Sudanese politicians learn all the wrong lessons even as Juba is taking
small steps to catch up with Khartoum, expounds
ic%20edge> Gamal Nkrumah
13 - 19 October 2011
The Sudanese people face lessons in the harsh facts of life after the
secession of South Sudan. Khartoum is running into serious economic trouble.
Sudan, bereft of the South, is on the verge of economic collapse. This may
have implications for the country's attempt to shift from being an economy
dependent on oil exports to one based on cheap labour, remittances from
abroad and agriculture as it strives to catch up with North African and
Middle Eastern living standards.
Cool heads and good luck may help avert an economic meltdown and political
disaster. The role of South Sudan in rescuing Khartoum has become paramount.
Sudan's large domestic market compared with neighbours such as Chad, Eritrea
and the Central African Republic may help it withstand the slump in its main
export markets to the north such as Egypt and other North African countries.
Sudan's traditional trading partners in North Africa such as Egypt and Libya
are still reeling from the birth pangs of democratisation and political
reform following the Arab awakening.
Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates have seized the
Sudanese economic downturn as an opportunity to invest. This is particularly
palpable in the agricultural sector.
The promise of oil revenues has given way, however, to cautious plodding
towards averting economic disaster. The construction sector is a case in
point. A number of Khartoum's boulevards are packed with jostling imported
plush cars and lined with a few gleaming, Gulf Arab commissioned and Chinese
constructed gleaming skyscrapers. Yet the pavements of the Sudanese capital
city are thronged with beggars, donkey-drawn carts and drab people weighed
down by back-breaking inflation.
Omdurman, Khartoum's twin city across the Nile, is decrepit with fetid
alleyways leading to nowhere. Against this grim backdrop it is difficult to
imagine a peaceful transition to democracy that involves no bloodshed and
little retribution to the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) of Sudanese
President Omar Hassan Al-Bashir.
The Arab Spring has passed Sudan by. With the independence of South Sudan,
Khartoum has failed to shed off its African cultural outlook and uproot its
African heritage in spite of Al-Bashir's strenuous efforts to re-affirm
Sudan's Arab identity.
More worrisome, to Al-Bashir and his cohorts in the NCP, is the emergence of
a new "South" in the frontline states of Blue Nile, South Kordofan, Abyei
and Darfur that are geographically adjacent to the newly independent South
Sudan. Ominously for the militantly Islamist NCP, the bulk of the population
in these peripheral states of Sudan are politically inclined to pay
allegiance to the ruling party in South Sudan, the Sudan People's Liberation
Movement (SPLM). Given the choice most of the indigenous non-Arab people in
these remote backwaters would rather vote for the SPLM and its affiliate
This week's visit by South Sudan President Salva Kiir to Khartoum designed
to iron out political differences with his Sudanese counterpart and
strengthen economic links is seen as a historic event by Kiir and his hosts
in Khartoum. Juba is concerned about Khartoum's attempts to sabotage the
export of South Sudanese oil via pipelines ending in the main oil terminal
on the Red Sea, Port Sudan. Khartoum is using the oil pipeline vital to the
economic well-being of South Sudan as a trump card in its desperate bid to
bring the restless regions of Darfur, Abyei, South Kordofan and Blue Nile
under into firm grip. Khartoum also eschews the very notion of the SPLM
participating in a multi-party pluralist political process in Sudan. How can
the ruling party of a neighbouring state with economic clout play a decisive
role in a fully-fledged Sudanese democracy? The SPLM insists that it be
entitled to play a pivotal role in Sudanese politics. That is the challenge
How can prudence and circumspection become a Sudanese characteristic, a
remarkable turnabout from the cavalry flair of the Janjaweed Arab militias
and Islamist parties' risk-taking and back-stabbing that used to be encoded
in the Sudanese national DNA? Restraint has become the hallmark of the
triumphant SPLM in South Sudan as well as in the North. Gone is the earlier
bravado over winning over non-Arab indigenous peoples of Darfur, Abyei,
South Kordofan and Blue Nile. The SPLM's caution and political acumen
extends to its handling of the prickly economic questions and in particular
oil that has fuelled exasperation, resentment and even indignation in both
Juba and Khartoum. The SPLM has also worked patiently to raise South Sudan's
regional and international profile and make Juba an earnest player in East
African and Nile Basin politics.
As the SPLM has seen that Juba's core interests lie within Africa, the bloom
has come off the relationship with Khartoum and the Arab world at large.
After meeting with Kiir, Al-Bashir flew to Qatar for further consultation
and the soliciting of funding for several key projects. Qatar hosted peace
talks on Darfur mediating between Al-Bashir and a number of Darfur armed
The NTC has mooted the idea of talks with Sudan's major opposition parties
to outline a reform strategy. Opposition groups, however, are sceptical
concerning the NTC's intentions and are pressing for a transitional
government of national unity, a notion the ruling NTC flatly rejects.
Al-Bashir now needs to reset strained relations with his African neighbours.
His tactics have so far failed to bear fruit. The Sudanese president's trick
is that Khartoum tries to shake off the aftereffects of South Sudan's
secession while embarking on a further set of oil-free economic and social
reforms aimed at continuing the country's transformation, all without
upsetting Al-Bashir's ruling NCP's dominance.
Building political and civil society institutions and a strong market
economy still has a long way to go in Sudan as any intrepid investor caught
up in red tape in Khartoum or Port Sudan can attest.
South Sudan in sharp contrast has found its place in the heart of Africa.
And that place is much closer to the fledging democracies of Africa South of
the Sahara than the troubled nations of the Arab awakening.
For Khartoum, the rising star of the SPLM and South Sudan in Africa
threatens to be a classic case of good news and bad news. The good news is
that Juba is, or could soon be, a buoyant trading partner. The bad news is
that the price for closer economic cooperation is political collaboration.
The corrupt and autocratic order in Sudan is now wobbling so badly that it
must come to an abrupt end. There is an innate animosity in Khartoum to the
sponsorship and promotion of core Western political values such as
pluralistic democracy and individual rights by the SPLM. However, the SPLM
sponsorship of secularist values is nowhere near as brutal or as overt as
the traditional repression by successive Sudanese governments including
Al-Bashir's NCP of the peripheral non-Arab peoples of South Sudan, Darfur,
Abyei, South Kordofan and Blue Nile. Moreover, the United States has made it
abundantly clear that Washington would not accept the violent suppression of
uprisings by the indigenous non-Arab peoples of the "new South Sudan" in the
Sudanese ethnic groups -- Muslim and non-Muslim -- who identify themselves
as non-Arab constitute a demographic majority in the country. Nubians in the
far north of Sudan, Beja tribes in eastern Sudan and the Red Sea littoral,
and a host of indigenous peoples in areas bordering South Sudan are
reclaiming their African cultural heritage and demanding a say in the
decision-making process in Khartoum.
Arman, who is currently embarking on a tour of Western nations, stressed
that issues pertaining to the Sudanese people are of great interest to
Western policymakers. "After a quarter of a century of struggle for the
downtrodden in Sudan under the banner of the SPLM, I am optimistic. I
understand that the war crimes committed against the politically and
socially marginalised peoples of Sudan is not going to be resolved in
Damazin, Kadugoli or Al-Fasher [the provincial capitals of Blue Nile, South
Kordofan and Darfur respectively]. But, it will ultimately be resolved in
Khartoum when a democratic political system is in place," Arman told the
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Received on Sat Oct 15 2011 - 18:38:40 EDT