Tuesday 24 April 2012

President Bashir’s dictionary

Following the lead of President Bashir the Sudan News Agency (SUNA) started using the term hashara, a pun on haraka (movement), when referring to the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). President Bashir also suggested tadmeer (destruction) instead of tahreer (liberation) but only hashara caught on. The resemblance with inyenzi (cockroaches), the term used by Hutu extremists to depict their Tutsi enemies in the run up to the 1994 Rwanda massacres, cannot be missed. The President inaugurated the public use of hashara in his victory speech to a company of Sudanese troops in al-Kurmuk, once the stronghold of the SPLM-North in the Blue Nile, on 6 November 2011, granting the observer a glimpse into the combat obscenities of the SAF. 
President Bashir popularized the term in two mobilisation speeches preceding the Sudanese army’s reclaim of Heglig, one in the National Congress Party (NCP) headquarters in Khartoum and another in al-Obeid, the capital of Kordofan state, and in two others celebrating the victory on 20 April. In these last events the cheering crowds would not settle for anything less than the hashara. Abd al-Rahman al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, the President’s assistant and son of the National Umma Party (NUP) boss, was booed to silence when he suggested that Sudan and South Sudan would eventually have to cooperate. When the President rose to speak he was welcomed with the cheer kul al-guwa juba juwa – all the force into Juba, a recycle of the battle cry of the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) kul al-guwa al-khartoum juwa – all the force into Khartoum, followed by al-shaab yureed tahreer al-janub – the people want the liberation of South [Sudan]. The President said the SAF would proceed to crush the hasharat (pl.) in South Kordofan and the Blue Nile but made no mention of the declaration two days earlier that his plan was now to topple the SPLM regime in Juba. The audience was not satisfied prompting the President to make another of his stage decisions. Sudan’s pipelines will remain closed to South Sudanese oil even if Juba agrees to grant Khartoum the 50% share it enjoyed during the six years interim period of the expired Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), announced an elated Bashir, igniting another round of nationalist orgasms among the crowd. 
Emboldened by the President’s sanction individual patriots rehabilitated the words abd (slave) and farkh (a descendant of slaves) for use in the public domain when referring to the South Sudanese. The racial slurs are in themselves not novel; they constitute elements of the ideological baggage of Sudan’s ruling class. Novel however is their unashamed public employment. I came across a salvo of such insults in the comments section of a Youtube recording of a South Sudan Television interview with Barnaba Marial Benjamin, the country’s Minister of Information, in which he asserted that the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) had pulled out of Heglig and was not defeated by the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF). The Minister ridiculed the victory celebrations in Khartoum saying the Sudanese government was fooling itself and its people. 
Followers of Mohamed Abd al-Karim, a particularly zealous Islamist cleric, took things a step further last Saturday. The assailants stormed a compound of the Evangelical Church in the Khartoum suburb al-Jireif, ransacked the buildings and burned Bibles after breaking through a police cordon. Abd al-Karim allegedly incited the attack in a sermon delivered the day before. No casualties were recorded. The popular committee of al-Jireif, a neighbourhood level administrative organ, laid claim to the land occupied by the church a month before. Abd al-Karim, said the pastor of the church, told worshippers in the mosque where he preaches nearby to go and seize what is theirs. The Undersecretary of the Ministry for Religious Endowments, Hamid Yusif, paid a visit to the church the next day and in an address to its congregation, a mix of South Sudanese, Sudanese from the Nuba Mountains, Eritreans and Ethiopians, promised an investigation into the incident. The Ministry, he said, “condemns this attack and considers it an extremist act born out of individual religious opinion”, an opinion he described as “false and misguided”. 
The “misguided” opinion Mr Undersecretary is certainly not individual; it is propagated daily by al-Intibaha, ubiquitous among the NCP high priests, sanctioned by the state, and has long become the working ideology of an urban mob.

Tuesday 17 April 2012

Heglig: the unity of corpses

Khartoum and Juba have only adrenaline to compensate for their loss of oil. In their frenzied attempt to secure the highest returns conceivable from the unsustainable resource, their joint placenta as it were, the governments of Sudan and South Sudan are now effectively plunging into its flames. The allegory of burning moths would have been suitable were it not for the profuse blood been shed at the altar of oil. 
To the empiricist the current war between the two countries flakes layers of ideological camouflage from an essential dispute over oil. Through this prism a retrospective investigation of the 1983 insurgency led by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M), the ruling power in the independent South Sudan today, could come to the conclusion that Bentiu was responsible. The capital of ‘Unity state’, a name cynically conferred on the region by President Nimaryi, was expected to host Sudan’s first refinery and enrich the coffers of the regional government of southern Sudan in Juba through corporation and export tax. Nimayri, however, chose to enstrange his southern Sudanese allies, his partners in the 1972 Addis Ababa peace agreement, and accommodate the Khartoum establishment bosses with whom he had reconciled in 1977 after years of confrontation that peaked with the 1976 trans-Saharan coup attempt orchestrated by the Umma Party, Hassan al-Turabi’s Islamic Movement and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) figure, Hussein al-Hindi, under Qaddafi’s patronage. In 1980 the rayes ordered the construction of the promised refinery in Kosti on the White Nile, but the promise remained just that. He was deposed by a popular uprising in 1985 before he could reap the profits of Chevron’s 1978 discoveries near Bentiu and Heglig. The next rayes, President Bashir, built three refineries, the largest in Khartoum, and two smaller facilities in al-Obeid and Port Sudan, nodes in an export pipeline extending from the oil fields to Port Sudan on the Red Sea. 
This narrative, by its very empiricism, shortcuts the decisive question of why the successive Khartoum regimes behaved as they did, included in glory is the Anglo-Egyptian colonial order they inherited composite with extractive economy and state ideology. The standard answer to this question is race, religion and culture, as can be read in any news article on the Sudans. The racial argument, however, turns a construct into an essence, and does little to explain the dynamics which, for instance, led Paulino Matip, today the SPLA’s second in command, and his captains, to side with the northern jallaba against the SPLA/M. It was Matip’s militia that secured the Bentiu and Heglig oilfields for exploration and production. When the SPLA briefly captured Heglig in August 2001 it did not battle the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) proper but Matip’s army. Peter Gadet led the SPLA’s operations at the time, the same man who under Matip commanded the militia force which cleared the entire area of its human occupants to make way for the industry. Gadet formed the South Sudan Liberation Movement/Army in April 2011 with the objective of overthrowing the SPLM government in Juba. He dropped the plan four months later to re-join the SPLA, and was named last month deputy commander of Juba’s disarmament campaign in Jonglei. Khartoum has no Matip this time and failed to lure Gadet. 
Whether the ever elusive 1956 border passes north or south of the Heglig oil field is today of only rhetorical significance, material for the chauvinist propaganda in Khartoum and Juba. The concrete border rips right through it, and its landmarks are the disputed terms of oil division between the two countries. Harry Verhoeven, speaking to Reuters recently, chose the term “war of attrition” to describe the current military confrontation between Juba and Khartoum. The, attrition, however is not only mutual but self-defeating. The oil industry of the Sudans is like the corpus of the believers in the famed hadeeth, if one organ is harmed the others follow suit. The stakes are high, sure, but not beyond the reach of the marketplace. Until Khartoum and Juba are knocked back into bargaining with words corpses will do the communication.

Sunday 8 April 2012

The stateless Sudanese: victims of tajility

Today, 8 April, is the date set by the Sudanese authorities as a final deadline for the South Sudanese in the country to ‘regularise’ their resident status as foreigners or face unidentified punitive measures. According to press reports President Bashir assured the chief African Union (AU) mediator, Thabo Mbeki, that the ‘fraternal’ South Sudanese in Sudan will not be harmed or unjustly treated as long as they respect the laws of the country and the values and traditions of its people. Sudan’s chief negotiator at the Addis Ababa talks with South Sudan, Idris Mohamed Abd al-Gadir, told the media that the meeting between President Bashir and Thabo Mbeki dwelled on Khartoum’s call on Juba to provide its citizens in Sudan with the necessary nationality documents that allow the regularisation of their residence. As things stand, the South Sudanese who remain in Sudan are effectively stateless. With reference to the provisions of the South Sudan referendum law Khartoum amended its nationality bill in August 2011 to strip the ethnic South Sudanese in its territory of the Sudanese nationality, while Juba is yet to muster the bureaucratic capacity to provide its citizens inside South Sudan with nationality documents let alone those in (north) Sudan. 
Last March Sudan and South Sudan initialled a framework agreement providing their nationals in the other state with the freedoms of residence, movement, employment and the property. The deal, which was expected to be signed by the two countries’ presidents in a summit meeting set earlier in April, became the focus of internal feuding within the NCP establishment pitting the powerful Intibaha bloc which stridently rejected the framework against the negotiators. With the escalation of military confrontations along the border between the two countries hopes of an imminent rapprochement were dashed. Juba bragged about an incursion of its army into the Heglig oil field in South Kordofan. Khartoum responded with the usual: the SAF’s Antonovs bombed the oil facilities in the neighbouring South Sudanese Unity state, and mostly missed. The two countries’ negotiators met again in Addis Ababa only to complain of the other side’s prevarication, and the Bashir-Kiir summit was called off till further notice. 
The military standoff between the two capitals boils down to the unresolved status of the ninth and tenth divisions of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), the predominantly Nuba fighting force in South Kordofan that now constitutes the rebel SPLA in North Sudan. The most favourable scenario, from Khartoum’s perspective, would be a security deal akin to the pact that currently binds Sudan and Chad in regards to their common border. After fitful experimentation with proxies targeting the destabilisation, and ambitiously enough the overthrow of the other, Ndjamena agreed to emasculate the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) which hitherto enjoyed Chadian patronage and Khartoum delivered President Deby’s enemies to the desert. Out of Darfur, and then expelled out of Libya, the JEM rebels risked the trek down south seeking Juba’a cover, a hijra that the JEM leader Khalil Ibrahim did not survive. The Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) gunned him down in the company of a cohort of his captains in northern Kordofan. In the bargaining process between the two Sudans Khartoum seemed ready to offer the ‘four freedoms framework’, despite domestic opposition, in exchange for a security pact, with the SPLA-N as the sacrificial lamb. Juba, I presume, calculated that it would thus waste a major leverage point at the cheap. Tajility thus overruled. The term is an Anglo-Egyptian coinage derived from tajil, the Arabic word for delay, and used to describe the Sudanese state art of forestalling. Apart from legislations, primarily designed to satisfy domestic chauvinist passions, neither South Sudan nor Sudan was at a rush to secure the fate of the thousands of Sudanese now left stateless in the orgy of partition. Juba wanted their secession votes, and received them. Today it is in a position to benefit from the marketing of their plight in its duel with Khartoum. None other than Pagan Amum set the tenor for Juba’s approach towards the issue when he accused Khartoum in March, shortly before the signing of the ‘four freedoms’ framework, of ignoring the predicament of three hundred thousand Southern Sudanese citizens suffering slavery in Sudan. 
A brilliant Khartoum journalist, Ajok Awad Allah-Jabo, herself an ethnic mix of southern and northern Sudanese descent, documented the concrete situation of the “voluntary repatriation Southerners” as she termed her kin, in a two parts report published recently in the daily al-Ahdath. According to her illustration, what is taking place in Khartoum is nothing short of forced expulsion. Armed policemen guard the collection locations, she visited Jebel Aulia south of Khartoum, and checkpoints litter the vicinity of the IDP camps where the stateless Sudanese reside to prevent their escape. Moreover, she discussed the ‘business’ of repatriation showing how northern and southern players, state organs and private entrepreneurs, connive to draw the most from the transport boom. 
Last February Khartoum state ordered the popular committees, neighbourhood level governance structures also entrusted with petty security functions, to draw up lists of foreign residents, including ethnic South Sudanese, in the areas under their supervision and report violators. Sennar state, bordering South Sudan, followed Khartoum’s lead. The governor of Sennar, Ahmed Abbas, told a rally in al-Suki two days ago that he had instructed the localities in the state to implement the 8 April deadline without hesitation. Devolution of the authority over the fate of the South Sudanese resident in Sudan to the lower levels of administration and policing is certainly an ominous development with possibly unwelcome implications, particularly with the prevalent chauvinist, if not frankly racist, propaganda of al-Intibaha in mind. If tajility is to blame for the limbo in which the stateless Sudanese now find themselves further tajility combined with inefficiency of the state bureaucracy and the corruption of the police could possibly rescue them from the caprice of local administrators.
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This work by Magdi El Gizouli is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.