These are confusing times in Sudanese politics — so confusing that even the activists are struggling to keep up with the shifting positions of their own parties a week ahead of national elections.
This morning, a spokesman from south Sudan’s dominant Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) called round journalists inviting them to a demonstration in Khartoum.
There is a classic scene in Monty Python’s film The Life of Brian where the hero sets off in search of a secret band of insurgents. “Are you the Judean People’s Front,” he asks a group of malcontents. “The Judean People’s Front!” they reply in disgust. “We’re the People’s Front of Judea … The only people we hate more than the Romans are the f***ing Judean People’s Front … And the Judean Popular People’s Front. Splitters!”
Darfur’s more Islamic rebels will not appreciate the Judean comparison. But there has been an undeniable Pythonesque quality to recent efforts to negotiate with the splintered insurgent factions in Sudan’s strife-torn west.
Only the most foolhardy commentator would dare to say anything optimistic about the coming year in Sudan, four months away from highly charged elections and 12 months from an explosive referendum on southern independence.
So here goes — five reasons why Africa’s largest country might just manage to reach January 2011 without a return to catastrophe and bloody civil war, despite the worst predictions of most pundits.
So, is it now inevitable that Sudan’s oil-producing south will decide to split away from the north as an independent country in a looming secession referendum in 2011?That was the conclusion of some observers of a bluntly worded exchange of views between two leading lights from the north and the south at a symposium in Khartoum on Tuesday.Sudan’s Muslim north fought a two decade civil war with southerners, most of them Christians and followers of traditional beliefs. The 2005 peace deal that ended that conflict set up a north/south coalition government and promised a referendum on southern secession.Sudan’s foreign minister Deng Alor told journalists at the symposium most of his fellow southerners, embittered by decades of northern oppression and imposed Islamic values, “overwhelmingly” wanted independence. Only a miracle would change their minds, he said, going on to appeal for a “peaceful divorce” should the south choose to split.Two days earlier, southern president Salva Kiir shocked many when he openly told a cathedral congregation they should choose independence if they wanted to be free and unity if they wanted to be “second class” in their own country.Powerful northern presidential advisor Ghazi Salaheddin countered on Tuesday by accusing southerners of paranoia, “living in victimhood” and mismanaging their own semi-autonomous region.The comments were unusually blunt and personal for such a public venue. To many, their tone was a bitter reminder of the rhetoric routinely thrown around before the signing of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).Sudan commentator Alex de Waal wrote on his blog that many of the comments echoed what had been said in earlier closed sessions in the U.N. sponsored conference.
“During the earlier sessions of the symposium, the same theme was repeatedly made: Sudan is entering its last days as a single nation. Among the northerners, there was immense regret, but also acceptance of the inevitability of the split. One well-known Islamist said that secession was coming and the important thing was to make it smooth.”
Managing a smooth secession would be a huge task for northerners and southerners weighed down by decades of mistrust and bitter grievance, poisoned by ethnic and religious divisions.There are many good reasons for them to want a peaceful divorce, beyond avoiding another bloody conflict.The biggest factor is that they both need each other when it comes to oil — the south has most of the country’s proven oil reserves while the north currently has the refineries and the pipeline routes to the sea.But any managed separation needs planning, and plenty of it. So far there has been no sign that the two sides have got together for any kind of strategising on the implications of separation after the referendum.The head of the U.N. in Sudan, Ashraf Qazi, tried to accentuate the positive when he summed up Tuesday’s discussions, saying both sides remained committed to the ideal of unity.But there was a telling slip as he finished his summation.
“We are still at a moment of hope. And I believe that the leadership of the two countries which have ensured that the peace is maintained, that the ceasefire has not broken down, during the period of the CPA, they have already shown that responsibility. They can rise to the challenge even now.”
Activists often say that the world is not paying enough attention to Sudan’s Darfur crisis. But could the opposite be true — that Darfur is actually getting too much attention, from too many organisations, all at the same time?A rough count shows at least 10 international and local initiatives searching for a solution to the region’s festering conflict. Many of them are at least nominally coordinated by the United Nation and the African Union. But with so many parallel programmes in play, the opportunities for duplication, competition and confusion are legion.Top of the bill on the international stage is the double act between the United Nations and the African Union. Their joint Darfur mediator — Burkina Faso’s low-profile former security minister Djibril Bassole — spends much of his time shuttling between capitals, holding closed-session discussions with rebels, regional powers, Darfuri intellectuals and civilian groups.The most high-profile initiative is a project launched at the Arab League for peace talks between Sudan’s government and rebels hosted in Qatar. Those talks, currently stalled, are hosted “in coordination” with Bassole but their have their own separate identity — Qatar has made its own statements and has held its own meetings with rebels.During one crowded fortnight in August, both Libya and the United States held separate meetings with different sets of rebel splinter groups, urging them to reunite ahead of talks, with mixed results.The Obama administration has since formalised its approach to Darfur with a new Sudan policy — although it did not go into details on which carrots and sticks its Sudan envoy Scott Gration would be able to offer Khartoum and Darfur’s rebels.Egypt has held and hosted meetings with Darfur rebels and other major players. Russia, which says it wants to rebuild its influence in Africa, has appointed a Sudan envoy, and held a two-day symposium on Darfur earlier this month. China also has a Sudan envoy but has so far, mercifully, held back from organising its own conferences.Former South African President Thabo Mbeki led a panel of African dignitaries around Darfur and produced a report packed with recommendations for the region. A group of veteran politicians formed by Nelson Mandela called The Elders have kept a watching brief in Darfur since their first visit there in 2007 and have continued to release statements and reports.Inside Sudan, the Khartoum regime has trumpeted its Sudan People’s Initiative, a mass congress of political parties, civil society groups (but no rebels) that met in November 2008 to recommend a set of solutions to the crisis.The south’s dominant Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) joined forces with opposition parties in September to release a Juba Declaration – a blueprint to solve Sudan’s ills including its own Darfur plan.And that isn’t even counting the various Darfur peace plans and campaigns launched by mainly U.S.-based activists from Save Darfur and other coalitions – or the push for prosecutions by the International Criminal Court.Cynics might say Khartoum and some of its key negotiating partners have an interest in encouraging the multiplication of Darfur’s peace efforts.Each new initiative creates another set of meetings, another set of processes, another collection of excuses to delay making the hard decisions that will end the conflict.Regional powers may also be competing for influence in Sudan, an oil producer and Africa’s largest country. “There has been a lack of a single clear strategy on Darfur soeveryone is poking their nose in, trying to gain influence in Sudan,” said Al-Tahir al-Feki, a senior official with Darfur’s Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) rebels.Only one thing is clear. When the Darfur crisis is finally resolved and the Nobel Committee comes to hand out its peace prize to the organisations responsible for sealing the deal, there could be a crowded podium.
Lubna Hussein, a Sudanese woman arrested in Khartoum for wearing trousers despite the country’s Islamic decency regulations, was found guilty of indecency on Monday and ordered to pay a fine or go to jail for a month. She was spared the possibility of 40 lashes for wearing trousers at a party in July with 12 other women. Ten of the other women arrested with her have pleaded guilty and have been whipped.Read the whole story here.Hussein’s case was seen as a test of Sudan’s Islamic decency regulations, which many women activists say are vague and give individual police officers undue latitute to determine what is acceptable clothing for women.After the verdict, Hussein said: “I will not pay the money, and I will go to prison.”Scuffles erupted at a protest before the court session even began between women supporters and Islamists, who shouted religious slogans and denounced Hussein and her supporters as prostitutes and demanded a harsh punishment for Hussein.The photo above, by Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah, shows Hussein leaving the court wearing her trousers. Do these seem indecent to you?UPDATE: Sudan’s conviction of Hussein for indecency violates international law and is emblematic of wider gender discrimination there, the United Nations human rights office says.Following is a short video of Hussein surrounded by supporters shouting “freedom, freedom” as she enters the court: