Once again, Sudan is bathed in the blood of civil war. Once again, an apparent alliance has fallen apart in the streets of Khartoum. Only a dozen years ago, the country was torn in two when, after many years of bloodshed, the people of South Sudan overwhelmingly voted for independence. At that time many of the SPLM supporters were from the Blue Nile, Darfur and Nubia. Those people were denied the opportunity to join the new country. The political geography of the Europeans was allowed to overrule the demographic geography of Africa. Sadly, that has happened so many times in recent history.
Sub-Saharan Africa is a continent of tribes. No place is that clearer than in the Sudans, especially South Sudan. Sudan is an un-mixture of Arabs and tribal Africans. Many of those tribal Africans are Muslim. Perhaps that’s why the powers that brokered South Sudanese independence did not see a need to allow more of the Black-skinned people of Sudan to break away. Certainly, another reason was the insistence from Khartoum that the two countries had to share the oil that had recently been discovered.
At any rate, the Africans of South Sudan are never going to find equality with the Arab majority. Without the army of Great Britain garrisoning the land of Kush, there will always be a tension between Arab and African. One part of that tension is Sharia. The Arab interpretation of Islam tends to be much stricter and more rigid than that of the tribal Muslims. While the Islamic population of South Sudan is a small minority, they are more welcome to practice their faith as they see fit than are the African-Muslims of the north.
Another source of the strain is quite simply the sense that people are different. When the Europeans took control of our continent, they did not set boundaries based on where tribes lived or even on uniting language groups. Their borders were primarily based on their “explorations” and what they considered natural boundaries, like rivers. To use a waterway as a border flies in the face of pre-European history when tribes routinely settled on both sides of a river and used that water as a connection rather than a separation.
What will happen—not so much in the short as the long term? It is difficult to predict. In the short run, there will no doubt be another truce, another joint government, and then another falling out. But, in the long run, Sudan can only be fully stable if there is an end of Arab domination or if the Arabs decide to really see Africans as their equals. Honestly, I do not see the latter ever happening. Nor do I see the African Sudanese of Darfur, Funj, and Nubia ever accepting submission.
Could the African communities leave Sudan and become a separate states? Would the world support them as it did South Sudan? Would that state include the northern part of what is now South Sudan? Or perhaps, could those communities join and expand South Sudan? If they did, would that make South Sudan more stable and more democratic than it is now?
These are questions that need discussion. These are paths toward the future that need exploration. Two things are clear: the mess left in Africa by the European colonizers has not yet been cleared away, and the people of the region will need to come together and reach an agreement on how to move forward.
May God save Sudan.
~By Deng Mayik Atem
Author of Jumping Over the Ram, and Publisher of Ramciel Magazine