Economics and similar, for the sleep-deprived

A subtle change has been made to the comments links, so they no longer pop up. Does this in any way help with the problem about comments not appearing on permalinked posts, readers?

Update: seemingly not

Update: Oh yeah!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Let's take this insurgency on the road!

It's a bit of a cliché, but sometimes, as when a Darfurian rebel group estimated at less than 3,000 fighters decides to take the battle to the enemy by driving 250 miles outside Darfur in a small convoy of technicals to fight a battle for Khartoum "what the fuck" is pretty much the only thing you can say. Thoughts:

1. No idea why everyone's taking at face value al-Bashir's unsupported assertion that Chad is behind this. Seems massively more likely to me that he isn't; he has nothing to gain from it. Note plenty of Afrobollocks suggesting a connection via Déby's Zarghawa ethnicity, the same as Khalil Ibrahim. I am pretty sure this isn't relevant - for one thing, tribal identity in Darfur and Chad is both very complicated (the different tribes have lots of clans which don't necessarily get on, plus intermarriage with Arab-speaking nomads adds another layer of complexity) and not very important (I wrote here that Déby was Fur, which is apparently wrong, but I presume I did so on the basis of some other report which didn't bother to get it right because it's not important, or which got it confused because it's not straightforward). And for another, Déby doesn't have much commitment to ethnic politics - he packed the senior ranks of the military with family and friends but that's about it - and given that he's a French-speaking Sufi head of a secular state, an alliance with post-Islamist Sunni headbangers would be an odd place to start. Historically, JEM have done a big deal about being non-ethnic (they regularly used to claim that SLA/Minnawi was a Zarghawa ethnic militia) too so I doubt they'd be playing the blood brothers card now.

2. My guess is that JEM's objective is to try and kick-start that disinvestment campaign. Khartoum, notoriously, isn't exactly feeling the suffering of war at present - it's a boom town. Although Ibrahim clearly had no hope of holding it, he doesn't appear to have lost much strength in harassing the Khartoumis, and by threatening to do it again, has probably substantially raised the risk premium on Sudanese investment. Note to self, insert bit of fourth generation war blah here when can be bothered[1]. And obviously to set themselves up as the face of Darfur for the next set of negotiations. I rather think this objective might have backfired, going by the commentary from international organisations; does anyone really fancy the job of telling the government of Sudan that they have a moral obligation to sit down in Abuja or wherever for talks on Darfur with a gang who keep firing mortars at the Presidential palace? Not sure about the timing on the part of the JEM too - doing something big like this at a time when the entire kilobyte/s of Anglosphere mental bandwidth which is allocated to Africa is being tied up by the Zimbabwe story.

3. I know this isn't exactly earth-breaking news, but my word, they aren't half irresponsible, these post-Islamist nutters, aren't they? I've blogged in the past about the fact that JEM seems to be very heavy with "political advisors" who live a long way away from Sudan, and that this might be part of the reason for their tendency to lack any concept of risk aversion. Jan Pronk spotted this tendency in JEM a couple of years ago - because of their position as one of the smallest Darfurian militias, and the fact that they're an ideological rather than Darfurian nationalist organisation, they tend to believe that they gain from maximising the amount of chaos. They even tried to get a civil war going in East Sudan (which would have also had an economic element to it as this is where the oil pipelines go).

4. Because of the history of JEM mentioned above, I am not wholly convinced that this development marks another stage in the "Angolan metastisation" of Darfur (the point where an African civil war turns really awful, as the militias lose all touch with their original purpose and become indistinguishable from criminal gangs[2]). The Khartoum adventure was spectacularly mad-headed and almost certainly counterproductive, but it can more or less be explained as fitting into a strategy and it didn't involve looting. The general increase in chaos in Sudan, however, is likely to accelerate the metastasis of the conflict, as it makes it much more likely that all sorts of SLA/M offshoots will simply forget about the struggle and pick off what they can get.

And the proximate effect is that Hasan al-Turabi's been chucked in jail and Khalil Ibrahim has discounted him, his son, and his political party as "a nuisance" who are irrelevant to the JEM. I know thee not, old man ...

[1] Second use of this joke in as many weeks. Probably getting irritating for the readers.
[2] Europeans needn't feel smug about this, by the way - the Free Companies went in for this sort of thing in the fourteenth century and made lots of Italy a purely horrible place to live in. It's the business model of piracy, except on land.
7 comments this item posted by the management 5/12/2008 10:33:00 AM

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