Home | Comment & Analysis    Thursday 28 September 2017

Diagnosing the discord in the SPLM-North

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"(So) has been Decreed that Matter Whereof ye Twain Do Enquire"!

By Elwathig Kameir

Introduction

1. The underlying disagreements within the transitional "tripartite" leadership of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLMN) blew up immediately following the decisions of the Nuba Mountains Liberation Council (NMLC), on March 6, 2017, in the wake of the resignation of the Movement’s Vice Chairman, Lieutenant-General Abdul Aziz Al-Helu, which was presented to the Council. The discord accumulated and manifested in the internal struggle for power within in the Movement; it resulted in a split at the level of leadership, which in turn impacted the grassroots, the latter dividing into two groups. One group hailed and supported these decisions, dubbing them as required "reform steps," while the other group denounced them — not only because they defied "constitutional legitimacy" but also because they were perceived to contradict the whole New Sudan project. These decisions, issued by the NMLC in its extended meeting March 6-25 2017, included the unanimous disapproval of Al-Helu’s resignation; the dismissal of the Secretary-General (SG), including his dismissal from all executive and negotiating functions; the dissolution of the negotiations’ delegation, which has remained under his administration for six years, from 2011 to 2017; and the call for an extraordinary general convention within two months, which has not yet seen the light, for the purpose of endorsing the drafts of the SPLMN’s Manifesto and Constitution.

2. Adding insult to injury was the NMLC’s adoption of the decisions of its counterpart in the Blue Nile Liberation Council (BNLC), which deposed the Chairman of the SPLMN from his position and even prevented him, together with the SG, from entering liberated territories that fall under the control of the SPLAN in the Nuba Mountains. Indeed, this action has been condemned by many observers as disdainful for comrades-in-arms, degrading fellows in struggle, and offending their pride. Thus, the two councils have resolved to disqualify two of the "tripartite" leadership, the Chairman and the SG, and appointed Al-Helu as Chairman and Commander-in-Chief of SPLAN. The picture, however, became complete with the alignment of SPLAN’s General Staff to the decisions of the NMLC, giving their support for the inauguration of Al-Hulu as a new Chairman of the SPLMN.

3. The aim of this modest contribution is to elucidate the disagreements within the SPLMN by reviewing the arguments and counter-arguments of the parties to the conflict, and their respective supporters, in order to explore the available options to overcome the discord, and to foresee the future of the movement and prospects for its unity. The paper follows an analytical approach that takes into account some methodological considerations, presents key hypotheses, and critically examines some of the prevailing concepts in the SPLM literature since the Movement’s inception. Illuminating the issues of discord, and exploring the available options for their resolution, will not bear fruit or yield new knowledge necessary for understanding the nature and dimensions of the current conflict without situating these issues in the context of the historical and political development of the Movement. Outside this context, it would be difficult, if not impossible, for the parties at hand to recognize and understand the implications of this schism for the future of the SPLMN and the unity of its ranks, thus narrowing the options for solutions and re-producing the experiences of the past.

Diagnosing the Discord

4. The disagreements that have plagued the unity of the "tripartite" leadership of the SPLMN seem self-explanatory. Thus, the frequent statements of the two parties have not ceased underlining their respective position regarding the underlying causes of the conflict, presenting arguments and counter-arguments, and proposing alternative options for settling the discord. It is no secret the NMLC’s decisions constituted a practical translation of Commander Al-Helu’s own perspective on the leadership crisis and his strong criticism of his two comrades, the Chairman of the SPLMN and the SG, to the extent of losing confidence in, and expressing unwillingness to jointly work with, them. In exposing the underlying reasons for the resignation, Commander Al-Helu summed up the points of disagreement, with his two comrades, in five main issues, including: the failure to review the manifesto and the constitution; the lack of institutions (the leadership council, the National Liberation Council, the Secretariat); the inability of translating the New Sudan vision into reality; the inefficiency of External offices and the Movement’s failing foreign relations; and lowering of the ceiling for negotiations by making substantial concessions to the ruling regime.

5. The essence of the dispute, however, lies in the position that Commander Al-Helu articulated in the introduction of his resignation letter, focused on three main issues. First, according to Al-Helu, armed struggle is the principal, if not the only, means to achieve the legitimate demands of the people of the Nuba Mountains, thus adopting a negotiating stance that the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/North (SPLAN) should be preserved for twenty years as part of a comprehensive security arrangements agreement. The second issue is the demand of the right to self-determination for the people of the Nuba Mountains, if it proved impossible to establish a unified secular democratic Sudan, on the bases of justice, equality and freedom, i.e. The New Sudan. Third, reconsidering the map of the SPLMN’s political alliances in congruence with the new leader’s definition of the nature of the conflict in the whole country. Indeed, it is the failure to consult the grassroots, especially in critical issues, such as the call for the right to self-determination, self-rule, and the fate of the SPLAN, which prompted the NMLC to make decisions on national and fundamental issues.

6. The paper will not address the points of difference on organizational issues related to the delay in the drafting of the Manifesto and the Constitution, the absence of organizational structures, and imbalances in external relations and offices. This is not because these issues are unimportant, but because they are not the subject of the urgent disagreements between the Vice Chairman, and the deposed Chairman and SG. In fact, both parties acknowledge such problems and concur that addressing and resolving them should be the responsibility of the prospective extraordinary general convention, though each party has their own perception as to how the latter would be organized, On the other hand, these issues have precipitated confusion for the cadres and grassroots of the SPLMN since the outbreak of war in June 2011. The absence of leadership and the breakdown of channels of communication with cadres and the grassroots have resulted in an exclusionist decision-making process when it comes to fundamental issues. The link between the leadership and membership was limited only to SG’s one-way flow of statements. The structures of the SPLM-N proposed by the Interim Leadership in February 2011 are either dysfunctional or are yet to be established. The constitution and organization committees have still not been formed. The process of drafting the Vision and Framework Program was held up, while the absence of structures has impeded the discussion and approval of the Draft Manifesto that was produced. Meanwhile, an alternative mechanism is yet to be proposed by the Interim leadership. I addressed all these issues in a lengthy letter to the Chairman of the SPLMN, earlier on April 26, 2012, which was widely published in 2015 (Sudan Tribune, 8 November 2015).

7. In his exposition of the discontent with his two comrades in the Leadership Council of the SPLMN, Commander Al-Helu noted that "we have differences, and it is normal to have disputes in the course of work, but when the disagreement over secondary issues contradicts with, and goes beyond fundamental principles and norms, that is, when the problem begins" (Al-Helu’s Letter of Resignation, 6 March 2017). Ironically, however, the dispute over the two strategic issues — the destiny of the SPLA and the right to self-determination — have not arisen as a result of accumulated secondary disputes, but, in fact, date backs to over six years, since the signing of the Malik/Nafie Agreement on 28 June 2011. In his own words, Al-Helu stated that "Only 22 days after the beginning of the second war on 6 June 2011, the Chairman and the SG presented me with a draft framework agreement, called Nafie/Aqar June 28 agreement. I objected to the accord, particularly the provisions of the security arrangements, because they were intended to absorb the SPLAN into the army of the National Congress party (NCP)" (Al-Helu, ibid). This equally applies to the right to self-determination, as it was also not included in the agreement that was ultimately torn by President Al-Bashir before the drying of its ink.

8. With regards to the first issue, Commander Al-Helu addressed the meeting of the NMLC stating "if you postpone the war, there will be no future generations in light of the genocide currently taking place, especially when there are those, among us, who say that we are incapable of defeating the regime and achieving the New Sudan at once, at one go." Thus, for him, the "Liberation Army" is "one of the most important mechanisms and means of the struggle for freedom and democratization. It cannot be dissolved in light of what is happening now, in the form of dual racism and the violence of the state’s centre, responsible for killing millions of innocent Sudanese" (Al-Helu, ibid). In an unmistakable gesture, this statement points a finger at the SG, who was also the SPLMN’s chief negotiator, accusing him of seeking a behind-doors deal with the ruling regime that includes compromises in security arrangements. In the eyes of Commander Al-Hulu, this act means nothing, but "the disarming of the SPLA by means of its absorption into the NCP Army, thus ending its role as guarantor of any agreement, or as a tool for achieving democratic transformation and just peace" (Al-Helu, ibid). Perhaps, he wanted to respond directly to the SG’s speech at a press conference held prior to the start of the last round of negotiations on the cessation of hostilities, sponsored by the African Union High-Implementation Panel (AUHIP), with the Government of Sudan, Addis Ababa, August 2016, in the presence of Commander Al-Helu himself. The SG unveiled the position of the SPLMN on the two issues of self-determination and the fate of the SPLAN. In his own words, the SG insisted that the Movement "will not accept the demilitarization of its forces during the transitional period, and before the full implementation of the signed agreements." However, a time limit for this transitional period was not specificied before the merger of the SPLAN with the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF), which was set by Commander Al-Helu to be 20 years. The SG added, "True, the SPLM calls for one army, but this one army must be a professional and balanced army, owned by all Sudanese, and reflecting the composition of the entire Sudan. Therefore, when we put down our weapons, the NCP is obliged to do the same thing, indeed the NCP cannot confiscate the weapons of others, while it retains its own arsenal. Unless the agreement is implemented, our army will remain present during the implementation period, under a unified command with the Sudanese army, in addition to the dismantling of all armies and militias in order to build a new Sudanese armed forces" (SG Speech, Hurryiat e.Newspaper, 11 August 2015).

9. As for the second issue — the right to self-determination — the former SG of the SPLMN, at the same press conference, reiterated the Movement’s position calling for the restructuring of the Sudanese state in its entirety and reorganizing the relationship between the centre and the regions. He said, "we are not calling for self-determination or secession of the Two Areas, but we demand that the people of the Two Areas rule themselves. We do not advocate an "ethnic" project, and we do not wish a future for the Nuba, separate from the Misseriya, or Alhawazma or Alfelata. We must guarantee the future for all tribes in South Kordofan, and that is our vision". Commander Al-Helu did not hesitate in responding to the SG’s remarks, describing them as "inexpressive of the views or vision of the SPLM because the SPLM is fighting for justice, and will not exclude any means for achieving such justice. To attain freedom and justice, an end to genocide and apartheid, the right to self-determination cannot be compromised as a democratic mechanism for conflict resolution".

10. It is worth noting that the content of the draft manifesto issued in May 2012 confirms that the right to self-determination remained the subject of substantial disagreement between the two conflicting parties, although it is the resignation letter that brought it strongly to the surface. In his capacity as Vice-Chairman of the SPLMN, Commander Al-Helu formed a committee tasked with reviewing the manifesto draft, which had been prepared by the Vision and Program Committee in April 2011. The new draft, dated May 2012, dedicated an entire chapter to the right to self-determination "as a right for all Sudanese people to exercise, for the purpose of either complete independence or for agreeing on a secular democratic system of government" (SPLM/A, Political and Leadership Training Institute, Manifesto Project, May 2012, pp. 32-35).

11. As for the third issue of discord, it relates to Commander Al-Helu’s visualization of the nature of the socio-political conflict in the country, a perspective that in turn calls for re-examining the SPLMN’s alliances with other Sudanese political forces. Al-Helu believes that the war has been protracted since 1956 for two reasons: The first is the split of the Sudanese political conscience between the profiteers from what he describes as the "Arab Islamic Center," on the one hand, and, on the other, the marginalized people adversely impacted by this center. The second reason is the division of the collective conscience anchored in cultural diversity and the conflict over African/Arab identity. According to him, there is no room for "neutrality" or bystanders in this war. He argues that the Sudanese people have come to be divided into two groups: "one team is with the vision of the New Sudan, which accommodates everyone, and the other team is with the Arabo-Islamic marginalizing and exclusionist project." Thus, Commander Al-Helu counts the civil and political forces, dubbing them the "advocates of civil jihad," as part and parcel of the forces of the hegemonic centre and the old Sudan, albeit to varying degrees. Therefore, he concluded, "if alliances with these forces become necessary, then they must be based on the founding principles of the New Sudan project" (Al-Helu, ibid). This is what was detailed in the new Manifesto draft of May 2012, under the SPLMN/A strategy, section V, paragraph 5.9: "Contacting opposition groups with the aim of forming a united front with these groups, on condition that the leadership of this front remains armed and should be in sync with the New Sudan project." And in paragraph 5.11: "establishing political and military alliances with revolutionary movements, political organizations and civil society organizations that are in unison with the vision of the New Sudan" (Manifesto Project, ibid, p. 32).

12. In their response to the three issues of disagreement, the former Chairman and the SG professed that "the thesis put forward by Commander Al-Helu marks a clear retraction from the vision of the New Sudan, with seemingly stringent terms, whose fragility will ultimately be revealed, while the timing he has chosen may also be characterized as catastrophic".

13. First, in their opinion, the right to self-determination was not part of the New Sudan vision "except in 1991 as a proposal to preserve the existence of southern nationalists within the SPLM/A," according to the former Chairman of the SPLMN (Statement of Malik Aqar, 5 June 2017). Moreover, the right to self-determination has serious repercussions and adverse impacts on the population of the Two Areas, in addition to the political, practical, and procedural difficulties encountered on the ground, especially in terms of population structure and borders, which could lead to sharp ethnic polarization in the region. Above all, the realities of the Southern question, historically and politically, do not match those in South Kordofan and the Blue Nile, which makes it difficult, if not impossible, to garner the necessary local support, let alone the requisite regional and international backup. Therefore, the former Chairman and SG stand by "self-rule, which gives the people of the Two Areas the right to govern themselves, including the legislative powers, in the context of a unified decentralized Sudan, taking into account and responding to the specificities of both regions. This, however, does not invalidate the right of the people in the Two Areas to intervene in issues of change in the whole of Sudan" (Statement by Malik Aqar, 5 June 2017). Furthermore, the exercise of the right to self-determination requires a democratic environment and broad discussions among the people of the Two Areas. Therefore ”my position, that of the SG, and of many other leaders and members in the Movement, is to abide by the vision of New Sudan and Sudan’s unity on new bases without oscillating between the positions of the right to self-determination and unity as has occurred in the past,” opined the former leader of the SPLMN. (Statement by Malik Aqar, 9th June 2017).

14. Secondly, with regards to the issue of the “two armies” the former Chairman states that the Vice-Chairman, Commander Al-Helu and other leaders of the SPLMN have participated in designing, drawing up plans, and reviewing the outcomes of all rounds of negotiations. Thus, Al-Helu is fully aware that negotiations have not yet reached the stage of discussing substantive issues related to the roots of war, including security and political arrangements in the Two Areas. All that has transpired in the last round of negotiations, in August 2016, is that the Government delegation was intentionally confusing between arrangements for a cessation of hostilities and a final and comprehensive set of security arrangements. The SPLMN delegation proposed five key principles as a framework within whose parameters any such negotiation should take place. Among these principles was that of maintaining the SPLNA as a separate army during the period of the agreement’s execution as a first step and maintaining that it will eventually become part of the new Sudanese army, which will be restructured and re-professionalized, although this will take a long time and require several stages. However, this will not mean the abandonment of the SPLNA without the fulfillment of its political objectives and the building of a new Sudanese army that reflects the interests of all Sudanese, including the inhabitants of the Two Areas (Statement by Malik Aqar, 5 June 2017).

15. Third, contrary to the vision of Commander Al-Helu regarding the nature of the Movement’s political alliances, the deposed Chairman and SG adhere to the notion of continued joint work with the forces opposing the ruling regime. Thus, the decisions of the last meeting of the defunct "Leadership Council" included: 1) reinforcing the existing alliances with the Sudan Call forces, the "Revolutionary Front", and other opposition forces aspiring to change, and 2) calling upon other democratic and national forces to raise the banners of solidarity with the SPLMN (Final Communiqué, Leadership Council, 3 April 2017).

16. Both leaders, the Chairman and SG, have concurred with the problems posed by Commander Al-Helu in his resignation letter as issues requiring acknowledgement and remedy, expressing their preparedness to discuss them with him, while refusing his resignation (Statement by Chairman of the SPLMN, 18 March 2017). They even paid a visit to the liberated areas, 25 March – 3 April 2017, and met with political, military, and civil leaders in an unsuccessful bid to rescue the situation and address the crisis. However, in an immediate reaction, the leadership council decided to overturn all decisions made by the NMLC pertaining to national issues and institutions, and the formation of the National Liberation Council (NLC) to discuss issues of national interest to the Movement. Therefore, they declared their rejection of all the decisions of this regional council, affirming their adherence to legitimacy and institutional constitutionality, led by the leadership council. Therefore, they describe the step as a "coup d’état" which has been masterminded by a group "adopting tribal and ethnic lines, resulting in tribal infighting in the Blue Nile, and leading to the destruction of the principles and values of the SPLM" (Statement of the Leadership Council, 3 April 2017). Meanwhile, a group of SPLMN leaders in the Northern States issued a communiqué in which they stated their loyalty to the legitimate leadership, announcing their rejection of the coup d’état and describing all decisions of the NMLC as null and void. The continued adherence to these same positions by the Chairman and the deposed SG of the SPLMN only served to egg the couple on, especially in view of unfolding events. Notably, the proclamation by the NMLC of additional decisive measures, on June 6, 2017, including the expelling of the Chairman, and reaffirming the removal of the SG, while naming Commander Al-Helu as the new leader of the SPLMN, entrusted with the task of organizing the prospective National Convention. Moreover, the NMLC’s resolutions prohibited the deposed Chairman and SG from visiting the liberated zones until the holding of the National Convention, in addition to the dissolution of the Leadership Council. In a communiqué addressing the SPLM masses, Commander Al-Helu accepted the assignment and called upon his two comrades-in-arms to be present and to participate in the proposed convention, and to run for any of the constitutional positions in the SPLM structure (Communiqué from Commander Al Helu, 9th June 2017). On the eve of the holding of the NMLC meeting, the ex-Chairman of the SPLMN, issued a communiqué in which he announced a proposal to resolve the crisis through the resignation of the three leaders, and their agreement on a transitional leadership to be tasked with preparing for the National Convention.

17. The decisions of the meeting of the military, political leaders, and civil society and non-governmental organizations of the Nuba Mountains region, on 7 June 2017, acted as the straw that broke the unity of the SPLMN leadership, while also creating a schism among the bases and grassroots both inside and outside Sudan. A large number of officers of the SPLAN participated in the meeting, which was the first rally attended and addressed by the newly designated leader of the SPLMN. The decisions of these leaders provided the requisite legitimacy for the steps taken by the NMLC, with support from its counterpart in the Blue Nile. Thus, the final communiqué of the meeting underlined that both councils had "exercised their powers in the absence of the concerned national institutions, and that all decisions were to be considered constitutional and enforceable." The communiqué went quite a way to direct gross accusations against the ex-Chairman and SG, that they had concluded ”secret deals with certain quarters for the purpose of giving up arms and abandoning the SPLAN, which should be considered a betrayal of the project, the vision, the objectives, and blood of martyrs.” The meeting ended with a festive and joyous celebration in which music and military marches were played, drawing down the final curtain on the raging conflict within the leadership. The new leadership was thus inaugurated, delegating power to Commander Al-Helu, Chairman of the SPLMN and General Commander of the SPLAN, to embark on forming transitional institutions until the holding of the extraordinary National Convention (Final Communiqué, Meeting of Military, Political and Civil Leaders, 7th July 2017). On 8th August, the first practical step towards the implementation of this mandate was taken, through the promotion of a number of officers of the SPLAN, in addition to several changes in the military leadership, the reinstatement of retirees, and the formation of committees and mechanisms to prepare for the Extraordinary National Convention (the Manifesto and the Constitution).

18. Thus, the schism between members of the "tripartite" transitional leadership has turned into a full-fledged split in the SPLMN, which is no longer as it was in March 2017, when its leaders parted ways and took different paths. The support of the military leadership of the SPLAN, in its meeting of 15-16 June 2017, for all the decisions of the regional council, notably the inauguration of Commander Al-Helu as Chairman of the Movement, and Commander-in-Chief of the SPLAN, has prompted the deposed leader, Malik Aqar, to take a final position towards this development. Indeed, this was what he articulated in clear-cut words: "We cherish the pride of our comrades who took part in the meeting of the military council in the Nuba Mountains and we were waiting for the outcomes of their meeting before we pronounce our final position. We are fully aware that they are fighters, who have passed the flower of their youth in the struggle against the fascism of Khartoum. We must all allow for a future opportunity in the context of a Movement that would bring together all Sudanese, for what unites us supersedes what divides us, and we have experiences from the revolutionary movements and their divisions, including the SPLM itself” (Communiqué, SPLMN ex-Chairman, 17th June 2017).

19. It should be noted that contrary to previous bloody conflicts over the leadership of the SPLM, for instance in 1991-1993, which left behind large numbers of victims and disabled, the transfer of power in the SPLM North occurred peacefully and without bloodshed. This transition could not have materialized without the support and blessing of the military command of the SPLAN. However, the bloodshed resulting from the fighting between different factions of the SPLA in southern Blue Nile, in May and August 2017, tarnished what could have been the smooth transition of the leadership.

20. The ex-Chairman and SG of the SPLM portray the conflict as having two options: either building a national movement encompassing all Sudanese based on the new Sudan project, or reducing it down to size as a regional movement that is led by “a force of narrow minded nationalists.” According to this perception, members of the latter group seek the renewal of “building the SPLM, its theoretical positions and practices, moving it to a new space with all those aspiring to change” (ex-Chairman of SPLMN, 9th June 2017). This approach suggests that the two leaders consider the decisions of the NMLC and the stance of the new leader of the SPLM regarding the three main issues of disagreement have departed in their essence from the vision of New Sudan. In order for this transition to take place, the former Chairman and SG will proceed to initiate "contacts with all comrades who are against the coup d’état to take part in a new path to rebuild a new SPLMN on the basis of the New Sudan vision, to accommodate all willing Sudanese women and men, and a critical revision and evaluation of the SPLM entire experience, including our means of struggle" (Communiqué, ex-Chairman of the SPLMN, 17th June 2017). In addition, it was announced that ”there would be a new beginning and re-birth of the New Sudan vision that would be the work of collective clear and piercing minds that would help us cross towards this re-birth” (ex-SG of the SPLMN, Yasir Arman, 1st July 2017).

The Grassroots Discourse

21. In view of all this, the diagnosis of the situation is incomplete if it hinges entirely on reviewing the arguments and justifications of both sides to the conflict, which has taken the form of a mutual exchange of proclamations between them. The picture will not be complete without shedding light on the impact of this conflict among the leadership on the grassroots of the SPLMN, and schisms and divisions it has brought about in its wake. This schism between the leaders of the Movement has resulted in a visible realignment of the bases, made up of two conflicting groups engrossed in the exchange of online accusations and arguments. For the observer, following this correspondence between the different (What’s app) groups of the SPLMN grassroots would mean witnessing hot debates between two disparate groups, each of which is vehemently aligned with one of the sides, thus demonstrating how deep the divide is. Still, perhaps one of the positive aspects of the ensuing heated debate, although not devoid of verbal violence, is the opportunity for cathartic openness and an exchange of divisive opinions.

22. In the general context of the three contentious issues — the fate of the SPLAN, self-determination, and political alliances — these debates raise a fundamental disagreement among the grassroots as to the “national” character of the SPLMN. This issue is intimately related to the origins and nature of the SPLM formation its composition, the adoption by its membership of different means of struggle (military and political/civil), the disagreement over the correct evaluation of these, and the fair representation of the Movement’s components, notably the Northern sector. This "asymmetrical" situation, as is the issue of the just representation of all components of the SPLMN in the decision-making institutions, remains an important issue that has not been properly explored since the establishment of the SPLM, in 1983. I have published several articles on the matter since the failure of the Second National Convention of the SPLM, in May 2008, to address these issues, to which no one paid attention (Kameir, E., The Imperatives of Internal Dialogue: The SPLM and Returning to the Drawing Board, Sudan Tribune, 23 December 2009, Kameir, E., SPLM Northern Sector: Genuine Representation Or Token Participation, Sudan Tribune, 11 July 2010, and Kameir, E., Northerners in the SPLM: Transforming Liabilities into Assets, Sudan Tribune, 31 January 2011). The significance of the dialogue within the SPLM bases lies in debating the vital issues, which in my opinion constitute the main agenda for dialogue between all parties on unity and future prospects of the SPLMN, in addition to informing the leadership on both sides about the evolving public opinion among the grassroots.

23. The disagreement between the two conflicting sides as to the “national” character of the SPLMN has several intertwining aspects and is being expressed in various visions and seen through different lenses. So, whereas the supporters of the new leadership view the decisions of the NMLC as a corrective reform measure, it is perceived by the followers of the ex-Chairman and SG of the SPLMN as a deliberate attempt at excluding others. Thus, in their opinion, these measures represnt a regional cleansing of SPLM membership and a regression of the Movement following the steps of the SPLM in South Sudan. Even more so, this amounts to the kidnapping of the SPLMN and its transformation into a Nuba Mountains Movement, therefore the destruction of the New Sudan project to be replaced by ethnicity and tribalism. In the opinion of those opposing change of leadership, casting doubt on the "national” character of the SPLMN has not come out of nowhere, but is linked to the considerations surrounding the removal of the SG from his position. It is true that the definition of the “national” character of the Movement cannot be reduced to one person, whatever his/her position in the Movement. Yet, the expelling of the SG by the NMLC, while sparing the Chairman is an indication of the selective nature of the Regional Council’s decision, especially since Commander Al-Helu, in his resignation letter, had accused both of them equally. This exception might be explained through one or a pair of factors: First, that the SG has no popular support base in the SPLAN, in any of the Two Areas, in addition to being accused of an inability to attract fighters from other areas. Second, he is a “Jellabi” from the riverine North and does not belong to any ethnic group in South Kordofan or the Blue Nile. Therefore, relegating the dismissal of the SG to the NMLC tends to imply that neither Commander Al-Helu nor the NMLC recognize the Northern Sector as an independent constituent of the Movement.

24. As for the others who are siding with Commander Al-Helu, they do not see any ‘Nubanization” or “Ethnicization” of the situation, justifying this position by making reference to two incidents. First, the same ex-SG of the SPLMN has been welcomed warmly by slaughtering of bulls to celebrate his visit to the liberated areas. Secondly, the newly appointed Chairman does not hail from the Nuba Mountains, as he declared himself in his resignation letter. Meanwhile, proponents of this view point themselves question whether the “national” character of the SPLM should be defined by the presence of the person of the former SG, and perhaps a handful of members, so that if he/they remain in the Movement, it is indeed “national”, and if they are away, it forfeits its "national” character? Therefore, they raise a question about the definition of the concept of "national" in the discourse of the SPLMN: Specifically, does the dominance of one group over other constituents strip the SPLMN of its "national" nature? In reality, the national character of the Movement resides in its vision, programs, objectives, and plans for change. What weakens this argument is perhaps evidenced in the communiqué issued by some Nuba Mountains military and political leaders, where one of its paragraphs explicitly states that “Leadership positions in the SPLMN and SPLAN have historically been derived from the tribal weight and the number of recruited fighters” (Communiqué, Military Council Blue Nile, 1st May 2017).

25. These dialogues reveal that intrusion of the ethnicity issue in the resignation letter of Commander Al-Helu, accusing some Nuba leaders of shouldering the responsibility of removing him from the circle of decision-making, already dominated by the ex-Chairman and SG, has cast a heavy shadow on the discourse, at the level of the bases and grassroots, regarding the role of ethnicity in the conflict, and in the SPLM at large. The rhetoric of Commander Al-Helu on the marginalization and exclusion, which he suffered under the hands of the deposed Chairman and, had played a key role in pushing the NMLC to take fateful decisions, which restored confidence in Commander Al-Helu and more so availed him of a full- fledged delegation to manage the SPLMN affairs until the holding of the National Convention. It appears from the discourse of the grassroots that the feelings of exclusion and marginalization among the cadres in the Nuba Mountains pushed them to overtake the leadership, as was the case in the SPLM previously, when Southerners monopolized power in the Movement. They constitute the base and backbone of the SPLAN, which is the main source of political power of the SPLMN, while being both the fodder and victims of the war. The SPLM as an organization, with its structures and institutions, is barely existent in the Northern States, as the case in South Kordofan. In fact, the Nuba combatants later came to overtake the position of the South in the past. It is in the Nuba Mountains, where it is possible to witness the “real” existence of the SPLMN as contrasted with its ”theoretical” presence in the North. Such understanding raises questions like: Why are some members of the Movement engaged in fighting the government forces whereas others, especially active cadres such as members of the "defunct" National Liberation Council, are in areas under government control? Why have those occupying SPLMN’s leadership positions from the Northern states not engaged and participated in the military combat, or have they relegated the tasks of armed struggle to the SPLAN in the Nuba Mountains? Could it be so that they would later come to negotiate and determine the Movement’s share in power, and select the representatives of the SPLMN in the government?

26. From another angle, casting doubt on the “national” character of the SPLMN is reflected on how to ensure just representation of all components (the Two Areas and Northern Sector) in all the institutions of the Movement. Should a methodology be applied that favors an equal representation of the three components, based on numerical strength? Alternatively, should the bearing of arms, and what that entails in terms of sacrifices, be counted as the qualitative measure for determining the respective shares of representation? In the opinion of those supporting the decisions of the two Regional Councils, the de facto main component and the backbone of the SPLM and SPLA come from the Nuba Mountains, thus there is no room for the Northern sector and the areas falling under government control to have a majority, or even equal representation, in the upcoming extraordinary National Convention. Therefore, the "national character" of the SPLMN passes through the Nuba Mountains gate. The conditions for participating in the Convention necessitate commitment to strategic issues, foremost of which is the armed struggle as a mechanism to achieve the objectives of the revolution, or other issues such as that of self-determination. Thus, representation in the Convention will be limited to membership of the SPLMN in the liberated areas, as well as committed members in areas where the meeting venue is accessible without endangering their lives. In other words, the political reality severely restricts freedom of movement from government-controlled areas, to allow participation in a function organized by what the government perceives as an insurgent rebel movement. It is certain this would further weaken the participation of the Northern sector’s delegates in the Convention. In a nutshell, if the extent of military prowess is what determines the proportion of participation, this would create a re-alignment and exacerbate polarization among the grassroots in the Two Areas, particularly between the Nuba Mountains and the Northern Sector, a predicament whose strong signals are already apparent. In my opinion, what has aggravated the situation is the decision of the Movement’s late leader, John Garang, to organizationally divide the SPLM into two sectors, Northern and Southern, with the inclusion of South Kordofan and Blue Nile into the Southern Sector. This has further been exacerbated by the incomplete building process of the SPLMN institutional structures in post-secession Sudan, due to the break out of war in South Kordofan on 6 June 2011.

27. The right to self-determination is another subject of disagreement among the grassroots of the SPLMN. On the one hand, its proponents and enthusiasts regard it as a democratic right, guaranteed by international covenants and conventions. Further, it was endorsed by the Manifesto of the SPLM in 1994 and 2008 and by the All Nuba Conference in Kauda, Nuba Mountains, in 2002. This understanding brings to life the concept of "voluntary" versus "coercive" unity, and a reassuring message that "self-determination does not mean separation." On the other hand, the opponents argue that the decision of the NMLC in this regard is tantamount to imposing the right of self-determination as an alternative strategy for the New Sudan project, based on the ethnicity of the Nuba. From this perspective, the transformation of the right of self-determination from an appeal to a pan-Sudanese nationalism to a nationalist "Arab/ Islamic" call at the center, in 1955, is now matched by a similar and counter-call by the Nuba nationalists, in a blatant contradiction to the New Sudan vision.

28. It is worth noting that the grassroots of the SPLMN in the Two Areas appear to be divided over the demand for the right to self-determination. The call is not echoed by the Movement’s membership and supporters in Blue Nile, except for the military leaders who have supported the NMLC’s decisions and the new Chairman. The majority of the interlocutors in the dialogues of the grassroots in Blue Nile tend to call for self-rule, within the framework of a united Sudan, as a preferred way to address the historical grievances of the people in the region, since the 1922 Closed Districts Ordinance, while allowing their participation in state governance and administration at the federal level.

Methodological Considerations

29. In order to arrive at a sound and profound understanding of the options for resolving the emerging crisis and the challenges of the future of the movement, there is an urgent need to read the leadership split and associated disagreements in the context of the historical evolution of the SPLM, since its inception in May 1983. We should not view the Movement as a static and dogmatic organizational structure. Rather, it must be understood within the terms of the framework that has evolved and developed since its beginnings. It is also necessary to carry out theoretical reviews of the New Sudan project itself and attempt to demystify some of the concepts that have accompanied the vision.

30. There is no relationship between the heated dispute within the ranks of the SPLMN and the New Sudan vision. Indeed, both parties to the conflict are steadfast and appear to be clinging to the project, which is clearly manifested in the frequent statements exchanged between them. However, each party accuses the other of having reneged on this vision, basing their respective arguments on purely "political" positions, which have nothing to do with the vision. One of these positions is that supporters of the former Chairman and SG hold the belief that the coup against constitutional legitimacy, and the hegemony of only one component (Nuba) over the other two constituencies (Blue Nile and Northern Sector) is a clear departure from the values of the New Sudan project. While advocates of change and followers of the new leadership see that the Chairman and SG have waived off the New Sudan vision in their quest for a soft-landing political settlement with Al-Bashir’s regime. However, the parties also differ politically about the position of the right to self-determination and whether it conforms or contradicts with the New Sudan vision and the "national" nature of the SPLMN.

31. Therefore, the unfolding conflict in the Movement by no means reflects any intellectual or ideological controversy. Rather, it is a struggle over the usurpation of the leadership power in order to achieve certain political objectives, while each party continues to preach its ambition of building the New Sudan. Two incidents throw doubt on the characterization of the leadership conflict as a struggle over the vision of the New Sudan. First, advocates of a united movement among the SPLM leaders, who claim to have fought the "separatists" under the banner of the New Sudan, in 1983 and 1991, themselves came later to be the promoters of self-determination, with the purpose of secession. Second, the leaders of the SPLM, the advocates and those who have spearheaded the vision, while succeeding in taking and monopolizing power in the new state of South Sudan, have ended up in a new cycle of bloody power struggle, leaving the New Sudan project on the back burner. Thus, the New Sudan project remains a mere dream that has not been articulated into concrete strategies, policies, or programs. Equally, no criteria have been developed for measuring the outcomes of such endeavors. As long as the concept of the New Sudan is confined to the "abstract" and "theoretical" levels, it becomes no more than a loose concept perceived and defined by each party from a different perspective, and is largely a reflection of already entrenched respective positions. Thus, the concept of the New Sudan is a framework, a national project, for building a true and sustainable Citizenship-State capable of accommodating the many diversities of Sudanese society.

32. No wonder the late leader, John Garang, the architect of the very project, acknowledged without mincing words that "the direction, the future of our country, lies in a new direction, in a new political dispensation, which we have called the New Sudan. It is a concept whose contents are not clear as yet, though, it is scattered in the minds of our people. The challenge has always been in how to gather these scattered ideas about the New Sudan, its content and its methodology. That is the difficult part" (Kameir, E., ed., The Vision of the New Sudan: Questions of Unity and Identity, COPADES, Cairo, 1998). I would add that this articulation has not yet occurred, whether at the level of ideas, or in practice, with the exception of some aborted attempts, which I will refer to below, in section 33.

33. However, most of the mystification and misinterpretation of the vision is partially caused by confusing the New Sudan, as a conceptual framework, with the SPLM, the promoter and politically organized actor and vehicle that entrusted itself with the leading role of turning the vision into reality, at a particular historical moment (Kameir, E., Towards Building the Sudanese Citizenship-State, 30/10/2006). Thus, non-identification with the SPLM in the organizational sense by no means implies a contradiction with actually espousing the vision. Indeed, I would venture to say that all believers in the New Sudan are SPLM(ers) but that not all members of the SPLM believe in the New Sudan. Thus, to claim championship of the New Sudan vision, the SPLM must identify a framework program, and the specific features of its strategies and policies are a necessary pre-requisite for distinguishing itself from the rest of the political forces that aspire to the same grand project: the Sudanese citizenship-state. The late leader, John Garang, launched the first action towards transforming the vision into reality by drafting a succinct framework program in August 2004, which he titled "The SPLM’s Strategic Framework for Transitioning from War to Peace." Unfortunately, following his death, this important document, which embodied a novel development orientation "take towns to people, rather than people to towns,” has had no luck in seeing the light at all. Another attempt to outline a framework program was the draft of the SPLM Manifesto, which was endorsed by the Second SPLM National Convention, May 2008. Regrettably, just like its predecessor, the SPLM leadership did not pay the slightest attention to the document — when the Movement was the largest partner in power, during the CPA-premised six-year transitional period, or after it assumed power in the new state of South Sudan.

34. The right to self-determination was not one of the principles of the New Sudan vision. This is simply why it was invoked 9 years following the Movement’s inception in 1983, at a particular historical moment in the political process of the struggle for building the New Sudan, in August 1991, in the aftermath of the "theoretical" coup of the Nasser group, as it was dubbed by John Garang. Riek Machar and Lam Akol have thrusted the demand to self-determination on the agenda of the Movement to serve their own objective of usurping power, by portraying John Garang’s call for the New Sudan as a stance against the will (secession) of South Sudanese people. In addition, they were encouraged by the fall of the Mengisto regime in Ethiopia in May 1991, and regional developments that made separation an easily attainable goal, and that their rise to power has become fruit ripe for picking. Moreover, these events coincided with global developments, and calls for partition and secession in the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Somalia and Ethiopia, and the international sympathy and support enjoyed by peoples’ demand for self-determination. On the basis of rigorous political analysis, the late John Garang had no other realistic choice but to move forward in the consolidation and realization of the New Sudan project, on the one hand, and, on the otherm to embrace the call to self-determination, and to incorporate the concept in the resolutions of the First National Convention of the SPLM, in April 1994. Following that, John Garang came up with the right to self-determination as a means or mechanism for achieving voluntary unity in an unfavourable and hostile environment, which does not contradict the SPLM’s goal of achieving a new, unified, and democratic Sudan.

35. It is important to note, however, that the late leader was well aware of the adverse consequences of the call for self-determination on the unity of the Movement, particularly its impact on the SPLM grassroots and bases of support, and more specifically the SPLA, who hail from "northern" Sudan, and their serious concerns about their fate, and as to whether their initial decision of joining the Movement was justifiable. In unequivocal terms, the late John Garang opined, "when those of Riak Machar were calling for separation and independence, and they went and formed their movement called Southern Sudan Independence Movement, people like Yasir Arman (hailing from the riverine-North) and others in the SPLM were threatened by this concept. They were arguing that: we joined the SPLM and sacrificed and now people are going in a different direction. So, we sat, in November-December 1994, in a place called, ironically, Jabal Anya-Nya 1, to find an answer for the question then posed; if the southerners separated, then what do we do? It is during this period that the idea of the New Sudan Brigade (NSB) emerged as a response to this situation" (Kameir, E. ed, John Garang: His Vision of the New Sudan and Restructuring of the Sudanese State, Khartoum, 2005, pp. 151-2). The NSB initiative aimed at creating a common political-military platform as a formula for joint action and interaction between all the forces calling for the new Sudan, with the objective of building a new political Movement of New Sudan, but it remained suspicious in the eyes of many potential forces and died in its infancy. Of course, this was not good news to the then "northerners" in the SPLM, who dreamed of a united New Sudan.

36. There are three interesting observations on the grassroots’ dialogue, regarding disagreement on the right to self-determination. First, some of them do not seem to be alarmed by the demand of this right, as they consider it a mere tactical position aimed at raising the SPLMN negotiations’ ceiling for self-rule. If this were true, subordinating a strategic and vital matter to the whims of negotiation politics would bring the credibility of the SPLM’s new leadership into question. Second, some advocates of self-determination confidently claim that there is no connection between separation and self-determination and that the exercise of this right will not lead to secession without being substantiated by any facts-based evidence. Since 2006, I have been arguing that the SPLM has two twin goals: the New Sudan and self-determination. Notwithstanding their obvious contradiction, and my deep sense that separation of South Sudan was an imminent reality, I was trying my best to "make a silk purse of a sow’s ear," arguing that the two expressions merely reflect an "apparent" contradiction, thus we should consider self-determination as a tool for stabilizing and consolidating the voluntary unity of the country. My intuition on the matter proved to be correct. The experience of the South provides evidence and presents a live testimony to the "exercise" of the right to self-determination. Realistically, it is hard to believe that "self-determination will not result in partition," even if the outcome of this exercise in Québec was in favor of Canada’s unity. These are two different stories.

37. The third observation is that the references made in the course of the grassroots’ debates to the right of self-determination as being approved by the SPLM Manifesto of 2008 represents only half the truth. The Manifesto document, which I was charged with drafting, in my capacity as the Vice-Chairman of the Manifesto Committee, has not underlined self-determination as a goal or principle, or even assigned to it a section. However, it was mentioned only once in the discourse on the challenges and contradictions of the SPLM struggle for the New Sudan, following the split in 1991, and the 1st National Convention in 1994, when the issue of self-determination was open for debate (para. II.3.5, Manifesto 2008). On top of all of this, self-determination was not one of the five theoretical pillars of the vision of New Sudan, which was presented by the Manifesto and endorsed by the SPLM Second National Convention, in 2008, by acclamation. These were: 1) evolving a Sudanese identity that reflects the diverse racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity of the Sudanese society; 2) building the unity of the country on (new bases), in cognizance of the historical and contemporary diversities of the Sudan; 3) the restructuring of power in the center and the promotion of decentralization of power to the regions; 4) establishing a democratic system of government in which equality, freedom, and economic and social justice are a tangible reality,;and 5) following an approach of equitable growth, and environmentally sustainable development.

38. The SPLM has never been a “national” or democratic movement, as judged by the criteria of peaceful transition of power through elections, equal representation and the fair participation of all its components in the decision-making process, especially with regards to Northerners. The SPLM originally emerged as an armed movement. Following the battles of Bor, Al-Bibor, and Ayot and the alliance of the military units in the Northern and Southern commands, the SPLM was formed on 16 May 1983. It is important to note here that since the beginning of the Movement until the mid-1990s, military training and conscription in the SPLA were the main condition for membership of the SPLM, which was at the time a purely southern entity. This continued until the second half of the 1980s when fighters from South Kordofan and Southern Blue Nile joined the SPLA, later followed by recruits from the remaining parts of Northern Sudan. Thus, the only decision-making institution was the “High Political and Military Command,” whose membership was limited to military leaders from the Southern provinces, each according to the weight of their tribal base, and later one representative from each of the SPLA forces from the Two Areas. Therefore, representation in the first National Convention, in 1994, was of the same fashion, together with a nominal representation of Northerners who had joined the SPLA/SPLM at the time. Even as regards the two regions, the Convention approved the establishment of a National Liberation Council made up of 183 members, only four of whom were from Southern Kordofan and one from the Blue Nile. Therefore, the Northern sector and the Two Areas had no active role in the institutions and decision-making powers in the SPLM, except perhaps in the interim period succeeding the signing of the CPA, followed by the formation of the Northern Sector, and the participation of its representatives in the National Liberation Council and the political bureau of the SPLM.

39. However, despite the participation of the Northern Sector and the Two Areas, they did not have any influence in decision-making at the leadership level, especially since the agenda and priorities of the Movement centered southerners, on top of which was the ongoing preparation for a smooth secession. The representatives of the North and the two regions were only required to rubberstamp the decision, and beyond that they were expected to defend the decision and respond to its critics in an environment where the Northern Sector was coming under marked onslaught by influential leaders in the SPLM. Indeed, the 2nd SPLM National Convention presented a long-awaited opportunity to which the movement’s grassroots aspired to participate in a serious and transparent dialogue on the critical issues related to the evolution of the movement, and its transition from a military-based organization into a democratic political entity. However, the agenda of the Convention and its outcomes proved disappointing. On the one hand, the Convention was successful in settling the internal power struggle in an amicable and democratic fashion and was able to preserve the Movement’s unity and consolidate its leadership. This semblance of unity, however, proved later to be fragile and short-lived, when the SPLM leaders assumed power in the new state of South Sudan ending up fighting each other. On the other hand, the Convention failed to address these vital issues or the issue of transformation into a political movement, and thus truly merited the label of the “Convention of lost opportunities.” For its part, the leadership of the "northern sector" did not disappoint its adversaries by squandering the opportunity of harvesting votes in the general elections, in particular since the northerners do not have a constituency within the ranks of the SPLA. Thus, they were left lurking outside the legislative and executive institutions of the state, a predicament that has weakened the position of the Sector in the structure of the SPLM and completely undermined its influence.

40. The grassroots dialogues recalled the “Center-Periphery” equation, and what has been dubbed as the "cultural analysis approach," in the general discourse of the New Sudan vision. Without venturing into a theoretical diatribe, I would like to restrict myself in pointing out that the founder of the Vision, the late leader John Garang used none of these concepts in his analysis of the Sudanese problem, nor did he make any reference to them in his speeches or lectures (Kameir, E., 2005, ibid). Contrary to what critics and skeptics think, the concept of the New Sudan has no racial, ethnic, or separatist connotations. It is rather a framework, a national project, for building a true and sustainable Citizenship-State capable of accommodating the multiple diversities of Sudanese society. It is also more comprehensive to approach the Sudanese problem and understanding Sudan’s conflict, thus bypassing the duality of the centre-periphery conceptualization. This New Sudan vision has moved the debate beyond the focus on race, region and religion, to issues of citizenship. The conflict between the centre and periphery does not mean that the struggle should result in the elimination of the centre or weakening its power. Rather, the problem lies in the nature of that power and the nature of the relations between the centre and the regions, and how much authority is devolved to those regions. No state can deliver its basic functions, preserve its stability, and ensure its sovereignty without having a strong centre, however, on condition that all political forces and various nationalities should have their fair share of it. Among the founding pillars of the New Sudan project are: 1) restructuring of power of the central government in a manner that takes into account the interests of all marginalized regions and peoples, those who took to arms and those who patiently opposed in silence, and 2) decentralization of power by redefining the relation between Khartoum and the regions and devolving more powers to the regions even in the form of “autonomy,” where and when necessary (SPLM Manifesto, May 2008).

41. With regard to coalitions, the SPLM has always been keen to interact, engage, and create links with various political and social forces in the North, since the mid-1980s. The SPLM played a pivotal role in bringing together these forces in Koka Dam, Ethiopia, in March 1985, only two years after its birth. Thus, the SPLM forged alliances with all "modern" and "traditional" forces with the aim of moving forward with the process of building the Sudanese citizenship-state. The SPLM crowned these political alliances with its effective membership in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). In addition, the late Chairman of the SPLM, John Garang, was the driving force behind concluding a peace agreement between the NDA and the Sudanese government in June 2005. Ironically, he favoured an alliance with "traditional" political forces over a coalition with "modern" forces. Thus, he proposed to the forces of change in the North, following the failure of the NSB initiative in appealing to them, the option of working in the context of the NDA as a broad-based and open alliance, which provides a space for all the forces of the New Sudan to propel it in the direction of the New Sudan. In the SPLM leader’s opinion, this is important as there is a predisposition among some sections of these forces for forming a strategic coalition with the SPLM to the exclusion of the “traditional” forces. This is a perilous approach. One could appreciate the impatience of these forces with the slow movement of the NDA, but it was like moving a mountain. If it were moved half a millimetre in the right direction, it would be a great achievement.

42. On the other hand, the rural forces and the SPLM do not know much about the “modern” forces except through their subjective definition of themselves as “democrats” and “progressives,” which strips the proposed coalition of its objective prerequisites and realistic conditions. The keenness of the late leader in consolidating his alliance with Northern political parties was not only motivated by the objective of overthrowing the regime. Rather, his intention was essentially to win their hearts and ensure a popular support-base, necessary for the political endorsement of the right to self-determination, an unquestionably national issue, through a referendum. Indeed, this was what exactly happened in reality.

Settlement Options: "(So) has been Decreed that Matter Whereof ye Twain Do Enquire"!

43. Against the backdrop of these considerations, it is not difficult to realize the limitations and difficulty, if not the impossibility, of bringing together the three leaders of the SPLMN, as some actors are trying to do with the aim of preserving the unity of the Movement and the cohesion of its forces. The worsening of the crisis in the leadership of the movement leaves only two "theoretical" options for resolving the conflict, in a manner that maintains the unity of the Movement and the cohesion of its army. The first option is for the former Chairman and SG to throw in the towel, thus surrendering to the resolutions of both the NMLC and its counterpart in the Blue Nile, and heed the call of the new Chairman of the SPLMN to participate in the prospective national convention, while maintaining the right to nominate themselves to any of the Movement’s constitutional positions. The second option is to put into effect a process of power transition within the SPLMN by a voluntary withdrawal of the "tripartite" leadership by virtue of their collective responsibility. The three would then agree on an interim leadership whose primary task is to prepare the ground for this transition, including the organization of the national convention to endorse the Movement’s vision, program framework, and the democratic election of its leadership. In my opinion, neither option provides a common ground for consensus, nor can they be considered viable. On the one hand, it is not politically realistic to expect the former Chairman and SG of the SPLMN to comply with the decisions of a regional council. On the other hand, it is equally implausible for the newly appointed Chairman to warmly embrace a proposal that would throw him in the same basket of his rivals.

44. In light of these considerations, we must remember that the use of force is rooted in the political reality of the Movement, notably in the history of its internal conflict management and in its experiences since the bloody power struggles in the early formation of the SPLA, in 1983. Things have always been settled in this fashion since the SPLM’s inception. The most powerful faction on the ground, which controls the reins of leadership in the Movement, would create and impose a new reality on the ground, whose sustainability remains contingent on the capacity for achieving the originally stated objectives. In the wake of the failure of all initiatives for bringing together the three disputing leaders together on a common platform, the last speech of the SPLMN’s new Chairman, Commander Al-Helu, was the final stroke that broke the back of the camel. The statement has blocked the way for any call to turn the clock back. (Speech of Commander Al-Helu at the meeting of military, political and civil leaders of the Nuba Mountains, 6 July 2017). For their part, the deposed Chairman and SG refused to accept all the resolutions of the two regional councils and maintained their positions in the leadership of the SPLMN, except in the event that the newly appointed Chairman agreed to concede his seat in the leadership alongside them. In the same vein, the duo announced that they are in contact with all those who denounce the coup of Commander Al-Helu, with the objective of starting a new march to rebuild the SPLMN on the basis of the New Sudan, a Movement for all the Sudanese. (Malik Aqar Statement, Sudan Tribune, 17 June 2017). Thus, "(So) has been Decreed that Matter Whereof ye Twain Do Enquire"!

45. The split in the SPLMN represents enormous challenges for the leadership on both sides. At the top of these challenges is that as long as their common ground is the commitment to the New Sudan, let each party freely persist in realizing this objective and identify the means, without resorting to polarization, verbal abuse, and the mutual exchange of treacherous accusations. This can be accomplished only through perseverance in articulating practical programs based on attractive policies, thus providing the public and the grassroots with freedom of choice. This, in turn, requires that these leaders recognize the serious ramifications of this heated conflict on the future prospects of the SPLMN. Perhaps, the process and dynamism of political development might lead them to reach a common understanding and a deeper perception of many controversial issues, even if after a long while. The current predicament of the SPLMN represents a test for the divided leadership in how to review the evolution of the Movement in all its stages in a lesson-learning exercise. They need to draw from its historical experiences, before and after the secession of the South, and embark on planning to equip their cadres with skills necessary for the post-armed struggle phase, while preparing them to govern their respective areas after the end of the war.

46. Undoubtedly, the new leadership of the SPLMN, under the chairmanship of Commander Al-Helu, faces great challenges in order to achieve his declared objective, on both –the organizational and political levels, primarily ending the war and bloodshed. The first and immediate challenge lies in the ability to address and resolve the explosive situation in southern Blue Nile. The political discord has already resulted in fierce tribal clashes "with strong ethnic undertones between units of the movement’s armed wing (the SPLAN) in parts of Sudan’s Blue Nile state that are controlled by the movement and in camps hosting refugees from Blue Nile just across the border in South Sudan’s Upper Nile state. Preexisting ethnic tensions in this area have been exacerbated by the political divisions among top SPLM-N leaders. The leadership paralysis that is cited as both a cause and an effect of the current division, and the risks of further civil strife, are directly impeding the internal crisis and humanitarian response mechanisms, creating a dangerous transient leadership vacuum at the regional and local level" (Suliman Baldo, A Question of Leadership: Addressing a Dangerous Crisis in Sudan’s SPLMN, Enough Project, 20 July 2017).

47. It need not be overemphasized that preserving the cohesion of the SPLAN in the Nuba Mountains, ensuring its sustained support for the Commander-in-Chief and the Chairman of the Movement, and maintaining the unity of the army in the Two Areas, is a key challenge. Another related challenge is the delivery of humanitarian aid to those in need in areas under the authority of the SPLMN, especially as there is a US proposal already at the negotiations table. It is time to reactivate the process. This, in turn, is inseparable from the urgent tasks delegated by the military, political and civil leaders in the Nuba Mountains to the new Chairman of the Movement, especially the filling of the vacant leadership positions, the formation of the negotiation delegation, and the formulation of the SPLMN’s position on the issues of peace talks. Perhaps the most important task is to initiate direct engagement and interaction with the regional and international community, particularly the AUHIP.

48. There are two major challenges facing the Movement’s new leadership. First, the attempt to theoretically reconcile the objective of New Sudan with that of self-determination. Indeed, the late Chairman of the SPLM succeeded in doing this at the 1st National Convention, in 1994. In my opinion, propagating self-determination will prompt many of those who believe in the New Sudan vision to refrain from joining the Movement. In fact, there are many sectors of northern Sudanese who sympathized with the SPLM in its quest of building a unified Sudan, and who will find themselves obliged to abandon this enthusiasm if the new leadership of the SPLMN decided to promote self-determination as a fundamental objective, in contrast to its original premise of a united Sudan, albeit on new basis. All of these challenges, by necessity, call for leadership to succeed in creating consensus on the demand for this right within the Movement, neutralizing adversaries, building strong relations with political forces, and striving to ensure regional backup and international support. Second, how the three components of the SPLMN, South Kordofan, Blue Nile and the Northern Sector, can be transformed into a unified and coherent organizational structure, especially since the achievement of this objective has been pending since the initiation of the SPLM in 1983. The question, therefore, is: Will the prospective "extraordinary" National Convention pave the way for building a popular and united national democratic movement? Or is the new leadership intent on reinventing the wheel?

49. On the one hand, the previous leadership of the SPLMN equally faced similar and real challenges on the way to achieving its stated objectives. The overcharge challenge lies in how to practically move forward from conceptually renewing the vision of the New Sudan to the renewal of the organizational structure of the Movement itself. Despite the declaration of a second birth for the New Sudan vision, which means the continuation of the struggle for political change under this banner, the mechanism, methodology, means, and nature of the organizational form this new birth will take, and the grassroots on which it will be based, remain ambiguous and ill-defined. The status and position of the SPLAN in the Blue Nile is still unclear, especially after some military and political leaders in the state declared support for the decisions of the NMLC and their alignment with the new Chairman of the SPLMN, Commander Al-Helu. Therefore, does the new birth of the vision mean the abandonment of the armed struggle legacy, or will the ex-Chairman and SG seek to rebuild a new army and develop political alliances in the Blue Nile, and beyond, to reserve a seat at the table of negotiations, which, by its nature, is limited to the government and the armed movements only? On the other hand, disagreements are unfolding amid the SPLMN grassroots in the "defunct" Northern Sector of the SPLM, between supporters and opponents of the decisions of the two regional liberation councils. This predicament poses the following question: How will it be possible to combine these forces together to form the basis of any new political entity? The statement of the outgoing leadership of the SPLMN has perhaps revealed the intention of the then two leaders to "embark on producing a document on the issues of renewal, institutional building, and charting the way forward" with the purpose of adopting a "new approach to build the SPLMN as a genuine democratic national liberation movement." Indeed, contacts and consultations are under way to announce a transitional leadership structure within a month (SPLMN Spokesman’s Statement, 10 August 2017).

50. It should be noted that although the conflict in the SPLMN may seem to be a purely internal matter, its ramifications and fallouts extend beyond the Movement, impacting both the allied political forces, the ruling regime, and indeed the entire Sudanese political landscape. In fact, the SPLMN plays a major role in the equation of war and peace and has an expansive network comprised of people affected by the destiny of the Movement and those concerned with the country’s national issues. The SPLMN is also engaged in political negotiations with the government, under the sponsorship of AUHIP. On the part of the government, the changes in the leadership of the SPLMN have been considered as a positive step towards peace, with the understanding that the new leadership, by deposing the former Chairman and SG, has confined itself to the issues pertaining only to the Two Areas, particularly the Nuba Mountains. Thus, these issues are perceived to be easy to resolve, as long as the SPLMN has abandoned raising national constitutional issues in the negotiations’ agenda (Press Conference, Governor of South Kordofan, 9 August 2017). It seems that the government recalled its experience with Riek Machar and Lam Akol, following their demand for self-determination, and its successful ploy in luring them to sign an agreement that recognizes the exercise of a "theoretical" right to self-determination, while it had no intention at all of honoring the agreement.

51. To conclude, after this full-fledged split in the SPLMN, the latter will not be the same as the SPLMN prior to its occurrence. Nor was the Movement in 1983 the same as the SPLM in 1991, nor the same movement before and after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005. Indeed, in the words of the late SPLM Chairman, "as the Old Sudan undergoes fundamental change in its transition into the New Sudan, the SPLM itself is bound to evolve and undergo fundamental change as well. So, while its basic content has remained the same, the Movement has undergone a process of metamorphosis over the years. In its various stages of transformation, it appeared different to various people (or interest groups) at different times. This helps explain the confusion about the character and substance of the Movement" (Kameir, 2005. Ibid, pp 58-59). However, the political power gained from armed struggle, as the primary means of achieving the SPLM’s cherished goals, has remained the defining character of the Movement and the nature of the decision-making process within its ranks. Therefore, I conclude by raising the question that searches for an urgent answer: Is it politically realistic to build a national democratic movement of incongruous and disjointed components, particularly in light of the prevalent "asymmetrical" situation, whereas one part of the political entity is pursuing armed struggle, while the other espouses civil and peaceful resistance, amidst a demand of self-determination that lacks internal political consensus and is being received with regional and international aversion? In other words, how would it be feasible to build, politically and organizationally, a national democratic movement while the bases and grassroots of the SPLMN are scattered throughout the diaspora, areas under government control, and areas of military operations, thus denying the Movement the opportunity of engaging and coalescing with the masses in the country? (Kameir, E., "Armed Struggle and Civil Resistance: A Catch 22 Situation, Sudan Tribune, 17th January 2017).

Dr. Elwathig Kameir is a former university professor of Sociology and consultant with numerous regional and international organizations. He is also a former member of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) . He is reachable at kameir@yahoo.com.



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