Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Sudan: A new Sudan in the making

Sudan has witnessed two revolutions in the past, in October of 1964 and in April of 1985. Sudan is not new to revolutions, and it is definitely not taking part in the Arab Spring. Primarily, because Sudan, in recent times, was never considered an Arab state, not by Arab or Western media, nor by Arab or Western academia.

The current protests taking place in Khartoum and other cities in Sudan were sparked by a new government austerity plan. The plan includes the removal of fuel subsidies and cuts to government spending to decrease a $2.5 billion budget deficit. The Sudanese government lost 75% of its oil revenues due to the secession of the South, and the recent conflict in Heglig saw the shutdown of oil production for a significant amount of time. 

A normal person would think that given the loss of oil revenues the government is right to impose austerity measures. Let's assume that since signing the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005, the government was working - which I highly doubt - towards a united Sudan, the eventual loss of oil revenues was obvious since the results of the secession plebiscite from February of 2011. Imposing austerity plans in June 2012 is, let's be charitable and say, fatuous.

Nevertheless, the budget deficit will not be fixed by an austerity plan, or any plan for that matter. What the government needs to do is realise that it's not qualified to run a country. Hence, the protests.

The common misconception is that the protests are against the austerity plan, they're not. The protesters are calling for the fall of the regime. They might have been sparked by the austerity plan, but they have been ongoing for 10 days now and it doesn't seem that they will stop any time soon. 

The students, and citizens who eventually joined, want regime change for very simple and understandable reasons. The education and health systems in Sudan are virtually nonexistent. There's no infrastructure, no legal system, no economic plan of any sort, and last but not least, no freedom of expression. For all intents and purposes, Sudan is a failed state; statistically, socially, economically, financially, and everything else-lly. 

Unfortunately for us, the current development of events are indicative of similar scenarios to those of the recent Arab revolutions. First, there's the denial of violence towards the protesters by the likes of Amin Hassan Omer, who appeared on Al Jazeera - along with the white pubic hair on his chin - to discredit the peaceful protests in the country. Then, there's Omar Al Bashir, pulling off a Qaddafi, and calling the protesters "شذاذ أفاق" (foreign prospects).

The government's plan to reduce spending kicked off last week with the resignation of the Khartoum State government, and eventually the Red Sea State government. The only issue here is not the resignations, but the formation of new cabinets in these governments. If this is going to cut costs, it either means the sacked government officials were over-payed or the new ones are cheaper, which means not qualified. And it is precisely these nonsensical decisions that have brought Sudan to where it is today.

The only salvation for Sudan's economy was - and I emphasize on was - agriculture. However, the government - and its officials - was so busy falsely spending the oil revenues of the last 10 years that it forgot to keep agriculture a viable option. So now, I guess the only solution is to sell Starvation Bonds to European banks. The situation cannot get any worse than it is now. 

The current events in Sudan look promising, and I think I speak for all sane un-bearded people when I say, I hope Sudan rises as a nation against corruption and defunct political institutions.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Sudan: The war of fiction

In 1884, in the Berlin Conference, the Europeans decided to set off for Africa. Which in the mid 1800's was considered a land ripe for violation - they, of course, used the terms trade, exploration and settlement. In arrogant rhetoric, the Europeans considered Africa a "disputed territory".

This disputed territory was "disputed" because it didn't belong to any of the prominent countries at the time; and because it didn't have any squiggly lines encompassing a name of a country written in Times New Roman font. And so the rampage began.

Africa was divided between seven European countries. The conquest of Africa was done in an astronomically condescending fashion, with no regard to local customs, culture or belief systems. The locals were tamed forcefully and financially.

Britain got Sudan, and unfortunately for them, Sudan was complicated. They found a medley of remnants of old civilizations and religious conquests, local tribes and seasonal nomads. They were discombobulated.

When they finally left, the British left Sudan as how we see it today - including South Sudan. They were well aware of the differences between the North, South, East and West.

It is fair to say that the border demarcations throughout Africa have been done arbitrarily with colonial interest in mind. They were drawn up to either ease control of the area or for trading purposes.

The Africans were then made to believe that they belong within these borders, and regardless of culture or religious beliefs they have a moral duty to the land demarcated for them.

Sudan's border dispute with South Sudan is not unique, it has been plaguing Africa for decades now ever since the 'Scramble for Africa'. It is a shame that we argue for and against war based on lines drawn by foreigners for us to manage. We base our patriotism on these arbitrary lines, and call out others on not respecting them. We sacrifice the lives of the poor and desperate to protect what is 'ours'.

The current conflict between Sudan and South Sudan is a direct reflection of Western arrogance and assumed superiority. The United Kingdom even has the audacity to comment and 'urge restraint and cooperation'. Whether it's a resource war or not, border disputes are silly and wasteful. We buy weapons from Western countries to defend borders they have drawn up for us. Do you know how ridiculous that sounds?

We can always argue that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement addressed the border issues and that there should be legal consequences. However, the CPA itself was somewhat conjured up and supported by the West.

In this context, patriotism based on borders is a flawed concept for us, and the foundations for this war-to-be are as fictitious as Omar Al Bashir's reading abilities.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Sudan: Why Clooney's arrest is both good and bad

Sudan, to most Westerners, is a place of war, genocide, famine and little children with big bellies. It is a place where an Islamist central government is fighting a religious war with Christians. It is where Arabs kill Africans. It is a place of suppression, racism, bigotry and Islamic violence. The funny thing though is that Sudan is exactly that, but not that at all.

The current regime in North Sudan took power in 1989 in a coup that saw the prominent National Islamic Front to power. Since then, it has vigorously attempted to bring the whole of the Sudan under the control of the ruling party currently known as the National Congress Party (NCP).

The NCP, in 1989, inherited the war with the South from its predecessors. Using Islam as a tool to foster its power, the NCP branded the war with the South a 'Holy War'. It was far from that. The NCP was engaged in a war with the late John Garang's Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), which, according to Dr Garang's visions, was fighting for a New Sudan, a united Sudan. This New Sudan vision, as was explained by Dr Garang, would afford all Sudanese of all ethnic backgrounds, representation in the central government in Khartoum.

Like the SPLM, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) - established by the late Khalil Ibrahim - took up arms to seek representation for the people of Darfur in the central government in Khartoum. The consequence of this rebellion was military suppression by the Sudanese government. The events that followed, genocide or not, saw the indictment of president Bashir by the International Criminal Court.

During the North-South civil war, the inhabitants of the Nuba Mountains, under the leadership of Abdul Aziz Al-Hilu, saw an opportunity to address their plight and joined the ranks of the SPLM. After seeing what Al-Hilu claimed as rigged elections for the governorship of South Kurdofan, Al-Hilu took up arms - independently this time - against the central government in Khartoum with what was left of his Nuba SPLM soldiers.

Despite the Western media's portrayal of the situation in the Nuba Mountains, the so called "genocide waiting to happen" is actually a rebellion. The distortion of such causes is what makes this whole activism by Hollywood celebrities so deplorable.

Earlier in the week, George Clooney pleaded with the US government to take action on the "atrocities" happening in the Nuba Mountains. This act alone highlights Clooney's ignorance of the situation that North Sudan is currently in. It is very obvious that the US has very little leverage with the current Sudanese government. This lack of cooperation between the two nations dates back to 1995 when the Sudanese government gave Osama Bin-Laden safe haven. Since then, the US had put detrimental economic sanctions on North Sudan. Another reason is the US's broken promises to North Sudan's government following South Sudan's independence. The US had promised the removal of Sudan's name from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism, and possible removal of sanctions, of which the US had done neither.

The US's stance on Sudan is questionable to say the least. In 1983, when Garang formed the SPLM/A and took up arms against Jaafar Nimeiry's - then Sudanese president - regime, the US supported Nimeiry, despite the fact that Nimeiry's government at the time was "Islamist", primarily because of Garang's communist inclinations. At the time, Garang was supported, militarily, by the USSR, through Mengistu's regime in Ethiopia. After the fall of the USSR, Garang sought the West for support, which he eventually got under the false pretense of fighting fighting an "Islamist regime".

These contradictions in foreign policy have been entrenched in the Western media's reportage. In John Avlon ridiculous post for the CNN on Clooney's arrest, he shamelessly insists on how we shouldn't let the world be ignorant about the "slaughter of their fellow human beings". Forgetting of course that the US is currently involved in two very questionable wars with more civilian casualties that one can fathom. Unfortunately, Mr Avlon himself doesn't understand the history behind the conflict in the Nuba Mountains nor does he understand the US's stance on Sudan.

Statements like "That's why Clooney envisioned the Satellite Sentinel Project, administered by the DigitalGlobe and the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, which uses satellite surveillance technology to pierce the isolation of the Islamist nation" are exactly why such bad press from Mr Clooney's campaigning is bad for Sudan. The word "Islamist" has no meaning whatsoever in the aforementioned statement. Unfortunately for us Sudanese, so called activists like Mia Farrow use twitter to publicize the conflict in Sudan using tweets like this "Omar Al Bashir is wanted by the ICC for genocide in Darfur-is now slaughtering civilians along oil-rich borderland #arrestBashir". Again, terms like "oil-rich" have no pertinence whatsoever to the matter at hand.

The current narrative on South Kurdofan is misleading, hence why you had people like Congressman Jim Morgan from the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People at the protests yesterday in front of the Sudanese Embassy in Washington. He probably thinks that the Arab Muslim government in Khartoum is deliberately targeting helpless coloured Africans in South Kurdofan.

After being released from 3 hours of detention, Mr Clooney told the press that the situation in South Kurdofan is a "man-made tragedy by the government in Khartoum to get these people to leave". Again, Mr Clooney is failing to understand that what's happening in South Kurdofan is a war between rebels and an ill-equipped government. Which begs the question, why isn't Mr Clooney campaigning against all the "accidental" civilian deaths in Afghanistan by US and NATO forces?

The reportage gets even more distorted when people like Mukesh Kapila, Special Representative for the Aegis Trust, visit South Kurdofan and release statements report that they saw "two churches hit by over head bombs, while a mosques was left untouched".

We are not doubting the concern that these activists and officials have for the people of South Kurdofan, but unless they understand the roots of the conflict and the consequences of their reporting, they will not be helping anyone. They seem oblivious to the obdurate nature of the Sudanese government and Mr Bashir. These reports only give Mr Bashir and his government more of a reason to continue their war in South Kurdofan. What's more, other than the fact that the Mr Al-Hilu's forces might be supported by the government in the South, foreigners like Clooney and Kapila coming in to South Kurdofan from the Southern border is counter productive to the already tense North-South relationship.

I will concede that George Clooney's arrest has shed some light on Sudan's issues, but it's shedding it wrong. Sudan's problems are far more complicated that Mr Clooney might think, and Sudan's situation is extremely volatile.

However, there's no reason for Mr Clooney to be concerned with situations such as the one in South Kurdofan while there are those suffering in Palestine. Yes, this is a naive observation, but it still holds. If human suffering is his concern, then he should at least join the protests against the occupation of Palestine. He should be against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he should also be campaigning against any hostilities towards Iran.

What most Western activists fail to understand is that the political climate in countries like Sudan is no place for philanthropy. If anyone wants to help, they can fight for freedom of press in Sudan, the release of political prisoners and the end to corruption. They can also try and persuade the US government to lift the economic sanctions from Sudan, which is hurting the people more than the government. The people of Sudan are not incapable, they are forgotten.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Sudan: Sleeping, intending and other illegal activities

Speaking to a reporter after his release from a few hours detention, Muzafar (not his real name) said that they were woken up by batons, whipped unto their feet and out of the university dorms. He said they were told to pack their clothes and take them with them. "Please make sure you take all your belongings with you" said the officer in the air hostess uniform.

The boys' dormitories at the University of Khartoum was raided at 4 am on Friday. More than 300 students were apparently beaten and arrested, and taken to several police stations around the capital Khartoum.... for sleeping!

The university has witnessed a surge in student protests since late December, in which students were demanding a stop to police violence and the right to form a student's union. The authorities then decided to close down the university until early March.

In Friday's raid, the students were charged with "disturbing the peace", "G-Unit" and several other record company names. They were charged for their "intention" of staging a peaceful sit-in on Sunday.

Let's assume the government of Sudan has a legal system; let's also assume they - like everyone else - are humans, have human brains, feet and eyeballs. Is it possible, that a bunch of humans huddled up in a room, thinking with their feet, suggest a raid on sleeping students, agree on it, and eventually carry it out? Apparently so.. you know why? Because sleeping is illegal in Sudan; specially sleeping at night, in dorms, at an educational institution, in a bed, while breathing, oxygen, but not any oxygen, NCP oxygen. That's right. Non-NCP members aren't allowed to breathe NCP oxygen.

It all seems unfair to be honest; because honestly, we don't have a proper oppressive regime. Our dictatorship is chaotic, it has sporadic surges of political testosterone. When this happens - even at 4 am - they get this inexorable urge to beat something. Apparently, when they really can't find a justifiable target, they take it out on cattle.

In a proper dictatorship, the beating would've taken place during the sit-in on Sunday. This seems relatively fair. Yes, ethical crime is a contradiction, but it seems to be the code of the "bad guys"; ask Hussni Mubarak and Dr Evil. Not only is our government violent against its own citizens, it's recklessly violent.

Most of the students were eventually taken back to their dorms, but most were left money-less; and apparently some are still detained. The students said they were looted by the officers during the raid, which is not surprising given the nature of the raid. It is precisely this type of thuggery that has caused so many to criticize the current regime. But, criticism or not, Friday's raid was absolutely abhorrent.

This is yet another sign that the government is becoming extremely uncomfortable and apprehensive. The government is so uncomfortable that, not only is it making whimsical decisions, but well thought out irrelevant ones too.

Now, apparently, no high ranking government official is allowed to leave the country without Bashir's approval. His personal approval. So, you have to call him - on his cell phone - and ask for permission to leave the country. This, they say, is part of the government's new plan to cut spending and keep the negligible amount of foreign currency they have left within Sudan's borders. So after you call him, he does the math in his head, calculates how much your trip will cost, deducts that from the $17.29 of foreign currency in the Central Bank, and then decides whether your trip is worth it. After permission is granted, the government official has to bring back a note from the country that he's travelling to confirming his visit, and that he was a good boy. The note has to be signed by the president of set country, the foreign minister and Sudan's ambassador.

It's a f***ing kindergarten!

Saturday, 4 February 2012

The Sudanese Identity

“Indeed, many of the conflicts and barbarities in the world are sustained through the illusion of a unique and choiceless identity” - Amartya Sen

I've come to realise that many Sudanese youths are overly - and might I add, falsely - preoccupied with the concept of 'Sudanese Identity'. We always end up enthusiastically arguing this point when discussing Sudan. We seem to be stuck in the middle of a tug-of-war between African and Arab.

These arguments arises from the fact that Arabic is the dominant language, and Islam is the dominant religion in the country, hence creating an Arab identity. Yet dark skin and frankly, an excess of local languages are evidence of African ancestry.

The above arguments are false in many aspects. Islam does not mean Arab, and dark skin and local languages don't necessarily mean African. And then you have the issue with Arab and African identities, which themselves are also not fully defined. So there is a problem with trying to identify with nonexistent identities in the first place.

My contention with this issue of Sudanese Identity is the consistent requisite of having to identify ourselves. Being from Sudan doesn't seem to be enough anymore. This is a very serious issue, because the end goal of all this ‘defining’ is less beneficial than we might think.

Older generations never had this problem. Everyone was Sudanese and content. No one questioned what their Sudaneseness transcended to. Because frankly, it doesn't really matter. Being Arab or African doesn't add or take away anything from who we are.

In Rwanda, Belgian conquerors aggravated the tribal rivalry by giving citizens ID cards that clearly stated which tribe they were from. They then went on to assign each tribe a place in society, giving Tutsis the high societal positions and the Hutus were designated the labour. This is the root cause of the genocide, because primarily, an uneducated Rwandan society failed to see that being Rwandan comes before being Tutsi, or Hutu. Yet, the Rwandan Hutu labourer could’ve identified with the Rwandan Tutsi school teacher just from a common taste in music, let alone a common nationality. So if they had chosen to be Tutsi or Hutu and Rwandan, the story would’ve been different.

It’s obvious that the issue of identity is a global one, not only confined to the borders of Sudan. In his book “Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny”, Amartya Sen says that current identity classifications find their roots in the Western society’s theory of The Clash of Civilizations. He claims that the current identity characterisation is based on civilizations and religions. A concept which he claims is counterproductive to the ubiquitous credence of equality among humans.

He also goes on to say that we all have plural identities, and that if we choose to embrace one and ignore the others, we risk widespread animosity.

The point he’s trying to make is that it is impossible to identify any individual with one thing and one thing only. A person can be a Muslim, a woman, an African, a dentist, a feminist, a vegan, pious and a football fan all at the same time. And she cannot identify with only one category and ignore the others with no significant consequences. Identification with a single group causes divisions, which are perfect for inciting hate towards the ‘other’:

The implicit belief in the overarching power of a singular classification can make the world thoroughly inflammable. A uniquely divisive view goes not only against the old-fashioned belief that all human beings are much the same but also against the less discussed but much more plausible understanding that we are diversely different.

In the aforementioned text, by “diversely different”, Amartya Sen is not referring to a single identity with several sub-identities as we seem to view the Sudanese Identity. It’s in reference to the fact that we are Sudanese, but we’re also a lot of other things.

So since we are all of plural identities, we can find commonalities within our identities, and use them strategically. One cannot identify as only being Sudanese, because this makes an implicit commitment to this category while ignoring all other shared identities.

What we need to do is decide the degree of importance to attach to being Sudanese over other identity categories within which we belong. We cannot create a ‘Sudanese Identity’ that encompasses all existing identities within the country, primarily because we would be to identifying with a single category.

When we finally come to see ourselves as the plethora of identities that we are, the next challenge is how we appear to others. It’s important in the case of Sudan because we have been led to believe that certain people from certain parts of Sudan have certain habits, and this is what we would identify them with.

In Sudan, the Southerners didn’t define themselves as Southern, the Northerners have created this identity for them; and the same has been done for all the people in the outlying regions of Sudan. The north holds this power of ascription for the sole reason that it has always been the more developed, intellectual hub of the country.

The Sudanese Identity cannot house any other identities other than itself. It’s an identity just as being Muslim or Hausa is an identity.

A common misconception is the belief that the lack of a Sudanese identity has stalled any prospects of a revolution in the country. Revolutions don’t happen because of common identification, they happen as a consequence of injustice and corrupt rule. The commonality here is being human. Yes, this sounds ridiculously humanistic, but being human does come before Sudanese; what we fear for ourselves as humans, we fear for others, before that feeling is felt about being Sudanese.

The same concept can be applied to the wars in Sudan. The Sudanese Identity has been defined for us by the rulers of our country since its independence. The problem here is that it was defined, not that it was defined falsely. The fact that this defined Sudanese identity encompassed several identities involuntarily alienated some. The solution for this is not a Sudanese identity that includes every single identity within our borders, because that’s illogical.

We have to choose to be Sudanese, and that’s that. There’s a difference between defining an identity, and choosing one. Defining an identity not only puts limits, but it alienates others, consequentially by the person or people defining it. Plus, no one should have that right to begin with. While choosing one is a personal commitment, and identity is a personal issue.

So instead of defining the Sudanese Identity, we have to choose to be Sudanese, and more importantly, we need to create the conditions in which it becomes obsolete.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Sudan: Musical Ministries and Bonobos-Syndrome

In recent months the government of Sudan has made a stern commitment to its unabated heavy weight status in the fields of of not-progress, not-development and not-interested-in-what-everyone-else-has-to-say.

In the last 3 months the government has managed to make random appointments for the incessantly vacant position of Presidential Adviser/Assistant, close down a couple of universities, detain some political activists, shut down several newspapers, and ignore a 2 months sit-in by residents of Al-Manasir - an area severely affected by the construction of the Merowe Dam.

The government - or shall I say National Congress Party - has also managed to form a new coalition government between the existing unity and/or coalition government, and an apparent opposition party, the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party). So this new government is probably called the Newest Most Recent Just Came Out Yesterday Coalition Government.

This new power sharing deal between the NCP and the DUP involves, well, a power sharing deal. Which means that senior members of the DUP will be given ministerial and advisory positions within the government. And that's exactly what happened.

The government was able to give up some ministries, but not the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Oil and Ministry of Foreign Affairs... and the Ministry of Defense... and the Ministry of Interior. However, their benevolence did allow them to appoint a DUP minister for the Minister of Cabinet Affairs. Which is nice, you know, nice.

The DUP was also given the Ministry of Human Resources. Not one of the top portfolios, but a ministry nonetheless... of Human Resources... I'm sorry, what's a Ministry of Human Resources? What does it do? Does it resource humans? Does it minister human resources? As far as I'm concerned, Human Resources is a department within organizations; so I'm guessing the Minister of Human Resources should be the HR manager of all HR departments in the country. No? Yes!

So, there's a rule of thumb somewhere here. It seems that if you are able to sign a deal with the government, you get a ministry. It doesn't matter which ministry. The government might just create a whole new ministry for you, like a Ministry of Beds & Four-Legged Furniture for example. Don't worry though, the ex-minister of your ministry would be moved to another one. It's simple. Just.. umm.. put on the music, and we'll play!

According to an update from Reuters, within this new coalition government, 14 other parties were given cabinet posts. These parties include the Sudan's Synchronized Swimming Team, the Nubian Fruits & Vegetables Party and the Democratic Alliance of Midwives, among others.

On a serious note, there are no legitimate "14 other parties" in Sudan. They're either illegitimate sub-parties of the NCP, or they're just NCP illegitimate sub-parties.

This obscure manifestation of democracy has been used by the NCP for years to trick people into thinking that there is some sort of progressive reform in their ruling policies. But no, there's been no reform. Yes, there are some new faces in the cabinet, but they're powerless. What's worse is that the opposition seems to move consistently in tandem with the government's ludicrous reform policies. In a normal government-opposition relationship, it's the other way around.

Nothing highlights this issue more than the appointment of Abdel-Rahman Al-Sadig Al-Mahdi, son of the leader of the opposition National Umma Party, as a presidential assistant. Despite the fact that the NUP has vowed not to participate in the government's proposed power sharing deal. Jaffar Al-Sadig Mohammed Osman Al-Mirghani, son of the leader of the DUP, was also appointed as a presidential assistant.

It doesn't take a genius to realize that the opposition is disconcerted. Whether it's hunger for power, powerlessness or just outright stupidity, it's a definite cause for concern. The opposition seem to just want to find a way to get involved, by any means necessary, without knowledge of the consequences, or even a plan for the future. After failing to bring the NUP on-board, the government made its booty call to the DUP.

A recent survey has shown that Bonobos, relatives of the chimpanzee, are the most promiscuous animals. Basically, they don't form long-term relationships with their mates. Like prostitutes. I don't know about you, but I see some sort of similarity here.

I can't tell you what the future holds, but I'll tell you what it doesn't hold. It doesn't hold a decent coalition government, because such appointments aren't meant for reform, they're meant to shut everyone the f*** up. It seems to have worked, somewhat.