Sudan Wars: a crisis of leadership and vision

War: a massacre of people who don’t know each other for the profit of people who know each other but don’t massacre each other.

Paul Valéry: French poet


By: Rasha Awad

No doubt that the protracted civil wars in Sudan, which started on the eve of independence in 1955, is one of the biggest manifestations of the country’s crisis. And its most important element is the “flawed approach” that was employed to address the relationship between the center and other marginalized regions in the west, south and east. These regions suffered a continuous deprivation of development and services accompanied with a sense of entitlement reflecting racial and cultural supremacy embedded in the collective consciousness of the “north” and “center” and in the “political mentality” of the “political north” which lead to “national grievances” that surpassed the anger emanating from the negative discrimination on developmental and economic rights to an anger evoked by undermining human dignity and equal civil rights of native groups. These grievances were the fuel of war! Therefore, any attempt to maintain peace and national unity depends on a radical change to the system of governance that created those national grievances, and subsequently achieving a historical reconciliation among the different segments of the Sudanese society on the basis of a new national project that would direct address the root causes of this crisis.


The mine-field must be crossed!


The essential queries put forward in the present article are: What good had the armed action done to justify and promote the demands of the marginalized Sudanese communities? Do the armed movements leading the so called revolution and armed actions have an intellectual and political project capable of serving the justified causes of local communities in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile (areas currently affected by civil war) and, long before that, citizens of South Sudan, who opted for secession since 2011? In areas affected by war, what are the gains and losses for local communities who had to endure such tragedies?

The devastating catastrophes and heavy toll of civil wars on many different levels necessitates the adoption of past questions as a key approach to elaborate a critique of the “use of armed action as a means to political change in Sudan” in the context of an historical judgement of the political elite who inflamed these wars, on the condition that this enquiry is guided by the intent to explore the interest of Sudanese citizens in marginalized areas where those wars took place, whom in their names those wars were unleashed and justified by a set of goals, among them protecting their identity and dignity, and riding them of political, cultural and economic marginalization.

But handling such questions in the current congested political atmosphere seems more like a de-mining process, because criticizing armed actions in the present circumstances would often be described as “political or ideological complicity” with the “political North” in general and the Islamic regime (1989 to date) in particular.

So the critique of armed actions in Sudan has to be part of a comprehensive and radical critique of the Sudanese State, which gained independence from Great Britain in 1969, and admitting the failings in achieving post-independence goals, which are due to the autocratic approach into dealing with the legitimate grievances of the marginalized regions. As once Simon Bolivar (Venezuelan military officer and politician) said “If wars are the culmination of all evil, then, autocracy is the culmination of all wars”!

Therefore, the corrupt and autocratic ruling elite bears most of the liability in the eruption of civil wars in Sudan since 1959, especially the military regimes that governed through 50 years of the 61 years of independence.

Still, the elite of the marginalized communities, and in full consciousness, have favored armed action to confront governments in Khartoum over the available option of civil and political protest, sharing the responsibility of flaring up wars. They should also be held accountable for the outcome of wars in South Sudan (the first war 1955-1973 lead by Ananya 1; the second war 1983-2005; and the third war 2011 to date, both lead by Sudanese People Liberation Army SPLA; and the war raging on since 2003 in Darfur lead by Sudan Liberation Movement SLM and Justice and Equality Movement JEM and their affiliates).

A full diagnostic of the Sudanese impasse and forward-looking seeking a new political horizon will fall short without a critical examination of the political choices made by all elites that have a direct impact on public interests, so based on this argument, armed movements should not be excluded from this process. Accordingly, these movements could be evaluated by the emphasis on two related criteria: First of all the direct cost of the armed action itself in terms of human casualties, social, economic and developmental costs, secondly, to what extent are the armed movements situated, intellectually and politically, to defend the rights of their fellow citizens who paid the price of war, thus totally changing their life and retaining their rights in dignity, justice, freedom and development.

This type of evaluation entails an independent academic research supported by accurate quantitative and qualitative data and statistics, besides employing  investigative techniques that would dig deep into the lives of war victims, an endeavor that goes beyond the scope of this article, which, instead will content to focus on reviewing the indicators of “the predicament of armed action in Sudan” represented in its political implications and outcomes in South Sudan, South Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile. These eminent outcomes require rethinking the suitability of armed action and pushing towards advocating for the war victims and their legitimate causes in the face of corrupt and autocratic regimes i. e. Inghaz regime which are actively involved in maintaining such wars.


Armed action in Sudan and the conundrum of political and economic rights


Armed movements in Sudan lacked a clear vision and political and economic programs in order to engineer a response to the problems of poverty, illiteracy and the state of imbalanced development. Arms happened to be raised against the Centre of power, fueled by a protesting discourse about the social, cultural, political and economic marginalization, in addition to the historic injustices and grievances of the marginalized regions in the south, west and east, without asking the question about how to tackle these complex and chronic problems in the case of overthrowing the center of power, or at least after forcing a compromise, as in the case of the comprehensive peace agreement, known as the agreement of Naivasha, signed between the government and SPLA, and the subsequent agreements of peace in Darfur.

The lack of vision was clearly reflected in the performance of SPLA, which joined the government in 2005 up to 2011 when it became the ruling party in the recently independent South Sudan. In both cases the SPLA failed to offer a model of governance that differs from the one adopted by the Centre, the one that it constantly rebuked! Instead the Centre’s policies in its most autocratic and corrupt from represented by the National Congress. For instance, in a country where illiteracy is estimated to be around 90%, the government of South Sudan allocated 3% of its budget to education compared to the 65% allocated the military and security!

Evidently, the conflicts between the leaders of SPLA and the National Congress and among themselves were centered on power grabbing and it was never about governing policies, the welfare of people or addressing the injustices. It was clear that the political elite, which championed for the marginalized, dropped them and became involved in a fierce self-enrichment competition with members of the National Congress, to the detriment of average people crushed by hunger and illness.

With regard to armed movements in Darfur, they apparently surpassed the SPLA in their intellectual deficit, elite corruption, lack of perception on providing solutions to their fellow citizens and indifference to their suffering.

The crisis goes way beyond the response of some “failing lawyers” to legitimate causes. It is safe to say that the armed conflicts between the government and opposition which would not end with a landslide victory of one of them, will eventually lead to compromises, creating situations that are inherently countermeasures to development and people’s’ interests. These situations are exploited to deplete economic resources, falsely claiming “peace maintenance” and “political stability”, but actually stopping the war through bribery of the armed elite with huge undeserved privileges! This is evident in the outcomes of the wealth sharing agreement after Naivasha, the wealth was obviously shared between the armed political elite which spent it on more arms and on political bribery to lure “potential fighters”, with the ultimate goal of gaining power.

This dilemma was discussed in a book titled “In the shadow of violence: Politics, Economics and the problems of development”, which applied the conceptual framework introduced by Douglas North, John Joseph Wallis and Barry Weingast in their book “Violence and social orders” on the following nine developing countries: Bangladesh, Congo, Zambia, Mozambique, Mexico, South Korea, The Philippines, India and Chile.

The nine case studies illustrated how political control of economic resources is used to limit violence and set up coalitions of powerful organizations within a social order. Authors presented the idea of the “limited access order”, a dynamic social order in which violence is considered a present and continuous source of danger, and political and economic gains are motivated by desire to control violence instead of enhancing economic growth or political rights. The book concluded that “the success of the limited access order in achieving peace might depend on allowing the elites to attain large proceeds and the support of organizations that enable the complicity of those elites”. Peace which is a free and natural state one day prior to the eruption of any war would become, after tens of years of war, a highly priced asset, so we need to pay “large proceeds” to those who are capable of starting a war to stave them off!

Wouldn’t this bitter truth compel us to rethink the potential of armed action as a means of change?! Isn’t war a zero-sum option? The damning proof is that the top agenda in any peace negotiations are ceasing fire, delivering aid and securing the return of refugees and displaced person to their villages, and trying to pull the clock back to just one day before war started and millions of innocent people were killed or incapacitated! And instead of directing funds towards development, millions of dollars would be spent on the welfare of warlords just to ward them off!


Sudan wars: Revolution-less revolutionists!


Revolutions of the marginalized lack inspiring ideas, and accordingly classical revolutionary traditions were absent within the ranks of fighters, and the abundant corruption among the leaders of the SPLA, whether in South or North, the ignorance towards their fellow citizens’ suffering, approaching the newfound power and authority with a prey-mentality, all that reflects a major flaw in the political culture and organizational norms and traditions of the SPLA , which apart from all liberation armies in the world, approves a rank system (retirement is the latest idiosyncrasy)! Higher ranks mean higher privileges, even when it comes to food!

Additionally, there were no measures of transparency or accountability instilled in the organization’s traditions against corruption and squandering public funds, based on that, there is an obvious sift among SPLA, as there are high ranked individual who claimed millions of dollars even before signing the peace agreement and the secession of South Sudan!! So it isn’t unusual for such an army to harbor selfish and corrupt leaders who would never consider the selfless offering and sacrifice implied in leadership, instead they would feel entitled to people serving them.

Of course those pungent facts do not in any way mean that the ranks of SPLA and Darfur’s movements are void of true revolutionists who would sacrifice their souls for what they consider a liberty dream, there are thousands of noble people among them who are seeking good governance, freedom, dignity and justice for their people. But the political project of the SPLA, ultimately, is reduced to an awful failure, and on the other hand, the ever dividing and countless movements in Darfur, which are only known by their leaders’ names, never presented a political or intellectual project in the first place.

The vision and leadership crisis in armed action in all areas ravaged by war in our country, and the subsequent failure in achieving change, combined with the tragic and complicated outcomes at the human, security, political, environmental, economic, social and demographic levels, urges the formulation of a national project that would liberate what is left of the Sudanese State from “arms despotism”, which is a huge challenge, noting that the ruling party is the biggest armed party and breeder of militias.  



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