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Commentary :: International
Pluralism and the new Sudan
08 Dec 2005
This is an informative commentary on Sudan, outside the issue of Darfur
Tuesday November 29, 2005 at 03:24 AM


Before Darfur, Sudan wasn’t on the international community’s radar screen; for many Sudanese, however, Darfur isn’t even on the map. Thanks to those who still recall the Rwandan catastrophe in 1994, the calamity in the isolated western province has at least gained the wavering attention of the United Nations. Yet to most Sudanese, the situation in Darfur is merely a regional problem. Sudan – often referred to (in English) as the Sudan, as if it were merely a region and not approaching its 50th year as an independent state – is varied in conflicts and struggles. Not unlike other post-colonial states, struggles are recurrently regional, cultural, or ethnic – or all of the above. In this arena, Sudan is very diverse: pluralism is an inherent trait of Sudan’s population. A walk through Khartoum’s souqs reveals a tremendous miscellany of faces and at least 134 languages are still spoken by as many ethnicities within its 7,687 km of national boundaries.

Unfortunately, those boundaries are ruled by corrupt ethnocentric bureaucrats propped up on, since its 1989 Islamic Revolution, a religio-nationalist fantasy. This has created three very contentious dichotomies: Arabic vs. English, Islam vs. Christianity, and Arab vs. black. These all correspond with the long-standing geographical divide of North and South, where the few Arab-African Muslims dominate the former and the many Christian and pagan blacks, or ‘Africans’, occupy the latter. The southerners have been fighting for any sort of autonomy for decades. The northerners, in turn, have done their best to forcefully suppress any success. These are the forces of separation which have kept Sudan locked in a civil war stance for over two decades – the longest such conflict on the continent. This is the conflict that dominates Sudanese affairs.

The coup d'etat in 1989 was a turning point for the South's struggle. It was a degeneration of respect for Sudan's multicultural character, but it also clarified the adversary to a plural society. The majority of Sudan's population, with estimates ranging between thirty-five and forty million, live in the South. The Arabs – a generalisation of three different Arab tribes – represent about 35 - 40% of Sudanese. They occupy most of the North, including Khartoum. The parliament has been exclusively Arab; Arabic has eclipsed English and all other languages as the one of instruction, information media, and politics; and the country's legal system is based exclusively on Islamic Shari'a law. The attempt to 'arabicise' the country is clear. The political and social forces the South resists have been consolidated into one.

The civil war has been perpetually waged by the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) – now Movement (SPLM). Highly organised, widely supported, and heavily armed, the SPLM have met with many successes from their relentless struggle. Of those, the most recent and ground-breaking is undoubtedly the peace agreement signed between the late SPLM leader Dr. John Garang and Khartoum this past January in Nairobi. The agreement was an apparent concession for both parties: for the SPLM, a willingness to pursue its aims for democratic self-determination within the political structures; for the national government, the recognition that the South is not going to succumb to its dogma.

To most Sudanese, however, Khartoum's is a dubious trustworthiness. On July 31st, Garang died in a helicopter crash in northern Uganda (southern Sudan's foremost ally). Despite a UN investigation's finding that the crash was accidental, most are silently incredulous. Garang was the South's champion of liberty and equality – Sudan's Mandela. Like Mandela, he believed in peace and fought for it; the peace agreement was his greatest and, thus far, lasting achievement. The agreement includes a power-sharing constitution and a guarantee of certain sovereignties to the SPLM. Garang's successor, Salva Kiir, now represents South Sudan as Sudan's Vice-President and various ministries are now headed by southerners. The SPLM will continue to set its own educational curriculum (in English, with aid from Kenya and Uganda), be able to guarantee the exemption of Islamic Shari'a law for non-Muslims, and direct 51% of the nation's oil revenue (Sudan produces nearly 500,000 barrels per day) to its own coffers.

That being said, the majority of parliamentary power remains with Islamic nationalists and they are not making integration easy, further casting doubt on the North's intentions. Most southerners do not speak Arabic, which makes their efficient participation in parliament almost impossible; the government is resisting the call to make English a national language. Also, and perhaps more crucial, is the North's insistence that the Ministry of Oil be headed by a northerner. Understandably suspicious, the South soundly argues that since they have majority control of oil revenue, they should head its political direction. These two early conflicts are examples that the road ahead will not be without expected bumps.

These conflicts are but political and are welcome relief to the ubiquitous combat over the past decades. Displaced by brutal warfare, millions of southerners (estimates are as high as six million) have been living in refugee camps – some in neighbouring countries, most on the outskirts of Khartoum. Many of a young age were born in the North and have never set eyes on their homeland. They long to be repatriated when travel restrictions will supposedly be eased. But the lack of infrastructure impedes their return: roads and rail-lines are either in shambles or non-existent. Those who have started to make the journey South have had to build make-shift bridges and clear land for vehicles as they go – in areas where mosquitoes have malaria and dengue fever. These examples of hardship underpin the resolve of Sudanese's wishes to rebuild their lives and country.

The country that is to be rebuilt will most likely depend on who one talks to. Garang hoped to create a unified Sudan which would respect its innate cultural plurality. Kiir, with new sovereign powers allowed the South since January, plans to hold a referendum in six years, giving south Sudan the option to secede and create itself anew. Within that time, the people will ascertain Khartoum's intentions and act accordingly when and if the time comes to vote.

The country is excited; without even mentioning Darfur, 2005 has been a tumultuous, formative year. Will this region inconnu become a model for modern states trying to overcome their internal differences? In Khartoum and across this complex nation, hopes are indeed high but cautiously subdued: agreements of peace, most will agree, are fragile at best.

This work is in the public domain
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Re: Pluralism and the new Sudan
12 Dec 2005
Garang was funded by American Christian Zionists to destabilize the Islamic country of Sudan. His terrorist rebels had been dropping bombs from the air, with foreign-supplied airplanes, for over a decade before the war broke out.