1 January 2013

Sudan: Bashir's Independence Day Speech Falls Short of Expectations

Khartoum — In his most high profile appearance since his health woes started late last year, the Sudanese president Omer Hassan al-Bashir's speech today disappointed many who expected him to unveil some initiatives amid heightened politician and economic pressures.

In the days before the turn of the year Sudan state media announced that Bashir will deliver an "important" speech to the nation from Blue Nile State on the occasion of Sudan's 57th independence day and also the completion of the heightening of the Ruseiris dam. TV stations sent technical and logistical teams to the state to cover the highly anticipated event.

But Bashir's speech which lasted approximately fifteen minutes and at times was interrupted by cheers of supporters contained nothing new.

The Sudanese leader called on armed rebels across the country and abroad to throw down their arms and return home to a nation "which accommodates everybody".

He also implored all Sudanese factions to join the constitution drafting process and vowed not to censor any views in the process of determining how the country is to be governed in the future.

On relations with South Sudan Bashir stressed that his government allowed the new nation to secede last year "for the sake of peace". He reaffirmed Khartoum's willingness to implement cooperation deals signed with Juba so that the borders are used for exchanging mutual benefits and social relations.

The Sudanese president also confirmed the government's intention to bring back the state of West Kordofan which has been abolished and integrated into South Kordofan as a result of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).

West Kordofan is home to the Arab Misseriya tribe and contains more than half a dozen oilfields.

South Kordofan and Blue Nile are scene of conflict between rebels of the Sudan People Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N) and the Sudanese army.

During the first months of conflict in South Kordofan, some foreign envoys pressed Khartoum to re-divide South Kordofan into two states and to appoint the SPLM-N candidate Abdel Aziz Al-Hilu in South Kordofan while Ahmed Haroun be appointed governor of West Kordofan, after which the popular consultation clause of the CPA can be held.

The disputed area of Abyei is also part of West Kordofan state.

The SPLM-N has accused Khartoum of recreating the state for political and ethnic reasons which primarily includes enlisting the Misseriya tribe against rebels in South Kordofan.

The Sudanese president today promised that they will soon celebrate ridding the Blue Nile state from SPLM-N rebels.

Bashir did not address the issue of the coup attempt uncovered last November which involved senior army and security officers including former intelligence chief Salah Gosh. Dozens of mid-level and junior ranking officers were arrested in the aftermath.

The coup attempt sent shockwaves throughout Sudan and particularly within the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) and its Islamist base.

Many expected the Sudanese leader to use today's celebrations to pardon the detainees who are still being investigated and have yet to be brought before court.

The Sudanese leader also did not tackle the growing economic difficulties faced by individuals and businesses in the form of soaring inflation levels and deteriorating value of the pound.

Some observers have suggested that today's speech was meant to dispel rumors about Bashir's health in light of his curtailed schedule and canceled appearances at several events.

Bashir's voice today was marked by a noticeable hoarseness and appeared strained at times prompting him to drink water during the speech.

Sudanese officials insist that Bashir is in good health but that doctors asked him to reduce his workload and appearances as well as rest his voice. He has underwent two surgeries last year in Qatar and Saudi Arabia to remove what his brother said was benign tumor in his throat.

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