Al-Ahram Weekly Online   31 December 2009 - 6 January 2010
Issue No. 979
New Decade's special edition
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Gamal Nkrumah

Sudan and the hereafter

According to Gamal Nkrumah, though the scenario of a divided Sudan looms large over 2020, the call for unity will not be forgotten

For nearly a decade now, both Azania and Napata have performed the invaluable service of showing superior models for African development, good governance and democracy to that championed by the clerics running the theocracy and their acolytes in Khartoum.

Click to view caption
A buoyant Bashir

Not long ago, Sudan was one country; today it is four -- the Caliphate of Khartoum, Azania or Southern Sudan, Darfur and Napata (Nubia). The Beja people of eastern Sudan also want to form their own independent political entity. By most accounts, the summer of 2020 has been blistering for all governments, elected or otherwise, of the Nile Valley states.

As the international community hesitates to interfere in the domestic affairs of the states that once constituted Sudan, the rulers of the Nile Valley nations also drag their feet. There is little political incentive in changing the status quo. When Sudan was one country, the Sudanese had many problems. There were problems of freedoms or the lack of them, of democracy or the dearth of it.

Today, the Caliphate of Khartoum is a bastion of militant Islam in Africa. Islamist clerics manipulate the levers of power from behind the scenes. Turbaned fanatics run the economically ruined country. The once prosperous capital Khartoum has fallen on hard times. Per capita income is one of the lowest in Africa; economic growth has grounded to an abrupt halt. The ruling religious clique, evidently, has failed miserably to end the unconscionable poverty of their subjects.

Secularist Azania, in sharp contrast, has managed to keep oil wealth in the resource-rich country and to improve the standards of living of the people of what used to be called southern Sudan.

Napata, or Nubia, is a secular nation, and only 10 per cent of the population describe themselves as religious. Some Nubians have reverted to the Christianity of their forefathers. Others, demanding that their country be officially renamed Kush, have abandoned monotheistic religions altogether in favour of the worship of the gods of ancient Egypt, in particular Amon-Re and Isis, even though Hathor in a recent poll is said to have a considerable following.

Temples dedicated to the ancient gods are being erected at lightning speed, much to the chagrin of the clerics of Khartoum. The hurried jumble is partly due to the determination by Nubians to attract foreign visitors -- tourists and investors.

Azania is an officially secular state. However, Christianity and traditional African religions vie for supremacy among the economic and political elite of the new, multi-ethnic nation. As a major oil exporter, land-locked Azania is poised to become one of Africa's fastest growing economies with double digit growth rate figures. Massive irrigation schemes, including the Jongolei Canal, promise to make the country the breadbasket of the African continent. Many northern Sudanese are claiming Azanian nationality, abandoning the arid wastelands of the north for greener pastures in the south.

Does this matter? Of course, it does. With desertification taking its deadly toll on development in the north, the people of the Caliphate of Khartoum are hard pressed to believe in the hereafter.

The caliph of Khartoum, a descendant of Al-Mahdi, has publicly stated that he has designs on Hejaz, across the Red Sea. So far, arguments over the caliph's bid have been strictly commercial. Khartoum is proposing exporting Nile water to its ideological allies in the Arabian Peninsula in exchange for oil. The caliph of Khartoum has also proffered some kind of union with Arabia. But details on this plan are worryingly vague. How he reached this position is a mystery many Sudanese are trying to unravel.

This may be a politically astute plan by the caliph of Khartoum in a part of the world lured by sirens of religious nationalism. Tribal chieftains claiming descent from the Prophet Mohamed hurried to pay obeisance to the caliph and acclaimed him as their overlord.

How surprising, then, that there have been so few howls of disapproval from the virulently anti-Islamist regimes in Napata and Azania. On the other hand, Darfur, which is overwhelmingly Muslim, is toying with the idea of reunification with Khartoum. The disputed sprawling the Province of Kordofan is as yet undecided as to its political future. Arab tribes in Kordofan favour unification with Khartoum, the people of the Nuba Mountains wish to join Azania.

The strategically located Darfur in the heart of the African continent; life in this nascent democracy is not exactly luxurious in spite of the discovery of oil. The country, run by the Democratic Party, an amalgamation of the old Justice and Equality Movement of a decade ago and democracy-oriented refugees fleeing from totalitarian Khartoum, is reputed to be under the spell of the wizened nonagenarian Al-Sheikh Hassan Al-Turabi, who fled from Khartoum in mysterious circumstances and sought refuge among his followers in Darfur. He advocates a type of Islamic democracy and has renounced his Sudanese citizenship. The Democrats of Darfur are determined to export their brand of Islam to Khartoum. Whatever the exact truth of this story, it is based on the most widely quoted version of this hypothesis by eminent religious scholars and clerics in Khartoum who wish to topple the Caliphate and institute a more benign Islamic system of government modelled on the Darfur example. The real protagonist of the Darfur democratic model is none other than the ingenious nonagenarian. His loyal subjects speculate that their aged sage has lost his touch.

Candice, the democratically elected ruler of Napata, has declared that she would in due course be betrothed to her commander-in-chief, Taharqa. Together, they have plotted to overrun Egypt and reinstate the religion of the ancients. Copts and Muslims strongly object to such an outrage. The Napatans, forswearing allegiance to the ancient gods of Egypt, are winning supporters throughout the Nile Valley. They argue that the credibility of the ancient gods is at stake. Curiously enough, Taharqa and his prospective Queen Candice claim that their real motive is to further the cause of democracy throughout the Nile Valley rather than reinstate the religion of the ancients. Against this backdrop the Napatans have installed Thoth, the patron of scribes, as the champion of the secularist Napatan model of democracy.

Cairo is increasingly sceptical of Candice's motives. The Napatans have moved their capital from the sacred Gebel Barkal to Meroe, further south and a stone's throw away from Khartoum. The white-clad high priests of Napata believe that they can eventually overrun the Caliphate of Khartoum. Cairo, having to contend with two militant Islamist emirates in its neighbourhoods -- Gaza to the northeast and Khartoum to the south -- is suspected by its sister Nile Valley states to be somewhat priggish on the question of religion. Napata is regarded as a buffer state, but Cairo looks aghast at the heathen stelae erected by the democratically elected Napatan rulers. Failure to reach agreement on the reunification of the Nile Valley has poisoned the process and widened the ideological gap between Cairo, Khartoum and Napata.

With the Napatans insisting that their pyramids are greater and better proportioned than those of Giza, there is little incentive for the Egyptians to negotiate integration in good faith. Meanwhile, the Napatans complain about worrying signs of anti-democratic behaviour in Egypt, citing racist attitudes by the Egyptians as a major stumbling block to unification. The two neighbouring states are caught in a vicious cycle of mutual disenchantment. There are rampant rumours in Cairo that the Napatans are inciting the Nubians of southern Egypt to secede and that Napata is intent on annexing Lower Nubia, thereby infringing on Egyptian territorial integrity. Officials in Meroe, the Napatan capital, have denied the charges as preposterous.

Sometimes the obvious answer to ex-Sudan is the correct one. The constituent states of the former Sudan may be ill, but they can be treated. Ex-Sudan may be dead, but it can be resurrected. The clerics of Khartoum might strongly object to the use of the term resurrection, but the Azanians and the Napatans will surely applaud such a vision from a religious perspective. So can Sudan actually become a reality again? When does "no" mean "yes", or "maybe"? Only the ex-Sudanese can answer that tricky political question accurately. Under the scorching Sudanese sun, the hearth black people call home, or the hereafter, the notion of Sudan lives on.

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