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Sudan: how to achieve lasting peace.

Prof Kwesi Kwaa Prah traces the history of the conflict in Sudan, and argues that unless there is a constitutional dispensation that recognises the fundamental African character of Sudan and also gives equal rights to the Arab minority, it is unlikely that lasting peace can be achieved in the country.

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The early beginnings of the African nationalist insurgency in Sudan can be traced to the Torit Mutiny of 18 August 1955, when members of the Equatorial Corps garrisoned in Torit revolted against the military authority of the Anglo-Egyptian joint-rule, then officered by Arab-Sudanese.

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After the collapse of the mutiny, armed resistance emerged at various points in the South. But the fires of armed rebellion seriously rose in 1963 with the emergence of the Anya Nya under the leadership of the Sudan African National Union (SANU). Through various turbulent stages of evolution, the war was brought to a major lull by the Addis Ababa Agreement of 1972.

But the Akobo Incident in 1975 when the integration process of former Anya Nya units into the national army broke down, the fires of war flared up again. The Anya Nya Patriotic Front surfaced out of small beginnings in the Akobo Incident and formed under the political leadership of Gordon Muortat Mayen until 1981.

While the Addis Ababa Agreement brought for almost 10 years some measure of peace to the South, in hindsight the 1970s appear more as an armistice than a durable peace. The regime of Gen. Gaafar Nimeiry which ruled over the peace of Addis Ababa increasingly flaunted and rescinded the terms of the agreement and propelled the Sudanese state willy-nilly into the fiery vortex of a full-scale civil war by 1983. Since then, the resurgent armed resistance has been led by Dr John Garang and the late Joseph Oduho, a veteran founding member of the Anya Nya in 1963.

So, why has the Sudanese conflict so far eluded substantial peace? The question can be partly understood in terms of the inability of the warring parties to achieve a political and constitutional arrangement which would resolve the contradictions on which the civil war is premised.

The dominant feature of these contradictions is the "national question"--a situation in which an Arab minority controls state power, dominates the armed forces, the civil bureaucracy, the political elite, commerce, trade, banking and the judiciary, and orders these instruments of state power towards a spoken and unspoken policy of Arabisation of the African majority.

Since the end of World War II, more specifically since the Juba Conference of 1947, African nationalist opinion has largely defended the idea of a federal arrangement which will recognise the African majority. This has been repeatedly rejected by successive Sudanese governments.

The national question

Only 39% of Sudanese regard themselves as Arab. In spite of this fact, the country is regarded by most international bodies to be part of the "Arab World". This is due to the fact that the prevalent character of the Sudanese state is Arabist. Therefore, Sudan, in national terms, is a minority-ruled state--much like the former white-minority-ruled South Africa and Namibia.

Interestingly, the Sudanese conflict is often explained as simply a regionalist confrontation. But this view is as erroneous as the suggestion that it is largely a religious conflict.

While the problem bears regionalist and religious dimensions, the fundamental character of the conflict is clear--which is that Sudan is largely made up of Africans who are more concentrated in the South where their cultural features are also less Arabised. The Southerners have, to some degree, been Christianised but most lean more profoundly on their traditional African cosmology and ritual. In the North, most of the nationalities have, to a great degree, been Islamised but again here Africanist beliefs are not uncommon, particularly among the Fur, Fung and Nuba.

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It is in the North that the African cultural traits have been most diminished and replaced by Arab culture. In many areas of the North, African languages are slowly perishing in the face of Arabising forces and influences.

The Beja, who have historically resisted Arabisation, are increasingly being Arabised. The Funj Nuba, Messalit, Zaghawa and Fur remain largely conscious of their African national identity. However, of all the African nationalities of the North, it is particularly among the Nubian that claims of Arab identity are most rampant.

Another irony here is that before the penetration of Arabs in Nubia, this area of the Sudan had been Christianised. From earlier beginnings, by 543-580 AD, Christianity had established pre-eminence over purely African religious practices, and indeed Christianity then became the official religion.

As recently as 1742, pockets of Christian communities were reported to exist in Nubia. Although today many Nubians claim Arab nationality, in as much as they have been culturally Arabised, it is noteworthy that structural linguistic similarities exist between the Nubian languages of the Nile Basin (particularly Dongolawi and Mahas) and the languages of the Nuba Mountains and the smaller African nationalities of Darfur.

Thus, essentially, it is possible to classify Northern Sudanese who claim Arab nationality into one of two groups. On the one hand, are the Jaali and the Barabra who are mainly Arabised Nubian riverine cultivators; and on the other, the Juhayna who are mainly nomadic groups. Among especially the Jaali, Nubian dialects still survive in the face of increasing Arabisation.

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The dominance of the Arab minority in the Sudanese political economy is practically demonstrated in conditions of extreme underdevelopment in the South and relatively better development in the North.

Class variation has tended to run along the crucial national distinctions. This is particularly noticeable among the elites, with African representation singularly weak among the mercantile and banking elements, and the judicial and military brass. Conversely, Africans are well represented among the ranks of the lowest menial workers in Khartoum (the capital) and Omdurman.

The need for the dominant groups in Sudanese society to define themselves as differently as possible from African is in some instances reduced to absurdity.

For example, as Joseph Oduho explained: "In every passport given to any Sudanese, whether he be brown, semi-white or pitch-black, it is always said 'brown' is the colour. And on my passport, it is written that I am brown, and probably if I went one day to Nigeria, they will say, brown? This man! It is one of those things--that you cannot know until you have lived here a long time to know the real difference between the South and the North."

The claim of Arabness in Sudan carries with it a subjective notion of cultural and national superiority. This situation has tended to encourage Arabisation.

Historically, in the collective psyche of the African, perhaps what has crystallised most uniformly in African perceptions of the Arab is the history of slavery. Abdel Rahman Sule, a Southern Muslim who was at the forefront of pro-federalist politics in the 1940s and 1950s, recalls his youth early this century:

"My father was a chief. The effendi who came around our village to kill elephants were Muslims. I used to see what these people were doing. That is how I became a Muslim. In 1927, I was caught with arms from Ethiopia. By then I was already a Muslim. But I was very aware of my African-ness. When I was a kid, if I was woken late in the morning by my father, he would say 'if it had been in the days of the Ansars you would have been taken'. My father always woke me up early so that in his words I am not taken by the Ansars."

The veteran politician, Clement Mboro, whose father was an Ndogo chief, recollects that during the 1930s: "There were Arab traders and peddlers coming around to trade ... They used to sell us the black people, they used to trade in people. Thus we grew up with the feeling that they were not friendly, not sincere ..."

The inability of post-independence Sudan to meet this history squarely, frankly, dispassionately; treat it objectively and openly on all fora of social activity has tended to exacerbate the Sudanese national cleavage.

Oduho was caustic in his remark: "Well, people usually are not very happy, particularly people from Northern Sudan, of the mention of the slave trade. And one really cannot understand why this should be so. All the years I was a school teacher, history was out of the curriculum of the Southern Sudan. It was not allowed to learn history. When I left the county in 1960, history was not taught. From 1950 to 1960, that entire decade, history was never taught. The history of the Sudan has never been taught in the Southern Sudan. Just to avoid the idea of slavery. Now they are teaching it, but they skip over it."

The effacement of the history of slavery in Sudan does not only, in effect, deny the Africans in the South access to knowledge of their national history, but equally debases the history of the Northern nationalities.

For, as the British civil secretary, Sir Harold MacMicheal, explained in his 1922 book, A History of the Arabs in the Sudan: "The importation of slave women from the South which has proceeded uninterrupted for centuries, lends further measure to the spurious homogeneity of these Nubian people."

The unresolved national question and its class underpinnings can be identified as the fundamental cause of the civil war. The absence of a political arrangement which, while recognising the majority African national character of the country, affords the Arab minority equal national rights, constitutes a recipe for continued war.

Every single change of government in Sudan during the past 30 years has, to a different degree, been prompted by considerations relating to the national question as expressed in the "Southern problem".

As Ambrose Riny Thiik observes: "This war started over 30 years ago because of the unrealistic attitudes on the part of the Northern Sudanese who took over from the British, combined with the lack of any national consensus [that] prevented the working out of constitutional arrangements acceptable to the South".

Thus, the African national resistance led by the SPLM/A has come to represent the latest instalment of the quest for self-determination, national liberation, and majority-rule within a constitutional formula for the whole of the Sudan.

Since 1983, the civil war has ceased to be confined to the geographical area of the South, and has spread, although weakly, to other predominantly African areas of the North, such as the Southern Kordofan region and the southern Blue Nile area. These developments emphasise the fact that the conflict is not merely regional but rather represents African resistance to Arab minority rule.

The constitutional dilemma

The present-day Sudan, like all African countries, is a creation of colonial powers; in this case Britain. Although the Anglo-Egyptian joint-rule arrangement of 1898 stipulated Egyptian partnership, Britain remained to all intents and purposes the very senior partner in the arrangement.

Few have expressed British thinking on this matter as succinctly as Lord Cromer. He thought that the facts were plain enough. Fifteen years previously, Egyptian misgovernment had led to a successful rebellion in Sudan. British rule had developed the military and financial resources of Egypt to such an extent as to justify the adoption of a policy of re-conquest of Sudan. But England not Egypt had re-conquered the country.

Lord Cromer admitted that it was the Egyptian treasury which bore the lion's share of the expeditionary costs. Egyptian troops had been the teeming ranks of the military expedition, but they were commanded and directed by British officers. "The guiding had been that of England", admitted Cromer.

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For him, it was absurd to presume that without Britain's role and assistance in the form of men and money, the Egyptian government could have re-conquered Sudan. Although in the joint-rule arrangement England was the unchallenged senior partner, "it would have been unjust to ignore Egyptian claims in deciding on the future political status of the Sudan", said Cromer.

Herein lay the extent and limits of Egyptian overlordship in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. During the period of joint-rule (1898-1956), many British administrators, particularly those who had experience of the South, realised that the Sudanese arrangement was a potential powder keg.

However, for various reasons of imperial self-interest, the British withdrew without a constitutional dispensation that could have defused the political and constitutional time-bomb embedded in the situation.

Realising the cultural dichotomy between African and Arab Sudan, the British formulated "the southern policy" in 1930. But long before this, the de facto approach had been one of recognising the difference between the social, economic, and political interest of the areas of high African concentration in the South, and the Arabised provinces of the North, particularly in the riverine areas north of the 120 latitude.

The method favoured by the British to insulate the African South from the Arab North was one of Anglicisation and Christianisation. In 1903, the joint-rule government apportioned areas of the region south of the 100 latitude to different Christian missions. This arrangement was largely blessed with the "Regulations and Conditions Under Which Missionaries Work" in 1905.

Another Act in 1906 gave further financial concessions to the missionaries. African resistance to British domination was relentless and persisted well into the 1930s. Education was seen by Cromer as a crucial method of pacification. Northern Muslim soldiers became the next target in the strategy of the administrators and missionaries in the South. In 1911, Governor Owen of Mongalla suggested the institution of a new all-African southern army to replace the northern Sudanese troops.

In 1914, the first unit of the new Equatorial Corps was put in place. In the same year, Sunday replaced Friday as the day of rest in the Lado Enclave. This regulation was implemented in Mongalla Province in 1917, and Govenor Owen "deported" serious Muslims in the area to the North, and withdrew from all Muslim festivals.

In 1922, the joint-rule government passed the Passports and Permits Ordinance, together with the Closed Districts Order. This latter law made parts of Northern Kordofan, Kassala, Gezira, Darfur and Equatoria closed districts. On the basis of these ordinances, the South was virtually closed to Northern elements.

Thus, by the late 1920s a formidable array of ordinances, regulations and arrangements had been instituted which in effect closed the South to (unrestricted) Arabising influences, and their effect of eroding the African identity of Southern Sudan.

Thus, in a serious sense, "the southern policy" as it has come to be known, did not begin in 1930. It had been steadily under construction from the initial years of joint-rule.

The policy was predicated on the assumption that the South was distinctively and undeniably African. But the primary and self-interested objective was to achieve effective administration through indirect rule.

The 30 years of armed resistance by the militant African ethnicities in the South was brought to a close by the Nuer Settlement of 1933. However, the 1930s saw the emergence of Northern Sudanese nationalism which initially surfaced as literary, cultural, and mutual-aid societies. It was predominantly led by the effendis (petty administrators), the educated, and urbanised elites. Appearing first on the political scene in 1931, they made a more mature appearance with British encouragement in 1938 as the Graduates Congress. They represented a new breed, away from the more politically subservient traditional leaders.

The Graduates Congress had emerged in direct response to the Anglo-Egyptian treaty of 1936. The treaty sought to give Egypt greater manoeuvrability in Sudanese affairs, which had been curbed since the assassination of Sir Lee Stack in 1924, two years after Egypt was granted independence. Southern Sudan, throughout this period, remained fairly peripheral to the economic and social processes engendered by the penetration of colonial capitalism into the North.

The British reviewed and abandoned the "old southern policy" formally in 1946. In his memorandum on Southern Sudan of 16 December 1946, the then civil secretary, James Robertson, restated the new formula to read amongst other points that: "The peoples of the Southern Sudan are distinctively African and Negroid, but that geography and economics combine (so far as can be foreseen at the present time) to render them inextricably bound for future development to the Middle-Eastern and Arabised Northern Sudan."

While political debate in the North was preoccupied with the formula for independence with regard to the degree of merger, co-operation with or independence from Egypt, Southern politicians were most concerned with a federal structure for an independent Sudan which would protect the economic, cultural, and national interests of the Africans in the South. By the beginning of the 1950s, Southern political awareness and militancy was on the upsurge. An older group of educated Southerners who had been operating since 1947 as the Southern Sudan Intelligentsia Committee, evolved in 1954 into the Liberal Party incorporating and inheriting the mantle of the Southern Party.

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The general southern position during this period favoured a federal constitution, although there was a small group of Southerners that remained unhappy about any linkage with the North and preferred outright separation.

The Torit Mutiny of 18 August 1955 was the ringing historical testimony that the African people of the Sudan were on the brink of war against the emergent Arabist-minority state.

Nimeiry's u-turn

The constitutional demand of southerners had previously been largely a call for a federal status, but in the ensuing years the southern viewpoint increasingly hardened.

Thus, by the time the exodus of December 1960 took place, when southern leaders like Saturnina Lohure, Ferdinand Adiang, William Deng, Joseph Oduho, Alexis Bakuma and others crossed the border into Uganda and Congo, the view that it was impossible to co-exist with the northern elite in a unified state was gaining currency, and separation or secession was beginning to be seriously favoured by the more militant sections of the South. Barely three years after the exodus, the Anya Nya was formed.

When in December 1955 parliament sought a unanimous vote for independence, they failed mainly because the Southern representation was apprehensive and sceptical of Northern post-independence intentions.

As the Sudanese author, Deng Awur Wenyin, argued: "The Southerners stood in the way, because they thought (and rightly) that if the situation was like that for them while the colonisers (Britain and Egypt) were still here, how would it look after they left."

As one regime after the other moved centrestage with no ability to resolve the "southern problem", the Free Officers Movement under General Nimeiry seized power on 25 May 1969. His new regime recognised the cultural diversity of the country and this led the way to the Addis Ababa Agreement of 27 March 1972. While the agreement gave regional autonomy to the South, it addressed the problem in largely regionalist terms. Questions of religion, culture and nationality were given scant attention. But within 10 years, the Nimeiry regime made a full circle. Piece by piece, it dismantled the basis and structure of regional autonomy for the South. And throughout the 1970s, Nimeiry's government made an adept use of the principle of divide and rule in the South, exploiting for this purpose latent ethnic and regionalist feelings, such as the rivalry between the people of the Upper Nile and Bahr al Ghazal on the one hand, and Equatorians on the other. The re-division of the South by the Nimeiry regime in June 1983 represented an open contradiction to the Addis Ababa Agreement and the Southern Regional Self-Government Act of 1972.

The implementation of the Jonglei Canal Scheme to bring water to Egypt and drain the Sudd was taken up without proper political consensus in the South, and against informed ecological advice. Equally opportunistic was the project for the Kosti oil refinery which attempted to situate the refining of oil found in the South out of the region, and then pipe it out through the Red Sea coast at Port Sudan.

The imposition of Sharia Law in September 1983 was the most dramatic arbitrary act by the Nimeiry regime against the rights of the non-Muslim Africans of Sudan. However, by then the systematic attack on all agreements and understandings regarding Southern autonomy had already triggered off increased armed rebellion, and the SPLM/A emerged to lead African national resistance.

Thus, despite the recent attempts at finding peace (at the peace talks in Kenya), it is pertinent to emphasise that durable peace is unlikely to be achieved in Sudan unless there is a constitutional dispensation which recognises the fundamental and overwhelming African character of the country, and which also recognises equal rights for the Arab minority.
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Publication:New African
Geographic Code:6SUDA
Date:Jan 1, 2004
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