Sudan’s Armed Opposition 2014 – the main groups
By D.K. Thompson
This article continues our exploration of political forces in preparation for Sudan’s elections scheduled for April 2015. Sudan has a long history of armed insurrection in peripheral areas – in this article, we will outline the largest armed opposition movements and the basics of where they come from. For a visual depiction of the origins of Sudan’s armed opposition groups, their alignments, alliances, and antagonisms, please visit our Sudan Political Timelines Project.
Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF – established November 2011)
The SRF was established in November 2011 as an umbrella organization comprised of SPLM-N, JEM, and SLA-Minni Minnawi and Abdel-Wahid al-Nur factions. Led by 2010 presidential candidate Yasir Arman, the SRF has been most active as a coalition force in South Kordofan and the newly re-established state of West Kordofan (the southern half of which had been part of South Kordofan). Politicians in Khartoum frequently accuse SPLM in South Sudan of supporting SRF groups, and the SRF has also been accused of cooperating with the SPLA in driving the SPLA-In Opposition out of Bentiu in early 2014. For a background on the leadership of the SRF, refer below to the respective armed opposition groups that make up the coalition.
Sudan People’s Liberation Movement – North (SPLM-N – established July 2011, previously part of SPLM)
The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) provided for an independence referendum after six years for areas south of the borders of the administrative region of Southern Sudan as defined by 1956 borders. From 1983 onwards, the SPLM/A had emphasized the unity of Sudan and the objective of bringing justice and democracy to the entire country; after the Peace Agreement, SPLM/A groups in Blue Nile and South Kordofan (the latter largely based in the Nuba Mountains) were somewhat stranded. Yet as southern forces withdrew over the years following the CPA (the armed force withdrawals and the creation of Joint Integrated Units [JIUs] were implemented fairly slowly and basically never actually completed in many areas), the SPLM retained a strong political presence in the Nuba Mountains and southern Blue Nile. The SPLM supported the candidacy of Yasir Arman for the 2010 elections but ended up boycotting the election in the north. In the 2010 state elections, Malik Agar of the SPLM became governor of Blue Nile, but Abdelaziz Adam el-Hilu lost the South Kordofan election to the NCP stalwart Ahmed Haroun in what the SPLM claimed was a rigged election. When South Sudan voted for independence in 2011, SPLM-N established itself as a separate entity and was immediately embroiled in armed conflict against the government.
Yassir Arman, SPLM-N Secretary-General
From the Ja’aliyyin of el-Gezira state, Yassir Said Arman joined the SPLM in 1987 after leaving the Sudanese Communist Party. Arman’s vision for the SRF is modeled after South Africa’s ANC as a political alliance fighting to bring freedom to people marginalized by the state. He also conceptualizes the future of Sudan as more of a federal union of which South Sudan is also a part.
Malik Agar, SPLM-N Chairman
A member of the Gamk ethnic group from the Ingessana Hills area of central Blue Nile state, Malik Agar has been part of the SPLM/A since the beginning of the civil war in 1983. He was closely aligned with John Garang and led SPLA forces in the Blue Nile campaign of the mid-1990s, capturing Kurmuk and Geissan (Qaissan) in early 1997. After the cessation of hostilities in 2005, Agar won a close election to become governor of Blue Nile in 2010, but was dismissed by Omar al-Bashir in 2011 and subsequently resumed armed opposition against Khartoum.
Abdelaziz Adam el-Hilu (Abdel-Aziz al-Hilu), SPLM-N Vice-Chairman
Abdelaziz el-Hilu, a member of the Massalit from Kadugli, contested the results of the 2010 gubernatorial elections in which he was defeated by the NCP candidate Ahmed Haroun, who became governor of South Kordofan. He subsequently joined with Malik Agar and Yasir Arman, becoming the military commander of SPLM-N forces in South Kordofan. In April 2013, the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) claimed to have killed el-Hilu in a rocket attack, but he subsequently gave an interview with the Sudan Tribune claiming that the allegations were mere propaganda. SAF’s “Decisive Summer” campaign appears to have forced SPLM-N figures in Kordofan to keep a lower profile in 2014.
Justice and Equality Movement (JEM)
Although it has historically been active most prominently in Darfur since its establishment in 2001, JEM’s stated goals involve bringing freedom and democracy to all of Sudan. Khalil Ibrahim was a supporter of the NIF/NCP in Khartoum in the fallout of the 1999 “palace coup” in which Hassan al-Turabi was ousted from the government by President Bashir, Ibrahim left the NCP and eventually formed the JEM as a military and political group based in Darfur. During the height of conflict in Darfur from 2003-2008, JEM formed a loose alliance with the SLM/A (see below), and sided with SLM/A-AW when Minni Minnawi joined the government following the Abuja Process. Khalil Ibrahim was killed in an SAF airstrike on December 22, 2011 and subsequently replaced by Gibril Ibrahim. Soon after Gibril Ibrahim took over, the JEM split into two separate movements. Ibrahim’s movement remains closely allied with SPLM-N and SLM/A, while a significant faction of JEM has re-defected to the government (JEM-Bashar/JEM-Dabajo).
Mohamed Bashar and Bakheit Abdallah Abdel-Karim (known as Dabajo) defected from Gibril Ibrahim’s movement in late 2012 and joined talks that led to the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD), signed in April 2013. JEM-Bashar has ties to Idriss Deby of Chad, who supported JEM-Bashar’s participation in the peace deal with Khartoum. In early 2013, the two JEM factions fought numerous times in the western section of North Darfur. In April 2013, JEM killed JEM-Bashar deputy Saleh Mohamed Jerbo and in May 2013, Mohamed Bashar was killed near the Chadian border in an ambush by JEM-mainstream (Ibrahim) and Dabajo took over the movement. As of the time of writing, JEM-Dabajo is scheduled for reintegration into SAF in El Fasher next week (August 10, 2014).
Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A)
Since its founding as the Darfur Liberation Front in 2001-2002, the SLM/A has split into many factions. Its original name suggests its regional origins in a struggle for autonomy for Darfur – yet leaders subsequently renamed it in order to facilitate an alliance with other opposition movement and ostensibly to legitimate military support from the SPLA and its supporters. After leader Minni Minnawi signed the Darfur Peace Accord in 2006, the movement split into SLM/A-Minni Minnawi (SLM/A-MM), SLM/A-Abdel-Wahid (SLM/A-AW), and several other groups, but in 2010 amidst the turmoil of elections and the renewal of conflict in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, Minnawi re-defected and since then has worked loosely with the other main faction – SLA-Abdel-Wahid – in military campaigns. SLA groups have been active throughout Darfur, but tend to be more active in the Jebel Marra region.
Eastern Sudan Armed Resistance
The Beja are a traditionally nomadic people who have historically lived along Sudan’s Red Sea coast. The Beja Congress is one of the older political parties of Sudan – founded by Taha Osman Bileya to fight against the marginalization of eastern Sudan. The Beja Congress joined the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) upon its formation after Sadiq al-Mahdi’s government was overthrown in 1989, and its armed wing has fought sporadic battles against government forces. Analysts such as Douglas Johnson have pointed to the constant conflict between Khartoum and peripheral regions over the appropriation of traditional herding and farming land for mechanized agriculture. In the case of the Beja, oil installations around Port Sudan and a crackdown on the Bedouin lifestyle have translated into many members of the Beja community seeking employment at Port Sudan. Protests by Beja in Port Sudan have led to heavy government censorship and even violence against peaceful protestors, as in January 2005, when 22 Beja citizens were killed and several hundred wounded as government troops shot at protestors, an incident which Beja leaders called upon the ICC to investigate. The Beja Congress reached a peace accord with Khartoum in 2006, having joined the Rashaida Free Lions to form the Eastern Front. BC’s Musa Mohamed Ahmed was subsequently appointed as a presidential assistant to Bashir. Discontent continues to fester in eastern Sudan, and the Beja Congress withdrew from the Eastern Sudan Peace Agreement and joined the SRF in late 2011. During 2013-2014, the BC has organized a number of protests in Port Sudan, and many of its leading figures have been imprisoned. Musa Mohamed Ahmed has continued to voice calls against the marginalization of eastern Sudan, but in 2014 appears to have remained committed to Bashir’s “national dialogue” process and has remained part of the government in Khartoum.
Numerous other smaller armed opposition groups have been active in Sudan over the past decade. Hopefully we will have time to explore the linkages between region-specific groups such as SLMJ-Karbino and The Awakening Revolutionary Council at a later date.