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INTERVIEW: Sudanese communist leader urges govt to admit Darfur crimes

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By Ahmed Elzobier

June 19, 2007 (KHARTOUM) — The leader of the Sudanese Communist Party (SCP) has called on the Sudanese government to acknowledge crimes committed in Darfur and to assume its responsibility.

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Ibrahim Nugud, the Secretary General of the SCP

In an interview with the Sudan Tribune, Mohamed Ibrahim Nugud, the Secretary General of the SCP said that Khartoum has to "admit to all the crimes they have committed in Darfur, in any venue of their choosing, be it in the International Criminal Court or inside Sudan – they have to admit what they have done”

Nugud also, accused the Sudanese government of backing the Jajaweed militia and urged their disarmament "because [the authorities] have funded and trained them and made the whole situation so complex and tragic."

The communist leader praised the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed on January 9, 2005 between the Sudanese government and the former rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement

"The CPA as an end result is a positive agreement; it stopped the war, opened the road to peace, and gave southern Sudan the right for self-determination after a referendum."

However, he regretted that the CPA "addressed many issues in abstract terms and did not take into account the experience of the Sudanese political movements."

Asked on the seriousness of the ruling National Congress Party the (NCP) to implement the CPA, Nugud said "they are just using delaying tactics, and they are also actively bribing and corrupting the SPLM members."

He also expected lack of fairness, accuracy and transparency in the next general elections to be held during 2009.

“The political parties will delude themselves if they think the NCP will allow fair and free elections to take place. We have to be alert because they will defraud the election and they may even use some techniques that we might not be able to spot."

Speaking about the ongoing preparation for the fifth Congress of the party, the secretary general said that regional conferences are organised in different cities around Sudan.

He further reiterated the commitment of the SCP to the Marxist orientation. "We think Marx’s analysis of capitalism in the 19th century was useful and we use his methods as a tool to examine the current situation. We are advocating socialism in a multi-party system." He said.

The following is the text of the interview with an introductive presentation:-

PROFILE:

The Sudanese Communist Party (SCP) founded in 1946, was a major force in Sudanese politics and one of the two most influential, along with the South African Communist Party, until 1971.

In 1946 the party was known as the Sudanese Movement for National Liberation (SMNL). It supported the struggle for national independence, gained by the Sudan in 1956, after which the SMNL changed its name into al-Hizb al-Shuyu`i al-Sudani (Sudanese Communist Party). It was the founder of the Sudan Workers’ Trade Union Federation (SWTUF) in 1950 and had strong ties with the organizations of railway workers and cotton growers. Recruiting its members among workers, students and new professionals, the party remained a rather weak political force but joined the Front of Opposition Parties (FOP) against the military regime of 1958, which was brought down by the October uprising of 1964. In 1967 the Muslim Brotherhood succeeded in having the SCP outlawed as an atheist organization but it re-established itself as the Socialist Party of the Sudan. Divided on its position towards the ‘Free Officers’ of Ja`far al-Nimeiri who took power in 1969 after the failure of a counter coup d’état by communist officers in 1971, the party was outlawed again and its leader Abd al-Khaliq Mahjub executed. Continuing its activities underground the SCP did not regain its legal status until 1985. After the military takeover of 1989 the SCP, being banned once again, joined the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) which aims at democracy and autonomy for the south of the Sudan.

The NDA was founded as an un¬derground organization in Khar¬toum in September 1989, only three months after the military coup by General Omar al-Bashir, who, in June 1989, was responsi¬ble for putting the present regime of the National Islamic Front in power. The NDA was formed from all the Sudanese opposition par¬ties. Their leaders operated from Cairo, since it was impossible for them to develop political activities in Sudan itself.

The Sudan Tribune interviewed Mr. Mohamed Ibrahim Nugud, the Secretary General of the Communist Party since 1972, who is known to be a pragmatic and shrewd political operator. He has been involved in politics since the early 1950s and has spent almost all his political career working underground. Following the Aboud regime (1958–64) he was elected as a Member of Parliament in 1965, and then went into hiding from 1971 to 1985 and was arrested in 1989. In 1990 he was released under house arrest until 1994 and then again went into hiding till 2006.

After the 1985 uprising, the party introduced this new political leader for the first time in a rally at Khartoum University; many people admired his political humor, wit and self-effacement. Mr. Nugud was elected as Member of Parliament in 1986 representing the Al Amarat & Aldiem constituency in Khartoum. His parliamentary performance was mesmerizing and amusing and people still remember his first statement about the Sudan budget, when he dissected with endearing Sudanese proverbs and anecdotes the proposed budget by Al Sadig Al Mahadi’s Government.

However, many ex-Communist Party members criticized him for slowing down the process of change in the structure and political direction of his party and stifling free debate within the party institutions.

To his credit this veteran political leader proved to be an astute political survivor and is largely responsible, and of course with his party colleagues, for the Communist Party still being an integral part of the country’s political map. Although suffering from an ever-dwindling membership since 1989 the Party has earned the respect of the Sudanese in general and the other Sudanese political parties.

In this interview Mr. Nugud addressed many key issues ranging from the Independence of Sudan, privatization and corruption in Sudan, the Darfur crisis, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the Communist Party, Marxism and Socialism in Sudan.

HISTORY, POLITICS AND THE ECONOMIC SITUATION IN SUDAN:

- Since independence Sudan has lacked political stability and many reports now describe this country as potentially a failing state – what in your opinion went wrong? Who do we have to blame if this country disintegrates?

Nugud: There are many issues that have not been resolved since independence – the Southern Sudan situation, Darfur and Eastern Sudan, and the grievances in the far North of Sudan. In general the main issues of what we know now as marginalisation in term of ethnicity, culture or socio-economic injustice has never been taken seriously since the independence of Sudan. These issues should have been tackled much earlier. In relation to southern Sudan, unfortunately the failure started with a series of broken promises the Sudanese politicians told the southern Sudanese MPs before independence, including that “if you vote with us we will give you federal status in the south”. The southern MPs believed them and voted for the independence of Sudan, but the northern Sudanese politicians reneged on their promises.

Of course, people from the marginalised regions did not feel that independence brought any benefits to them. Northern Sudan (from north Khartoum to Halafa) was more advanced at the time than most of the country, but now you’ll find the population of Umbada (a densely populated area in the city of Omdurman) is more than the northern sate population, and there is huge depopulation in that region as well at the moment.

We in the SCP have always maintained that Sudanese political forces have not addressed the main independence issues seriously, even if we look back at the TV footage of Independence Day during the change of the flags ceremony. How come they never thought of involving any southern Sudanese, beside Ismeal Al Azahri (First Prime Minister of Sudan representing the unionist party) and Mohamed Ahmed Al Mahagoub (Umma Party leader), in this symbolic ceremony?

The entire nation supported independence but the Sudan National Political movement missed that rather crucial moment to make serious changes in the country. Unfortunately the practice of Arabisation and Islamisation in the south has also started since that time and even political leaders such as Sheikh Ali Abdelrahman — a leading Unionist Party Member — are among the first people to lead Arabisation and Islamisation programs.

The ruling political parties failed to maintain power after independence and handed the government over to the military generals, lead at the time by General Ibrahim Aboud in 1958 (the Aboud regime). However, the October uprising in 1964 was a landmark in the political history of Sudan. It has two main features; firstly, all the slogans came from a grassroots level across the country, secondly, the new forces (trade unions, students’ movements etc) dominate the streets and through demonstrations and civil disobedience the issues of social change became part of the political agenda. Also in October, while the Sudanese Communist Party became high profile, there appeared on the horizon the Islamist Movement working in the opposite direction to the SCP social change program.

The October uprising addressed three very important issues: Firstly, finding a solution to the southern Sudan problem through a round table conference which took place in 1965, and for the first time the issue of regional autonomy status to the south (proposed by the Communist Party since 1956) became accepted by all political forces. Secondly, the reform of the local and tribal administrative laws. Thirdly, the reform of Sudan’s civil service, especially the bureaucratic structure that collaborates with Aboud’s regime.

- What went wrong?

Nugud: October’s slogans have not been transformed into a real policy. Looking back at the southern Sudan issue starting from the unfulfilled promises by the Sudanese politicians, Aboud’s regime tried to resolve the issue militarily and failed. The October 1964 uprising round table conference recommended a regional autonomy status to the south, but the recommendation was not implemented by the ruling parties during the second democratic period from 1964–69. Al Nimeiri’s regime after 1969 adopted the round table conference recommendations and succeeded in signing a peace agreement with the rebels in Addis Abba in 1972. But Al Nimeirie also reneged on his promises and the war started again in 1983.

SPLM and Garang learned from their past experience and the cycle of broken promises and they decided that the problem is not only southern Sudan, the problem is all Sudan. I think it’s a far-sighted vision and that is why all the negotiations of peace agreements are now being done outside the country and with international monitors.
Our political party’s contribution in that period was towards the idea of civil disobedience as a method of overthrowing Aboud’s regime. Our attempt was successful and with the help of nationalist army officers the regime resigned and a new government was formed.
To sum it up all, the vital issues since independence have not been resolved in Sudan. All the other African countries, except maybe Egypt and South Africa, are still struggling with post-independence issues as well.

- Can you tell us about the political atmosphere before the 30th June 1989 coup?

Nugud: The political atmosphere was positive and there was a kind of guarded optimism, especially after Garang and Al Merghani’s (Democratic Unionist Leader) peace initiative in November 1988. The political parties agreed to hold a national conference to address the issue, however the ruling party at the time, the Umma Party lead by Al Sadiq Al Mahadi, chose to oppose the initiative. It may have been political jealousy or because he doesn’t trust Grang or Al Merghani. I think that was a grave miscalculation and he chose to ally himself with the more right-wing position lead by the National Islamic Front (NIF) at the time. Then the army commanders wrote a memorandum in February 1989. Although the points raised were reasonable, our party warned that this could invite any reckless military officer to use these points as a reason to topple the democratically elected regime. However, the army commanders’ memorandum created a new momentum and all the political parties came together in the Republican Palace in Khartoum and a new government was formed including all the parties except the NIF. Contact was made with the SPLM and a date was set to activate the Garang and Al Merghani’s peace initiative and the possibility of success was high – that could have been a Sudanese solution to the issue of the south in 1989.

- In 1988 all the Sudanese political parties signed what is known as the Defence of Democracy Pact, except the NIF – what happened to it?

Nugud: Regarding the Defence of Democracy Pact, unfortunately it had been just a declaration of principles, there was no mechanism or procedure in place to support it in terms of committees from all political parties organising an immediate resistance to any military coup. Even inside the parliament, when the failed military coup before 30th June lead by General Elzobier became known, nobody took any action to activate the Pact. Inside the army there was incomprehensible complacency and negligence while the army’s commander, Lieutenant General Fathi Ahmed Ali, engaged in a series of briefings with his sub-commanders about their situation. His private secretary at the time, someone named Saeid Al Hassein, was involved with the 30 June military coup conspirators, and helped them to know the details of the army’s movement by taking advantage of his strategically sensitive position. He was later appointed as Governor of Kordofan after the 30 June 1989 coup d’état.

- It was reported early last month that you participated in a meeting with other political leaders (Omer Al Bashier, Al Sadiq Al Mahadi, Hassan Al Trabi) in relation to the National Reconciliation Initiative chaired by Siwar Al Dahab. What was discussed and what was the outcome of your meeting?

Nugud: The National Reconciliation Initiative committee contacted us and said they wanted to listen to the Sudanese parties’ opinions on the current political situation. Myself and two other party members met them and we stated our opinion. However, the committee finished its report and they decided to present the outcome to the Sudanese parties’ political leaders. I thought our representative Dr Alshafia Khadir would attend that ceremony but they insisted that I should attend. I did so at Siwar Al Dahab’s house and we were informed that the committee had finished its report and no discussion took place, and we had dinner and that’s all. We will respond to its recommendations soon.

- Do you think these kinds of initiatives will achieve anything?

Nugud: As an initiative it’s not really bad, it has proposed some solutions within the current political status and we can’t ignore its validity, but it will not cancel out other private parties’ initiatives on issues like Darfur, CPA… etc.

You know, after the military coup, which was radical Islamist in nature, there was no compromise with anybody. Then the opposition formed the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) as an umbrella and they succeeded in involving the SPLM for the first time in this new alliance. The NDA succeeded in achieving the 1995 Asmara declaration which was a kind of road map to solving Sudan’s problems (which was later included in the Naivasha agreement).

The regime went in a very radical direction. Then September 11 happened and the Sudan Government was cornered by the American and international communities and they gave everything the Americans wanted, including intelligence files.

All the issues that we used to resolve as Sudanese now came under the supervision and monitoring of the international community. The international community was not just involved as an observer, they became active actors in Sudanese issues. They delivered food to our IDPs and they supported and act as guarantor of the Naivasha Agreement through The Inter-governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the Friends of IGAD – Norway, Italy, Great Britain, and the United Sates of America – and the agreement will be monitored by the UN, so things have changed in Sudan.

Now, if you look at the Darfur issue, I think Darfurians in the Diaspora learned from the south experience and they were very clever, they took their case to the international community and people listened to them. They have played a vital role in the mobilisation of international opinion and now the Darfur crisis has become part of the daily diet of every American family.

Although, as Sudanese opposition, we brought about the 1995 declarations, Sudan was already burning in the east, the south, the Nuba Mountains and Darfur.

This is the trap we are now in, that Sudan is under the control of the international community. We brought this on ourselves due to a series of failures throughout our political history. Although as a party we alerted others to this unfolding tragedy, we don’t have enough influence to change the course of history.

- A few weeks ago your party participated in a workshop organised by the Institute of Democracy and Electoral Advancement (IDEA). The workshop addressed issues such as political reforms, democracy inside the parties, and the electoral laws. Do you think the opposition parties, including your own party, are prepared for the general election in 2008/09?

Nugud: Listen, in Sudan if you are in opposition you will never lose. There have been many complimentary messages and articles in various newspapers in the last few days because of our efforts in relation to press freedom and especially the contribution of our parliamentary members in the annual budget debate. Our parliamentary team sat here in this room with a team of the party’s economists for hours and they examined and analysed the budget items thoroughly. In the parliament our MPs gave the Financial Minister a hard time. We received some complimentary messages from people who we considered our enemies. Sadly people outside Sudan don’t know these details and they are far removed from the situation.

I think all the efforts against this government since they took power will make fighting for election a continuation to that struggle.

I think losing a great leader like John Garang will have some effect. In retrospect I think Garang acted without the required cautiousness in that type of situation – how come he allowed himself to travel in someone else’s plane, and during the night? What was so urgent to discuss with Museveni anyway? I think this a really a big tragedy and an unnecessary loss for all of us. I think there was no conspiracy, just a tragic accident that could have been avoided.

Back to your question, I think political parties could be ready to enter the election, but the political parties will delude themselves if they think the National Congress Party (NCP) will allow fair and free elections to take place. We have to be alert because they will defraud the election and they may even use some techniques that we might not be able to spot. Sudanese people are in desperate need and the NCP have access to the state finance they could use this advantage in providing services to the people for election purposes.

PRIVATISATION

- One of the deadliest policies that affected the majority of Sudanese people is NCP’s privatisation policy, including the health service, and the education sector. What is your party’s view on this issue?

Nugud: Privatisation is now an international trend, especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union which escalated the current phenomenon. However, in Sudan privatisation has been done in favour of the ruling party and not for the benefit of the national economy. There were some successful and profitable public sector companies that should have remained in the public sector, such as The Leather Tannery Company. Privatisation was a policy imposed by the World Bank & International Monetary Fund (IMF) and aimed at destroying the gains of the Nationalistic movement after independence.

In general the whole privatisation process which took place in Sudan went into the pockets of the National Islamic Front members. For example, there was a Bank named Niema which doesn’t exit any more, it simply disappeared and people took money from the bank and did not repay it. Including high ranking members of the NCP party. And another example, Bank Omdurman Al Watani (The National Bank of Omdurman) which is literally financing the Sudan army. All the leading figures in the NCP took money without any of the regular financial procedures and recently people discovered that this Bank could not pay a simple cheque of, say, one million Sudanese pounds ($500,000). The paradox is that Al Bashier himself is the president of this bank.

In education, private schools were limited before the current privatisation policy, however, many new private schools have now opened because of the collapse of the government financed schools, and even universities are owned by individuals. Privatisation in Sudan is part of a capitalist direction, unlike the usual status after independence where the public sector provided income for the State to finance services to the people… and now we have lost all of that.

CORRUPTION

- Sudan is now considered one of the most corrupt countries in the world, what do you think is the reason this country has a high level of corruption?

Nugud: The matter of corruption is linked to your previous question, take the issue of government tenders for example. There are now eight companies within a holding company named Danfodio and every tender related to the government’s economic activities has to come through this company. With no regard to the issue of conflict of interest, the Governor of Khartoum owns a number of companies involved in the construction of roads, buildings and parks that you see around Khartoum. What is really astonishing now is that the land in Khartoum, with its despicable infrastructure and services, is far more expensive than London. The companies are all owned by the government and no one knows where the profits go, and the Chinese are involved in all this corruption as well, especially in the oil sector. This is by far the most corrupt regime ever in the history of the country. The ruling party has made this country its private property.

- How can all this be resisted?

Nugud: Since December 2006 there have been more than 40 strikes in Sudan. These strikes are not because people want a salary rise or improved working conditions, these people went into strikes because they did not get paid. I think that to have more than 40 strikes in six months is a high percentage by any account and this has never happened before in the history of strikes in Sudan, although strikes are illegal according to the current laws. This simply show you the people’s readiness to fight for their rights.

I have traced back the history of strikes in Sudan from 1903 up to the beginning of the trade union movement in 1947. I find that we now have some of the worst laws regulating the trade unions in the history of Sudan and as a result workers have lost their rights. One example – in one day in the early 1990s the Deputy Governor of the Nile State, Mr Mohamed Al Hasan Al Amien, made more than 3,000 railway workers redundant and literally destroyed the railway in Sudan, which was considered by all standards to be the cheapest and safest means of transport in the country.

COMPREHENSIVE PEACE AGREEMENT

- What is your party’s view on the implementation of the CPA?

Nugud: The CPA as an end result is a positive agreement; it stopped the war, opened the road to peace, and gave southern Sudan the right for self-determination after a referendum. However, one of its shortcomings is that it addressed many issues in abstract terms and did not take into account the experience of the Sudanese political movements. Just look at the Abyei problem, it could have been resolved in a different way if they had taken our Sudanese experience into account if they invited the elders of both tribes (Dinka & Misseriya) and previous civil administrators in the area. It would be far more beneficial if the sponsors of the agreement invited the Sudanese political leaders to give advice as part of their more than 22 think tanks that advised them on different components of the agreement. All this was built around the notion that the NCP appeared to be powerful. This idea was essentially triggered by a paper presented by Dr Francis Deng entitled “One state with two systems”. The agreement is exactly that, one state with two systems, and it divided power exclusively between the SPLM and the NCP and never paid any attention to other, differing, Sudanese political opinions. This is the main defect of the agreement. They thought that because the old political parties had failed and now they had the NCP under their control and they had them cornered through their record of human rights abuses and terrorism charges, the NCP would now listen to them.

- Do you think the NCP is serious in implementing the agreement?

Nugud They are just using delaying tactics, and they are also actively bribing and corrupting the SPLM members.

ABOUT THE SUDANESE COMMUNIST PARTY:

- I have come across many reports describing your party as, even now, the second largest Communist Party in Africa and the Middle East after the South African and Iraq Communist Parties. How do you react to that?

Nugud: To say that we are one of the biggest parties in Africa or the Middle East is not really true. All this comes from Al Nimeiri’s regime when he used to brag that he had destroyed the biggest Communist Party in Africa

- In the 61 years since 1946 your party has become an integral part of the Sudan political map, by any accounts it was an epic journey. How did your party manage to survive against all the odds over the years?

Nugud: There was no heroism, since it started the party has been connected to people’s movements, trade unions, workers, teachers, farmers, and students working in the local areas, especially during election periods. I think, in general, the Sudanese political movement has succeeded in keeping its identity and political structure despite the totalitarian regimes and dictatorships that have mostly ruled Sudan during the post-independence period. I think credit should go to the nature of the entire Sudanese political movement and it’s not something that is exclusively associated with our party. The international socialist/communist movement gave us status and support.
Also, the type of people who joined the party have not entered it for romantic reasons, they came through workers’ unions, students’ movements, and whenever there was a vacuum that could be filled by another cadre, this gave us the ability to compensate for our losses.
We also learned from our experience during Aboud’s regime how to improve our party’s underground methods in protecting ourselves and the party. As a party we do not depend on tribe or sect, we only depend on our membership, and our expansion after October 1964 had helped us. All of these factors have enabled the party to survive three military dictatorships aiming to destroy it.

The Cold War period gave us a status which was much bigger than our actual size and influence. In reality there were no miracles and nothing heroic and all other political parties have done the same, most of our skills have just been accumulated through trial and error.

- Who supports your party?

Nugud: Since the start of the first Marxist cells back in 1946, they quickly transformed into practical units operating among workers and mobilising the streets. Although we have never had a properly democratic period to allow us work freely and recruit, nevertheless, the party has supporters among workers, farmers, students, women’s groups, minority groups, in the Nuba Mountains, in the South and in Darfur.

- How do you react to people who describe your party as much weaker today than in 1960s or 1980s – your membership is dwindling, you have lost prominent members of your party, you have very limited influence in current political affairs and are on the political margins of Sudan?

Nugud: We know all about that, we have members being made redundant and losing their jobs, and some of our members have left the country and live in exile, but we are working on regaining our strength.

- It has been reported that your party is organising this year’s 5th conference. What issues will you be addressing in this conference?

Nugud: There is a discussion paper that has been circulating around the party since the 1990s, and because of the political situation we were not able to set any time for a discussion period. Now we have summarised the discussion outcome and the summary will be introduced in the party conference. We will also present a political report covering the period from the 4th conference, a paper on the party manifesto and constitution. Also there will be reports on the situation from other communist parties in the world.

Now we have started regional conferences in many cities around Sudan. These conferences will address their tasks and duties and will present their recommendations and representatives. We have a conference organising committee which will be responsible for all the logistics, and we also have a constitution committee, manifesto committee, recruitment and membership committee.

- What is your view now on totalitarianism in general, could it be justified under any ideological justification, socialist or Islamist or nationalist?

Nugud: In short, we were against totalitarian regimes and one-party systems, even before the collapse of the Soviet Union.

- Is your party still Marxist? Do you it still consider Marxism as relevant to the complex world we live in now?

Nugud: We are still committed to our Marxist orientation. We think Marx’s analysis of capitalism in the 19th century was useful and we use his methods as a tool to examine the current situation. We are advocating socialism in a multi-party system.

THE DARFUR SITUATION:

- What do you think the solution should be to the Darfur crisis?

Nugud: The solution for the Darfur crisis: Firstly the Government should admit to all the crimes they have committed in Darfur, in any venue of their choosing, be it in the International Criminal Court or inside Sudan – they have to admit what they have done. Secondly, the Janjweed should be disarmed by the Government because they have funded and trained them and made the whole situation so complex and tragic.

Going back in history, during the 1976 agreement with the Nimeiri regime, there was talk of the Savana belt (from Darfur to the southern Blue Nile) in order to maintain and protect Sudanese Arabic and Islamic culture. There is also the land issue, and the pastoralists actively engaged in evicting African tribes from their fertile land, and the deliberate act of burning villages and looting people’s belongings that was part of the general plan.

After Rwanda and Yugoslavia the international community decided not to allow such things to happen, there is no solution unless the people who suffered from these acts are compensated and safely returned to their villages.

There are also the geopolitic factors involving Chad, Sudan, Libya, France and the USA.

- Finally, Mr Nugud, you wrote a well-known book a few years ago about slavery in Sudan, what prompted you to investigate this issue?

Nugud: My motives came from my thinking that there are three issues that have shaped Sudanese society’s psychological make up – slavery, African beliefs, and Sufism. The documents available to me at the time in the Sudan Records Office were on slavery, so I wrote the book from the limited sources available there. I just wanted to find how the Sudanese society had been shaped? That is all.

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Kind regards,

The Sudan Tribune editorial team.

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