its re-articulation of the native question, to use the colonial term, or the rural question in the post-colony, eroded the authority of the two parties considerably either by the rehabilitation of the native administration in its tribal form or its re-endorsement in the guise of local administration. In these terms, Sudan has many an Abyei, i.e. a geography contested by two tribal authorities or more.  
With that in mind the opposition’s point of reference in its quest for another Sudan should be the October 1964 revolution, pregnant with the prospect of liberatory de-ethnicisation and the transcendence of the rural-urban rift, rather than the urban-centric April 1985 Intifada satisfied with the demise of the dictator, but ignorant of the rural plight.  

Wednesday 19 January 2011

Turabi: why me?

Hassan al-Turabi, a regular guest of the security apparatus in Khartoum, was arrested again on 17 January; this time around, as in previous occasions, on the grounds of new evidence proving financial and organisational ties between Turabi’s Popular Congress Party (PCP) and the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). The government forces had hit a major prize on 13 January in Western Darfur when they arrested leading figures in the JEM including Ibrahim al-Maz, the deputy of the Movement’s chairman Khalil Ibrahim. According to a statement published by the Sudan Media Centre, the media outlet of the security service, the captives had provided new proofs of the JEM-PCP link.
Significantly, the National Consensus Forces (NCF), the new brand name of the Khartoum coalition of opposition parties, had recently toned up their rhetoric against the NCP openly agitating for regime change Tunisian style. Turabi himself had stated just hours before his arrest that a popular uprising bringing about the overthrow of the NCP government is the only way to save Sudan from an imminent blood-bath. Now, why Turabi and not Sadiq al-Mahdi, the Umma Party chief and former prime minister, who, albeit in not so illustrative terms, had threatened the NCP with civil jihad, his code word for mass strike, as a possible course of action in case the government does not heed to his list of demands. And why not Farouq Abu Issa, the spokesperson of the NCF, who in a press conference on 16 January in the premises of the Communist Party in Khartoum had explicitly identified the overthrow of the NCP regime as the only exit from the political crisis in the country.
The NCP’s strategy seems to involve both appeasement of the mainstream opposition, namely the two sectarian parties, the Umma and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), and deterrence of the more recalcitrant anti-NCP elements, the PCP and the Communists - in case they show any teeth. In an editorial on 17 January, el-Tayeb Mustafa, the editor in chief of al-Intibaha, suggested a new government joining the NCP, the Umma Party, and the DUP, of course with President Bashir at the helm. Mustafa’s pronouncement, I claim, reflects the inner workings of the Bashir bloc inside the NCP. The same welcome to the DUP and the Umma was expressed by other NCP figures in government, namely the Information Minister, Kamal Obeid, and the Youth Minister, Haj Majid Siwar. The latter even claimed that contacts are underway with the two parties to bring them in Bashir’s proposed broad-based government.  
One lesson of notice from Sudan’s previous revolutionary ruptures, the October 1964 revolution, and the 1985 Intifada, is that the sectarian parties, the Umma and the DUP, usually trail behind mass demands for regime change rather than lead them. Leadership of the mass protests as a rule falls in the hands of the petit bourgeoisie professionals, split between the Communist Party and the Islamic Movement.
So why check Turabi out? In the current arrangement of the opposition alliance he is more likely to generate the organisational matrix for a mass confrontation. On the other hand he is the least likely to transform into a freedom martyr in the making. His track record is simply too messy to allow him saltatory evolution into a libertarian Khomeini. The JEM connection in that sense works against him rather than for him. Turabi, for all practical purposes, is not the coming hit in the rump North Sudan.   

Saturday 15 January 2011



This year's Rift Valley Institute field courses stress the historical background to political developments in the region: the two-state future in Sudan, the effect of recent and upcoming elections in the Great Lakes, and the continuing challenges to political evolution in the countries of the Horn of Africa. The courses are seminar-based, one-week, high-intensity events to be held between May and July. Faculty includes internationally-known regional specialists, researchers and civil society activists from Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Rwanda, Burundi, and the DRC.

The application deadline for all courses is Monday 28 February. You can apply online here.
Summaries of each course are included below. Prospectuses containing further details are attached to this message and can be downloaded from (Or write to

Dates for this year’s courses are as follows:
The Sudan Course, Wednesday 25 May to Tuesday 31 May, in Rumbek, Southern Sudan.
The Horn of Africa Course, Saturday 4 to Friday 10 June in Lamu, Kenya.
The Great Lakes Course, Saturday 9 July to Friday 15 July in Bujumbura, Burundi.
The courses are intensive, graduate-level, residential programmes. They are designed for local and expatriate peacekeepers, aid workers, diplomats, researchers, campaigners, business people and journalists.Taught by leading regional and international specialists, the courses provide a fast-track introduction to the history, political economy and culture of a country or region, challenging assumptions and offering new perspectives on politics, development and other current issues. 


The Sudan course embraces all regions of Sudan: north, south, east and west. A special theme of this year's course, coming at a critical point in the country's history, will be Sudan's probable future as two states, following the referendum in January and the imminent end of the five-year transition period of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.
The Director of the Sudan Course is John Ryle, Director of the RVI and Professor of Anthropology at Bard College, NY. The Director of Studies is Dr Peter Woodward, distinguished scholar of Sudanese political history and Professor Emeritus at Reading University. The Deputy Director of Studies will be Dan Large, School of Oriental and African Studies, director of the Sudan Open Archive and co-editor of China Returns to Africa.
The teaching staff on this year's course includes: Atta al-Battahani, Professor of Political Science, University of Khartoum; Jok Madut Jok, author of Race, Religion and Violence in Sudan; Akolda Tier, Professor of Law at the University of Khartoum; Cherry Leonardi, Lecturer in History at Durham University; Justin Willis, Professor of History, University of Durham, Edward Thomas, author of Islam's Perfect Stranger: The Life of Mahmud Muhammad Taha, Muslim Reformer of SudanAlfred Lokuji, independent consultant specialising in governance and development issues and a Lecturer at the Catholic University of Sudan; Joanna Oyediran, Sudan Program Officer, OSEIA; and Magdi el-Gizouli, Freiburg University.


The Horn of Africa Course covers Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, Somaliland, Puntland, and northern Kenya. The Course Director is Mark Bradbury, author of Becoming Somaliland. The Director of Studies is Ken Menkhaus, Professor of Political Science at Davidson College, North Carolina. The Deputy Director of Studies is Sally Healy, Associate Fellow, for the Africa Program at Chatham House in London.
The teaching staff on this year’s course includes: Jabril Abdullahi Mohamoud, Director of the Centre for Research and Dialogue in Mogadishu; Semhar Araia, Horn of Africa Regional Policy Advisor for Oxfam and Kjetil Tronvoll, Horn of Africa Programme Director for the Norwegian Institute of Human Rights at University of Oslo; Lee Cassanelli, Associate Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania; and Christopher Clapham, Professor of Politics and International Relations at the University of Cambridge.

The Great Lakes Course covers Rwanda, Burundi and the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. This year's course will focus particularly on the historical and political background to recent conflict in the region, with an emphasis on elections in DRC and the fallout from last year's polls in Rwanda and Burundi.
Ben Shepherd, formerly research fellow at London School of Economics and Great Lakes specialist at the UK Foreign Office, is Course Director. The Deputy Director is Emily Paddon, Lecturer in International Studies at Oxford University. Jason Stearns, currently at Yale University, is Director of Studies (His book, Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa will be out this year; his blog, Congosiasa, can be found at 
Teaching staff on the Great Lakes Course this year includes a number of distinguished scholars and activists from Rwanda, Burundi and DRC including: Isidore Ndaywel e Nziem, Professor of History at the University of Kinshasa and author of Histoire générale du Congo; Greg Mthembu-Salter, consultant for the UN Group of Experts on the DRC and natural resources specialist and Pascal Kambale, Deputy Director of the Africa Governance, Monitoring and Advocacy Project for the Open Society Institute.
International teaching staff will include:  Catharine Newbury, Professor of Government at Smith College, author of The Cohesion of Oppression, David Newbury, Professor of African Studies at Smith College, author of The Land Beyond the Mists; Filip Reyntjens Professor of African Law and Politics, University of Antwerp, author of The Great African War.
The Great Lakes course is bilingual, with teaching and discussion in both French and English. Interpretation services are provided. 


You can apply for courses online here or via
The deadline for submitting an application form is Monday February 28th 2011. Due to high demand for places, applicants are encouraged to apply in advance of the deadline.
Successful applicants will be informed by mid March. On acceptance, full payment of $4,000 (US dollars), including payment of all bank charges, will be due by Friday 15 April 2011.


All three courses offer a full daily programme of talks, seminars and visits to sites of local interest. All courses are residential, and there are many opportunities for informal discussion with the teaching staff and other participants.

Rift Valley Institute website
Further information about RVI courses
Videoclips of earlier RVI courses

The Rift Valley Institute is a non-profit research, education and advocacy organization working in Sudan, the Horn of Africa, East Africa and the Great Lakes. RVI field courses are designed to challenge common assumptions and offer new perspectives on politics and development.

Friday 14 January 2011

Citizenship betrayed

A senior official in the ministry of interior in Khartoum announced on Wednesday that the responsible departments have drafted a set of amendments to the passports and immigration law in order to address the increasing foreign presence in the country. The amendments under consideration are intended to curb illegal immigration, and settle the situation of Southern Sudanese following secession as foreigners.  The amendments however may well bend, as convenience may imply, to political calculus. Mandoor al-Mahdi, a senior NCP figure in Khartoum state, declared on Thursday that the government of the North will consider in earnest the possibility of granting Southern Sudanese members of the ruling party and other non-Northern unionists “the honour of citizenship” in the rump North as a token of its gratitude for their commitment to the unity of the nation. Mandoor further declared the dissolution of the NCP in the South, and his party’s stern opposition to the maintenance of the SPLM in the North. He stated “there will be no SPLM in the North and no NCP in the South after secession. Both (branches) will be dissolved”. Mandoor stressed that the NCP and the SPLM are in full agreement regarding post-secession arrangements for the two armies, the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army (SPLA). Accordingly, there will be no SAF presence in the South, and likewise no SPLA presence in the North, including the Nuba Mountains and the Southern Blue Nile. To Mandoor “The NCP is a party for Northerners, and the SPLM a party for Southerners”. The SPLM mainstream, I claim, would agree without hesitation.     
Despite their grave implications, the imminent disenfranchise of millions of Southern Sudanese in the North and the practical scrapping of the CPA protocol on the resolution of conflict in the Nuba Mountains and the Southern Blue Nile, the ministry of interior’s plans and Mandoor’s statements do not in any arguable sense contradict the global ‘partition’ deal between the NCP and the SPLM. The CPA, despite progressive features, has retained as a working formula the ‘Old Sudan’ definition as it were of the North and South as racial entities. Moslem Southern Sudanese for instance cannot claim Northern affiliation despite the bonds of faith, and Northern Sudanese united in struggle with the SPLM/A, even if Christians, cannot but swallow their expulsion from the victorious new nation, while the Dinka Ngok, considered ethnic Southerners, are justified in agitating for exclusion of the Misseriya fellow residents from participation in decision making regarding the future of the contested Abyei.  
The referendum law, which for all practical purposes is the defining text of the South/North disengagement - more than many a progressive clause in the CPA - defines an eligible voter in the Southern Sudan referendum, i.e. a Southerner, as an individual “born to parents both or one of them belonging to one of the indigenous communities that settled in Southern Sudan on or before the 1st of January, or whose ancestry is traceable to one of the ethnic communities in Southern Sudan, or (a) permanent resident, without interruption, or whose any of the parents or grandparents are residing, permanently, without interruption, in Southern Sudan since the 1st January 1956”. Where indigeneity roosts citizenship can rarely hatch. If anything, this is the stubborn legacy of the colonial state in Africa. 

Wednesday 12 January 2011

Not on our helicopter

The United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) received some severe bashing lately for allowing Ahmed Haroun, the governor of Southern Kordofan, to board one of its helicopters last Friday. Haroun, indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC), is officially a fugitive of the international justice system since the issue of an arrest warrant against him in 2007.
The man accused of mass killings in Darfur as minister of humanitarian affairs has since gained a solid reputation as peace-maker in the North-South border zone. In the Nuba Mountains his reign as governor has been described to me by observers from the area as ‘firm’ but reasonably ‘fair’.
Haroun boarded the UN helicopter last Friday to mediate between the Misseriya and the Dinka Ngok in Abyei following the recent clashes between the two sides.
Criticizing the readiness of the UNMIS to provide good offices even to Haroun the director of the international justice programme at Human Rights Watch, Richard Dicker, had this to ask “the question I have really is was there no other means for Ahmed Haroun to make it to the meeting”: He further added “I think the UN’s posture should be of keeping a distance from him. I think the UN should be held to a high standard with regard to their flying Haroun to a meeting. There needs to be a high threshold of necessity”.
I found Dicker’s argument a bit problematic I must admit. The UN cannot clear itself of association with Sudan’s officials as long it engages the Sudan government. The contradiction that seems to disgust Dicker somehow is essentially one between the priority of justice and the requirements of peace if you like. Haroun’s utter folly, and Bashir’s for that matter, cannot be accounted for in the realm of criminal justice, since it is by all means political. In demanding the UN to observe the meaningless gesture of keeping a distance from Haroun the criminal Human Rights Watch is caricaturing the ‘high standards’ of international justice rather than highlighting Haroun’s crimes.
However, a point of qualification must be made. In voicing its concerns Human Rights Watch is addressing more than anything else the sensibilities and reflexes of its own constituency. The bigger story in which Haroun is one agent among many, and where the categorisation of victims and perpetrators is hard to justify if not dangerous to make, does not interest the benevolent human rights organisation, and does not animate the pious hearts of its admirers.

Monday 10 January 2011

Southernization irks

On 05 January a youth association by the name of the ‘Nuer Youth for Equality and Justice’, issued a public letter of the Black Book genre deploring the preponderance of Dinka Bahr el-Ghazal in the ranks of the Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS). The association, claiming to represent Nuer youth in South Sudan and East Africa, expressed particular grievance regarding recent appointments in the Ministry of Regional Cooperation, the emergent foreign affairs ministry of the independent South. The letter referred to the appointment of nine new diplomats as another instance of “the fever of Gogrialization of the South which has become the dominant recruitment policy of the government of President Salva Kiir”, Gogrial being the President’s area of origin and the Dinka Bahr el-Ghazal his ethnic kinsmen.
The angered effendiya hopeful advised President Kiir to take courses in ethnic equality to guarantee the independent South Sudan safe passage considering that symptoms of ethnic violence have already made themselves manifest in the rebellions of the discontent SPLA officers, George Athor, Gatluak Gai and David Yau Yau.  
The complaint of the Nuer Youth echoes the distress of the Southern elite at their meagre share in Sudanization, the process by which the Sudanese took over positions formerly occupied by their British colonial masters at the eve of Sudan’s independence, a concern that continued to fuel the civil war between North and South despites attempts at redress in the Addis Ababa Accord (1972) and in the CPA (2005). In the words of Bullen Alier, a leading figure in the anti-colonial Southern Officials Welfare Committee and a cabinet minister in the 1954 self-rule cabinet, “each boat and aircraft brought Northerners for appointment to the administration, police or the army, and the flow at times looked like an invasion”; and rightfully so, the Sudan-wide process of Sudanization turned to a strict programme of Northernization. Out of the spoils of 734 vacant positions Southerners occupied only six, a situation that the prime minister of the self-rule government, Ismail al-Azhari, explained away with an excuse worse that the deed. Al-Azhari claimed that “no Southerner was fit to occupy a post above assistant district commissioner” (Ibrahim, A.A. “Sudan Nationalism or Sudan Nationalisms”).
The spoils of liberation, as it were, are now on display. In the late years of the Addis Ababa agreement the Lagu vs Alier dispute evolved into a self-defeating row over entitlements sacrificing the very South at the feet of Numayri. How the independent South handles the demands of its hungry effendiya today will eventually establish the route of its development, de-ethnicization or gogrialization.   

Saturday 8 January 2011

Sudan: Post-Referendum Scenarios and the Way Forwar

The Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) will be hosting an event on the much-anticipated Sudan referendum this Monday, January 10, 2011. “Sudan: Post-Referendum Scenarios and the Way Forward” will feature International Crisis Group’s new Africa Program Director, Comfort Ero, and its AU and Sudan Special Advisor, Fouad Hikmat to discuss the post-referendum challenges, the role of regional leaders, and expectations for the final six months of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

Joseph Garang’s vote

Joseph Garang

The Southern Sudanese face the ballot box with two options, unity or secession. In the SPLM’s qualification the first equates with second class citizenship in the NCP’s Sudan, and the second equates with the promised liberation. CPAese aside I guess the argument for a separate Southern Sudan boils down to Aggrey Jaden’s uncompromising formulation in his speech to the 1965 Round Table Conference in Khartoum. According to Jaden, “Sudan falls sharply into two distinct areas, both in geographical area, ethnic group and cultural systems. The Northern Sudan is occupied by a hybrid Arab race who are united by their common language, common culture and common religion, and they look to the Arab world for their cultural and political inspirations. For this reason, the Sudan became a member of the Arab league soon after independence. The people of the Southern Sudan, on the other hand, belong to the African ethnic group of East Africa. They do not only differ from the hybrid race in origin, arrangements and basic systems but in all conceivable purposes. With this real division, there are in fact two Sudans and the most important thing is that there can never be a basis of unity between the two. There is nothing in common between the various sections of the community: no body of shared beliefs, no identity of interests, no local signs of unity and, above all, the Sudan has failed to compose a single community.”
Aggrey Jaden’s argument stands today largely uncontested, if not reaffirmed by the breakdown of the Addis Ababa accord and the eruption of the second civil war in 1983, the rise of the National Islamic Front to power in Khartoum in 1989 and the ensuing racial/religious polarisation he so bluntly claimed as true.  
A compatriot of Jaden, Joseph Garang, considered the North-South contradiction to be secondary to a primary contradiction between the Sudanese, or all Africans, and imperialism. In a speech titled ‘Economics and Regional Autonomy’ in 1970 Garang argued that the accentuation of uneven development between the North and the South resulted in this secondary contradiction “between the Southern people on the one hand and the Northern exploiting classes on the other... namely the feudal landlords and the bourgeoisie and their intellectuals and bureaucratic representatives in the state apparatus. The exploiting classes here continued certain features of British policy, including the poll tax, cattle fines, forced labour, inequality of wages, restriction of education. More importantly they attempted to impose the Arabic language and Islam (or bourgeoisie culture) upon the Southern people”. Garang vehemently opposed Jaden’s postulate, in his words ‘the racial thesis’. In his ‘the Dilemma of the Southern Intellectual’ (1971) Garang imagined the horizon of Southern liberation in the following terms: “the task of our democrats is to eliminate the North-South contradictions in the interest of the advance of the whole of the Sudanese people toward progress, democracy and peace. Such elimination is impossible without an alliance between the Southern national groupings and the working class, led by its political organisation, the Communist Party”. Garang, a member of the Communist Party’s Central Committee at the time, was executed along with fellow CC comrades, Abd-el-Khalig Mahjub, and el-Shafie Ahmed el-Sheikh in the tragic aftermath of the 19 July 1971 coup attempt against Numayri’s junta.
While Aggrey Jaden’s ‘racial thesis’ thrives today in the guise of ‘identity politics’ Joseph Garang’s anti-imperialism never recovered, not in the North and not in the South. The secondary contradiction, dear Jo, has been paradoxically resolved at the expense of the primary. How you may ask? A division of spoils between the Northern bourgeoisie you fought against and the Southern bourgeoisie you did not live to witness. And it is not ‘racial’, Jo, that is for public consumption. 

Wednesday 5 January 2011

Bashir and Bakosoro

In Juba on Tuesday President Bashir was hard to categorise, somehow the breed between a foreign dignitary and a deposed head of state, he was neither and he was both. The two leaders Bashir and Kiir, exchanged very serious courtesies though. Bashir reiterated his commitment to recognise the outcome of the referendum, namely to recognize and even celebrate the independence of Southern Sudan. He further promised to resolve the pending post-referendum issues between the NCP and the SPLM before the end of the interim period on 09 July. Kiir on his behalf ordered the expulsion of Darfur rebels from Southern territory saying “no opposition to the north shall take Juba as a base”. In Khartoum, Vice President Taha made the reciprocate pledge not to host opposition to the South. 
The global trade-off between the NCP and the SPLM apparently also involves directives to the Northern sector to tone down on the anti-NCP enthusiasm. Pagan Amum, the secretary general of the SPLM, speaking in Khartoum last week asked the political forces in the North to seek accord with the government rather than attempt to overthrow it. Amum seemed to be rebuffing Yasir Arman, the deputy secretary general of the SPLM for the Northern sector, for his overzealous remarks about taking arms against the NCP. The Northern sector, as announced by Amum and Arman, is to evolve into an independent political party in the North with only ‘intellectual’ links to the mainstream. Of course, the claim that the NCP will pull out of Southern affairs and that the SPLM will surrender all influence in the North is courtesy pure, Sudanese mujamalat at its best.
The NCP in Khartoum and the SPLM in Juba, if somebody has forgotten in the fanfare of secession, are essentially ‘military’ governments with security software. For the two capitals the most sinister security threat will for the foreseeable future be the plots and counter-plots devised in the other. The immediate in-house political challenge facing the two rulers, Kiir and Bashir, post-referendum will obviously be how to curb any exaggerated expectations of a permanent referendum, or infatuation with this act of freedom. The governor of Western Equatoria, Bangasi Joseph Bakosoro, is already training. On Tuesday he declared Jehovah Witnesses to be ‘traitors of the freedom of Southern Sudan’. Apparently acting out of belief the Jehovah Witnesses in the state have committed themselves not to participate in any political activities whatsoever, and have thus refrained from registering for the referendum. Bakosoro obviously irritated by such unpatriotic behaviour issued an order suspending the churches of Jehovah Witnesses in ‘his’ state till further notice. Of course, there is understandably only one right choice ‘yes, separation’. What is worse in Bakosoro’s state, I wonder, not registering or voting wrong?


Monday 3 January 2011

Bashir, the independent

In his address to the nation on the occasion of Sudan 55th independence anniversary President Bashir chose the confrontation between al-Mek Nimr, the chief of the Ja’aliyien, and the invading Turkish-Egyptian forces led by Ismail Pasha in 1821 as the initiation moment of Sudanese nationhood, I suppose. He evoked the memory of the Sudanese Mahdi, Mohamed Ahmed, and his successor, the Khalifa Abdullahi, as well as Ali Abdul-Latif and the leaders of the Graduates’ Club on the road to independence in 1956. In all cases Bashir preferred to name figures rather than identify revolutions, movements, or instances of mass action. In a not particularly subtle attempt to present a cleansed history of organic unity Bashir censored the nationalisms of the Sudanese workers movement in North and South, the Sudanese women movement, as well as the anti-colonial resistance of the Nuba Mountains, the Nuer and the Dinka, and even the stubborn persistence of Ali Dinar’s state in Darfur well into British rule. He, consciously I presume, avoided any reference to Sudan’s post-colonial track record, apart from the singular mention of Ismail al-Azhari, the prime minister who presided over Sudan’s independence presented as a nationalist sovereign beyond party affiliation. In this tale Bashir speaks as the current re-incarnation of the nationalist patron above political squabbles. 
From this platform Bashir addressed the three issues of the day, the impending partition of the South, the conflict in Darfur, and the opposition’s demand for a political re-configuration in Khartoum on secession of the South. Regarding the South Bashir presented the choice between peaceful secession and war-ridden unity as the brave and democratic remedy to the chronic fissure in the organic whole. Allowing the South to choose its own destiny in Bashir’s formulation constitutes “the last line in the nation’s book of healing”, since peace, the ultimate target of his rule, is surely the truest embodiment of the country’s independence. To Darfur Bashir offered the negotiated return to the ‘constitutional order’, whereby the government maintains the commitment to provide Darfurians the moral and material help necessary to build their own peace. With the cynicism of Bashir’s peace argument in mind it is justified to claim that the next phase of Darfur politicking is most probably one where the amoebic Darfuri factions, the Doha born Liberation and Justice Movement, the Justice and Equality Movement and its London christened allies, Abdel-Wahid al-Nur’s Paris-Nairobi group, and the Juba exiles including Minni Minawi, battle it out between themselves for Bashir’s countersignature rather than engage Darfur’s future. Turning to the opposition in Khartoum Bashir tabled the proposal of a broad-based government of his own design; that is, on the condition that he completes his term in office according to the letter of the constitution. Notably, Bashir made no mention of the ruling National Congress Party that he chairs. Bashir’s offer, ambiguous but enticing, is likely to stimulate a drool in the Khartoum club, while many in the NCP will surely fear for their positions. As long as he remains on top Bashir is ready to retail anything, sovereignty and the NCP cabal included. The speaker on Sudan’s independence anniversary was Bashir the ‘independent’.
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This work by Magdi El Gizouli is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.