The Rise and Fall of the Sudan Alliance Forces (2)
This is the second of a two-part posting that charts the rise and fall of the Sudan Alliance Forces (SAF). This posting deals with the fall of the once-promising movement, showing how a paid insurgency was doomed to failure.
By early 1998, SAF reached its limit as an effective movement due to the limited capacity and narrow agenda of its leadership. Serious internal conflicts between the military and the civilian components of the movement started to surface. SAF propaganda was quite appealing, as a serious New Sudan Force with clear agenda, but it was also a very deceptive way to portray itself to the U.S. and to the simple Sudanese recruits as a revolutionary group with mass organizations of women, workers, and students and that it trained its fighters in politics and history, as well as in military strategy and tactics. This deception resulted in great numbers of Sudanese starting to join the forces of SAF between 1996 and 1997. However, with a totalitarian mentality, favouritism, and the narrow personal interests, the leadership of SAF was in no way prepared or capable of meeting the aspirations of the members of the movement and surprisingly they turned against their own movement membership.
Summary executions, torture, and imprisonment in underground pits were widely practiced against any voice that attempted to question the leadership on legitimate matters. Attempts to discuss financial issues and lack of transparency were violently silenced. Allegations surfaced of the leaders of SAF sending their relatives to the United States and to other countries and purchasing fancy flats in Cairo and elsewhere while increasing number of the so called lower-class recruits were unable to meet their basic needs while sacrificing their lives at the frontlines for the sake of the slogans of the movement. Great suspicions were also raised over the assassination of SAF Coptic Commander Sulaiman, and over the death of Colonel Abel Aziz El-Nour, both of them have gained great popularity among the file and ranks of SAF as reportedly opposed the discriminating and the brutal style of leadership exercised by Abdel Aziz Khalid.
The May 1998 border conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia came as a major blow to both SAF and the U.S. concerted plan in the region. Eritrea immediately turned hopelessly hostile and Susan Rice who was sent for mediation was openly criticized and turned back by the Eritreans. Eritrea went further to accuse the U.S. of siding with the Ethiopians and giving them the green light to launch this war against Asmara. The Eritrean relation with the U.S. was still active regarding the regional agenda, however, but mistrust and frustration started to grow on the side of the Eritreans. SAF’s internal conflicts were also growing at a larger scale due to differences between the military and the Sudan National Alliance, between those who were inside Sudan and those who are outside, as well as between the military and their humanitarian wing that was providing civil services in the areas under the control of SAF as appeared in some Sudanonline forum discussions in August 2000.
Eritrea initially put its full support into building the SAF as a Sudanese replica of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF), believing its members could spark a mutiny within the Sudanese armed forces as well as a popular uprising in Khartoum and successfully contest for state power in Khartoum. As the SAF began to splinter from within and lose both membership and capacity, the Eritreans””as they had done in the past with the Ethiopians””then began to shift their focus to ethnic and regional forces, particularly in Darfur and the northeast (the Beja Congress and the Rashaida Free Lions). It is worth mentioning here that the politics of the Eastern Front ever since that moment started to move for the sake of the Eritrean national security interests and away from the direct influence of the U.S. Similar to SAF, both the Rashaida and the Beja organizations became proxy tools for the Eritrean policy with Sudan.
Out of fears to have to deal with new military front with Sudan while it was involved in the 1998-2000 conflict with Ethiopia, the Eritrean authorities immediately gave a clear signal to the NDA forces to slow down their operations. The roles drastically changed, from attacks and advance on the Sudan territories, to a new role of merely providing protection to the Eritrean borders against incursions from the Eritrean Islamic Jihad that was supported by the NIF as well as from any threats that could directly be posed by the Sudan government forces.
One clear outcome of the U.S, support to the use of military intervention to destabilize and topple the government in Khartoum was that it blocked various peace initiatives between the government and the SPLA/M as both the SPLA/M and SAF seemed confident that with the increased U.S and regional support, it was inevitable that their joint forces would arrive to Khartoum in a matter of months, and as such the SPLA was not in position to consider any peace initiative with adequate seriousness.
The U.S. policy started to receive some heat with former U.S. President Jimmy Carter being very candid about the Clinton Administration’s attempts to intervene in the Sudanese conflict:
“The people in Sudan want to resolve the conflict. The biggest obstacle is US government policy. The US is committed to overthrowing the government in Khartoum. Any sort of peace effort is aborted, basically by policies of the United States…Instead of working for peace in Sudan, the US government has basically promoted a continuation of the war.” (‘Carter, Others Say US Has Faltered in Africa’, The Boston Globe, 8 December 1999.)
Congresswoman McKinney was was also amongst the many critics. The American periodical, The New Republic, has also observed:
“The Clinton administration’s Africa policy will probably go down as the strangest of the postcolonial age; it may also go down as the most grotesque…Indeed, confronted with several stark moral challenges, the Clinton administration has abandoned Africa every time: it fled from Somalia, it watched American stepchild Liberia descend into chaos, it blocked intervention in Rwanda…Clinton’s soaring rhetoric has posed a problem that his predecessors did not face – the problem of rank hypocrisy…the Clintonites have developed a policy of coercive dishonesty.” (“Sierra Leone, the last Clinton betrayal: Where Angels Fear to Tread”, The New Republic, 24 July 2000.)
The September 11, and the shift in the CIA emphasis and increased dependence on Sudan in the “˜War on Terror’ added to the Eritrean hostile stance and the strategic importance that the U.S. put on Ethiopia. It also justified the U.S. position on the border conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia and their lenient, if not openly supportive position to Ethiopia, while it refused to abide by the border demarcation ruling that awarded Badme to Eritrea. For the U.S. what matters is a stable state that can support the long term strategic interests of the U.S in the area, and within the Eritrea-Ethiopia context, it was quite clear for the Americans where the sympathy should go.
The collaboration between the CIA and the Sudanese Intelligence apparatus, that started in 2001, was culminated by a CIA decision, later on, to fly the chief of the Sudan Intelligence, Maj. Gen. Sallah Abdallah Gosh, for a secret meeting in Washington aimed at cementing cooperation against terrorism as was brought in the Los Angeles Post, on June 17, 2005. Khartoum had become “an indispensable part of CIA’s counterterrorism strategy.” That turn of events after the 9/11 of course resulted in devastating implications on the NDA in general and on SAF in particular.
With his increasing frustration about being left out by the U.S., and the implications of the border conflict that slowed down his advance on the eastern front and the Blue Nile, and also due to increased internal concerns and conflicts within the movement mainly due to his egalitarian management tendencies and his tainted human rights record that was revealed by the watchdog Human Rights Watch in their 2001 report as well as by the US Department of State’ report of 2002, Abdel Aziz was at a great loss. Between early 1998 to the end of that year, it was believed that the movement lost more than 50% of its cadres who either preferred to go back to Sudan or to join other factions of the NDA so as to protect themselves from the aggression of their leadership. By the end of year 2001, the total number of SAF forces that were estimated to be several thousands, dropped down to less than 100 supporters, according to some interviews that I personally conducted with members of SAF in Asmara in April 2001.
On March 4, 2002, the US Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, “Sudan Country Report on Human Rights Practices” mentioned that: “In 2000 Human Rights Watch reported that the Sudan Alliance Forces (SAF), an NDA member, committed abuses against its soldiers accused of spying or defecting to another rebel groups, including summary executions, torture, and detention of prisoners in a pit in the ground.” Bringing that HRW concern in a US Department of State report was a clear signal that the honeymoon of U.S. support to SAF was over.
It was easy within this context for Abdel Aziz Khalid to fall back in the hands of his old friends and colleagues in the Sudan Government military and intelligence apparatuses through his contacts with El-Fatih Erwa whom he claimed was meeting because of blood relations and that they are cousins. Erwa was appointed a State Minister in the Presidency of the Republic of Sudan as National Security Advisor to Omer El-Bashir during the period of 1989 to 1995, then a State Minister of Defence 1995-1996, after that he was appointed an Ambassador as Permanent Representative of Sudan to the United Nations in New York, from 1996 till 2005. It was strongly believed in Asmara that Abdel Aziz used to meet quite regularly with Erwa during that period and surprisingly on the various occasions that Dr. Taisier had arranged for him to meet with the U.S Administration officials on his visits to the States.
It was also quite easy for the Sudan Government to convince Abdel Aziz of the strategic importance of Ethiopia, and that Eritrea is a losing horse in this race. It was not long also before information started to leak in Asmara, early in 2004 about the suspicions that Abdel Aziz was involved in “discouraging some important investors from coming to Eritrea, and advising them instead to go to Addis Ababa where the atmosphere is more conducive and the government is more supportive to investment.” Other rumours also indicated possible espionage and sensitive information leakage to Ethiopia in the one hand to protect the remnants of his forces in the Blue Nile areas bordering Sudan, and on the other hand as a favour to the Sudan government that was clear about its position on the Eritrea-Ethiopia border war and which was determined to topple the government of Isseyas Afewerki at that point to the extent of allowing the passage of the Ethiopian troops through the Sudanese territories to attack the border towns of Guluj and Tesseni towards the end of the 1998-2000 conflict.
Between 2002-03, SAF attempted but with great failure to save itself by forging a merger with the SPLA, that Dr. Taisier described as “This historic event was first made possible because both organizations were committed to achieving the same ultimate objective””a united, democratic, secular Sudan”. (See the Press Release/Commentary by SAF – PD posted on March 21, 2002, titled “The Historic Unification of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the Sudan Alliance Force (SAF).) SAF was aspiring to see itself an equal to the SPLA/M and a partner in a North-South Agenda for peace and conflict, but was simply been swallowed by the SPLA/M as they were apparently become a dispensable paid insurgency that was not needed any more.
Against the backdrop of growing differences with their controversial guest, the authorities in Eritrea arrested Abdul Aziz Khalid who had been in self-imposed exile in Asmara since 1994. A news article mentioned “Eritrean authorities had been investigating allegations that Khalid and two other Sudanese dissidents, Kamal Badr and Ali Yassin were leaking military and intelligence information to Ethiopia. (PANA, April 6, 2004). Abdel Aziz Khalid was eventually deported from Eritrea afterwards. At that time, I couldn’t stop thinking, “was that an attempt to bribe the U.S. administration again to continue supporting SAF?” It was quite apparent that the U.S. had lost interest in both SAF and the Eritrean regime and was heavily in support of Ethiopia.
On Friday, September 23, 2004, Abdul Aziz Khalid, was arrested at Abu Dhabi International Airport, reportedly upon an Interpol warrant, the official WAM news agency reported, on the basis of an extradition request from the government of Sudan. The government of Sudan has stated on a number of occasions that it does not intend to prosecute Abdel Aziz Khalid, and is only seeking “reconciliation”. Deported back to Sudan, it was no surprise that Abdel Aziz was able to strike a deal with the NIF regime and eventually left the Sudan to join his family in the United States.
As a paid insurgency that was also divided between the individual ambitions and interests its leadership and the foreign agenda of its creators and supporters, and when it betrayed its membership aspiration and its own national agenda, it was not surprising that the movement that was once seemed a as the light at the end of the tunnel, and as the saviour of the New Sudan, abruptly exited, once the foreign agenda of its existence become no longer valid.
By the way, it is also interesting that, Dr. Taisier Ali, published a book Civil Wars in Africa: Roots and Resolution. The book contains a complete section written by John Prendergast.
With reference to the recent Juba conference, the Sudan Tribune issue of September 9, 2009, mentions that: “The dominant ruling National Congress Party (NCP) refused to take part in the conference voicing suspicions over the motives behind the convention saying it is an opposition coalition in the making against the ruling party. The Ba’ath party representatives with pro-Arab nationalistic ideology objected to the number of invitations allocated to their party. The Sudanese Alliance Forces (SAF) headed by Abdel-Aziz Khalid also raised similar objections. “˜These parties are infiltrated by the NCP and therefore it is understandable that will bring up irrelevant issues to call off the [Juba] conference on their behalf,'” an official who asked not to be named said. I guess SAF is back to its mainstream at last – this last comment is mine!
This is a fascinating, under-reported and very important story, and many thanks to Ahmed Hassan for documenting it. Many lessons need to be learned by Sudanese democrats. One of them, particularly worthy of reflection, is the danger of trying to bring about a democratic revolution by relying on external backing.
Thank you for an excellent article. The Sudan Alliance Forces (SAF) were without doubt the most credible attempt to pursue a strategy of armed liberation struggle in northern Sudan, though I would propose that JEM possesses some features in common. The account you provide demonstrates the avoidable and inherent contradictions in such an attempt and explains both why it failed and why similar efforts now or in the future are equally doomed.
All successful exercises in peopleâ€™s war have been based on an agrarian peasant class, in alliance with an urban intelligentsia and on occasion with an industrial working class. SAF consisted in precisely such an alliance. Its leadership was an urban intelligentsia including former senior military officers combined with academics and trade unionists, and its rank and file was principally from the agrarian underclasses of eastern Sudan and Blue Nile. In this context, underclasses refers to the marginalized peasantry of the Ethio-Sudanese borderlands and the landless agrarian proletariat, labouring at sub-subsistence wages on mechanised commercial schemes. Among the latter group was a large proportion of migrants from south Sudan and the Ingessena Hills.
The most glaring internal contradiction in SAFâ€™s political organization was that it exactly reproduced the social class hierarchy of metropolitan Sudan. The organisationâ€™s leaders were from the mercantile elite, its middle ranks from the elites of the provincial towns, culturally assimilated to the Arabised elites but still socially and ethnically distinct, and its footsoldiers were the non-Arab agricultural labourers from the south and southern Blue Nile. In its short period of rural armed struggle, SAF possessed neither the time nor a sufficiently sizeable liberated territory to attempt a genuine social revolution that might have brought a new leadership cadre to the fore. In areas such as Menza that it briefly controlled it reportedly attempted rural service delivery but the kinds of social revolutionary programmes undertaken by Marxist-Leninist liberation fronts such as land reform and representative local government were not apparently attempted. In the absence of a feudal land tenure system, and failing to seize control of mechanised farming areas, land reform would have been a pointless exercise in any case. At least, SAF did not resort to the predatory extraction of taxes and recruits from the areas it controlled (and in fact reportedly provided refuge to individuals fleeing the SPLAâ€™s forced conscription) and did not use humanitarian crisis as a way of attracting international agencies which it could then use as the source of aid rents. (This may have been lack of opportunity of course.)
SAFâ€™s experience illustrates an important constraint on rural armed liberation struggle in Sudan, which is the geographical organisation of agrarian capitalism. Unlike in a peasant economy, rural Sudan is economically integrated over the entire breadth of the country. The centre of Sudanese agrarian capitalism is the mechanised and irrigated sectors and the peasant sector (the peripheral village economy) functions in significant part as a labour reserve (what I have elsewhere described as a Bantustan system). Incremental liberation of the villages is a futile exercise and mobilisation of the agrarian working class demands a completely different political-military strategy. In short, protracted peopleâ€™s war in Sudan is a doomed exercise. It can achieve only the limited success of demonstrating the incapacity of the centre to rule the peripheries against the will of the populace of the peripheries.
As mentioned by Ahmed Hassan, the NDA leadership in exile in Asmara was averse to armed struggle, intuitively understanding the structural reasons why it was futile, though failing to articulate them. The Eritreans appeared to be captured by a military hubris, believing that if the Sudanese opposition were taught EPLF-style military prowess they would strike a killer blow against the Khartoum regime. SAFâ€™s leadership and their American fellow-travellers seem to have believed this too. They became de facto putschists, for whom administering â€˜liberatedâ€™ territory was a burdensome inconvenience. Had it not been for the 1998 Ethio-Eritrean war, as Ahmed writes, SAF might well have mounted an outright attack on Khartoum. If this had been coordinated with an SPLA attack on Juba it would have stood a better chance of success than the JEM attack staged in May last year.
Robbed of its opportunity for a coup and in the absence of conducive socio-political conditions on the ground, SAF was destined either to become a tool of the Eritreans or whatever foreign sponsors could be found, or to fail. Under any scenario it was doomed to dictatorship, as the contradictions between its ideological goals and its internal socio-political dynamics came to the surface and could not be managed.
The organisation that today most resembles the Sudan Alliance Forces is JEM, which has also become a putschist strike force based in a neighbouring country, internally reproducing some of the worst features of repression of military rule. The parallels are inexact but nonetheless instructive. One can safely predict that when JEMâ€™s foreign sponsors become tired of their client, it will follow a path similar to that trodden by Brig. Abdel Aziz Khalid and his now defunct movement.
Abd al Wahabâ€™s commentâ€”and in fact his entire commentary on this blogâ€”points us to how Sudanâ€™s â€˜liberation movementsâ€™ end up reproducing a status quo that includes a dominant and repressive centre and a turmoil-ridden periphery, neglecting the option of political change through the route of civic political mobilization. Sudanese history tells us that it is civic political mobilization that has brought down dictatorships, while armed rebellion has merely reconfigured them.
By overthrowing a parliamentary system and dismantling civil society, the Islamists have no-one to blame but themselves for making armed rebellion a relatively less unattractive option than civic political mobilization. Theirs is the prime responsibility for resuscitating civil politics in Sudan.
Rural insurrection is not an easy choice, as conditions in southern Sudan, Darfur and elsewhere, attest. The rate of attrition among those leaders who remain in the field is also high. It is unfortunate that the international response to Sudanâ€™s crisis, focused not on the cause of the countryâ€™s malaise but on the humanitarian and human rights consequences, has extended recognition and reward to the leaders of rural rebellions and has given a much smaller role to civic activism. It has also allowed some leaders of rebellions to escape personal danger entirely by leading their movements from abroad. Hopefully this distortion can be redressed in the next six months, making electoral success into the key political test.
Dear Abd Al-Wahab and Alex,
Thank you very much for your thoughtful comments.
Actually, and despite of the short life of SAF experience, some attempts were made to introduce revolutionary changes in the liberated areas; however, this was a major issue where the interests of the civilian and the military components of the movement came to a cross road and departed.
SAF presented a unique mixture of three groups, 1) a military group that was hungry for power and material gains, 2) genuine progressive civilians who attempted to various degrees of success to introduce models of revolutions to the liberated rural areas, and lastly 3) a northern pragmatic and equally power hungry intelligentsia that allied itself with the military as a mere vehicle to satisfy their own personal ambitions.
SAF recruits, as a matter of fact, represented a unique variety of lower class individuals coming from all parts of rural Sudan as well as urban poverty pockets. Blue Niles and Eastern Sudan recruits, on the other hand, presented very small portion of SAF cadres. In the eastern front and due to the NDA internal politics the Beja were affiliated with their traditional organizations, the Beja Congress and the DUP and presented a non-challenged pool for their recruitment.
Menza was not a primary target for SAF military leadership, and was just a garrison to be conquered, and result of their collaboration with the Ethiopian and the SPLA forces due to its location at the Sudanese â€“ Ethiopian borders, however, for the progressive political elites of the Sudan National Alliance (the civilian part of SAF with majority of followers inside Sudan), Menza and the rest of the liberated areas represented a fertile soil for testing some of their theories of the New Sudan.
While both Dr. Jamal Hashim (a leftist graduate of Russian universities) and Abdel Aziz Daffa Alla (a leading trade unionist) were very clear about the revolutionary models and the potentials for civil work in the liberated areas, other members of SAF Political Military Bureau like Dr. Taisier (academic) and Anwar Adham (lawyer), as typical representatives of the pragmatic middle class and small bourgeois, automatically identified themselves with Abdel Aziz Khalid and seemed to have both their eyes and minds locked on the power seats in Khartoum as well as the immediate material gains that they can grab on the way, and as a result, turned blind eyes and deaf ears on the atrocities of the military and betrayed the very revolutionary agenda that they themselves had continuously polished for the consumption of the movement propaganda.
The humanitarian unit of SAF actually managed to bring international aid to the east of Sudan as well as to the Blue Nile areas, and attracted several international aid agencies to come and assist in the development of these areas and provided several services related to water supply, health, education, agriculture, and women development. The humanitarian unit also established a Human Rights body that was active in developing the civil administration in Menza, including work to develop and build the capacity of executive civil administration body, judiciary and police systems. For instance, Yohannes Ajawin Akol, of African Rights, was directly involved in supporting the sett-up of a legal framework as well as in training local judges and reviewing the traditional judiciary code. The Human Rights body and the Humanitarian unit of SAF also started looking into issues of agrarian reform and land tenure systems in the Blue Nile that time, as revealed in my interviews with former SAF staffs.
These efforts, however, were not given a chance to take complete and full shape. Three reasons appeared to be behind this 1) SAF leadership felt threatened by the human rights body that was active in recording and exposing atrocities committed by the government forces in the areas under control of the NDA. SAF leaders felt that the human rights body might start at a certain point to focus on the internal atrocities within the movement and as such it was considered as an immediate target to be destroyed. 2) With the expansion of the humanitarian unit activities and the growing of its funds, SAF military leadership started to show its real intentions and exercised pressure on the Unit to divert its funds and started to intervene in the unit activities with the purpose of bringing it under its direct control by assigning military and non professional staff in its management, and 3) SAF as a progressive movement, was not able to identify means for reconciling the traditional leaderships in the east as well as in Togan. The traditional leaderships in both areas were quite influential as well as having their own agenda, and while attempting to work together with them, it seemed as quite a long and a difficult walk for SAF to try to introduce real revolutionary changes that can still keep these leaders in the centre.
I remember I was in Nairobi in August, 2000, when I read some debate on Sudanese Online. The debate was apparently focused on the internal conflict between the military and the humanitarian unit of SAF, that ended in the splinter of Dr. Jamal Hashim, who was the Secretary of the Political Military Bureau of SAF and who was the CEO of its humanitarian unit. Dr. Jamal led the splinter group together with his close friend and colleague Abdel Aziz Ahmed Daffa Alla, the trade unions leader of the 1985 Intifada, who was in charge of the Political Affairs portfolio of SAF Political Military Bureau, however, as a typical representation of the Modern Forces, Abdel Aziz Daffa Alla kept â€œholding the stick from the middleâ€ at all times, and disappointedly was never able to recognize his full potential or take his projects to the end, and while with amble capacity for conspiracies and social mobilization, he totally lacked the farsightedness, decisiveness, and strategic vision of a true revolutionary leader.
The debate revealed two striking things 1) that Abdel Aziz Khalid did asked the humanitarian unit to allocate their humanitarian funds as 90% for the military and only 10% should go to their intended civilian population at the liberated areas. True to what Abd Al-Wahab mentioned, Abdel Aziz saw no importance in the rural areas and was looking for his personal interests while his eyes were set on the military advance to Khartoum and not on an agrarian peopleâ€™ supported revolution, and 2) that the leadership of SAF was amazingly ignorant of the rules of international humanitarian law and the principles of separation and differentiation of aid for the civilians and aid targeted for combatants, and were trying to bring the humanitarian unit under direct control of the military, the thing that created resistance and led to the collective resignation of the humanitarian unit staffs in 2000 and the subsequent collapse of that once important tool and the whole idea of creating a civil revolutionary project for the New Sudan in these liberated areas.
Sadly, I also agree with your reflection on SLA and JEM. With their potential to evolve into an all-Sudan democratic and revolutionary forces, and as long as they allow themselves to be played by the Eritrea, France, and the US agenda, they are doomed to one of two ends, either that unfortunate one of SAF, or otherwise, to bring the whole Sudan to misery comparable only to that of Iraq and Afghanistan following similar futile Western dreams of R2P by the day dreamers of the â€œsecond coming of stabilityâ€ or God-know-what.
I have long been curious about both the SAF, and more generally Eritrean involvement in Sudan. So, I have found both the original posts, and the discussion very interesting. But I really have to ask about the relevance of the following paragraph “By the way, it is also interesting that, Dr. Taisier Ali, published a book Civil Wars in Africa: Roots and Resolution. The book contains a complete section written by John Prendergast.” I have a lot of respect for Taisier as an activist, but especially as an academic, and this co-edited book is a good contribution to scholarly debate about conflicts in Africa, with a number of well-respected scholars, including, for example, the uncorruptable John Saul. I fail to see why Prendergast’s inclusion or exclusion (wasn’t he writing on Ethiopia?) should have any impact on our understanding of the SAF or foreign alliances. If anything, the inclusion of this para just makes me more skeptical of the author’s own biases, and reasoning.
Dear Sara Dorman,
Thanks for your comment, and my apologies if the statement seemed not in place or controversial. It is not in fact meant to discredit or to imply any negativity about Dr. Taisier.
The article was meant to be a simple construction of the history of SAF, touching on the major events throughout its rise and fall, and hence the mentioning of the book was brought in this context, as relevant to one of the main leaders of the organization and to the history following the merger with the SPLA/M in 2002 – as far as the time line of events is concerned.
With regards to Dr. Taisier, I did not have direct contact with him, but he was central in most of the interviews that I conducted with SAF members and I regret to affirm the fact that his close identification with the military leaders of the SAF while they were committing atrocities against the membership of the movement, as opposed to his revolutionary rhetoric, was not quite popular or appreciated by many. One statement that I kept hearing most of the time during these interviews was that, if Dr. Taisir and the military leadership of SAF cannot demonstrate the true spirit of the new Sudan to the few hundred or few thousands of loyal members who are offering their lives for the sake of SAF slogans, how can they demonstrate that spirit to the whole of the Sudan if they reached the power seats in Khartoum?
I was personally, once, a fan of SAF, and similar to the other Sudanese I saw a lot of hope in this modern force organization, however, for the reasons we all know, SAF was not able to live to the expectations of the Sudanese who were dreaming about the new Sudan that will bring peace, equality and justice for all.
By the way, I think I came across one of your writings “Narratives of nationalism in Eritrea: research and revisionism” few years ago, if I am not mistaken, which was indeed very interesting.
I believe the article written by Ahmed Hassan, on the SAFâ€™s experience (Rise & Fall) can stir a productive debate on this blog. Particularly if such debate focuses on the main theme of the article, which is in my opinion the dependency of the Sudanese armed movements on foreign support, and the possible implications of that for realizing their declared objectives, including social transformation and establishment of a just and democratic state. The major argument seems to revolve around the idea that, the fatal mistake of SAF is its entire dependency on the US, to the extent that when the US withdrew its support due to its shift of interest, resulting mainly from the security deal with the regime in Khartoum, the SAF began to fall apart. Other than this, the bulk of information provided in the article, specially the account on, human rights violations, corruption, defections and divisions within the movement, though important factors in the disintegration and failure of the SAF, have not given similar weight to that of relying on US support. I argue that such explanation is inaccurate and will only mislead us to believe that much of the ills we suffer from today can conveniently be blamed on foreign elements. If we accept such analogy, then we will miss the opportunity to look critically within our own context and identify the root causes of our chronic failures. It should also be noted that counting on external forces will not necessary help us to achieve our objectives.
Blaming the iniquitous deeds of the Sudanese governing elites and the consequent sufferings of Sudanese people on foreign and external forces has been the norm. In fact it could be argued that such inclination, has characterized much of the African intellectual discourse since the foundation of the nation state, following the pull out of the colonial powers. Rather than searching within to cast light on the crimes perpetrated by and mismanagement and corruption of the governing elites, these intellectuals resort to the explanation that put the burden on external evils. The dependency theory was once much celebrated because in part it meets such inclination, despite its sound criticism of the development continuum concept. Thus one can say that the revival of such rhetoric and its application to dayâ€™s dilemma of Sudan will not offer a credible and objective analysis of the problem, in a way that leads to identifying its root causes and addresses them. On the contrary, striving to condemn foreigners for failures and crimes of the indigenous elites is just misleading and illusive. The case in point is the anxious and persistent denial of the educated and professional Sudanese (especially from the North) vis-Ã -vis Darfur sufferings, on the grounds that, what is taking place is nothing but a conspiracy created and promoted by alien entities wanting to hurt Sudan.
Again it could equally be argued that, SAF was not unique in its attempt to obtain external resources for its project. Many armed movements/ groups including Eritrean People Liberation Front (EPLF) and SPLM/A had resorted directly or indirectly to obtain resources from foreign sources. The important fact is that this had never led o their collapse. Indeed many observers and analysts blamed the protracted nature of conflicts in the developing countries on the international aid, accusing it of prolonging these wars, than shorten their life cycle. This is also evident in the proliferation of armed groups, especially in Africa, fueling the intrastate wars by depending entirely on looting internal resources, whether natural as is the case in Angola and Sierra Leon, or extortion from the helpless and poor communities within the conflict area by levying taxes. Many studies pointed to the fact that the most brutal and violent crimes have been committed by organizations emerged in areas endowed by rich resources, including diamond, timber and ivory or even growing and trading in drugs. The Sudan is not an exception, especially after the discovery of oil and the revenue generated by the junta. The point I am trying to make is that, it is not accurate to attribute the fall of SAF to the discontinuation of external resources. Although this factor is capable of inducing some challenges to the smooth running of the organization, but certainly not to the extent of extinguishing it.
The time has come for Sudanese intellectuals like Mr. Ahmed to turn their analytical capabilities inward and dig deep to diagnose the ills that have plagued the Sudan polity, of which SAF is an integral part. SAF failed because it carries the disease that plagued the Sudanese polity, which is the tireless fight over the absolute power and wealth, than a genuine search for a real change of the status quo in favor of all, which could motivate the people of Sudan and bring them along as active participants.
I strongly believe the problem lies within not without, in what one could call (borrowing the Bush Jargon) the “Sudan axis of evil,” represented by the South and North elites and the way they control and shape the politics of Sudan, as they strive for power and personal gains. What we are witnessing now, in my opinion, is the symptoms of the historical and continued fight between them. As their old ways of running the show become irrelevant and unattractive and in fact backfire on them, they turned bankrupt of any credible vision or strategy to get Sudan out of its current crisis. Whether in Darfur, Abyie, or Garura in the East the awakening interest of the elites in other regions of the country to have their share in the cake has brought in new players to the stage. Where this situation would lead to, remains a core question to attend to by the Sudanese scholars and intellectuals. In doing so of course, they should not lose sight of the external factors, since we do not live in isolation but an increasingly global environment, which poses complex and overlapping interest and challenges. However, in spite of this fact much of the energy and resources should be directed towards identifying the internal mechanisms that govern the dynamics of socio-political realm in the country, and its future direction.
I appreciate your comments on this. The point I would make is that the two phenomena, namely dependence on external support and primary concern with seizing power and taking control of state resources, are complementary explanations. A political leader who wants to pursue a democratic strategy will build up an internal constituency, and having taken power or a share in power, will then be constrained by or accountable to that constituency. A leader who is interested in a short cut to power will want to avoid this kind of constraint and will spend his time looking for external support. What we tend to see also is that a leader who begins with a democratic approach, but who is offered external support, is easily corrupted by that support and loses touch with the internal constituency.
Thank you very much for your valuable comment.
I do not disagree very much with you. The collapse of SAF was a result of both the dependency on external support as well as the lack of a genuine revolutionary motive combined with all the internal diseases you mentioned in your commentary.
The motivation behind writing the article as you can see in the introduction of part one, is a comment by made by Abd Al-Wahab Abdalla which correctly mentioned that both the left and the right of the Sudanese political spectrum were cursed by having these internal diseases, and as a result, my article was to illustrate this, while also reflecting on the fact that SAF also accepted to be proxy tool for both the Eritrean and the US foreign policies, a fact that we cannot deny its contribution in the demise of the movement. I do agree, however, the fall was a result of combined elements.
To some extent, I was not blaming the external support and its role, I was actually pointing out to the choice the leadership made of falling back on this external support, rather than follow suit of what the real revolutionary movements that depend on the people as assets and resources.
While both the EPLF and SAF, as you correctly put it, depended on foreign and external support, the difference with the Eritrean is that, when we both visited the main area of the Eritrean battle field â€œSahel Abayeâ€ in the immediate years following the Independence of Eritrea, we both heard the Sahel people describing to us how the EPLF was genuine and serious about creating real social transformation during the struggle by putting in place a complete set of civil institutions, laws and systems, agrarian reform policy, rural development projects, police and judiciary system, workers, women, and youth organizations and activities to the extent that when the state was formed and the EPLF moved to Asmara, it was not able to keep that revolutionary momentum in the Sahel and the people missed its physical presence, and it took years for the government to be able to extend the same support to the people from Asmara. The difference was that the EPLF depended on the people and their support to grow and to victory, and was sincere in its revolutionary objectives. SAF lacked both the sincerity, and the vision to see these grassroots as the real strength and support for the movement, and preferred, as Alex just put it, the short cuts to power through the external support.
I think you are quite right to ask questions about the ‘political bedfellows’ kept by prominent individuals — especially if there is evidence to suggest complicity in human rights violations. And, of course, we should also all be wary of our ‘academic bedfellows’ as well. But I am still not sure that including someone in an edited book is evidence of evil-doing or even of being overly-close! My point was just that it unfortunately seemed to weaken your argument, rather than strengthen it.
Thanks for your kind words on my article, and I look forward to reading more of your analyses too.