Al-Ahram Weekly Online   5 - 11 November 2009
Issue No. 971
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Galal Nassar

Threats to unity in Sudan

Five important challenges threaten the future of Sudan. For the country to retain its cultural, political and strategic unity, it is now more important than ever that Sudan's different forces unite behind a national strategy, writes Galal Nassar

Such is the interest of the Arab media in the Arab- Israeli conflict as it unfolds in occupied Palestine, Lebanon and Syria that journalists are often accused of giving scant interest to the conflict in Somalia as well as the ongoing insurgencies in Sudan's south, west and east. Yet, Sudan is drifting along an uncertain and dangerous course. A host of domestic, regional and international influences, some threatening, seem to have taken hold of that country.

Click to view caption
File photo: a young Sudanese refugee standing in the door-way at a way-house in Juba, south Sudan in April, 2008

Most recently, reports coming out of south Sudan last weekend indicated that the South Sudanese President Salva Kiir, leader of the southern-based Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), had called on southerners to vote to secede from Sudan during a speech intended to launch his party's election campaign for the 2010 elections and 2011 national referendum.

This is despite the fact that both the SPLM and the northern National Congress Party (NCP), the ruling party in the national capital Khartoum, had agreed to make national unity a priority when they signed the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, or Naivasha Agreement, that established a federal system in the country and ended the civil war.

The Naivasha Agreement casts a long shadow over the political, economic, social and security conditions in the country. Along with other factors, such as the Darfur crisis, the deteriorating conditions in three regions, the economic and diplomatic blockade, and the worsening living and social conditions in the country, the agreement is shaping the future of Sudan. Foreign pressures, and outright blackmail, have also contributed to the current scene in Sudan.

The Naivasha Agreement enabled the south to have 34 per cent representation in all executive, legislative and judiciary departments of government at the central level, as well as a say in various civil and military agencies. The agreement thus piled up gains for the south at the expense of the north. It also denied the president of the republic any authority in south Sudan, and made his authority in the north subject to approval by his Southern vice-president. Without the approval of the latter, the president cannot impose a state of emergency, declare war, or appoint and dismiss ministers and top-level officials.

The agreement also gave the south the right to create a government with executive, legislative and judicial powers that are completely independent of the central government. The southern government can also have an independent army, and this was deployed in the south after the withdrawal of the forces of the central government. Meanwhile, six military units from the south continue to be deployed in the north, even in Khartoum.

Recent years have seen major efforts being made, with the assistance of US companies, to enhance and reinforce the capabilities of the southern government's army. An air force has been created in the south, complete with dozens of fighter planes and trained pilots. An armoured corps and an artillery corps have also been formed, and new military vehicles, as well as stockpiles of weapons, have been bought into the south. Currently, the southern government has diplomatic representation in 20 countries in Africa, Europe and the Western hemisphere.

The independence of the southern government and its full and undiminished sovereignty over the south rests on the unambiguous provisions of the Naivasha Agreement. Moreover, the new Sudanese constitution, written after the signing of the said agreement in 2005, provides for the independence and sovereignty of the south. Articles 2, 25, 26, 51 and 58/2 of the constitution acknowledge the full independence and sovereignty of the southern government and allow it to exercise various powers. As mentioned earlier, the decisions of the president are now subject to the approval of his southern vice-president.

The current situation in Sudan, assessed from an objective examination of its political, economic, social and security aspects, calls for the urgent adoption of a new course based on national solidarity, and the country should place unity over division and the collective over individual. Only this will prepare Sudan for a national revival and start a tangible drive for development.


The first challenge facing today's Sudan is ideological. The so-called "New Sudan" scheme, dividing the country into various parts, is closely linked to the global plans of messianic US politicians and champions of the Project for the New American Century, drawn up under former US president George W Bush. The scheme aims to change the identity of Sudan, erasing its history and sapping the power of its people.

The implementation of this scheme in Sudan would promote goals that transcend Sudanese geographical borders and national territories. Eliminating Arab and Islamic culture in Sudan is only one of the declared goals of this scheme. The aim of the New Sudan project is to reshape conditions in Sudan in a way that benefits only pro-Africa, pro- Christianity and pro-American groups. Once Sudan is severed from its Arab fabric, Egypt's southern flank would be exposed, Red Sea security would be compromised and Sudan would become a thorn in the side of the Arab world.

The New Sudan scheme aims to undermine the essence of Arab national security through four main points, which include weakening the national security of Egypt and Libya by depriving them of the strategic depth Sudan now offers; threatening the security of Red Sea littoral countries; eliminating the function of Sudan as a strategic source for Arab food security; ending the role of Sudan as a bridge between Arab and African areas, and terminating cultural exchange between the Arab world and sub-Saharan Africa.

The second challenge facing Sudan is external. This external challenge has grown with the rise of the US as the world's sole superpower, a development that has given a boost to a global project spearheaded by the forces of Zionism and evangelical Christianity and their allies in Africa. The nature of the external challenge has changed over the past 20 years or so. At times, foreign threats have taken the shape of an economic, military and diplomatic blockade. At other times, foreign powers have interfered in favour of local players on the political scene, and neighbouring countries have been used as instruments of pressure and blackmail.

This external challenge was evident in the manner in which the Abuja and Asmara agreements were concluded. Initially, 10,000 international troops were deployed in Sudan in accordance with Chapter 7 of the UN Charter and the Naivasha Agreement. These were followed by the deployment of 26,000 mixed troops in Darfur, also according to Chapter 7. European Union forces, acting on a mandate derived from Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, are currently stationed in eastern Chad and the northeast of Central Africa.

The current international military presence in Sudan is the largest in the history of the UN and the African Union. Given the negative repercussions of this presence on Sudan's sovereignty, culture and national customs, there is a need for an exceptional national effort to confront it. Unfortunately, international forces are not in the habit of leaving a country once they have been deployed.

The most recent instance of foreign interference in Sudanese affairs has come in the action taken by the International Criminal Court (ICC) against Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir. The ICC has accused Al-Bashir of war crimes, and since then major countries have been trying to blackmail Sudan, offering a reprieve from an international trial in return for a change in Sudanese policies. This leaves one in no doubt that the ICC allegations are motivated more by politics than by justice.

The involvement of the ICC -- which has no jurisdiction in Sudan, for the latter country, along with most Arab countries, has not ratified it -- is further proof that the ICC is a political instrument rather than a mechanism for international justice. With justice absent from the region for nearly 60 years, one can only be sceptical about the sudden desire of the ICC for what it calls justice in Sudan.

The ICC's actions are likely to worsen tensions in Sudan, something that will only benefit Israel. Remarks made by Israel's Security Minister Avi Dichter in a lecture at the Israeli Security Institute on 4 September 2008 indicated that Israel's security thinking has, since Ben-Gurion's time, seen Sudan and Iraq as part of a geographical cordon surrounding the Zionist entity. Israel has therefore long made a point of infiltrating Sudan and Iraq through local stooges or international allies.

In his lecture, the Israeli minister said that Israel's allies have performed well in Sudan's south, as well as in the western and eastern parts of Sudan. The destabilisation of Sudan is a strategic aim for Israel, since a stable and strong Sudan would strengthen the Arabs and their national security.

Noting the immense material and human capabilities of Sudan, its strategic position and its role in the Arab-Israeli conflict, Dichter said that Sudan had the potential of a regional power, even more than Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Israel and its allies, he added, had destroyed the pan-Arab role of Iraq after the US-led occupation in 2003. Eliminating the Sudanese role could be achieved through the continuing crisis in Darfur, now that the south had been taken care of, Dichter stated.

It is therefore clear that the external and internal aspects of the Sudanese crisis are not geared to undermining a particular regime, but are rather aimed at undermining a pan-Arab Sudan that has a clear identity and role.

A third challenge facing Sudan comes from the country's peripheries, in other words from the areas bordering north Sudan which, by virtue of their culture, religion, history and geography, are nevertheless integral parts of the country. The first of these peripheral zones in Sudan's north is Darfur.

Situated in the west of Sudan, close to the borders with Egypt, Libya, Chad and the Central African Republic, Darfur is rich in natural resources and covers the same area as Iraq. Its inhabitants are Muslim and Arabic-speaking (65 per cent of them are ethnic Arabs). It is the historical site of many Islamic sultanates, including the Fur Sultanate that survived until 1916.

Due to its rich resources and intermediate location between North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, Darfur has been drawn, through imperialist and Zionist designs, into turbulent fighting and sedition over the past five years. This turbulence has led to harsh humanitarian conditions, as well as a new political reality that has upset the equilibrium the region has long maintained. The social, political and economic map of Darfur has changed dramatically, and there is every indication that, unless action is taken, these changes may persist. There is thus a need for unified national action to set things aright. There is also a need to alter the course of the "constructive chaos" that has resulted from UN Resolution 1769 and the international and regional pressures on Sudan.

Thus far, Darfur has been the opening act in a scheme that aims to weaken north Sudan and pave the way for the creation of a New Sudan. The warning signs are many, and they include former US president George W Bush's invitation to Salva Kiir, southern Sudanese leader and leader of the SPLM, and Minni Arko Manawi, leader of the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) in Darfur, to a meeting at the White House in June 2006. According to the White House, the aim was for the two movements to coordinate their efforts and thus ensure success for the New Sudan scheme.

Another faction of the SLM led by Abdel-Wahid Nour has recently opened offices in Tel Aviv. The SLM is backed by Israel, which shares Washington's interest in the creation of a New Middle East, of which New Sudan is to be a part. Israel has also for the first time received non-Jews as immigrants and has processed several thousand citizens of Darfur for political asylum. Many Darfur inhabitants have tried to enter Israel across Egyptian borders. Some have succeeded, while others have been caught and deported.

A second northern periphery presenting a challenge to the country as a whole is South Kordofan. Situated east of Darfur, South Kordofan is rich in natural resources, and the population is largely Muslim of Arab origin. South Kordofan is also the historic site of the Kingdom of Takali, which became part of the Islamic Kingdom of Sennar that controlled large swathes of northern Sudan until 1821. The area includes the Abyei region and the Nuba Mountains.

The Abyei region covers the south-western tip of Kordofan. Rich in oil and natural resources, the region was populated with Arab tribes prior to the arrival of the Dinka people in south Sudan from central Africa. Throughout history, the Abyei region has remained home to Arab tribes and grazing land for their cattle. Because it is situated close to south Sudan, a certain degree of tribal mingling has taken place, and Arab tribes invited Dinka leaders to live in their areas in 1905.

However, conflict erupted due to the SPLM's desire to append Abyei to south Sudan, and this conflict was discussed during the Naivasha talks. The two sides eventually agreed to a proposal from US Senator John Danforth that included controversial clauses, such as the suggestion that discussions be held in the region over its possible integration into south Sudan. Abyei could thus turn into an administrative and political part of south Sudan. Should this happen, the Arab tribes that inhabit the area would become a minority.

Abyei has been experiencing a crisis due to differences between the NCP and the SPLM over the implementation of the Naivasha Agreement. Other reasons for the crisis include the military build-up by the southern government in the region, the appointment by the SPLM of a Dinka official as political supervisor of the region, and the arrival of a large number of Dinka people in the region, a move believed to be related to SPLM plans for the possible annexation of the region to the south.

Thanks to the wording of the Naivasha Agreement, and the US's desire to control Abyei's oil resources, the area now faces an uncertain future. It cannot be ruled out that Abyei may turn into a problem as thorny as that of Kashmir, Karku and the Romeila oil field on the Iraqi-Kuwaiti border. Renewed negotiations between the NCP and the SPLM have resulted in a decision to resort to international arbitration, but until the International Court of Justice decides on the dispute, the SPLM will administer the region.

Another disputed area in the South Kordofan periphery is the Nuba Mountains, once home to the Islamic Kingdom of Takali. The mountains are inhabited by a mix of mostly ethnic Muslim Arabs and Africans who have been influenced by Arab and Islamic culture. The area is rich in history, as well as natural resources, including uranium. The Nuba Mountains stretch across the southern reaches of dominantly Arab Kordofan, and they give access to various parts of south Sudan. The area has been impervious to the insurgency led by the SPLM for nearly 22 years.

However, the Nuba Mountains have remained, both before and after the Naivasha Agreement, a target for SPLM intervention, and Naivasha gave the SPLM through peace what it could not achieve through war, namely the opportunity to share the region on a fifty-fifty basis with the NCP. A similar arrangement has been implemented in the Blue Nile region, but half the Nuba Mountains remain the exclusive domain of the SPLM. Consequently, those inhabitants who do not belong to the SPLM fear for their welfare and cultural identity.

One consequence of the Naivasha Agreement is that the future of the Nuba Mountains will be decided through discussions over whether it should become part of the south or remain part of northern Sudan, to which it historically belongs.

A third disputed region is the Blue Nile area, which covers the southeast reaches of northern Sudan. It is through this region that the Blue Nile flows, bringing 85 per cent of the water of the River Nile. The region is rich in natural resources and was once home to the Funj Sultanate (1504-1821), one of the most powerful Islamic kingdoms in Sudan. Throughout history, this area has provided cultural inspiration to Sudan as a whole.

The champions of the New Sudan project have taken considerable interest in the Blue Nile not only because of its wealth and history, but also because of other reasons that include the strategic position of the area, situated to the southeast of northern Sudan, which borders Ethiopia and parts of southern Sudan, and the fact that the Blue Nile flows through it -- the Rosseires Dam, built on the Blue Nile, is the second most important source of electricity in Sudan next to the new Merowe Dam.

All these areas form integral parts of the history, geography and social and cultural fabric of northern Sudan. They are all home to ancient Muslim kingdoms and have been instrumental in spreading Arab culture and language. But they all suffer from development-related problems as a result of colonial policies, as well as neglect by all national governments so far.

The current situation in Darfur, Abyei, the Nuba Mountains and the Blue Nile valley constitutes a major threat to Sudan and its central government. Events taking place in these areas have the potential to undermine the state and its standing, as well as the history, culture, identity and customs of Sudan.

Those who want to carve out parts of Sudan hope to create an ethnically-based New Sudan. A major challenge facing these peripheries is embedded in the discussions, or "popular consultations", that the Naivasha Agreement envisions for the future of the Blue Nile, the Nuba Mountains and Abyei. This process of discussions, or consultations, could end up severing these areas from their historical background and cultural fabric. Indeed, things are already moving in this direction, which leaves northern Sudan in danger of fragmentation, partitioning and cultural restructuring.

The fourth challenge facing Sudan is economic and social. Sudan has recently undergone an economic boom generated by its oil revenues and the inflow of capital from China, India, France, Qatar, the UAE and other Arab countries. But living conditions are still harsh for many of its people, a matter that calls for additional efforts on the internal and regional levels to raise the standard of living in the country. Economic integration between Sudan and the rest of the Arab world may help propel the region forward towards food sufficiency.

All this underlines the need for a national project in Sudan and for comprehensive and well-balanced economic and social development in all parts of the country, especially the underprivileged areas. Oil revenues can and should be used to kick-start a comprehensive agricultural revival and one that can outlive the oil boom.

To initiate such a full-scale economic revival, Sudan needs to continue its current efforts to update infrastructure, stimulate industry and embrace new technology. Along with the drive to improve economic conditions, efforts must be made to combat poverty, increase employment, and reduce tribal rivalries, ethnic prejudice and other forms of negative behaviour. In particular, substantial efforts must be made to launch programmes for social justice and to put together a cultural, social and political project that enhances the spirit of national and pan-Arab belonging. This is the only way to alleviate tribal and ethnic rivalries.

The fifth challenge facing Sudan is political. While the four above-mentioned challenges constitute the most important for the Sudanese national scene, there is also a political challenge that requires the Sudanese to lay the foundations for a secular state. This state should have institutions that are legitimate and are inspired by science and faith. The state should aspire to promote freedom, democracy and human rights. The government should work for the cause of progress, peace, security and social and political harmony, and efforts to rehabilitate the political scene should be made through a new political map drawn up to promote national and strategic objectives. Matters of power should be put aside, in order to preserve the identity of the country and enhance its pan- Arab and regional role.


These five challenges are especially important in the light of the upcoming elections in Sudan. These may be the most important political task at present, for it is through the elections that the country will edge closer to democracy. But political groups, including national, Islamic and pan-Arab parties, must approach the elections with a full awareness of the national challenges facing the country and its people, history, identity and pan-Arab role.

The upcoming elections will be the first to be held after the Naivasha Agreement, and some want them to be a stepping stone to the New Sudan project. Therefore, Sudanese political groups must keep in mind that the SPLM has said that it will contest the upcoming elections on a platform of the New Sudan. It has also promised to reinforce its current alliances with the so-called marginalised forces of Sudan, many of which are known for their racist tendencies and cynical attitudes.

Moreover, the SPLM now holds the south in a firm grip, preventing all other parties from engaging in political work in the south. Therefore, the SPLM is likely to win, using all possible means, every constituency in the south. It will also make considerable gains in the Blue Nile and South Kordofan regions. Its allies are likely to make a strong showing in Darfur. The SPLM will achieve some success in Khartoum and other cities because of the presence of voters who have been influenced by racist discourse, as well as others who are discontented by the harsh living conditions in the country, or who oppose the long-serving NCP.

It is also the case that the elections will take place under different local, regional and international circumstances. The so-called international community will likely not confine itself to monitoring the elections, but will act to support the SPLM, which is expected to facilitate the implementation of the New Sudan project. If they decide to contest the elections on separate platforms, the old parties of Sudan, including the pan-Islamic and pan-Arab parties, will make it easier for their adversaries (the groups supporting the New Sudan project) to achieve their political aims. Rivalries in the ranks of Sudan's established political groups may lead to their defeat in the elections.

Previous elections may also provide some indication of what the future may hold.

The achievements made by some of Sudan's old parties during their terms in office may not prove much help at the ballot box, though the failures of the NCP are not a guarantee of substantial victory for the opposition. Some parties think that because their rivals are unprepared, winning the elections will be easy. Such logic is flawed and dangerous for those parties, as well as for the country as a whole.

To conclude, it is now more vital than ever that all Sudan's political groups that believe in a common cultural background unite. It is only through their unity that Sudan may be able, with help from Arab and Muslim countries, to confront the New Sudan project. From the Gulf to the Ocean, Arab and Muslim nations should give united Sudan all the political and moral backing they can muster.

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