News on Sudan


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Fears over ethnic tensions in South Sudan

In the year that saw the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide there are rising fears that similar power struggles drawn on ethnic lines may precipitate another genocide in Africa. There are certainly parallels between South Sudan and Rwanda not least the lingering colonial legacy. There is also the exploitation of ethnic identity in times of political strife as well as a lack of robust structures to deal with internal political conflict.

The current rift between Dinka and Nuer and associated power-brokers and groups came to the fore with the dismissal of Riek Machar as Vice President by President Salva Kiir in December of last year. This put an end to the rather fragile, uneasy alliance fraught with mistrust that existed between the two men and their factions since before independence.

Ethnically South Sudan boasts tens of languages and almost as many tribes, but recent spates of violence are forcing different groups within the country to align with one of only two sides – with no guarantee of protection from either. Whilst it is evidently Machar’s wish to gain more power and Kiir’s reluctance to concede it that has caused the rift, the danger is that the many armed, militarised groups let loose in populated areas have been encouraged to view their struggle as an ethnic one.

For his part Machar, a member of the Nuer group, has long emphasised the ethnic dominance of the Dinkas in government and previously in the SPLM/A as a sign of an attempt to gain ethnic hegemony by the group. The Dinkas constitute the largest ethnic group of the South Sudanese population.

Ethnically-based killing particularly aimed at the Dinka group has happened before. The 1991 massacre in which armed Nuer fighters, under Machar, killed around 2,000 Dinka in the town of Bor, was a shameful episode in the South-South violence that characterised much of the fighting during the civil war (1983-2005). Today, tensions are more fraught and, in the absence of a common enemy, the stakes are much higher. As an independent country South Sudan and its resources present a huge coup for any group, but instead of being content with power-sharing both sides seem now to be seeking full authority.

South Sudan suffers from inflation rates at 50%, abject poverty and intense rivalry within an increasing number of political factions.  As the world’s youngest country it may be forgiven (right now) for many of its political short-comings but its inability or unwillingness to demilitarise its politics will only catalyse ethnic warfare. With no strong institutions to govern, many power-brokers and generals still essentially command their own forces, their loyalties to the government fluctuating with their cut of oil revenues. This is largely a failing of President Kiir’s government. Faith in his leadership has been steadily dwindling. The fear now is that some in opposition, particularly rebels, may not see the IGAD-mediated peace talks in Addis Ababa and the 2015 elections as viable ways to address these failures.  These fears triggered the release of a letter to the IGAD mediation team from 39 Dinka tribal chiefs in which they cited the danger of attributing government failures to the Dinka group as a whole and worries as to where this blame culture will lead. It also discussed concerns over the lack of democratic leadership in South Sudan and the dangerous precedence set by armed rebellion in the fledgling country. IGAD would do well to consider these.

The slow pace at which efforts in Ethiopia seem to be responding to events in South Sudan is also of concern given that patience is not Riek Machar’s strong suit.  Having been at odds with Kiir’s predecessor Dr John Garang, Machar has never liked playing second fiddle; particularly it seems to a Dinka. And although he apologised publically for the Bor Massacre before taking office as Vice President, there remains a strong sense of déjà vu. Machar, then as now, has courted the favour of the government in Khartoum who not without a sense of schadenfreude would perhaps enjoy giving support to the SPLM’s own rebellion.  In the long-term, however, the Sudanese will need to be aware of the effects that destabilising South Sudan will have on border communities, refugee flows and the proliferation of small arms northwards into volatile regions beyond the border.  

But history need not repeat itself: South Sudan is not Rwanda nor does it need to relive its own dark past. In some ways there is greater difficulty today in that both sides are killing each other, leaving the potential for human loss immense.  In the long run this would change the demographics of the country and may well produce a power vacuum as, like many of its neighbours, South Sudan has not cultivated a robust younger breed of politicians.  Instead power, and to a great extent wealth, has been withheld by the old revolutionary commanders giving rise to consistent two-horse races. Power-sharing must therefore be made attractive to both sides right now and guarantees of representation must be given for all groups in the long-run; after all South Sudan is yet to have its first election.  The 2010 ‘trial’ elections, seen largely as a precursor to secession, have not managed to build trust and confidence in ‘government’ thus far; neither has it given Machar and Kiir the safety to lay down their weapons, with their behaviour largely unchanged since their military days.  Practically, as well as curbing the proliferation of arms throughout the country, opportunities and resources have not been made available to all; something that a country with the largest proportion of its population under 17 years of age cannot afford.

However, silver linings do exist.  While the slow pace of the IGAD process can be exasperating, given the right incentives, it can provide the warring sides with a chance to work through more of their deeply-rooted disputes, having been denied the chance to do so during the CPA negotiations a decade ago.  Faith in the African leadership of peace talks and mediation efforts has not yet waned and if powerful actors are not yet accountable to their own citizens then at least they will have to take note of their neighbours. This is a continent quite aware of its recent violent history and its status in the world. Africa is endeavouring to take ownership of its issues – this regional effort must therefore not be undermined. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Spotlight on Darfur

The plight of Darfur seems to have gone from the spotlight being much overshadowed by events in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile as well as across the border in South Sudan. The longest lasting peace deal to date, the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD), got a boost this February when the Sudanese government and other signatories came together to pledge continued support for the deal. So far it the support of bigger rebel groups but may outlive its relevance in its current state. Recent changed including further splits in the anti-government armed groups; the rise of Arab-Arab violence particularly in Northern Darfur; the increase in Gold mining in North Darfur and the rebel groups that have been employed to control the mining boom there were not planned for. Even more progressive developments such as the signing on of JEM-Sudan last year to the DDPD may, if they are not adequately accommodated, give rise to leadership issues and complicate behind the scenes agreements between previous signatories.

This week President al-Bashir has announced that the 18 Darfur armed group who have signed peace deals with the GoS have formed a council headed by Mustafa Tairab, Head of the Darfur Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) (reported on the 2nd of November).  However precious little was said about how this council and the government were intending to incorporate remaining armed groups into the fold nor about how they would disincentivise others in Darfur’s five states from arming in this still volatile region. The humanitarian situation remains dire with vast numbers of IDP still joining the big camps near large areas, fearing the paucity of protection in rural areas. Furthermore, the much touted process of national dialogue, which Darfur’s governors have been keen to show support for, has been slow to pick up pace and credibility.  It has also been somewhat – and perhaps unintentionally - undermined by Umma party and opposition manoeuvrings in London and Paris over the past few months.

The Qatar-sponsored donor conference in April 2013 where pledges of $1 billion were made has yet to lead to concrete and tangible peace initiatives, with reports of violence by local armed groups as well as government or government-aligned groups. Despite the recent pledge of $11million by the EU for humanitarian needs in South Darfur (Sudan Tribune 5th November 2014), intermittent and disjointed support from the international community has not helped in overcoming grave humanitarian issues. With confidence in the DRA and UNAMID dangerously low, it is little wonder that small yet significant skirmishes are taking place in North, East and South Darfur particularly.  Yet the urgency of post-session Sudan that saw Darfuri al-Hajj Adam Youssef appointed, rather symbolically, as vice-president has gone. 

Looking ahead
South Sudan’s recent history may be an omen of what could ensue in Darfur if it has, as many think, a mind to secede.  It is important to remember that the SPLM did not rally behind the call to secession until it was made clear by the ‘Salvation’ regime that a new lone national identity – that did not fit the majority of southerners – would be the standard for national inclusion. However there is very little that the Darfur groups agree on: this is not yet the SPLM with its rather single-minded struggle against the North - that may or may not come later.  The language of the government’s war machine has indeed changed somewhat from a religious ‘jihad’ against non-Muslims to a nationalistic discourse, redefining what it means to be Arab and Muslim in a country with a myriad of ethnicities.  It is important to note that Sudan is scarcely considered Arab by a large majority of its Middle Eastern neighbours. That said, the fact that the overwhelming majority of Darfuris are Muslim has not precluded their perceived alienation from the new national identity of the second republic – reproduced through media outlets and made evident through the correlation between periphery non-Arab identifying groups and armed resistance. It remains to be seen whether in the run-up to the 2015 national elections the spirit of national dialogue will yield significant developments for the Darfur states.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

South Sudan's seemingly interminable tensions

The story so far...

Since the start of the bloody conflict in December 2013 there have been concerns about whether the peace process, under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the Arusha peace talks, mediated by Tanzania’s President Tekwete, could bring about a resolution to the bloody conflict in South Sudan. Clearly the ongoing tensions in the world’s youngest nation have its neighbours concerned. The talks in Addis Ababa which commenced after January’s cessation of hostilities agreement between President Salva Kiir Mayardit and his former Vice-President Riek Machar have reached an impasse with Kiir on the verge of recalling his delegation from Ethiopia amid his accusations of Machar’s reversion to military means. Despite signing an agreement to ‘resolve the conflict’ (May 9th 2014) both sides remain heavily armed (according to the South Sudan Action Network on Small Arms, SSANSA) and each with their pockets of strong support in the key areas outside the capital, Juba.  This latest deadlock comes after Kiir accused the rebel leader of returning to violent conflict last week in Bentui – which has changed hands between the government and rebel fighters often - thereby undermining the peace talks.  However, Machar’s allies are quick to point out that Machar’s presence at the delegation is proof enough of his commitment to peace. The Arusha talks in late October have, at least, signalled that both sides were able to take responsibility for the intense violence thus far but whether that can be capitalised on to effect concrete power-sharing agreements is doubtful – owing largely to suspicion between the two parties as well as the role of other, more maligned political actors within the South Sudan political landscape.
The last week’s skirmishes in oil-rich Bentui, in the border state Unity, have been allegedly planned and launched from Heglig within neighbouring Sudan’s borders, although their involvement in this recent battle remains unclear.  Sudan has previously supported peace talks in the erstwhile southern Sudan, no doubt mindful of the potential exacerbation of its own internal conflicts, its overstretched military resources and the effect of swathes of refugees from the south on its population, economy and food security. However its continuing role in South Sudanese politics has thus far only added to the mistrust and suspicion among key South Sudanese leaders, unable to extricate themselves from the long history with the Sudanese government as well as escaping their own political short-comings.  Kiir is considered indecisive and prone to surround himself with yes-men while Machar is still perhaps best known and little forgiven for his role in the 1991 Bor massacre – while both sides continue to curry favour with Sudan’s NCP, against whom they fought for 22 years.

Looking ahead
Given the endurance of bad blood between the two sides, the shifting allegiances and intermittent fighting, it is not unreasonable to wonder if the overall decrease of the levels of violence seen last December is due to strategic or logistical issues brought about by the rainy season. Concerns now arise about possible escalation with the start of the dry season in November and the attacks in Bentui may signal the start of further cycles of violence in poverty-stricken South Sudan. This is supported by the ramping up of recruits particularly children, strengthening the call by civil society and rights groups for an investigation into this and other crimes during the 10-month conflict.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

UN Human Rights Council Condemns Coercive Sanctions

The following very personal perspective comes to us from Khalid Mubarak

“He tied his hands then pushed him in the pond
“Beware, do not get wet, he said!”

The cynical anonymous Arab poet who wrote the lines translated above has lived and passed away centuries before the current international order, which was “born” after the Second World War and still draws and sets rules and laws that control relations between nations despite the fact that most UN member states agree that it is no longer adequate or fair.  Ban ki Moon has said it.  Even Barack Obama, the president of the country that is the main beneficiary of the outmoded and unsustainable World Order has admitted that it has to change.  When he retired, the subservient Kofi Annan wrote in his memoirs that the Security Council would become more and more irrelevant if it didn’t change.
Maulana Mohamed Bushra Dosa, Dr. Muaz Tingo and the Sudanese diplomats and human rights advocates, with their hands tied firmly by an unjust and unsustainable order, listened during the UNHRC’s 22nd session to verbal attacks about the September 2013 subsidies riots that were sparked by an IMF reform recipe.  The IMF is the financial extension of the flawed International Order that ties the hands and feet of developing countries, then watched the resulting disorder without comment.  The US Congress has stymed the reform of the IMF (accepted even by the US administration) forcing the BRICS groups of countries to start establishing an alternative, more equitable and fair Fund.
Change of the decaying International Order is slow and facing resistance; but cracks are already visible.  The suffering caused to the Sudanese by unfair unilateral US sanctions was condemned in Geneva, during the Human Rights session attended by valiant Sudanese delegations and Sudan’s allies.  The US was not openly named; but the reference was crystal clear:
“In  resolutions (A/HRC/27/L.2) the Council called upon all states to stop adopting, maintaining or implementing unilateral coercive measures not in accordance with international law, international humanitarian law, the Charter of the UN and norms and principles governing peaceful relations among states.  Condemns the continued unilateral application and enforcement by certain powers of such measures as tools of political or economic pressure against any country”. 
Under pressure from developing countries and from US businesses that saw the short-sighted policies resulting in the Sudan “looking east”, some sanctions were eased; but the main remain.  More pressure will result in more retreat until the wall of “banking blockade” is shattered for the benefit of both the Sudanese and US people.
Another relevant point that reared its head in Geneva is the West’s double standards in condemning the Sudan.  Our country is facing insurgency and armed warlords (who are encouraged by Western residence and closed eyes policies).  Exceptional security threats justify exceptional measures when the West is endangered; but no understanding is shown when the Sudan, facing existential security threats – takes some emergency action.  When the West’s security was endangered by the brutal terror of IS, a military response was justifiably agreed upon.  When Edward Snowden’s revelations were seen as security breaches by the West, agents openly entered the basement of the most liberal and democratically led newspaper, the Guardian last January and supervised the breaking to pieces of all the relevant hard drives.  The media in the most mature democracy in the planet accepted that as a security measure.
The Sudan is a country that has embarked on a process of democratisation, in which it made (since 2005) huge unacknowledged strides, with Western support. There are now tens of political parties including the Communist Party and many critical newspapers.  There are even civil society groups financed by Western embassies. The process is still under way and incomplete.  Even the International Crisis Group has admitted that the ICCs targeting of the Sudan has emboldened the rebels and made their seeing sense more difficult.
Encouraged by the seamy forces in the West that do not represent the West’s best democratic traditions, especially in the US, rebels are intent on keeping the country’s wounds open, bleeding the economy and squeezing its resources, refusing elections in order to argue that there is no constitutional legitimacy and hoping to thrive in the ensuing chaos.
Instead of confronting them and stopping those who incite and encourage them, the West criticises the government of the Sudan – while tying its hands with unfair unilateral coercive sanctions that no longer go unchallenged.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

South Sudan Crisis

On 9th July, South Sudan marked three years of independence, however for many it was a joyless occasion.  Months of fighting together with floods and crop failure has led to what the UN Security Council has called the worst food crisis in the world. 

 It said that there is a "catastrophic food insecurity" in the country and is urging donor nations who pledged some £364m in aid to make good on their promise. UNICEF has also stated that some four million people could be affected and that 50,000 children may die of hunger. 

More than a million people have been displaced by the conflict since the political dispute between South Sudan's president Salva Kirr and his deputy Riek Machar erupted into violence last December. Months of fighting have prevented farmers from planting or harvesting crops, causing food shortages nationwide. The onset of the rainy season has added to the problem, hindering displaced farmers from planting crops in time to harvest them in time.

The three states hit the worst are Upper Nile, Jonglei and Unity State. According to John Kolff from the Dutch organization Cordaid, "The fighting mostly takes place in these three states and whole cities have been razed to the ground." Neighbouring states are also affected because of the refugees flooding across their borders.

In 2011, more than quarter of a million people died before the crisis was declared official.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Sudan's Economic Crisis

On the 8th of June, a thousand people took to the streets of Khartoum to protest against rising unemployment, rising food costs and disruptions to water supplies. The protest which took place under the initiative of “I am unemployed” called for the government to take immediate measures to combat unemployment and state corruption. The protestors threatened to extend their protest if no measures are taken.

The protestors were also joined by residents from the neighborhoods of al-Salma, al-Azhari, Ad al-Hussein and Kababich to protest against the continuous interruption in water supplies. A 14 year old boy was killed as a result of suffocation after the Sudanese riot police fired tear gas to disperse protesters. Several people were arrested but released later after the intervention of the mayor of Jabal Awliya.

North Sudan is battling a crippling recession triggered by the loss of three-quarters of the state’s oil output when it split from South Sudan in 2011. Oil revenues constituted the majority of Sudan’s exports, national income and source of hard currency.  Since the secession of the oil-rich South Sudan, the Sudanese economy suffered an economic shock marked by high inflation, eroding currency value and growing deficits.

According to James Copnall, instead of resolving many of the outstanding issues from old Sudan, the secession only created a whole range of new issues including economic, social, political and military problems.  This has put unprecedented pressure on President Omar al-Bashir.

The Sudanese pound also reached low levels only seen at the secession of South Sudan in 2011, exceeding ten units to the dollar, according to currency traders. Sudan’s annual inflation rate rose to 41.2 percent in May, reflecting a 3.9 percent monthly rise thus underlining the soaring cost of food.

The 2013 report by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) placed Sudan’s unemployment rate at 20%. As a result, many of Sudan’s educated young are leaving Sudan in search of greener pastures abroad.

Last year, the Sudanese government’s decision to cut fuel subsidies along with other austerity measures prompted protests in which dozens were killed and hundreds injured. 


Sudanese authorities have arrested the head of the opposition Congress Party, three weeks after the arrest of another opposition leader sparked violent anti-government protests. Congress Party chief Ibrahim al-Sheikh was arrested on Sunday on charges of spreading "harmful lies", after he made a speech criticising the government's handling of the Darfur crisis and a surge of violence.

Sudanese authorities said that he was arrested over allegations the paramilitary Rapid Security Forces (RSF) had committed crimes in the troubled states of Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile. Al-Sheikh in the past was prosecuted for allegedly undermining constitutional order by spreading harmful lies, the same charge for which al-Mahdi is still being held.

The party's general secretary, Abdel Kayoum Awad, stated that al-Sheikh was charged with "undermining the constitutional regime, spreading lies and threatening peace." Sheikh could face the death penalty if found guilty.

Sudanese opposition parties which agreed to participate in the national dialogue process called for by president Omer Hassan al-Bashir earlier this year. The meeting was to be boycotted after the arrest of a senior opposition figure.

Former Prime Minister al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, who heads the opposition Umma Party, was arrested last month after he reportedly accused the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) of rape and other civilian abuses in the Darfur region of western Sudan.

The arrests are likely to hurt national dialogue talks that were called by President Omar al-Bashir in order to ease tension among Sudan's political parties ahead of next year's parliamentary and presidential polls.

Opposition parties in Sudan have voiced concern about the government's mismanagement of Darfur, accusing it of killing civilians during a recent surge of violence in the region.

Military troops in West Kordofan and East Darfur states have been deployed to secure the dividing line between areas of Hamar and Ma’alia tribes following renewed fighting between the two ethnic groups. 

MPs of the two sides in the Sudanese national assembly developed a joint mechanism in preparation for the reconciliation conference which will be held on 12 in West Kordofan state capital of al-Fula.

Pro-government militias have publicly threatened to kill Omda Musa Moktar of Rwanda camp for the displaced in Tawila locality, North Darfur on Saturday if he does not leave the camp forever. Omda Moktar has been outspoken about the abuses and crimes of militiamen, and opposes efforts by the militias to ‘guard’ the market of Tawila. Omda Moktar confirmed that he would not leave Tawila. “I will stay here and continue to speak-out against injustice, even if I have to die here.”