Hibiscus with Ginger

Parties! (but not the fun kind)

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There’s been a lot of politicking and political squabbling in Sudan these days. It all began after the crackdown, with Attabani and others in the NCP formally asking Bashir to reinstate the lifted fuel subsidies. This squabbling eventually led to the new split in the NCP, which Magdi al Gizouli talks about in greater detail.

More recently, however, there’s been even more action. The Democratic Unionist Party (led by Mirghani and closely associated with the Khatmiyya, a traditional religious sect) formally left the NCP governing coalition. They’ve been threatening for some time, but this marks an end to whatever coalitions the NCP forged during the period the CPA (Comprehensive Peace Agreement) and the elimination of any pretence that the regime is seeking out consensus.

Most likely, it’s a further symptom of the crackdown. As we’ve already seen, internal dissent is tolerated even less now than it has been in the past. What are the long term implications of this? It’s not really clear. After all, the Umma party (another political party with a sectarian support-base and a large following) has been in the opposition for quite some time, but has avoided taking a strong stance against the regime.

Meanwhile, crazy stuff seems to be happening in South Sudanese politics. On Friday, Salva Kiir announced that he was dissolving all the governing structures of his party, the SPLM. Then, two days ago, Michael Lueth, the South Sudan Information Minister came forward to explain that Salva Kiir was misunderstood—that these structures need to be dissolved and changed, but that they would continue until they were replaced. I am less confident assessing South Sudanese politics, but it seems like Kiir’s backers (at least the influential ones) may have stepped in to reign in his statement. Most South Sudan observers have noted that the SPLM has been marked by a lack of structure, with personalities taking the lead, and this sort of incident seems in some ways like an example of such personalized rule.

Are the Northern parties much different? There is certainly an aspect of personalized rule to them, as evidenced by the current standoff with the NCP and the longstanding leadership of Mirghani in the DUP and Sadiq al Mahdi in the Umma Party. What seems most different is that these parties have been around for a lot longer and that many of them draw upon already existing power structures (the Khatmiyya in the case of the DUP and the Ansar in the case of the Umma party)

In both countries, it doesn’t seem like the parties are particularly welcoming of dissent or new ideas. South Sudan’s political wrangling include Salva Kiir’s removal of Riek Machar as vice president in July. In the North, the parties are quite old and they don’t really reach out to young leaders. In a great piece discussing Sudanese opposition groups, Akshaya Kumar argues against Alex De Waal’s assessment of the protest movements in Sudan by pointing to the New Dawn Charter and the Sudan Change Forces statement as examples of opposition groups creating precise plans for what can happen should the current regime be ousted. This point is definitely true, but what’s striking is that the opposition groups that signed on to these agreements were largely the traditional opposition groups—none of which are led by the younger generation that Kumar focuses on throughout the rest of her piece.

Khalid Medani, writing at MERIP, points out that these groups largely view themselves as mediators or “coordinating mechanisms” between the younger generation and the traditional political parties. This view seems pretty persuasive—they have been quite active, as both Medani and Kumar note, in mobilizing youth of a certain economic class with international connections and technological skills. At the same time, they don’t really work with any of the political parties, and they haven’t even been acknowledged by them to a large extent. If they are going to play a role in the future, it will be important for them to be acknowledged by more traditional power structures in some fashion, or they will need to bypass traditional power structures entirely—something they do not yet have the mobilizing power to do.

Clearly it’s a time of political shuffling. I’m not convinced, though, that it’s at time of actual political change, even of the more gradual sort. This is a shame—both countries face enough problems that new ideas would be great.

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