Divisions in Sudan’s Ruling Party and the Threat to the Country’s Stability
Africa Report N°174
4 May 2011
When the South officially secedes, on 9 July 2011, the North’s problems will change little. The National Congress Party (NCP) has not addressed the root causes of Sudan’s chronic conflicts and has exacerbated ethnic and regional divisions. Facing multiple security, political, social and economic challenges, it is deeply divided over the way forward. Its security hardliners see these as minor issues, not imminent threats to their survival, and remain committed to a military solution to chronic instability. Others call for internal party reform – a “second republic” – to address the NCP’s problems but are giving little thought to resolving those of the country. The party has mobilised its security apparatus to suppress any revolts, has decided to end the debate about Sudan’s diversity and identity, remains committed to an Arab-Islamic identity for all Sudanese and keeping Sharia and is ready to sub-divide key states to accommodate political barons. These are ad-hoc decisions that set the stage for continued violence that may not be containable and could lead to further fragmentation of the country.
Power is now increasingly centralised in a small clique around President Bashir. However, this centralisation is not reflected in the armed forces. Concerned about a possible coup, he and close associates have fragmented the security services and have come to rely increasingly on personal loyalty and tribal allegiances to remain in power. Meanwhile, their party has been allowed to flounder, having long ago lost its strategic vision and policy coherence. Deeply divided and more concerned with staying in power, the leadership more often reacts to events rather than implements a well-thought-out national program. This is best illustrated by the protracted, very public dispute between Nafie Ali Nafie (NCP deputy chairman for organisational affairs and presidential adviser) and Ali Osman Taha (second vice president of Sudan) and the wildly diverging statements made by party leaders in the run-up to the South’s self-determination referendum. The recent dismissal from his posts of the formerly powerful Salah Gosh reflects divisions within the NCP that have the potential to lead to the party’s collapse or a coup.
Bashir, Nafie and the security hardliners have concluded that the opposition parties are very weak and reject their call for a more inclusive constitutional conference to draft a permanent constitution after the South secedes in July. They think they have the situation in Darfur under control and discount the possibility of conflict in the transitional areas of Southern Kordofan and the Blue Nile, believing that those regions are divided, and their military forces are not an imminent threat to Khartoum now that the South is focused on other issues. They continue to pursue divide and rule tactics to prevent the emergence of a unified counterweight to NCP dominance of the centre. Taha and more pragmatic allies are willing to negotiate with other political forces but are undermined by the security hardliners. They also seemingly remain committed to the party’s goal of imposing an Arab-Islamic identify on all of what remains of Sudan – an extremely divisive issue in a country that still includes hundreds of ethnic and linguistic groups.
In the absence of accountability, the leadership enjoys absolute freedom and has institutionalised corruption to its benefit, in the process rewarding political barons who can deliver their constituencies by giving them lucrative government positions to maintain their loyalty. The governors of each state run their own patronage network within their respective regions.
Despite the seemingly successful conclusion of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), the accord has failed to resolve the issues that drive chronic conflict in Sudan. It was intended to lead to the “democratic transformation” of the country. However, during its six year interim period (to end formally in July), the NCP resisted meaningful implementation of many provisions, because they would seriously threaten its grip on power. The opportunity to maintain Sudan’s unity and to establish a stable, democratic state was lost. Not surprisingly, Southerners chose separation when they voted in January 2011.
The remainder of the country thus remains saddled with the “Sudan Problem”, where power, resources and development continue to be overly concentrated in the centre, at the expense of and to the exasperation of the peripheries. A “new south” is emerging in the hitherto transitional areas of Abyei, Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile that – along with Darfur, the East and other marginal areas – continues to chafe under the domination of the NCP. Unless their grievances are addressed by a more inclusive government, Sudan risks more violence and disintegration.
The call by the opposition parties for a wider constitutional review conference suggests a way forward. Such a conference should be seen as a more extensive national consultative process, to accommodate the popular consultations in the transitional areas and the Darfur people-to-people dialogue. Those latter two processes, if run separately, will not lead to political stability and lasting peace in the whole country. The cardinal issue of governance must be addressed nationally. To encourage this, a united international community, particularly the African Union (AU), Arab League and the UN, should put pressure on the NCP to accept a free and unhindered national dialogue to create a national stabilisation program that includes defined principles for establishing an inclusive constitutional arrangement accepted by all.
Khartoum/Nairobi/Brussels, 4 May 2011