An Open Letter by a Former Minister

One of the most respectable former ministers (and the son of a highly regarded tribal paramount chief) Ibrahim M. Mansour, has circulated an open letter (dated 18 November) saying that there is “no need” for the 2nd Economic Forum.

The circulation of the open letter, only five days before the beginning of the 2nd Economic Forum is clearly not intended to postpone the Forum but to start a debate.  The Forum has now been held and its recommendations handed over to the First Vice President; but the debate called for by the former minister is not over.
His argument is that the problems of the Sudan are political not economical and that the flawed political judgments and policies have a negative impact on the economy.   The way out is not to convene a conference on economics; but to address the political errors.  The rest, including the economy, will fall in place.
By sheer coincidence, I received the open letter on the day the government declared (in times of severe austerity) that it has allocated $400M (four hundred million dollars) towards foreign loans disbursements. The more than $40B (Forty Billions) debts were not the fault of the present government. The core was borrowed during the rule of President Numeiry when the writer of the open letter was minister of Finance.  Interests have multiplied the sum!!
The solution suggested in the open letter is (with respect) simplistic: put an end to the wars and stop the cost of fighting.  The honourable writer was Minister during the lull in the civil war as a result of the Addis Ababa Agreement 1972.  Maulana Abdel Alier (who also served under Numeiry at that time as Vice President) has written in his book (Southern Sudan-Too Many Agreements Dishonoured - Ithaca Press 1990) that John Garang and a group around him rejected the Addis Ababa Agreement and carried out sporadic attacks until 1983 when they found a pretext for re-igniting the civil war.  The ten years of peace during which the open letter writer became minister were never really accepted by the hard core rebels.  When Numeiry was overthrown by a popular uprising in March 1985, the SPLM/A refused to take the hand of peace extended by the democratically elected government led by Sadiq Al Mahdi.  To assume that fighting will stop now if the government says it is ready for peace is not supported by evidence or practical politics.   Indeed the government has indicated that it is ready for talks and accepted Southern Sudan mediation.
Mr. I. M. Mansour makes one valid point that the 05 Comprehensive Peace Agreement led in the end to secession; but was the CPA accepted as a result of “immature political decisions” as he claims?  Regional powers as well as superpowers were involved in the long negotiations.  It is no secret that the government had many reservations but accepted certain provisions as a result of insistence that aimed at a consensus.  As a former minister Ustaz I. M. Mansour knows better than most that governments sometimes have to swallow bitter compromise medicines.  To suggest that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (and secession) were the fault of the government is unfair.  The right of self-determination was adopted by the opposition NDA in Asmara 1995 (because Egypt was against it, NDA leaders were relocated to Eritrea from Cairo, with US funding).  The hasty rush towards the referendum (before finalising border demarcation was encouraged by major powers that were eager to achieve secession), probably with eyes on Southern oil which the Chinese were buying.
Nevertheless, the desire of the Southerners for a State of their own was genuine and the statesmanship of the government in accepting the result of the-far from perfect- referendum should be applauded, because half a century of civil war was more than enough.   To prolong the civil war for the sake of oil, land or population would have been insane.
Another example: The government did accept the Abuja Peace Agreement of 06 (despite some reservations). Were those who refused to sign “penalised” as the US Robert Zoellick’s team threatened? No. Were they declared “terrorists? No. Sanctions were passed by the Bush presidency against the peace-signing government!
The open letter criticism of foreign policy is only partially valid. During the years when Dr. Turabi was at the helm dreaming of leading both the Arab and Muslim worlds against the West, many mistakes were committed (including hosting Usama bin Laden, abolishing entry visas for Arab dissidents and supporting Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait).  Until today, despite the ousting of Dr. Turabi and his closest allies, the Sudan is paying the price of those policies.  There is also no mention in the open letter of the international geo-political context that heaped sanctions on our country and kept them in place despite a change of leadership in 2000 and a change of policies.  The Security Council has demeaned its standards by the way Darfur and the ICC were manipulated in order to target our president and increase sanctions.
The call for negotiations with rebels is very wise; but we are not in an ideal world.  Peace also depends on the other side. The Carter Center deemed the May 2011 South Kordofan elections “credible”; but SPLM-N refused the result and took up arms.  Abdul Wahid Nur refuses even to negotiate mainly because he has an office in Tel Aviv (probably to promote tourism in Darfur!) and won’t accept peace without Neyanyahu-Lieberman-Naftali Bennett approval.
Lastly Ustaz I. M. Mansour raises another partially valid point – the vast expenditure of several States Wilayat and their parliaments and councils of ministers.  This came about in response to the complaints that there was too much centralisation.  The cost of decentralisation is cheaper than the cost of putting out the fires of regional dissent.  As for the tens of universities - Standards of some should be improved; but the policy is right.  It is proper to tap the talents of those intelligent pupils in all provinces – otherwise higher education will be the monopoly of the rich elite and the sons and daughters of those in positions of responsibility or government or the children of tribal paramount chiefs.
What surprised (and disappointment) me is the reluctance of such a man of known integrity and probity to admit a single credit to the government.  Isn’t ending the civil war a great achievement, whatever the cost?  Even the success of the Donors’ conference in Doha (7-8 April 13) and the coming on board of all the major powers to address the root cause of the crisis, which is uneven development exacerbated by desertification and climate change is only cited negatively.
My only explanation for such an unnecessarily gloomy open letter is that the Honourable I. M. Mansour is out of touch of the latest developments and realities. Government attempts at reform or improvement or course correction should be welcomed not dismissed and belittled.  Our proverb says: He who is standing on the shore is a good swimmer.
Khalid Al Mubarak
Date: 27/11/2013

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