Sudan at the Crossroads (2)
The second part of my paper examines the external challenges to the dominant state-mercantile coalition in Sudan, which arise from Sudanese groups excluded from the dominant coalition and from regional and international interests.
The state-mercantile seesaw suffers two weaknesses, each of them potentially fatal. One is its internal fractionalization which means it is constantly engaged in trying and failing to resolve internal power struggles. In turn this means that there is no strategic state-led development strategy. This is manifest in what should be the jewel in the crown of national infrastructural projects such as the Merowe dam, which are designed for short-term profit for selected contractors plus economic security for the heartland of the state-bourgeois elite rather than calculations of strategic long-term return to the economy as a whole. Infrastructure for the rest of the country such as the much-heralded road to al Fashir follows the pattern of an economy structured on its colonial legacy of treating the marginalized areas as labour reserves and locations for natural resource mining, rather than productive investment.
The second weakness is that the mode of accumulation through plunder and criminality generates political opposition, both within Sudan and internationally, and in doing so brings about the crisis that threatens to trigger its downfall. With the exception of a brief period in the 1990s, the national and international opposition have failed to make common cause, which has allowed the ruling clique both to escape from the logic of its own contradictions and also to avoid facing its own internal schisms. But although the ruling elite is a master at buying time, the moment of reckoning can not be postponed indefinitely.
Challenges from the Marginalized
The second contradiction derives from the first. The hyper-exploitation of the regions and exclusive resort to rent-seeking generates recurrent social crisis in the form of humanitarian disaster. Up to now the international community has been more than willing to pay the bills but this is not a viable strategy to cope with the rampant social distress and urbanization. I can not agree with de Waal’s optimism about the “social peace” of Sudan’s cities. Millions of people are living together but without either social or economic integration or the prospects of advancement. Without investment in the productive sector they are simply tinderboxes ready to ignite. The regime’s modest efforts at industrial development are far too little to provide any motor for integration and in any case employment opportunities are reserved exclusively for those already associated with the ruling elites.
The ideological dimension to the hegemony of the ruling group has generated most attention and opposition. This is the element of racial discrimination and inequitable distribution of power and wealth within the country which patently follows the contours of the racialized hierarchy. Having served at the centre of state power (within the bowels of the Military Economic Board itself) Dr. John Garang was well-placed to understand correctly that the question of racial discrimination/inequity and the associated issue of the national identity of Sudan was secondary to and derivative from the prior question of control over the resources of the state. Consequently the SPLM Manifesto of 1983 rightly identified the primary challenge for the Sudanese progressive forces as obtaining their rightful share of power at the centre. The SPLM Manifesto dismissed the efforts of the Addis Ababa era southern elites to gain local power in the peripheries as a deluded quest. For the same reason Dr. Garang had no time for separatism, which was tantamount to an admission of defeat before the struggle had even begun. Nonetheless, one of the successes of the hegemonic project of the state-mercantile coalition has been to convince the elites of the marginalized areas that they should be striving for local autonomy above all. In fact, the Islamists rapidly rumbled this and began devolving minor powers to the states within the federal system, encouraging the provincial elites to fight among themselves over the crumbs. Even more, the international sponsors and solidarity groups have fallen for this, promoting not-so-hidden agendas for southern secession and for “Save Darfur” as though the conflict in Darfur was not the direct product of the exercise of power in Khartoum.
Why does a centralizing project, such as the reign of plunder by the state-mercantile class, happily go along with the creation of a federal system and even sign up to the right of self-determination for the southerners? The reason is that, as every rentier-mercantile capitalist knows, smugglers need borders. The distortions to the market introduced by internal and external frontiers are all sources of profit. The grip of Khartoum capital over the region is such that it is not challenged by the creation of new states. It can only be matched and overcome by its own kind.
Throughout Sudan’s post-colonial history the major political challenge to the Khartoum elite has been the south. The southern elites have never developed an economic base sufficient for a capitalist class of any description to emerge. The southern bourgeoisie has always been a rentier class wholly dependent on proximity to the state.
The southern question was twice settled in Sudan’s modern history. It was settled first by Nimayri in 1972 with the award of an autonomous region for the south. Given the almost completely undeveloped nature of the southern economy, the semi-autonomous regional capital in Juba became the center of a scramble for patronage. Southerners blame Nimayri and the redivision policy of 1981 for creating dissension within the southern elite but in fact this process was already well underway within the unified southern region. It was only the shuffling of the deck which deprived certain ethnically-constituted groups (Dinka merchant-officer cartels) privileged access to devolved state power that sparked the mutiny, which then predictably appropriated to itself all the unresolved grievances of earlier decades, and also attracted Dr. Garang and his agenda of transformation from the centre. Garang’s critique of Addis Ababa was precisely that it had done nothing to transcend the status quo in centre-periphery inequity.
The second time the southern question was settled it was with almost the identical contradiction. Khartoum granted an even greater degree of self-government to the south including the right of self-determination. In the CPA it also granted a stake for the SPLM in the north and an agenda of democratization. The not-so-secret flaw in this formula was that the SPLM would tear itself apart over the contradiction between self-determination and national democratization, leaving the NCP in command. With the untimely death of Dr. Garang this happened more speedily and with a different configuration to that which was predicted (the southerners proved less disunited than had been expected) but the outcome has been the same. Too late, the southerners are beginning to wake up to the reality that the CPA only bought time to find a solution. That solution has not been found and in these current conditions the the CPA is itself becoming the problem.
Today the southern elites enjoy control over the quasi-sovereign territory of southern Sudan and its oil revenues, leading to the emergence of a rival elite in Juba, possessed of a project of democratic transformation backed by state institutions and resources. The dream that this would represent a serious challenge to what the southerners accurately call the jellaba state has tragically died in infancy. At the foundation of the SPLM in 1983, its manifesto was equally a critique of the way in which the bourgoisified southern elites became diverted into internal struggles for control of ever-smaller slices of state power within southern Sudan, as it was of the exclusivist rule of the northern elites. The SPLM strategy was to seize state power as the short-cut to building a new socialist Sudan: the Movement was based on no class except the military itself. In the end, Animal Farm-like, the SPLM rulers in Juba have become a version of the corrupt jobbists they sought to banish, except on a grander scale. The SPLM leaders’ dash for Juba following the death of Dr. Garang turned into a scramble to grab what they could of the gushing oil money. Southern Sudan has become an extreme rentier state with a bourgeois class wholly dependent on factional patronage which is eviscerating any emergent development and sending its money abroad. Reflecting the Movement’s origins in military radicalism, the SPLM in government has pumped its resources into an ever more bloated military establishment. Unless the SPLM undertakes some radical internal reform, sovereign statehood in the south will be a license for continuing plunder. Bashir will just need to sit tight and control of the south, whether part of Sudan or independent, will fall into his lap like a ripe fruit””except that it will have already rotted on the tree.
The simple truth is that a rentier elite will seek rents wherever they are to be found. If, as seems increasingly certain, the south takes its independence in 2011, the mode of accumulation in the south will focus entirely on oil rents and sovereign rents. Debarred from the north, as will certainly happen when the NCP uses the pretext of separation to dismantle the SPLM infrastructure in the north, the southerners will have even less control over the state-capital coalition than they have today, when at least they can be informed about its moves and prepare accordingly. Southerners will seek commercial arrangements with their neighbours in east Africa but find that ethnic or religious solidarity does not change the colour of money, and that northern Sudanese trade capital is their best option””with which they must now partner at a greater disadvantage than before.
An international frontier between Kosti and Renk will be no barrier to the merchant capital of Khartoum (on which the south will necessarily depend) nor to the security agendas that come in its train. The north will have as much influence over the south as it has today, if not more. And for the rulers in Khartoum, it will have succeeded in externalizing the welfare bill for its plunder even more efficiently than before. The international aid agencies will be more obliged than ever to pay the price for the ongoing disorder, either as welfare programmes within the south (which will doubtless internationalize its entire service budget) or as refugee programmes in the north, where the denial of citizenship to southerners will enable their ever-more ruthless exploitation as an unfree labour force.
In short, the southern elite is no match for the state-mercantile coalition of the north. It can only shape Khartoum’s domination and not challenge it.
A different threat comes from a coalition of the excluded Islamist capitalists and the pan-territorial Zaghawa mercantile class. This class has used its strategic geographical location, which gives it near-monopoly control of trans-Saharan trade, along with access to state power in Chad and CAR, plus provincial state authorities in Libya, augmented by the rents derived from foreign backing for its insurrection in Darfur, to challenge the Bashir regime. Whether this is a fight to the death or whether the competing fractions will settle for a profit-sharing deal in which they also divide executive positions of the three states in question is not yet clear. Time is on the side of the Khartoum elite and it they can fend off the military challenge, they will be able to settle on favourable terms. In this contest, the Doha “peace talks” are no more than a shadow theatre in which the two engage in a beauty contest with the international community while waiting for the right moment to either strike a blow or strike a deal.
What is clear is that the Islamist-Zaghawa fractions will not settle for control of subordinate centres of state power in N’djamena, Bangui and (putatively) al Fashir: they are playing for at minimum a veto-wielding stake in Khartoum. Bashir has not yet made the offer that they cannot refuse. He is playing for time, expecting his rivals’ resources to exhaust themselves. One weakness of the Zaghawa mercantile class is its internal factionalization. Another is its fragile hold on state power in Chad and CAR, where it is at best a minority government and at worst a mercenary occupation force. Its control of these states is unsustainable not least because the states are themselves secondary players in the region’s power games.
The Fur and Masalit elites of Darfur present no challenge to Khartoum worthy of the name. The only task for which they are capable is bargaining the terms of their dependence. The more that they can keep the international community engaged in their case, the less bad is their position. In an ironic way, their weakness is their strongest card.