Speaking to the party

President Omar al-Bashir must be quite unhappy with the way that things are going in his country at the moment. In almost exactly two weeks – in fact on the very day that I fly home – Sudan is finally going to separate, after decades of terrible bloodshed and war.

There are quite a few things that still need to be sorted out. Thankfully, the country has a six-month transitional period in which to do this, although, this being Sudan, I fear that six months might not be long enough to do everything that needs to be done.

One of the things that does need to be resolved is whether Southerners and Northerners will be able to freely hop between the two countries (not that they can really be stopped, I might add, given that the new border between South and North Sudan is going to be the longest in the whole of Africa).

Southerners would quite like the freedom to move between the two countries, and perhaps have the option of taking up residency in the North should they so choose.

But here al-Bashir has been displaying something of his ire, and said there is absolutely no question of this happening. The Southerners wanted independence. They have been given it. Now they should get the hell out of the North.

Look at what’s happening in Kadugli, where Northern forces are targeting those that they deem to still have loyalties with the South.

Shortly after the resounding, and inevitable, “YES!” vote was announced to the world, al-Bashir responded by getting up and announcing that, now he was free of those accursed Southern heathens, there would be a fresh imposition of Sharia law in the North.

Under the terms of the 2005 Comprehensive  Peace Agreement (CPA), non-Muslims were theoretically exempt from Sharia. But now it looks like al-Bashir wants to bring it back.

Rhetoric, however, is often very different from reality.

When the South goes, Khartoum is expected to lose three quarters of its oil revenue. That’s a pretty hefty chunk, and it clearly needs to be replaced with something. And that something cannot possibly be a strict interpretation of Sharia law.

What the country needs is investment – masses and masses of investment. Without this investment, al-Bashir’s days will certainly be numbered. The regime may survive, but al-Bashir will not be forgiven for giving away the south and with it the economic prosperity that has made the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) such a durable regime.

In fact, I can’t right now see how Khartoum is going to manage to replace all its lost revenue, at least in the near-term. Already, it seems, certain Chinese oil companies are taking steps towards relocating down South.

I predicted at the start of this year that a vote for independence would spell the end for al-Bashir. At the time, I thought he could even be pushed out by the end of the year. Now I think it will a little take longer.

But he will still go and it is the vote for independence that will be the nail in his coffin: there are people within his party that will never forgive him cow-towing to the Americans and giving away the South, especially as Washington is still umming-and-arring about the possibility of lifting sanctions (which, to be fair, is a step that should have been taken a long time ago).

So when al-Bashir speaks of the re-instatement of hard-line Sharia law, he’s not talking to the people of the North or acting in anger against those Southerners that dared to vote for independence. He is, in fact, talking to those hard-liners in his party that are starting to think more-and-more that a post-Bashir Sudan might not actually be a bad idea.

It is, essentially, nothing more than a survival tactic.


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