The reported ultimatum from the northern government to forces in Blue Nile and South Kordofan is really frightening, and potentially changes the implied reasoning behind the invasion of Abyei last weekend. If Abyei was going to be a convenient point for the “two sides” to kick each other, as Eddie Thomas said, then the situation in Abyei – although awful – might not escalate into a border war, but the continuing SAF deployment along the border (and the border as GoS interprets it) and this demand to commanders to me kind of implies a wider military agenda.
Most concerningly, though, is the SAF’s language in making this demand that the Southern-allied forces in Blue Nile and South Kordofan “withdraw south.” As Malik Agar said, these forces are predominantly not “Southerners”, but come from and operate in the transition zone from North to South.
This attempt to disarm and expel “Southern-allied” forces from their national territory is pretty indicative of a continued political rather than territorial understanding of South as SPLA and North as NCP-held. The SPLA did and continue to have a strong military and political presence across the border provinces, in south Darfur, the Nuba mountains and Blue Nile. Substantial amounts of the fighting in the civil wars involved armed groups and soldiers drawn from these transition areas, as the SPLA under Garang attempted to set itself up as the party and army of oppressed and exploited people across Sudan.
However, the SAF’s zero-sum idea of attempting to expel military groups associated with the Southern government, or at very least tied to SPLM-North, is confusing the political with the territorial. Just because an army is associated with the SPLM/A does not mean it is Southern, or can go to the Southern territory. The terminology used by SAF kind of implies that purging the North of groups associated with the South is in order to create a neat North-South opposition – something that’s never been true and won’t be. The Northern – and for that matter Southern – governments need to accept the inevitability of armed and political opposition within their territorial borders: authority won’t be achieved by trying to expel the opposition. But more fundamentally, the language and idea behind this ultimatum underlines the continuing association of “South” and “North” with two opposite politicaland ideological “sides” rather than two territorial nations.
Admittedly, I’m not feeling very coherent today and I’m sure there’s a better way of phrasing this – but I needed to break my silence on here…
Filed under Politics, Sudan
OMG!! Bashir won’t run for re-election! In 2015 (which is a bit of a Yemeni-esque get-out clause.) He also, more interestingly, has said he has offered to step down as head of the NCP, and has offered a package of reforms (optimistically called democratic by the Guardian, but then they’re probably all a bit sleep-deprived from the Tunisia-Egypt-Libya-Bahrain late-night live blogging).
This isn’t just about the fear of protests by youth in Sudan: the attempted protests in early February were comprehensively put down, with large-scale arrests, one death and a more general lack of will for the scale and type of protests seen in previous periods of economic crisis and political anger. That isn’t to say there isn’t a need for this kind of announcement. While I don’t think the various factions of the NCP are as nervous as the SPLM about their position, they also know they have real issues with their support base, particularly with the middle and upper classes that were their primary support base in the 1980s.
As Magdi says, the social and economic forces that brought the NCP to power have also restructured both urban and rural society. There are significant frustrations in town and countryside with different aspects of the NCP rule, as well as the medium-term issues facing the economy – partly to do with how much the North can get out of GoSS for oil transit – and probably the changed international situation, particularly if Gaddafi goes.
There is an international trend towards younger leaders – whether or not they have the experience, or even the power. There’s also more practical considerations: the NCP are handicapped by Bashir’s ICC status, regardless of the charge’s actual weight or implications. The NCP are failing, and their elite sponsors and support base know that some changes are necessary, at least for appearances’ sake. This also potentially would undermine the opposition parties’ refusal to enter talks with the NCP. I don’t know – I’m just watching, and I would love to see a good analysis of this. I’m still learning about northern politics.
Filed under Politics, Sudan
Analyses of the protests in Khartoum are focusing on analogies with Egypt. This article focuses on Bouazizi’s story as a comparison to the other individual deaths in Tunisia and Egypt that helped to focus the protest movements there (it also helpfully summarises various Arabic newspaper editors’ lines on the protests); in contrast, there’s another vein of articles that reject the comparison with Egypt, or focus on NCP justifications of why Sudan is different. The continued detention of some of the protesters is picked up on by Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and some newspapers. Putting aside Khalid Mubarak, whose SSRC article is a true classic of the Sudan Embassy information office genre, Magdi has written the only comment I think makes some headway into talking about why the Khartoum protests don’t have wider visible support. An English-language page for Sudanese Youth for Change (SPARK) has been set up on Facebook here.
Filed under Politics, Sudan
Mohammed Abdulrahman died from injuries sustained from police beating during the protests on Sunday in Khartoum. Abdulrahman, a student at Ahlia University, has been called a martyr and compared to al-Gorashy, the student that died in the October 1964 uprising. My thoughts are with his family and friends; both Ahlia and Omdurman Universities have been closed today.
Laura Mann has made an ushahidi SMS protest map here; an update on what digital organisation is happening can be found here. So far this is probably the best and shortest summary of events yesterday, although the figures for arrests vary.
The police seem to have been particularly proactive, as they basically stormed six universities and didn’t let 300 students out of Khartoum University. This tallies with some personal reports on Facebook saying that there were very few people on the streets, and most of the YouTube videos show people in front of university gates. People on Facebook are complaining about the lack of organisation, but in the face of a media blackout and suspension of internet access over the weekend, as well as a huge preemptive police operation, it looked pretty frightening to start with. There are various numbers going around about how many people are still in detention, including two sons of al-Fadil, an opposition politician, and the government has been blocking the independent radio and newspapers in the North today.
So far Yassir Arman has been the only major politician to speak about Abdulrahman’s death, and against police brutality. Taha has said that the demonstrations were allowed, while this has been contradicted by other unnamed NCP officials, but the only major NCP comment is from Obeid here, who says that the Sudanese protests won’t amount to anything as Bashir is democratically elected and there is popular involvement in Sudanese politics.
The site for the next protests (1 February?) is here.
Filed under Politics, Sudan
Most of the talk of political instability, economic insecurity and potential for future violence is about the South at the moment. In international news, the situation in Khartoum is mostly only picked up on from the perspective of US policy and the ‘rehabilitation’ or not of Bashir’s regime on the international stage. This doesn’t make sense to me: in the middle of huge price rises and economic problems, Bashir’s government is in real trouble, trying to deal a complicated political balancing act between appeasing moderates and knocking back more violent opponents.
There are three days left on Al-Mahdi’s December ultimatum to the NCP to make a national government, redraw the constitution, call new general elections, resolve the Darfur conflict and the economic crisis, deal with the ICC, and make a sensible agreement with the South: whether or not Bashir properly responds to what sounds more like a rhetorical challenge than a real ultimatum, it’s a good summary of the problem the north faces at the moment. There is potential for serious political change, or at the very least a change in how the game is played, in the north this year.
So while a lot of the commentary revolves around the future of the South, I think it’sprobably a good idea to keep an eye on the opposition in Khartoum, who are becoming increasingly militant, and some voicing frustration with the quieter negotiations of al-Mahdi and Turabi. Magdi el Gizouli at StillSudan runs a fabulous commentary on the intricacies of the northern opposition versus the NCP and Bashir, and it’s worth a read.
Nobody can give any definite idea of what will happen after the vote. The more I look for commentary from what I think of as solid political or academic sources, the more I wonder how large the difference really is at the moment between considered opinion and speculative rumours.
This sounds obvious, but it’s rare that there’s such a historical turning point that you really feel that there’s no clear idea of what will happen. This is definitely reflected in the rumours that I’ve heard and read in circulation.