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Sudanese communists discuss prospects for peace
By Kerryn Williams,
Khartoum January 18, 2007-- Late last year, Green Left Weekly’s Kerryn Williams spoke to the assistant secretary of the Sudanese Communist Party (SCP), Suleman Hamid El Haj,
in Khartoum about political developments in Sudan since the January
2005 signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). The CPA ended
the two-decade-long war between Sudan’s central government in Khartoum
and the south.
Kerryn WilliamsSudanese Communist Party leader Suleman Hamid El Haj.
“Now doors are opened for development in the south and north, especially after the discovery of petrol in such big quantities.”
However, Suleman said there are still major issues to be resolved. He noted that many southerners who were working in the north or living in refugee camps “returned to the south and then [left], because there is no infrastructure there … bridges, railways, hospitals etc were all destroyed in the war.”
The SCP believes the CPA must be fully implemented to begin to overcome these problems. Suleman explained that the SCP also supported the agreement because it opened “it opens some doors to democratic changes. Political parties have greater space, an interim constitution is in place for six years and there is a chance for democratic elections to be held.”
The SCP has three members in the current parliament, of which Suleman is one. “There are 20 positions for opposition parties out of 445 — it’s a very weak opposition.” The ruling National Congress Party (NCP — formerly the National Islamic Front, which seized power in a military coup in 1989) has 52% of seats in the appointed assembly, the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement (which led the resistance in the south) has 28%, the northern parties have 14% and the remainder of seats are filled by other southern parties.
The SCP decided to accept its appointed positions in the legislative assembly “so we have a position to declare our political party lines and can address the people”. “No-one ever thought that from the parliament you can work to replace the government, which by itself (without its partners) has 52%.
“But inside the parliament we are trying to create a kind of front — although it is not large in numbers it has a certain influence. We have stopped some presidential decrees, including one that would give protection to the military from prosecution …”
The SCP is struggling for the limited democratic changes to be expanded. “There is a new draft law for parties before parliament. We are fighting for it to be a democratic law”, Suleman explained. However article 18 of the draft law would establish a council that has the right to dissolve parties if they criticise or oppose the CPA. Suleman said that this violates Sudan’s constitution, which places no obstacles to party registration. “Parties just hand over their constitution to the registrar of parties. This council has the power to do whatever — to dissolve, to register or not register parties.”
Many points of the CPA have not yet been implemented. “For example, according to Nevasha [as the CPA is often referred to], the national security council is a professional body, just to collect data, analyse it and provide information. But the security forces are still active as if Nevasha was not signed. They still arrest people, torture them, even kill some people. Now this can even involve their new partner, the [Sudanese People’s Liberation Army — the armed wing of the SPLM].”
A major barrier to the implementation of the CPA is the active presence of militias, which should have been disbanded. “For example, the popular defence militia, which is a government militia, is heavily armed, even with tanks and so on. In certain areas it is nearly as powerful as the army.”
Another example, Suleman says, is the janjaweed, responsible for much of the slaughter in Darfur, “which was formed by the authorities and is still supported by the authorities. Two militia groups still active in south Sudan represent a great threat to the peace agreement.”
Suleman pointed to other aspects of the CPA that remain on paper only. “In the civil service there is supposed to be an organisation that looks into how to employ people from the south according to their qualifications and experience, but this has not been initiated.
“The NCP controls all the key positions in all aspects of government. The role of the SPLM has been weakened and marginalised. It is not involved in decision making on the major issues, such as the budget.”
In addition to the massive destruction wreaked on the south by 21 years of war and the failure of the government to seriously implement the CPA, Suleman said that the “actual practice of the SPLM in the south” is another factor in the lack of advances made in the past two years. “The SPLM began to behave the same in government as those in the north, engaging in corruption, for example. On paper the government in the south has very good plans, but nothing has been implemented. This has led to great shortages, of water, electricity and other necessities of life.
“Industries that previously flourished, including canned fruits, textiles, rice cultivation and wood cutting, were halted by the war and have not been revived, so there is a lot of unemployment.
“There is a reasonable income from petrol, but it’s not used properly, not even to support the major industries.” Additionally, money from international donors “hasn’t been used properly, and much of it still hasn’t arrived”.
Suleman argued: “There is still a chance for both governments in the north and south to move things in the right direction, to restart industries, to increase people’s living conditions.” He said there is a great burden on the national democratic movement “to work together to fight for the reconstruction of the south and to involve the populations. The alliance between the democratic forces of the south and north will be decisive in the coming period.”
As part of the CPA, a referendum providing the people of the south the option to vote for independence is to take place at the end of the interim period. Suleman speculated that if the current conditions don’t change, people are likely to vote to secede.
Suleman told GLW that the death of John Garang, the former leader of the SPLM/A who was killed in a helicopter crash in July 2005, “was a big loss, not only for the people of the south and the SPLM/A, but for the whole of Sudan. He was calling for a new Sudan.” Suleman emphasised the need for “the active role of the popular movement to bring back the emphasis of unity that was headed by Garang. His loss can definitely not be replaced by one person, but if the movement can work cohesively and the SPLM can strengthen relations with democratic forces, then we can definitely achieve what Garang was fighting for.”
Suleman rejects claims by the Sudanese government that the conflict in Darfur, in the country’s west, was caused by tribal conflicts or interference from foreign organisations. “The Darfur problem is a political, social and economic problem. We are calling for a political, economic and social solution, not one through armed conflict. The root is in the political marginalisation of the people of Darfur …”
Suleman explained that some 6 million people live in Darfur — almost 20% of Sudan’s population — and “they contribute significantly to the national economy. Darfur has the largest source of animals — cattle, camels and sheep. Moreover, traditionally people from the west used to join the army. A majority of soldiers came from west Sudan.
“Yet true representation in government and politics is not given to the Darfur people and those appointed to work in Darfur have allegiance to the NCP and the government rather than the people of Darfur.
“Darfur is the most underprivileged province in Sudan and all the services are at a much lower level than other parts of Sudan.”
According to Suleman, in the early 1980s Islamic political leader Hassan al Turabi began pushing a plan for the “whole of Sudan to be transformed into an Islamic country, especially Darfur. He planned strong security and borders in Darfur and southern Kordofan to protect the Islamic government established in Khartoum from other forces, internally and externally. But the local tribes — both of Arab and African origin — rejected the idea.
“The plan was to settle certain tribes of Arab origin from Burkina Faso, Central Africa, Chad and Libya. Once you settle these people you give them more facilities and they can easily replace the original population.” It is a similar plan, Suleman said, that is being implemented to a certain extent now. “Most of the forces in the janjaweed are from these recently resettled tribes.”
The SCP is in favour of a UN peacekeeping force that has “one mandate — to protect the people of Darfur from the atrocities being committed and to try to reach a peaceful solution” but opposes any other “foreign intervention under any pretext into Sudan”.
“More than 200,000 people have been killed, 40,000 villages burned, 2-3 million people displaced, thousands raped and abused. The data is terrifying. The forces of the African Union have failed to protect or defend the Darfur people, due to many reasons.”
Suleman said that Sudan’s government “cannot be trusted to bring the violence to an end”, because “it is the major element that created the problem”.
Conflicting media reports of the Sudanese government’s response to proposals for a UN force reflect the balance of forces within the government, according to Suleman. While in essence the government accepts the inevitability of the intervention, it is “buying time and trying to save face, by raising questions, such as who will lead the forces, how many troops will there be, etc”.
“Key people in the government may be prosecuted in the International Court of Justice. This makes them hesitant — already some names are circulating around including very top people in the government.”
Suleman pointed out that vice-president and SPLM/A leader Silva Kiir has a different position to the government and supports the intervention, but has said that he has not been consulted over the government’s response.
US oil interests
Suleman explained that US imperialism in Sudan is mainly interested in the country’s oil and mineral resources. A further US concern “is the geopolitical importance of Sudan, being between Africa and the Middle East and its relationship with the Horn of Africa”.
“Even though there are apparent antagonisms between the US and the Sudanese government, the US is convinced that this is the best regime to serve it.”