Home | Comment & Analysis    Sunday 22 January 2017

Armed Struggle and Civil Resistance in Sudan: A catch 22 situation


By Elwathig Kameir

1. The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) issued a press statement, on Jan. 17, declining a US initiative (of which I have seen a copy) for the delivery and distribution of humanitarian relief. In a letter to the US special envoy, Donald Booth, (of which I also have a copy ) dated Jan. 12, the chairperson of SPLM-N set out six preconditions to be met before accepting the American proposal. Again, the SPLM-N has reiterated its position, during a meeting between some of its leaders with international envoys: the US, British, French, Norwegian, and representatives of USAID, in Paris on Jan. 17.

2. In my opinion, the rejection of the US initiative is a miscalculated step on the part of the SPLM-N’s leadership, starting with intentionally delaying the announcement of its position Jan. 13, the date that the US administration fixed for declaring its stance regarding sanctions on Sudan. Perhaps, the leadership of the SPLM-N has mistakenly assume that since the term of the Obama administration is about to end, it would not dare lift the sanctions. Thus, the whole matter will soon be in the hands of President Trump’s administration, allowing the SPLM-N a large margin for maneuver and room for disrupting the negotiation process, hoping, perhaps, for the outbreak of Al-intifada or a swing in the mood of the international community in favor of the opposition. In addition, the declaration by the President of the Republic, on the 1stt of January 2017, of a ceasefire for a month, which was followed by a Council of Ministers’ resolution extending the truce for another six months, with effect from January 30, has confounded the calculations of the SPLM-N’s leadership, especially since the government will be praised by the international community for agreeing to the US initiative for the delivery of aid, thus restricting the options available to the SPLM-N outside the context of negotiations.

3. In fact, this position raises many legitimate questions about the position of the SPLM-N towards the citizens of the Two Areas, particularly when the bulk of the humanitarian aid is largely medicines and medical equipments. Added to that, the proposal commits the US government to determine the origin of the humanitarian relief and the appropriate routing for itd delivery to the areas under the control of the SPLM-N, after clearing the intended assistance with the Sudanese customs/immigration at some point within Sudan. The fundamental question, which I have never seized repeating, is about the continued viability/feasibility of armed struggle, especially in terms of the inability to protect innocent civilians, and also the incapacity to provide food for the victims of the war. Perhaps, most importantly, these people, who really bear the consequences, have not been consulted on the decision of resorting to armed resistance.

4. In this regard, I had sent a lengthy letter to the Chairman of SPLM-N, on 23 April, 2012, which was widely published (see, Sudantribune.com), in 8 November, 2015. The message started with underlining the disastrous effects, and far-reaching consequences, of the unabatedly continued violent fighting and bloody confrontations in the Two Areas, since 5 June, 2011. On top of these : the loss of life and disabilities, a grim and grievous humanitarian crisis, an appalling human rights situation, the destruction of infrastructure; and threatening the livelihoods and lives of people in the "Tamazuj" zone between the North and the South. Indeed, one could imagine, after five years have passed since that date, the increasing casualties, the exacerbation of peoples’ suffering, and depriving children of their legitimate right to education and health care. The letter also underlined the adverse impacts of the war on the grassroots of the SPLM-N and its organizational structure, disrupting the process of drafting the vision and the Program Framework, resulting in the disintegration of the SPLM-N, and the fragmentation of its membership into a number of factions, along ethnic/ regional lines, competing for recognition and registration as political parties.

5. The gist of the message, and what followed in my published articles, and subsequent letters to the Chairman of the SPLM-N, is that the armed struggle is no longer the right tool, or the most promising mechanism/means, for achieving the aspirations of the masses to a real change in their lives. In the final analysis, it is the marginalized people in the Two Areas who remain both the fuel and victims of the war. Therefore, the question is: for how long would they remain steadfast and resilient, and for how long they will continue to pay the high cost and exorbitant price? If the armed struggle, which lasted for decades, resulted in achieving SPLM’s goal of secession of the south, it is not necessarily the best strategy for achieving the political objectives of the SPLM-N, under a completely different set of objective and subjective conditions.

6. The cherished political change may be difficult, if impossible, to realize in light of the prevalent "asymmetrical" situation, with respect to the means of change, whereas part of the opposition is pursuing armed struggle, while the other part espouses civil and peaceful resistance. In a previous article, I opined that since the launch of the "civil disobedience" initiative, in November 2016, the armed movements, have incessantly lent support to, and solidarity with, the peaceful youth movement, as a viable way to change, and reaching its final aim of overthrowing Al-Bashir’s ruling regime. The SPLM-N went further to advance specific practical proposals in the arena of peaceful political struggle. Thus, in a press statement, the Secretary-General of the SPLM-N called on “Sudanese nationals who hold foreign passports to organize a campaign for collective return to Sudan and challenge the regime (SPLM-N: Captivated by Civil Resistance, Sudantribune.com, January, 3, 2017).

7. In a remarkable turn, and perhaps for the first time, the leadership of the SPLM-N, publicly recognized that "armed struggle" was the preferred means of struggle during the early years of the dictatorship of the National Congress party. While, "at this point in time however, there is a qualitative change, and the peaceful mass movement is taking the lead. We can certainly say the peaceful resistance of the Sudanese people has been born again" (Speech of the Secretary General (SG) of the SPLM-N, at El Dorado Book, Oslo, Norway, January 10, 2017). There is no doubt, that this declaration is a step forward and sends a positive message, both internally and to the international community, of a new orientation toward civil and peaceful means for change, if the leaders of the SPLM-N manage this transformation well .

8. However, what I could not fathom is attributing the resort to armed struggle to the ruling Inqaz regime’s systematic destruction of "the peaceful means in the context of what they called the (empowerment policy)", in the words of the SPLM-N’s SG. It is no secret that armed struggle was the road taken by the SPLM/A since its inception, in May 1983, inspired by the past experiences of the resistance movements in southern Sudan, under the leadership of the late Dr. John Garang. That was during the last two years of President Nimeiri in power, while armed struggle continued for the whole duration of the elected governments (1986-1989), the "empowerment policy" was launched in the wake of the military takeover of the National Islamic Front (NIF) on 30 June 1989. Thereafter, the SPLM-N pursued the same means to achieve its political goals, since the outbreak of war in South Kordofan, on the 5th of June 2011. A question that arises here is the following: does the choice of resorting to arms in the earlier phase of the Inqaz regime mean that the "empowerment policy" has withered away, thus opening the door for themass movement to take the initiative and leadership?

9. It is imperative to note, that in the midst of celebrating the birth of the mass movement, the SG’s speech did not clearly explain the role of armed resistance, in the dynamics of the civil and political struggle for change, and how the SPLM-N relates to the peaceful forces of change? That is, with the exception 0f a timid reference, in the context of the speech’s presentation of the efforts to renew the SPLM-N, including to "critically examine the failures and successes of the national liberation movements and our means of struggle". However, neither a specific way is suggested as to how such examination will be carried out, nor is a time ceiling determined. Nevertheless, it is clear that the SPLM-N is seeking to build a broad political base, and to provide the leadership for this "new mass movement", having identified all of its components by the SG. These include: the official opposition and different alliances, new professionals and syndicate movements (medical doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, university lecturers, teachers unions, new social movement of youth, women, students, and movements of specific causes such as land grabbing, dams, farmers, internally displaced etc. In addition, to social media groups, who played a major role in the civil disobedience of November and December 2016.

10. In the initial version of the armed struggle, 1983 to 2005, the SPLM/A was the driving force of the political opposition, though from behind the scene, under the umbrella of the National Democratic Alliance. The SPLA was a fierce military force, occupying large stretches of land, thus earning remarkable influence and leverage on the overall political process, while the SPLM gained regional and international support. The keenness of the late leader, and Chairperson, of the SPLM/A in consolidating his alliance with Northern political parties was not only motivated by the objective of overthrowing the regime. Rather, essentially his intention was to win their hearts, and ensure a popular support-base, necessary for the political endorsement of the right of self-determination, an unquestionably national issue. However, it seems this time, that the goal of the SPLM-N of making alliances with civil forces is not precisely defined, excluding the painstaking research for the missing unified "mechanism" to, in the words of the SG, "bring together the opposition forces, from different backgrounds, with a minimal plan of action to remove the NCP government, and bring about a new socio-economic/political dispensation". Most of these forces (which were classified above) are scattered, disorganized, with a varied spectra and multiple entities, thus it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to seek their involvement in any organizational structure, however it is loosely defined. Moreover, the record and credit of the SPLM-N in alliance making is not promising. For instance, as the experience of the Revolutionary Front has failed and resulted into two conflicting splinter factions, along ethnic/regional lines.

11. If the leadership of the SPLM-N is genuine in endorsing the civil modalities of struggle, what is the nature and form of its contribution, while all the leaders of the Movement are either outside the country, or in the areas of military operations? Is this contribution a mere act of issuing statements to promote and encourage the civil and peaceful struggle, or appealing to the remaining members of the SPLM-N, who lack any semblance of organizational structure, to participate in this struggle, especially in the absence of leadership? Above all, what is the fate of the hundreds of thousands of people in the Two Areas, who are suffering from the scourge of war, being subjected to air bombardment, and paying their own lives as a price for a seemingly endless war. Particularly, when the speech of the SPLM’s SG admits that "the road to change is not an easy one. It is going to take a lot of effort in such a complex situation", which makes it impossible to determine a time frame for overthrowing the regime, thus compounding the loss of lives and increasing the pace of displacement and asylum.

12. It is as if the SPLM-N, albeit unintentionally, contributes to worsening the plight of civilians in the Two Areas, especially in the areas controlled by the SPLA, refusing to negotiate the political issues, except on the arrangements of power transition, confining negotiations, only, on the delivery of humanitarian aid (already showing an obstinate position regarding the US proposal, which is difficult to comprehend). And so, while the leadership of the SPLM-N is well aware that the issue of relief, in any case, cannot be isolated from the political issues, in conformity with the steps stipulated in the AUHIP roadmap, which was signed by the armed movements, albeit belatedly. The African roadmap remains the only document agreed to by the signatory parties as a reference for the management of the peace process. Of course, there is little doubt that there are violations and abuses of the roadmap by the government, particularly with regards to 1) the proposed "preparatory" meeting of the stakeholders, and 2) closing the door of the national dialogue, with those who attended only. However, these breaches should not necessarily stand in the way of the flow of humanitarian assistance to the needy, and putting a spoke in the wheels of stopping the war, and the resumption of the peaceful political process.

13. If the SPLM-N opted for the overthrow of the regime as the best route for realizing the desired change, its leadership would be obliged to answer a key question: does the SPLA have the capacity, in the short or medium term, to make a radical shift in the balance of forces on the ground? For how long will the citizens, in the war-affected areas, be held hostage to a prospective change contingent on factors that are beyond the control of the SPLM-N. It is important, for both the civil and military opposition to take notice of the implicit signals in the decision to lift the sanctions, and the significance of continuing efforts to ensure the delivery of the humanitarian assistance to the needy people in the Two Areas. With this intervention, the US is sending messages to these forces that weakening the ruling regime, let alone its downfall, in light of the current balance of forces, is not a favored policy toward Sudan. It is in America’s interest, as well as the European Union’s, from the national security perspective, that the regime remains intact, and in control of its national territories, in order to carry out the tasks they entrusted it with in the fields of counter-terrorism, human trafficking, and cooperation in dealing with regional conflicts, particularly in southern Sudan, and forcing the government to stay away from the parties that target the interests of US and its allies in the region.

14. Against this background, barring the occurrence of dramatic changes, in my opinion, the leaders of the SPLM-N remain accountable for the fate of hundreds of thousands of citizens, and their exposure to a dire humanitarian situation. This political and moral responsibility dictates the acceptance of the US proposal, as long as the government had agreed to it, thus reaching an agreement on cessation of hostilities. This is an important step for restoring and putting the political process back on track, after the collapse of the initial round of negotiations, which immediately followed the signing of the African roadmap by the armed movements and the National Umma Party, on 15 August, 2015.

15. I have repeatedly stressed, in previous articles, that the major obstacle for reaching an agreement with the government is divergence, of the two parties to the talks as regards both the scope and the expected outcome of the negotiations. While the SPLM-N calls for the inclusion of national constitutional issues in the agenda, the government insists on restricting negotiations to the Two Areas. Equally, national dialogue will be an exercise in futility and its findings will not lead to a national consensus on how to move the country forward to a better future, unless all Sudanese political parties and strong engaged societal forces agree on the "scope of change" required in the institutional and political structure(s) of the Sudanese state after more than a quarter a century of one-party rule.

16. Therefore, there is a strategic disagreement between the government and the SPLM-N, and the rest of the armed movements in Darfur, on what must come first: an agreement on political issues or a security-military agreement. In other words, the SPLM-N wants to preserve its army and its troops to ensure the realization of its political objectives, the raison d’etre for taking up arms. Meanwhile, the government is continuing to stick to its stated position of reaching a comprehensive security arrangements agreement, before delving into the negotiations on the political issues. In the same vein, at the level of the general political discourse, the opposition calls for expanding the scope of freedoms, especially freedom of association and expression, first, while the government sees that the launch of freedoms is contingent on ending the war, first. This is a Catch 22 situation, par excellence

17. Thus, in order to resolve this paradox, it is incumbent on all parties to agree on the end game of the dialogue process, so that each party comes to the table with an open mind, and confidence in the expected outcomes. On the side of the government, the NCP, and the ruling coalition, should recognize this predicament. This, in turn, requires the immediate embarking, following the conclusion of a cessation of hostilities agreement, on simultaneous and synchronized negotiations leading to a comprehensive political agreement (with political guarantees for the SPLM-N and its transformation into a political entity), while reaching a comprehensive security arrangements agreement, according to schedules and specific time ceilings.

The author is a former member of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement Leadership Council (SPLM) . He is reachable at kameir@yahoo.com

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