Conflict in Sudan


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2006 paper completed for a high school World Geography class about the political and ethnic conflicts in the African country of Sudan.

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Conflict in Sudan

  1. 1. Tyler Price ©2006 -1- Sudan There have been several movements for democracy in Sudan. Most of them have been recent. Though to fully understand them and their purpose, one must first truly understand the totalitarian stranglehold the nation had been under since it originally gained independence from Great Britain in 1956. Upon receiving independence, a democracy was set up that lasted for all of two years until it was dissolved by Army Commander and Chief Ibrahim Abboud during a coup. Under his control, democracy took a further step backwards when he dissolved political parties, revoked the people’s right to assemble, suspended the publishing of all newspapers and filled every important government post possible with people of North Sudanese descent. In doing so, President Abbud managed to alienate the formerly separate area of southern Sudan as well as fan the already high flames of independence in the region. By 1963 one of Sudan’s first organized groups of revolutionaries formed as Anya Nya was created in the name of a better governance for southern Sudan. After several uprisings in Khartoum, Ibrahim Abboud resigned his post in 1964. After the fall of its first dictatorship, Sudan held another general election in 1965. This resulted in a coalition government headed by
  2. 2. Tyler Price ©2006 -2- Muhammad Mahjub of the Ummah party. This government proved itself to be largely ineffectual due to various divisions in parliament and was replaced via a coup d’etat in 1969. This coup was led by Gaffor Mohammed an Nimeiri and dissolved the previous government in favor of a dictatorship under Nimeiri. It is also around this time that the southern Sudanese rebels, this time fighting for independence opposed to government reforms, solidified under the leadership of Joseph Lagu. Later that year, the Adis Ababa agreement was signed by Nimeiris and Lagu and granted southern Sudan Autonomy. After that the country was peaceful to a degree. This all ended in 1983 when independence favoritism arose around an army colonel by the name of John Garang. He broke his ties with Khartoum and established his troops in the bush of Southern Sudan, breaking the Addis Ababa agreement. This was countered by Nimeiri who once again divided southern Sudan into three different provinces. Nimeiri was ousted in 1985 by one of his generals, Abdurrahman Siwar. Siwar himself was overthrown in 1989 by a lieutenant general named Ahmad Al Bashir who took power in the name of the Islamic National Front, a formerly outlawed political party. During all of this, war still rages in southern Sudan. The new regime banned trade unions and all non- approved political parties as well as imprisoning political dissenters. In 1991 democracy is hindered even further when Islamic Shariah law is
  3. 3. Tyler Price ©2006 -3- introduced applying the laws of Islam to everyone. In 1999 Al Bashir declared a state of emergency due to the situation in southern Sudan and suspended what little rights the people had as well as dissolving parliament. Parliament was reinstated in 2001 still under emergency/ martial law. In 2003 and 2004 great progress is made in peace talks between North and South Sudan, resulting in the signing of the Naivasha treaty in January 2005 which granted the South six years of autonomy to be followed up by a referendum for independence furthering democracy in the nation. Sadly, during the same time that peace talks were looking up for North and South Sudan (roughly February 2003), war broke out in western Sudan in the Darfur region. The war began when local revolutionary groups, the JEM (Justice and Equality Movement) and SLA (Sudan Liberation Movement) accused the government of favoring Arab blacks over non Arabs and began attacking government installations. The government retaliated by secretly funding and supporting a series of local Arab militias known as the Janjaweed. All of the groups involved are currently well known for their war time atrocities, sacking of local villages for supplies, and generally infringing on the rights of everyone involved. Internationally the war is also seen as an act of genocide by the government against non Arab blacks in Sudan. Though some steps have been recently made towards peace,
  4. 4. Tyler Price ©2006 -4- Sudan and Darfur in particular are still largely unstable and remain in conducive to any democratic attempt at government. Role of Ethnicity Sudan has nineteen ethnic groups and 597 subgroups. Some of these groups include Arabs, Dinka, Nuba, Nuer, Fur, Zande, Shilluk, Bari, and Nubians. In the south, the people are black Africans who live their lives like tribes people, worship animist gods, live in mud-walled huts, mainly farm and gather food as an occupation, and prefer to wear only jewelry. The people in the north have olive-colored skin with straight black hair, one-story, mud brick buildings with walled courtyards, and they clothe themselves completely because of Islam. The southern part of Sudan has mainly Arabs who for the most part practice Islam. Arabs spread to this area because of the advantages of Islam. The Dinka are divided into many subgroups that range from 1,000 to 30,000 people. The groups are political units and prefer a large grade of self-government. Their language is the main one but many different dialects are spoken throughout the Nile Basin where the majority of the Dinka are. The Nuba originate in the Nubian Hills in the Kordofan region of Sudan. They are separated into a large number of subgroups or in different tribes. They all do not speak the same language, but they do speak the languages Midobi and Birked,
  5. 5. Tyler Price ©2006 -5- which belonged to the Nubian group of the Nilo-Saharan family. Their preferred language to speak is Arabic. They mainly live from agriculture and cattle herding. The Nuer are a group in southern Sudan that live in the marshes and savannah of the Nile valley. They are in small groups and self-govern themselves. People that are not originally a part of the Nuer clans can join their small communities. Polygamy is still practiced within their groups. The Fur originated in western Sudan. The Fur culture is consistent with feudal principles. They have rich landowners, serfs, and craftsmen (craftsmen are not inside of the feudal ties). The civil war in Sudan has made it so that many of these people have to leave their homes. Since independence, Sudan has been entangled with conflict. This has caused major devastation and displacement of many of its people. Its national conflict has slowed the country’s economical and political expansion. This has also made it so that large groups of people have to be displaced into other places within the country. For the majority of the time that Sudan has been a country it has been at war with itself. The Northerners, who had been controlling the country originally, want to unite Sudan under Arabism and Islam even though most Northerners are against non-Muslims, Southerners, and some peoples in the east and west.
  6. 6. Tyler Price ©2006 -6- Darfur Even though the Darfur conflict has been said to be a battle between the Arabs and black Africans, most of the people in Darfur are black and Muslim. The main reason for the division in Darfur is among ethnic groups. These groups are separated into the herders and the farmers. Different tribes gave themselves names such as “African” or “Arab” depending on the language of its members and whether their job is working the soil or herding the livestock. Another factor of the labeled names is that if there is a certain level of wealth, they would be called “Arabs.” Role of Religion To understand the problems that religion causes in Sudan, you must first learn about the religions practiced there. Most of the population, about sixty-five percent, is Sunni Muslim. The Sunni Muslims mainly live in the northern part of Sudan. The Muslims are much stricter about religion than the Christians in the South, which you will read about later. Traditional religions or animism is also very common in Sudan by the native people. Animism is a religion in which the followers worship things like plants, animals, and other important objects in nature such as the sun, moon, or stars. Some of the largest traditional religion practicing ethnic groups include the Dinka, Nuba,
  7. 7. Tyler Price ©2006 -7- Nuer, and Zande, who worship their ancestors. Because many of these animist groups are nomadic and primitive, they are losing a great deal of followers due to the growing presence of Christians who live a much more modern life style in Sudan compared to these traditional groups. Christianity is the third most practiced religion in Sudan. It is mainly practiced in the South along with Animism. Christians make up a large part of the government staff, like Moses Machar, who is Sudan’s current vice president. More than half of the Christians in Sudan are Roman Catholic and the rest are Protestant. There is also a small presence of Baha’i followers in the country, about 2,000 people. These Baha’i followers play a minor role to no role in the conflicts regarding religion in northern and southern Sudan. In fact, the conflict in Sudan is hardly because of religion but because of the struggle for political authority and also because of economic resources. What did cause much of the religious tension in Sudan, though, was the Sharia, an Islamic law book. After the first civil war in Sudan, the president of that time, President Nimiri, decided to force the Sharia on the entire country of Sudan. This applied not only to the mainly Islamic north, but also the Christian and traditional religion followers in the southern part of Sudan. Because of this, rebellion broke out and an ongoing religious and ethnic conflict has continued to this day. The enforcement of the Sharia was an attempt of the North to try to
  8. 8. Tyler Price ©2006 -8- reunite the Southern Christians and Animists. This will not be allowed with the Southern civilians, who want religious freedom, and possibly a separation from the North. The Southern Christians and indigenous followers either wanted this separation or a separate political structure, not influenced by Muslims. With this rebellion of the Christian and Animist Southerners, problems that include genocide have occurred as well by groups such as the National Islamic Front. Though, the problems are mostly not because of differences in religion. The tension between certain groups of Arabs and indigenous tribes are really the major factor. The N.I.F. has been responsible for torturing, raping, and enslaving thousands of Indigenous peoples in the West and Darfur. Darfur is a huge problem in Sudan, which began in February of 2003, that is a cause of the N.I.F. and another small group of Arab tribes called the Janjaweed, who torture and enslave the non-Arabs (mainly animists, but also some Christians) of Darfur. Thousands of displaced people who once lived in Darfur have moved to refugee camps in Chad and Libya. In fact, about 1.8 million Christians and Animists have been displaced from their homes due to the Darfur conflict. Even though some problems like Darfur and other small acts of violence occur, the problem is becoming smaller in Sudan. Sudan’s 1998 constitution says, "Everyone has the right to freedom of conscience and religion and the right to manifest and disseminate his
  9. 9. Tyler Price ©2006 -9- religion or belief in teaching, practice or observance. No one shall be coerced to profess a faith in which he does not believe or perform rituals or worship that he does not voluntarily accept." This was passed in 1998, but the problems have continued to today. If the government of Sudan were to become more stable and less corrupt, then these conflicts and the suffering throughout Northern and Southern Sudan could be resolved. Role of Political Ideology Since independence from Great Britain in 1956, Sudan’s national politics have been dominated by military regimes favoring Islamic- oriented governments. For the first three years after independence, there were several political parties with different ideologies. There were the Ansar-sponsored Ummah Party, parties associated with the Khatmiyah sect, labor union dominated parties, the Graduates Congress (organization of college graduates), and leaders of the black tribes in southern Sudan. During these three years, these parties were deeply divided on big issues including the following: Communism, Federalism, union with Egypt, economic and foreign affairs alliance with the West, fear of the royal plans of the Madhi family, and political secularization. These divides weakened the government greatly due to the many parties and many differing
  10. 10. Tyler Price ©2006 - 10 - opinions of the parties. This weakening of the government allowed it to be easily taken over by a military coup from the army. Political activity was banned for a short period after this initial coup by Army Commander Chief Ibrahim Abboud. After Abboud resignation in 1964, political activity was restored and elections were held. Three major parties were involved in the election of 1968. They were the Conservative Ummah Party, Progressive Ummah Party, and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) formed from the combination of the National Unionist Party and the People’s Democratic Party. The National Unionist party was conservative and favored close relations with Egypt. There were also some regional groups formed during this time including the Southern Front and the Sudan African National Union (SANU) which both advocated independence for the South. The Southern Front was made up of southern Sudanese living in the North and the SANU was made up of southern Sudanese exiled to Uganda. The DUP won but was soon followed by a military coup from Nimeiri who took control in 1969. Nimeiri wanted to suppress the Communist party. He developed a constitution that provided for a one-party state and the new Sudanese Socialist Union (SSU) as the only political organization. More elections were held in 1986 followed by another military coup in 1989 by Bashir. Bashir banned all parties except the National Islamic Front which he was a part of.
  11. 11. Tyler Price ©2006 - 11 - Sudan’s political ideology has had two main ideas associated with it since the end of World War II. Either or both a British based parliamentary constitution and Islamic rule have been associated with every governing body since Sudanese independence. There has never been a democracy set up in Sudan since its independence. The government has been ruled by military regimes and dictatorships for most of the years after independence. These rulers would have a parliamentary congress of some sort but it would be totally be dominated by the dictator or his party. Late in the 1960s, a call for Islamic law was in high demand. Many regimes started incorporating Islamic law as major part of the government. The National Islamic Front even started to organize terrorist attacks and attacks on non- Islamic groups and opposing Southern groups. The government would deny mandating Islamic law but would sponsor attacks on opposing groups in Sudan mostly based on their ethnicity and religion coming in second. The main political idea shaping the government in Sudan since its independence has been military control/dictatorship and trying to control the rest of the country’s groups opposing the government.
  12. 12. Tyler Price ©2006 - 12 - Interpretations and Conclusions Upon looking at the state of things in Sudan, there are several conclusions to be drawn about the future/fate of democracy in the region. From the nation’s history of repressive governments beginning almost with independence and continuing to now, it is obvious that the general population is in need of better education, a proven tool against the installment of dictators. The nation’s recent progress towards a general state of peace does lend some hope to the region. Though, the fact that the groups being pacified were fighting each other as well as the government, and its chosen militias shows an obvious need for greater cooperation amongst the people despite religious and ethnic differences. It would also be helpful to the country if the general standard of living was improved, most viably by the creation of some incentive for foreign investment. This would also further stabilize the region by replacing the opposing lifestyles held by the people (i.e.: the Arab herdsman competing with the African farmers) who are currently at odds. Though, there would be some public outcry towards this in the international community as a loss of culture. The gains would ultimately outweigh the loss by replacing lifestyles with lives that would otherwise be lost in one of the conflicts almost sure to reoccur in the country without some form of intervention.
  13. 13. Tyler Price ©2006 - 13 - Sudan has been through constant ethnic and religious rivalry that has penetrated all of the different countries that share borderlines. These countries have given shelter to fleeing refugees. They have also served as operating bases for the movement of the rebels. This also affects the world because as we (we being all other countries around the world) watch these happenings; we learn from their mistakes and make sure that we do not make the same ones. This affects me because learning more about this subject has made me feel sympathetic since I live in such a great country where we are not at war with ourselves. We do not have to arrange certain peoples and put them in specific areas. Also this makes me want to do something even though I am just a teenager that would not have any say in what is going on over there. All I can do is pray for the people of that country. One must remember that the problems in Sudan are not so much a problem of religion, but of ethnicity differences and political struggles in the government. These ethnic differences have torn the country apart. The United States too has had its share of race tensions and problems. Luckily, we have been through the thick of that fight. The United States also has a very stable government compared to the constantly switching governments of Sudan. It would be terrible to live under a constantly changing government each
  14. 14. Tyler Price ©2006 - 14 - controlled by a different military regime or dictator. One minute you are happy with the government, the next the government has sent forces to hunt down your ethnic race in a certain area. The world community should pay attention to the crisis in Sudan even though it has calmed down in the last year. A government not in check will become unstable and has many times in Sudan’s history. Sudan has sponsored terrorist activities in the past and may be doing so now in the Darfur region. The military groups hired by the government started a genocide in Darfur in the 90’s and maybe even before that. There is no excuse for human suffering without reason.