Sunday 30 September 2012

Kiir and Bashir: brothers in oil

Sudan and South Sudan signed on Thursday a battery of eight agreements covering oil and other economic concerns, border security, monitoring and demarcation, the status of nationals in the other state, and trade next to other outstanding post-secession issues, and crowned the set with a global cooperation agreement worthy of the signatures of the two presidents, Kiir and Bashir. The governor of Khartoum Abd al-Rahman al-Khidir made sure that a jolly crowd welcomed President Bashir at the airport upon his return on Friday. The crowd, reported the press, insisted that the President deliver a speech after the spell of stick waving, and so he did. He spoke buoyantly of the ‘real’ start of peace between the two countries and a new era of cooperation and mutual benefit, pipeline-mediated and along a ‘soft border’ blocked to weapons and ammunition and open to the movement of people and goods. President Bashir told the crowd that he had a personal conversation with President Kiir after the signing ceremony and felt assured that his ‘brother’ Salva was sincere about implementing the agreements in good will. In his speech at the ceremony President Kiir also referred to his Sudanese counterpart as a ‘brother’. 
The brilliant South Sudanese essayist Stella Gaitano correctly identified the function of the ‘brother’ mannerism in Sudanese political discourse as a gesture of exclusion, the mark of the alien in the national corpus. She made the comment shortly before the independence of South Sudan in a warning to the people of Darfur when she noticed that the mainstream press had stripped the South Sudanese of the qualification and shifted its use to Darfurians. As a Khartoum-raised ethnic South Sudanese Stella lost her Sudanese citizenship with the secession of South Sudan, and wrote passionately about the experience of the double hijra of the South Sudanese in (north) Sudan, in her words “from a second class citizen to a first class foreigner”. Presidents Bashir and Kiir negotiated a settlement between two states, a categorical difference that sets the Addis Ababa summit agreements apart from the lengthy scriptures of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), but nevertheless a formal one. In fact, the baggage of the CPA is all around. The terms of the compromise remain the same: a trade-off between oil and security. Khartoum and Juba renegotiated the wealth-sharing formula of the CPA to correspond to the new sovereignty map of the territories under their control and capped the deal with the redeployment of their armies away from the border and the invitation of monitors to verify the process and record violations. 
The tactics involved in this recalibration of power relations are paradigmatic. Juba tabled the Abyei card with a declaration that a deal without Abyei was no deal at all, and Khartoum successfully retouched the dispute over Mile 14, a border area between South Sudan’s Bahr al-Ghazal and Sudan’s Darfur, to glow like an Abyei in the making. To its domestic audience and to the mediation the government of Sudan marketed Mile 14 as a ‘national hymen’ immune to compromise, the last piece in the jigsaw puzzle of security arrangements. It even invited ‘notables’ from the Rizeigat community in the area to present their case to the African Union High Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP). When President Bashir and President Kiir arrived in Addis Ababa for their summit talks the negotiation teams had already hammered out the agreements that matter as it were. Abyei was left out in keeping with tradition; this time however with a new counterweight, Mile 14. What the two presidents agreed upon at the finishing line of the negotiations, with the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) hustling them along, was a mutual and consensual trap, material for renewed conflict down the road if need arises. President Bashir rejected the AUHIP’s Abyei proposal, a referendum plus package, but agreed to shove the entire file to the African Union Peace and Security Council (AUPSC), and simultaneously planted a secondary Abyei on the border. Mile 14 was granted special status in the security arrangements; the two sides agreed to withdraw their forces from the entirety of the twenty three kilometres long strip as compared to the ten kilometres of the Safe Demilitarized Border Zone (SDBZ) on either side. The administration of the area was ‘re-traditionalized’; the status quo of “joint tribal mechanisms for the resolution of disputes” between the Dinka Malwal of Bahr al-Ghazal and the Rizeigat of Darfur was to be maintained, said the security arrangements agreement. What this implies is the export of the Juba-Khartoum power game to this border area in the same fashion that Abyei has become an experimental ground for relations between the two countries. Neither side of course lacks experience in empowering proxy punchers to bruise the other as expediency requires. If the Dinka Malwal and the Rizeigat have managed to soften the border between them they are now invited to ‘nationalize’ the border under the injunction of the state.
The unwritten clause of the security agreement is presumably what Sudan’s Minister of Defence said to Radio Omdurman on Friday. He stated that the security arrangements determined specific modalities for dissociation between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and the forces that once constituted its 9th and 10th divisions in South Kordofan and the Blue Nile i.e. the bulk of the fighting force of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement in North Sudan (SPLA/M-N). The text of the 27 September security agreement makes no mention of the SPLA/M-N but it does renew the commitment of the parties to the 10 February 2012 memorandum of understanding on non-aggression and cooperation where they pledged “the cessation of harbouring of, or support to rebel groups against the other State”. The SPLA/M-N now faces almost the same challenges that the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) had to grapple with after Ndjamena and Khartoum arrived at a settlement late in 2009 that ended a long season of proxy war between them. Ndjamena expelled the late Khalil Ibrahim, founding chairman of the JEM, from its territory, and Sudan ordered Chadian rebels out of the country. Juba might not act all that dramatically but is very likely to pressure the SPLA/M-N to downscale its ambitious negotiation position. Yasir Arman, the SPLM-N’s secretary general, claimed in a statement released on Friday that the rebel movement controls more than forty per cent of the border, and is thus entitled to a say in the establishment of the SDBZ. “There is a need for cooperation with the SPLM-N”, he stated, and the “SPLA/M-N are ready to cooperate”. Yes, indeed. I wonder if President Kiir calls Yasir a brother.

Tuesday 18 September 2012

The Arab Spring: Turabi rehabilitated

Hassan al-Turabi, the veteran chief of the Sudanese Islamic Movement turned opponent to the long reign of his disciples under President Bashir, appeared yesterday on al-Jazeera to celebrate the rise of Islamic forces to power in the region. The ‘sheikh of freedoms’ as his party followers prefer to call him spoke with the comfort and vindication of a pioneer; his miscegenation of Islamic themes and ideals with Leninist principles of vanguard organisation delivered the “first Islamic state in the Sunni world” to use the title he conferred on the regime born out the 1989 coup d’├ętat orchestrated by the National Islamic Front (NIF), the political cloak of the Sudanese Islamic Movement at the time. 
Today, Turabi sits snugly in the opposition, eviscerated from power in 1999 after a drawn out struggle with President Bashir, a struggle that robbed him of his political achievement but not of his intellectual property. Thanks to repeated cycles of detention and house arrest Turabi can safely claim victimhood in President Bashir’s state, the regime he authored almost singlehandedly but that soon mutated beyond his control. Both men are eager to impress their Islamic credentials upon the winners of the Arab Spring. As Turabi the sheikh was debating the challenges of Islamic rule in Doha with Rashid al-Ghannushi, the Chairman of the ruling Ennahda Movement in Tunisia, Bashir the rayes, endowed last month with a Master’s degree from Sudan’s Gezira University for a thesis titled ‘Challenges of the Application of Sharia in Contemporary Societies”, was busy marketing himself to his Egyptian counterpart, the Moslem Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi. 
The two heads of state, Morsi and Bashir, discussed the Nile water shares, said the spokesman of the Egyptian Presidency, and confirmed that “the position of Khartoum and Cairo regarding the Nile Basin crisis is identical”. To Cairo the 1959 Nile water agreement is sacrosanct; the colonial-era treaty grants almost the entire average annual flow of the river to Egypt and Sudan, to be shared at 55.5 and 18.5 billion cubic meters respectively. Ethiopia, acting alone and in partnership with the six other upper riparian states, has recently challenged the 1959 agreement demanding equitable utilization of the Nile between the nine countries that share the river thus precipitating a crisis yet to unfold with Egypt. Just this month Wikileaks released a document claiming that President Bashir agreed in 2010 to host an Egyptian airbase with the objective of launching a military attack on Ethiopia’s Grand Millennium Dam, the brainchild of the late Meles Zenawi, in case diplomatic efforts fail to deter Addis Ababa from pushing through with the project. The same Bashir however reportedly told the Ethiopian ambassador in Khartoum, Abadi Zemo, in March this year that Sudan will provide all the necessary support towards the success of the construction of the Millennium Dam. Judging by precedent Bashir has not strayed far from established standards of post-colonial Sudanese statesmanship. Abboud coyed to Nasser and agreed to drown Wadi Halfa under the lake of the Aswan High Dam for Egypt’s benefit; Nimayri followed Sadat’s lead to become the only Arab ruler to support the Camp David accords and make Sudan the second largest African recipient of US aid after Egypt; and Bashir himself initially camouflaged as an Egyptian stooge. Under pressure, and after his captains failed to assassinate Mubarak in 1995, President Bashir put a lid on Turabi’s pan-Islamic machinations in an attempt to appease the Egyptian Sublime Porte. As officers in the Egyptian-clayed Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) the three were well that the Governor General’s Palace in Khartoum had several keys, one of them at least in Cairo. 
Turabi possibly imagined himself the elephant in the room between Morsi and Bashir. The copyrights of political Islam in Sudan remain his, Bashir’s Master’s thesis notwithstanding. On the other hand, his relations with Egypt’s Moslem Brothers have long been burdened by the sin of his breakaway from Egyptian orbit in the 1960’s when he scoffed at the so-called educationalist and evolutionist methods of the mother organisation to launch the Sudanese branch of the Moslem Brotherhood onto an independent ‘revolutionary’ course. Along that path he rubbed shoulders with many a dissident Egyptian brother, Ayman al-Zawahiri to name one shining star.

Wednesday 5 September 2012

Building protest in Sudan

A piece published in the September edition of the New Internationalist.

When Sudan’s Islamists staged their coup against the government of Sadiq al-Mahdi in 1989, they relied on militia formations from their student and youth wings to patrol the streets of the capital, Khartoum, and guard their freshly snatched power from the political establishment. Since then, the government of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has survived an arc of rebellions in the country’s peripheries, a fratricidal split in the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) in 1999, and the breakaway of South Sudan to independence in 2011. The longevity of the regime has baffled both its opponents at home and the experts who follow Sudan’s affairs from abroad.
To achieve its breakthrough and maintain its grip on power, the NCP relied on a formula that unites a siege ideology of Arab Muslim identity, with sharia law as its grammar, and oil-greased patroage politics. But the loss of oil rent to the independent South Sudan dealt a considerable blow, precipitating an economic crisis that left the government ‘bankrupt’, according to the diagnosis of the country’s minister of finance. 
As the 23rd anniversary of the 1989 ‘Salvation Revolution’ approached this June, the NCP regime found itself battling an amorphous mass of protesters in Khartoum and smaller urban centres, mostly young women and men whose political memory registers no other ruler than President Bashir. Rather startled by the brazen show of defiance, Bashir, distinguished as the only incumbent head of state to be indicted by an international court, christened the protesters against his long spell in power ‘outcasts’. Opposition activists embraced the term, just as they plagiarized a jibe attributed to Nafie Ali Nafie, an NCP high priest who once likened attempts at regime overthrow to the impossibility of licking one’s own elbow, by turning it into a rallying cry for another day of demonstrations: ‘elbow-licking Friday’.
What is usually presented as one wave of anti-regime agitation draws from at least three distinct resources: an urban underclass struggling to eke out a living under adverse economic conditions; students and young professionals frustrated by the patriarchal lid on their political ambitions; and second-generation diaspora Sudanese tweeting for the homeland. Communication between the three constituencies is at best troubled, often requiring the mediation of an interpreter. The government’s security apparatus has ridiculed the fluent English-speakers of the third category as online ghosts and sought to contain the second with volleys of teargas, rubber bullets and streamed passage through its detention centres. The first, however, were received with live ammunition.
Creative Commons Licence
This work by Magdi El Gizouli is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.