Monday, 11 January 2016

Independence disavowed

Following established tradition, a reporter from the Khartoum daily al-Jareeda sought Communist commentary on the sixtieth anniversary of Sudan’s independence. The event, declared a non-event by a host of opinion makers who have made it habit to decry the loss of British tutelage on each independence anniversary, was missed by the Communist Party this year, busy with another round of undeclared factional dispute. Sideeg Yusif, a party veteran, told the reporter that the Communist Party refuses to celebrate the independence anniversary because Sudan continues to suffer under totalitarian rule. “The slogans of independence cannot be achieved until the overthrow of the regime in Khartoum; what has been attained is only political independence,” Sideeg told the reporter. 
Yusif Hussein, the spokesman of the Communist Party, foddered up Sideeg’s argument stating that the occasion of the sixtieth independence anniversary should “push the regime to rethink and consider the situation of the country and what it has come to.” Interestingly, Yusif, who has experienced most of the post-independence history first hand, identified achievement in the past of the post-independence glorifying the same institutions and political instruments once battered by qualified Communist criticism. 
The pioneers of independence started to construct the right structures and institutions of independence, he said, naming the 1956 constitution, which he further described as “democratic” despite attempts by reactionary forces to impose an Islamic constitution. The pioneers “built a bureaucracy on a democratic basis. There was no arbitrary dismissal or favouritism and appointment was on the basis of merit.” They also “established the first elements of a national economy,” added Yusif Hussein. Of course, Yusif did not miss to mention that projects left behind by colonial rule such the Gezira scheme and the railways have been completely destroyed. The Communist Party’s al-Midan which published Yusif Hussein’s comments titled its report: “ True celebration of the sixtieth independence anniversary after the overthrow of the regime.” “We will celebrate when the country is free and democratic, and we can build the country we dream of,” Siddig Yusif declared in another notable statement to the press. 
The statements of the two leaders are both disheartening and revealing in their dismissal of Sudan’s independence, following the lead of recent ‘educated’ opinion, championed by the likes of the al-Tayar's editor Osman Merghani who ritually decry independence as a fall from a perceived colonial heaven of bureaucratic efficiency and fair government. Indifferent to the very notion of nationalist struggle once championed by the Communist Party, Sideeg and Yusif approximate Merghani’s position in all but phrasing. Their agony is that of a defeated elite, sorry for the loss of the colonial-made state rather than that of bearers of emancipatory politics who seek to flesh liberation from the direct colonial yoke, distant and paradoxically idealised as it seems today, with empowerment of the masses. In a stroke of amnesic argumentation, the two dropped the Communist Party’s most pointed and accurate criticisms of the colonial state and its heritage in favour of the abortive politics of frustration with the ‘satanical’ National Congress Party (NCP). 
A single Communist politician in the 1956 parliament that declared Sudan independent, Hassan al-Tahir Zaroug, stood out of the crowd to point out the discrepancies between the letter of the 1956 constitution, hastily adopted by the house, and the actual practice of the state. Zaroug highlighted the lower wages paid to southerners compared to northerners, and to the poor pay of female teachers compared to males, considering the promise of the constitution not to discriminate between Sudanese citizens in employment and public office by their race, sex, religion or place of birth. Rather than submit to the ‘pledged’ democracy of the 1956 constitution, Zaroug wanted it entrenched and expanded in the lives of the common women and men of Sudan, and not subsumed in the rotation of governments and cabinet posts. 
What Yusif Hussein today perceives as a bureaucracy built on a “democratic basis” and the yardstick of “merit” was criticised by the early Communists who fought for independence as an institution composed predominantly of northern Sudanese males, discredited by class bias and racial and sexual privilege, that caters for the interests of a narrow power base around the patricians and their business associates. In 1965, when the Communist Party declared the necessity to reform if not “destroy” the organs of the state inherited from Sudan the colony, Yusif was an active member of the party and probably cheered. The associations between these inherited myopias of the state and its continuous practice and current configuration have escaped his attention it seems. Yusif speaks of the elements of a ‘national economy’ where his peers diagnosed a dependent mono-product economy designed to serve the guardians of a gatekeeper state, direly in need of diversification and expansion and development of the local market. The Gezira scheme was judged as the embodiment of this single crop economy. 
Sideeg and Yusif are again mistaken in drawing no distincti on at all between the record of the independent Sudanese and the record of their successive governments. The resourcefulness of the Sudanese in resisting, sabotaging and also taming ill-devised and disastrous statist projects is remarkable but goes unmentioned since the two veterans are haunted by government rather than inspired by popular struggles. The reactionary politics of the patricians, Nimayri’s economy of modernisation by immiseration and the NCP’s ‘civilisation project’ all ended in defeat and mockery, and a living counter-narrative to each inhabits popular consciousness. The notion of ‘no sanctity in politics’ raised against the two sayeds, Abd al-Rahman al-Mahdi and Ali al-Mirghani and their families, survives today albeit in entangled terms and forces Sadiq al-Mahdi to seek alliances where the Umma Party (renamed National Umma Party [NUP] for the 1986 elections) once reigned supreme with guaranteed votes to absent candidates in Darfur and Kordofan. The Nationalist Unionist Party of the Khatmiyya (renamed the Democratic Unionist Party [DUP] after a tumultuous split in 1956 and a sorry reunification in 1966) vegetates today as a beneficiary of the NCP. 
Nimayri’s decade and a half of inspired dictatorship ended with a heavily indebted government and a country at war with itself but the Sudanese who took him down scrapped his sharia and dismantled his state security. Even the bigots of al-Ingaz under President Bashir could not find it in themselves to reinstate the punishments of limb severance and stoning in practice, but picked from the sharia disciplinary lashing, a favourite of the colonial state before it was a sharia-informed article of law. State security is yet to rid itself from the disrepute of ‘fascism’ meted out against it by generations of Sudanese since the era of the colonial ‘intelligence department’. Today, Bashir’s National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) sponsors arts and sports to carve a human face into its fascist corpus. The NISS engendered armed battalions that march on a celebrated day every year in a show of force from Qitena to Khartoum to prove their worth in fear of the day when popular agitation and political convenience might dictate its dissolution similar to its predecessor, Nimayri’s State Security Bureau. The ‘civilisation project’ of the Islamic Movement was effectively extinguished the moment it became a name for flamboyant ‘tobs’. The division between state and religion on the other hand was elevated to an item of intimate and sharp consciousness when it was declared the name of revealing low cut blouses marketed at discount prices. 
Sideeg Yusif speaks of a dream, but by all means, the material of that dream seems to be the very same state vilified by the Communist Party that spoke ‘Marx in the vernacular’ (to quote Rogaia Abu Sharaf’s reading of Abd al-Khalig Mahjoub). No wonder then that Yusif and Sideeg were in no mood to mark the 60th anniversary of Sudan’s independence, the beginning of the end of the effendi’s paradise, let alone draw lessons from a history of struggle against the lost colony and its heirs for a future they fail even to imagine.
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This work by Magdi El Gizouli is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.