A Controversial Chatham House Report on Sudan
Dr. Edward Thomas’s report for The Royal Institute for International Affairs (Chatham House), Decisions and Deadlines: A Critical Year for Sudan contains some very insightful remarks about the dangers and risks inherent in the months leading to the 2011 referendum and beyond. He wisely calls for the post-referendum’s arrangements to be addressed now, catering for the two options (a united Sudan or two separate states). He quite shrewdly states that “deals between the country’s two governing elites” should be reached in order to make sure that the conflict is not reignited. He puts his finger on the most imperative requirement by saying, the responsibility for a peaceful transition is principally with the (NCP) National Congress Party and the (SPLM) Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement.
This is the core of his report, with which I fully agree. Along the route to this conclusion, Dr. E. Thomas makes some remarks which are not only controversial; but misleading for others, especially if they build upon them or accept them as facts coming from a Sudan expert and a reliable authority .
There is a contradiction in the way the report refers to the Sudanese state. It is described as “Sudan’s powerful centre” or “the powerful rich centre”; but he also says about it: “The state in Sudan is not inclusive and does not have the resources to control its vast territories”. How can it lack the resources to control its vast territories and be powerful and rich?
The spectre of the powerful rich centre which devours the margins is an unfair description of Sudan’s state.
Another controversial assertion is the report’s judgement that: “Successive central governments withheld investment from Sudan’s Northern and Southern peripheries…” This is later qualified by a reference to “the colonial neglect of the periphery” being maintained after independence. The latter statement is true; but it too does not take into consideration the two civil wars (the first of which started in August 1955, i.e. before the declaration of independence!) and the second which was ended by the CPA in 2005. Both destroyed property and installations and made development impossible. To claim that the successive governments withheld investment willfully and arbitrarily is an unfair assessment.
The “Narrow” National Movement
The unfair streak of the report is most stark in the way the national movement is belittled. It is described as Sudan’s “narrow nationalist movement”. It is true that the call for independence started among the educated, detribalised vanguards of political parties and trade unions. These, in line with the case of many other countries crystallised in the most developed urban centres. This is still the case and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. Paradoxically, a British academic criticizes the Sudanese National Movement for not having fought the British. Indeed, the nascent National Movement did fight the Turko-Egyptian occupation (which was fronted by none other than General Gordon of Khartoum). Later, it fought the Anglo-Egyptian occupation in the pan-Sudanese 1924 armed mutiny, as well as in uprisings in Darfur, The Gezira and the Southern Sudan. It is, however true, that the last phase of anti-colonial struggle was based on civil disobedience (influenced by the Indian model from which the National Movement adopted its name “Graduates’ Congress”). The National Movement in Sudan was more enlightened and well-read than most movements in Africa and the Middle East. It had links with the British Fabian Society and decided to take the side of the Allies (which included the British colonializers!) against the Nazis and fascists. Its leaders spoke on the radio to mobilize the people against Germany, Italy and Japan. They invoked the Atlantic Charter of 1942 to claim their right to self-determination as promised by Churchill and Roosevelt. They led delegations to Egypt, the UK and sent memorandums to the UN for their case. To describe such a movement as “narrow” exposes the narrow scope of the report writer’s list of “must-read” books before writing.
To imagine that Sudan’s conflicts will only be solved when “the concentration of wealth and power at Sudan’s centre is reversed” is wishful analysis worthy of reception parties at embassy lawns. The report even daydreams a scenario in which the vision of the SPLM is extolled — a New Sudan “where the marginalized majority took control of the state.” This rosy vision is no longer a distant futuristic paradise. The vanguard of the marginalized tribalized periphery, the SPLM, has indeed taken full control, — thanks to the CPA of the Southern Sudan — an area, the size of France for five years. One of the SPLM’s own ministers Nhial Deng Nhial has testified to a US Congressional hearing on 7 December 2009 about the way money was embezzled. Ten NGOs (all sympathetic to the South) have issued a “wake up call” report about the dire situation in the South in all fields, security, governance and the economy.
The Chatham House report itself provides an example of the lack of capacity which affected the implementation of the CPA. The census was accepted by the UN organizations; but the response of the SPLM was “disorderly”. It endorsed the census results in May 2009 then rejected them in June 2009! It is illuminating to add that the leader of the SPLM himself had declared before the completion of the census that any result which did not put the number of Southerners at 15 million would be rejected.
There are two other flaws in the report. It says that the SPLM remains “the only national political movement”. This is not true. SPLM’s spokespersons in Washington DC called for sanctions on the North only. If they knew that they had a tangible northern constituency, they would not have made such a grave error of judgement.
National Congress Party
The second (equally flagrant flaw) is the reference to the NCP split without indicating that the split (2000/2001) meant transformation from a pan-Islamic pan-Arab party hoping to take over leadership from Egypt and Saudi Arabia into a national Sudanese party with a local political project as the main compass. Most of the demonization of Sudan including the ICC saga stems from a dated pre-split analysis. A recent Economist writer was puzzled by the fact that President Bashir is the favourite to become reelected as President. There is no secret. He and his party represent the present day leaders of Sudanese nationalism. This is his source of energy and defence in the face of the politically motivated ICC, with its contempt for other non-European cultures.
The report gets some facts wrong. The claim that “some NCP elements have spoken about a “black belt” surrounding Khartoum” a reference to the Southern displaced living in the shanty towns of the capital is wrong. In fact the words were used by SPLM leaders before the CPA’s signature. Their threat to mobilize the “belt” did materialize when the late Dr. John Garang died in an air crash in July 2005. A rumour spread that he was killed by the “Arabs”. The illiterate Southerners around the capital spontaneously descended on the streets of the capital assaulting innocent civilians and burning. There was a Northern backlash the following day. Those ugly scenes have galvanized popular Northern tendencies for secession.
The International Community
As far as the international community is concerned, the report cites the support which facilitated the CPA and the further support needed for the critical months ahead; but it is silent about the contradiction at the heart of the International community’s policies. How can the Sudan be asked to demonstrate the “peace dividends” to its citizens while extensive stifling sanctions are piled up against it? How can it reconstruct if the multi-donor fund (with $424 million) has not spent any significant amount on health facilities in the South?
National Security Law – Guantanamo?
The report naively repeats opposition complaints about the National Security Law which was passed by the National Assembly in December last year. A comparative view-finder would have helped the writer. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 in the USA and 7/7 in the UK did not represent a serious threat to the state. By comparison, terrorists actually reached the twin city of Khartoum, Omdurman, in May 2008. Laws enacted in Sudan are not comparable to the draconian laws in the USA and UK’s response.
Furthermore, the report was based on many interviews; but some of the references cited are not reliable or enough for the inference drawn. It refers to two text books in order to illustrate a discrepancy of different visions; with the Northern syllabus seen as deficient in the representation of Africa. There are in fact enough references about the role of the Northern movements and central governments in support of the National Liberation Movements in Africa (South Africa, Congo, Eritrea, Mozambique, Algeria) Nelson Mandela mentioned the way Sudan received him when he had no passport or visa. The report did not mention that in the Southern syllabus which he quotes Arabic is not taught (in breach of the CPA). The extremists were even scolded by Salva Kiir himself when they replaced the Sudanese National flag with the SPLM’s flag.
The most potentially detrimental aspect of the report is its Prendergastian tilt (a reference to John Prendergast formerly of The International Crisis Group and now Enough who opposed the CPA and the DPA and called upon the USA to militarily attack Sudan and stop funding the elections).
Dr. E. Thomas is not a great fan of General Scott Gration’s mission in Sudan and casts aspersions on it. He says the new US policy has its critics – who are the groups seeking to overthrow or isolate the NCP. He then controversially says that “UN and foreign diplomats express misgivings about US leadership at a time when it is still entangled in Iraq and Afghanistan”. One wonders, which diplomatic missions gave the writer their negative impression about the new US policy; since the EU, the AU and IGAD partners are all on board. Even the Save Darfur Coalition has been included in the New USA Sudan policy. It is precisely because the USA is entangled in Iraq and Afghanistan that the new policy of engagement with Sudan is prudent. The USA cannot be seen to attack yet another Muslim majority country (while closing an eye on Israeli intransigence and Gaza brutality). Financially it would also be more difficult to undertake such an adventure.
In a nutshell, Dr. E. Thomas’s Chatham House report on Sudan has drawn the correct conclusions and recommendations; but it has — inbuilt in its logic — several misleading assumptions and certitudes.
Khalid Mubarak is a Sudanese writer and academic. He wrote this in his personal capacity.