Challenges for independent South Sudan; Behind the clashes in Blue Nile, South Kordofan and Darfur

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South Sudan celebrates independence. Photo by babasteve.

By Explo Nani-Kofi

September 6, 2011 -- Pambazuka News, posted at Links international Journal of Socialist Renewal with the author's permission -- I have decided not to separate Sudan and South Sudan in my articles because developments in both places, even after the secession of South Sudan as an independent country, are linked to how Sudan, Africa’s biggest country, was shaped historically and how it functioned as a country. The crisis in Sudan is a crisis of capitalism in post-colonial Africa but manifests itself through the way capitalism specifically functions in Sudan.

Sudan became independent as a country from Anglo-Egyptian control on January 1, 1956. The United Kingdom and Egypt reached an agreement for Sudan’s self-determination and self-government in 1953. A transitional period began with the inauguration of a parliament in 1954. The first civil war broke out between the South and North in 1955 because the Arab-led government reneged on the establishment of a federal system of government. Thus civil war broke out in Sudan even before independence was declared. It is necessary for this to be stressed for those who interpret the rebellion against the Arabo-Islamic ruling class in Sudan as a latter-day Western imperialist manoeuvre. That interpretation is ahistorical, a distraction and a racist distortion.

With the independence of South Sudan, the country faces a number challenges which follow from the past. What united the people of South Sudan in their quest for independence was a common opposition to the marginalisation and divide-and-rule methods of the Arabo-Islamic ruling class in Khartoum, which has employed Arab identity and Islam as tools in running the state and exploiting its people. The people of South Sudan faced the same situation as those now experienced in Darfur and South Kordofan, which are still part of north Sudan.

Coordination at the level of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) doesn’t seem to be that smooth. The unity against the common enemy, the Arabo-Islamic ruling class, made it is easy for chieftains and ethnic communities to participate in the armed struggle without necessarily being effectively coordinated by the SPLM/A, as everybody wanted the end of the oppression and marginalisation.

A Southern Sudanese Liberation Movement/Army (SSLM/A) has issued a statement critical of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), which is the ruling organisation in South Sudan. The SSLM/A is claiming that the SPLM/A cannot represent all in South Sudan, but should be replaced by an interim government representing all political parties in South Sudan. The SSLM/A also campaigns for a federal South Sudan as the political structure that is likely to provide the best framework for proper representation and the protection of the ethnic plurality of South Sudan.

The economic situation, including struggle over grazing land, is also leading to attacks and counterattacks from different ethnic groups. There have been attacks and retailiated between Murle and Lou Nuer ethnic groups in Jonglei State, resulting in serious casualties... Some of these problems arise because the Arabo-Islamic regime is siphoning the oil of South Sudan for its opulent lifestyle and kept South Sudan totally undeveloped like some feudal backyard.

Development is helping bring to the fore other issues which were ignored or glossed over by the leadership of the liberation movement after the late John Garang who led the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army into the Comprehensive Peace Agreement with Sudan. Garang had the vision of the liberation of the whole Sudan while a lot of the liberation movement were concerned just about how to end Arabo-Islamic ruling class oppression and marginalisation. This oppression and marginalisation was to facilitate neocolonialist capitalist exploitation, and while the incidence was higher among the supposed non-Arab population and non-Islamic population, it was part and parcel of the domesticated capitalist system in Sudan.

Although the independence of South Sudan has not resolved this problem, it will help draw attention to the importance of addressing the bigger question of liberation as envisioned by John Garang. The problems of Darfur and South Kordofan clearly mean that the marginalisation is not just a north-south divide and the clashes in South Sudan show that there are other problems beyond marginalisation of the non-Arabised population.

An issue outstanding is what to do with the disputed territory of Abyei. Abyei definitely is in South Sudan but with the area being the source of oil the North doesn’t want to let it go. As such, Abyei was not included in the referendum which led to the independence of South Sudan. The decision on whether it is in north Sudan or South Sudan has been postponed for the future.

The Sudan government alleged that a government convoy was fired upon on  May 19 by the South Sudan Police Force, resulting in casualties. In response, the Sudan armed forces attacked and seized Abyei. In the 1990s, jihad against the Nuba people of South Kordofan led to between 4000 and 5000 villages being destroyed. My previous articles in Pambazuka have detailed recent genocidal actions in South Kordofan. In response to insurrection from Darfur in 2003, the Sudan armed forces and the Janjaweed militias have carried similar genocidal actions in the Darfur area of western Sudan.

There is urgent need for global Pan-Africanist solidarity to go beyond rhetoric and speeches. There has to emerge a current in the Pan-Africanist movement that can campaign and lobby on the side of the marginalised majority in Sudan. This has to go beyond shifting alliances with governments outside Africa. This has to be done within the global justice movement. The shifting alliances with various non-African governments will also result in shifting the goal posts for neocolonialism. We should take a cue from the network of solidarity groups that, for example, the Cubans have used as an important model. This proactive Pan-Africanist group could lobby various bodies to help an independent mass following develop its own capacity which may contribute to advancing self-determination in Africa as a whole. This type of solidarity is indispensable in addressing the unfinished agenda which has dragged Sudan along since the eve of independence in 1955.

Sudan struggle: an African self-determination cause

By Explo Nani-Kofi

September 21, 2011 -- Pambazuka News, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with the author's permission -- On September 2, the president of Sudan declared a state of emergency in the Blue Nile state of Sudan and dismissed the elected governor, Malik Agar, and replaced him with the commander-in-chief of the Sudan Armed Forces base in the Al-Damazin. This can best be described as a military coup against the elected governor of the Blue Nile. There were clashes between the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement–North and the Sudan Armed Forces the preceding day. This has become the latest flashpoint in Sudan since the independence of South Sudan.

The reasons for South Sudan breaking away from Sudan are strongly applicable to Blue Nile, South Kordofan and Darfur. During the wars that preceded the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in Sudan, the people of Blue Nile and South Kordofan [supported the struggle of the people of southern Sudan for self-determination], which explains the strong presence of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in these states. It therefore raises a question of how these states are going to be kept in Sudan when a part of the country has been lost due to the same grievances which they face.

The present situation will lead to an increased collaboration of the forces of South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Drafur against the Arabo-Islamic tyranny in Khartoum. The Arabo-Islamic tyranny under Al-Bashir will also respond with extremely repressive measures. Reports have it that there are still armed attacks from the government’s forces on the Nuba people in South Kordofan, tantamount to a military occupation. Bishop Andudu, the bishop of Kadugli, and Suleiman Rahhal, director of Nubba Survival Foundation, informed people through GFM Radio's Another World is Possible radio program out of London that unprovoked armed attacks on civilians affecting women and children continue to be carried by the Sudan Armed Forces.

A subject of great dispute has been the issue of Arab-led or Arabisation-led oppression in the Sahel zone of Africa from Mauritania to Sudan. Despite the fact that quite a lot has been researched and written on the subject, including campaigns by internationally recognised human rights organisations, many still try to brush this issue under the carpet.

The issue of indiscriminate killing and arrest of black immigrants in Libya has been highlighted by the news media recently as a major issue. At present most people present this as an anti-Gaddafi attack on black immigrants by the rebels because of Gaddafi’s support for African unity, so the blacks have become targets just as the rebels oppose Gaddafi.

This slant ignores the pogroms in Libya against Ghanaians, Nigerians, Niger nationals, Malians and Chadians in 2000. It was then reported that more 100 black Africans were killed during those attacks in September to October 2000. In fact, Ghana’s then-president J.J. Rawlings went to Libya himself during the crisis and returned on a special Ghana Airways flight with 200 Ghanaians. A lot of black migrant workers fled Libya during the period. During the Conference of African Migrants in Europe in Tripoli in January 2011, some black migrant workers came to us, the delegates, and complained about Arab racism in Libyan society towards them.

I see the present attacks on black migrants in Libya today and the 2000 attacks as linked and evidence of the fact that Arab racism towards blacks is as much a reality as European racism is.

Back to Sudan, it is this reality that the people of Sudan have faced since the 7th century when Islam drifted southwards from Egypt. This has resulted in the targeted oppression of the people of Blue Nile, South Kordofan, Darfur and South Sudan under the Arabo-Islamic ruling class in Khartoum. It has, unfortunately, in Sudan become an institutionalised tool of capitalist exploitation as well as divide and rule.

Elsewhere, I have seen the separation of Eritrea from Ethiopia being put in the same category as the separation of South Sudan from Sudan. By putting them in the same category will hide this important fact of the Afro-Arab societal conflict. Eritrea became differentiated from Ethiopia by the Italian occupation but South Sudan, alongside Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan, are in conflict with Khartoum because they want to remain what they have always been and resist becoming Arabised clones. The fact that this issue is not raised by many self-acclaimed progressives is rather worrying.

It is even a very difficult question for most progressive and radical Arabs as they become very defensive instead of approaching the issue as one of social justice which should concern all. When I raised the issue in discussions during an anti-imperialist conference in Beirut, Lebanon, in January 2009, people found it difficult and the Sudan delegation of black Arabised Sudanese there promised to invite people on a fact-finding mission. They even took down names of interested people but I never received a invitation and have also not heard anything of any fact-finding mission yet taking place. With the recent genocidal actions on the Khartoum regime in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, who needs a fact-finding mission before being aware of what is happening as a follow up to the feudal and religious expansion and occupation since the 7th century?

My deduction from this is that the problem in Blue Nile, South Kordofan, Darfur and South Sudan is not an internal Sudanese issue but an issue beyond the borders of Sudan, and that what is happening in Sudan is a manifestation of a more general problem. It is an issue of self-determination. The problem is not separate from the reports of Afro-Arab conflict along the Sahel zone, nor is it separate from the present attacks on black immigrants in Libya, now and in 2000. Without this understanding we will not develop a successful strategy for the permanent resolution of the conflict, as it will be tempting to be dealing with the manifestation rather than the conflict itself.

From this analysis, the first line of resistance and solidarity will be all black Africans who are not ready to be cloned into something else than what they are, so it is a Pan-African issue and task. As a social justice movement this should attract the attention and solidarity necessary to rectify the situation by all progressive and democratic minded people the world over, including progressive and democratic-minded Arabs. I see this as the first necessary step towards the permanent resolution of the conflict.

[Explo Nani-Kofi is the co-ordinator of Kilombo Community Education Project, London, and the Kilombo Centre for Civil Society and African Self-Determination, Peki, Ghana, which jointly publish the Kilombo Pan-African Community Journal – He is also the producer and coordinator of the Another World is Possible radio program on GFM Radio.]

Sudan: Regime vows to crush opposition

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Two months after the secession of South Sudan, Khartoum’s ruling elite is making no retreat from the strategy that eventually forced the country’s division.

By Kerryn Williams

September 25, 2011 -- Green Left Weekly -- Two months after the secession of South Sudan, Khartoum’s ruling elite is making no retreat from the strategy that eventually forced the country’s division. This strategy includes marginalisation and neglect of the outlying regions; the forced imposition of Khartoum’s right-wing Islamic, pro-Arab agenda on Sudan’s culturally, linguistically and religiously diverse population; and brutal repression of dissent.

The Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) is waging wars on several fronts, from Darfur in the west to the states along the new southern border.

In June, the SAF launched a huge military assault on the people of South Kordofan, near the border with South Sudan. There has been sustained bombing of civilians and a targeted campaign of ethnic cleansing against the local Nuba people. There are reports of mass graves and allegations that SAF has used chemical weapons.

Khartoum has driven out international aid organisations and refused to allow the United Nations Mission In Sudan to remain after the formalisation of the south’s independence on July 9.

The  British Guardian reported on June 18 that Nuba leader Abdelaziz Adam al Hilu said up to half a million people had been displaced and 50 towns bombed in South Kordofan.

A UN report in August suggested the bombings, abductions, arbitrary arrests and slaughter may amount to war crimes. In response, Sudanese Justice Minister Mohamed Bushara Dosa told the UN Human Rights Council on September 16 that the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) government of South Sudan was responsible for the conflict and that Khartoum was the “victim”.

The SAF army extended the war to Blue Nile state in late August. On September 2, Sudanese President Omer al Bashir declared a state of emergency and replaced the elected governor, SPLM/A leader Malik Agar, with a military official.

SPLM members were targeted for arrest or execution.

A September 3 statement by the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies said: “The main water reservoir in Al Damazein was destroyed in the bombardment [that day], possibly in a deliberate attempt to deprive the population of this essential resource.”

A September 13 UN report said as many as 100,000 people were displaced by the attacks.

South Kordofan and Blue Nile largely backed the south during the three-decade-long civil war that ended with the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). During the 1990s, the SAF and local militias it armed conducted a genocidal campaign in the Nuba Mountains, massacring up to half a million people.

The CPA mandated popular consultations for Blue Nile state and South Kordofan to determine their future relationship with Khartoum, but these have been blocked by the government.

The Bashir government has outlawed the SPLM in the north (SPLM-N), raiding its offices and arresting its leaders. Khartoum claims the SPLM-N is part of a foreign party and that its members are foreigners, despite the large party membership bases in South Kordofan and Blue Nile state being local to those areas.

One of the sparks for the outbreak of conflict in June was the SAF’s attempt to forcibly disarm the SPLM-N.

But the people of South Kordofan and Blue Nile show no willingness to bow to Khartoum’s repression.

In Blue Nile, SPLA Major General Ahmed Al Umda Badi told Radio Dabanga on September 16 that the SPLM/A controlled about 85% of the state and was approaching the capital, Damazin.

He called for other marginalised people to join the struggle: “All the Sudanese civilians and their organisations must stand up in Blue Nile, South Kordofan, Nuba Mountains, Darfur and eastern Sudan to overthrow the regime and create a genuine democratic system in the country.”

During August, the SPLM announced it was negotiating an alliance with several rebel groups in Darfur and planning to convene a conference to discuss joint work.

Like Darfur, so-called peace negotiations over South Kordofan and the Blue Nile have amounted to little.

On June 28, presidential aide Nafie Ali Nafie brokered a “framework agreement” with the SPLM-N to end hostilities in South Kordofan. However, on July 1, Bashir publicly rejected the ceasefire, calling for the SAF to finish “cleansing” South Kordofan. He dismissed the recognition of the SPLM-N as a legitimate political party in Sudan.

Bashir’s aggressive promises to eradicate all those who resist are further fuelled by criticism from military hardliners and right-wing Islamic leaders over his failure to prevent Sudan splitting in two.

The September 17 Sudan Tribune said that on a visit to Damazin to urge the armed forces to wipe out all opposition, Sudanese First Vice-President Ali Osman Mohamed Taha said: “We will cut off every hand that wants to extract it from the entity of larger Sudan and it will remain part of Sudan’s Islamic affiliation with all its strength, vigorous discourse and history.”

The pro-government Sudan Vision claimed on September 20 that the regime had thwarted alleged efforts by the SPLM to create “instability so as to install IDP camps allowing Western organizations not to provide people with their needs but giving these organizations justification to intervene in the country”.

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WikiLeaks released several secret cables in early September that struck a further blow to the credibility of Bashir’s regime.

One document from 2008 outlined a meeting between presidential advisor Mustafa Osman Ismail and US charge d'Affaires Alberto Fernandez at which Ismail asked the US for help to “normalise” relations with Israel. reported on September 14 that NCP spokesperson Qutbi Al-Mahdi claimed the cable was fabricated, as Khartoum scrambled to preserve its fabricated image as an anti-Western defender of Palestine.

Another cable showed Khartoum includes the Lebanese party Hezbollah on its list of terrorist organisations to monitor, despite Bashir making public statements in support of the group and its leadership. The revelation is consistent with the NCP regime’s collaboration with the US’s “anti-terror” campaign in the region over the past decade.

The military operations in South Kordofan and Blue Nile pose a threat to the new state of South Sudan, already struggling with the overwhelming challenge of rebuilding after decades of war. The north and south governments continue to dispute oil transit fees and the status of the oil-rich region of Abyei.

Khartoum is yet to withdraw its soldiers from Abyei after unilaterally seizing the area in May. It has backed away from a September 8 promise to do so by the end of the month.

Sudan is also facing an economic crisis. Sudanese central bank governor Mohammad Kheir Al Zubeir met with Arab bankers in Doha on September 16 to request that they deposit reserves into Sudan’s central and commercial banks. He said about US$4 billion was needed.

Three-quarters of Khartoum's oil income was lost when the south became independent, and many local industries were driven into the ground during the oil boom. Inflation has sky-rocketed and a weak Sudanese pound means imported food and goods are increasingly unaffordable. Large price rises for food and basic necessities are stirring discontent.

Price rises were a central issue in January street protests inspired by the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions. The protests were met with a severe crackdown.

The Sudan Tribune said the National Consensus Forces planned a protest in Khartoum on September 9 against the military offensives in Blue Nile and South Kordofan. The NCF involves the key opposition parties, including the Umma Party and the Sudanese Communist Party (SCP).

However, Sudan Tribune said the authorities prevented the rally from taking place.

The government has also cracked down on the media, seizing entire print runs of newspapers prior to distribution. The SCP’s paper Al Midan has been targeted on at least five occasions in the past month.

The September 15 Sudan Tribune said the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) ordered newspaper editors not to publish any statements by Darfur rebel leaders or the SPLM-N. 

Bashir is determined to hold onto power at any cost, yet the Arab Spring has shown that even the most repressive regimes may have an expiry date.