On June 3rd, 2019, dozens of Sudanese protesting citizens were killed in an ambush attack by the security forces of the country. With the citizens having access to ‘unstable‘ Internet, there are no official statistics on the number of people killed/injured in the attack. With the situation in Sudan becoming a part of the recent political discourse and human altruism coming to the forefront, how can we talk about the situation, rationally?
To understand power dynamics in Sudan, we need to take a detour into the history of the country. The northern part of Sudan became a part of (and unified under) the Ottoman Empire in 1820-21. While the north remained under the Turkiyah, or the Turkish regime, in the later years, British missionaries from modern-day Kenya started converting the tribes of the south to Christianity. The advent of Mahdism and the defeat of Abdallahi ibn Muhammad’s forces at Toshka by the British led to the formation of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudanese condominium in 1899. Although the condominium was governed by the United Kingdom and Egypt, the north and the south were governed as separate provinces (with a passport required to travel between the two). The British reversed their ‘two-zone’ policy in 1948 with the decision to integrate the regions under a single government, with talks of self-government looming. Even with the idea of the integrated government, in 1948, 13 delegates (nominated by the British) represented the southerners in the Sudan Legislative Assembly. Perhaps, it was this under-representation and the feeling that the northern leaders were backing away from their promises to grant the south a degree of substantial autonomy, that led to the First Sudanese Civil War on the 18th of August, 1955. The civil war lasted for 16 years, up until the 27th of March, 1972. During this time, the Republic of Sudan had gained independence from the condominium (Sudan celebrates its Independence day on the 1st of January every year, with the first coming in 1956) and began its work on a permanent constitution. During these 16 years, political power passed through multiple groups (in the form of coalition governments and coups). The Addis Ababa Agreements (hereafter referred to as the AA Accords) in 1972 led to a cessation of the civil war and granted the south relative autonomy, in the form of the South Sudan Autonomous Region (hereafter referred to as the SSAR), with 500,000 reported casualties. South Sudan, drawing from the AA Accords, drafted its first permanent constitution in 1973.
The discovery of oil in the south in 1978 coupled with the south getting ‘relative‘ autonomy meant that the region had an economic advantage over the north. This happened at a time when Islamic fundamentalists were growing in power. These factors, taken together, led to President Jaffar an-Nimeiry declaring in 1983 that Sudan (all of it) would be an Islamic nation, deriving its legislature from Sharia Law, thus terminating the SSAR. This declaration sparked the Second Sudanese Civil War, the same year. It ended in 2005, 22 years later, leaving anywhere between 1-2.5 million people dead (due to the war and secondary phenomena created by it) and even more, displaced. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in Nairobi (2005) stated that the south had six years of autonomy, which would be followed a referendum on independence. South Sudan declared its independence from the Republic of Sudan on the 9th of July, 2011.
This brief retelling of the history of the country acquaints us with a few things. First, political power has exchanged multiple hands after Independence (and remained divided). Sometimes, as pointed out before, this has taken place through coalition governments or coups. The recently arrested president of the country, Lt. Gen Omar Hassan al-Bashir came to power via a coup in 1989. Secondly, the country has been plagued by division (on the grounds of religion and language). This is one of the fundamental ideas on which the north-south divide is based, the other one is the issue of representation (thus, political rights). It’s both of these factors that led to the south seeking autonomy.
Omar al-Bashir had been the president of Sudan for almost three decades (29 years, to be precise) until the time he was removed from office. It is important to point out that al-Bashir is (was, as of now) the only sitting president to be charged by the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the first person to be charged by the ICC for the crime of genocide (as of today, he has two warrants against his name). Now, the warrants against al-Bashir come from his involvement in the conflict in Darfur. The conflict has been brought about by the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) rebel groups fighting against the government’s ‘disregard‘ for its western region and its non-Arab population. There are reports of Arab militias, called the Janjaweed, terrorizing the Dafuri citizens of the region and preventing Humanitarian organizations from distributing food and medical supplies, along with fighting the rebels. The Abuja Agreement (2006) and the Doha Agreement (2011) have been signed to promote power sharing and determine Darfur’s permanent status with the Republic of Sudan. In spite of these agreements, violence still persists in certain regions.
WHAT LIES AHEAD
So, what next? With al-Bashir out of Office and the Transitional Military Council (TMC) is currently in power. With protesters urging for a return to civilian rule and the TMC agreeing to a three-year transition period, the violence has ceased, for the time being.
The Sudanese need the support of the international community in transitioning to civilian rule and aid for rebuilding. At the same time, the citizens need to achieve some degree self-sufficiency in the areas of technology, infrastructure and security to lessen their reliance on foreign aid. I guess this is true for all countries. Create markets for international trade (manufacture products that have market value), invest heavily in the human capital, encourage entrepreneurship (which implies that the playing field is level for differing ideologies and political affiliations) and build a long term strategy for development. However, at the same time, it is highly important that Sudan restore order and provide the citizens with emergency facilities. Another important thing to do would be to bring the internet back up (important for long and short term goals).