Monday, 27 May 2013

The Sudanese: between a rock and a hard place

The National Congress Party – Reform Platform (NCP-RP), a semi-clandestine association of disgruntled Islamists that developed as a carrier of the memoranda politics preceding the Islamic Movement’s November 2012 general conference and the political vehicle of the ensuing coup attempt of Brigadier-general Mohamed Ibrahim Abd al-Jalil (Wad Ibrahim) and fellow officers, issued on Saturday a statement declaring a mass revoke of allegiance to President Bashir. The NCP-RP author(s) used the Arabic word bai’a to define the relationship with President Bashir, a term from medieval Islamic jurisprudence that modern Islamic movements beginning with the Egyptian Moslem Brotherhood under Hassan al-Banna have rehabilitated to refer to organisational subjugation and almost unconditional obedience to an all-knowing leader. 
The NCP-RP, dissident civilians of the ruling party and members of the military, announced a replacement pledge of allegiance to Wad Ibrahim arguing that President Bashir had failed to adhere to the conditions of the bai’a he enjoyed since 1989, namely the imposition of sharia and the rule of justice. Bashir failed to maintain the unity of the country’s territory as inherited from our forefathers and did not implement Allah’s sharia, said the statement. The blemish was not limited to President Bashir though. “Khartoum is today one of the most corrupt Arab and Moslem cities, and since its president is a dancer it is the habit of its inhabitants to dance”, added the statement paraphrasing a known Arab idiom. The Arabic word fasaad, translated here into corruption, carries strong connotations of sexual morality, and would better be translated into debauchery judging by the example of the dancing president and the idiom it refers to. In any case, the apparently sharia thirsty NCP reformers are obviously not impressed by the lifestyles of the new Khartoumians. 
The statement went on to deplore President Bashir’s tolerance of the financial corruption of his brothers and the nepotism of his ministers, referred to in the text as ‘racism’. The Minister of Oil Awad al-Jaz , said the reformers, manned the whole ministry with people from his ‘tribe’. The eclectic character of the NCP-RP’s criticism is noteworthy. From the Salafis they borrowed abhorrence towards the alleged promiscuity of the capital’s inhabitants, from the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) the algebra of ethnic power-sharing, from the opposition parties the secession blame and from their own ranks the envy of junior cadres towards scandalously rich seniors. The reformers pledged obedience to Wad Ibrahim in order to carry out the battle to change this government which they said ruled in their name as ‘mujahideen’ and army servicemen but reneged on its promise to apply Allah’s sharia. A sympathiser might argue that the sharia rhetoric of the NCP-RP is only tactical in nature intended to challenge the ‘religious’ legitimacy of President Bashir as Moslem ruler. What matters however is not so much the actual practice of sharia but rather its function in political discourse. In that regard, the NCP-RP is rehashing a theme that goes back to the 1960’s when the emergent Islamic Movement, shocked and attracted by Khartoum’s offerings of pleasure, harassed President Abboud’s government and the political class at large with accusations of loose sexual mores. The campaign of the Islamic Movement peaked following the overthrow of Abboud in 1964 with mounting pressure on parliamentarians to ban prostitution in the capital.
As if on campaign, Wad Ibrahim accompanied by the former head of the NCP’s parliamentary caucus Ghazi Salah al-Din al-Attabani and a crowd of ‘Saihoon’, have been touring the native towns and villages of the coup plot officers attending one celebration of their release after another. They recently landed in al-Zubeirat in Gezira. Wad Ibrahim, nursing his political self, declared commitment to the path of reform, and his fellow officer Fath al-Raheem asserted that they were partners in the ‘Salvation Revolution’ of President Bashir and not mere footmen. The cautious Ghazi reiterated the call for reform stressing that it was a lengthy process and not merely a campaign against a few corrupt individuals. Between Wad Ibrahim and Ghazi, I wonder who pledged allegiance to whom. The situation is certainly familiar. Osama Tawfiq, identified as a Saihoon leader, kept the channels patent with President Bashir unlike the authors of the NCP-RP declaration. The President, he said, refused the prosecution of the coup officers and immediately signed the order of their release once it was presented to him. “These are not the men to be tried,” Bashir reportedly said. 
As the NCP-RP loads reloads its sharia guns the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement in North Sudan (SPLA/M-N) and its allies in the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) are ravaging the countryside in South Kordofan and adjacent areas of North Kordofan with real gunfire, real enough to busy the medical corps of the demoralized Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) around the clock. Yasir Arman, the SPLA/M-N Secretary General, told US and Sudanese activists on Saturday that the SRF’s recent offensive was meant to convince the population yet unvisited by war that the government was sufficiently weak to be toppled through the combined military might of the SRF and the ‘revolutionary’ initiative of the political forces and civil society organisations that seek to overthrow the regime by peaceful means. Sudan is a failed state, said Arman, and a new “social contract that does not discriminate between the Sudanese” is necessary to reconstruct it, one that he proposed could be achieved if the ruling NCP agrees to negotiations with the SRF as a whole and not only the SPLA/M-N in order to end the wars in the country. In earlier statements, Arman instructed those who reject armed resistance to the NCP to escalate mass political action, rather than subdue to the ruling security-military complex. Arman’s message to the allegedly complacent heartland, rewritten, is simply rise up or endure the consequences of failing to do so. The reasoning is a Manichean one, either with us or with the enemy, mirroring rather than transcending the NCP’s mobilisation propaganda. 
The ‘change’ that has eluded the NCP-RP, officers and civilians, from within, the SRF is dashing to achieve by the reach of its guns from without. Between the disciplinary edge of the Islamist reformers’ renewed sharia passion and the gun-mediated secular social contract pledged by the SRF there is a uniting chain, coercion. The barricades are littered with the ethnically labelled corpses of the ‘Sudanese’.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Abu Karshola: liberation stands accused

More than two weeks have passed since the hit and run attack of the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) on Um Rwaba in North Kordofan a day after of the collapse of talks between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement in North Sudan (SPLA/M-N) and the Sudanese government mediated by Thabo Mbeki’s African Union High Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) in Addis Ababa. The SRF combatants, mostly fighters of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) seasoned in the art of ‘Toyota war’, drove into sleepy Um Rwaba to clash with the unlucky policemen on duty that day killing seven, and withdrew after a few hours. The Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) has no presence in Um Rwaba at all but maintains a large garrison and military airport in neighbouring al-Obeid, the capital of North Kordofan State. In the process, five civilians were killed, the town’s power plant severely damaged and according to government reports petrol stations ransacked and banks looted by the attacking liberation fighters. 
On the return trip from Um Rwaba the JEM contingent reportedly passed through the road stops outside Allah Kareem and al-Simeih to refuel and then together with a force of the SPLA/M-N descended on Abu Karshola in the north-eastern end of South Kordofan. The small town is the centre of a horticultural zone where pastoral routes converge from northern Kordofan in the dry season bringing crowds of Bideiriya and Shanabla herders and their livestock. The June 2010 census in South Kordofan, the re-run after the SPLA/M contested the results of the 2008 count, registered 45,377 souls in Abu Karshola. Up to forty thousand people fled the town and surrounding areas since the SRF takeover to the safety of al-Rahad in North Kordofan, reported the United Nations (UN) a few days ago. When asked by a Khartoum newspaper why he thought the SRF attacked Abu Karshola, the chief of the Hawazma community in the town al-Nur al-Tahir al-Nur referred to results of the South Kordofan gubernatorial elections in May 2011. Out of a total of 26,010 registered voters 12,059 cast their ballot for the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) candidate Ahmed Haroun and only 7,433 for the SPLM’s Abd al-Aziz al-Hilu, detailed al-Nur to support his claim that the SPLA/M-N assisted by its SRF allies targeted the town out of “electoral vengeance”. 
Vengeance was the explanation given by the displaced in al-Rahad for allegations of extra-judicial killings committed by the SRF in Abu Karshola under the command a senior SPLA/M-N officer. In al-Rahad, the son of the Abu Karshola imam held a funeral for his slain father and three of his uncles who administered a khalwa, a traditional Quran school, in the town. Others reported the killing of several NCP functionaries and supporters. Sudan’s Minister of Information Ahmed Bilal Osman described the reported incidences as “ethnic killings” suggesting that the SPLA/M-N specifically targeted the Arab Hawazma. Two men were killed in al-Rahad on suspicion of being SPLA/M-N rebels by an angry mob in the town market, said one news report and by fighters of the Popular Defence Forces (PDF) said another. The Hawazma chief al-Nur said the SPLA/M-N’s guns ripped apart the tender social fabric of Abu Karshola inhabited predominantly by the Arab Hawazma and the Nuba Tagali. The Khartoum press likened the SPLA/M-N takeover of Abu Karshola to the SPLA attack on the neighbouring al-Gardoud back in 1985. One hundred unarmed residents of the village, mostly Arab Hawazma, were killed in the raid often identified as the start of the first war in South Kordofan (1985-2002). Paraphrasing Mao’s famous dictum, a shrewd commentator wrote that the SRF offensive was an attempt to poison the water that sustains the NCP fish. 
Abu Karshola abuts the Taqali massif, the geography of the Nuba Mountain’s unique attempt at state formation, spurred, challenged and eventually obliterated by the cataclysms that engulfed the riverine Sudan in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Taqali’s highland communities surrendered long-distance trade and management of relations with the world beyond the massif to their mukuk (warrior-kings) but not their lands. This particular configuration of power, a precarious sovereignty, precluded the commoditization of land in the area. The mukuk were in no position to usurp land for themselves and shielded their highland subjects from disposing of land through a monopoly of trade with the outside world. The ‘one hundred hills’ of Taqali constituted a natural castle network that protected the kingdom from invaders as did the mukuk’s diplomacy in slaves and other forms of tribute. The patronage of the mukuk extended to herders of the plains below the massif, directly and through the mediation of itinerant traders and fuqara (Moslem preachers/holy men), although limited by the incapacity of the mukuk to grant land outside their domestic royal domains. 
Taqali’s most celebrated mak (pl. mukuk), Adam Um Dabbalo, whose reign extended between c. 1860 and 1884, received Sudan’s most influential faqeer (pl. fuqara), Mohamed Ahmed, sometime in the dry season of 1881. Mak Adam instructed his Arab Kawahla allies of the plains below to provide the holy man with grain and livestock. Mohamed Ahmed went on to become the Mahdi declaring revolution against the Turkiyya in Aba Island on the White Nile only weeks later. Unlike his predecessors, Adam Um Dabbalo also known as Adam al-Arabi (the Arab) was bound to the plains by blood. He was the son of an Arab Kawahla woman, Halima Fadlalla, and following royal tradition was critically dependent on his maternal kin for support. The kingdom that resisted the torments of the Turkiyya could not withstand the convulsions of the Mahdiyya though. Adam Um Dabbalo himself died a captive of the Mahdi on the victorious march to Khartoum. 
The Anglo-Egyptian colonial regime completed the Mahdist pacification of the hills with the superior terror of the state- raid while conscripting able Nuba into its army. It was the predominantly Nuba 11th Sudanese battalion stationed in Talodi that mutinied while attending military exercises in Khartoum in 1924, the central episode of the White Flag League revolt. In response, the British authorities decided to disband six hundred of the battalion’s soldiers. Two hundred were confined to a cotton-growing colony close to Kadugli. The colonial authorities introduced mechanized farming to the Nuba Mountains but wide-scale expropriation and commoditization of land was the accomplishment of the post-colonial governments. Established in 1968 upon request of the World Bank, the Mechanized Farming Corporation (MFC) facilitated the expansion of large-scale mechanised agriculture into South Kordofan, the Blue Nile and the White Nile. Loans provided by the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development empowered the elite clients of the MFC, often retired army officers, civil servants and well-connected businessmen, to acquire some of the richest lands in central Sudan displacing countless small producers. The ‘development’ policy devastated the natural and communal ecology wherever it was enforced. Conflicts erupted between title holders and evicted peasants and pastoralists, between pastoralists and peasants as the former were forced out of their grazing routes by the expansion of state-guarded private schemes, and between the state as the major supporter of the scheme-owners and the peasants and pastoralists reduced to squatters and trespassers. 
Abu Karshola lies one hundred kilometres west of al-Abbasiya, the historical centre of the Taqali kingdom. Supporters of the SPLA/M-N spoke the language of indigeneity to argue for the rebel takeover of the area. The town is one of the oldest in the eastern Mountains inhabited historically by the Nuba Taqali, wrote al-Shazali Tira, dismissing in the next sentence its Arab Hawazma residents as recent immigrants. Tira noted that the battle to liberate Abu Karshola was led by the SPLA/M-N commander Hassan Adam al-Sheikh, a native Nuba Taqali born to a prominent family in Abu Karshola. The officer was appointed military governor of the town and as such is burdened with the allegations of deadly vengeance made by its displaced population in al-Rahad. The SPLA/M-N brushed off the allegations of “ethnic killing” as hollow NCP propaganda, lumping the accusation with claims made by officials in Khartoum that SRF and SPLA/M-N chief of staff Abd al-Aziz al-Hilu was mortally wounded in an air-strike carried out by the SAF against a convoy of six cars that carried him and other senior commanders of the SRF. The daily al-Intibaha, as expected, offered a particularly imaginative version adding that al-Hilu was rushed by helicopter to a hospital in South Sudan’s Wau where he eventually died and was hurriedly buried. The rumour backfired in a sense and the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) issued a statement affirming that al-Hilu was indeed alive and continues to lead the SPLA/M-N operations in the eastern Nuba Mountains. On Monday 13 May the Sudanese al-Ray al-Aam reported that al-Hilu had been flown two days before to Brussels for treatment. The SPLA/M-N and SRF top military commander suffers from severe head injuries and multiple fractures, it said. 
Whether in Um Rwaba, Abu Karshola, al-Simeih or Allah Kareem the SRF guns dodged the coercive apparatus of the state to shoot at the ‘subject to be liberated’. Hassan Adam al-Sheikh captured the geography of Abu Karshola but lost most of its population. Mao would have sneered.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Wad Ibrahim: the mopes of retirement

Two weeks have passed since the release of Brigadier-general Mohamed Ibrahim Abd al-Jalil, better known as Wad Ibrahim, and his associates from detention thanks to a presidential pardon. Around ten days before their release, the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) officers were convicted by a military court for attempting to overthrow the regime in November 2012 and sentenced to up to five years imprisonment and expulsion from the SAF. The order issued by President Bashir, apparently the result of a mediation effort led by seniors of the Islamic Movement and relatives of the officers, set the men free and replaced the punishment of expulsion from service with the wholesome retirement package of the SAF officer corps. Wad Ibrahim was received by a crowd of exalted supporters, mostly veterans of the war against the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M) in the 1990s, when he walked out of prison. The same crowd held a brief protest a day before close to Khartoum University to demand freedom for the coup plot detainees, one that the police incidentally did not notice. The Secretary General of the Islamic Movement, al-Zubeir Ahmed al-Hassan, arrived at the site of the protest to deliver exactly the message the protestors wanted to hear, and next day Wad Ibrahim had his Mandela moment. The media was there to receive him and hundreds of supporters gathered at his house in Jabra, south of Khartoum, freshly painted for the occasion, to rejoice. The order to release the SAF officers was followed this week by a second amnesty for the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) operatives accused of involvement in the coup plot, again after a court handed out prison sentences against the group. Only Salah Gosh, the former NISS chief, remains in jail. The justice ministry formed a special committee of investigation into his case, and unconfirmed reports said he was being questioned on charges regarding illegal accumulation of wealth. 
Ghazi Salah al-Din al-Attabani, the crown-dissident of the National Congress Party (NCP), hurried to welcome Wad Ibrahim and his fellows into freedom as did the Popular Congress Party (PCP) war veterans, chief among them al-Naji Abdalla. Wad Ibrahim himself had little to say to the press. The putsch-celebre announced that he will dedicate his future efforts to ‘dawa’, a term that strictly denotes proselytizing Islam but in the wider context of Islamist politics could involve almost any activity that directly or tangentially serves the cause, from starting a neighbourhood supermarket to launching a rebel movement. ‘Reform’, said Wad Ibrahim, is what motivated him and his fellow officers and reform he will continue to pursue. The man answered with the silence of wisdom when asked whether he did actually petition President Bashir for clemency as reported by the SAF spokesman. 
Writing in al-Intibaha, al-Tayeb Mustafa asked his nephew President Bashir to demonstrate even greater tolerance and return Wad Ibrahim and his accomplices to active service in the army. “Wad Ibrahim and Fath al-Raheem and the others…are not only military officers but mujahideen who have great influence among the mujahideen of the Popular Defence Forces,” he argued. Mustafa can claim to have a stronger case today considering the embarrassment of the hit and run attack launched by the rebel allies of the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) against Um Rwaba in North Kordofan, a humiliating surprise comparable only to the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) attack on Omdurman and Khartoum on 10 May 2008. Wad Ibrahim and his associates, on the other hand, can claim justification with an added whiff of Schadenfreude considering that their fury was mostly directed at the Minister of Defence Abd al-Rahim Mohamed Hussein, President Bashir’s trusted companion, the man blamed today for the SAF’s mishaps. Islamist urban myth has it that Wad Ibrahim heard of the SPLA takeover of Heglig in April 2012 while recovering from illness in his Jabra home, immediately sprang out of bed in response to the pressing jihad urge, put on his military fatigues, parted with his family in the grace of a warrior, and raced to the SAF headquarters and from there to the field of battle. Wad Ibrahim, officially the deputy commander of the operation, is credited by his sympathizers with the success of the campaign to regain control over the Heglig oil field. Whether true or not, the narrative fits well with the greater accomplishment of his career in the SAF, the lengthy and bloody operations to clear the Western Upper Nile oil fields of their human occupants in the late 1990s sub-contracted largely to Paulino Matip’s militias. Wad Ibrahim was decorated in 2001 for four years distinguished service in the region. 
Wad Ibrahim was pictured a few days ago paying his condolences to the bereaved family of a teenager who died in clashes with the police during demonstrations in Um Dom, east of Khartoum North, against the seizure of agricultural land for the benefit of a Saudi investor. I wonder if the souls who perished in Western Upper Nile under his watch crossed his mind as he spoke to his hosts about police accountability. Now a retired army officer, Wad Ibrahim joins a category that features strongly in the annals of primitive accumulation in Sudan’s peripheries. With the lump sum retirement payments in their accounts, the credit forwards of friendly lenders like the SAF-affiliated Omdurman Islamic Bank and their convenient contacts in state institutions, many of the former officers are pushed by boredom and pulled by the promise of easy profit to the adventurous enterprise of land grabbing in Sudan’s conflict zones. Obviously, they also need to make a living and a significant number end up becoming absentee landlords of swathes of rich agricultural land acquired at discount prices paid to a state keen to sell what it only nominally owns in South Kordofan, the Blue Nile, and the southern stretches of Sennar and the White Nile states. The human occupants of these lands, the natives, enter the transaction as squatters to be coerced into surrendering to the will of the proud title holders. Of this art Wad Ibrahim of course is already an accredited master, and I almost forgot, with the self-anointed mandate of a preacher. 

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