MU professor faces big hurdles in bid for Sudanese presidency

Friday, May 1, 2009 | 11:50 a.m. CDT

Stuart H. Loory, Lee Hills Chair in Free-Press Studies, Missouri School of Journalism: MU history professor Abdullahi Ali Ibrahim is planning to run for president of Sudan in elections next February. Professor Ibrahim has taught sub-Saharan and Islamic history here for the past 15 years. One opponent will be sitting president Omar al-Bashir, who is now under indictment by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. Bashir has been tough on his opponents, recently jailing an opposition party leader for two years. In 1971 before President Bashir, Professor Ibrahim was jailed for two years for his political activities. Sudan is not the kind of country where an electoral campaign can be considered politics-as-usual. It has the largest landmass of any country in Africa. A civil war between the north and south ranged from 1956 to 2005. An uprising in Darfur, in western Sudan, resulted in perhaps 300,000 killed by government forces. President Bashir expelled 13 international relief organizations last month after his indictment. Why is Professor Ibrahim running for president of Sudan?

Abdullahi Ali Ibrahim, associate professor, MU Department of History, Columbia: After 20 years of a military dictatorship, this is an opportunity for our people to have a voice in politics. We need to focus on the history of elections in Sudan, not just speculate on the cruelty of Bashir’s regime, then project defeat in the election. We went through two popular uprisings, 1964 and 1986, to bring democracy back to the country. Rather than a program, I have a vision for my country. This vision came from teaching African and Islamic history and being in the American context.

Loory: What do you think about the professor’s vision, and how it will go down in Sudan?

John Tanza, deputy chief of party, Sudan Radio Services, Juba, Sudan: I wish Professor Ibrahim all the best, but the reality on the ground has a lot of challenges ahead of him. One of the biggest challenges is that we have yet to see a free and fair election in Sudan. This is the first one to be monitored by the international community. The ruling party is not interested in having an election. They are forced into it because of the comprehensive peace agreement. The election will be an uphill quest.

Loory: Bashir is under indictment by the ICC, and he has a bad reputation around the world. Is the United Nations going to get involved in this campaign?

Julia Gronnevet, U.N. reporter, Asahi Shimbun, United Nations, New York: The U.N. Security Council involvement dates back to 2005, when they referred the situation to the ICC. Even though Sudan is not a signatory of the Rome Statute, the Security Council handed it over to the ICC, therefore giving it jurisdiction.

Loory: Several countries in Africa have questioned that decision; the president of South Africa called it “white man’s justice.” Is Bashir going to be brought to justice?

Dan Murphy, correspondent, Christian Science Monitor, Brooklyn, N.Y.: Not soon. There are accusations, but there are enormous double standards. Lots of horrible things happen in different places in the world every day. It is easy to say this is Western whites targeting someone, when you’re not much better yourself. Bashir has been involved in horrible things, both in Darfur and the south. The indictment could be shelved if it is determined more harmful for the people of Sudan. I don’t expect Bashir to be put in jail anywhere, certainly not until after the elections. There is no guarantee then either.

Loory: Where does the future of President Bashir fit into your vision for your country?

Ibrahim: My vision is to return this situation to the Sudanese people. We have not been consulted on anything. Our affairs, culture and research seem to be entrusted to foreign elements. People should have forecast that putting Bashir’s back to the wall would create this nationalism, that his party would be determined to return him to the presidency to make its point.

Loory: Can the future of Sudan, and Bashir, be handled internally and politically?

Henry Owuor, diplomatic and foreign affairs writer, Nation Media Group, Nairobi, Kenya: I was in Sudan after they issued the indictment of Bashir. His popularity increased in Khartoum and Darfur. It will now be difficult to have these elections on a level playing field. The best way out is to freeze the indictment, then the election can be held fairly.

Loory: Do you agree with that?

Ibrahim: No, not yet. When it comes to specifics, I reserve my opinions until I get back to my country and express myself fully in front of my people.

Loory: How much opposition are you expecting? Obviously, Bashir will be an opponent, but there are other political parties. How do you plan to raise enough money to counter all of this?

Ibrahim: Everything I do now is at my expense. I am optimistic that money will come. I may look isolated and independent, coming to a crowded field, but I am not. I am coming from a historical block in Sudan. It came to power briefly in 1964, forming a totally new government, one that has little representation of traditional powers and a full representation of the new powers in Sudan: the workers, farmers, intellectuals, national capitalists and others. This historical block has been blocked from Sudanese history and politics and has been under studied, if at all.

Loory: In the early 1970s, you were politically detained as a member of the Communist Party. The political group that you are representing now is the successor to the Communist Party in Sudan?

Ibrahim: No. The Communist Party still exists; we parted ways in 1978 because they were not doing enough grass-roots movements. They tended to be survivalist. They tend to launch plans to topple military governments, but they don’t have any vision for afterward. My vision takes Sudanese culture, Islamic religion and the reality of Sudan into consideration.

Loory: How do you feel about the vision that Professor Ibrahim has just articulated, and what that will do for the country?

Murphy: The violence must stop; very poor parochial and local economic interests drive it. People have been displaced internally. If these people are allowed to go home, feuds will develop because other people are going to be living there now. I admire the professor’s optimism. There is an enormous task in front of Sudan that will take the work of a generation to sort out.

Loory: Is anything being done to get the relief organizations re-admitted?

Gronnevet: It goes back to the possibility of freezing the indictment. Article XVI of the Rome Statute was put in place when the ICC was set up. It allows the Security Council to vote by resolution to hold the indictment for one year. The U.S. is opposed to freezing; the hardliner on the other side is China, which has spoken very actively of wanting to freeze the indictment. With these two permanent members opposed, it would be extremely difficult for any resolution to pass.

Loory: Does judicial action need to occur after the election, to deal with criminal activities?

Ibrahim: The Sudanese have already agreed to “transitional justice,” which is based on the South African case and other Latin American cases. We are not interested in prosecuting people; we need a truce and reconciliation. We need to remove the bitterness, which will take a lot of energy, creativity and good people.

Loory: How much will the international news business be able to cover this election and events in Sudan?

Murphy: In the name of “security issues,” I expect efforts to restrict the workings of the international press, and they are already looking to muzzle the domestic press, even more than now.

Loory: It is not an easy task that Professor Ibrahim has set for himself. He certainly has a lot of hurdles to jump over. We have to admire his tenacity and wish him well.

Producers of Global Journalist are Missouri School of Journalism graduate students Jared Gassen, Brian Jarvis, Sananda Sahoo and Melissa Ulbricht.

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