Professor Abdel Rahman Musa, leader of the SLM-Free Will group and Minister of State for Cabinet Affairs, passed away on Sunday. He was a fine Darfurian scholar and intellectual committed to peace for his people.
Abdel Rahman grew up in Kutum, a member of a well-known Tunjur family. He studied at the University of Khartoum and then went for post-graduate studies in France, where he pursued his academic career and became a professor of ancient languages at the University of Lyon. In many ways he was the archetype of the academician: a solitary and intellectual figure, always modest, courteous and meticulous in his personal life as in his scholarship.
Moved by the plight of his people in Darfur, Abdel Rahman took unpaid leave of absence from his university to join the negotiating team of Abdel Wahid al Nur for the peace talks in Abuja. Abdel Wahid felt he needed highly educated Darfurians on his team and appointed him chief negotiator. However, Abdel Rahman’s prominent position was not underpinned by either a strong constituency or by clear direction and backing from Abdel Wahid. Always a proponent of moderation and compromise, and lacking the toughness and interpersonal skill needed to sustain himself as a political power in his own right, Abdel Rahman was criticized by some of his colleagues for his readiness to cut deals with Khartoum.
On the final day of the Abuja talks, Abdel Rahman challenged Abdel Wahid over his refusal to accept the Darfur Peace Agreement, and led a delegation of thirteen SLM delegates into the hall where the signing ceremony was taking place. He was welcomed and embraced by President Olusegun Obasanjo, welcomed by the late Dr. Majzoub al Khalifa, and greeted with applause. Minni Minawi looked on suspiciously as Majzoub held Abdel Rahman’s hand up high and Obasanjo implored others to join the peace train before it left the station. “I came here only to make peace,” said Abdel Rahman, “I worked hard for it. Abdel Wahid al Nur was unable to make the right decision. I and my group have come here to be associated with this peace deal.” Abdel Rahman’s action resulted in the AU’s creation of the “Declaration of Commitment” status and Abdel Rahman’s inclusion in the DPA a month later.
Abdel Rahman was not well prepared for the leadership position thrust upon him—his scholarly temperament was more suited to becoming a senior civil servant. After considering a number of options, he created the SLM-Free Will faction and took the post of Minister of State for Cabinet Affairs. He served diligently and was a capable minister. But he was unable to make the transition from a fine academician to an effective politician. Distrusted by Minawi and manipulated by the NCP, Prof. Abdel Rahman cut a sad and somewhat isolated figure in Khartoum. He was unable to control his followers and members of the SLM-Free Will armed group cooperated with government militia, much to his dismay. The burdens of his position took a toll on Abdel Rahman’s health which almost certainly contributed to his heart attack and medical evacuation to France.
Darfur has lost one of its most educated sons, a fine man of learning, thrust by circumstance into a leadership role that would have daunted the most capable politician. May he rest in peace.