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Sudan: Blue Nile and South Kordofan autonomy doubles risk of fragile transition

The Transitional Sovereignty Council in Sudan recently decided to grant the Blue Nile and South Kordofan regions autonomy as per the Juba Peace Agreement. This has led to revived fears of the country losing new territories.

AlTaghyeer: Khartoum: Alaa Musa/Amal Mohammad al-Hassan

The Sudanese public lived quite the hopes upon overthrowing al-Bashir’s regime in April of 2019, hoping to actualize the “Freedom, Peace, Justice” protest calls to help fold over decades of war and conflict.

Their hopes took off for a Sudan unlike the one of three decades prior; a unified Sudan undivided by the former regime’s separatist mentality.

Therefore, after the head of the transitional sovereignty council in Sudan, Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, declared a constitutional decree granting both the Blue Nile and South Kordofan the right to autonomy, fears of losing more parts of the country returned to haunt the public.

Between the realization of peace and demands from people in the aforementioned territories, the reality of the right to autonomy must submit itself to an unknown, knowing that security arrangements, issues pertaining to governance and other unresolved issues will form obstacles to the territories that have known war for decades.

Past Fears

Observers believe that wars and conflicts came with repercussions, including injustices that were compounded by conflict, which they believe have aided in societal alienation and contributed to deteriorating the sense of belonging to one single Sudan.

These observers also believe that the decision was out of order on many aspects, namely the relationship between the two regions and the country’s center, the nature of the levels of governance, and the fate of sovereignty issues among others.

At a time where some see positive aspects to the eradication of injustice and the unifying communities on a large scale, others view it as the onset of a previous experiment that led to the separation of the Southern part of the country which caused Sudan to lose two-third of its resources.

Making the Decision

Al-Burhan issued a decree, which bore the number «9» for the year 2021, granted both the south Kordofan and the Blue Nile region came in accordance with the Juba Peace Agreement provisions, which stipulate that the system of administration in the two areas is to be in light of what was mentioned in article «8» of chapter three of the agreement.

The transitional government and the armed struggle movements, who have assembled under the umbrella of the “Revolutionary Front”, had signed the Juba Peace Agreement in October of last year.

The two sides of the Juba agreement had agreed on forming a provincial federal rule, which was to include the Darfur region as well.

Previous Decrees

The self-governance decree was based on prior constitutional decrees bearing the numbers 38-39 for the year 2019, alongside decrees number 2, 6 and rulings from article 79 of the constitutional document’s 2020 amendment in accordance to the undersecretary of the Ministry of Federal Governance, Mohammed Salih.

Salih stated that the decision was inclusive of three states: the Blue Nile, South and West Kordofan; with the sovereign government’s conference to outline borders for the state of West Kordofan.

The ministry’s undersecretary pointed out that some states in West Kordofan would rather secede to North Kordofan in regional distribution, stressing that they lost the eligibility for self-government at that time.

Regarding the administrative regime, Salih told AlTaghyeer that it includes all exclusive, joint and residual authorities, pointing out how crucial it is for them to harmonize their constitution with that of the federal government.

He added that the selection of the system of government, either via appointment or election, is up to the autonomous territories, verifying that they have the full right to draft a constitution and legislations as per the entitlements of self-governance.

Sudan’s Unity

Salih denied that self-governance would lead to complete secession, referring to its compliance to what was stated in article «8» regarding Sudan’s unity as a land as a people.

Article «8» of Chapter Three states: “The two parties have agreed, without prejudice to the unity of the Sudan, people and territory, or the exclusive, joint or residual powers, that the two regions shall enjoy self-government in which they exercise the powers stipulated within this agreement.”

Eyes on Development

Salih confirmed his ministry’s involvement with governments from both regions in shared powers, revealing the ministry’s vital role in overseeing development backed with the division of wealth rulings mentioned within the Juba agreement.

The undersecretary stressed on the importance of holding workshops and conferences within the two regions, adding that “this is the first instance of something like this being held in Sudan”.

Salih also revealed that the people’s liberation movement would is entitled to 30% of the legislative council within the two states, in addition to occupying titles such as governor to the Blue Nile state, and deputy governor to both West and South Kordofan states, as per peace process provisions.

Malik Agar (R) with newly appointed governor of the Blue Nile state Ahmad al-Omda Badi

Visit to the Two States

Salih confirmed that the agreement grants both SPLM-N factions –Agar and al-Hilu—equal shares provided the latter demands more parliament seats.

He also noted that both territories are to receive 40% of the state’s net revenue, with the remaining 60% going towards the central authority, which is also subject to a deduction ranging from 7-8% as per the “positive discrimination” criteria.

The undersecretary revealed intentions for a future visit to both states without specifying a formal date, having already visited the states before alongside Buthaina Dinar, the ministry’s head.

Addressing the Roots of War

Shams al-Din Daw al-Bait

According to the Juba negotiations member Shams al-Din D’aw al-Beit, the difference between federal and decentralized governance lies in the latter’s authority being guarded by the constitution.

Shams al-Din regarded that the state could elect to go to the constitutional court in the case of any uninvited federal authority meddling with regional powers.

The decision, as per the negotiator, is based upon the constitutional document, which promised to address the root causes of civil war in the country and remove any remnants of it.

Shams al-Din told AlTaghyeer that the root causes of war lie in the central authority’s patterned marginalization of several regions, and patterned economic marginalization that inhibited development, adding that “there is a pattern of biasness in terms of language and identity”.

Al-Hilu’s Objection

SPLM-N leader Abdelaziz al-Hilu

Shams al-Din revealed that the former deposed regime had expropriated land belonging to regional communities and individuals, adding a fourth root causes of war in Sudan.

Shams al-Din also reiterated Salih’s comments concerning the constitutional decree restricting self-governance to governance within the boundaries of a unified Sudan,  pointing out that there is a framework concerning agreed upon jurisdictions and authorities, saying that “there are no mechanisms within self-governance that encourage separation”.

Regarding how the decision would affect the current round of negotiations with al-Hilu, Shams al-Din was cut off by the fact that al-Hilu’s SPLM-N faction could not object to jurisdictions and authority granted to certain regions.

Wide Scale Jurisdiction

Ahmad Omar Musa, a member of the negotiation committee’s northern faction, also shares the sentiment that the decree allows self-governance within the boundaries of a unified Sudan.

Musa stated that the wide scale jurisdictions could reach the point of forming economic, developmental and regional agreements, in addition to wider legislative jurisdictions.

Musa also predicts a dual legislation that could possibly put an end to Islamic shari’a ruling in both territories.

He explained to AlTaghyeer that Sudan, during the Niavasha agreement and the 2005 constitution experienced a duality in geographical, procedural, and objective legislation through enforcing shari’a rulings in northern states but excluding southern states from said ruling.

He also assured that legislation in the two autonomous regions would be subject to local customs and work on managing diversity.

Economic Implications

Economically, the Juba agreement provided both states with an economic status significantly distinct of that of Darfur, the North, the center, and the East, leading to the two states outperforming their counterparts in two tracks, the first of which is resource expansion, which included taxes and the rest of government fees, and the second matter distinguished it by granting the region the right to deduct those revenue coming from regional resources by up to 40%.

Musa indicated that al-Burhan’s decree—although it came late in implementation—confirms the government’s seriousness in implementing the Juba Peace Agreement and even sends positive messages to those coming next, such as SPLM-N commander Abdelaziz Al-Hilu and Abdul Wahed Muhammad Nour, and the liberation movement’s eastern expansion led by Al-Nazir Turk.

 He ruled out that the decision would be not oppose any agreement, but will rather add to the agreement and reduce complications in finding political and administrative solutions, and prepare the ground for implementing of the rest of the agreements.

He noted that any talk about the timing of the implementation being an attempt to pressure al-Hilu’s movement remains unsupported by political or constitutional logic and has no basis.

Rather, it is an analysis filled with “weakness, shame, and constitutional and political humiliation,” as he put it.

“Because the Juba Agreement discussed and included many important issues and found protection from the constitutional document and the masses of the Revolutionary Front in different parts of the country, the decree is a constitutional entitlement that adds, not detracts, from the transitional period’s structures and decrees,” the committee negotiator said.

He believed that the decree would bring stability to the two regions and develop their economies, thus pushing the wheel of production and certainly affecting the national economy, which will benefit from the economy of the autonomous regions increasing its economic resources, thereby significantly doubling the center’s 60% split.

Resolving Crucial Issues

Political analyst Dr. Tariq however has a different opinion.

Dr. Tariq believes that granting the two regions self-governance is dangerous and will inevitably lead the country towards a US-hatched secession aimed at dividing Sudan into 5 or 8 small states.

Dr. Tariq told AlTaghyeer that it is better for the transitional government in its two councils (civilian and military) not to rush in resolving fateful state issues away from the Legislative Council.

 “In the absence of the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Judicial Council, and even far from the real stakeholders,” Dr. Tariq added.

“Peace must be built on firm foundations, away from urgency that may result from difficult-to-fulfill commitments, which may bear future side effects that could be worse than the disease itself,” he continued.

Making the Decision

Observers believe that the question that arises is: who will be the decision-maker in the two autonomous regions?

The question comes in the context of the split of the SPLM-North into two movements in 2017, with one wing being led by Aqar, and the other by al-Hilu, who dominates a larger area within the two regions.

While the liberation movement led by Aqar signed a peace agreement and reached the presidential palace, the popular movement led by al-Hilu is still in the negotiation stage.

Observers pointed out that there was another group led by Telephone Koukou and Abdullah Jallab, which last week announced the dismissal of Agar’s membership from the popular movement and demanded that the position which Agar currently occupies within Sovereignty Council be vacated.

They stressed that the government’s empowerment of any of the currently conflicting wings at the expense of the other will necessarily mean that a fierce war will break out in the Nuba Mountains region, the ferocity of which may outmatch that of the war in the south post-secession.

Left to Right: Abdelaziz al-Hilu, Malik Agar, Yasir Arman.

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