Sudan's war of attrition
Understanding the game of geopolitical poker between the Sudans requires
studying the splits in al-Bashir's cabinet.
Last Modified: 03 Apr 2012 06:47
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Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir has been scrambling to keep his government
under control [EPA]
Oxford, United Kingdom - Following days of aerial bombardment, tank battles
and illegal border crossings by ground forces
?INTCMP=ILCNETTXT3487> on both sides, the heaviest fighting in the border
area between Sudan and the Republic of South Sudan, which last year broke
away to become an independent nation, seems to be subsiding. Unfortunately,
this halting of hostilities is almost certainly temporary.
The military-Islamist Al-Ingaz ("Salvation") regime in Khartoum and the
Sudan People's Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M), now the ruling party in
Juba, fought each other between 1989 and 2005 in a civil war that destroyed
the lives of millions. They are now once again locked in bloody
confrontation, fought mostly via proxies: Al-Ingaz reportedly funds
insurrections against Juba, while the SPLA/M is understood to be supporting
insurgencies in Blue Nile, South Kordofan and Darfur regions. This has led
to the displacement of hundreds of thousands in both North and South Sudan,
and the emergence of grave food crises - possibly evolving towards
famine-like conditions - in
Commentators have rightly pointed to the impasse in the negotiations between
Khartoum and Juba regarding the "post-referendum arrangements" as a source
of tension. In 2005, the Al-Ingaz regime and the SPLA/M signed the
Peace Agreement (CPA), which was supposed to end half a century of war in
Sudan and to peacefully reintegrate the war-torn South into the Sudanese
state. Yet the CPA failed to ensure the democratic transformation of a
united Sudan and a more equitable distribution of wealth and power. South
Sudan voted to secede in a January 2011 referendum, but settling the divorce
has proved tricky.
How to divide Sudan's share of the Nile waters, the lifeline for millions of
people and of huge
geopolitical significance? Where to draw the border between the new
countries and how to allow the movement of hundreds of thousands of people
whose livelihood strategies involve activities on both sides of the
rs%20Rift%20Valley%20Institute.pdf> border? And how to divide oil revenues
between North and South? Waging war by proxy is seen by Khartoum and Juba as
an instrument to pressure the each former nemesis into making concessions.
Importantly, however, the proxy conflicts and increasingly frequent direct
confrontations between Sudan and South Sudan are about more than influencing
the modalities of a messy separation. What few have picked up on is the
belief that exists within both Al-Ingaz and the SPLA/M that the enemy is
about to collapse and that a war of attrition can deliver rapid victory. The
enduring impasse in Addis Ababa, where former President Thabo Mbeki and
Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi are brokering North-South
negotiations, directly adds to this belief.
Khartoum is convinced that the combination of an economic blockade through
border, support for proxy forces, out-of-control ethno-regional
eleases-graphic-stories-of-south-sudan-ethnic-violence.html> tensions and
the general weakness of the southern republic will bring SPLA/M Chairman
Salva Kiir to his knees in the next few months. Juba, in turn, believes that
military-Islamist Khartoum is too damaged by the southern secession and
through the growing economic crisis in the North - compounded by the South's
decision to stop producing oil and selling it on world markets via
-1.1263952> northern pipelines - to survive for much longer. The SPLA/M's
old allies in the North whisper rumours in Salva Kiir's ears of an impending
intifada (popular uprising) in Khartoum.
While much attention has focused on the fractious nature of the SPLA/M
leadership and the weak state it tries to control, less is understood about
the inner workings of the secretive Al-Ingaz. The biggest threat for
Khartoum's rulers lies less in a possible intifada and is more internal. For
the past 18 months, an increasingly tense power struggle has been fought
behind the scenes - and sometimes publicly, such as the removal of powerful
Salah Gosh - between the competing factions of the military-Islamist regime.
President Omar al-Bashir and his deputy Ali Osman Taha have been scrambling
to keep things under control, but are failing to preserve the unity of
Sudan's longest ever ruling government. While, in early 2011, genuine
political and economic reform looked to be on the table, partly driven by
the shock of the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, today fundamental
change under the leadership of Bashir and Taha seems improbable.
Both the Islamist civilians in the administration and its youth wing are
disgusted by the sprawling corruption and the continued stranglehold on
power of the same clique of five to ten Al-Ingaz leaders who have remained
in control since 1989. After internal demands for democratisation were
ignored by the president, they are airing their discontent with
audacity, speaking openly of a second split of the Salvation regime. In
1999, the removal of Al-Ingaz's then political leader, Sheikh Hassan
Al-Turabi, nearly tore apart the coalition of generals, Islamists and
businessmen and helped cause the Darfur conflict. Khartoum's economic elites
too are repulsed by what they see as mismanagement by Bashir and Taha of
billions of petrodollars - and demand liberalisation and a "war on graft" to
counter the crisis.
Renewed hostilities with the South, directly and through proxy forces, are
seemingly reinforcing the position of the hardliners in the army and
security services - Nafi Ali Nafie, Awad Al-Jaz, Abdelrahim Hussein and
Bakri Hassan Saleh - and helping them win the support of Bashir and Taha.
Disillusioned moderates argue that the recent cancellation of Bashir's much
visit to Juba is only the most recent example of how the hawks are provoking
conflict to strengthen their hold on power and then, in turn, using their
influence to thwart liberalising reforms of Sudan's politics and economy.
Islamists and businessmen feel abandoned by an international community that
for too long has seen Al-Ingaz as an evil, unreformable monolith and that
has given them too little support in their internal battles with the
security wing of the leadership.
The implications for peace are sombre. The Khartoum government's shrinking
political base makes it less likely to compromise, not more; nevertheless,
even if sources in the presidential palace acknowledge that violent
confrontation with South Sudan would be economically ruinous.
Interviews with the senior leadership on both sides of the North-South
border continue to show that neither side believes that a full-scale open
war is in its interest. But, as history in Sudan and elsewhere has shown,
just because politicians and generals believe that conflict is better
avoided, doesn't mean that it can't break out in the near future. The longer
the impasse lasts and the more the hardliners in Khartoum and Juba gain
influence, the less likely it is that peace can be maintained.
Harry Verhoeven completed a doctorate at the University of Oxford, where he
teaches African Politics. His research focuses on conflict, development and
environment in the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes Region and he is the
Convenor of the Oxford University China-Africa Network (OUCAN). Outside
academia, he has worked in Northern Uganda, Sudan, India and Democratic
Republic of Congo.
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Received on Tue Apr 03 2012 - 15:56:12 EDT