Sudan's open-ended future
Asmaa El-Husseini reflects on the sad trajectory from lost opportunities to partition
These days are the last in the six-year interim period dictated by the Sudanese peace agreement to build unity voluntarily, and they are passing without making unity any more attractive. The first day of January which marks the 55th anniversary of Sudan's independence is a glum occasion for the people of Sudan because they don't know if it will be the last time they celebrate independence as part of the big Sudan they know. Will this be a day of celebration or condolences for their country which awaits 9 January and its repercussions to decide whether the borders of the country will remain the same or whether the south will break away and destablise other regions in the north and south.
Last year, like the five years before that, was truly one of lost opportunities. Sudan could have become strong, united and stable after the end of the civil war which for nearly half a century depleted the power, sources, human resources and finances of the country. Last year, Sudan passed up the hopes, prayers and aspirations of many of its people to maintain their country's unity. This new year, they are only asking to live in peace since they have lost hope that unity will be maintained under current circumstances.
There were many developments in Sudan during 2010, most importantly rapid developments in the criminal case against Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir, whom the International Criminal Court (ICC) indicted in March of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity during March 2009. It dropped charges of ethnic cleansing, but decided to bring them back in July 2010, after an appeal by ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo. The tribunal demanded that Al-Bashir be arrested any time he leaves Sudan, which complicated his travels abroad and he now goes only to countries where he feels he will not be arrested. Khartoum refused to deal with or recognise the ICC, but it is clear that the issue has become a major pressure point on the government of Sudan. It will either become a tool of persuasion for Khartoum to separate from the south (as the world community wishes), or push Khartoum in the opposite direction and make it more obstructive to the referendum. If the plebiscite takes place without incident, Khartoum believes the international community will revisit the ICC charges which not only involve Al-Bashir but reportedly a large number of leading Sudanese.
ICC developments also influenced a solution -- or lack thereof -- on Darfur, which continued to stumble last year, and suffered a rebellion of the main leaders with whom Khartoum had signed a peace agreement. Most prominently is Mini Arko Minawi who signed the Abuja agreement in 2006 and became the president of the interim authority and chief adviser to Bashir. After the elections in April 2010 he was forced to resign from his post and left angrily to the south. This was followed by battles between his forces and the Sudanese army, while negotiations between the government and the Justice and Equality Movement quickly collapsed into battles on the ground. No other factions came to the negotiating table, most prominently the Sudan Liberation Movement, the faction of Abdel-Wahed Mohamed Noor who lives in Paris and refuses to enter any negotiations. There is also the Unity Leadership Liberation Movement, while the government continued to talk to the Liberation and Justice Movement in Doha and declared that the end of this year is the final deadline to negotiate on Darfur. Not resolving the issue before the referendum in the south leaves the issue open to further tensions and international interference, especially because the movements in Darfur are not united and some of them are present in the south. In fact, Khartoum claims Juba wants to use them against the north. Another ominous sign on the future of Darfur is the appointment of a US special envoy for Darfur.
As the countdown continues for the plebiscite in the south, the partners ruling Sudan have failed to resolve many pending issues, some of which will be postponed until after the referendum, such as borders, Abyei, citizenship and resources. This is merely a postponement of time bombs which now will not be resolved within the same country, but between two states. Worst still are the hostile statements between the two sides which have tarnished and damaged relations among millions of people in Sudan if animosities continue while ignoring common denominators, joint interests and benefits.
The last elections in Sudan, which were an improvement in terms of transparency in the north and south, were criticised by many international monitors -- another spent opportunity to establish democracy in the country, and help the country remain united. The results of the election, where the NCP monopolised power in the north and the SPLM in the south, deepened divisions inside Sudan and lost any chance to reverse imminent partition.
Before the elections, the south suffered terrible tribal wars which killed thousands and which it accused the north of supporting. After the elections, a rebellion exploded in the south and General George Athor took up arms in protest of the election results. The Popular Movement for Democratic Change led by former Sudanese foreign minister Lam Akol and SPLM leader and South President Silva Kiir agreed to a dialogue for the coming phase, and resolved some disputes among the southerners.
This did not happen in the north which reached boiling point after the elections because Al-Bashir's party eliminated its opponents and many of its allies all at once, and did not seek to mend or unite the tattered northern front. A few days before the end of the year, Sudanese officials made alarming statements about the future of the north after partition. Al-Bashir, especially, talked about the rule of Sharia and the Arab Sudanese nation, while his adviser Nafei Ali Nafei confirmed that the government of Sudan will not agree to forming a multi-ethnic government after the referendum.
The year 2010 began with the case of Lobna Ahmed Hussein, the Sudanese journalist who was facing a flogging because she wore trousers, and it ended with a video clip of a girl being viciously flogged by the Sudanese police. There were also the incidents of the police beating members of the Umma Party, including Mariam Sadek Al-Mahdi, a renowned activist and daughter of the party's president, who suffered a broken arm and fractures to the head. Before that, her sister Rabah Sadek Al-Mahdi, a journalist and activist, and other prominent activists were arrested after protesting against the video clip of the flogged girl and derogatory laws against women.
Meanwhile, Sudan's economy -- which a few years ago had begun to pick up -- is now facing many problems. Political developments, security complications and the thick fog covering Sudan's future cast a long shadow on the economy, triggering massive price hikes which affected large sections of society.
No one in Sudan can predict who will win or lose because of what happened, or guess what will happen next. What is certain is that the losses are huge on all levels. Despite intense campaigning in the south for partition, since it would finally liberate them from long-time injustices, no conscientious southerner is ignorant of the dangers and difficulties that would face a nascent southern state. Many of them contend that they were not left with any other choice other than seeking this very difficult option.
It seems that the referendum in the South and what partition it may lead to are a reality for international, regional and Sudanese players. But this is not the end of crises in Sudan since the south suffers from structural problems, and the North is in perpetual trouble. The problems in the north and south are likely to escalate and overlap in the coming period.
Sudan's future in the north and south is open for debate, influencing and being influenced by mutual interests, as well as regional and international relations. While the prosperity of each side depends on stability and mutual benefits and interests with the other side, the entire issue is wrapped in immense complications which will only get worse if the narrow-sighted notion of dividing Sudan's problems continues to prevail, while personal interests and negative interference from outside continue.