Wednesday,15 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1224, (4 - 10 December 2014)
Wednesday,15 August, 2018
Issue 1224, (4 - 10 December 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Al-Bashir’s meaningless machismo

Gamal Nkrumah sees ominously darkening skies ahead for Sudan if Omar Al-Bashir continues to grandstand

Al-Ahram Weekly

History is riddled with idle agreements. Sudanese history is no exception. Yet, Sudan is currently in the throes of arguably its deepest crises since the independence of South Sudan in 2011 — a zinger in yet another potentially secessionist crisis while embroiled in a maelstrom of unavailing agreements. The Sudanese government and the forces of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) espouse diametrically opposed ideologies. The Sudanese government’s adamantly militant Islamist orientation is juxtaposed against the SPLM-N’s unrelentingly secularist agenda.

Sudanese human development indices serve some purposes even as they create deliberate distortions. Countless inventions have been spawneda from chance interactions with protagonists that occasionally spark the key breakthroughs that engender ceasefires and peace agreements. Nevertheless, as the Sudanese crisis intensifies, Khartoum faces limited choices. The ongoing wars in Blue Nile, South Kordofan and Darfur will dangerously inflame tensions in the war-torn country. The SPLM-N insists on autonomy and the Sudanese government’s dire need to accelerate political reforms to eliminate corruption and nepotism, and embed the rule of law, based on a secular legal system as opposed to Islamic Sharia Law. 

Sudanese President Omar Hassan Al-Bashir received a message from the chief of the African Union’s mediation team for Sudan, former South African President Thabo Mbeki. The full content of the message was not disclosed in the local Sudanese media. Nonetheless, the crux of the matter is the speeding up of peace talks in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. And the bone of contention is the right to self-determination of provinces whose population is invariably sympathetic to the SPLM-N, those with a vested interest in secularism. 

Militant Islamism should not be a platform for Khartoum. Blue Nile and South Kordofan are the two Sudanese provinces with a non-Muslim majority population. Without explicit reform commitments, the two least Arabised provinces of Sudan along with predominantly Muslim Darfur are destined to breakaway from Sudan. This is a horrifying prospect for Sudanese democracy and good governance. Sudan’s neighbours, too, would have to contend with a frenetic militant Islamist regime in their midst. Sudan’s political malaise would be unlikely to end soon and particularly since it is being rancorously truncated. Perhaps it is not surprising that Al-Bashir as the pan-Arab and Sudanese media today depict him is a trifle less portly than his pudgy physique broadcasts. 

Such scepticism must be brushed aside. Al-Bashir should rid himself of any illusions that he is the Sudan’s saviour. Al-Bashir is not respected by his own ruling party, the National Congress Party, to the extent he once was. He has presided over the break up of Sudan and many Sudanese have serious misgivings about the secession of South Sudan. 

President Al-Bashir is certainly not the reformist revolutionary leader he initially pledged to be way back when he usurped power in a 1989 coup d’etat. His tenure has sadly been ineluctably disappointing, much to the chagrin of the long-suffering Sudanese masses. 

Such reluctance of the Sudanese people to accept further breakups is understandable. The state minister at the Federal Government Ministry, Ali Majok, disclosed in an unprecedented public revelation the real reasons for the Sudanese government’s inability to sign a peace accord regarding the disputed oil-rich enclave of Abyei. 

In Al-Watan newspaper, Majok, the traditional head of the Shura Council of the Arab Rezeigat tribe, stated categorically that infighting within the ruling party, and especially between opposing factions of the late Al-Magjoub Khalifa and ex-vice president Ali Othman Mohamed Taha, resulted in the abrogation of draft agreements concerning Abyei.

It is against this grim backdrop that the leader of the opposition Umma Party, Sadig Al-Mahdi, convened discussions Monday in Addis Ababa with the leaders of the Darfur-based opposition armed group, the Justice and Equality Party.

Al-Bashir has offered the opposition nothing in return for cooperation on prickly political topics. While Al-Bashir closed the door on his adversaries’ overtures, they in turn thrived among the tangled traditions of the fractured Sudanese opposition. What would really bolster Al-Bashir’s credibility is an admission that Sudan is a multi-ethnic, multi-racial and multi-religious microcosm of Africa.

Al-Bashir is undisguisedly the most powerful and popular leader Sudan has had since independence as far as his militant Islamist apologists are concerned. To his detractors, however, he is a brutish tyrant. Nepotism and political calculations in the secret system of appointments to key ministerial portfolios in which personal loyalty to Al-Bashir invariably trumps merit are the order of the day. 

Al-Bashir has consistently tightened his grip on power signalling to the Sudanese opposition to take a break from politics. In some respects, Al-Bashir has been shrewd. For instance, he has appointed his opponent’s son, Abdul-Rahman Sadig Al-Mahdi as senior political advisor to the Sudanese president. 

Flanked by motley advisers, Al-Bashir is keen to inject younger blood into his party and has in the process alienated some of his erstwhile aides. Whether the Sudanese opposition would climb back into contention will remain unclear for some time. Al-Bashir is clear-eyed about the Sudanese opposition’s shortcomings. He cleaves to a very prescribed and tethered view of Sudan from an Islamist perspective. It is this intransigence that has proved to be the principal stumbling block in negotiations with his opponents. He rules Sudan with an iron rod in an era of appalling violence and in this respect retribution is so much easier than reconciliation.  

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