Yasir Saeed Arman, SPLM Presidential Candidate
Gleams of Hope and Change for Sudan and possibilities of peaceful transformation
Yassir Saeed Arman was born in 1961 in the central Sudan State of Jazeera to a father who worked as a primary teacher and school principal and a housewife mother. He is the eldest of five siblings.
After his law studies at the Khartoum branch of Cairo University, Arman joined the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement (SPLM) in 1987. Arman was one of the first Northerners Sudanese to join the SPLM and to graduate from the SPLA military studies college.
As a military officer who rose quickly to the rank of a commander, Yasir had a senior position in the armed struggle, commanding missions to Blue Nile and South Sudan. He later joined the SPLM radio service, addressing Sudanese people across the country and playing an important and influential role in challenging the polarized climate of identity and issue politics. At that time it was new and striking for Northern Sudanese to hear a Northern Sudanese addressing issues of justice and the rights of the people of Sudan in both the northern and the southern parts of the country.
Side by side with Garang during CPA negotiations
In 1990, and despite his relatively young age, Arman was promoted into the senior SPLM leadership team joining John Garang, Edward Lino, Yousif Kowa and the current SPLM Chairman Salva Kiir Mayarrdit. In the mid 90s Yasir particularly took on the task of working to re-unite an SPLM which was coming under tremendous pressure of fragmentation. He was known to be persistent and thoughtful in his strategic negotiations to bring together disparate parties.
From the beginning of the negotiations Yasir was deeply involved in striving for a peaceful agreement between the SPLM and the current National Congress Party, culminating in the signing of the landmark Sudan Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in January 2005.
Dr. John Garang, SPLM founding father and Chairman, was Arman’s mentor. Arman was profoundly inspired by Dr. Garang’s vison of the New Sudan, a vision based on principles of just democratic transformation and self determination for the people of Southern Sudan. His contribution to realize this vision, both on the ground and in the corridors of Naivasha, has uniquely equipped him to peacefully lead the country through the crucial upcoming referendum for Southern Sudan.
During the 90s, Arman managed to establish strategic relationships for the SPLM with international figures and Sudanese opposition leaders. After the signing of the CPA , between 2005-2006 Arman spent a few months at Iowa State University following the steps of his mentor Johan Garang who was awarded his PhD from that University. Arman spent time there researching and wrote several papers about the experiences of nation builders during the sixties and fifties.
Arman’s vision for Sudan is influenced by his study of the approaches of charismatic leaders and thinkers about the means of democratic transformation around Africa, from Mandela and the African National Congress in South Africa to Leopold Senghor and Diop in Senegal. Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Dr.Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana and Ahmed Sékou Touré of Guinea are also among the visionary African intellectuals and nation builders who have been constant reference points throughout his life. They are leaders who have advocated a conception of the state which embraces diversity but maintains a unity of purpose around core shared principles. Even as a little boy, Arman was known to memorize quotations by famous African nationalist leaders. Arman thus speaks regularly and knowledgeably about the Sudan in the African context, quoting from African philosophers and referring to African culture and history.
After the signing of the CPA Yasir was appointed as the head of the SPLM block in Sudan’s national parliament. Arman immediately turned his parliamentary position into a platform to voice the concerns and reflect the hardships of ordinary Sudanese people, facing the day to day challenges of life under an Islamic fundamentalist regime. Indeed in his advocacy for the rights of all under the Interim Constitution, he was accused of being an “unbeliever” through the issue of a Fatwa by the Sudanese Ulama council (the country’s religious Council). This accusation came as a result of his outspoken support of the courageous journalist Lubna Hussein who was found guilty of wearing “indecent” clothing by the Sudanese public order courts. Indeed Arman is considered one of the very few Sudan national personalities who have demonstrated a serious interest in, and commitment to, the promotion of women rights. He consistently stands up against the discriminatory practices which have become part of the law and the culture under the current regime.
Over the past five years Arman has fought many battles with the NCP around their lack of commitment to the implementation of the CPA. This stance has led to frequent political crises between the NCP and the SPLM. Arman has advocated for the release of political detainees and an end to the violence being mettet on displaced people in northern Sudan. He has opposed the demolishing of the homes of the poor and internally displaced in Khartoum and denounced racial profiling particularly in the wake of the May 2008 attacks in Omdurman which led to the arrest of so many simply on the grounds of the colour of their skin. In January this year Arman was arrested and tortured by the Sudanese security forces when he led a demonstration urging national security reform and debate on the South Sudan and Abeyi referendum laws.
The Darfur crisis has also been a focus of his attention. In his last visit to Darfur Arman talked about the need to respect the rights of Darfurian of all tribal backgrounds to tackle their own issues, [with appropriate support]? He emphasized the urgency of enhancing peace and security for all Darfurians against the background of escalating attacks and insecurity. Re-conciliation, compensation and reconstruction mechanisms on the ground he also recognized as essential building blocks for peace.
Why Arman? A complex politics
The nomination of Yasir Arman as the SPLM candidate for the Presidency has been received with mixed reactions. To some the nomination of the nomination of Arman is interpreted as an SPLM “reward” for someone who had embraced the “New Sudan” vision of one united secular country. It was the promise of a democratic and just state for all that brought people like Yasir to the movement, and this dream was for many years the dominant discourse and ideology. In the South therefore those eager to establish a separate state see him as a possible threat to independence. The NCP has tried to encourage this gross misconception of his position, promoting Bashir publically as the guarantor of separation.
On the other hand, many in the South trust him absolutely to honor the referendum vote. Those who have worked and fought side by side with him for many years have seen firsthand his huge personal commitment to Southern liberation —self determination is been a core value of his political and personal struggle.
In the northern part of the country there are also mixed feelings. Many in northern Sudanese urban centers have observed his struggle and courage around important public policy issues, but feel they don’t know him well enough. Others worry that he is a radical figure, his history of Southern struggle alienating him from the Northern Sudanese context. With Sudan ruled and dominated through its post Anglo-Egyptian period by a Northern Sudanese majority, his controversial profile raises questions.
One of Arman’s huge strengths is his integrity as a person. He is one of the very few non-corrupt political figures. He does not even own a house and is a man of extremely modest means. His personal life is a reflection of his political vision, he lives a humble life with his with his two teenage daughters and his wife Awar Deng Majok from the Southern Sudan’s Ngok Dinka tribe of Abyie.