Date: Sun, 23 Mar 97 00:40:56 CST>
From: (Rich Winkel)
Subject: Sudan News & Views - 25

/** headlines: 176.0 **/
** Topic: Sudan News & Views - 25 **
** Written 9:22 AM Mar 20, 1997 by newsdesk in cdp:headlines **
/* Written 7:46 PM Mar 18, 1997 by in africa.horn */
/* ---------- "Sudan News & Views - 25" ---------- */

Two Events of Lasting Significance: The Arrival of Sadig Almahdi and Military Confrontation

By Alkhatim Adlan, in Sudan News & Views,, issue 25, March, 1997

During the last three months, the Sudanese political scene has been dominated by two events:

  1. The sudden arrival of Sadig Almahdi in Asmara, Eritrea in December 96.
  2. The escalation of military confrontation between the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and government forces along the eastern borders with Eritrea and Ethiopia in January this year.

Both events may prove to be of lasting significance for the future of Sudan, and that was why they gained very wide coverage in Sudanese and Arabic media.

Some points may still be relevant:

A warm welcome and some questions for Sadig

Having been subjected to continual harassment by the regime for more than seven years; detained five times; held hostage and seriously threatened; the arrival of Sadig was met with universal jubilation from Sudanese across the whole political spectrum. His unwavering defiance of the government; his outspoken and earnest call for the restoration of democracy; his readiness for military confrontation to guard his uncharted route out of Sudan; helped him regain some of the support he had lost through the despicable failure of his previous five governments.

Despite the euphoria inspired by his arrival, however, some important questions lingered in the air, and still do. Some of them are the following:

  1. Sharing the same ideological base with the National Islamic Front (NIF), and calling for an Islamic alternative of some sort, to be implemented democratically, has Sadig made any significant shift from his previous positions?
  2. Is he going to endorse the NDA documents signed by other leaders of his party? or is he going to insist on rewriting them, or at least trying to make some 'clarifications' of his own?
  3. Is he going to subordinate himself to the NDA or will he choose to continue to be a pole apart from it?
  4. Now that he is personally out of harm's way, are his tactics for the confrontation with the regime going to vary? And if yes, in what way and to what extent?

It might still be too early to provide any definitive answers to these and other questions. It is possible, however, to mention some indicators.

In a public statement to the Sudanese community in Cairo, Sadig expressed his full support for the Nairobi Declaration 93, in which NDA parties agreed to base civil rights on citizenship, regardless of race or religion and declared that international conventions on human rights would be part and parcel of the future Sudanese constitution. This, of course, is a secular position, but nobody is inclined to call it by that name, because the S word has fallen into disrepute due to the heavy bombardment of the fundamentalists who have succeeded in equating secularism with atheism, thanks to the lowly ceiling of political and philosophical discourse in the area.

But Sadig never tires of simultaneously repeating that the NIF government has deformed the 'Islamic slogan' through dogmatism and short sightedness; implying that an enlightened Islamic alternative is still possible in Sudan. He vaguely hinted, of late, in an interview with the Gezira Satellite Channel (GSC), that the Moslem majority in Sudan can satisfy its 'aspirations', i.e.: implementing Islam, democratically, without jeopardizing the 'rights' of non-Moslems - (Those rights presumably fall short of implementing Christianity).

These are familiar themes. They represent the basic flaw in Sadig's thought and deed. They are a trade mark for his tendency to have his cake and eat it. Sudanese have always expressed a tendency to look at the luminous side of things and a readiness to engage in wishful thinking. Whether they would rest, content with these contradictions, or whether they would demand of Sadig to spell out very clearly his position on the relation between religion and politics, depends largely on the extent to which they have drawn the right conclusions from their previous experience with him.

Asked about his relationship to the NDA, in the first press conference he held in Asmara, Sadig said he would confer with (them) and seek their advice. The impression he left was that the NDA wan not an 'institution' into which he would fit; but an 'organisation' with which he would deal. Further practice would shed more light on this issue.

Taking his son, Abdulrahman, to Asmara with him, Sadig seems to have left behind, with his other siblings, his seven-year old brain child 'Aljihad Almadani' (Civil Resistance). He significantly asked the armed forces to violently overthrow the government, reminding them that he happened to be the elected Prime Minister and representative of constitutional legitimacy.

He coupled that with a national call for 'hijra' in which he summoned all Sudanese youth to join the fight immediately. This is viewed by all as an extremely positive attitude, putting Sadig in the heart of the on-going military confrontation with the regime. His wide ranging diplomatic initiatives have gained enormous weight to the opposition and has put Sudan in the spotlight again.

There is a danger, however, that Sadig may become the victim of his own success and try to achieve a consensus around his person instead of being part of a national consensus on principles and issues. His not-too-distant history makes that danger real. It is in the best interests of Sudan, and of Sadig himself, if he would treat the NDA as an institution and try to fit into it. This will be highly welcome for all the parties of the opposition. A co-presidentship of the NDA with his friend and long-time ally, Mohamed Osman Almirghani, is something to think about.

Confrontation on the Eastern Border: Has the knell tolled?

The importance of the NDA's military victories on the eastern border can hardly be exaggerated. In a sweeping movement across the border, Kurmuk, Gissan, Menza, Yagora, Yabacher, Gadamayeb and others have been captured. The death toll among the government forces exceeded one thousand, others were arrested and almost a thousand of the People's Defence Forces (PDF), suddenly awakening to the real connotations of their name, joined the ranks of the opposition.

The Five-Stars-Hotel's opposition proved to be at home in the rough terrain of eastern Sudan; the appointment of Dr. John Garang as military leader proved to be anything else but an empty gesture; and the assistance from sisterly countries was shown to have gone to the right people.

On the other side, and from the southern-most part of Sudan, the SPLA has been on the move. The capture of Kaya and Yei is actually opening all the gates for Juba.

The government characteristically alleged that a foreign invasion, led by Ethiopia, Eritrea and Uganda, encouraged by the US and Israel, was taking place. Nobody believed the flagrant lie. Many, however, were mystified and confused. The government has previously boasted of divine support; armies of angels were said to fight side by side with the government forces. The flora and fauna of the south were declared government-friendly; trees shouting Allahu Akbar in unison; monkeys self-sacrificially treading on land mines and detonating them. Isn't it strange of such a government to complain and become hysterical when her enemies seek 'human' assistance from their neighbours?!

These developments have made two points clear:

  1. The viability of the 'military alternative' has been confirmed beyond doubt.
  2. Waging war on two fronts will progressively prove too enormous a burden for the government to pursue for a long time.

Still, important questions loom very large.

  1. What are the real aims of this war: to capture Khartoum in an Eritrean-Ethiopian style long walk, or to prepare the pre-requisites of the Intifada?
  2. Should we, the Sudanese, accept the destruction to be wrought by a total war?
  3. What if the NIF accepted peaceful settlement?

The space available can only allow of a few remarks.

The aims of the war should be the destruction of the enemy. Any ambiguity about this might prove disastrous to the opposition. The government with its crystal clear aim of destroying the opposition will have the whole advantage. The Intifada is nothing else but what is happening all over Sudan taken together. The fighters in the south and the east are not preparing for the Intifada; they are making it. Urban masses will follow later.

The destruction of Sudan has been going on, by an unprecedented pace, since June 1989. Tens of thousands have been killed; hundreds of thousands injured, forcefully removed; turned in refugees, their homes destroyed; their means of livelihood wiped out. Million others are subjected to a cruel process of gradual death through hunger, poverty, epidemics, insanity and depression. Infant mortality is one of the highest in the world.

How can we afford to ignore real destruction to talk about a hypothetical one. If such logic were to prevail, the Hitlers, Chouchescos, Mengistos of the world would have been allowed to have their way. Fortunately it didn't. The Turabis and Bashirs should never be allowed to fair better than their predecessors. As forces of pure negativity, they are destroying our people and country. Standing up to them will, at least, provide some chances for it to rise from the ruins.

The acceptance of a peaceful settlement by the NIF can only be dealt with as a highly hypothetical issue. Their past attitudes do not indicate such an inclination. Dealing with the miraculous and waiting for the improbable, the moment of truth is sure to elude them. If they choose, however, and contrary to all expectations, to dismantle their regime, and hand power over to the NDA, and face a fair trial, nobody will refuse the offer. The priority, however, is for the army officers to disengage themselves from the NIF regime and join the opposition, to preserve the reputation of the armed forces and their own personal dignity.

Although the opposition is now living one of its best moments, and has enormous chances before it, it is equally faced with serious challenges: the restructuring of the NDA and opening it to non-partisan and professional participation; the reformulation of previous party documents and positions in the light of what has been agreed upon in Asmara; the devising of proper tactics to facilitate disengagement between the NIF and the armed forces. Is the NDA capable and willing to exert efforts required for the solution of those problems and others?

That is the question.