Ahmed Haroun: making the peace, or breaking it?

by N. op 't Ende

May 12, 2009 (Nuba Mountains Homepage)

The reshuffle of ministers and governors decreed by President al Bashir came as a surprise to most people and it is not immediately clear why a total number of eight positions were changed. The decision receiving most attention is the appointment of former Minister of Humanitarian Affairs Ahmed Mohamed Haroun as Governor of South Kordofan State.


Speculation as to why Haroun was transferred focus on international pressure against an ICC indicted official holding this sensitive post. Some believe the move is a sign that President al Bashir wants Haroun away from the spot lights, while others consider it an act of defiance because South Kordofan, including Abyei, is such a sensitive area.

Looking at other possible reasons why Haroun was appointed in South Kordofan, three developments stands out:
- the lack of progress in South Kordofan's administrative and security integration
- the recent appointment of SPLM heavy weight Abdel Aziz Adam al Hilu as Deputy Governor
- the two issues that are likely to cause mounting tensions: the 2008 census result and the pending ruling on the Abyei Boundaries Committee report by the Court of Arbitration in The Hague.

Lack of progress

Since the signing of the CPA, implementation of the agreement has been very slow in South Kordofan. In 2006 I wrote about this for the first time and apart from a brief period of optimism in August of 2008, little changed in the analysis. Neither NCP nor SPLM has been looking for a return to war but political rivalry and distrust continue to interfere with development in South Kordofan.

Implementation of the CPA demands a certain level of cooperation between NCP and SPLM in South Kordofan: a government had to be formed, a constitution passed in the Legislative, laws had to be adapted to the constitution etc. This process has been painfully slow, making just enough progress in the administration of the state to keep the CPA from derailing completely - but far too little to be convincing as a genuine effort to get the state back on track after fifteen years of war.

The appointment of Abdel Aziz al Hilu did not seem to change this situation. The new Deputy Governor would focus on getting the SPLM ready for the elections and on security in the state. It is tempting to believe that Ahmed Haroun was appointed Governor mainly to keep al Hilu in check.

However, the new Governor Ahmed Haroun has stated that peace building and reactivation of the peace process constitutes his top priority. This may sound odd from a man who has been charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity, but Haroun has been involved in conflict resolution and CPA implementation in South Kordofan for some time now.

When tensions in al Mairam threatened to spiral out of control in Januari 2008, Haroun was part of the joint NCP/SPLM efforts to deflate the situation. In April 2008, an SPLM boycott of the census in South Kordofan was resolved by a committee that included Haroun. The brief period of progress in August 2008, mentioned above, came about as a result of co-operation between the NCP and SPLM in a special committee to remove obstacles for CPA implementation in South Kordofan. Here also, Ahmed Mohamed Haroun was closely involved.

Abdel Aziz al Hilu

Abdel Aziz al Hilu is one of SPLM's ablest organisers. Although he is not a Nuba, many Nuba people in the SPLM considered al Hilu to be the best man for South Kordofan after the death of Yousif Kuwa Mekki in 2001.

Al Hilu was a driving force behind the SPLA successes in the Nuba Mountains from 1987 to 1989. After serving as commander on different fronts and as head of SPLA logistics, he succeeded Kuwa as Governor for the SPLA area of the Nuba Mountains in 2001. He managed to stabilise and strengthen the crumbling SPLA positions and headed the team that negotiated the Nuba Mountains Cease Fire signed in 2002.

In the following years, al Hilu was the main negotiator on behalf of the Nuba for the CPA talks, together with Daniel Kodi. They signed an agreement for South Kordofan and Blue Nile that did not include the right to self-determination. However: the Nuba in the SPLM can improve their position in North Sudan through the mechanism of popular consultation.

Convinced that a political landslide at the national elections in favour of the SPLM would be the best scenario for the Nuba and for other marginalised peoples, Al Hilu took on the task of organising the party in Northern Sudan as Secretary of the SPLM Northern Sector, while Ismael Khamis Jelab became Governor of South Kordofan. In 2006, however, al Hilu suddenly left for the United States.

Officially seeking medical treatment al Hilu staid away from Sudan for nearly two years causing heavy speculation about a fall-out with the SPLM leadership in Juba. Following a visit of Vice President Salva Kiir he returned to Sudan in January 2008, where he became deputy Secretary General of the SPLM. Nine months later he was appointed Secretary for Political Affairs and Mobilization.

SPLM in South Kordofan

The appointment of al Hilu came after years of disappointing leadership in the SPLM in South Kordofan. First Ismael Khamis Jelab was replaced by Daniel Kodi at the end of his Governorship after strong protest from the Nuba in the SPLA, and recently Kodi in his capacity of Chairman of the SPLM in South Kordofan, has been impeached by the party's Security Council in the State.

The background to Kodi's impeachment is not entirely clear, but it was related to an ultimatum he issued in December 2008, demanding the re-instatement of SPLM Finance Minister in South Kordofan Dr. Ahmed Saeed. When the NCP did not respond to the ultimatum and Daniel Kodi did not take visible action, he received a vote of no-confidence. It seems to be a clear sign that the SPLM in South Kordofan is not ready to compromise with the NCP.

Al Hilu's appointment as Deputy Governor and Chairman of the SPLM in South Kordofan has two main objectives: to get the SPLM in South Kordofan on track for the elections, and to tackle insecurity in the State. During a speech in Kauda he addressed the people in words very similar to those of Ahmed Haroun, but with a bit more emphasis on security in the State.

Co-operation or confrontation?

The main question is whether the new Governor and his Deputy will start working together to keep the CPA in South Kordofan alive and in doing so take away some of the tension in Sudan as a whole, or whether they will take the political rivalry in South Kordofan to a new level. Certainly, the SPLM and the NCP did not send some of their best organisers (regardless of what the ICC may think of Haroun: to the NCP he is one of their best) to South Kordofan just to maintain the status quo.

In an optimistic scenario Haroun and al Hilu team up and finally make administrative and security integration happen. Haroun might provide the necessary funds to speed up development and he might come with a mandate to meet the SPLM on some of their main concerns. Al Hilu might have the personal authority and the back-up from Juba to convince the Nuba in the SPLM that it is necessary to work with the NCP and that it is absolutely vital to make it to the elections (and win them). If both men want to, or rather: if the NCP and the SPLM want to, they can change things around.

It is hard to imagine such a breakthrough without prior co-ordination, for example within the Presidency. And if both men come with a mandate to break the political deadlock, one would expect some kind of formal announcement. Let's assume, like I did at al Hilu's appointment, that he did not come to South Kordofan to revitalise the partnership with the NCP but rather to see to it that the SPLM is properly organised and ready for elections, and that the SPLA policemen who are still in limbo will finally be deployed throughout the State.

ICC factor?

Perhaps President al Bashir thought this a good opportunity to show the world that the ICC has got it all wrong about him and about Haroun. Al Hilu had been a negotiating partner to the NCP on many occasions - why not send Haroun and let the two of them work it out? No attention; no expectations; no premature involvement of Nuba and Misseriya with their fears for the future and their feuds that go back years and years... It sounds plausible enough, except that a few things do not add up.

To begin with: the President does not seem to care what the ICC or the world thinks of him. Ever since the ICC arrest warrant was publicly issued he has not missed a single opportunity to demonstrate his defiance of the Court, whether by dancing among crowds of followers; expelling over a dozen NGOs from Darfur and from South Kordofan; whether by travelling to more countries in a few days than he usually does in a year; or appointing another indicted official to the Governorship of South Kordofan. If President al Bashir had really wanted to do something about his image...

So when it is not the ICC al Bashir is worried about, what could have made him change his mind about South Kordofan? The President assumably wants one thing more than anything else: to stay in power. In a positive scenario, this involves making it to the elections in 2010 - and winning them fairly.


Would the situation in South Kordofan derail the CPA if the status quo were to remain? Perhaps sadly enough the answer is 'no': for years people have been warning that South Kordofan could be 'the next Darfur' - ironically, it would be more precise to call Darfur the next South Kordofan - but all in all the State seemed to be limping on towards the elections, be it that the SPLM was going through some rough times.

With popular support among the Nuba nevertheless overwhelmingly SPLM, winning South Kordofan may be unlikely for the NCP, however, every constituency counts for the National Assembly. And we have not seen the census results yet. They may have a surprise for South Kordofan: according to this report, former West Kordofan alone is home to 1.3 million Missiriya. (It also says the Misseriya are very unhappy with the NCP though.)

With an estimated 200.000 Nuba IDPs still in Khartoum and other cities outside South Kordofan, it is very understandable that the SPLM would like to improve security, administration and services in the state so the IDPs return home - they are likely to vote SPLM. But would the NCP like to see them return too? Where is its gain?

Perhaps the NCP could benefit electorally from co-operation and progress in South Kordofan - but if the appointment of Haroun as the State's Governor has anything to do with gaining votes, would it not have been more effective to appoint someone from South Kordofan; someone more popular and less controversial?

Countering al Hilu?

In general the Nuba are not happy to have a man wanted for war crimes as their new Governor. It immediately overshadows the optimism that emerged when al Hilu was appointed Deputy Governor. For many Nuba the violence of the Misseriya militias or Murahileen is stil a vivid memory and there are persistent reports of militias being armed. This is the security situation al Hilu has made his priority.

Even if Ahmed Mohamed Haroun starts his new task as Governor with the best of intentions: how can the Nuba trust him when in Darfur, according to ICC prosecutor Moreno-Ocampo "the most prominent of his coordination tasks was his management of, and personal participation in, the recruitment, funding and arming of Militia/Janjaweed"?

Surely President al Bashir was aware of the demand of the SPLM South Kordofan for a tough stance against the NCP. He must be aware of the internal divisions as well. He could have concluded that al Hilu would not be brought to the State to play nice with the NCP. I think it is likely the President, knowing that the previous Governor, Omer Suleiman, would not be a match for al Hilu, decided to appoint someone equally tough and well-organised.

Easy promises

With Haroun's reputation, the lack of trust of the Nuba, and the uncompromising stand of the SPLM South Kordofan Security Council, President al Bashir might have concluded that the appointment of al Hilu is an excellent opportunity to test the resilience of the SPLM in the State; a perfect moment to make promises that Haroun does not have to worry about keeping, because the SPLM will not accept the extended hand.

By talking of reactivation of the peace process and consolidation of the partnership with SPLM on the one hand, and playing on the determination of the SPLM not to compromise on the other hand, Haroun might put a lot of pressure on the SPLM and on al Hilu in particular, whose arrival has raised so many expectations among the Nuba.

There are numerous issues in South Kordofan that the new Governor might exploit. The dismissal of Minister of Finance Dr. Ahmed Saeed that led to Kodi's impeachment has not been resolved yet. There is the fate of the SPLA police officers waiting to be fully integrated. There is the question of the curriculum in schools in the State, and administrative integration of course.

Will al Hilu still be able to reconcile and unite the various Nuba groups when some will call for co-operation and integration while others continue to resist? Will the fact that he is not a Nuba become problematic? The potential for internal division among the SPLM in South Kordofan is there - if Haroun wants to, he can take it to the test.

And while the SPLM in South Kordofan blames the expulsion of NGOs from the area on Haroun, the new Governor is likely to be seen more often opening roads and flight routes and schools and clinis...


The darkest scenario is one in which Haroun's appointment has little to do with the elections because it is a move to prepare for a possible return to conflict. Presently at least two developments could lead to a collapse of the CPA: the arbitration over the borders of Abyei and the rejection by the SPLM of the result of the 2008 census.

The situation in Abyei will be incredibly tense, whatever the decision of the Court of Arbitration will be. A prominent Dinka Ngok supporter of the NCP even deviated from the party line over the question to whom the land belongs. Where the SPLM committed itself to the ruling of the Court of Arbitration, the advocate for the Government called commitment to the Abyei ruling 'premature'.

Given the way the NCP dismissed the ABC report that is now under arbitration, there is a good chance it would not accept a ruling in favour of the SPLM position. This in turn would be unacceptable to the SPLM and it would be difficult to see how that would not lead to a return to war. When the Court rules in favour of the NCP, there will be other complications - not necesserily directly leading to a return to war, but almost certainly to renewed armed conflicts in the region.

The ruling is expected in July. It would give Haroun three months to organise the Misseriya for what is to come.


Finally, there is the rejection by the SPLM of the 2008 census results. A year after it was conducted, the census result is still not published, obviously because the gathered data are far from complete and the parties can not agree on the extrapolation techniques that should be used to get at an acceptable result.

In April 2008, the SPLM in South Sudan declared it would not be bound by the census result even for it had begun. The SPLM in South Kordofan initially boycotted the census and declared in July 2008 it would not accept any outcome at all.

Although the SPLM in South Sudan has been making dramatic gestures before without much harm coming from it, It is not inconceivable that the SPLM in South Sudan will stick to its rejection. Given the limited time left to 2011 - the year when the South will hold its referendum to decide whether it will stay in a united Sudan or secede to form a new country - there is little room to manoeuvre.

Make or break

I completely agree with the head of the United Nations Mission in the Sudan, when he says 2009 is make or break for peace in Sudan. I believe the appointment of Ahmed Mohamed Haroun as Governor of South Kordofan must be seen in this light. And I think we will know very soon whether Haroun will be instrumental in making the peace, or breaking it.


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