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Hit and run

Sunday 27 May 2007, by Pierre BEAUDET

Assassinations in Somalia and Sudan bode ill for these two troubled northeastern African nations, writes Gamal Nkrumah

These are bleak and unsettling times for both Somalia and Sudan. Freed from many political constraints of the past, individual Sudanese politicians are showing their countrymen how far they can go. Nevertheless, the new political dispensation in Sudan has proven to be neither robust nor flexible enough for radical political reform. It is in this context that the assassination of the publisher of the Sudanese independent daily Al-Wafaq Mohamed Taha last September has had tremendous political ramifications. Taha’s murder was a grim reminder of the Machiavellian machinations within the Sudanese political establishment.

Do such gruesome assassinations as Taha’s mean that Sudanese opposition figures should simply acquiesce? On the contrary, they have shown admirable resilience in the face of an oppressive climate of fear and uncertainty. A more likely scenario might be that the ICC could open its files of past atrocities in Darfur and elsewhere to public scrutiny. The authorities, naturally, would like to see any incriminating material expunged.

Khartoum’s combination of ruthlessness, impunity and newfound oil wealth is scary. Still, justice must see the light of day eventually.

But by whom? The Sudanese authorities, an independent judiciary or the International Criminal Court? Many Sudan observers suspect that the whole investigation of Taha’s murder will now get bogged down into a question of who’s responsible for the atrocities in Darfur.

However, revelations this week have shed further light on the true nature of the murder in question. It was not the first time that a Sudanese journalist was assassinated under mysterious circumstances, but this particular assassination apparently was spurred by tribal motives. A curious factor in this assassination of a well- known Sudanese newspaperman is that it has cogent ethnic and tribal implications, though it is also related to the Darfur crisis. Apparently, the slaying of Taha revolved around allegations that the Fur, the largest ethnic group in Darfur, are a lewd and promiscuous lot.

Apparently an article was published in Al-Wafaq in which Fur women were described as "sluts". This was highly offensive to the members of the Fur ethnic group, both men and women. The Fur cause was championed by none other than Sudan’s chief Islamist ideologue Sheikh Hassan Al-Turabi, the leader of the opposition Popular Congress Party, and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), a Darfur armed opposition group that is thought to be closely affiliated with Al-Turabi’s PCP.

Indeed, the assassins are now thought to be Fur. This week, it was also revealed by the Sudanese authorities that the assassination of Mohamed Taha was inextricably intertwined with the attempted assassination of the Sudanese Vice-President Ali Othman Taha — a highly dubious association.

The cruel manner in which Taha was beheaded shall remain a stain on the Sudanese. The moral of the story is that bashing the Fur is a bad idea. Indeed, singling out any Sudanese ethnic group for defamation is not a particularly clever idea.

These revelations come at a time when the armed opposition groups are stepping up their call for the international community to intervene and resolve the Darfur crisis. The Sudanese government, on the other hand, is vehemently opposed to the internationalisation of the Darfur crisis. Indeed, the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), the largest armed opposition group in Darfur claimed this week that the Sudanese air force stepped up aerial bombardment of Darfur villages.

The Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), the southern-based coalition partner of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) of Sudanese President Omar Hassan Al-Bashir, has offered to mediate between the NCP and the armed opposition parties of Darfur.

In January 2005, the SPLA and the Sudanese government signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). The SPLA would like to see a similar deal clinched between the Darfur armed opposition groups and the NCP.

The armed opposition groups of Darfur are demanding a greater role in the decision-making process in Sudan. They want greater power-sharing and wealth- sharing, and they would like to see a more concerted development effort in Darfur. Indeed, the new French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner announced in Paris that Darfur was a priority French foreign policy concern. He said that Darfur would be discussed at the forthcoming Group of Eight (G8) Summit in Heiligendam, Germany on 6-8 June. Other Western powers concurred.

In Somalia, a spate of brutal killings and assassination attempts has rocked the country. The attempted assassination of the mayor of the Somali capital Mogadishu augurs ill. Mayor Mohamed Omar Habib was known for his loyalty to the Transitional Federal Government (TFG). The mayor’s bodyguards shot dead the would-be assassin, widely suspected to be a sympathiser of the Council of Islamic Courts (CICs), the militant Islamist organisation that controlled Mogadishu and much of central and southern Somalia before the Ethiopian army invaded the country, ousted the CICs and installed the TFG earlier this year. Somali President Abdullah Youssef publicly acknowledges that a panicky clampdown would not resolve the crisis. Somalia, he understands, is more politically unstable than ever. The CICs are not just at the gates of Mogadishu, they are inside it.

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