Monday, April 26, 2010

Meet Al Khatim Adlan: The Voice of Freedom and Justice for All Sudan

By John A. Akec

Figure 1 Al Khatim Adlan
I have no doubt that a great number of South Sudanese would be familiar with writings and political stands of Dr. Mansour Khalid, former Sudan foreign minister, member of SPLM political bureau, and currently, Sudan presidential advisor. As non-conformist that he is, Dr. Mansur Khalid is well known for his brutal criticism of the Northern political elites on whose shoulders he squarely put blame for Sudan’s destructive civil wars in South Sudan, and was the first high profile Northern Sudanese to join SPLM against the conventional wisdom of the time and stayed on course for two decades until Naivasha agreement was concluded, and only then did he return home in the company of Dr. John Garang to a great reception.

Similarly, many in my generation would have heard of, or read the works of late Mahmud Mohamed Taha, the founder of the Republican Movement, whose aims was to reform Islamic thought in Sudan in such away as to do away with militaristic tendencies of the popular Islamic movement, and to elevate the voice of reason, justice, and universal fraternity above voices of religious bigotry and doctrines of racial superiority.

Ustaz Mahmud Mohamed Taha, paid the ultimate price. He was executed in 1983 for opposing Numeri’s September Laws, by the very destructive forces he tried to withstand through peaceful and intellectual means. While a student in Gezira University in 1980’s, I was so impressed by the power of his teachings, and captivated by his deep sense of humanity (as revealed by his thoughts in his many writings) to the extent of confessing to my closest friends that if I were a Muslim, I would be a Republican.

In contrast, I suspect fewer or modest number of South Sudanese would be familiar with intellectual and political contributions of Al-Khatim Adlan (pictured above), and perhaps not many would be keen to find out who he was. For out of sight is out of mind. This, I have to admit, would be pure ignorance and real tragedy should the ideas and struggles of Al Khatim be eclipsed from our utmost attention, for one reason or another. Read on.

And so I would like to invite my readers to meet Al-Khatim Adlan (in case they never met him), and remind those who knew him and are in danger of forgetting him. Al Khatim is a political figure larger than life, an intellectual giant of immense prowess, humanist, and a great thinker. Al-Khatim tragically passed away while in exile in London on 23rd April 2005 at age of 55, barely three months after signing of Sudan Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). By his untimely death, Al Khatim left behind an unfinished business and great political void that will be hard to fill for many years to come.

Figure 2 AL Khatim Centre for Enlightenment and Human Development, KACE

This week, Al-Khatim Adlan Centre for Enlightenment and Human Development in Khartoum (KACE) (pictured above) is commemorating the fifth of anniversary of his death.

Al-Khatim Adlan is a persuasive and infectious political advocate of first rate. On his deathbed in Wood Green, not far from Palmers Green where I once lived in London, and on the eve of Thursday April 21 2005, precisely two days before he succumbed to his terminal pancreas cancer, Al Khatim wrote:
“Witness of me… and write about me…that I lived all my life spreading enlightenment and fighting superstition…and if I have only two days…or two hours…or two seconds to live, and if I am able within this span of time, I would spread enlightenment..”

In an article entitled “Peace in Sudan” dated January 5th 2005, four days before signing of Naivasha Peace Agreement, Al Khatim Adlan asked very deep and penetrating questions:
“Is it possible to achieve peace while keeping the ideology of war? Are we willing to face ourselves and organise our thoughts? Have we learned anything from our painful experience? Is it possible to bypass this experience without any analysis?” (Al Khatim Adlan, What is Exile and What is Home? Selected Essays, 2006).

He went on to persuade the Sudanese people to erect a more enduring peace by inviting them to embrace a culture of radical change, saying:
“Greats nations are not the ones that did not make mistakes…but those which learn from their mistakes and discover better ways…that is what the Athenians had done when they got rid of 30 tyrannical rulers and established a democracy….Great nations get rid of their internal contradictions and liberate themselves so that they no longer live in accordance to those contradictions… that is what the Americans did when they eliminated contradiction in their constitution between the freedom of individual and legitimacy of slavery…”

Figure 3 Dr Al Bagir Afif, Director of KACE

With a life full of struggle for justice, equality, and fairness, Al Khatim Adlan is by no means a shooting star that appeared suddenly in Sudan’s political skyline, and then disappeared at the same rate as he came; far from it.

In 1969, and as a member of Khartoum University Students Union (KUSU), Al Khatim initiated a fact finding mission that travelled to Wau and Juba in South Sudan to investigate the atrocities committed by Sudan army between 1965 and 1969. These atrocities included Malakia Massacre in Juba, and Wedding Massacre in Wau in 1967. On returning from their fact-finding mission, Al Khatim and colleagues including Abdon Agaw (the current general secretary of GOSS) conducted a press conference in Khartoum that was reported by all the major media outlets in which they exposed and condemned those atrocities. Not long after that, Al Khatim was imprisoned by May regime from 1971 and only emerged from his prison after the political uprising that toppled May regime in April 1985.

Reflecting on his stand on oppression of the South by the successive Northern regimes, Al Khatim wrote: “I have asked myself this question: Am I responsible for the atrocities meted against my people in South Sudan? Have I contributed in anyway to their bloody oppression? Have I done enough to defend them from where I am? I answered with clean conscience that I am completely clean- I have befriended South Sudanese boys and girls since a very young age, and I never felt being superior to them, although there were occasions when I felt many of them to far superior to me…and I never resented it because I have long overcome the illusions of racial superiority…” (What is Exile and What is Home?, pp 52).

Who is this Al Khatim then? And what was his real political affiliation apart from his fiery writings? You are bound to ask.

Al Khatim Adlan was born in Umdaka Al Jaleen village in Gezira in Central Sudan in 1948. He studied at Medani Secondary School and University of Khartoum Faculty of Arts where he majored in Philosophy. As a student in University of Khartoum he shone as a serious political activist, thinker, philosopher, and intellectual of the highest caliber.

At a very young age, Al Khatim joined Sudan Communist Party while he was in secondary school, and rose to be a member of its Central Committee. He was also a fierce advocate of voluntary unity amongst Sudanese based on universal values of equality that recognises Sudan’s religious, cultural, and ethnic diversity.

Al Khatim left Sudan and headed for UK to escape persecution in 1994 where he was reunited with his family in London. Having tried to initiate radical reforms within the Communist Party without success, Al-Khatim and a number of his colleagues resigned from the party in the same year. In 1996, he founded with others the Sudan New Democratic Forces Movement (HAQ).

He summarized his quitting the Communist Party saying: “I realized in the early 1990s how the Marxist project for social change had been proven wrong by history. I have not chosen to fall back on the 30 years I have spent serving that project. I was not paralyzed by fear to form or construct a new way of thinking, and create a new identity. I have not cared for what people will say, dead or living. I declared it to myself and then I went public. I went back to the roots of all our projects – the interests of the people and their right to live in dignity, peace and justice”

He is described by those who knew him closely as a faithful patriot, a true leader who fought on the side of oppressed, and who never walked away from a battle in the defense of the rights of the marinalised, but always willing to sacrifice his own life for the sake of the people, the nation, and his principles.

A great enthusiast of New Sudan project, Al Khatim wrote to Dr. John Garang after signing of Naivasha agreement “you Dr. John and SPLM/A are now living your finest hour. You have ushered into a new era of peace and reconciliation. Democratic governance, social justice, respect for human rights, and acknowledgement of diversity, have for the first time become achievable. [These] are exceptional achievements to which you can lay claim with full legitimacy.”

Dr. Al Bagir Afif (pictured above in his office at KACE), long time friend of Al Khatim, and Director and founder of KACE wrote of him “Al Khatim devoted his life to the powerless, he was not concerned with worldly pleasures of life. He came to life a poor person, and he passed away a poor person. Like them, he lived his short life in purity.”

His long suffering wife, Tissir Mustafa, making a telephone conference call to the gatherers at Al Khatim memorial evening last Friday, described him as “a loving person, a simple man.”

I wonder what would Al Khatim Adlan write or say about Sudan’s elections and what has become of Naivasha agreement and highly touted democratic transformation? I very much suspect he would have been disappointed.

The struggle for freedom goes on.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Is Salva Kiir Ready to Work with “Independent” Governors?

By John A. Akec

It is not unusual for an independent candidate to operate as a sole backbencher in a law making body (that is, Legislative Assembly, as we call it in South Sudan). It is also not a big deal if the leadership of a ruling party with overwhelming majority, such as SPLM, chooses to ignore an independent lawmaker (MP).

However, it is totally a different matter if an independent candidate concerned was voted in as a governor of a state. If that is the case (having an independent candidate becoming an elected governor), it is going to be inevitable that some common understanding be reached between the independent candidate and the ruling party as soon as possible in order to facilitate the smooth running of the affairs of the concerned state.

In the event of these elections bringing in a number of SPLM independent candidates on gubernatorial seats (as it is very likely to occur in a number of states), it would call for immediate negotiations between SPLM leadership and the candidate to build bridges if the citizens of those states are not to be victimized (or rather, antagonized) by the government.

Yet, surprisingly enough, excommunicating independent governors from her party’s government support was what Dr. Anne Ito, the deputy SPLM Secretary General for South Sudan, was alluding to when she told an audience at a campaign trail (as reported last month by the Citizen) that: “If you vote in an independent candidate as a governor, that governor is not going to be supported by President Salva Kiir…”

Following this statement, we would also be obliged to wonder whether or not the SPLM leadership is going to mete out a similar, albeit unconstitutional, treatment on potential winning candidates of other political parties, or is this is going to be confined as a special punitive measure against those who rebelled within the SPLM and chose to go it alone against the wishes of the mother party? Were Madam Anne Ito serious, or was she just playing scare-mongering tactics to discourage pollsters from voting in independent candidates, which also qualifies as electoral blackmail?

I believe, by ‘support’, Anne Ito must have meant financial provision in the form of budgetary allocations for day to day running of the state bureaucracy as well as availing the resources necessary for successful execution of developmental projects that are going to be initiated by the winning SPLM independent governors in their respective states.

If such a position as expressed by Anne Ito is carried out to its logical conclusion, it would create political crisis of immense magnitude. Apart from being unconstitutional, it will antagonize whole states and classify some of states as pro-SPLM and others as anti-SPLM. And will find ourselves in similar situations where Palestinian Authority (headed by Fatah) controls the West Bank, while Hamas rules Gaza. The gravity may vary, but the picture is one of the same. And no one in their right senses would like to see this kind of situation played out on top of the many thorny issues South Sudan may already have to contend with at this juncture of our political history.

The situation of a party member rebelling against party’s selection outcome and going it alone is not entirely unique to South Sudan, or SPLM to be specific. I witnessed in the UK when Ken Livingstone, a long-serving Labour Party politician, refused to recognize the Electoral College selection process that favoured Frank Dobson (another erstwhile Labour Party member) and Livingstone contender for candidacy for London Mayor’s elections in 2000. Labeled as a left-winger in the Labour Party, the Labour Headquarter (the equivalent of SPLM PB) preferred Frank Dobson over Livingstone who won majority of member votes but lost what was described as “complex” Electoral College selection.

Livingstone argued that the selection process by Electoral College was flawed and possibly manipulated by Labour leadership; and that he was more popular than Frank Dobson, and stood a better chance winning. Notwithstanding, Labour leadership contended that Livingstone leave the race to Dobson. Failing that, they dismissed him from the Labour Party as he adamantly insisted to run as independent candidate. Elections were conducted and the Londoners voted in Ken Livingstone, while Frank Dobson (the preferred Labour candidate) and Steve Norris (the Conservative candidate) lost.

Under Livingstone’s mayor-ship, London continued to thrive as Europe’s leading financial capital, contrary to expressed fears that Livingstone (a left-winger) was going to drive business out of London. A creative leader that he is, Livingstone was responsible for many ground breaking initiatives such Congestion Charges in central London during working days, tolled motorway routes, exclusive bus lanes in London, and free bus passes for under-16s school children. In 2004, his membership was reinstated in the Labour party, and he ran the race for London Mayor as Labour candidate. That gave him a second term win.

The situation we have in South Sudan, especially in regards to SPLM independent candidates, is extremely similar; and Madam Anne Ito and the leadership of SPLM party need to take a leaf from it. Vocal and strong-headed Independent candidates of caliber of Alfred Ladu Gore, Joseph Bakosoro, Deng Aturjuong and others are likely to make it through to governorship seats in their respective states.

SPLM as a party has had many divisions over recent months. We have seen DC breaking away not long ago. Then we have independent candidates being disowned. Then most recently, there had been serious disagreements within SPLM political bureau (PB) on whether or not to join or to boycott all elections in the North. The disagreement which was manifested in form of a party speaking in different ‘tongues’ warns of a brewing factionalism within SPLM. So far, SPLM independent candidates have maintained that they are not leaving the party, while all of them support Salva Kiir candidacy.

Therefore, SPLM should have plan B of mending fences and welcoming their independent candidates back into the Party’s fold; and to work fruitfully with them to take the South through the final leg of CPA implementation.

Flexible politics is good politics.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

South Sudan presidential candidates’ manifestos and the economy

By John A. Akec

Over the last few weeks, I watched South Sudan Presidential candidates Salva Kiir Mayardit and Lam Akol Ajawin fighting back to back in the Citizen newspaper. I mean, their campaign teams have been hiring the back and front pages of the paper in order to divulge the content of their electoral manifestos. Lam Akol campaign advert occupies most of the front page, while Kiir Mayardit’s team hired the back page. This exercise in itself contributes positively to advancing the cause of democracy in South Sudan. Yes, change or reelection ought to be through the ballot as opposed to bullet.

Our two candidates are promising voters all kinds of agendas. For example, Salva Kiir, the incumbent president of government of South Sudan, is asking to be elected for good governance, reconciliation, freedom of expression and association, fighting corruption, national security and stability, empowerment of women, teachers’ training and universal education for all, reduction of infant mortality rate, commitment to the right of self-determination, promotion of traditional authority, promotion of multicultural, ethnically and religiously diverse society.

On the other hand, Lam Akol, Kiir’s sole challenger, is promising good governance, capacity building and transformation of SPLA into a professional army, reform of civil service, fighting corruption, modernization of agriculture, fighting the encroachment of desert by planting of trees, South-South reconciliation, protection of human rights, and adoption of sound economic policies, among others.

It has to be noted that what our presidential candidates are advocating for can be classified as general stuff. Much of it is common and there is little by the way of differentiation. In fact South, Sudan is in need of all these things like good governance, freedom of self-expression, security, education, health, food security, and clean water. It is also not surprising that their campaign teams would like to fill their candidates’ wish list with as many politically trendy catch phrases as they can muster.

Yet, shockingly enough, few of what the candidates advocate for would be taken seriously by the voters in South Sudan where literacy is only 15% compared to 65% in North Sudan. In other words, how nice their manifestos look, is unlikely to significantly impact on who will be voted in or who will be voted out. These things are more or less pre decided by other factors that bear tenuous relationship to election manifesto.

This bitter truth was echoed yesterday by Professor Hassan Maki, the renowned Sudanese political analyst and Vice Chancellor of African International University (based in Khartoum). In an interview with El Sahafa newspaper (a leading independent Sudan’s daily) on Sunday (4 April 2010), Prof. Maki commented on the insignificance of political manifesto as the determinant of voting a candidate into office in Sudan, and I quote:

“There is little weight attached to political manifesto in this election. It is all about sectarian, tribal, and racial tussles. In essence, what we describe as political manifesto is really comprised of 20% candidate’s charisma, 20% candidate’s tribal weight, 20% candidate’s financial muscle, and 15% due to the weight of the political party behind the candidate.”

That being the case, we still insist that election ought to be a battle ground for various visions that are intent to positively impact people’s quality of life by directing spending in targeted programmes such as education, health, and security.

One area of great interest to any nation is economy. Without good economic policies, all these promises will come to nothing. It is essentially about how to allocate scarce national resources to produce goods and services which people need. And also to create, spend, keep, and distribute national income in most optimal and satisfactory way.

Reading Salva Kiir’s campaign website, one notes that he promises to: “work to stimulate economic growth and create jobs; use oil revenues to fuel and develop agriculture as the main engine of development, as oil is a finite and non-renewable resource; transform subsistence economy into efficient, self-reliant economy; develop small and medium size industries through domestic and direct foreign investment; create opportunities for equal participation in trade, giving priority to the socially and economically disadvantaged groups in society such as youth, women and ex-combatants; provide an enabling environment for the Private Sector to flourish as a prime driver for job and wealth creation etc…“

On the economy, Lam Akol promised among other things to ensure just distribution of national income, creation of self-reliant economy, adoption of stringent fiscal and structural policies, control of government expenditure, control and auditing of public finances, exploitation of animal and fish resources, protection of wild life, opening of export markets, encouraging planting of trees, revision of banking polices, introduction of mechanized agriculture, rehabilitation old factories, and creating of new ones based the raw materials available in the locality.

It is all about economy and what needs doing. However, in my opinion, none of the presidential candidates has really diagnosed where they should concentrate their efforts. Yes, stamping out corruption will contribute to the improvement of economic performance. So far, this has been one of the hardest nuts to crack. An important issue that the next president would need to address would be to close the many loopholes in South Sudan economy that are responsible for massive unemployment and loss of our national wealth to neigbhouring countries.

One important area of economy that merits greatest attention is empowering local entrepreneurs who are loosing the market to foreigners (mainly Kenyans, Ugandans, Somalis, and Eritreans, and Ethiopians) due to lack of financing and dearth of entrepreneurial skills (which can be taught and cultivated if the government wants to do so). The other is employment of foreign skills in service sector such as catering, restaurants, hotels, and offices. While avoiding outlawing the employment of foreigners in these sectors, there ought to be policies in place to regulate the process of taking on foreign workers, while ensuring that local citizens have priority in employment.

For instance, foreign businesses housed in South Sudan must be asked to train and employ certain percentage (say 60%) of South Sudanese and to raise the level to 95% in a number of years as condition for granting them operating license. That way, many South Sudanese citizens will find employment, pay taxes, and lift their families out of poverty.

In order to provide skilled workforce to service sector, vocational education should be given great priority so as to make available a workforce with skills in plumbing, electrical wiring, auto mechanics, and construction.

Furthermore, South Sudan needs to start to implement strategies to create its manufacturing industrial base by sending on scholarships something between 50 and 100 bright young people from all over the South to go and train in management, marketing, and manufacturing technologies (in areas such as food processing, chemicals and textiles, plastics, building material, agro-chemicals, poultry, animal production and breeding, and so on). When they come back, they should receive government support to begin establishing our manufacturing base by pairing up with foreign investors.

Last but not least, South Sudan needs to take due dilligence to avoid falling victim to global financial piracy. We need to be aware that the third world countries are currently indebted to developed nations by an staggering sum of US$ 2.5 trillion (where Sudan share is US$ 43 billion). The indebted nations pay some US$ 375 billion annually to service this debt (measured at 2004 rate). This figure far exceeds the budget the indebted countries spend annually on education and health; and ten times the amount of funds received in foreign aid from the developed countries.

Most of these debts were engineered and did not achieve the goal of lifting those nations out of . Instead, it kept them in a system of dependency and bondage to global corporate interests. The would be president of government of South Sudan needs to carefully read John Perkins’ book: Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, not to take it literally, but to learn something from it. No tongues in cheeks.