South Sudan: Sovereignty Matters
Southern Sudan may be little more than a year away from possessing state sovereignty. The immediate policy focus on the challenges of holding the referendum in a credible way and ensuring that its outcome is accepted and acted upon, should not make us overlook the political science questions: why does sovereignty matter? For whom is it important? And how has it changed?
A recent book by Pierre Englebert, Africa: Unity, Sovereignty and Sorrow, (Boulder CO., Lynne Reiner, 2009) opens up an interesting debate on sovereignty on Africa. He addresses two puzzles. One is why African states endure even when they fail to deliver on the basic requirements for serving their populations. There appears to be a lack of sanction for wholesale administrative failure: states persist even when they demonstrably lack even a basic capacity for good governance. The classic case is Somalia: perhaps the world’s most dysfunctional state still possesses legal sovereignty over a territory that includes Somaliland, where there is a functional governance apparatus that has tried and failed for nineteen years to obtain international recognition.
The second puzzle is why there are so few separatist movements in Africa. Quite apart from the familiar challenges of ethnic diversity within artificial borders, material political logic demands an answer to the question: if possession of a state brings substantial private benefits to those who control it (sovereign rents), why have there not been more attempts to create more states? Why don’t local elites embark on state creation? Englebert notes that in the 1970s and 80s, Africa’s incidence of separatist conflict was merely ten per cent of the rest of the world’s. The “˜supply of sovereignty’ was greater in the 1960s and 1990s, with more separatist movements than the intervening decades, but they still comprise a much lower number than would have been expected in comparison to other continents.
Englebert’s analysis hinges on the material benefits that accrue to those who control the symbols and instruments of national sovereignty which is externally bestowed rather than domestically earned. Those in government have the power of legal command, which allows them to create facts by decree, and distribute offices which possess parcels of that power. Even when it has little capacity to make and implement policy, the state has tremendous declaratory powers, notably over important rights such as citizenship. Considerable rents that can be extracted from the domestic allocation of this power, especially where other forms of income are scarce. He notes that, “˜The scholarship on Africa’s “resource curse,” … has failed to identify sovereignty itself as a material resource.’ (p. 95). He is right: it is perhaps the biggest and best-tapped resource in contemporary Africa.
The core argument of Unity, Sovereignty and Sorrow runs as follows: “˜(1) legal command is the domestic expression of international legal sovereignty; (2) the exercise of legal command is widely distributed within countries wherever appendages of the state are present; (3) because of the exogenous nature of African sovereignty, African legal command resists the erosion of state capacity that plagues weak and failed states; (4) as a result, its exchange value in terms of extraction and domination endures in times of failure and promotes continued attachment to dysfunctional state institutions. Taken together, these elements conspire to create a structure of acquiescence to the state. Because of the benefits of legal command relative the few nonstate opportunities for advancement and accumulation, African political elites, regional leaders, and other communal contenders face compelling incentives to surrender subnational particularistic claims and compete instead for access to the sovereign state, irrespective of the latter’s history of violence against them.’ (p. 7).
Englebert quotes Mobutu, practitioner par excellence and folk theoretician of the commoditization of all political goods: “˜everything is sold, everything is bought in our country. And in this traffic, the possession of an ordinary parcel of public power constitutes a veritable currency of exchange [for] the illicit acquisition of money or of a material or moral value, or moreover, the evasion of all sorts of obligations.’ (p. 84)
State sovereignty is one of the key points of interface between this domestic political marketplace and its international manifestation. Englebert’s main focus is on the domestic, but the ways in which states trade internationally in quanta of sovereignty could also be analyzed in a similar way.
Englebert notes how Anglophone separatists in Cameroon trek to the UN because it is there that African sovereignty is generated. This is but one example of how the sovereignty regime directs political elites towards international institutions and away from local foundations of political legitimacy and hence impedes state building. Other examples include the way in which many opposition parties run their electoral campaigns primarily to appeal to the (international) referees, rather than to win the game on the (admittedly slanted) domestic pitch. It would be interesting to analyze the relative value of “˜legitimate’ sovereign transactions in the international arena (aid, bargaining over votes in international fora) versus illegitimate ones, such as making territory available for drug cartels.
The “˜supply’ of sovereignty has fluctuated over the years. Claims to sovereignty were more readily entertained in the decolonization era of the 1960s than during the subsequent decade. Since the end of the Cold War, economic globalization and the monetization of political authority has led to the commoditization of sovereignty within regional political marketplaces, and increasingly in the global arena, which in turn has reconfigured the functionality of sovereignty.
Englebert’s comparisons with successful unrecognized states (Taiwan and the Somaliland Republic) are interesting: these governments were compelled to turn inward for legitimization with impressive results. This encourages Englebert to indulge in “˜rational policy fantasies’ for reforming the international sovereignty regime. One option is the wholesale withdrawal of recognition from African states, so that they are compelled to follow the Somaliland model and build their legitimacy based on domestic governance. Another is to liberalize the supply of sovereignty such that any entity that meets basic criteria can be recognized as sovereign. These are no more than thought experiments, but they are useful in that they help highlight the distortions and liabilities of the existing sovereign order. A third, less radical proposal is to maintain the existing map of sovereignty while encouraging autonomous subnational governmental units, thereby diluting existing forms of sovereignty by extending forms of recognition to subnational autonomies. There are sufficient precedents for quasi-sovereignty (Hong Kong, Andorra, Northern Ireland, and the Palestinian Authority) and interesting federal options to consider.
Where does this leave Sudan, and indeed the Nile Valley as a whole? Many African and Middle Eastern states are instinctively fearful of southern secession because they anticipate that it will generate separatist demands elsewhere. Tight regulation of the supply of sovereignty possesses strong multilateral consensus, precisely because the empirical basis for maintaining today’s sovereign order is so slender. Indeed it is quite possible that after January 2011, demands for self-determination will arise elsewhere, beginning in Darfur, and that Africa and the international community as a whole will marshal their best arguments to explain why southern Sudan was a one-off case.
Southern Sudan is exceptional primarily in that its claims have been legitimized both nationally and internationally in the CPA and the Interim National Constitution. In other respects, southern Sudan’s case for self-determination is merely a fine example of what Englebert calls the “˜double hypocrisy to the prevailing system of international recognition.’ (p. 253). He writes, “˜On the one hand, existing African states get a free pass, receiving recognition without meeting conventional or normative prerequisites for statehood. On the other hand, however, their constituent parts are subject to a more stringent application of the rules of self-determination and territorial integrity than elsewhere””although the rules themselves are the same.’
The double standard has both historical and legal expressions. Khartoum’s fifty years of rule over southern Sudan was scarcely an example of good governance. However, among all diplomats and policymakers, the default option is the status quo of unity, to the extent that when southern Sudan is contemplating the possibility of independence, skeptics have raised the issue of a “˜failed’ or even “˜pre-failed’ state. What could be more of a failure of governance than the two civil wars?
Legally, United Nations General Assembly Resolution 1514 of 1960 stipulates that lack of preparedness for independence cannot be used as a reason for delaying it. The adoption of 1514 reflected the fear that imperial powers could hold up granting independence to colonies on the grounds that colonial rule had failed to educate enough natives or build enough institutions. It supplants the stipulations for recognizing statehood contained in the Montevideo Convention of 1933 on the rights and duties of states. The four conditions include a territory, stable population, effective government and capacity to enter into relations with other states””of which the third, “˜effective government’, is the most potentially contentious. Where the two frameworks meet is in the stipulation that the process for reaching sovereign status should be internationally recognized as legitimate.
Fifty years after Resolution 1514, Englebert argues that its time has passed. Versions of his argument would be welcomed by those who want to deny or delay southern Sudan’s exercise in self-determination. The contrary argument is also strong, however. In the last twenty years, much has been learned about how to manage states which have successfully claimed sovereign status, but which are still struggling to meet the Montevideo stipulations. There is not likely to be any repeat of the post-independence fiascos in Congo, Angola or Mozambique.
Having struggled for so long, and finally reaching the threshold of self-determination, many southerners are unwilling to entertain any questions that might cast doubt on their reaching and crossing the finishing line. But the big question awaits, having won sovereignty, what is to be done with it? Achieving internationally recognized sovereignty is not the end of the process of self-determination””it is, rather, a new start.
Engelbertâ€™s arguments are just a transparent attempt to â€˜de-legitimiseâ€™ Africa; and it is sadly the latest, but all too familiar example, of Western scholars wringing their hands and talking over the heads of Africans about â€œwhat to do about Africaâ€.
For starters, a history of failure of the sovereign to deliver essential public goods (e.g. rule of law, development, social welfare and security) for some of its citizens (â€œsomeâ€ as opposed to â€œallâ€ – the distinction is important) is hardly the preserve of Africa, is it now???
See, for example, the indigenous communities in Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Bolivia, Brazil (where most of them form the majority population) and elsewhere in South and Central America , Myanmar, and the inhabitants of Bihar State in India (whose 83 million population dwarfs that of any African country â€“ bar DRC, Nigeria, and Egypt) to name but a few non-African examples.
In other words, the ‘exceptionalism’ of Africa, claimed by Engelbert is, upon closer examination, patently false.
Second, a sense of perspective, again sadly missing in Engelbertâ€™s sensationalist prescriptions, is needed.
European nations, the USA, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia, for example, took hundreds and hundreds of years to deliver those essential public goods to their citizenry and fought numerous civil and external wars before their â€œsymbols and instruments of national sovereigntyâ€ received domestic acquiescence, if not outright legitimacy. (The provision of public goods to all citizenry was, as you know, an even more recent phenomenon in Australia, where Aborigines were not even counted in the official census â€˜til 1974, while in the US â€˜Jim Crowâ€™ segregation laws , with accompanying economic and social exclusion, were abolished only fairly recently, too).
Therefore, is it really justifiable for Engelbert to expect African sovereigns (none of them more than 55 years old) to â€˜earn their stripesâ€™ domestically virtually overnight???
Alex, your comments about the applicability of Engelbertâ€™s thesis to the example of Sudan have also missed the mark, notably your support to Engelbertâ€™s â€œâ€˜double hypocrisy to the prevailing system of international recognitionâ€â€™ regarding the example of south Sudan.
Yes, youâ€™re right: there is indeed â€œdouble hypocrisyâ€ in the â€œprevailing system of international (read Western) recognitionâ€ in the case of Sudan.
But it is the other way round than what you claim.
The â€˜Khartoumâ€™ government continues to be de facto denied full recognition by Western states despite having made significant strides in extending the provision of key public goods (economic development, social welfare, security) to the Sudanese citizenry, and holding general elections recently whose results, at the very least, broadly reflected the popular will. (Proof? Seen any public strikes, tanks in the street, and Thai-style street demos in Khartoum or anywhere else in non-south Sudan since the election results were announced??? Nope. Yet, Western governments have still remained reluctant to explicitly and unambiguously recognise the choice of the Sudanese people; so much, then, for Engelbertâ€™s de facto call to the West to invoke â€œwholesale withdrawal of recognition from African statesâ€ until they build domestic legitimacy â€“ itâ€™s whether the choice â€˜fitsâ€™ with the West thatâ€™s important.)
Meanwhile, the Government of South Sudan (GOSS) has, in the continuation of the pattern under OLS, franchised delivery of key public goods (health, education, development spending) to international NGOs; held elections whose results were not even remotely credible; creamed off most of the oil money for itself; and has failed abjectly to provide security to its citizenry in many parts of the south; even so, GOSSâ€™s aspirations for statehood have received explicit acceptance (indeed in many quarters outright, if unwitting, encouragement) from key Western nations in the international community.
In short, if anybody has got/stands to receive a â€œfree passâ€ in the prevailing system of international (again read Western) recognition in the case of Sudan, well, it sure as hell isnâ€™t â€˜Khartoumâ€™!!!
Even more galling is the fact that the ability of Khartoum to provide adequate economic development and social welfare (surely the key criteria for â€œmeeting conventional or normative prerequisites for statehoodâ€ and the kernel of Engelbertâ€™s focus on Africa???) to all Sudanese citizens has remained severely hamstrung by real and implicit international economic sanctions (US, World Bank, IMF, de facto EU etc).
Those sanctions on â€˜Khartoumâ€™ still remain intact even today (five years on from the signing of the CPA). And they have become even more finally tuned to flatten federal public finances, and so severely handicap its role as the primary lead agency for ensuring adequate economic development and welfare provisions to its citizens.
In other words, Western nations have deliberately (stress) ensured that the â€˜Khartoumâ€™ government has had only very, very limited financial means at its disposal since 1989 to meet the â€œconventional or normative prerequisites for statehoodâ€ â€“ i.e. development and social welfare, the one that matters most to the Sudanese citizenry, and indeed arguably all other Africans.
It is that financial constraint that has sparked the entirely predictable outcome of armed challenges to the Sudanese state by non-state actors (economic under-development being the underlying driver for Sudanâ€™s conflicts and all that).
Put even more starkly, Alex, the critical exception of real and de facto economic and financial isolation from Western nations over the last 21 years should give one serious pause for thought before casually lumping Sudan into the â€˜failed stateâ€™ box.
In fact, a counter argument could be made that Sudanese state sovereignty has proven remarkably resilient over the last two-and-a-half decades in the face of very extreme stress tests: US government economic sanctions; US disinvestment campaigns; de facto financial sanctions from the EU; no money from the IMF or the World Bank and other Western-dominated IFIs; neighbouring states (Ethiopia, Eritrea, Uganda, and Chad â€“ not to mention the US) directly or indirectly arming non-state actors in the south and the west to try to overthrow the Khartoum government; US cruise missile attacks (El Shifa); and financial estrangement from the GCC countries in the immediate aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War.
How many sovereigns do you know in this neck of the woods (or outside of Africa) that could come out of those stress tests still standing â€“ let alone be in a position to take on the lionâ€™s share of post-war reconstruction costs as laid out in the CPA???
Not many, I bet.
Sure, Sudan, and Africa generally, has many, many weighty problems: hunger; generating higher rates of, and more broad-based, economic growth to lift the millions living in extreme poverty; income inequalities (a lot of it stratified along geographical or racial lines), endemic diseases, a dearth of opportunities for individual economic advancement and personal development (or the tools to access them); civil wars; neo-patromonialism; corruption; and weak governance to name a few.
But those problems are hardly exclusive to Sudan and the African continent generally.
And we could certainly all do without the simplistic and naÃ¯ve â€˜solutionsâ€™ to those problems proffered by Pierre Engelbert.
Afro-pessimism at its very worst and news worthy only to the likes of Fox News.
Some western scholars jump to conclusions about Africa without having lived there, understood Africa, or made fair comparisons with other cases. Likewise some Africans jump to conclusions about the intent and quality of non-African scholarship without having read the books themselves. Have you actually read Englebert’s book? I don’t recall him having described Africa as ‘exceptional’.
Nor am I describing Sudan as a failed state. Far from it. I am making the point that the effort to govern southern Sudan from Khartoum during the 1960s, 1980s and 1990s was a failure. The southerners have surely proved that no-one can rule southern Sudan except the southern Sudanese. The governance of southern Sudan today leaves much to be desired, which is precisely why an innovative debate on sovereignty can be a useful exercise.
The capabilities of the Sudanese state to survive under extreme external stress including concerted attempts to remove it or deny it resources is a fascinating tale that, among other things, demonstrates that sanctions and ostracism can be futile and/or counterproductive. But that is not the point at issue here.
This is a valuable theoretical perspective on the political economy of dependent capitalism. It is well-accepted that in states characterised by rentierism, political classes coalesce (in the form of factions) around their relationship to power rather than on the basis of relations of production. Contemporary Sudan provides us with an exemplary instantiation of this. Given that entitlement to internationally-recognized sovereignty serves as an engine of generating political power in a rentier state, the mechanisms whereby sovereignty is bestowed or withdrawn therefore become a primary instrument of managing power. In the absence of class organization, the only available mechanism for challenging state power is the putsch.
Ibrahim Adam would be better served in his defence of the current regime if he were to construct his argument in the following manner. Denied the rents routinely provided by international aid donors and international financial institutions to the possessor of state sovereignty (through mechanisms that I need not enumerate herein), the Sudan government has instead utilized a strategy of domestic legitimation through Islam and nationalism, and thereby met the Montevideo Criteria such that it would be a prime beneficiary of any reform of the international sovereignty regime as proposed by Prof. Englebert.
Such an argument would necessarily overlook the fact that, faced with isolation from the circuits of regulated global capital, the Islamist regime tapped into unregulated and criminalized sources of capital and thereby constructed an alternative rentierism. It is the lethal combination of this hyper de-regulated peripheral capitalism and the exclusivist socio-political Islamist project that has so estranged the South Sudanese that the demand for separatism have become unstoppable. Trying to pretend otherwise, however much we would wish it, serves no purpose save self-delusion.
Everything we hear about the Juba government suggests that it is replicating rather than reforming the rentierism it inherited from Khartoum. The Juba regime is one of grand-scale primary accumulation. Objectively, the situation of the ordinary South Sudanese masses may ultimately be little improved from under earlier regimes. That is neither solace nor excuse for apologists of Khartoum’s grotesque misgovernment and oppression of the South, which has brought us to today’s disastrous denouement.
I ask that Ibrahim Adam reread Alex’s entry. Much of his commentary suggests a misunderstanding of the issues presented.
Engelbert focuses on African issues, but does he ever claim that Africa is exceptional?
Engelbert’s argument may lack for historical-comparative context (I haven’t yet had an opportunity to read his book myself), but he is quite correct that many African states have limited internal legitimacy despite full their accession to the international legal sovereignty. It is also true that the international system tends to scrupulously acknowledge governments even when governance is mostly fiction. Lebanon during the 1980’s and present-day Somalia are standout examples. For most of the past decade, the eastern DRC was virtually outside the control of government in Kinshasha. Post-independence secession by geographically contiguous, economically self-sufficient regions that constitute distinctive ethno-cultural enclaves have often ended in spectacular failure. The United Nations is in fact largely responsible for Congolese national unity by way of its involvement during the Katangan Crisis. The few exceptions to this rule were either first severed from the original owner (Kosovo) or managed to succeed against long odds (Eritrea, South Sudan).
Whatever one can draw from history, it should be clear that when states fail to deliver essential public goods as you have defined them — particularly at this moment in history, when one is apt to describe them as missing, rather than under development — human suffering results. After nearly twenty years of practical chaos in Somalia, it is time to admit that the doctrinaire line on sovereignty is sometimes not very helpful. The Western experience suggests that delivery of these social goods is no easy — or bloodless — achievement. However, in the West, states were allowed to fail, or else to suffer division as the price for their sins. The population transfers of the 1920’s have probably spared Greece and Turkey another war. While the demise of Yugoslavia is tragic not only for its human cost, but also for the ideal of ethnic community that was scarred during the wars of succession, the constellation of new, ethnically-defined states in its wake, if unpalatable, appear to be more stable. In South America, the various states of Gran Columbia rapidly parted ways as the result of differences in regional culture.
Khartoum has extended key public goods to only a subset of citizens, carefully controlled. It has long been obvious to non-Arab populations in eastern, western, and southern Sudan that the vision of nationhood offered by the center is wholly distinct, and often abusive. The accusation that the South Sudanese government cannot deliver security to all of its constituents, while true, somehow rings hollow when compared with Khartoum’s abysmal record of crimes in Darfur alone. Before the rebels, there were the policies that made the rebels.
Without reading the book myself, I can’t know whether Engelbert seriously contends that the international community should abjure African sovereignty, or if he intended only to stimulate discussion of alternatives to the current situation.
Thanks for the comments – all truly appreciated.
Alex: I won’t deny that I have actually only read excerpts of Engelbert’s book, plus his recent op-ed in the New York Times Here it is: Engelbert NYT Op-ed
Yes, youâ€™re right; he does not explicitly describe Africa as ‘exceptional’.
But the uni-focus on the continent implicitly suggests African “exceptionalism”; again, note Engelbert’s lack of references to other geographical areas where the failure of the state sovereign to deliver essential public goods – as I pointed out in my comment.
(Also note that, yes, Matt, Engelbert does indeed call for (read Western) nations to solely revoke African sovereignty in cases where it has failed to deliver the ‘basics’ to its citizens.)
Alex: I also fail to see how “liberalising the supply of sovereignty” within Africa can seriously be seen as an elixir for ‘basic requirements’ delivery; the example of Somaliland is very much an exception rather than the rule – Eritrea and South Sudan are closer to the mark – and it seems far from “rational” and is a feeble basis to construct his “fantasies”.
Africa doesn’t need any more sovereigns – and the sheer historical and current paucity of African separatist movements, as Engelbert himself notes, indicates strongly that non-state actors throughout Africa concur.
Indeed, hardly any African separatist movements are just that (separatist), and merely use the cloak/language of separatism to demand a greater share of national patronage (or ideally even create their own one – albeit nourished/financed by the state sovereign).
Take note how quickly, for example, the teeth came out of the separatist movements in Cabinda (Angola), Casamance (Senegal) and, eventually, Biafra (Nigeria) once those movements cut deals with the state sovereign to get a greater share of national patronage.
(Eritrea was very much an exception as it had existed as a function nation state until Haile Selassie annexed it in 1951 with support from the UN.)
Alex: that’s what I meant by Western scholars “talking over the heads of Africans” about “what to do about Africa” (Jamaledin: I misunderstood nothing).
Namely, what is the applied (stress) or practical value of Engelbert’s book – namely Engelbert’s “rational policy fantasies”, which have gained the most traction in the international media and, to a degree, academically, towards resolving Africa’s ills of shortfalls in ‘basics’???
Any applied value to Africa seems particularly lacking, especially since separatist movements in the continent are pretty thin on the ground.
Yep, I was wrong – Engelbert’s book is not Afro-pessimism at its very worse, but Afro-bashing at its very worst. (Afro-bashing because it lacks a “sense of time perspective” as I wrote in my comment).
And I don’t see Engelbert calling for the international community to abjure United States sovereignty for the 50 million-plus American citizens who (until the recent reforms) lacked health insurance – surely just as an egregious example (if not more so given its resource base) of a lack of ‘basic requirements’ that form the basis of Engelbert’s critique about African sovereign state failure, no????
Alex: I don’t think anybody has a problem with maintaining “the existing map of sovereignty while encouraging autonomous sub national governmental units”; but that less radical â€˜third wayâ€™ hardly forms the ‘meat’ of Engelbert’s book.
In any case, an apparently key tenet of Engelbert’s arguments – the demand to earn/quest for domestic legitimacy by state sovereigns – also does not bear up to scrutiny.
Do state sovereigns in Africa and elsewhere around the world really search for/care for/desire domestic legitimacy??
I honestly don’t believe that they do.
Does, for example, the French state sovereign really care if its rule is not seen as legitimate in the banlieues of Marseilles or Paris??? Did the Brazilian, Ecuadorian, Venezuelan, Bolivian, and Peruvian state sovereigns (pre-Lula) really acre whether their rule was deemed ‘legitimate’ in the eyes of the indigenous populations in those countries???
Did successive US state sovereigns care if their rule was viewed as legitimate in the eyes of the communities of the South Bronx, South-side Chicago??? Does the Indian state sovereign centered in New Dehli really care if the inhabitants of Bihar or Kashmir states viewed their rule as ‘legitimate’???
Did Jerry Rawlings of Ghana care if the majoritarian Ashanti population largely viewed his rule as ‘illegitimate’??? Likewise did Hassan Turabi care that his de facto rule was not viewed as ‘legitimate’ by southern Sudanese???
A big fat “NO!” to all of the above examples.
What’s my point?
It is that state sovereigns – not only in Africa, but the world over – are, ultimately, only (stress) concerned if their rule or exercising of the instruments and symbols of sovereign power are viewed as being ‘legitimate’ in the eyes of their own group/supporters, not nationally as Engelbert seems to claim.
In other words, no sovereign state earnestly bothers to earn or search for domestic legitimacy (except through the standard means – elections).
It’s a chimera â€“ â€˜earningâ€™ domestic legitimacy.
Abd al-Wahab Abdalla: thank you for your comment.
However, the early 1990s was quite a while ago.
And I don’t think that FDI inflows from Malaysia, India, China, and, more recently, Turkey, the GCC states, and private investment inflows from non-resident Sudanese, amongst many others, fits into the category of “unregulated and criminalized sources of capital”.
Matt: thanks for your comments, too.
“Crimes”: a very value-laden term that could be applied in many cases around the world.
The, for just a few examples, ramped up provision of electricity via the Merowe dam, fresh tarmac roadways stretching to the far north of Sudan, down to Damazin in the Blue Nile State, and across to Gedaref in Eastern Sudan, for examples, hardly tallies with your claim that “Khartoum has extended key public goods to only a subset of citizens, carefully controlled”.
I also know the following, Matt:
1) Economic recovery and booms tend to start in the national capital the world over, not just Sudan (location of best infrastructure, cluster of domestic and international businesses, ready supply of highly skilled or educated workforce etc);
2) Khartoum’s boom is very, very recent and, moreover, has largely been underpinned by income, customs and sales tax receipts (not oil revenue as legend has it), and private (Sudanese and foreign) investment;
3) Sudan is not the only country in the world that is bedeviled by vast regional disparities of economic development – check contrast between Tennessee State and New York State in your own land, for example, let alone many others in the industrialised and developing worlds. So, just exactly what country is Sudan being compared to – where is this nirvana??? (Answers on a post card please); and
4) Sudan is not the only county on the planet riven with income disparities along racial (or other older forms of identification) and geographical lines; again, see 3).
You would agree with me that some in the West,simply exploit the lack of interest of people in the west in African Affairs to write whatever they would imagine about Africa, this has been the case of many books written about Dar Fur, as you know.
It is however when some find in a book, what justifies or upholds their own views, that they project it, as you do here,with this book you refer to and seem to promote.
Which authority is there to determine (this conventional or normative prerquisites of statehood), that the author wants to brighten our minds with? Is it the same one that made Taiwan a (State), gave it a Permanent Seat in the Security Council?
Or where is this movement of (Anglo-phone Cameroun) that is referred to and which is trekking its way to the UN? It is true that some literature exists, that talks about the (Anglo-phone Cameroun), but we never heard of a case of Anglo-phone Cameroun in the UN Committee responsible for Peoples and Territories Under Colonialism.
A wisdom reigned during the independence movement in Africa to recognize the borders of states inherited from the Colonial Era, and that saved Africa many wars, but when some colonial Masters later realized that their interests can be better served by further dividing this nations, they (the Colonial Masters), raised issues and arguments advocating secession.
Biafra was one such case, even Canada was not spared such machinations, and to-day is quite clear in Sudan, it is not only the South, but Dar Fur is coming and after that the East, and the world is ready, all you need is some bright mind that brings forth the rational of undeserved sovereignty, or what we have come to hear these days (about internationally recognized sovereignty).
And I am afraid it is not Sudan alone ,but Sudan is the beginning,`for there is the legitimization by the CPA, though the reasons as you and Mathew Sinn imply are enough.
You say that the Southerners proved that no one can rule South Sudan except Southern Sudanese, well may be I should remind you that people like Gordon Mortat and other were opposed to the Government of Joseph Lagu and Abel Alier, since the inception of the 1972 Addis Ababa Agreement and to be honest it was not because of the North, but because of the corruption of the South Administration.
Moreover and again I repeat, that the SPLM/A started and waged its most ferocious battles against the separatist in the South, because it was a national movement seeking reform in the whole Sudan, however things seem to have changed and we are yet to see what the referendum might bring.
Mathew advances that same old simplistic argument-it has long been obvious to non-arab populations in eastern, western and southern Sudan that the vision of offered by the center is wholly distinct, and often abusive-I donit really know if you and Mathew have ever read a book entitled “Al-Inghaz Fi Amme,” (One year of the revolution of national salvation), where we are told that the democratically elected government of Sadiq Almahdi was toppled because it did not recognize the arabism of the Fur Tribe, the largest tribe in Dar Fur, I sincerely wish that Mathew Sinn would read this book.
I think Mathew concludes by what seems to be a trend that I hope this blog will not promote-he says-I can’t know whether Engelbert seriously contends that the international community should abjure African sovereignty or if he intends only to stimulate discussion of alternatives to the current situation.
My answer, is it is indeed the first,the same international community, that made Taiwan a state with a permanent seat at the Security Council for sometime, may of course take the wisdom of intellectual and scholars like Engelbert, and apply it to Africa, and this could be a neat outcome of the referendum in South Sudan.
Thanks for drawing my attention to Engelbert’s oped in the New York Times, which I hadn’t seen. If you read his book, you will get the impression he is posing questions for academic debate. If you read the Oped, you will get the impression that he is one of the stable of NYT commentators who are, avidly Afro-pessimist and earnest advocates of the U.S. dictating its terms to the rest of the world. How much of this is the author and how much the editor isn’t clear. Certainly, it’s not uncommon for an academic author to feel giddily privileged by the chance to publish in the columns of a paper like the NYT, and for him or her to be bullied by a merciless editor into taking on a simplistic and shrill tone. (And it’s the editor who chooses the title for an oped, not the writer.) Editors get away with a lot. And the NYT is shockingly influential in the NY headquarters of the UN. The best political analysis in the world can be cancelled out by a cynical piece of editing.
Thanks for exposing Engelbert’s analysis.
One of the arguments, that I feel healthily skeptical on, is the one having to do with Khartoum’s boom being “underpinned by income, customs, and sales tax receipt” and “not oil revenue”. Sudan’s GDP has been projected to grow at 3%, this year. The explanation, that I have read, is that of falling oil prices. I’m interested to hear what you think about this.
It is well known, and ignored, that comparative temporal considerations with regard to Africa’s political evolution, are redundant due to the nature of modern global affairs, and I would also add, as well, the plethora of information and educated perspectives possessed by African politicians and academics, make it so. The oppression has external and internal sources, that are inexcusable.
Engelbert’s NYT edited op-ed is academic ammunition for R2P 2: The Return. It would be additionally informative to have Engelbert trade a response to some the criticisms raised.
I totally agree with Ibrahim Adam on seeing sovereignty is the last matter to worry about in Africa, especially in a country like Sudan. Sovereignty is being used as an excuse for manipulation, violation of human rights and corruption and present the international community as an invader and avoid retribution. The first and maybe the only argument by the Sudanese government was sovereignty when it was faced by the ICC arrest warrant against the head of the state and some other officials and militants. Democracy and Lack of good governance are both issues should be tackled by western scholars in countries almost have no actual borders.
I think it could fairly be said that many of those who write about the possibility of ‘liberalising the supply of sovereignty’ in Africa” do so in the context of confusion, even frustration, over what they perceive as the international community’s inexplicable decision to extend the benefits normally conferred upon juridical sovereigns — i.e., access to developmental aid — to those states where the quality of governance is deemed inferior to that in Somaliland. They are essentially choosing a new metric — political stability — by which to evaluate merit.
Let me also add that it is a convention of certain Western bureaucrats and academics to stimulate discussion on a contentious topic by supplying policy options that run a range from one extreme to the other. Thus, a policy memo that spells out the options for a decision-maker on, for example, another country’s nuclear weapons program, might offer options ranging from a preventative military strike to “do nothing.” The fact that these options are written down, complete with “pro” and “con” pieces, is not intended to constitute endorsement; rather, it sets the stage for a wide-ranging discussion of the issues at hand.
I must register disagreement with your characterization of Biafran resistance during the Nigerian Civil War. The Biafran state was born amidst serious ethnic turmoil that seemed, for many Igbo, to suggest that they could not expect happy integration into a federative state. As a concept, a sovereign Biafra faded only after Nigerians on both sides of the conflict had suffered horribly. The fact that Biafra endured so long under siege is a strong indication of the level of popular support for secession.
With respect to abjuring sovereignty, I think the main impetus for those kinds of calls is the obvious suffering of millions who live in regions of the world that are essentially lawless. It is compounded by the appearance that their governments are either incapable of delivering them from these conditions, unwilling to do so, or else responsible for them in the first place. The great human catastrophe in Darfur is essentially the outcome of a brutal, indiscriminate counterinsurgency on the part of the central government. Localized conflict and general banditry are certainly serious problems, but both pale by comparison with the suffering wrought by the scorched earth and ethnic cleansing campaigns.
As far as whether state sovereigns seek domestic legitimacy, persons in the South Bronx or on the South Side of Chicago are able to enjoy a great many more positive social goods than one might expect at first glance. The problems of crime, poverty, and disenfranchisement are both serious and shameful. However, while services are inadequate, they are nonetheless available. If minorities are overrepresented in our prison populations, the United States nonetheless has a functioning legal system that provides substantial protections to the accused. Contract law is effectively enforced. While imperfect, the health infrastructure does provide opportunities for individuals with low income to receive free or discounted care. Many people in the United States struggle to make ends meet; they do so, however, within the context of a society that affords them political representation, however imperfect. If they are wary of, or consider themselves underserved or misrepresented, in Washington, they nonetheless go to sleep at night without fear that their government will condone civil violence.
It is very true that this was not always the case for all inhabitants of the United States. The Native American, African American, and Chinese American populations in particular have suffered extraordinary hardship. They have suffered genocide, forced removal, and state-sanctioned violence — all behaviors that might be considered strong evidence in favor of the exclusion of sovereignty. However, I think that while history suggests that state formation can be enormously violent, we should not contend that there may be solutions other than patience. In some areas of the world — the areas of greatest concern to those who advocate rethinking automatic sovereignty — the state is effectively defunct, as in Somalia and portions of the Democratic Republic of Congo. In others, it is clearly complicit in horrendous acts of indiscriminate violence against particular groups of people who are targeted purely because of their ascribed ethnic, religious, or racial identities, as in Darfur. Governments in the developed world may not search actively for the approval of all their constituents, but by and large, they strive to do no harm. Surely that is a desirable outcome.
“Crimes” is a value-laden term, but one that I chose deliberately. Morally speaking, these can be no excuse for what has happened in Darfur. Whether threatening Sudan’s political leadership with prosecution is wise, that is another question entirely.
The Merowe Dam is an important example of the inequitable distribution of social goods in Sudan. According to Jok Madut Jok, the dam will “roughly double Sudan’s power supply and … irrigate land that is now barely arable” (p. 93). However, residents of the areas to be flooded have been relocated “to areas with far less fertile soil and distant from water sources.” Promised state services have not been delivered. The Sudanese government has barred international access to several areas upstream from the dam. In October 2008, dam operations caused extensive flooding that forced about one thousand local residents to flee, without compensation. These problems are not necessarily unprecedented in the West: the history of the American Indian on two continents reads almost exclusively as a tragedy after 1492. However, they are serious reflections of the fact that Khartoum’s current plan for national development largely excludes certain groups.
Economic recovery and booms do tend to start in key population centers for exactly the reasons you describe. However, there does not appear to be any indication that the developmental windfall enjoyed by residents of the northern riverine zone will filter westward to Darfur. And it is not so much the regional disparities that are alarming to observers of Sudan, but the apparent picture of extreme and lasting privation (combined with state abuse) by comparison with gradual recovery elsewhere.
I would challenge your description of Biafra as a case of manipulation by colonial interests. On what basis have you made this assessment?
May I ask for clarification on the trend you believe that the blog shouldn’t promote?
The seemingly alien exercise of Western democratic debate, and the policy considerations raised therein, does not negate the right and need for emotive refutation and rebuttal. While I disagree with some of the near-NCP-apologetic and vitriolic comments raised by Ibrahim, misplaced reminders about the Western ‘convention’ of discussion can be interpreted as kick-down didactics, and are a personal reminder, to myself, of the power dynamic enjoyed by Western academics, as well as their misunderstanding of the real-world effects of seemingly naive and extreme policy considerations. Let me ask, are we to entertain Engelbert’s thoughts for their abstractly rhetorical ‘tickle-me’ fancy? I don’t think that was truly suggested, but nevertheless, one cannot underestimate the potency of Engelbert’s analysis.
I am encouraged by the admission of the ill-effects of US domestic history with regards to sovereign exclusion of domestic minorities. However, the remaining analysis confirms an overwhelmingly blind pro-western bias. It is easy to discuss forcible removal of residents around the Merowe dam while paying lip-service to the ‘regrettable’ “inadequacy” of local government services to urban minorities in the US. Secondly, in the argument, is this equal-standards placement of the overabundance and availability of natural and human resources between the US and Sudan. Such an argument also highlights the all-too common fundamental debate between the North and South: is economic development a prerequisite to achieving political equality, or is political equality a prerequisite to achieving equitable distribution of economic resources. Did the early pilgrim settlers of the US stop farming until 1/3 of the local population overpowered the 2/3rds in advancing a platform of defecting from the tyranny of Britain and drafting the US Constitution? Or was there a concurrency of internal communicative adjustments (exclusively by the small numbers of enlightened elite). Turning the clock to the present, were these ‘shameful’ local government services and political representation, in the US, always present to local minorities? Or were such rights born out of decades of struggle? Who and what standards of reason allow us to act on patience when addressing “enormously violent” forming states (read as the US), on the one hand, and “defunct states” on the other, and still “violently complicit” states (read as Sudan), on another.
“Governments in the developed world may not search actively for the approval of all their constituents, but by and large, they strive to do no harm.”
Again, this is the all too familiar fallacy of starting the historical clock when it is convenient to do so. Surely, this is a misidentification of the enormous amount of taxable resources, economic variables, evolution in applicative understanding of the political-economy, and cross-national political dynamics, at the disposable of developed countries, brought forth by centuries of wealth accumulation which wrought the abuse, crimes against humanity, and genocide on the backs of today’s underdeveloped. Today’s western governments do not generate wealth. They merely redirect it.
The issue at hand, is that of Engelbert’s book, and the motivation was raised by his op-ed. I believe Ibrahim Adam’s passionate first-round comment concealed an advanced understanding of the context of the op-ed.
Thanks again for your comments.
That “frustration” is precisely the point; Westerners would do well to be reminded (continuously) that stable nation-state formation took centuries; put simply, they have no right (emphasis) to be frustrated and come out with half-baked solutions like the withdrawal of international recognition proffered by Engelbert.
As I said, the ‘Jim Crow’ segregation laws were only abolished fairly recently in the US; and I’ve already made my point about Aborigines in Australia (who were de facto considered “wildlife” ’til 1974 and so excluded from the human national census).
This irrational impatience in the West â€“ you can call it â€˜blue skiesâ€™ thinking if you want, Matt, but donâ€™t think ordinary Africans right here in the mix would agree with you when it comes to Engelbert – , I may add, is also evident in the vexed shouts from Western observers for democracy to spread quick-time across the Middle East and North Africa region.
Key point, Western nations were happy with the political status quo in the MENA region for near on 50 years, and it is only when the MENA region started to look like a global anomaly in the post Cold War period that the shouts in the West for â€˜democracyâ€™ suddenly piped up.
“Nevertheless go to sleep at night without fear that their government will condone civil violence”.
Matt – is that really how you think ordinary Sudanese live???
Ordinary Sudanese donâ€™t crave protection from the caricature of a predatory hooligan state â€“ most of them never come into contact with it, the Sudanese state, in any shape or form â€“ but need protection instead from crushing poverty.
As for your references about the Merowe dam – you’re wrong. I’ve been there many times – you’re being misled by the International Rivers Network.
As for your comments about Darfur, I also think you’ve been slurping from the US’ activist’s Kool Aid.
Of course Darfur has benefited from the boom; Sudan is not made up of racially pure homogenous states – it’s just like the US, with heterogeneous communities.
There are roughly over two million inhabitants from Darfur living in Khartoum state, sending home remittances to Darfur; Nyala, capital of South Darfur (home to approx 90% of Darfurâ€™s population) is also Sudan’s second largest city and a thriving hub of commerce and agriculture.
Come to Sudan sometime – and see for yourself, Matt!
Darfur and Sudan’s issues are not as black-and-white as it looks from afar; nothing peculiar to Sudan – nowhere ever is.
Matt, you will never get an accurate read out of the fluidity and dynamics of Sudan by â€˜remote control; in other words, basing your view about Sudan on secondary, or even third or fourth-hand, sources of info from the well -meaning, but deeply uninformed, US activist camp and their attendant simplistic prose and policy prescriptions about how to solve â€œSudanâ€™s issuesâ€.
All the best,
I have to admit that your response presented me with quite a challenge this morning. You offered a mirror through which to evaluate some of the fundamental assumptions I make in suggesting policy solutions for problems in the developing world. Some of those assumptions are hasty. Certainly, you have helped to clarify what is hypocritical about Western analysis of Africa. On this occasion, I am privileged to be put on the back foot and forced to grapple with some of my own thinking. My compliments. I encourage you to read also my response to Ibrahim Adam, because I think I come full circle back to some of the issues you addressed directly in your post.
I concede your point about “the right and need for emotive refutation and rebuttal.” I too quickly forget that if this were 1861, and someone had written me a long and eloquent letter about the importance of recognizing the vast and seemingly irreconcilable differences between North and South — which, as Abraham Lincoln pointed out, probably could not have continued on together if pursuing two different modes of economic and social organization, slave and industrial — then I myself would be quite critical of such an idea.
I also apologize if my analysis of the context in which Englebert’s analysis was offered smacked of “kick-down diadactics” or condescension of any kind. It was not my intention at all.
As to whether you should seriously entertain Englebert’s thoughts, I can say that as a student of American history, I wouldn’t expect many northern Sudanese to offer their support to Southern secession. One needs only to consider the many actual and potential benefits of size and diversity available to nations that have successfully suppressed territorial rebellions in the past: the United States, the United Kingdom, Brazil, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are only a few examples. Partition is often the solution suggested by observers who hold themselves impartial and purport to have the best interests of both parties in mind. Sometimes, that is the case. In other instances, it is either self-deception or an intentional misrepresentation. But I think we can all agree that partition is never quite what it seems. A great many Western academics are rightly critical of both the historical and contemporary suffering of minorities in their own homelands, and deeply affected also by the hunger, privation, and killing that occurs elsewhere. They compare government and society as they have known it to government and society in the developing world. In most instances, they cannot help but be badly disappointed. (Even when they sense progress, future outcomes sometimes fall short of expectation. Robert Mugabe and Paul Kagame are but two examples of leaders once lauded, but now increasingly regarded with either disgust or unease.) You have already perceived that I stand uneasily between a historical view that privileges patience, and a short-term view that accepts the idea that the relatively new concepts of human rights and democratic inclusivity must be respected. As political scientist Mohammed Ayoob might say, it is the idea of the state outrunning the fact of the nation.
Sometimes, partition seems to make good sense. In some parts of the world, the mono-ethnic or mono-confessional state appears to have the best chance of delivering stability. Thus, we get Kosovo, Slovakia, Croatia, Serbia, and the notion of partition in Lebanon. In other cases, as in the eastern DRC or parts of Somalia, government appears to be functionally decrepit or absent. Advocating its replacement seems like a strategy that can do no harm. Finally, there are those cases in which governments appear unwilling to offer any kind of meaningful benefit, including physical security, to populations nominally under their suzerainty. This is certainly my understanding of Khartoum’s relationship to black African communities in Darfur. It was the understanding of Igbos in Biafra in 1967.
All that notwithstanding, I think that one can overestimate the potency of Englebert’s analysis. Partition is an idea much talked about, but seldom implemented. It has been applied only rarely by the international community (Kosovo is a standout case, but a lonely one). Where it has occurred since 1945 — Eritrea, Bangladesh — partition is often achieved through violent struggle. Considering the limited interest of Western nations even with respect to peacekeeping and peace operations in Africa, I suspect that partition will be a largely academic matter for some time to come.
You are very correct, Jamaledin, about the fact that I am casting stones from a glass house: at times, the United States has behaved no differently than Khartoum. It is an entirely hypocritical exercise to say that something else is inadequate. However, I argue that knowledge of the Western experience should inform attempted solutions to problems like those being experienced in northern Sudan. With particular respect to the South and Darfur, I am more alarmed by the acts of collective punishment and genocide than by divergence in the pace and quality of economic development.
I think the suspension or abridgement of international recognition, or is transfer to other entities, might not always be inappropriate. If a government will make use of U.N. councils only to blunt criticism of its own failings; if it will misdirect or loot the developmental assistance and other economic benefits that only a sovereign nation can access, then why continue to extend access to those resources? (I would argue that, in application, the international community would probably not endorse violation of the territorial borders of a state, even if it has been subject to these kinds of punitive measures.)
I do think that many Darfuri, South Sudanese, Nuba Mountain people, and Eastern Sudanese live in fear of the Sudanese Army, or of its proxies. I also think that it is troublesome that many of these people never come in contact with state organs other than armed forces. I agree that all Sudanese need protection from crushing poverty.
I agree strongly that there is nothing peculiar to Sudan; it is attempting to negotiate the same trials that every state must endure. And I readily concede that there is something hypocritical or even schizophrenic about criticism of the inadequacies of the state elsewhere in the world, when not long ago, the United States was practicing genocide, forced removal, and apartheid. However, deficiencies in oneself do not diminish or eliminate deficiencies elsewhere. Identifying problems and offering solutions is inherently healthy. I do not think that we should do it indiscriminately, and it is almost certainly the case that a glut of new nation-states would be weaker, rather than stronger, over the long term. However, in some cases, as in Somalia, where popular government does not seem capable of coalescing over the course of twenty years, one is tempted to ask, “Why wait?” At the risk of returning to a troubled example, the West at least did not accept the notion of inviolate sovereignty before 1945: states regularly collapsed, or were absorbed by neighbors. Today, we keep the “supply” of sovereignty artificially fixed, making rare exceptions. If one argues that the Western example offers valuable lessons about the time it takes to build the nation within the state, and should be respected as a basis for better understanding political development in the developing world, then greater attention should be drawn to this fundamental divergence in the state-building process before and after 1945.
There is no doubt that my knowledge of Sudan will be seriously incomplete until I can arrange a visit. I hope that one day soon, I can act on your invitation to visit your country and deepen my understanding.
However, I am less convinced of the situation there by what I read from the activist camp here at home than by what I read from persons who travel in, and are familiar with, Darfur, South Sudan, or Khartoum. This includes researchers who have spent years in Sudan, as well as reporters who cultivate a broad range of contacts. I am aware of the biases that can arise in any exchange between an outsider and his or her sources. My understanding of the crisis in Darfur may be incomplete; I don’t believe, however, that my description of the violence there is wrong.
Thank you very much for your compliments and for considering my thoughts. You do me too much justice. I may have mentioned before, I am an engineer by education, and am not nearly as literary trained as some of the more esteemed contributors to this forum, such as yourself. As such, I am truly limited by my interpretive and expressive abiltiies, and verily modestly ask that you note that my commentary is personal and quite unobjective and unpolished.
Often, we Sudanese resort to inappropriate passionate discussion that steps outside normative bounds of professionalism and western decorum. I apologize, on my behalf.
If I may take a minute to divulge more of my views, outside the subject of this thread (however, on Sudan specifically, even though I have read, noted, and conceded to a lot of your points which I have little quarrel with, in its essence):
The infusion of political Islam, extensive grapple of religious dogma, excessive cultural patriarchism (possessed by even the most liberal of intellectual Sudanese men), and/or tightening of socio-economic and political conditions, have afflicted many well-meaning and aspiring people in Sudan. You must recongize these qualities. I have seen it personally, the few times I have visited my native land, in many of my relatives who live day-in and day-out under the tyranny of an illegitimate, mismanaging, and corrupt government. As a child, I was often jokingly asked by chuckling (and concealingly concerned) relatives: “which is better? Sudan, your country of origin, or Cote d’Ivoire, your country of temporary residence?” I often timidly and honestly replied “Cote d’Ivoire”, only to be received by amused, denying, and what I can describe as obscurely politically overwhelmed and frustrated strangers, relatives, and relatives’ friends. How could they understand? Or did they understand? And 10 years later, Cote d’Ivoire it still is, despite the current political crisis in a country who’s physical and political infrastructure was forged and exacerbated by the French (might I add Mugabe’s Zimbabwe and Kagame’s Rwanda as provoked heads of state who are not independent of the external machinations and doings of foreign represenatitves and organizations). Sudanese obscure much of their views and political sentiments. It makes for unclear prospects for our democratic future. But what is delivered often, Matthew, to individuals who are perceived as delivering wholesale hammer-down policies on Sudan, and are perceived as disinterested in Sudanese cultural subtleties, are vociferous neutralizing couterattacks.
As a “third culture” and deeply American influenced Sudanese, I struggle with questions (such as “Who are we Sudanese”), and struggle to negotiate understanding the perspectives shared by the scant diplomatic, nongovernmental, ambassadorial, technocratic, and informal Sudanese spheres, that I have had the privilege of interacting with, through my primary significants. But lately, I have become increasingly aware that most Sudanese are crushingly impatient with the NCP. But, there are more subtleties to this story, unfortunately. I believe that there is a salient, tacit, and informal communicative agreement amongst the Northernâ€”albeit, politically oppositional and unalignedâ€”center, whom have grown leery, and might I add, fearful, of peripheral movements’ cries for change and revolution, despite the near-parallel views with regards to current political affairs. So, what hangs in the balance? Why are the northern Sudanese people reluctant to openly heavily criticize the NCP? Why didn’t most jump on board the US activists’ bandwagon of demonizing “Khartoum”. This is a question that I have struggled with for a long time, for I have never received instruction or guidance from more informed Sudanese. Most, in the diapsora, rather not talk about it. In my experience, it has proven to be most counterinuitive to view and subscribe northern Sudanese as NCP sympathists. The manifestation of this trapping can be seen in the Zionist and media-prone villification of northern Sudan in the coinage of the word “Khartoum”, when describing acts of state purpatrated by the NCP against all Sudanese citizens, but most visibly affecting “peripheral” Sudanese. Again, I describe the dangerous characteristic verbiage all too prevalent in western discourse. But I digress: every time I step into Sudan, it is like stepping back in time. Surely something is amiss? Are the crimes committed outside of Khartoum missed on Khartoum’s residents? There are many dimensions to this question: running from true divisions in the North, to back-pocketed apologists, to frenzy-whipped anti-western alarmists and nationalists, to the Stockholm Syndrome suffering types. Alas Matthew, there are also other reasons. The most critical I feel is of import to mention is that northern Sudanese in Khartoum have realized that there are economic limits to this sad country, and have settled with taking aim at the quietude and vicissitudes of personal life. Very few approve or are aware of “Khartoum’s” transgressions. But that is my own immediate experience, which is starkly different from that of a southern Sudanese’s or Darfuri’s! At any rate, there is merit in saying: those few elite who matter most in delivering the change to this tragedy have turned to looking after basics, wealth, and/or property accumulation. You can see many lovely villas springing up in Khartoum, as property prices continue to stay high. People are afraid of change, as they are impatient for an overthrow, because of the associated personal economic risks that run in the balance. And who could judge or blame them? It is this balance between tyranny and bequeathing the right to accumulate personal property, that remain finely balanced instruments of control by the NCP. Your sources are not misinformed about that. Khartoum (read as the NCP), are well aware of this need to pacify and render politically inert the kernel of the North (those unaligned in Khartoum who are most threatening to their survival) by successfully diverting the majority of resources (i.e. power and hydro projects) to the center. But other parts of the country are starting to benefit from some reform mindedness that was born out of the upswing in international pressure and vigilance. Ibrahim has already mentioned the vast road construction projects. Also, the Sudan Central Bank has some of the most intelligent economic strategists, which merits commendation, but is also exacerbating/alleviating the alacrity of popular mobilization.
There are other oppositional figures reason who view Sudan as structurally inadequate, and thus believe that our political evolution must run its course. Marginal cries resist this conjecture with tempestuousness and rightful indignation. Like Alex said the “unrealized search for the symbols and structures of political legitimacy” has confounded the NCP and even eluded the most highly oppositional and ideologically ossifying members of the diaspora now living in Canada, the UK, and the US. The Sudanese opposition’s ideas and abilities are growing old and ineffective. The seeds of an era of democratic progress remain and will end with them.
Still, there are other pundits who posit that the country’s bout of economic boom will change for the worse, and as such, so will this salient and deep spiritual reservoir of patience. Some delusionally believe that an uprising is imminent. I do not share this optimism.
The South is of very little cultural, political, and economic import to northern Sudan, and northerners in the SPLM continue to unconvincingly distract the public with arguments and platforms that ring hollow. The South remains secondarily significant despite the marketed fiction of a great, culturally unified, “New Sudan”. The movement did not seek to promote its cause amongst members in the center. Ultimately, this platform was rejected by members of the majority moderate (and political-Islam co-opted) center. Minority politics doesn’t resonate in our national discourse. How could it? It is a foreign abstraction. And this should not be misinterpreted as a western-style racism, although racism does exist in a more historically relevant and imported contemporary Sudanese form. At any rate, this development was not missed by southern Sudanese politicians who have grown tired and are all too aware of the North’s desensitization to their political ails, misrepresentation, and abuse, which is why we’re seeing this relatively recent adjustment in aims by the SPLM to forge an independent path. And as such, southern Sudan should gain independence and surpass northern Sudan to the best of her abilities. I don’t know if there’s much fuss about that in the north. Most have an air of reluctant content with whatever the development. Sadly, this lack of proactive engagement, with the issue, will further alienate the minds of frustrated denizens.
As oil prices have fallen and negotiations about oil sharing, post-secession, are visited, the NCP will be again faced with a downturning Sudanese economy. Urban legends and rumors about gold mines in Sudan have run rampant (the source is the NCP). Again, these rumors persist to have Sudanese chase after ‘ghosts’. More objective and alarming is the falling Sudanese pound: an indicator of the economic fragility of the country.
What is equally important, to myself, is that the perception of the North, be not directed at Washington for economic ails faced. This will further quell the simmering vexation and anger towards the NCP.
And please, let’s stop saying Khartoum when talking about the NCP. This Zionist-born language is inflammatory and misinforming. I am aware that it is common for Fox news to speak of “Chicago” politicans when bashing Pres. Obama, or the American media to refer to the executive government, senate, congress, or State Department as “Washington”. However, I think this is inappropriate for Sudan’s case. It is the NCP we are all after. I was born in Khartoum and most people I know from Khartoum want this government to face (I stress) ‘national’ justice for all crimes perpatrated and all crimes not yet perpatrated against all Sudanese peoples.
No one can deny that the NCP has committed crimes against humanity. Again thanks for the feedback. I have few discussions that I can readily participate in.
All the best,
As you have reminded me, it is unreasonable to expect complete detachment from persons who may be materially or emotionally affected by changes in Sudan’s sovereignty, even when they are only imagined. I don’t think you, or Sudanese generally, have anything to apologize for.
I hope that you did not interpret my description of policy memos as an attempt to compare the quality or validity of Western styles of discourse with those characteristic of other societies. Rather, I was attempting to convey that individuals in the West may be prone to sharing ideas or theories with which they do not actually agree. I cannot even say that this is a form of communication unique to the West.
I think that the question of, “Why are people not yet fed up with those that clearly deserve criticism?” is one often asked by members of every culture, everywhere in the world. Fairly vocal segments of the population in this country have been asking that question since first George W. Bush announced his intention to invade Iraq. More than a half-century later, it is still a dominant question for French and Germans, many of whom were not actually alive when the catastrophe of the Second World War took place. I agree with your answer that few people have the time for politics, and fewer still all the information and opportunity necessary to ensure that their opinions have any impact. While small acts of dissent matter, the coordination of those small acts is no easy feat. History is filled with examples of cases in which small acts became big acts, but still didn’t generate enough momentum to bring about the kind of change that was desired. It is easy to think hard about the end of apartheid, but easier still to forget Tiananmen.
You raise a very fair point when you wonder why I refer to “Khartoum” and not the NCP in particular. I think your suggestion that I be more discriminating is a good one. However, in return, I would ask that you examine your perception that Zionism is a significant force behind American attitudes toward, and responses to, Sudan.
My personal perception is that, if other regions in Sudan outside the north are beginning to benefit from the boom times that have recently begun, the benefits are confined on the one hand to urban areas, and on the other to mostly Arab peoples. The al-Bashir regime has distributed material assistance to its allies in Darfur, for example, even while hundreds of thousands of mostly black Africans and non-allied Arabs are now landless and starving.
I look forward to future discussion.
In reply to your first question, I wish to say that this is not my assessment alone, this is from the history of the war and Nigerian Politics, however it worth mentioning that all too often we tend to restrict the term (colonial interests) to only mean the Foreign Policy of the Colonial Powers or the West towards the third world, and notably Africa.
Dont you find it intriguing that we never hear talk of the Trans-national Corporations, or of religeous Groups, or economic interests?Press reports that President Obama has stopped investigations of Blackwater Activities in South Sudan, may be of interest to you.
As for your second question ,the trend I refer to is that of some obscure pseudo-intellectuals, who write to communities that are more concerned with burning issues at home than with issues in foreign territories, and thus would not care to verify or vet what is written.
You seem to classify the people of the Sudan into Arabs and Black Africans ,as when you visit the Sudan, then may be you can tell us more about the methodology you applied to do this classification, and who in your view is an Arab in the North: the following who still speak their own languages:
the Nubians, the Mahas, the Danagla, the Beja, the Beni Amer, or who?
I’m familiar with the history of the Nigerian Civil War, and particularly with the aspects that relate to foreign involvement. At this point, I can only speculate as to the evidence that might be adduced to prove that the Biafrian secession was orchestrated or provoked by actors or entities external to Nigeria. I couldn’t venture to guess what kinds of multinational corporations would have been in a position to act against the Nigerian Federal Government, although I presume that, in this instance, the motivation would have been access to oil concessions.
Religious groups were prominent in trying to manage the human catastrophe that developed as a result of the war itself, and clearly provided material contributions that helped sustain the rebels. However, I have never seen any indication that this was anything but incidental. It is fair to ask whether the availability of food aid lengthens wars by making it easier to resist blockade, but by and large, this does not appear to be the intention of those who provide it.
With respect to outfits such as Blackwater (now called Xi), the immediate post-colonial era was characterized by the brief emergence of the “romantic” mercenary. (Please forgive the use of prettifying language. I recognize that mercenarism — I’m using the term for a reason — is often regarded as a serious evil in the developing world.) The mercenaries who signed on for fighting in Biafra, Katanga, Angola, Rhodesia, and the Sudan were adventurers in the “classic” sense: often from the margins of their own societies, usually mal-adjusted veterans (first from the Second World War, then Vietnam), nearly always receiving little pay or comforts by comparison to Western professionals, and almost uniformly anti-Communist ideologues. Frederick Forscythe’s (in)famous work of fiction, ‘The Dogs of War’, is interesting in part because it so strongly conveys this essential idea. While there were mercenaries fighting on both sides of the Biafran War, but in much larger numbers for the rebels (probably in part because the Nigerian Federal Government had a standing army, but also in part because mercenaries tended to favor the underdog in any conflict), I think it is often forgotten that white mercenaries rarely fought for avowed socialist movements. The closest one gets to foreign fighters operating on behalf of those movements are either the advisers sent by the Comintern, or else black exiles such as the Katangan Gendarme. Corporate mercenarism — the private security or military company — has its beginnings in connection with the diamond mines of southern Africa, but first appears on the map with the advent of Executive Outcomes, which actually did quite a lot of good in Sierra Leone. Only after 1991 do private military companies emerge as corporate bodies, striving to build and bank on corporate reputation, with close links to mineral interests, and formal, open relationships with governments in both Africa and the West.
I’ve never heard of any connection between Xi and South Sudan. I’d certainly be grateful if you could pass on a link or reference. I would add that, personally, I do not see the great harm in private military companies. While I could offer numerous rationales in favor of avoiding the “outsourcing” of war, and believe strongly that the use of contractors in the battle space requires far better oversight, sometimes, soldiers-for-hire can be a better solution than relying on local soldiers, which may be ill-trained, ill-equipped, politically unreliable, or politically compromised.
In terms of the second question, I apologize, but you’ve lost me completely. Please explain a second time.
As regards my efforts to neatly classify Sudanese, of course it is incorrect. However, I would argue that, as I have used them, “Arab” and “black African” clearly refer to categories that have been established and perpetuated by many successive Sudanese governments since independence. The Janjaweed militias are self-consciously Arab, even though journalist Samantha Power has written correctly that racial and religious distinction cannot be made by sight alone. The security forces that answer to the NCP have also committed outrages against people and groups whom they identify as “blacks.” Yes, these distinctions are designed purely to make it easier to make distinctions that aren’t always true in each case. Today, for example, the situation in Darfur has outrun the traditional (and not completely correct) distinction between mostly black African farmers and mostly Arab nomads. I think that while your point is a fair one — that Sudanese transcend these simple explanations — my comments have not been misleading or confusing.