More tunnel, less light
Maintaining Sudan's territorial integrity and national unity is essential for regional stability, writes Gamal Nkrumah
The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed in January 2005 has failed to bear fruit. That, at least, is the belief of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), a claim the Sudanese government disputes. The SPLM's position has conjured up a political storm, not only in Khartoum but in neighbouring Arab and African capitals where the break-up of Sudan into an "Arab" north and "African" south is viewed as a disaster for African-Arab interchange.
Sudan is of vital political importance to Egypt. The cultural and historic ties that bind the two countries are extensive. It is against this backdrop that Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit and head of Egyptian General Intelligence Omar Suleiman flew to the Sudanese capital Khartoum and the southern Sudanese administrative capital Juba for consultations with Sudanese leaders and political figures from both the north and south. They delivered letters from President Hosni Mubarak to Sudanese President Omar Hassan Al-Bashir and the southern Sudanese President Salva Kiir, who until last Thursday was also Sudan's acting vice-president.
Egypt regards Sudan's political fortunes as a vital security concern. It is of symbolic significance that Abul-Gheit and Suleiman flew first to Juba before travelling on to Khartoum. Egypt has offered to assist Sudan in any way possible -- financially and logistically, and is willing to provide personnel, including peacekeeping troops. Al-Bashir and Kiir are recognised as the effective leaders of Sudan, and Egypt acknowledges the roles they play. Neither of the two men, however, has ever held any kind of elected office.
Without the SPLM, the Sudanese government has lost its ability to hold the ring.
The southern Sudanese anticipated that the CPA would act as the precursor for a radical democratisation of the Sudanese political establishment. Such hopes have crumbled into dust. Why?
The superficial answer to the question is that the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) is whole-heartedly opposed to political liberalisation, preferring instead to reiterate well-worn anti-imperialist mantras while stressing high-speed, oil-fuelled economic growth; the deeper answer that the break-up of Sudan is edging forever closer, though should you depend on Sudan's state-controlled media for news you could be forgiven for not noticing that the situation in Sudan is reaching a critical turning.
The SPLM yearns for a new Sudan and while the opacity of its decision- making processes is widely acknowledged it is hard to overstate the importance of the SPLM's suspension of its government activities. It signifies the separation of the state from society.
The SPLM has been taken for granted in Arab capitals for far too long. It has not been given its due. Its decision to withdraw from the Khartoum-based government has not been prompted by the West. It would be foolhardy to assume the SPLM's change of heart has been driven by a shift in either the thinking of Western powers or Sudan's African neighbours; rather, it is a gesture that the SPLM has had enough.
Sudanese opposition groups in Darfur and in the South are fed up with the clumsy and heavy-handed suppression of opposition demands. They have been demanding a much deeper democratisation of the decision-making process, demands that Khartoum has consistently failed to meet.
That the NCP has held sway for so long is a symptom of the sickness affecting the Sudanese political system. It is a system that no longer works, not even with the inflow of oil revenues and the promise of a great deal more yet to come, and time is running out for a solution to be found for Sudan's crises.
International fretting about Sudan is nothing new. But the timing of the SPLM's suspension is significant. The CPA may have been touted as a cosy agreement between the SPLM and the Sudanese government but the international community is right to believe that a stable Sudan is crucial for both regional peace and to the political stability of Africa and the Middle East.
Sudan is infamous for its history of corrupt, faction-ridden politicking. For years, idealists have dreamed of a realignment in Sudanese politics. By boosting its output of oil the Sudanese government is hoping to buy time, and friends. It also hopes to silence foes. The Sudanese economy is booming as never before. The Sudanese pound is now worth three Egyptian pounds. That is an unprecedented development. Yet while increased oil prices will boost the Sudanese economy, the Sudanese authorities are in no position to ask their people to squander yet more lives and hard-earned money.
Dividing Sudan's new found oil wealth is the key to resolving the country's dilemmas. Most Sudanese, southerners, northerners and westerners, oppose partition, and in their opposition is a grain of hope.
The international community's willingness to nudge Sudan in the right direction will play a crucial role. The SPLM claims that the Sudanese authorities want to rid Khartoum of southerners. There are two million southern Sudanese in the national capital, in addition to Khartoum's million-strong Darfurian community. Should such claims be true it may well be the case that Sudan has sunk so low it is beyond saving.
Sudan stands at a critical juncture yet it is impossible to tell which pathway it will take. Will it survive the current crisis or sink further into the political morass? At the moment there are no indications at all as to down which road it will head. (see p.8)