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Article by: Creamer Media Reporter
Published: 17 Jul 2012
|Elbows and wounds: How the licking of both are playing out in the Sudans and affecting the resurrected negotiations between them|
While demonstrators on the streets of Khartoum wittingly have taken the term of licking ones elbows as their slogan in the recent protests, the regime is licking their wounds of years of economic mismanagement. The term of licking ones elbows, a proverb of attempting the impossible, was in the past used by the regime as reference to the likelihood of regime fall in Khartoum. However, while the regime is licking its wounds, protesters have started to believe in the possible. Such belief and momentum is likely to influence the renewed negotiations between Sudan and South Sudan, illustrating how developments taking place away from the negotiation table, may prove decisive.
While much attention has been focused on the coming one year anniversary of the Republic of South Sudan, and the 23rd anniversary of the Bashir led 1989 coup, the present AU facilitated negotiations of outstanding issues of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) are underway in Addis Ababa. So far though, these negotiations seem to have generated little progress.
As always accusations about reasons for such lack of progress differs from the point of view of either Khartoum or Juba. Khartoum is viewing Juba’s intentions to potentially refer border issues to international arbitration as a dishonest pre-positioning, aiming at sabotaging the talks. On the other hand, Juba is accusing Khartoum of entering talks without having met pre-conditions, such as withdrawing security personal from agreed areas, such as Abyei (Khartoum has allegedly maintained presence of police forces in Abyei). As in the past, the level of distrust and accusations between the two parties seems to impede the much needed dialogue and negotiations. Apart from diverting attention from both the coming anniversary and the negotiations, recent developments may alter the course of both the ongoing talks and the momentum that led to the international society to fast track of the negotiation process.
What has changed?
The ongoing discussions was partly facilitated by the swift increase in interest and attention from the wider international society, which followed the April fighting around the area of Heglig. This increased attention resulted in a UNSC resolution 2046 setting a deadline for the negotiations. This deadline expires 2nd of August and the same UNSC resolution has opened the door for sanctions should the parties fail to reach agreement. Such a concerted pressure has been long absent and needed in the process of finalizing the unresolved parts of the CPA.
However, other and potentially more decisive developments may impact on the political desire to go ahead with such sanctions, should the negotiations in all likelihood result in yet another stalemate. Such developments are currently taking place in Khartoum and may well lead both the SPLM and international society to alter their strategic approach to Bashir and the NCP regime in Khartoum, as well as change the negotiation position of the latter. Khartoum have lately witnessed almost two weeks of increasing street protests against the regime; the implementation of additional so called austerity measures aiming at addressing a budget deficits of more than $2 Billion and a reshuffle of the executive branches at both national and regional level in Sudan. In general the financial and political realities are starting to make things difficult for the incumbent NCP regime in Khartoum.
Too much for too long
Although the protests taking place in the streets of Khartoum have yet to reach a scale similar to the ones that overthrew governments in the region in the past year, they do represent a more general and genuine concern among the populace, which is more widespread than the number of protesters may indicate. Although so far perhaps small in numbers, the protesters are made up of diverse groups ranging from students, women and opposition groups. Evidently the general mood on the streets of Khartoum is one of desperation and reflects the lack of prospects for the country.
Everyone knows that the country is close to bankruptcy and there is an eminent fear that the country may fall further apart. Apart from usual tough response by security agencies and police towards the protests, the government has as well attempted to portray the overthrows of other regional regimes as resulting in anarchy and as being disastrous to those countries. Such attempts by the government may have influenced the initial low turnout for the protests. Lately, the NCP used the by now famous term ‘Amsah, Aksah ‘to describe their opinion about the demonstrations. This term was made famous by ICC indicted South Kordofan governor Ahmed Haroun in reference to the conflict with rebels in South Kordofan, and made famous when the Al-Jazeera network translation referred to ‘clear and eliminate’ as the proposed government strategy.
Still, in spite of the widespread frustration and desperation with the current situation and the dissatisfaction with Bashir and the NCP, the lack of obvious alternatives complicates the situation. This is no coincidence. In fact it is a result of a long time divide and rule practice of the inner circles of the NCP towards the political opposition and an equally well established tradition of a patronage system, including high ranking security officials and parts of the business community. However, the reality is that it has become increasingly difficult to sustain such networks and by now, too many Sudanese feel that the suffering they have endured under the increasingly despotic rule of Bashir has become too much for too long.
The combination of a ruthless response by the security forces to the protests, the ensuring fear of violent reprisals among the population and the ambiguity as to what will follow in the aftermath of any overthrow of the current regime, serves to explain part of the ‘wait and see approach’ and hesitation for larger groups to take to the streets. Memories of past uprisings and intifadas are however, still very present among the Sudanese population, and there are very valid reasons to expect that protests may increase in frequency and quantity, since there seems to be limited belief in any economic resurrection through the proposed measures.
Let’s wait and see!
The people in Khartoum may not be only ones to in some way, apply a wait and see approach. The international society there may do so as well, perhaps even beyond the deadline formulated in the UNSC resolution 2046. US special envoy to Sudan, Ambassador Lyman have recently made it clear, that the current economic challenges of Sudan are related to the ICC indictment of Bashir, and as such hinting at potential leadership alternatives and a handover of Bashir as part of a solution to issues beyond political isolation. Sudanese foreign minister Ali Karti recently encouraged the EU to live up to its economic commitments towards Sudan as part of the CPA, and some donors are said to be considering the options of engagement rather than punitive measures. However unlikely such moves may be, the economic hardship of the government in Khartoum may mistakenly lead some western donors and members of the international society to believe that they hold an increased option for exerting influence on Khartoum.
On the other hand, economic carrots may be tempting to the opposition and may galvanize them in their stated desire for regime change, in spite of the incoherence within the opposition. Perhaps sadly and unsurprisingly though, the political opposition has so far been unable to agree on a formulation of governance plans post Bashir. This has been utilized by the NCP who is depicting the dialogue within the political opposition as a mere fight between Hassan Al Turabi and Sadiq al-Mahdi over who should become the next prime minister, thus showing that the NCP themselves remains the only alternative.
In the short term though, donor countries are likely to condition any funds and debt relief on the implementation of outstanding issues the CPA, just as past aid has been conditioned on solving the Darfur conflict. This merely raises the pressure on the NCP to reach an agreement with South Sudan and makes the option of any short term solution to the economic travails unlikely. The international society is thus likely to ‘sit it out’, letting the economic forces and the internal dynamics in Sudan influence the fate of the NCP regime and the negotiations. Fact of the matter is, that the situation is looking increasingly bleak for Bashir, regardless of any further pressure exerted by external actors. At least before the deadline of negotiations, upon when any further sanctions may well be the proverbial straw that will break the camel’s back. Although no actions are likely to be taken before the deadline in resolution 2046, the subsequent period will leave the international society with the option of either exercising more pressure or offering incentives through economic means. Both, considering the likelihood of further worsening of the financial ordeals and dissatisfaction of the Sudanese people may be able to, for once, yield significant results through external pressure. Some argue against the potential damaging effect that sanctions may have on any anti NCP momentum, seeing as Sudan has been under US sanctions since 1997 and that Bashir in the past has been excellent in rallying support based on notions of victimhood and undue interference from western nations. Moreover, the acute economic challenges are due to the loss of short term revenue from oil exports, rather than the success of long time sanctions.
The implementation of these so called austerity measures, has also caused consternation within the NCP, since they were implemented without having passed through parliament. In part due to internal concern and criticism in the NCP, that such measures are counterproductive, but also since the NCP finance minister Ali Mahmood al-Rasul has been faced with increased pressure from both parts of the NCP and parliament, for not having done enough to prevent the current situation. Some parts of the NCP have expressed their concern with the lifting of fuel subsidies, hinting that the move may spark the exact kind of popular outrage, seen in the streets of Khartoum. Other initiatives currently being implemented by Bashir is a reduction of regional cabinets, ministerial privileges and presidential advisors. Relieving nine of the presidential advisors, including Ghazi Salah Al-Din (head of NCP parliamentary block and heading the Darfur portfolio). In this regard, the most interesting facet is who got to stay as advisors rather than who got relieved of their duties. Among the remaining presidential advisors are Nafie al Nafie and the sons of both Sadiq al-Mahdi and Osnam al-Mirghani, head of the NUP and DUP party respectively. This signals sustaining a patronage network rather than administrative cost reduction and austerity measures. Apart from having to balance the maintenance of a substantial patronage network, the umbrella of austerity have thus purposively allowed Bashir to further tentatively consolidate decision making within a small group of individuals.
In Juba, the escalating stress and intricacy facing the NCP and increased demonstrations may well prove to be a useful tool to increase the stakes at the talks in Addis Ababa. SPLM can either decide to raise the stakes at the negotiations through, trying to gain more from these, although such a strategy may prove counterproductive, considering the SPLM attempts to regain the diplomatic credit they lost in some circles, upon their past military takeover of Heglig. It is more likely that the SPLM, like most others involved with Khartoum, will bide their time and simply let the saga of yet another potential intifada in Khartoum evolve on its own. SPLM will likewise be well aware of the fine balance of putting any further leverage on Bashir, as it is potentially counterproductive and used by in the NCP party line to play victim of an international conspiracy. SPLM’s alleged proposal to negotiate directly with the NCP circumventing the AU may prove unwise in this regard. The SPLM have already accused Thabo Mbeki for being biased in the negotiations. In particular considering the AU and Mbeki’s record of dealing with past so called unconstitutional coup d'états on the continent, in which incumbents have been offered lifelines regardless of their track records. Such a lifeline to Bashir is unlikely to be in the best interest of the SPLM. The best chance for continuous peaceful relations in the optic of the SPLM, is without the NCP heading the government in Khartoum. As such, the SPLM are having to find the balance of both showing enough intent in negotiation, in order not to be seen as obstructive and further antagonizing Mr. Mbeki, while at the same time waiting to see how the current developments in Sudan are affecting the chances for a regime change.
While both the first anniversary of Republic of South Sudan is approaching and the talks between the two parties have recently resumed, thanks to international pressure, recent developments may distract attention from the former and influence the progress of the latter. As much as the existential ordeals facing the NCP government, and more importantly the people of Sudan, are likely to detract parts of NCP deliberations away from the talks, the momentum is yet to become decisive. The deadline enshrined in resolution 2046 and the extent to which the SPLM and the international society navigate these factors, will prove crucial as to whether the 24th year of Bashir heading the government in Khartoum, will spell significant change. Once again a more comprehensive understanding of underlying issues is needed in the facilitation of the talks and any engagement with the parties, in order for any of these to yield results. In spite of the options available for various actors to influence both the negotiation process and the challenges facing Khartoum, the key factor will, as in the past overthrows of Sudanese regimes, be the determination on the streets of Khartoum. As such, a wait and see approach makes sense in the short term, but may fail to be vital in order to alter the long term challenges facing the Sudanese population and a resolution of the stalled negotiation process.
Written by Jens W Pedersen, MSc Humanitarian Studies