Two months after the secession of South Sudan, Khartoum’s ruling elite is making no retreat from the strategy that eventually forced the country’s division.
This strategy includes marginalisation and neglect of the outlying regions; the forced imposition of Khartoum’s right-wing Islamic, pro-Arab agenda on Sudan’s culturally, linguistically and religiously diverse population; and brutal repression of dissent.
The Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) is waging wars on several fronts, from Darfur in the west to the states along the new southern border.
In June, the SAF launched a huge military assault on the people of South Kordofan, near the border with South Sudan.
There has been sustained bombing of civilians and a targeted campaign of ethnic cleansing against the local Nuba people. There are reports of mass graves and allegations that SAF has used chemical weapons.
Khartoum has driven out international aid organisations and refused to allow the United Nations Mission In Sudan to remain after the formalisation of the south’s independence on July 9.
The British Guardian reported on June 18 that Nuba leader Abdelaziz Adam al Hilu said up to half a million people had been displaced and 50 towns bombed in South Kordofan.
A UN report in August suggested the bombings, abductions, arbitrary arrests and slaughter may amount to war crimes. In response, Sudanese Justice Minister Mohamed Bushara Dosa told the UN Human Rights Council on September 16 that the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) government of South Sudan was responsible for the conflict and that Khartoum was the “victim”.
The SAF army extended the war to Blue Nile state in late August. On September 2, Sudanese President Omer al Bashir declared a state of emergency and replaced the elected governor, SPLM/A leader Malik Agar, with a military official.
SPLM members were targeted for arrest or execution.
A September 3 statement by the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies said: “The main water reservoir in Al Damazein was destroyed in the bombardment [that day], possibly in a deliberate attempt to deprive the population of this essential resource.”
A September 13 UN report said as many as 100,000 people were displaced by the attacks.
South Kordofan and Blue Nile largely backed the south during the three-decade-long civil war that ended with the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). During the 1990s, the SAF and local militias it armed conducted a genocidal campaign in the Nuba Mountains, massacring up to half a million people.
The CPA mandated popular consultations for Blue Nile state and South Kordofan to determine their future relationship with Khartoum, but these have been blocked by the government.
The Bashir government has outlawed the SPLM in the north (SPLM-N), raiding its offices and arresting its leaders. Khartoum claims the SPLM-N is part of a foreign party and that its members are foreigners, despite the large party membership bases in South Kordofan and Blue Nile state being local to those areas.
One of the sparks for the outbreak of conflict in June was the SAF’s attempt to forcibly disarm the SPLM-N.
But the people of South Kordofan and Blue Nile show no willingness to bow to Khartoum’s repression.
In Blue Nile, SPLA Major General Ahmed Al Umda Badi told Radio Dabanga on September 16 that the SPLM/A controlled about 85% of the state and was approaching the capital, Damazin.
He called for other marginalised people to join the struggle: “All the Sudanese civilians and their organisations must stand up in Blue Nile, South Kordofan, Nuba Mountains, Darfur and eastern Sudan to overthrow the regime and create a genuine democratic system in the country.”
During August, the SPLM announced it was negotiating an alliance with several rebel groups in Darfur and planning to convene a conference to discuss joint work.
Like Darfur, so-called peace negotiations over South Kordofan and the Blue Nile have amounted to little.
On June 28, presidential aide Nafie Ali Nafie brokered a “framework agreement” with the SPLM-N to end hostilities in South Kordofan. However, on July 1, Bashir publicly rejected the ceasefire, calling for the SAF to finish “cleansing” South Kordofan. He dismissed the recognition of the SPLM-N as a legitimate political party in Sudan.
Bashir’s aggressive promises to eradicate all those who resist are further fuelled by criticism from military hardliners and right-wing Islamic leaders over his failure to prevent Sudan splitting in two.
The September 17 Sudan Tribune said that on a visit to Damazin to urge the armed forces to wipe out all opposition, Sudanese First Vice-President Ali Osman Mohamed Taha said: “We will cut off every hand that wants to extract it from the entity of larger Sudan and it will remain part of Sudan’s Islamic affiliation with all its strength, vigorous discourse and history.”
The pro-government Sudan Vision claimed on September 20 that the regime had thwarted alleged efforts by the SPLM to create “instability so as to install IDP camps allowing Western organizations not to provide people with their needs but giving these organizations justification to intervene in the country”.
WikiLeaks released several secret cables in early September that struck a further blow to the credibility of Bashir’s regime.
One document from 2008 outlined a meeting between presidential advisor Mustafa Osman Ismail and US charge d'Affaires Alberto Fernandez at which Ismail asked the US for help to “normalise” relations with Israel.
Allafrica.com reported on September 14 that NCP spokesperson Qutbi Al-Mahdi claimed the cable was fabricated, as Khartoum scrambled to preserve its fabricated image as an anti-Western defender of Palestine.
Another cable showed Khartoum includes the Lebanese party Hezbollah on its list of terrorist organisations to monitor, despite Bashir making public statements in support of the group and its leadership. The revelation is consistent with the NCP regime’s collaboration with the US’s “anti-terror” campaign in the region over the past decade.
The military operations in South Kordofan and Blue Nile pose a threat to the new state of South Sudan, already struggling with the overwhelming challenge of rebuilding after decades of war. The north and south governments continue to dispute oil transit fees and the status of the oil-rich region of Abyei.
Khartoum is yet to withdraw its soldiers from Abyei after unilaterally seizing the area in May. It has backed away from a September 8 promise to do so by the end of the month.
Sudan is also facing an economic crisis. Sudanese central bank governor Mohammad Kheir Al Zubeir met with Arab bankers in Doha on September 16 to request that they deposit reserves into Sudan’s central and commercial banks. He said about US$4 billion was needed.
Three-quarters of Khartoum's oil income was lost when the south became independent, and many local industries were driven into the ground during the oil boom. Inflation has sky-rocketed and a weak Sudanese pound means imported food and goods are increasingly unaffordable. Large price rises for food and basic necessities are stirring discontent.
Price rises were a central issue in January street protests inspired by the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions. The protests were met with a severe crackdown.
The Sudan Tribune said the National Consensus Forces planned a protest in Khartoum on September 9 against the military offensives in Blue Nile and South Kordofan. The NCF involves the key opposition parties, including the Umma Party and the Sudanese Communist Party (SCP).
However, the Tribune said the authorities prevented the rally from taking place.
The government has also cracked down on the media, seizing entire print runs of newspapers prior to distribution. The SCP’s paper Al Midan has been targeted on at least five occasions in the past month.
The September 15 Tribune said the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) ordered newspaper editors not to publish any statements by Darfur rebel leaders or the SPLM-N.
Bashir is determined to hold onto power at any cost, yet the Arab Spring has shown that even the most repressive regimes may have an expiry date.