Sudan at the Crossroads (4)
In this posting, Abd al-Wahab Abdalla responds to the comments and criticisms received.
Sudan is at the crossroads and we need to be fully cognizant which paths will lead us off the precipice. If we fail to pay attention to where we are going we will surely destroy ourselves.
I have been challenged on accountability for war crimes. The version of accountability preferred by the so-called international community and by those who slavishly follow it within the Sudanese counter-elite is just demonization of the ruling party and individuals within it. The named individuals may be responsible for crimes but to herald their prosecution as a serious response let alone a political programme is just another symptom of the reactionary infantilism that has overtaken too many of our comrades and former comrades. On the left we failed to take political Islamism seriously and for too long we blinded ourselves that it was irrational and transient and it would go away. We demonized it instead of trying to analyze it so that we could fight it properly. As a result we tamely went along with those who also demonized it for their own reasons and applauded whatever they did such as imposing punitive sanctions or indicting its leaders. This is a non-response which has surrendered our political agency. Just as some of us lionized the late Dr. John Garang and elevated him to the status of a superhero who could solve the deep-rooted problems of our country through some magic of his personality, we happily went along with the demonization of the leaders of the NCP as though putting them in the dock would also solve those self-same problems through some kind of alchemy.
The only kind of accountability that offers some kind of political solution is accountability under a state that exercises democratic sovereignty. If the head of state were dragged off to the Hague and prosecuted it would not make an iota of difference to the problems of Sudan. The only lesson that our elites will learn is, make sure you are covered by a friendly ally in Paris or Washington DC before you go ahead and commit your crimes.
Rule of law is a political exercise and its character depends on the political economy within which it is exercised. The Weberian-bourgeois rule of law requires a political order based on bureaucratic rules and liberal values. The existing regime of plunder, rentierism and externalization is based on commercial-political bargains of expedience. The “rule of law” is the rule of the lawmaker and the policeman and under the existing Sudanese political economy both lawmaker and policeman are pursuing their sectional interest not loyally following the dictat of an autonomous state and its legal system. (Sadia al Imam describes one manifestation of this as competing legal systems within a single courthouse.) The arbitrary international sanctions regime and the random and politicized way in which international organizations including the ICC demand accountability only makes this worse. They function as arbitrary power (and worse, external and factional arbitrary power) masquerading as law and as such make a mockery of the rule of law or judicial accountability just as much as the existing Sudanese judiciary. The question is, which comes first: an institutionalized rule of law system or a progressive developmental political economy which provides the substructure for an autonomous state and impartial rules? It has to be the other way round: the foundation must be there first. If liberal judicial institutions are parachuted into the existing realities they will just become more tools in the toolbox of plunder and rentierism for ruling elites and counter-elites. They will be another competing faction within a politicized and corrupt judiciary. Just as in a systemically corrupt political economy, an anti-corruption drive becomes a means of the ruling elite selectively punishing its enemies, so that “weeding out corruption” becomes a tool of corruption. Ditto for accountability without a Weberian state. The objective conditions must exist first.
It is sad that our party has been intellectually somnolent for so long. It has not recaptured the dynamism and vision of its youth. It won’t do so until it renews its base, and it won’t renew its base until it offers some fresh thinking about Sudan. It is theoretically equipped with all the tools to do that but has been so blinded by adversities that it can not objectively analyze the transformations of Sudan in all those years it has been either underground or trying to reorganize as a minority party.
The fundamental problem of Sudan is the nature of the state-bourgeoisie in power. The solution must arise from that self-same power centre. There is no counter-elite with strong enough roots in the social economy to challenge it. Only when we face this reality can we then begin to grasp the objective constraints on our political programme. Constance’s observations about the emerging bourgeois class in Juba and its east African nature are very interesting and confirm that there is no sign of a progressive southern Sudanese counter-elite emerging based on a domestic political-economy. This also indicates the way in which sovereign boundaries will not matter much. Juba and Yei are increasingly economically integrated into an east African circuit of trade capital while Wau and Malakal remain in the Khartoum-centred circuit. This will not change if the south takes its independence. Michael’s question about CAR is interesting: there is an undisclosed cooperation agreement between the contending fractions of the military-commercial class to share the profits of plundering this periphery. The deal was made in 2003 and has held despite everything that has happened since. In the same way that the mafias of warring Balkan countries will cooperate in their profit-taking, even selling arms to one another, while espousing mutually-exclusive chauvinistic political ideologies, the military mercantilism of our region is ready to make any bargain if the money is there. The CAR arrangement is an indicator of the kind of deal that they may make in Khartoum when the conditions are auspicious.
Alex challenges me to present a political programme that matches my diagnosis of past political ills. I have refrained from doing so because neither the objective nor subjective conditions for transformative change currently exist. There is no revolutionary potential in Sudan today and nor will it emerge until there is a major structural transformation of the Sudanese political economy. Attempting to enact revolutionary change under current conditions would be an exercise in futility and a costly exercise too. Those committed to revolutionary political change should bide their time, focusing on the immediate goals of national unity (and entering into tactical alliances with any political forces standing for unity) and the lifting of Sudan’s economic isolation (also entering into the necessary tactical alliances). At the same time it is necessary to analyze the potential sources of transformational change, which in my opinion will arise in the urban areas.
Alex criticizes my cavalier treatment of civil society. Under any objective definition of “civil society” as consociational organization of citizens, representing interests and/or ideals, distinct from the state, there is no civil society in Sudan today. The state itself is factionalized and porous. Civil society emerges from either a bourgeois class with liberal institutions (media, universities, professional associations) or a trade union movement. Since the dismantling of organized labour and the state-financed liberal institutions by Nimayri, with the coup de grace delivered by the NIF, neither has existed. In fact the very political-economic basis for any authentic civil society has been eviscerated by the dominance of rentierism. What has grown up in its place, assuming the label “civil society” without the form, is a fractured manifestation of rentierism by a professional class deprived of its moorings in liberal institutions or organized class representation. Some elements of this orphaned professional grouping gravitate towards the ruling elite while others stick themselves on to the international donors. The regime is at least honest in its instrumentalization of its parasitic “civil society” while the foreign donors maintain the pretence that they are involved in transitional financial support which will in principle enable their clients to “build capacity” and “achieve self-sufficiency”. This charade is played out over every funding cycle after which new donor representatives arrive, full of enthusiastic amnesia, or some new cause or crisis is discovered, allowing the same individuals to be redefined anew. Political mobilization and analysis is infantilized by this cycle and I make no apologies for this term.
The logical endpoint of this infantilization will be reached when the rural masses in Sudan begin chanting for recolonization. In fact this is already happening as seen by the supporters of Abd al-Wahid al-Nur demanding that NATO forces occupy Darfur and President al-Bashir be taken to The Hague as preconditions for the SLM to engage in any political process. Some elements in the SPLM are not so far from this position either. The forces that give rise to this arise within the contradictory nature of the U.S. neoliberal hegemony and its bifurcated policy towards Sudan, which as I have explained consists of political-diplomatic micromanagement and economic isolation. The regime interprets this as a neocolonial agenda aiming to control Sudan. This attributes greater strategic intelligence to the U.S. than it in reality possesses: if the U.S. in reality wants to occupy Sudan in the way that it has occupied Iraq, why would it structurally decapacitate its putative proxies in this way? One of the points that the externally-oriented counter-elites in Darfur and the south and the so-called “civil society” fail to appreciate is that the U.S. doesn’t want dependent proxies in Sudan. It has no interest in them because they are politically useless and command no resources.
The correct interpretation of the American encouragement of dependency is that it is located in American society and not the U.S. state, and is a byproduct of the U.S.’s global neoliberal project in its ideological and economic manifestations as refracted by the particularities of Sudan. U.S. power in all its manifestations is a hegemonic project, no doubt, and the Khartoum regime has reason to be concerned, but it is a self-defeating project, for the reasons described. It is doubly self-defeating because under the guise of promoting “civil society”, justice and the protection of civilians, it has further demobilized the remaining fragments of progressive political opposition by attaching them as clients to a U.S. interventionist project that is only rhetoric. Those elites who rely on America (or France) to save them will be let down as sure as night follows day. The only question is how quickly they wake up and realise this.
One of the predictable but ironic achievements of the anti-slavery campaigners, the save Darfur campaigners and the chief prosecutor of the Hague has been that there is no practical alternative to the current regime or some reconfiguration of it. That should come as no surprise because these organizations sustain themselves by strategically reproducing enemies of convenience. The most vociferous U.S. campaigners for the south were against the CPA and their counterparts of Save Darfur, sometimes the same individuals, were against the DPA. The condemn any practical political actions, and practical in this context means dealing with the NCP just as the ANC dealt with the Apartheid government, as selling out or treason. They also condemn any move towards reform or accommodation from within the NCP as a deceitful ruse and so we should not be surprised if only the rejectionists prosper.
Why should we make tactical alliances with political and commercial factions within the regime and not with the international forces of a neo-liberal hegemony? The answer is obvious: any socio-political elements based on Sudanese formations are capable of responding to changing political realities whereas the international elements, whatever their rhetoric, respond to other realities entirely. Time will prove that they can never be relied upon and they are just sorcerers. Sad to say the Sudanese must solve their problems themselves or not at all.