Monday, 25 February 2013

Messrs ICG: tobs are not loincloths

The International Crisis Group (ICG) recently released a report on the war in South Kordofan, the first as it said in a series of reports on the on-going conflicts in Sudan’s peripheries. In their introduction the author(s) offered the disclaimer that the ICG “could not obtain access to government-controlled areas in Sudan but has tried to reflect the government’s views as much as possible, including by interviewing individuals in other locations”. The disclaimer, it must be noted, does not feature in the preceding ICG report on Sudan released in November 2012, ‘Major Reform or More War’, the footnotes of which are rich with references to interviews conducted by the ICG in Khartoum as late as November 2012. 
The South Kordofan report speaks of a military stalemate between government forces and the Sudan Liberation Army/Movement in North Sudan (SPLA/M-N), a description that rings true, and a humanitarian crisis in the area secondary to the conflict, but intensified by the government’s resort to targeting communities suspected of harbouring rebel forces, an established strategy that the report rightly refers to as “counter-insurgency on the cheap”. The model for expensive counter-insurgency, it follows, would be the French campaign in Mali. After a drill of ‘root causes’ the ICG documents changes in the ethnic dynamics of the conflict. Looking back to distinguished service as a proxy force of the government during the first South Kordofan war (1984-2002) more and more Misseriya combatants are joining the insurgency, says the report. The parent SPLA recruited Misseriya youth in 2006-2007, creating a brigade that started with 2,500 men but eventually dwindled to a battalion of a few hundreds for lack of payments. The SPLA/M-N upon resumption of the war in 2011 managed to recruit a force of 1,000 fighters under the command of a Misseriya brigadier. The Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) also got a cut of Misseriya, the number given in the report is 300 to 400. On the other hand, government efforts to procure the military services of the Misseriya were less successful than before, says the report, because of Khartoum’s failure to deliver on promises of development. The Misseriya, it is understood, have shaken off the ‘false consciousness’ of the past, largely because of the frustration of their aspirations, and have recognized their ‘marginality’ like their neighbours the insurgent Nuba. The same applies to the Hawazma, states the report, but to a lesser extent. They too have started to shift sides, but the numbers are more humble, 300 to 400 Hawazma combatants for the SPLA/M-N and only a few for the JEM. 
The report, as befitting one written without access to government-controlled areas, is silent about why the Hawazma are slower to dispel their ‘false consciousness’ than the Misseriya, despite shared livelihood and frustrations. One reason, probably, is that both are communities and not ethnic armies. The economy of rebel recruitment that the report hinted at but avoided thematising might by way of suggestion offer a more material anchor for a conflict that feeds at its roots from the ‘modern’ treacheries of primitive accumulation and elite turnover compared to the lofty essentialism of tribal drives. Speaking of tribes, the author(s), possibly to pepper up the text, offered the reader eye witness accounts of the outbreak of fighting between Abd al-Aziz al-Hilu’s troops and government forces on 5 and 6 June 2011. The most catchy was the scene in Um Durein, where a force of five hundred Popular Defense Forces (PDF) fighters from the Hawazma “were accompanied by Hawazma women with their tobs (loincloths) tied to their belts (a sign of war)”. “Some were hakkamat [singers] and were singing ‘kill the slaves’ to encourage the men,” the report quotes a witness from al-Kutang displaced by the fighting. Tobs, as any visitor to Sudan or for that matter anybody lightly educated in the common dress of its womenfolk well knows, are not loincloths. They are tied around the waist, of course, but in the rule to prevent them from falling off the body to the ground, a tendency that they intrinsically have being a whole body wrap with no anchor other than the topography of the female corpus. Whether the tied tob is a sign of war is to say the least debatable. The women who tie tobs around their waists across the country as they go about their daily labour are certainly not signalling war. But then again, the ICG had no access to government-held areas in Sudan and was in no position to judge the nuances of tob-body management. 
Tobs aside, the report makes the case for a ‘comprehensive’ negotiation model to address Sudan’s multiple conflicts. Under that title the ICG advised that international actors engage with the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) as a whole instead of with its components, including the SPLA/M-N, individually. Thereby, it is hoped Friends of Syria style, that the SRF would be “forced to evolve from a purely military alliance to a more representative and articulate political movement – from an instrument for war to a vehicle for peace.” Piecemeal deals, it rightly criticized, only stimulate further rebellion with the aim of winning more concessions from Khartoum. The ICG prefers the SRF tob over the loincloth of the SPLA/M-N, and is not particularly fond of Hawazma women, I suppose. To think ‘in’ a comprehensive approach for Sudan’s multiple conflicts it is necessary to think ‘out’ the orientalist cartography of bad ‘Arabs’ and good ‘Africans’ that the ICG’s brackets put on display.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Rift Valley Institute Field Courses 2013

The Rift Valley Institute’s three field courses, now in their tenth year, offer a unique opportunity to spend an intensive week with an outstanding group of experts and fellow participants, away from routine distractions. Taught by teams of leading regional and international specialists, the courses provide the basis for an understanding of current political and developmental challenges in Eastern and Central Africa. The innovative programme of seminars, lectures, group discussions and special events examines key environmental, political and cultural features of the three sub-regions, contextualizing contemporary problems. They are designed for policy-makers, diplomats, investors, development workers, researchers, activists and journalists––for new arrivals to the region and those already working there who wish to deepen their understanding.

Horn of Africa Course
Saturday 8 – Friday 14 June
The sixth Horn of Africa course will take place in Jinja, Uganda, from 8 to 14 June 2013. The course covers Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, Somaliland, Puntland and Northern Kenya. In 2013, it offers a multi-disciplinary examination of the crises afflicting the Horn and explores the impact of changes in political leaders at the national and sub-national level across the region. Director of Studies Ken Menkhaus will be joined by a core teaching staff of Mark Bradbury, RVI Horn of Africa and East Africa Regional Director, Dereje Feyissa of the Institute of Federal Studies at Addis Ababa University, and Hussein Abdullahi Mahmoud of Pwani University College in Kenya. A course prospectus, containing further details on all three courses, can be downloaded here. Apply online here.

The Great Lakes Course 
Saturday 22 – Friday 28 June
The fourth Great Lakes Course will be held in Jinja, Uganda, from 22 to 28 June 2013. The Director of Studies will be Jason Stearns, whose continuing series of Usalama Project reports on the armed groups of the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are available for free download here. The Deputy Director of Studies is Emily Paddon, Trudeau Scholar and Lecturer in International Relations at the University of Oxford. They will be joined on the core teaching staff by Pascal Kambale, Deputy Director of AfriMAP, Koen Vlassenroot of the University of Ghent, and Jean Omasombo of the Royal Museum for Central Africa at Tervuren. A course prospectus, containing further details on all three courses, can be downloaded here. Apply online here.
Sudan and South Sudan Course
Saturday 6 – Friday 12 July
The tenth RVI course on Sudan and South Sudan will be held in Jinja, Uganda, from 6 to 12 July 2013. The course will again be under the direction of Justin Willis of the University of Durham. Core teaching staff will include Magdi el-Gizouli of Freiburg University, Joanna Oyediran of the Open Society Initiative for Eastern Africa, and Douglas Johnson, author of The Root Causes of Sudan’s Civil Wars. A course prospectus, containing further details on all three courses, can be downloaded here. Apply online here.
For further details of the format, syllabus and core teaching staff of the courses, please download the course prospectus here. Alternatively you can visit or write to You can apply online here or via The application deadline is 31 March 2013. Applications will be considered in order of receipt.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Sharia inflation: a preacher speaks politics

The allies of the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) recently welcomed the professional Moslem cleric turned politician Yusif al-Koda in their Kampala habitat. Yusif and the Chairman of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement in North Sudan (SPLA/M-N) Malik Agar, also the Chairman of the SRF, signed on 31 January a joint political statement of four articles: the guarantee of the unity of the country, public freedoms, the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary, peaceful transition of power and the federal system of government; the guarantee of citizenship as a basis for rights and duties without regard to religion, race, colour, geographical or political affiliation; issues of dispute between the political forces such as the system of rule and the relationship between state and religion should be deferred till further dialogue, preferably in the context of a constitutional conference. The fourth article stated that Yusif al-Koda’s organisation, al-Wasat Islamic Party, is a political party registered according to law in Sudan that ascribes only to peaceful popular struggle and dialogue as means of change, an indemnity note I guess. 
The SRF event was titled ‘al-Wasat Islamic Party signs the New Dawn Charter’, which is simply not true. Yusif did not sign the Charter, and once that became clear the Sudan [Islamic] Scholars’ Board, the highest formal religious authority in the country, withdrew the apostasy charge it had threatened with to discipline its dissident member. The Secretary General of the Board, Mohamed Osman Salih, told the Sudan News Agency that every Moslem is obliged to acknowledge the rule of Allah, as laid out in the Holy Quran and the Sunna of his prophet. Salih said the press misinterpreted his criticism of al-Koda’s step as an apostasy declaration while his concern was to explain the religious obligation to adhere to sharia, and the violation of this obligation that follows from agreeing with the proposition of the New Dawn Charter to separate between religion and the state. The semantics of the debacle are worth detailing. The Charter does not actually spell out separation between religion and the state as such; instead it calls for “constitutional and legal provisions based on the separation between religious institutions and state institutions to guarantee that religion is not exploited in politics”. The convoluted phrase was arrived at to satisfy the ideological histories and preferences of the motley of forces that signed the Charter. The Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), for instance, feeds from strong roots in the Islamic Movement; its top cadres, almost without exception, look back to a history of student activism in the ranks of the Movement in the 1980s and in the service of its regime in the 1990s. The SPLA/M-N figureheads and Abd al-Wahid al-Nur would have preferred a frank declaration of secular creed, while some of the visitors from Khartoum, representatives of the National Consensus Forces (NCF), possibly argued for deferral, as did Yusif al-Koda, but did not get it, since it is deferral that they agreed upon in their own charter, the Democratic Alternative. 
The limits of this sharia poetry were put on display when al-Koda joined the debate. The Saudi-trained preacher presented his grievance against his former custodians in the ruling NCP in distinctively secular terms; he complained of nepotism, corruption, lack of public freedoms and so on. The hosts, delighted by the presence of a Salafi sheikh in their midst, borrowed the sharia discourse to impress upon their potential Youtube audience the NCP’s abuse of the transcendent values of Islam for the sake of power, an argument that once abstracted copies the puritanical twist at the heart of every ‘revivalist’ political project under Islamic banner. Plainly put, Yusif al-Koda seemed for a moment closer to passing the test of secularism than the SRF allies, and why not? Yusif is the younger brother of two other ‘political’ Kodas: Osman al-Koda who as a fresh communist soldier, barely twenty, freed the Communist Party Secretary General, Abd al-Khalig Mahjoub, from detention in the Shajara military barracks south of Khartoum shortly before the abortive 1971 coup, and Mubarak al-Koda, a committed Islamic Movement functionary who served in several minor posts in the NCP government over the years. Yusif on the other hand moved from Ansar al-Sunna preacher to TV fatwa-man to pro-NCP Islamic moderate to full-blown opposition politician with a Turabist taste for surprises. The pathways of the three brothers are typical of the adaptive response of Sudan’s rural communities to the shenanigans of the urban political elite, each positioned neatly in a strategic locus of the rainbow. 
In 2001, Turabi’s party, the Popular Congress Party, signed a memorandum of understanding with the SPLA/M that was supposed to function as a voucher into the post-NCP Sudan. The agreement landed Turabi in prison but did not encase the SPLA/M in sharia baraka (blessing) considering that its new ally was the country’s most prominent sharia proponent. Today, recognized opposition to the NCP joins the PCP, Sadiq al-Mahdi’s National Umma Party (NUP) and shreds of Mohamed Osman al-Mirghani’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), none of which are sharia-shy, but the holy flare remains nevertheless elusive. Rather it is the fringe Salafis whom al-Koda fled to the political elite who appear more successful in harnessing the dream of Islamic ‘liberation’.
Creative Commons Licence
This work by Magdi El Gizouli is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.