Today, 8 April, is the date set by the Sudanese authorities as a final deadline for the South Sudanese in the country to ‘regularise’ their resident status as foreigners or face unidentified punitive measures. According to press reports President Bashir assured the chief African Union (AU) mediator, Thabo Mbeki, that the ‘fraternal’ South Sudanese in Sudan will not be harmed or unjustly treated as long as they respect the laws of the country and the values and traditions of its people. Sudan’s chief negotiator at the Addis Ababa talks with South Sudan, Idris Mohamed Abd al-Gadir, told the media that the meeting between President Bashir and Thabo Mbeki dwelled on Khartoum’s call on Juba to provide its citizens in Sudan with the necessary nationality documents that allow the regularisation of their residence. As things stand, the South Sudanese who remain in Sudan are effectively stateless. With reference to the provisions of the South Sudan referendum law Khartoum amended its nationality bill in August 2011 to strip the ethnic South Sudanese in its territory of the Sudanese nationality, while Juba is yet to muster the bureaucratic capacity to provide its citizens inside South Sudan with nationality documents let alone those in (north) Sudan.
Last March Sudan and South Sudan initialled a framework agreement providing their nationals in the other state with the freedoms of residence, movement, employment and the property. The deal, which was expected to be signed by the two countries’ presidents in a summit meeting set earlier in April, became the focus of internal feuding within the NCP establishment pitting the powerful Intibaha bloc which stridently rejected the framework against the negotiators. With the escalation of military confrontations along the border between the two countries hopes of an imminent rapprochement were dashed. Juba bragged about an incursion of its army into the Heglig oil field in South Kordofan. Khartoum responded with the usual: the SAF’s Antonovs bombed the oil facilities in the neighbouring South Sudanese Unity state, and mostly missed. The two countries’ negotiators met again in Addis Ababa only to complain of the other side’s prevarication, and the Bashir-Kiir summit was called off till further notice.
The military standoff between the two capitals boils down to the unresolved status of the ninth and tenth divisions of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), the predominantly Nuba fighting force in South Kordofan that now constitutes the rebel SPLA in North Sudan. The most favourable scenario, from Khartoum’s perspective, would be a security deal akin to the pact that currently binds Sudan and Chad in regards to their common border. After fitful experimentation with proxies targeting the destabilisation, and ambitiously enough the overthrow of the other, Ndjamena agreed to emasculate the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) which hitherto enjoyed Chadian patronage and Khartoum delivered President Deby’s enemies to the desert. Out of Darfur, and then expelled out of Libya, the JEM rebels risked the trek down south seeking Juba’a cover, a hijra that the JEM leader Khalil Ibrahim did not survive. The Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) gunned him down in the company of a cohort of his captains in northern Kordofan. In the bargaining process between the two Sudans Khartoum seemed ready to offer the ‘four freedoms framework’, despite domestic opposition, in exchange for a security pact, with the SPLA-N as the sacrificial lamb. Juba, I presume, calculated that it would thus waste a major leverage point at the cheap. Tajility thus overruled. The term is an Anglo-Egyptian coinage derived from tajil, the Arabic word for delay, and used to describe the Sudanese state art of forestalling. Apart from legislations, primarily designed to satisfy domestic chauvinist passions, neither South Sudan nor Sudan was at a rush to secure the fate of the thousands of Sudanese now left stateless in the orgy of partition. Juba wanted their secession votes, and received them. Today it is in a position to benefit from the marketing of their plight in its duel with Khartoum. None other than Pagan Amum set the tenor for Juba’s approach towards the issue when he accused Khartoum in March, shortly before the signing of the ‘four freedoms’ framework, of ignoring the predicament of three hundred thousand Southern Sudanese citizens suffering slavery in Sudan.
A brilliant Khartoum journalist, Ajok Awad Allah-Jabo, herself an ethnic mix of southern and northern Sudanese descent, documented the concrete situation of the “voluntary repatriation Southerners” as she termed her kin, in a two parts report published recently in the daily al-Ahdath. According to her illustration, what is taking place in Khartoum is nothing short of forced expulsion. Armed policemen guard the collection locations, she visited Jebel Aulia south of Khartoum, and checkpoints litter the vicinity of the IDP camps where the stateless Sudanese reside to prevent their escape. Moreover, she discussed the ‘business’ of repatriation showing how northern and southern players, state organs and private entrepreneurs, connive to draw the most from the transport boom.
Last February Khartoum state ordered the popular committees, neighbourhood level governance structures also entrusted with petty security functions, to draw up lists of foreign residents, including ethnic South Sudanese, in the areas under their supervision and report violators. Sennar state, bordering South Sudan, followed Khartoum’s lead. The governor of Sennar, Ahmed Abbas, told a rally in al-Suki two days ago that he had instructed the localities in the state to implement the 8 April deadline without hesitation. Devolution of the authority over the fate of the South Sudanese resident in Sudan to the lower levels of administration and policing is certainly an ominous development with possibly unwelcome implications, particularly with the prevalent chauvinist, if not frankly racist, propaganda of al-Intibaha in mind. If tajility is to blame for the limbo in which the stateless Sudanese now find themselves further tajility combined with inefficiency of the state bureaucracy and the corruption of the police could possibly rescue them from the caprice of local administrators.