Confounded by Kordofan
The governments of northern and southern Sudan should keep a cool head over Kordofan, counsels Gamal Nkrumah
The election results in Southern Darfur, a northern Sudanese state geographically adjacent to southern Sudan and with a similar ethnic composition, has revived arguments about the legal basis for drawing the frontiers between northern and southern Sudan.
Where does northern Sudan end and southern Sudan begin? Khartoum has long stressed its strategic interest in disputed peripheral regions of northern Sudan inhabited predominantly by non-Arabs such as South Kordofan, South Blue Nile and Abyei. These are potentially rich in oil and natural gas reserves.
Southern Sudan controls 75 per cent of Sudan's 500,000 barrels of oil per day output. It is against this explosive backdrop that the ethnic rivalries in South Kordofan have taken on an ominous turn. The Arabised tribes of Kordofan are pro- government and want the implementation of Islamic Sharia law while the other non-Arab indigenous peoples are anti- government and seek greater autonomy and control over the resources of the province. Opposition forces support the position of the non-Arab ethnic groups. The Nuba people of South Kordofan have long thrown in their lot with the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), the ruling party in southern Sudan.
The implications of the South Kordofan elections for Sudanese politics are profound. "We will not accept the results because the vote was rigged," warned Yasser Arman, head of the SPLM in northern Sudan.
Apocryphal? Perhaps so. But the imbroglio over Kordofan has a point. Sudanese President Omar Hassan Al-Bashir's opponents accuse him of being an unprincipled tyrant. He is determined to have his way. The National Electoral Commission (NEC) declared Al-Bashir's ruling National Congress Party (NCP) the clear winner garnering 22 out of the 32 electoral districts in South Kordofan. The army and ally militias have intensified their presence in South Kordofan.
This heavy-handed clampdown would not settle the legal and ethical issues raised by the results of the elections in South Kordofan. The framework in which the late military ruler of Sudan Jaafar Numeiri has left behind is essentially still in place -- arbitrary and indefinite detentions, forced resettlement and military tribunals.
Al-Bashir is not just asserting the powers Numeiri bequeathed, but, as in the case of South Kordofan, is actually refining them. Sudan's political agendas change with disconcerting speed. The conflict in Sudan has receded in the public consciousness of Arab countries and the international community, displaced by the popular pro-democracy uprisings in Yemen, Syria and Libya. This offers some relief to the Sudanese president and his hangers-on in the NCP. NCP candidate Ahmed Haroun was declared governor of South Kordofan even though the International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued a warrant arrest against Haroun for crimes committed against humanity and genocide. Haroun pointedly ignored the ICC injunction and is arming pro-NCP militias.
The SPLM candidate protested vehemently. But now it seems inconceivable that he will throw his hat into the ring. "These people were fighting for 20 years and their aspirations are not fulfilled," Hafez Mohamed of the Justice Africa think tank was quoted as saying after the results were announced. In retaliation, Al-Bashir has given the green light for the Arabised tribal militias to obliterate villages that are sympathetic to the SPLM and terrorise the villagers.
These are unacceptable extra-judicial executions as far as the SPLM are concerned. "We will not participate in the parliament of the government because the election results were rigged," Arman stressed.
Until the international community recognises that the fight for national self-determination for non-Arab peoples in Sudan -- northern and southern -- is neither a conventional civil war nor an ordinary matter of the enforcement of national sovereignty and territorial integrity, there will be no lasting peace in South Kordofan.
More transparency is possible only if the country truly moves to a more democratic system of government. Democracy would lessen the danger of the permanent erosion of liberties and the tacit acceptance that ensuring territorial integrity must be lawless. Allowing the status quo to continue in perpetuity is wrong.
Impunity is not the only danger. Just as perilous is a widespread impression that all northern Sudanese are Muslim and all southern Sudanese are animists or Christian. The SPLM claims that the development projects in South Kordofan is reserved for the Arab population of the state. These attitudes have translated into a long history of benign neglect.
It would be foolish to dismiss the argument that the non- Arab peoples of regions such as South Kordofan or South Blue Nile do not retain a real loyalty to the SPLM. There are tensions between the NCP and the SPLM over this particular problem and over several others. If southern Sudan emerges more or less satisfied with running its own affairs as an independent, sovereign nation, then the peripheral non-Arab regions of northern Sudan may be tempted to follow suit, or at least to opt for amalgamating with South Sudan. As military attrition and the temptations of joining a prosperous oil-rich South Sudan weakens Khartoum's grip of the non- Arab peripheral regions of northern Sudan, there will be scope for these regions to secede and join South Sudan.
The SPLM is not averse to opening a new front in South Kordofan and other disputed predominantly non-Arab regions of northern Sudan such as Abyei, Southern Blue Nile and Darfur. Even though the SPLM is committed to the establishment of the new nation of South Sudan in July, it remains nervous of protracted engagement with Khartoum elsewhere in Sudan. Uncertainty persists about whether Al-Bashir and the NCP will fight tooth and nail to hang on to outlying non-Arab regions such as South Kordofan, or whether the non-Arab peoples of these regions are eagerly awaiting liberation from northern rule.
President Al-Bashir has no equal in the Sudanese political establishment. He is determined to tighten his political grip on Sudan. He holds all the reins. The intransigence of the Sudanese president and his ruling NCP augurs ill. The SPLM urged Khartoum to be more flexible and adaptable to Sudan's fast changing political map. In other words, live and let live. The focus of development must be the poorer and underdeveloped non-Arab areas of northern Sudan. More of this good work, however, is needed throughout the country.
Failure to do so will result in disaster. The ghastly sweeping authorisation of the Arabised tribal militias to butcher and terrorise the indigenous non-Arab peoples of South Kordofan is a bad omen suggesting Al-Bashir hasn't learned his lesson in Darfur or South Sudan. Championing the likes of Governor Haroun amounts to a dereliction of duty. Kordofan in all probability is going to end up being a replica of Darfur.