The key question looming for all of Sudan remains Khartoum’s response to the impending self-determination referendum for the South, scheduled for January 9, 2011. Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party, or NCP, completely dominates governance in Khartoum, and thus holds the key to peace or war. The NCP cabinet—formed by President Omar al-Bashir in the wake of the April electoral travesty billed as “national elections”—has now been announced, and it offers some ominous clues about the direction in which the NCP is headed.
This new government in Khartoum is as much a reflection of its past as the National Islamic Front, or NIF, as the previous government. Indeed, the appointment of Ali Ahmed Karti as foreign minister in particular signals a clear continuation of ruthless Islamist policies that have been a source of acute tensions between the North and South. His appointment has already roiled the waters in Khartoum’s relations with Egypt, and can be expected to be a source of real difficulties in relations with the U.S. and E.U.
The cabinet appointments as a whole strongly suggest that the "political space" claimed for northern political actors as a product of recent national elections was mere wishful thinking; certainly the recent sharp crackdown on human rights advocates and the press are consistent with previous policies and those we might expect from this new cabinet. The new NIF/NCP cabinet is also consistent with the most important shift discernible in the balance of power within the ruling elite, namely, that this power rests increasingly within the small circle of presidential advisors, particularly Nafi’e Ali Nafi’e. Nafi’e is the hardest of the “hard-liners” in the regime, and his constituency has been ascendant for several years.
Also of note in this connection is that General Bakri Hassan Salih continues as Minister of Presidential Affairs: He is the former Minister of Defense, and clearly one of those most responsible for the Darfur genocide. He is named prominently in a key Human Rights Watch report from December 2005, identifying those most responsible within the NIF/NCP military and political hierarchy for ethnically-targeted violence in Darfur. The report (“Entrenching Impunity: Government Responsibility for International Crimes in Darfur”) concludes with a two-page list of those who Human Rights Watch believes should be investigated by the International Criminal Court, or ICC. The list includes not only Bakri Hassan Salih, but Saleh Abdalla ‘Gosh’ and Abdel Rahim Mohammed Hussein (see below), former First Vice President Ali Osman Taha, Ahmed Haroun (former State Minister of the Interior), and President Omar Hassan al-Bashir. The last two are indeed wanted by the ICC for crimes against humanity.
The brutal Abdel Rahim Mohammed Hussein continues as Defense Minister. He was previously Minister of the Interior, during the worst years of genocidal destruction in Darfur, and has notoriously pushed for forced returns of internally displaced persons, as well as severe restrictions on humanitarian assistance. Moreover, he is named in a confidential “Annex” to the 2006 report by the U.N. Panel of Experts on Darfur as one of those most responsible for the actions of the janjaweed militias. Sixteen others are named in the Annex, including Saleh Abdalla ‘Gosh’; ‘Gosh’ is the former head of the fearsome National Security and Intelligence Service, or NISI, and presently serves as yet another “presidential advisor.” The confidential Annex reports that ‘Gosh’ failed “to take action as Director of NISI to identify, neutralize and disarm non-state armed militia groups in Darfur.” He also was accused of “command responsibility for acts of arbitrary detention, harassment, torture, denial of right to fair trial, committed by members of the NSIS in Darfur under his control.”
Here it is worth recalling the largest conclusion of the Panel of Experts in August 2006—more than three years into the genocide—and what this may portend for renewed fighting in southern Sudan, in which the regime would certainly depend heavily on proxy militia forces:
“[We found] credible information that the Government of the Sudan continues to support the Janjaweed through the provision of weapons and vehicles. The Janjaweed/armed militias appear to have upgraded their modus operandi from horses, camels and AK-47s to land cruisers, pickup trucks and rocket-propelled grenades. Reliable sources indicate that the Janjaweed continue to be subsumed into the Popular Defence Force in greater numbers than those indicated in the previous reports of the Panel. Their continued access to ammunition and weapons is evident in their ability to coordinate with the Sudanese armed forces in perpetrating attacks on villages and to engage in armed conflict with rebel groups.” (Paragraph 76)
Much has been made of the appointment of the southerner Lual Deng to head the new "Petroleum Ministry," which has been spun off from the former Ministry of Energy and Mining. In fact, this appointment simply confirms that the accounting books on oil revenues, including those owed to the Government of South Sudan, have by now been thoroughly "cooked." The NIF/NCP has denied the South many hundreds of millions of dollars over the course of the past five years through accounting legerdemain and skewed reporting on extraction totals and locations. The appointment of Lual Deng clearly suggests that no forensic accounting will yield significant insight into the whereabouts of revenues expropriated by Khartoum.
This is a cabinet and security cabal that will strongly support President al-Bashir in any decision to delay, abort, or militarily preempt the southern self-determination referendum. In that sense, it may well be a war cabinet.
Eric Reeves is a professor of English at Smith College. He has published extensively on Sudan, nationally and internationally, for more than a decade. His book on Darfur—A Long Day’s Dying: Critical Moments in the Darfur Genocide—was published in 2007.