South Kordofan and the Blue Nile: wars by second intention

By Magdi El Gizouli

September 20 , 2011 (Sudan Tribune)

Amidst the war enthusiasm that clouded the reception of Malik Agar’s rebellion in the Blue Nile, the complement of Abd al-Aziz al-Hilu’s operations in South Kordofan, little if any attention was paid to the concrete situation in the two states and its immediate backdrop. Rather, Sudan’s irredeemable ‘lovers’, addicted to the pornography of bloodshed, whipped up the excitement to a degree whereby the uninitiated in Sudan affairs concluded that an arc of rebellions was soon to force the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) into submission, the missing ingredient being international cover. John Prendergast, ever the warmonger, contributed his standard suggestion, US military intervention. In a policy document released this September by his Enough Project Prendergast argued for “tangible political, logistical and financial support for the Sudanese parties and non-governmental organisations pressing for democracy”; imposition of a “no-fly zone” over Darfur, South Kordofan and the Blue Nile or the “destruction of the [government’s] offensive aerial assets”.

Prendergast acknowledged that the policy line he is advocating, namely a Western-backed armed takeover, had “the potential to lead to more conflict in the short term” as in Libya. That, he claimed, was the lesser evil compared to “the status quo of a dictatorship at war with its own people”. The heavily burdened ‘white man’ cited the Ivory Coast and Libya as instances of successful [military] interventions to protect civilians. In the Sudan of the Prendergastian will once the NATO bombs hit the ground and the armed contenders of the NCP regime storm victorious into Khartoum ‘real’ democracy and justice will blossom unhindered, an outcome that is supposedly guaranteed by the inevitable dictate of history.

From the above my personal favourite is this last doctrinaire twist, the inevitable paradise born out of the destruction of war. Ali Osman Mohamed Taha, the First Vice President restored, had something similar to say when addressing the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) deployed in al-Damazin, the capital of the Blue Nile, on 17 September. “Peace and justice will only be achieved when the enemy is totally defeated” he claimed, and “the loci of treason are destroyed”. “Soldiers of Allah, set out to fulfil your holy mission, we tell you. Your national duty is to subjugate the enemy and clear the state of the traitors” bellowed the NCP negotiator of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).

It was President Bashir, the military officer, who at least made a reference to the concrete situation that led to the resurgence of warfare in the Blue Nile. Explaining the position of his government on 5 September to the leaders of the political parties in Khartoum, or to be precise to those who agreed to attend the event, the President argued at length that the former governor of the Blue Nile, Malik Agar, and before him the candidate for the gubernatorial post in SouthKordofan, Abd al-Aziz al-Hilu, had opted for war once it was clear that the outcome of the popular consultation processes in the two states would not be in their favour. No wonder Khartoum was pleased when the Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi told reporters in Khartoum on 16 September that the resolution of the conflict with the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in North Sudan (SPLM-N) lies in the framework of a united Sudan and one national army. The SPLM proper, now the ruling party in the independent South Sudan, was a uniquely successful political-military machine, paralleled in the post-colonial Sudan only by the Islamic Movement and its contemporary embodiment in power, the NCP. The key to this success was Chairman John Garang’s recognition that ‘separatism’ as a declared aim was the Achilles heel of the Southern Sudanese agitation for empowerment in the post-colonial order, peaceful and armed alike. Garang reinvented the cause of Southern Sudan in the 1983 manifesto of the SPLA/M, its founding document. Through the switch from separation of Southern Sudan to a united ‘New Sudan’ the Chairman was able to extend the South Sudanese insurgency into the definitive territory of North Sudan, namely South Kordofan, the Southern Blue Nile, and in the mid-1990’s his forces even threatened Kassala in East Sudan. The SPLA/M famously attempted in 1990 ignite an offshoot of its rebellion in Darfur through the agency of Daoud Yahia Bolad, a former Islamist student leader in Khartoum University turned SPLA rebel. Although the excursion into Darfur at the time was a grand failure it certainly left a seed that delivered in 2003 with the rebellion of the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLA/M) under the leadership of Abd al-Wahid al-Nur and Mini Minawi. By and large the Northern ‘marginalized’, whom Garang recruited for his war against Khartoum, kept their part of the bargain. They followed him faithfully and provided him with badly needed support during the momentous and bloody 1991 split in the SPLA/M. Naturally enough the SPLA combatants from South Kordofan and the Blue Nile sided with Garang the unionist against Riek Machar and Lam Akol who demanded dropping the New Sudan agenda for the cause of Southern Sudanese independence.

While the share of the SPLA forces in South Kordofan and the Blue Nile in war was decisive their share in peace was by all means petty. The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) secured the right of self-determination for South Sudan through a referendum; the two Northern battle-zones of the North-South civil war however had to make do with a hastily devised arrangement that goes by the name ‘popular consultation’. The CPA protocol on the resolution of conflict in South Kordofan and the Blue Nile defined the process as “a democratic right and mechanism to ascertain the views of the people” of the two states on the CPA “through their respective democratically elected legislatures”. Per protocol the legislatures of the two states “shall each establish a Parliamentary Assessment and Evaluation Commission to assess and evaluate the implementation of the agreement in each State”. The two commissions were supposed to submit their reports to the legislatures of the two states by the fourth year of the signing of the CPA. Likewise the Presidency shall establish an independent commission to evaluate the implementation of the agreement in each of the two States.” This commission shall submit its final reports to the National Government and to the Governments of the two States which shall then take the measures necessary to ensure the faithful implementation of the agreement and rectify any shortcomings. The crux of the matter is then this. The legislature of any of the two states has two options, either to endorse the CPA protocol which then becomes the final settlement of the conflict in the state, or “decide to rectify, within the framework of the agreement, any shortcoming in the constitutional, political and administrative arrangements of the agreement”. In this case the legislature “can engage in negotiations with the National Government with the view of rectifying these shortcomings”.

Over the fate of the SPLA troops in the two states the CPA Agreement on Security Arrangements during the Interim Period ruled supreme. Without prejudice to the latter the SAF retained the right to amass troops in the two states as it sees fit, the only restriction being sanction of the Presidency. Apart from the contingents in the catastrophic Joint Integrated Units (JIUs) the SPLA forces deployed in South Kordofan and the Blue Nile were obliged to withdraw south of the 1956 border between North and South Sudan as soon as the JIUs were formed and on the ground. The Government of South Sudan (GoSS) was under explicit obligation to absorb the demobilised Southern Sudanese serving in the SAF in South Sudan. The Northern Sudanese SPLA, whether in South Kordofan, the Blue Nile or otherwise, on the other hand were essentially ignored. In his 5 September account of the confrontations in the Blue Nile the Minister of Defence, Abd al-Rahim Mohamed Hussain, divided the Blue Nile SPLA troops into three categories, those serving in the SPLA component of the JIUs, those referred to as the SPLA proper outside the JIUs, and those still in the service of the SPLA in the independent South Sudan. From a CPA perspective none of the three have a formally legitimate ground to maintain their arms in (North) Sudan after the secession of South Sudan.

Only the referendum and the declaration of South Sudanese independence took place on time. Every other date of the CPA was subject to the procrastination and the manoeuvring of the two parties, the SPLM and the NCP. The population census initially planned for July 2007 took place in April 2008, and the elections originally envisioned in March/April 2009 were eventually held in April 2010. In South Kordofan, the SPLM rejected the census results and the elections in the state were postponed to April 2011. The popular consultation processes, the outcome of which would determine the fate of the local SPLM in the two states, depended essentially on the composition of the state legislatures. In the Blue Nile, where the elections did take place in April 2010, the SPLM’s Malik Agar managed to win the gubernatorial post while the NCP secured a safe majority in the state legislature allowing it effectively to dictate the outcome of the popular consultation process. When the elections were finally conducted in South Kordofan in May 2011 the NCP’s incumbent Ahmed Haroun won the gubernatorial post with less than a 2% margin over his former deputy, the SPLM’s candidate Abd al-Aziz Adam al-Hilu. In the legislature, the NCP scored 33 seats to the SPLM’s 21 thereby achieving the necessary margin to guarantee its control over the popular consultation process. By then the results of the Southern Sudan referendum were already out. War in South Kordofan reignited in June 2011, a few weeks before South Sudan was officially declared an independent state. The SPLM in South Kordofan, orphaned in the rump (North) Sudan contested the outcome of the May 2011 elections, but did not start fighting until it became clear that the SAF was determined to force the disarmament of its combatants. Malik Agar, who until then maintained a declared commitment to peace, signed off the popular consultation processes as dead. He told the press early last August that the post-secession composition of the national government, the presidency and the council of states, precluded the success of the processes. The SPLM-N, left to fend for itself since the SPLM proper opted for the secession exit, and a minority in the state legislatures of South Kordofan and the Blue Nile, was obviously in a bind. Politically, the NCP was effectively free to steer the popular consultation processes to its convenience; and militarily, the SPLA troops in South Kordofan and the Blue Nile were besieged by the SAF intent on their disarmament. The CPA had backfired.

The only serious attempt to salvage the situation was the 28 June Framework Agreement signed in Addis Ababa between the NCP Deputy Chairman, Nafie Ali Nafie, and the SPLM-N Chairman, Malik Agar. The agreement granted the SPLM-N political recognition but provided for the disarmament of its troops in South Kordofan and the Blue Nile over a negotiated time period. The SPLM-N celebrated the agreement. It had all the necessary components to evolve into a minor CPA, namely international mediation, de facto tolerance of the existence of two ‘legitimate’ armies in the country, even if temporarily, and the approval of the extra-electoral special status of the SPLM-N despite the expiry of the CPA. These are exactly the elements that troubled President Bashir and his generals in the SAF. Khartoum scrapped the agreement as soon as it was signed. Before making the grand conclusions that drive the enthusiasm for yet another round of warfare in Sudan it may be judicious to dwell on the lessons of the peace respite that just came to an end. The first I presume is the utter falsity of Prendergast’s ‘gun-driven democracy’ and Taha’s ‘peace by pacification’.

The author is a fellow of the Rift Valley Institute. He publishes regular opinion articles and analyses at his blog Still Sudan. He can be reached at


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