Title: Sudan: Romancing the Gun (حجبته الواشنطون بوست ) *Abdullahi A. Ibrahim
Author: عبدالله علي إبراهيم
Date: 05-07-2014, 06:19 AM
In 1988, I made a forlorn visit to the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in Khartoum. I wanted to deliver a note protesting a scheduled appearance of Colonel John Garang de Mobior, the charismatic leader of the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), before the German Bundestag. I reasoned in my petition that giving audience in a democratically elected body to a boycotter of democracy at home would send a dispiriting message to Sudanese democrats. Hopes of these democrats hinged on Garang contesting the 1986 elections in order to use his electoral weight in the then southern Sudan region to tip the balance for the secular agenda of the 1985 popular uprising that ousted President Nimerie after 17 years of personal rule. To the dismay of Sudanese democrats Garang decided to boycott the 1986 elections claiming that it would only bring the same old “traditional parties” and their ugly ways. He would rather continue the fight to implement a “new democracy” altogether. Having to fight a war in addition to putting in order the country after a long dictatorship, the restored democratic system ran amok. A veteran politician described its sorrow state as a discarded bone that dogs can grab it undeterred. In 1989, a military coup, allegedly instigated by an Islamist party, put the system to rest. Sixteen years later Garang would be signing a comprehensive peace agreement with this military regime that led to the creation of two Sudans in 2011.
This dangerous romancing of the gun came back to me with the news of the visit paid by Mani Arko Manawi, the rebel leader of the Sudan Liberation Front-Darfur, in April to Holland and France. I was stunned to see him granted visas to these countries when the trail of tears he left behind in Darfur, presently in a Hobbesian state of war of all against all, is still raw. On the second and again on the thirteenth of March his forces attacked four villages in Northern Darfur State. Reports on the destruction of government and services installations in these villages aside, the attacks are especially criticized for being motivated by ethnic prejudice and for causing students and families immense hardships at final exams time. The Berti people, the dominant community in the villages, believe that Manawi targeted them to settle scores with Osman Kibir, the Berti governor of the state. In fact an attempt on Kibir’s life in the context of these attacks was made and failed. Worse still some would view the attacks as being executed in alliance with Musa Hilal, the infamous leader of the Janjaweed of the mid-2000s. The Berti are frustrated for being targeted wholesale for having the governor of the state from their rank.
Unfortunately, the attacks came at the wrong time for the students sitting for entrance exams to various levels of education. The insecurity in the villages caused the government to postpone the finals until alternative centers were established in government-controlled towns. Make-shift halls and dorms were built; the UNICEF provided the bathrooms, the government mosquito nets, and some NGOs donated food for 10 days. A story reported by the press about Aziza Ahmed Muhammad of one of these villages is graphic in showing the hardship students went through during the finals season. Aziza did not want to miss the exam or be sent far away to the state capital to take the exam. Instead, she chose to travel to Dien, the nearby capital of Eastern Darfur state. It took her three hours walking to get to the nearest bus depot. She reached Dien one day late to miss out on the test on the Glorious Quran.
Not unlike Garang’s invitation to address the Bundestag, Manawi’s free entry to European capitals in the aftermath of his destructive campaign in Darfur sends an unsettling message to civil society activists who never gave up on restoring democracy by peaceful, popular means like they did in 1964 and 1985. Embracing violence, in Ursula K. Le Guin, is to lose everything else. In courting rebels, Western well-intended, unnervingly long and pricey projects to bring peace to Sudan have been losing everything else. The on-going genocidal wars in South Sudan are a tragic proof that espousing violence comes with a heavy price tag. The mayhem in the new country underscores the need to disengage, blacklist, and sanction rebels like Manawi who harass and hurt civilians irrespective of the justice of their cause. I am gladdened that Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the United Nations and an ardent supporter of the creation of South Sudan, is not averse now to impose sanctions against “political spoilers and those who target civilians.”
* Abdullahi A. Ibrahim is an emeritus professor of history at the University of Missouri-Columbia and a presidential hopeful in 2010 elections in Sudan. His Manichaean Delirium: Decolonizing the Judiciary and Islamic Renewal in the Sudan, 1898-1985 was published by Brill in 2008.