Monday, 3 October 2011

The Sudanese straw-men

Protesters in Khartoum kept the riot police rather busy over the past week. In several residential areas people took to the streets equipped with frying pans, pots and jerrycans to vent their frustration over the steep rise in living costs. The protesters demanded the dismissal of the finance minister and the enforcement of government controls on the prices of basic commodities. The authorities responded with the classics, police and propaganda. Senior officials of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) accused unspecified political forces of exploiting the post-secession economic slump to further their regime change agenda, and complained of a Western conspiracy against the country. Nafie Ali Nafie, the Deputy Chairman of the NCP, put the blame on a certain "communist with some money” whom he accused of orchestrating the largely nocturnal hunger riots. The alleged communist’s long arm, however, reached out to al-Elafoon, a centre of Sufi brotherhoods at a short distance from Khartoum, where worshipers from the main mosque, under the influence of the local Imam, took to the streets following the Friday prayers to protest against the deteriorating living conditions. The same area had welcomed President Bashir some months ago promising allegiance to the last man, woman and child. Evidently, the NCP will find it difficult to sustain its patronage network at the cheap. Contrary to common wisdom the weakest link in the chain is none other than Khartoum itself, and not the peripheral war zones.
Slump is arguably an understatement. Early in September the governor of Sudan’s central Bank, Mohamed Khair al-Zubair, asked Arab counterparts to feed the safes of the Sudanese financial system. Al-Zubair stated that the country needs a minimum of 4 billion US dollars this year to make it through the oil deprivation crunch. Apparently his plea was left unanswered. Bashir welcomed the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad this past week, not a particular favourite of the richer Arabs. While Bashir wished for greater economic cooperation Ahmadinejad did his regular piece, Islamic solidarity against the Western conspirators. Talking to the press in Paris last Thursday Sudan’s foreign minister said the economy of the country faces collapse unless the international community provides Khartoum with badly needed assistance. Back in Khartoum he claimed to have secured French cooperation regarding the relief of Sudan’s burgeoning foreign debt, estimated last December at 31.9 billion US dollars. In short, Khartoum is petitioning all around for aid.   
On the other pole the Secretary General of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in North Sudan (SPLM-N), Yasir Arman, entertained audiences in the United States and the United Kingdom over the past two weeks with the themes of war in Sudan’s new south. The highlight of Arman’s campaign was the Prendergastian plea for the international enforcement of a no-fly zone over Darfur, the Blue Nile and South Kordofan, justified by the responsibility to protect (R2P). In a Bashir-style speech to the Sudanese political class in London Arman referred to Khartoum’s protesters as the heroes of the impending regime change. In the custom of the opposition effendi Arman blamed the NCP for destroying the economy and impoverishing the nation. His best though was the argument that President Bashir even destroyed the Islamic Movement which Hassan al-Turabi had spent decades to build from a student organisation to a capable power machine. The convenience is surely telling. The split in the Islamic Movement is now considered another of Bashir’s uncountable vices. It seems even the long demonised Turabi is amenable to rehabilitation in the heat of effendiya resistance to the NCP.
More telling I suppose is the parallel between Karti’s rendezvous in France and Arman’s US-UK tour; both demonstrate the profound extraversion of Sudan’s rulers, past, actual or hopeful. Even Nimayri, whom the Sudanese dethroned by popular revolt lives in the memory of many an effendi as the man who begged abroad to give us back at home, a reference to the favours in cash and kind that he was so apt at begetting from his US patrons and their allies in the Gulf, favours that now glare at the Sudanese in the form of a 31.9 billion dollar bill. Bayart possibly phrased it best. He forwarded the proposition that “the leading actors in sub-Saharan societies have tended to compensate for their difficulties in the autonomization of their power and in intensifying the exploitation of their dependents by deliberate recourse to the strategies of extraversion, mobilizing resources derived from their (possibly unequal) relationship with the external environment” whereby the external environment “turned into a major resource in the process of political centralization and economic accumulation” as well as the conduct of social struggles of subaltern actors.  Bayart’s dictum that African elites have been active agents in the dependency misery of their societies echoes Fanon’s denunciation of Africa’s straw-men, the heirs of the colonial state. Arman the ‘secular democrat’ and Karti the ‘Islamist autocrat’ are no strangers to this legacy. 

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This work by Magdi El Gizouli is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.