The ensanguined spectre of Sudanese contesting ideological convictions,
secularist South and Islamist North, leads to another round of bloodletting,
s> Gamal Nkrumah
25 April - 1 May 2012
Relishing in his country's dubious reputation as the graveyard of infidels,
Sudanese President Omar Hassan Al-Bashir, brandishing his trademark walking
stick menacingly at a crowd of diehard jihadist in what he claimed was
recently liberated oil-rich Heglig, dismissed his adversaries as "insects".
Heglig is where Sudan's heart is. Normally it is the imperialist West that
hounds so-called pariah nations such as Sudan and not pampered darlings such
as South Sudan. This week, however, it was the other way round.
South Sudan was given a rap on the knuckles by its benefactors in the West
for storming the backwater of Heglig oozing oil and blood from internecine
tribal warfare. The indigenous inhabitants of Heglig and villages in its
vicinity are overwhelmingly pro-Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM),
the ruling party in South Sudan.
The steamroller of secularist good governance in South Sudan has whetted the
appetite of the people of Heglig, Abyei, South Kordofan and Blue Nile to
join their kith and kin, and often co-religionists in independent South
Sudan. It is no surprise then that the vehemently militant Islamist
government of Sudan headed by Al-Bashir and his ruling National Congress
Party (NCP) have treated the impoverished people of these oil-rich
Adding to the affinity with South Sudanese, the people of South Kordofan and
Blue Nile have lost much of their fear of Khartoum and openly declared
allegiance to the SPLM, practically an act of treason as far as the
authorities in Khartoum are concerned. The new heavy- handed measures by the
Sudanese military should give the inhabitants of the border regions adjacent
to South Sudan greater recourse to the declaration that they are acting in
the public interest.
This is where the other set of worries over the future of Sudan emerges. The
insurgents in South Kordofan and Blue Nile purport that they act in the name
of a long sidelined people whose cultural identity they regard as more akin
to their brethren in South Sudan. Heglig is in South Kordofan, a region that
also includes the Nuba people, long politically aligned to the SPLM -- one
of the movement's most respected leaders was an ethnic Nuba himself, Youssef
Kuwa (1945- 2001), today a legendary figure.
Kuwa, like his mentor the late leader and founder of the SPLM John Garang,
held out the prophecy of a united Sudan, a vision of a secularist
multi-religious, multi-cultural nation in the heart of Africa.
For the time being, though, and for some years to come, Al-Bashir's brand of
militant political Islam is the only path to righteousness. This combination
of militant political Islam and Arabisation is almost impossible to resist
in Sudan. That is essentially why South Sudan seceded. It took only a smirk
between Al-Bashir and SPLM leader and president of South Sudan Salva Kiir to
doom Sudan's unity.
What about the South Sudanese citizens still resident in the North? They are
being given little say in the loss of their national prerogatives in Sudan.
Al-Bashir has threatened to punish them and treat them as alien outcasts.
Surely pluralistic democratic politics is nothing if it is not about how
wealth is created and distributed. Yet Sudan is no democracy in the Western
sense of the term. Yes, there is a modicum of multi-party democracy with
opposition parties, but the most outspoken critics of Al-Bashir have been
politically peripheralised. Sudanese citizens, and especially the indigenous
non-Arabs are thus left feeling impotent.
"The irony is that a majority of the non-Arab citizens of Sudan, now that
South Sudan is an independent nation, are Muslim. We do not want to make
political distinctions between Arabs and non-Arabs in Sudan, but Al-Bashir
is upholding a xenophobic, ultra-nationalistic banner in the hope of
alienating his detractors," Chairman of Sudan's opposition National Congress
Forces (NCF) Farouk Abu Eissa, told Al-Ahram Weekly.
Incidentally, Abu Eissa for years held the august position of head of the
Cairo-based Arab Lawyers Union. "Al-Bashir is playing with fire. It is a
dangerous game," Abu Eissa added. "Sudan is in grave danger of fragmenting
It is against this perilous precipice that the Sudanese armed forces
embarked on a systematic aerial bombardment campaign to subdue insurgents
and cow them into submission. Al-Bashir himself paid a triumphant visit to
Heglig on Monday and with much fanfare vowed to "teach them a lesson" --
them, of course, being infidels and unbelievers and SPLM sympathisers. Soon
after Al-Bashir's threats, Sudanese MiG warplanes bombed Bentui, an oil-rich
garrison town in South Sudan and the adjacent market town of Rubkona. Two
Sudanese airforce Sukhoi fighter jets bombarded oil installations and
hospitals in South Sudan, killing and injuring scores of civilians.
Deputy Director of Military Intelligence in South Sudan Major General Mack
Paul described the Sudanese aerial bombardment as an "act of war".
United Nations Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon condemned the Sudanese aerial
bombardment of civilian targets and urged Sudan to "cease all hostilities
immediately". Al-Bashir has long derided Western politicians who have feebly
warned in the past that Sudan will pay a price for its impunity. So Ban-Ki
Moon's admonishment fell on deaf ears. The Sudanese, it seems though, fear
South Sudan President Salva Kiir on Tuesday flew to China on a six-day visit
where he met with his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao. Oil topped the agenda.
The South Sudan leader also expects the Chinese to mediate in the Sudanese
In rhetorical terms, Al-Bashir is the less unrealistic of the two Sudan's
leaders. Soon after his belligerent speech in Heglig, a mob of militant
Islamists burnt down a Roman Catholic Church in the Khartoum district
Al-Jaraif torching to death many of its South Sudanese congregation,
according to eye-witness reports.
Al-Bashir with his incitement to racial and religious hatred meant to take
the axe to Leviathan.
The pretext for arson was that the church was built illegally on a
Muslim-owned plot of land. The widely publicised outrage inflamed passions
So where does that leave the Sudanese opposition forces? After several
disappointing years as a rather docile opposition, can anyone believe them
to have any credibility as a serious force for change? Al-Bashir's ruling
NCF groups together several moderate opposition parties including the
National Umma Party (NUP) and the Popular Congress Party (PCP). The NUP and
the PCP are both Islamist parties even though both disagree vehemently with
the NCP both on ideological and political grounds.
The more militant Sudanese Revolutionary Forces (SRF), an umbrella grouping
that includes the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) the
sister organisation of the ruling SPLM in South Sudan, is predominantly
secularist in political outlook and ideological perspective. "We insist on a
secularist Sudan, the New Sudan as John Garang, our late leader taught us,"
Yasser Arman told Al-Ahram Weekly.
"We want greater participation of women in the decision-making process at
the local and national political levels. We do not want a country run on a
religious basis under Islamic Sharia laws that are only applicable to the
poor and disadvantaged groups," Arman extrapolated. Arman's argument goes
back to his mentor Garang's insight and vision that without social justice
and secular institutions, Sudan as we know it would be history. Al-Bashir's
militant Islam is a failing political ideology. The SPLM-N's cadres set
about remaking Sudan with an energy and single-mindedness that has deeply
disturbed the monstrously inefficient Sudanese political establishment
dominated by the ruling NCP's authoritarianism.
The SRF also incorporates armed opposition groups in Darfur including the
Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) -- not to be confused with the SPLM and the
Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). Militias loyal to the warlike
conglomeration have systematically targeted oil installations. JEM is
Islamist in political orientation even though it is widely regarded as one
of the most vociferous of Al-Bashir's NCP allies, especially because of its
association with Sheikh Hassan Al-Turabi's PCP. Turabi, Sudan's chief
Islamist ideologue is extremely open-minded on religious matters and
especially champions women's rights. The SRF is especially active in the
oil-producing border regions between Sudan and South Sudan and especially in
Abyei, South Kordofan and Blue Nile. The Sudanese government forces have
proved incapable of containing the guerrilla warfare tactics of the SRF.
Before their departure from Heglig, the SPLM forces destroyed oil
installations in the area that produces no less than 70 per cent of Sudan's
The Sudanese government forces promptly retaliated. The aerial bombardment
by Sudan on South Sudanese border oil producing areas such as Bentui and
other garrison towns has left thousands of civilians killed, injured and
maimed. Sudan's bloody past has taught both the Sudanese government and
opposition forces to fear chaos above all else. The country's declining
economic prospects are causing social unrest. The economic slowdown is also
fueling tribal and regional rivalries for the control of meagre resources.
Still, Sudan will both fascinate and agitate neighbours even as it seeks to
assert its regional status even as it has become something of a master of
the art of letting go of resource-rich regions.
The paradox now confronting Sudan is that the Islamist government and ruling
NCP have no choice but to move away from the religious and xenophobic recipe
of the past that got them into so much trouble.
More than 75 per cent of the oil produced in the land that was formerly a
united Sudan now lies in territories administered by the independent state
of South Sudan. The rest of the oil is produced in adjacent disputed border
areas between Sudan and South Sudan such as Abyei. This is a matter of more
than intellectual interest to the rest of Africa and the world.
Yet not far beneath the surface, Sudanese society is churning. The long-term
plan is for the two Sudans to wean themselves off their reliance on oil
exports. There are a host of civil rights that the Sudanese people have an
insatiable hunger for -- civil liberties and personal freedoms are among
those aspirations. Yet, sheer survival is paramount.
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Received on Wed May 02 2012 - 17:05:30 EDT