Africa News blog

African business, politics and lifestyle

Driving Sudan towards paradise

Photo

Sudan
Back in1978, Sudanese statesman Abel Alier decided he had had enough of negotiating with troublesome locals over a controversial development project. Exasperated at the endless obstacles, he vowed to force it through without an agreement.

“If we have to drive our people to paradise with sticks we will do so for their own good and the good of those who come after us,” he infamously said.

Something similar must have been going through the minds of mediators in recent weeks as they tried to push for an agreement between Sudan’s intractable northern and southern politicians.

Sudan is now just 48 days away from the scheduled start of two referendums — the first on whether the oil-producing south should declare independence, the second on whether the disputed central Abyei region should join north or south.

One step forward, a few steps back

Photo
One step forward, and already a few back. One of the few positives of Sudan’s elections, dubbed to be the first open vote in 24 years but marred by opposition boycotts and accusations of fraud, was a tiny opening of democratic freedom in Africa’s largest country. Direct press censorship was lifted from Sudan’s papers. Opposition politicians were finally given an allbeit limited platform to address the population through the state media and journalists were given unprecedented access to many parts of the country, including war-torn Darfur. Still it seemed for the biggest international observer missions like the Carter Center and the European Union the best they could say about the elections was 1: That they happened and 2: That people were not killing each other for once in this nation divided by decades of multiple civil wars. (At least not because of the vote anyway). They all agreed that the crack of democracy opened during the polls must be allowed to continue. It seemed more progressive members of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s ruling party agreed. Presidential Advisor Ghazi Salaheddin told me: “I don’t think we can go back”.  And even the not so West-friendly Presidential Assistant Nafie Ali Nafie was making positive noises post elections, pledging to hold the next polls in four years time. But it seems just one month after the vote, Sudan is sliding back to its old ways. In Darfur, where Bashir is accused by the International Criminal Court of war crimes and crimes against humanity, the Sudanese army has after a two-week offensive, taken control of West Darfur’s Jabel Moun – which has been a key rebel stronghold pretty much since the conflict began in 2003. I travelled there once with arguably the most crazy of Darfur’s rebel groups, led by Gibril Abdelkarim. Traversing the Sudanese-Chadian border at will, the rebels drove for hours through largely empty savannah (interrupted only by a Janjaweed attack and getting stuck in sand dunes). It’s an impressive range of hills dotted with villages full of cattle herders and farmers making it an ideal base to defend against attack. It’s also an area where the U.N.-African Union peacekeeping mission (UNAMID) has enjoyed little access because of almost constant military clashes and bombing there. The army said it killed 108 soldiers from the insurgent Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), which JEM denies. JEM, largely boxed in by a Chadian-Sudanese rapprochement and complaining of constant aerial bombardment, redeployed most of its troops from Jabel Moun leaving them stretched too thin and allowing the army to take advantage. Those “mobile units” as they called them also clashed with the army in North and South Darfur as they edged towards the oil-producing South Kordofan state. The lull in Darfur’s fighting during the elections did not last long. JEM argue even during the voting the government was deploying in preparation for the offensive. And then a late-night raid on Saturday on Bashir’s former close ally turned bitter enemy Islamist Hassan al-Turabi’s home, arresting him. closing his opposition party’s paper, seizing its assets and detaining three of its senior editors. A myriad of reasons were given by different NCP and security officials for his arrest. Ranging from unspecified “security reasons” to accusing him of helping JEM, to his al-Rai al-Shaab paper (which enjoys a limited readership) publishing articles damaging to national security. Editors-in-chiefs of newspapers were “invited” for a meeting at the feared intelligence headquarters on Monday, which many worry could result either in a reintroduction of censorship or at least a veiled warning of what could happen if they did not self censor. The Ajras al-Huriya paper is a shining example of what can happen if they don’t toe the line. They say they have five court cases pending against them (three raised by the intelligence services) for publishing false news among other charges, which could result in up to six months in jail for the acting editor-in-chief. The paper is pretty much the mouthpiece of the former southern rebel turned NCP partner in government after a landmark 2005 peace deal, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). So no midnight raids on them – just long, drawn out summonings and court proceedings. Whatever happens, many of Sudan’s independent dailies, already heavily dependent on government company advertising for the bulk of their revenue, are likely to write cautiously from now on. In the south, which will vote on whether to become Africa’s newest nation state in just eight months, one journalist was arrested for 13 days after trying to take pictures of electoral violence in the oil-rich Unity state. Another said he was detained and beaten by southern security forces, even though he had an identification card saying he worked for the SPLM, which dominates the region’s semi-autonomous government. A senior general revolted and is threatening a main town after he accused the SPLM of fraud in the southern elections. He said he mutinied after authorities ordered his arrest and that he has wide support, although there is little that can be independently confirmed in the remote region of Jonglei. He had said he wanted to negotiate but that attacks by the south Sudan army, sent to surround his troops, have left little room for talks. There’s still time to salvage the political scene in the north and south ahead of the southern referendum on secession which could destabilise the entire Horn of Africa if mishandled. The SPLM should engage those who left the party to stand as independents in the elections, not exclude them. And the NCP can release the ailing Turabi and journalists and follow (preferably daylight), fair and transparent legal proceedings against those it feels have erred. Darfur’s peace talks can restart, the army can stop its bombardment and JEM can haltturabiits redeployment. I had written a blog “one step forward, how many back?” a month ago. I hope these recent transgressions are not my answer.

sudanOne of the few positives of Sudan’s elections, dubbed to be the first open vote in 24 years but marred by opposition boycotts and accusations of fraud, was a tiny opening of democratic freedom in Africa’s largest country.

Direct press censorship was lifted from Sudan’s papers and opposition politicians were given an albeit limited platform to address the population through state media.

Turmoil in south Sudan’s wild lands

Photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

South Sudan’s Jonglei State contains one of Africa’s largest remaining intact wildernesses. From the air the area’s sheer vastness, the green plains broken only by bending rivers and huge swamps, is intimidating.

Its human landscape is one of turmoil, of tribal violence, slavery and in the last half
century, two long north-south civil wars. The last one ended in 2005 with a deal between Khartoum and the main southern rebel group.

  •