Will political unrest in Khartoum lead to military adventurism?
By Mariar Wuoi
It appears that the Arab Spring is finally reaching Khartoum as the NCP regime grapples with economic and political turmoil being manifested by student-led protests. The people of Sudan are finally beginning to see the NCP government as a liability that needs to be removed so that country can regain its path to economic development. The protest movement being led by the young people is yet to reach a critical mass but it is surprisingly gaining momentum. The question is whether these protests are prelude to the long awaited Sudanese ‘Arab Spring’ or just another disorganized discontent. What will be the outcome of such protests and how will they affect the tenuous peace at the border between North and South Sudan? Will the NCP regime start war at the border to rally the country behind its bankrupt agenda? These are the questions facing the policy makers in Juba at this critical juncture in its tumultuous relations with the NCP regime in Khartoum.
The economic conditions in Sudan are now far worse than they were in mid 1980s when Nimeiri’s regime was overthrown by popular uprising. Sudanese are facing high prices for basic necessities such as food and fuel. Moreover, Sudan is not making any meaningful effort to solve its problem with South Sudan and continues to rely on military solution in dealing with rebellions in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile. South is watching what is happening in the streets of Khartoum with keen interest. However, South should not just be a spectator but must prepare contingency plans for dealing with various responses that the NCP might deploy. If the NCP regime realizes that its power is being threatened, it will stir up trouble with South Sudan in order to rally the nation behind its leadership like it did when the SPLA entered Heglig.
The NCP regime is vulnerable than it has ever been in its history. It is still a mystery why the events that led to the toppling of Mubarak’s regime in Egypt failed to take place in Sudan. All the key ingredients necessary to trigger an ‘Arab Spring’ were present in Sudan: authoritarian regime, political repression, corruption, failure to alleviate the suffering of its citizens, partition of the country and so on. However, it is now all clear that Sudanese are beginning to realize that the NCP regime is driving the country over the cliff and it is time for a regime change. This will not be easy and will not happen overnight because the NCP regime is a survivor. The NCP regime has spent considerable resources to maintaining its stranglehold on power. Because of years in power and consolidating its reach into every aspect of life in Sudan, it is likely that the NCP will have upper hand in the short term. It’s already deploying its security forces and arresting students en masse. However, the protest movement appears more organized and helped by new tools such as internet, and social media. These tools have helped students stay organized and thwart security forces at will. As time goes on, the repressive tactics will only galvanize the population to take to the street and that will be the necessary critical mass needed to overthrow the NCP regime.
How will the NCP react to the threat to its power? The NCP regime has two possible options for dealing with the threat posed by the protest movement: first, it could take the path of brutal crackdown and creating instability on the border with South to suppress the movement and drag South into war that may result in limited rallying of its citizens. Second, it could adopt some reforms and reach peace with South in order to lessen the effects of the economic standoff. This is the path of least resistance. It is not as costly and Khartoum may come back from the brink. Starting a war or short term conflict with the South is suicidal as it will lead to unexpected results. South Sudan Army would most likely defeat the invading forces and there is no knowing where the war will end. If Khartoum chooses the ruinous path to war, South should prepare accordingly and react with overwhelming force. This time, the international community will on our side and our commanders will be facing uncertainty over the objectives of such an event as was the case with Heglig operation.
There is no one who can say for the certain how the NCP will react to ‘Khartoum Summer’ or what you want to call it. It is likely that the sober minds within the NCP ranks will take steps to end the economic standoff with the South and allow South to resume pumping oil. This will be a win-win situation for all involved except those who want to see a meaningful political change in Khartoum through protest or armed insurrections as is the case in marginalized areas of Blue Nile, South Kordofan, and Darfur. Of course the political pressures in Khartoum and economic conditions facing both South and North could force Khartoum to back down on some of its demands at the negotiating table. This could be a win that the South will find hard to turn down. Or, the South could see the NCP has a bankrupt political entity that must be removed from power and therefore increase its price of peace. We will see what happens.
With the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) stretched thin and still recovering the Heglig operation, it is reasonable to assume that we will not see the NCP resort to war to win the sympathy of its population. However, we cannot know for sure what will happen and therefore expect South Sudan to prepare for war and peace scenarios.
*The author is a South Sudanese freelance writer based in the United States. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org