Wednesday 27 April 2011

Salah Gosh out of the ring..

Sudan News Agency (SUNA) just reported that President Bashir had sacked his security advisor, Salah Gosh, without further details. 

The Gosh Nafie duo

Nafie (L) and Gosh (R)

The two strongmen of the Khartoum regime, Nafie Ali Nafie and Salah Gosh, provided political spectators in Khartoum this past week with quite amusing material for the generation of conspiracy scenarios. Speaking on state radio on 22 April Nafie, the deputy chairman of the National Congress Party (NCP), belittled the Strategic National Dialogue (SND) championed by the presidential security advisory headed by Salah Gosh, the former chief of the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS). Nafie stated that the political parties had rightfully refrained from participation in the SND since they recognized that it did not entail direct talks with the NCP proper, presumably where real power lies. Identifying what is at stake, he declared, whatever the outcome of the negotiations with the opposition, be it under the helm of the SND or the tracks led by himself with the Umma Party and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the NCP will not become “a mere partner among others in a broad-based , lean, or national government”. In the same gusto Nafie announced, contrary to earlier proclamations by harmless NCP figures like Rabie Abdel Ati, and more toothed ones like Mandoor al-Mahdi, that President Bashir may well run for another term in office at the discretion of the NCP. In response, Gosh held a conference on 23 April where he more or less swore that the SND had the support of both President Bashir and Vice President Taha, the latter namely had lately refrained from making any public comments regarding the course of negotiations with the opposition, particularly the ‘promising’ talks with the Umma Party. In Taha’s case, a sign that he is not particularly pleased or even sidelined.
Nafie’s message is possibly directed to both Vice President Taha and President Bashir, but the content is the same, the party will not be easily sidelined. To Taha, believed to be Salah Gosh’s patron and the actual driving force behind the SND, the detail is that the organizational machine that ‘secured’ the elections will not be sacrificed in any post-Naivasha re-division of the spoils. To Bashir, on the other hand, the warning is implicit but nevertheless audible, namely the party can break you if you decide to play ‘national’ figurehead and invite the rabble of the opposition to a government where the dominance of the NCP is compromised. Nafie’s preference I guess is to see the Umma Party jump in bed with the NCP at the expense of Taha, and as a replacement for the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) if you like.  If a heavy weight like the Umma Party chief, Sadiq al-Mahdi, does join the government his natural place according to the NCP’s cohabitation tradition would possibly be formally second to President Bashir. To Taha such a prospect must have an element of déjà-vu to it. In the CPA world, coming to an end now, he had to vacate his post to accommodate the Chairman of the SPLM. To Taha’s misfortune, Chairman Garang did not survive into the CPA and Taha's vision of a SPLM-NCP partnership where he, the peace maker with international acclaim, would play the prominent role was smashed to smithereens by a Bashir counter-coup as it were. The President allowed virtually none of the Taha negotiation team into the cabinet. Instead they were more or less sentenced to argue their political survival in the commissions of the CPA, and attempt to salvage some of what they had surrendered in Naivasha from equally determined SPLM negotiators. During the course of the interim period all including Taha were implicitly ridiculed by al-Intibaha as faint-hearted ‘boys’ if not traitors of the Ingaz project. Nafie on the other hand was consistently celebrated as Richard the Lionheart of the NCP.
Notably, even Hassan el-Turabi, the undead ghost of the Islamic Movement, was reintroduced into the calculations of the current feud. While Nafie openly approved of his continued incarceration, stating that the decision on whether and when to release him is in the hands of the responsible security organs, the Gosh sympathizers, possibly protégés of Vice President Taha, cautiously expressed their unease with the treatment afforded to the 79 years old sheikh of the Islamic Movement. More openly, the NCP organization in Khartoum state reportedly submitted a memorandum to the NCP’s Leadership Council on 20 April demanding the release of the aging chief of the Popular Congress Party (PCP) or otherwise his trial in a court of law, a memorandum that Nafie denied altogether. The move was left to Abdalla Sheikh Idris, a former member of the PCP who switched to the NCP some time ago and survives in an embarrassingly junior post as head of an NCP neighbourhood branch in Omdurman. The rediscovered sympathy for Turabi builds on a local initiative in River Nile state to reunite the two wings of the Movement. Probably, the calculus is to disturb the possibility of a Bashir-Sadiq rapprochement with the counterweight of the historic Islamic Movement, Turabi included.   

Thursday 21 April 2011

Secession cha cha

The pace of the post-referendum negotiations between the National Congress Party (NCP) and the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement (SPLM) picked up again after the recent phase of recalibration. During the past few weeks the two partners re-engaged in greater quiet, a sign of health, when considering the freaking out that invited the intervention of Presidents Bashir and Kiir earlier in the month.
Speaking on Tuesday the NCP’s deputy chairman, Nafie Ali Nafie, categorically rejected any possibility of extending the term of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) beyond the 9 April in order to facilitate a smooth conclusion of the secession talks. Apparently, Khartoum intends to employ time against Juba’s negotiators, the statesmen who are yet to mould a state out of the territory under their command. The time factor that served the SPLM well in the run up to the vote may now be acting against it. While the late Garang, had he survived the CPA, could have claimed the location of a victorious Lumumba in the history of South Sudan, the new state, in the absence of a central figure of liberation authority, is grooming several wannabe Tshombes. Peter Gadet, out of all the warlords of the 1990s, is spinning himself into an independence menace, one that is expectedly more ominous that the elections associated rebellion of Athor and Co. In his Mayom Declaration of 11 April Gadet offered the standard criticism of the SPLM government, corruption, failure to maintain security, the partisan nature of the national army to become – the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army (SPLA), and domineering politics. “The leadership of the SPLM was abusing our patriotism for their narrow interests” argued the professional rebel.
Gadet entered the war scene in Sudan as a commander in Paulino Matip’s notorious militia. He played a pivotal role in securing the oil fields of Unity state for the Khartoum government and its investment partners, Chinese, European and Canadian, in the late 1990s. Gadet and his militia joined arms with the SPLA in 1999, defected back to the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) in 2002, and eventually integrated into the SPLA in 2006. Yesterday, his forces engaged the SPLA in Mayom, Unity state, allegedly together with (Northern) Misseriya fighters. In anger, the authorities in Unity state decided to expel all Northern Sudanese staff working in the oil facilities of the region, on the grounds that it is Khartoum that commands Gadet’s guns.
President Kiir once stated that the secession vote will surely not alter the geography and demography that binds the North and the South. In spokesman mode Yasir Arman, the Secretary General of the SPLM’s Northern Sector, picked up Kiir’s comment and turned it into “the South will not be the South of Brazil”. While Arman probably had the South-North earth and blood connections in mind, notions that he excels in celebrating in suggestively mediocre poetry, Kiir, the intelligence officer, might find the argument handy in a much more practical sense. Faced with mushrooming rebellions despite his repeated attempts at accommodation Kiir may soon be faced with the choice between turning his anti-insurgency efforts into a ‘nationalist’ campaign with the claim of facing up to a Khartoum-orchestrated plot or alternatively seeking Khartoum’s assistance to control the strategic oil states, Unity, Upper Nile, and Jonglei, which harbour the loci of anti-Juba rebellion and happen to border the North. In his recent interview with the Guardian President Bashir hinted at such a possibility when he reaffirmed his readiness to help the Government of South Sudan attain stability. The point here is that Bashir and Kiir share an interest in bargaining the terms of this stability rather than fighting it out. The first needs a more generous share in oil and the second obviously more intelligence and military liaison with the oil-fields former caretaker. 

Wednesday 13 April 2011

Sadiq al-Mahdi’s domestic issues

Miriam al-Mahdi
Rumour has it in Khartoum that the Politburo of the Umma Party is virtually split between a bloc supportive of the appeasement process with the National Congress Party (NCP) and the more recalcitrant. The first, to no surprise, is led by the party’s Secretary General, Siddig Mohamed Ismail, while the second features Miriam al-Mahdi, Sadiq’s daughter, described by sympathizers as Sudan’s coming Benazir Bhutto, and his son in law, el-Wathig el-Bireir, the husband of another daughter, Zeinab al-Mahdi. In a recent surge of the feud Ismail dismissed el-Bireir from his post as organizational secretary of the party, a position that allowed the latter to engage in a semi-conspiracy with the youth wing of the Umma Party against the Secretary General. This youth wing lately described Ismail as a NCP stooge in a widely circulated press statement.
For the record Siddig Mohamed Ismail was effectively forced upon the 2009 general conference of the Umma Party by the wise Sadiq al-Mahdi who basically invited on his own account an additional 256 members to the conference to beef up support for his preferred candidate. Ismail who is not particularly popular among the Umma Party’s younger Khartoum cadres has the backing of the party’s businessmen as well as the religious figurehead of the Ansar brotherhood, Abdel-Mahmoud Abbo. Sadiq al-Mahdi towers over both as the Chairman of the Party and the Imam of the Ansar, two positions that he boasts of claiming by the vote rather than through inheritance.
According to Sadiq al-Mahdi the vote also channelled all of his ten sons and daughters into the party’s central board, a sort of central committee as it were, and subsequently into the Politburo, with the exception of his youngest, Bushra (born 1978), who currently serves in the National Intelligence and Security Service. In these higher echelons of the Umma Party Sadiq al-Mahdi’s offspring are joined by their spouses and other close kin.
Interestingly, his two daughters, Miriam and Rabah, both of whom have gained a reputation in the Khartoum political scene, appear more at ease with quasi-leftist civil society rhetoric than with the religious argumentation of their father, the Imam. Judged by their writings and statements they could easily qualify for membership of the Northern Sector of the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement (SPLM) if not the Communist Party in its current status, a point that al-Intibaha’s chief, al-Tayeb Mustafa, has not failed to repeatedly impress upon Sadiq al-Mahdi in the context of several diatribes supportive of a prospective Umma-NCP alliance. The test of the two women’s gender-informed feminist liberal inclinations I guess is exactly this, will they opt for an own platform or abide by the terms of patriarchy that they so often loudly deplore? I guess the trap is, whatever they do, they still have to compete with the NCP’s Amira al-Fadil, the cabinet minister who somehow represents the liberation of the White Nile, a traditional Ansar/Umma Party stronghold, from the decades of semi-feudal loyalty to the Mahdi house. 

Thursday 7 April 2011

Abyei: phrasing the terms of war

In a paper recently released by the Enough Project the renowned Sudan historian and member of the Abyei Boundaries Commission, Douglas Johnson, resuscitated the CPA provision for a referendum on the status of Abyei, Northern or Southern, a clause that the two partners to the CPA, the National Congress Party (NCP) and the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement (SPLM) have with the connivance of their international interlocutors, the US most prominently, effectively shelved. In his promotion of the Abyei Referendum as the neglected but nevertheless just solution for the Abyei dilemma Johnson depicted the conflict as one between indigenous Dinka Ngok and migrant Misseriya, where “a local population is being progressively dislodged and displaced by government-backed settlements”, a situation that he suggests makes Abyei Sudan’s West Bank rather than the Kashmir claimed by two nations. In that regard, the paper collapsed the Misseriya and the NCP into one identity, the first being an instrument of the second with the definite objective to grab Abyei whatever it takes.
While Johnson acknowledged that the Misseriya have become increasingly dependent on Abyei’s pastures secondary to the expansion of mechanised farming and more recently the oil industry in the Muglad Basin to the north of Abyei he corrects this nuance with the proposition that the Misseriya driving further south are moving beyond their own homeland, as it were, in the Muglad-Babanusa region into the territory of the Dinka Ngok, “the only permanent inhabitants of the network of waterways flowing into the Bahr el-Arab/Kiir river now defined as the Abyei area”. Here the indigenous/migrant argument unfolds in full, since only those indigenous to a territory can claim rightful entitlement to land, and in consequence political rights.
Thereupon, Johnson defended the notion that the Misseriya cannot possibly qualify for participation in an Abyei referendum, a claim that he further supported by citing the precedent of the Southern Sudan Referendum Act which equally barred other seasonal migrants to the South from voting. In the same vein the paper established the indigenous Dinka Ngok as the certain victims of the Abyei conflict and the migrant Misseriya as its perennial perpetrators, a status for which the latter qualify with reference to the history of their alliance with the Khartoum regime stretching back to the 1970s. In that sense, Johnson argued for restorative justice in Abyei, namely the restoration of the Dinka Ngok’s right to decide on the administrative status of Abyei by referendum and the return of the displaced Ngok to their land, tagging to these two the guaranteed access to traditional grazing areas for both Misseriya and Dinka Ngok.
To further his case Johnson pointed at the outset of the paper to the parallel between the recent burning of villages in the Abyei region at the hands of Popular Defence Forces (PDF) and Misseriya militants and the atrocities attributed to the janjaweed in Darfur. The parallel however goes further. The Misseriya while not yet janjaweed will eventually evolve into the same once cornered into the very categories that Johnson suggested: a migrant population with no entitlement to land and political rights in a hostile territory demonised as incorrigible perpetrators of violence and devoid of any real agency except that which is bestowed upon them by the rulers of Khartoum.
Invoking ‘democracy’ Johnson argued that the abandonment of the Abyei Referendum amounts to an abandonment of democratic transition. The African Union and the US administration have in his judgement thus failed to realise that though there may be two sides to every question, each side is not equally right. Without prejudice to the partisanship of truth Johnson’s sides, indigenous versus migrant, and victim versus perpetrator, are false options if not battle cries rather than the coordinates of, in this case, a political not a historical truth. Imagine for instance the same dichotomies employed in the incessant squabbles over land entitlement within the definite territory of South Sudan. 

Saturday 2 April 2011

The viable Sudanese

Security personnel in Juba airport today confiscated all the copies of the Juba-based Khartoum-printed Juba Post before it could be distributed. According to Michael Koma, the editor of the twice weekly paper, the authorities seized the publication because of an article claiming that the rebel SPLA general George Athor was entertaining plans to launch an assault on the Southern capital, Juba, shortly before the official inauguration of the new state, South Sudan, on 9 July. Interestingly, the Minister of Information in the Government of South Sudan (GoSS), Bernaba Marial Benjamin, distanced himself from the incidence with the proposition: “Hostile articles should be allowed to run. That is freedom of expression which we support”. Signalling a pattern the Citizen, a Juba daily, suffered last February a revenge attack on its premises for the publication of articles critical of the performance of the Ministry of Interior and the police forces in the South.
The parallel with the situation of media freedoms in the rump North is of course self-evident, the difference being that Juba is yet in the challenging juvenile stages of fortifying a one party autocracy that feeds in ZANU-PF mode of the legacy of liberation while the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) in Khartoum is suffering the symptoms of an exhausted hegemonic power, short of arguments, and thirsty for the form of reform. Even Nafie Ali Nafie, the notoriously hawkish NCP headman instructed an audience of party cadres in the White Nile state yesterday to initiate a monitoring and evaluation campaign in the party structures and the state administrations to curb corruption and rejuvenate the inner life of the sclerotic party body. He further ordered an “opening” towards the oppositional political forces and reversed his condemnation of the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement (SPLM) and its Northern Sector with the notion that the SPLM is not to blame for partition since it is the people of the South who have opted for an independent state. President Bashir has also lately modified his tone on the subject when addressing his citizens. To the Sudanese expatriate community in Qatar Bashir expressed his content with the outcome of the referendum since it reflected the free will of the Southern Sudanese. In a sense, the President marketed partition as proof of the democratic credentials of his government.
Nafie the reformer, Bashir the democrat and Benjamin the freedoms advocate, I presume, had in mind the global beholder personified, the newly appointed US envoy to Sudan, Princeton Lyman, in the back of their minds.  The US administration’s overall goal as stated by President Obama and carried by Lyman is the establishment of two viable states in the North and the South by the end of the interim period on 9 July. The Sudanese parties apparently are bidding for the jobs of ‘stabilizers’. Only in that light can one understand Yasir Arman’s campaign late March in Washington. The Secretary General of the SPLM’s Northern Sector recycled a post-secession version of the late John Garang’s concept of a ‘New Sudan’ to his high profile American audience with the added value of a plea to maintain the American sanctions against Khartoum until it surrenders to the imperative of ‘democratic transformation’. It was the same Arman interestingly who skipped the rendezvous with the democracy of the really existing ‘New Sudan’ when it knocked his door in the April 2010 elections. Instead of guarding the democracy he so fervently espouses Arman the presidential candidate surrendered its promise of ‘transformation’ to the status quo terms of the NCP-SPLM detente. Arman’s official justification was that the NCP had already prepared the ground for fraud; the flip side of ‘conditions are not yet ripe for democracy’, the cherished argument of all dictatorships. 
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This work by Magdi El Gizouli is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.