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.


  1. "Juba wanted their [southern Sudanese residing in Sudan] secession votes, and received them."

    I suggest in the above, Magdi, therein lies the problem:

    Southern Sudanese failed the Norman Tebbit ‘cricket-test.

    They had a golden chance to nail their colours to the unity flag.

    But, sadly, they passed it up.

    Can't have a foot in both camps, no??

    So I, thus suggest, in that light, the Government of Sudan - and yes, shock, horror, the NCP, too - is being rather magnanimous in even giving South Sudanese a toehold to stay in Sudan, no??? That’s doubly true given South Sudanese constant 'victimhood' narrative of life in the "bad, bad, wicked" Sudan.

    Key take-home: Magdi - you're distorting the facts and 'atmospherics' about the status of the estimated 0.7 million southern Sudanese still residing in Sudan, post-South Sudan independence, and tailoring (pandering??) your discourse on the issue solely to an external (read Western) audience to fit and confirm all of their preconceived - and false - notions about the 'bad, bad, wicked' ‘Arabised’ 'rump' Sudan.
    There have certainly been no witch-hunts in Sudan, post South Sudan independence, of rounding up southern Sudanese either by the govt or ordinary Sudanese or attacks on them or their property; or have I missed something???
    That's what I mean about the distortion of the 'atmospherics' about South Sudanese still residing in Sudan as the April 8th deadline approached - and passed; certainly, the South Sudanese that I've seen in and around Sudan still look remarkably relaxed - or, again, have I missed something??
    To be clear, South Sudanese residing in Sudan aren’t particularly concerned whether they are stateless or not.
    That’s an abstract concept to them that has relevance to UNHCR and other international agencies only.
    All South Sudanese in Sudan – most of them unskilled labourers as you know – want to know is that they can carry on with their daily lives in Sudan as normal – working, eating, sleeping, socializing, staying in their dwellings etc; most of them never had ID cards or the like even before the independence of South Sudan, right???
    Again it’s worth re-emphasisng: there have been no, zero, vigilante groups – either official or otherwise – knocking on the doors of South Sudanese and rounding them up for deportation or anything of that kind – and the political, let alone social, climate in Sudan is not even remotely close to doing that – would be pretty easy to do if that was the case given the stark visibility of South Sudanese communities in Khartoum and elsewhere in Sudan.
    That’s what I also mean, Magdi, by your extreme distortion/caricaturisation of the ‘atmospherics’ about the status of South Sudanese residing in Sudan. It’s primed squarely at a non-Sudanese (read Western) audience, who are the prime readers of your blog. This post just seems to over ham and point to a few examples of just two places in Sudan that have instructed govt cadres to draw up a list (hardly a crime, I might add, most countries do that anyhow) of foreign residents and including south Sudanese in that mix and, as appears your usual modus operandi, over hamming the presence of 'Al Intihabists' in Sudan, too.
    Main take-away: give the quorum of the political class here in Sudan – which is reasonable, big-hearted, and fair minded – its fair due, let alone the majority of ordinary Sudanese, rather than concentrating just on the fringe simply because it makes good reading for your external audience.

    Best wishes,

    I Adam,Sudan.

  2. Thanks I. Adam for your criticism. I do not agree with a basic tenet of your argument, namely the ethnic definition of citizenship.

    I imagine you would not favor having no identity documents, or proof to protect your property. The same probably applies to the South Sudanese resident in Sudan, even if you think their property and occupations too petty to deserve documentation. In that regard, statelessness is surely not merely an abstract notion. For the South Sudanese in Khartoum that I know acquisition of nationality documents was a constant concern.

    The people we are discussing here are no less Sudanese than the NCP bigwigs, al-Tayeb Mustafa, or the rest of the country's residents. As you said, they have lived and worked in the territory now (north) Sudan for years, and in some cases generations. This territorial attachment makes them them the Sudanese that we all are.

  3. Ibrahim,

    I think Dr Gizouli highlights a minority (and maybe incipient) number cases that illustrate the deeper policy implications of stripping citizenship of Sudanese (Southern of origin who happen to have voted overwhelmingly for secession). Whatever his target audience, preferred language of communication, and however marginal the witch hunts which have taken place are, they are executed with authority and responsibility of the State. We can't escape this. The actions of the State may not be representative of the majority of Sudanese, but there comes a time where "silence is betrayal" as the late Dr. MLK Jr said. Though Sudanese certainly do not have it in their capacity to promote or support the NCP's rhetorics, policies, and actions, do they have it in them to refuse, dissuade, and vehemently protest human rights violations of this sort? Hard questions with hard answers. The N.C.P is taking advantage of the mixed and (practically androgynous, indecissive) tajility (as it were) and disposition of the public.

    A humanist will point out concerns of the plight of Sudanese once enjoying the comfort of an official status that wasn't argued in the halls of a the Congress, who's members are hardly welcomed by the majority fed up with State corruption, lack of principle, weak policy-making, constant in-fighting, and consistent violations of human rights. This no longer has to do with the image or prestige of Sudanese hospitality and manners. This is about the intellectual soundness and prowess of the State.

    There is an important matter here that is escaping the argument from this column. Have there been attempts made to decouple the plebiscite outcome with the natural and immediate economic concerns of Southern Sudanese? In other words, why must a Southern Sudanese who wishes that his/her beloved homeland (and family/relatives therein) gain the ultimate autonomy that can be afforded (State independence) be forced to abandon their immediate economic sustenance in Khartoum or (northern) Sudan? Why are the two matters coupled? In my view , it's very rational that a Southern Sudanese would vote for independence (who's outcome is a longterm process), while immediately tending to their business, friendships, and property in Sudan. Surely, Sudanese with their magnanimity can comprehend such a decision. It's political, not personal. Why is the outcome of the referendum coupled so hard with ethnicizing legal residency?

    the so called Jamaledin


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