Pan Africanism : News from Sudan

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  1. abdurratln

    abdurratln Well-Known Member MEMBER

    Feb 27, 2007
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    The Sudanese presidential election campaign is springing surprises, notes Gamal Nkrumah


    The quest to understand the mysteries of Sudanese politics is about to move to a new and utterly unexpected level. The presidential election is certainly underway in Sudan. This week, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), the main coalition partner of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) of Sudanese President Omar Hassan Al-Bashir, nominated Yasser Arman as its presidential candidate. After a long delay in naming their presidential candidate, the SPLM -- a southern Sudanese-based party -- chose a northern Muslim, albeit secularist, politician as their presidential nominee.

    Arman is a red herring, a very clever one to boot. "What is interesting is that many people, northerners and southerners, Christians and Muslims will vote for me because I am determined to champion the cause of the underdog. I have been working for social justice for more than 30 years now. The time has come for the president of Sudan to represent the poor and the marginalised people of Sudan," Arman told Al-Ahram Weekly.

    This frenetic politicking is starting early. And the SPLM has made the most of it. Arman is adamant that many northerners will vote for him even though he is running on a SPLM ticket. Moreover, many southerners are resident in northern Sudan, and they are most likely going to cast their vote for Arman. He is widely seen as a man of the people. And, therefore, Arman is also certain to win the votes of secularists in the north. "The people of Sudan want change, they want radical political reform and they want freedom of expression and the full exercise of their political rights."

    What is true is that Sudan is ripe for change, and that includes the millions of disfranchised and peripheralised people of the country. Most Sudan watchers expect the elections to be free and fair, for if there is any tampering with the vote all hell will be let loose. The mood of the Sudanese people, even in traditionally pro-government northern Sudan, is fast moving from resignation to rebellion.

    This steady advance of Sudanese democracy has immense consequences for Africa's largest country. The fact that the SPLM selected a Muslim northerner as its presidential candidate signals that it is not necessarily in favour of secession.

    The people of the peripheral and far-flung region of this vast country are now examining their leaders' interaction with the Sudanese state. Previously their submission to the powers that be in Khartoum was taken for granted. Instead, now they must be propped up by those very politicians and are expected to play a more pertinent role in the corridors of power in the Sudanese national capital.

    Hardly a beacon of free speech, Sudan stands poised to join the nascent democracies of Africa. The presidential elections themselves are a test for the intentions of the Sudanese political establishment.

    Sudanese from the peripheral areas have traditionally failed to punch using their true weight in Sudanese politics. April's presidential poll promises to be different.

    In much the same vein, the problem of northern Muslim secularists cannot be ducked. The election campaign focuses on the dynamics of interaction between southerners and northerners, secularists and religious devotees, alike.

    So far, none of the major Sudanese political parties have fielded presidential candidates from Darfur. The Arabised tribes of Darfur are expected to stand firmly behind the ruling NCP of President Al-Bashir. The indigenous peoples of Darfur, like the non-Arab peoples of Blue Nile and Kordofan are more likely to vote for Arman and the SPLM.

    But those who do not get all misty-eyed listening to stories of the brutish persecution of the indigenous peoples of Darfur are not expected to vote for Arman. Nor are certain southern elements including the followers of the splinter group SPLM for Democratic Change led by Lam Akol, a former foreign minister, who is running on a separate presidential ticket. Akol, an ethnic Shilluk, has revealed that a considerable segment of the southern Sudanese population are not pro-SPLM and uphold the politics of contention that have marked the southern people's dissatisfaction with both the SPLM and the government. What remains unknown is how many southern Sudanese will not vote for the SPLM. In any case, the SPLM has a support base in the northern and western Sudan as much as in the south.

    This long election campaign is reminiscent of American presidential elections in all aspects except that there are not two main contenders representing two giant parties -- the Democrats and the Republicans -- but a plethora of parties of distinct ideological orientations.

    What is unique about the current Sudanese election campaign is that the major parties are fielding unconventional presidential candidate. The Popular Congress Party headed by Sudan's chief Islamist ideologue Sheikh Hassan Al-Turabi has nominated a southern Muslim, the charismatic ethnic Dinka Abdullah Nhial Deng. In return, Turabi's PCP will receive a proselytising mission in southern Sudan.

    The stunt is admirably good policy and it could still prove a canny bargain for both leaders. In Darfur the story is different. The Sudanese government while trumpeting a peaceful engagement with the locals, were relying heavily on local Arabised Darfur tribesmen from the onset. Both forces are now starring at defeat. They are now seen as just another militia.

    With the exception of Al-Bashir's NCP, the main contenders are putting forward candidates who are fresh faces, with the party leaders taking the back seat. This might prove to be a profitable ploy. Deng plays down Al-Turabi's past autocratic leanings.

    Arman plays a similar role for the SPLM and may prove to be a brilliant election winner precisely because he does not play dirty politics.

    The move highlights two trends. The first is the need for original thinkers and non-traditional politicians to lead the presidential race. The second is the lure of political figures who cannot be pigeon-holed into the mosaic of Sudan's multi- ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural potpourri.

    The key test of Arman's popularity is how many votes he can garner nationwide. Recent Sudanese history demonstrates that new faces in politics are not always welcome. But Arman, like Deng, is relatively well known, being deputy speaker of the Sudanese parliament. Even if Arman does not win a landslide victory in the north, this will not necessarily lead to his political demise. To begin with, northern Sudan was never the SPLM's to lose.

    One of the main grievances of the SPLM has been the lack of implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed between the SPLM and the Sudanese government then dominated by the ruling NCP. The SPLM is not heading for the exit from northern Sudan. Rather, it hopes by its election victory to fully implement the CPA.

    The CPA has bumbled along for the past five years but only because the SPLM compelled restraint. It held the ring until the political process in the aftermath of ongoing disputations concerning the CPA, much to its credit.

    So what is the balance sheet?

    The Sudanese government is hailing the elections as an example of how far the country has come. "The forthcoming elections will demonstrate to the world that Sudan is a true and vibrant democracy," Sudan's Ambassador to Egypt Abdel-Rahman Sirr Al-Khatim told Al-Ahram Weekly.

    That deceptive calm of the past few months has been buffeted by sporadic outbreaks of violence in southern Sudan, reflecting ongoing ethnic and regional rivalries.

    Interest in southern Sudan is quickening. China, the West, and several Arab countries have stepped up investment. The economy is robust in spite of the infighting and the international financial crisis.

    Politicians often seem to ride on the coat tails of business leaders. Whoever wins, even if it's Al-Bashir, will be beholden to the new economic promise. But this is dependent on peace and political stability. Sudan cannot afford a repeat of the implosion in Darfur and in other marginal regions of the sprawling country.

    The SPLM's choice for presidential candidate is being bandied about as bait to hook the country on Western-style democracy. Even so, it is a gesture that opens up strategic opportunities of benefit for northern secularists. That is the nightmare religious zealots seeks to avoid.


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