Sudan at the Crossroads (3)
The third part of my paper examines the international challenges to the dominant state-mercantile coalition in Sudan, and whether there is a genuine option of transformation of the state. If there is such an option it must begin with the economy and a decisive shift away from rent-seeking to investment in productive activities. The fetishization of the CPA among the Sudanese elites especially the opposition reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the prioritization of reform. CPA implementation according to the book is not objectively the solution to Sudan’s crisis. To the contrary the implementation of the CPA would only intensify the existing tensions and expedite the imminent disaster. This objective reality needs to be recognized as such by Sudanese in order to overcome the crisis and make the correct decisions.
Sudan in the International Political-Economic Order
Sudan was created by British capital as a dependent colonial producer and continued as a classic post-colonial dependent economy in the first fifteen years of independence until Nimayri took Sudan into the Soviet bloc. Nimayri’s switch back to the western bloc did not result in a return to the status quo ante but instead began a three decade long unresolved struggle in which Sudan tried to break free of the financial dependence arising from the debt consequent on the failed rush for growth. A succession of regime shifts and regime changes was instigated by the U.S. including the austerity package that finally caused Nimayri’s downfall and the signal to the military that the overthrow of the Sadiq al Mahdi government would be welcomed in Washington. But successive governments in Khartoum steadfastly refused to do Washington’s bidding and were able to do so, despite reliance on the Washington financiers for state solvency, because the dominant private sector finance was now decisively decoupled from the west. Since the CPA was signed this paradox has been intensified with Khartoum (and even Juba) rushing to Washington to find a fix for every political crisis while turning to Asia and the Middle East for its economic solutions. And Washington professes surprise that its political diktat does not run!
Indeed, for more than two decades the most consistent western response to the regime of plunder in Sudan has been to subsidize it through humanitarian programmes that externalize the cost of welfare. The sheer financial cost of the humanitarian effort has time and again spurred western politicians to try their hand at fixing what they consider the “root causes” of Sudan’s crisis. This has been framed in rudimentary ways that see the problem either as an ethnic/racial/religious conflict demanding the creation of separate states or quasi-states for the oppressed, or as a matter of individual criminality by the rulers demanding prosecution in court or regime change. Either way, the issue is defined in formal terms as a question of sovereign power gone awry, rather than in substantive terms as the political economy of hegemony. Tinkering with the architecture of the state, even to the extent of creating a new sovereign entity in the south, will do nothing to alter the dynamics or resolve the contradictions. Apprehending and prosecuting the head of state or others, no matter how guilty they may be of crimes is equally a non-response. Regime change is also not a solution unless accompanied by a truly revolutionary restructuring of the nation’s political economy, which is not on any agenda at the moment. Under current conditions regime change merely means replacing the ruling state-bourgeois faction with one of its rivals, which would take on precisely the same colours as its predecessors in short order, probably with an intermediate stage of turmoil and repression as it sought to establish hegemony but managed only to negotiate conditional dominance on much the same terms as the current regime.
Under this government or any successor regime, the same elites which prospered through collaboration with the colonial occupiers, benefited from national independence, and continued to benefit throughout the seesaw of state and capital, will be the beneficiaries of any “normalization” of relations with the west and the resultant flows of capital. Better integration into western circuits of capital will encourage some retreat from short-term primitive accumulation and create a shift towards productive investments. The ruling elites are desperate for this opening, because it will cement their own chances of consolidation. The existing political economy of rentierism and plunder has become so deep rooted, so that it dominates the economic activities of all rival factions, so that any shift will take a long time to play out.
Following the privatization of the state through Turabi’s strategy of creating Islamist institutions to run everything, the Bashir faction has succeeded in seizing factional ownership of this asset and its rents, and turned it into the principal mechanism for regulating and co-opting those elements of the bourgeoisie and their associated political factions that have not come under their direct control. Given sufficient oil revenues the Bashir faction calculate that it can anticipate achieving financial hegemony within a few years. The global financial crisis and oil price collapse has set back that ambition but not snuffed it out.
Paradoxically this centralization of despotism in both political and economic spheres may be a necessary stage in the development of Sudan’s political economy. This consolidation would have the beneficial effect of minimizing internal factional rivalry and thereby opening up the possibility of new patterns of investment with long-term horizons. On the other hand, the final achievement of such political hegemony, a true dictatorship rather than the current unstable coalition of factions, would be a strategic setback to democratization, which would have to await the playing-out of this scenario to its maturity.
Despite its intentions, after decades of flawed policy that failed to analyze the source of the crisis, the U.S. does not have the leverage to reverse Sudan’s political-economic track. The existing state-capitalist partnership, however fractionalized, is far too well entrenched to be transformed or overthrown by diplomatic tinkering, while the catcalls of regime change, ICC, sanctions and the like all merely serve as vindication for those in the regime whose interests are tied up with the criminalized and ostracized status quo. The diplomatic strategy is headed nowhere and the neo-liberal fetishization of “civil society” serves chiefly to draw a potential counter-elite into harmless tub-thumping on the political margins, no more than an irritant to the realpolitik conducted elsewhere. True, the regime’s failure to establish a state monopoly on violence within its territory is its Achilles’ Heel and the regime could be toppled by a well-aimed military blow. But whoever took over would be faced with the alternative of steadying the existing seesaw by reconstituting the existing dominant factions and securing their solvency through Asian and Middle Eastern capital flows or presiding over the complete collapse of the state with all the repercussions that would have for the African region. With no strategic interests at stake, that is not a gamble that any of the internationals will want to take.
Dr. Fatima concluded her study with the observation that the Sudanese bourgeoisie was a not a force for sustainable development. Instead it was consolidating the unequal and unsustainable political economy bequeathed by the colonialists and reshaping it in its own image. As the years have passed, that pathological political economy has evolved into a grotesque caricature of its former self, devouring the state itself, thereby seeding factional struggles that have become a defining feature of the last decade. Meanwhile the drive for hegemony by the state Islamists has been the true force transforming the country into the monstrous perversion of Sudan that it is today. It has the potential, both horrifying and potentially transformational, through its financial and organizational domination, to evolve into a dictatorship with a solid state-bourgeois base. All the while the Sudanese masses are pauperized, displaced, murdered and starved while the mercantile-military state builds its imitation Dubai at the junction of the two Niles.
Sometimes, the paths at a crossroads lead in different directions for a while but actually end up at the same destination. The extent of consolidation of state-capital power in Sudan is such that this is the logical conclusion that presents itself.
None of the formulae on the diplomatic table today are anything other than slight detours along the path which give the illusion of transformative change but in reality fail to grapple with the fundamental issues. Faithful implementation of the letter of the CPA does not offer an alternative future and the fetishization of the CPA is the ultimate disservice to the memory of Dr. Garang and his vision. In his hands the CPA was not an end in itself but rather a platform from which a comprehensive transformation of Sudan could be launched. It is an open question, which will now never be resolved, whether Dr. Garang would have been successful in his quest. At least he would have tried, and had he done so, Sudanese would undoubtedly have learned that at the heart of his attempt was economics.
The combination of the CPA and the isolation of Sudan from US capital is especially deadly as it means that Sudan’s capital circuits remain dominated by criminalized and rentier capital focused on short-term gains, and productive investment is dominated by Asian capital. In the last four years, what should have been a peace dividend has become a rentiers’ windfall. The failure to capitalize on the peace that followed the CPA is what will condemn the CPA to a dead letter, “implemented” or not. If the CPA is required to stand or fall only on the basis of its constitutional and political reforms it is doomed to fall and the sooner it does so, the sooner Sudanese can move on.
Faithful CPA implementation means southern secession and meaningless decentralization. Faithful DPA and ESPA implementation add up to much the same thing. The JEM/PCP formula of reconstituting the regions is no different. All are vain attempts to work some kind of magic in the constitutional political realm while completely ignoring the political economy. All are doomed to fail. If pursued to their logical endpoint they would dismantle the state entirely and create chaos, leaving just metropolitan Khartoum and the “Abd al-Rahim Hamdi Triangle” as an island of prosperity surrounded by a hinterland even more pauperized than today. If managed so as to avoid this scenario these diplomatic fixes will keep the state-bourgeois domination intact and leave millions of marginalized Sudanese as wards of western humanitarian programmes for decades to come.
There is an alternative path for Sudan which seeks not to tinker with the constitutional arrangements but attacks directly the sources of the malaise. These pathological sources are the hyper-concentration of wealth within a narrow socio-political ambit and the ruling elite’s obsession with short-term profiteering especially from sovereign rents, plunder and oil. This toxic combination is not historically unique to Sudan, other countries have succeeded in making a transition from robber barons to an economy based on productive activities. The Sudanese elites have not done so, but there are glimmers that the logic of their position and their self-interest may ultimately help bring about that transformative change. The Sudanese state-bourgeoisie has the opportunities to export their capital but oddly enough it is continuing to invest in Sudan. That capital which continues to flow needs to be correctly analyzed. It is not only best resource for transformation, it is the only real resource. Either it will drive the consolidation of state power under a dictatorship, which in turn will generate a counter-force of democratization, or this capital will itself be the force of political liberalization.
The key to a positive transformative change lies in the new reality that economic struggle is globalized. This possibility has been retarded by the mistaken international policy of isolating Sudan from western capital circuits which has involuted the Sudanese capitalist system and turned it towards Asia. The realization of a peace dividend is the only means by which the political economy of rapacity can be blunted and reversed and gradually replaced by a political economy based upon agriculture and industry. When this new foundation is laid then there is a real prospect of drawing the rent-seekers into value creation and thereby both promoting new economic classes and also transforming those that have hitherto profited from the nation’s doom. Objectively, this is the only effective check on the otherwise inexorable trend towards a decade of dictatorship.
The political struggle for a just and democratic Sudan will continue, albeit under the shackles that its current leadership is demoralized and fragmented. Most disturbingly those who have donned the mantles of liberation and democratization have themselves become rent-seekers of the most shallow kind. “Civil society” as reconstituted under the neoliberal order is at best a cul de sac and at worst a form of delusional rent-seeking. Astonishingly the political opposition in Sudan has turned to America as its saviour, seemingly oblivious to the infantilization of political struggle that this demonstrably entails. The historic tasks of democratization and political transformation and something that only the Sudanese people can achieve once they take up the struggle on their own behalf.
The post-CPA crisis that is now unfolding will at least open their eyes to the false paths offered to them. The right of self-determination through foreign fiat is one such false hope. The promise of salvation by international intervention is another false hope. These blinkers must fall away.
Without doubt the contradictions of today can not be sustained indefinitely. If there is no pulling back from the brink then in the longer term, the hyper-concentration of power and wealth through plunder and rentierism will generate its own nemesis. Such dictatorship will create revolutionary pressure in the form of an urban uprising or democratic movement, bringing together the diverse masses which have congregated in the nation’s metropolis. If the path of self-determination and devolution of illusory powers to the regions is pursued as a stop-gap or safety-valve, this day of reckoning can only be postponed. The question then becomes only what form of repression is inflicted in the interim.
The current formulae mean that the potentially progressive elites will be further fragmented, by the creation of a politically sovereign but economically dependent state in southern Sudan. A formula for accommodating the Zaghawa elites may well be found but through the mechanism of merely dividing the rent. In turn this guarantees that the only investment that will flow will be that which is dedicated to the highest return in the shortest time, i.e. a further polishing of the the political economy of plunder and rentierism.
The alternative, paradoxically enough, lies with western powers, but not with their ideological agenda of superficial democratization and “governance” reform, and instead in their economic power. The forgotten part of the CPA is the peace dividend, which has not materialized because there has been no investment in agriculture or industry, nor even the opening of the oil sector to U.S. capital. It is only when the America and Europe invest productive capital on a scale commensurate with their political agenda that they will begin to have the influence they desire. Until then they will continue to raise false hopes among the Sudanese counter-elites. The turnaround will not happen quickly and is objectively impossible within the remaining months of the CPA timeframe. To pretend that anything progressive can happen within this timeframe is delusion pure and simple.
There is little time for the historic decision to be taken. If the Sudanese political elites decide to proceed with “CPA implementation” and continue to fetishize the political and constitutional formulae contained in the agreement, the political struggle will be set back decisively. If they continue to be deluded by western powers, especially America, which preach political formulae but do not match their rhetoric with real productive investment, the struggle will never remain stuck in a cul de sac. Either the western powers must do their part, or, which is more likely, the Sudanese will face the long struggle of taming the monstrous machine of plunder and exploitation which has grown in their midst, and doing so alone, by taming the beast using the forces it itself generates.