Tuesday 14 August 2012

Sudan’s Islamists: the disavowal of politics

Ghazi Salah al-Din, the head of the National Congress Party (NCP) parliamentary caucus and a leading intellectual of the post-Turabi Sudanese Islamic Movement, doubted in a recent interview whether he would join the contemporary Movement, in its 2012 version, had he the opportunity. In a style reminiscent of the interview tactics of the late Mohamed Ibrahim Nugud Ghazi dodged the question by asking it to himself and refusing to answer. He told his interlocutor that the Islamic Movement was in an ambiguous situation that makes any judgement on its affairs quite difficult. The Movement, argued Ghazi, does not rule, has never ruled, and it is not clear whether it should rule at all. With this statement he apparently redeemed the Islamic Movement that he joined as freshman in Khartoum University of the baggage of twenty three years in power, a legacy that he seemed willing to shove over to the NCP as a the carrier of immediate authority. Ghazi dismissed ‘politics’ as such as the business of “villains”, a condemnation that he felt comfortable to pronounce from the armchair of the distanced intellectual. 
Ghazi’s brief interview is no journalistic coincidence. Separately, or may be not so separately, veteran members of the paramilitary Popular Defence Forces (PDF) who share the experience of combat against the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M) during the 1990s in what was then southern Sudan, have been meeting recently in Khartoum to reminisce about the ‘jihad years’ and debate the future of the Islamic Movement. One such meeting took place on 27 July in the Khartoum University mosque, famed as the headquarters of the Islamic Movement’s student wing. The attendants were mostly men and women who dedicated their twenties to the Islamist cause as students, lost friends and colleagues in the battlefields of Sudan’s multiple insurgencies, but were largely orphaned ideologically as a consequence of the 1999 feud between Hassan al-Turabi, the historical leader of the Islamic Movement, and President Bashir, the man who continues to rule with its emblem. One such figure is al-Naji Abdalla, today an emerging politician in Turabi’s PCP. Naji reportedly sobbed as he addressed the crowd. “A meeting of the mujahideen should not be an occasion for shedding tears without consideration of the future of the Islamic Movement…We come to you with open hearts and without any political agenda. We only seek the glory of the Islamic Movement and do not fear but Allah”, he was quoted saying. 
Naji was known to me and my colleagues in the student organisation of the Communist Party - the Democratic Front - as ‘the cooking-oil thief’. I am still to find out the background for this accusation, but I must confess doing my share in perpetuating it in speech and writing. As Naji’s adversary I had little opportunity to hear his ‘story’. Today, it seems, Naji, and Ghazi, are attempting to do exactly that: tell their story, and thereby seek absolution from the adventure of power. The basic contention against this mode of (disavowed) politics, i.e. story-telling, is that it reduces the objective reality of the exercise of power, the villain’s burden to borrow Ghazi’s depiction, to a subjective tale of virtue and sin, material for sympathetic understanding. This is a double fraud. History is no psychoanalysis couch, and there is no escape from its clutch to the bosom of a transcendental beholder.

Thursday 9 August 2012

Internship Programme at the London office of the Rift Valley Institute

The London office of the Rift Valley Institute (www.riftvalley.net) seeks graduate-level interns for two three-month periods: October to December 2012 and January to March 2013. The application deadline is Friday 14 September 2012. The intern announcement can be downloaded here or via the RVI website. The online application form is here.

The successful applicants will join a small administrative team managing the Institute's field research projects, publication programme and training courses in Eastern and Central Africa. They will assist in liaising with the RVI Nairobi office and maintaining long-term programmes such as the Sudan Open Archive (www.sudanarchive.net) and the Usalama Project (a field-based research project that documents armed groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo). They will work with the RVI Executive Director, the Programme Director and the Publications Manager, and with regional project officers.

There are no formal qualifications for RVI internships, but successful applicants are likely to have completed a Master's degree in a relevant discipline (arts, literature, social sciences, languages or information technology) and to have experience in – or demonstrable knowledge of – Eastern and Central Africa. Candidates need to be fluent in written and spoken English; fluency in French is also an asset. Other useful skills and aptitudes include:
  • event management and general administrative skills
  • text editing for publication
  • fluency in written and/or spoken forms of one or more of the languages of Eastern and Central Africa, notably Arabic, Swahili, Somali (and French, as above)
  • graphic design
  • IT skills including data management and website administration
  • scanning, digitisation and data entry
  • video camerawork and editing
The Institute seeks to develop talent in these fields. Former RVI interns now work as staff members of the RVI, for international NGOs and think-tanks, for indigenous NGOs in Eastern Africa, in academic research, and in government service in various countries.

The standard period of an RVI internship is three months, at least three days a week. The exact length of time is negotiable. Interns are unpaid, but receive a daily allowance for travel within London. Lunch is provided at the office. Applicants should live in daily travelling distance of London W11.

Important: Internships are open only to legal residents of the United Kingdom with the right to work. We are not able to consider candidates based in other countries. Opportunities for internship and employment in our Nairobi office and on field programmes in Eastern Africa will be advertised separately.

The application deadline for both internships – October to December 2012 and January to March 2013 – is Friday 14 September 2012. Interviews and trial days will take place from the beginning of September.

Candidates can apply online here. Contact Jacob Fodio Todd (recruitment@riftvalley.net) with problems or questions.

The Rift Valley Institute (RVI) is a non-profit research, education, publication and advocacy organization operating in Eastern and Central Africa: the Sudans, the Horn of Africa, East Africa and the Great Lakes. The Institute works with communities, institutions and individuals to bring local knowledge to bear on political and economic development. The RVI is an equal opportunity employer.

Monday 6 August 2012

Abbo: who is the 'revolutionary'?

Instead of Sadiq al-Mahdi, the imam of the Ansar, it was Abd al-Mahmoud Abbo, the Secretary General of the Ansar Welfare Association, who led the prayer last Friday in Sayed Abd al-Rahman al-Mahdi mosque in Wad Nubawi, Omdurman. For a few weeks the mosque became a refuge for the Girifna/ChangeNow crowd in their surge against the National Congress Party (NCP), an occupation that the National Umma Party (NUP) leadership tolerated but did not necessarily welcome, particularly when banners of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in North Sudan (SPLM-N) were hoisted above the heads of the protestors. Speaking from the pulpit Abbo distanced his flock from the agitation of the “alleged revolutionaries” as he called them and made it clear that the mosque was a site of worship and not a political platform. Bluntly phrased he told the protesters to camp elsewhere. 
ChangeNow had announced an arrangement with the NUP to organise a prayer for those killed in the Nyala demonstrations, eight people in the official count and twelve according to activists’ reports. Abbo denied any such coordination. ChangeNow responded with an angry statement blasting the NUP for failing to abide by the commitment to host the prayer attributed to a member of the party’s politburo, most probably its fiery chairwoman Sara Nugdalla, the daughter of the long bedridden Nugdalla, a veteran NUP figure with a hero’s record of resistance to the regime of President Bashir in the less confusing times of the opposition National Democratic Alliance (NDA). 
The criticism hurled against Abbo - online pieces ridiculed the man as a NCP stooge and a mere voice machine for Sadiq al-Mahdi - did not pass unchecked. The Ansar headman responded with a scathing criticism of the protest movement while acknowledging the patriotism and dedication of the sector of youth who continue to suffer under the NCP regime and had the courage to revolt against its rule. Cigarette stubs and snuff (tumbak) had been found in the mosque, he said. The two items are strictly prohibited in the teachings of the Mahdi, Sudan’s 19th century revolutionary, and are almost as haram as alcohol in the Ansar’s belief system, but belong to the standard effendi armour of Khartoum’s political class, old and new. From that premise Abbo defended the Ansar’s ‘revolutionary’ record. Revolt against injustice runs in our blood and is a constituent of our belief but the Ansar will not be told how and when to mobilise; the Ansar are fully aware of their national responsibility but will not participate in “immature acts” that could actually be in the benefit of the regime, he stated. In his piece Abbo introduced the category “thieves of revolutions”; people, he said, who “found pleasure in the news of fallen martyrs and were out to cash in on the sufferings of torture victims”. “A true revolutionary does not sit before a keyboard and mobilise from his house; a revolutionary does not insulate himself and enjoy the news of the revolution; we will not accept to be told when and how to revolt; we have witnessed these alleged revolutionaries and some of them probably entered a mosque for the first time in their life, instead of ending the prayer with the call for peace they shouted ‘the people want to overthrow the regime’, others slipped away and left the true revolutionaries to face their fate”, stated Abbo in a long pedagogic piece that finished with the line: “I have a moral responsibility towards those I represent, and I will do my best to achieve their goals and protect them from exploitation and oppression. We say to those who believe the Ansar can be led to sacrifice so that opportunists can climb over their corpses to power they will have to wait long. The nation is for all, all have to move, and we will join them until victory is achieved”. 
Abbo’s rant can easily be dismissed as an escapist attempt to cloth the NUP’s zigzag politics with a token of credibility. In doing so however his critics are doomed to miss the grain of truth inherent in his argument, namely the rift between the petit bourgeoisie effendi of Khartoum or the diaspora for that matter, ever endowed with a self-satisfied drive for leadership, and the nas (people) supposed to be led, depicted in the standard reading borrowed from the colonial dictionary as ‘backward’, ‘passive’, ‘complacent’, or stunned by false consciousness in a more recent development of the same outlook. Sudan’s British rulers developed a fantasy of the Ansar as jihad fanatics ever ready for battle, a fantasy that has survived in the mental world of the contemporary effendis sustained by the imagery of several Ansar incursions into Khartoum at the behest of the Mahdis, in 1954 to protest against the visit of Egypt’s Mohamed Najib, in 1965 to back the call for the prohibition of the Communist Party, and in 1976 as part of the armed attempt to topple Nimayri’s government. To this category belongs, of course, the Ansar’s post-colonial Karari moment, the deadly confrontation with Nimayri’s ‘revolutionary’ regime in Wad Nubawi and Abba Island in 1970. On all mentioned occasions Ansar blood soaked the political carpet. The collective agency of the Ansar is both revered, considering its supposed mass, and feared on the premise that an untamed religious bigotry forms its essential trigger. 
The contention however is that both the Mahdis and the opposition activists wishing to borrow their constituency and their mosque share in this reification of the Ansar as a remote-controllable undifferentiated crowd of believers, ever on standby to brandish their weapons and storm unconcerned into battle as they did against the troops of the Anglo-Egyptian conquest on the plains of Karari outside Omdurman on 2 September 1898. In the Sudanese nationalist narrative Karari is identified as a victory in the form of a defeat, but in the memory of my late grandmother for instance it is recorded as a katla, a term that translates best into ‘mass killing’. At least ten thousand Ansar were machine-gunned to death that morning. To dispel this false consciousness of the elite it is sufficient to consider the fashion in which the alleged organic formations of Darfur, a supposedly all-Ansar arena, continue to unfold and clash in a whirlwind of political adventures far divorced from the NUP’s agenda. 
In the 1940’s Sayed Abd al-Rahman al-Mahdi invited effendis of an Ansar background to his alliance and launched the Umma Party, a political vehicle for dynastic purposes. The convenience arrangement offered the ambitious effendis a short-cut to power in the form of a guaranteed sectarian vote. The notion became an operational feature of Khartoum politics including the fascination with the ‘marginalised’ of the peripheries, the ethnic resource which if properly tapped could provide the Khartoum elite displaced by the NCP with the mass force to contest power. The algorithm has changed however; the nas are speaking for themselves, Abd al-Mahmoud Abbo as well.

Wednesday 1 August 2012

The Sudanese press after separation

'An overview of the Sudanese print media' in The Sudanese press after separation - Contested identities of journalism, a publication of Media in Cooperation and Transition (MICT) - Berlin.
Creative Commons Licence
This work by Magdi El Gizouli is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.