25 November 2010

Africa: Which Way Sudan? A Pan-African Reflection


Is North and South Sudan's recent agreement to establish a 'soft border' between the two areas ahead of a referendum on southern independence 'another recipe for war', asks Horace Campbell.


On Tuesday 23 November 2010, the 16th Extra-Ordinary Session of the Inter Government Authority on Development (IGAD) Assembly of Heads of States and Government on the Sudan was held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The communiqué from this extra-ordinary session (attended by both the presidents of the Sudan and the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Movement (SPLM) announced that an agreement had been reached between North and South Sudan to establish a 'soft border' between the two areas ahead of a referendum on southern independence due on 8 January 2011. Under this deal there would be the free movement of trade and nomads between their territories should the South vote for secession. Sudanese citizens would also be allowed to choose to live in either north or south Sudan.

In this communiqué the leaders of IGAD acknowledged the 'smooth' process of the referendum as a significant milestone in the implementation of the CPA between the government of the Sudan and the SPLM, negotiated and agreed under the auspices of IGAD in January 2005. The challenge for peoples all over the world, especially for Pan-Africanists will be to interrogate if this concept of a 'soft border' is another recipe for war in Africa?

The very process that brought about the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in January 2005 had demonstrated expediency and opportunism from all sides. Very soon after the peace accord, John Garang, the one leader who had a clear vision of a new Sudan, died in a helicopter crash. This helicopter belonged to President Yoweri Museveni, who had been the chair of the IGAD process at the time of the signing of the CPA in 2005. The death of Garang robbed the Pan-African world of one of the leaders who had a clear understanding of how the Sudan was central to a secular society that could heal itself from the long history of conquest and religious militarism.

When Garang died, Tajudeen Abdul Raheem mused on who the forces were that could benefit from his passing. Tajudeen said in his Pan-African Postcard that 'both militarily and politically the hegemonists shook at what would happen to their rule were Garang to have the opportunity to reshape the country because Garang could be no one's errand boy. For Sudanese democrats he was a bridge of hope with the potential of turning the country into a genuinely democratic environment where Sudanese might, in the Martin Luther King hope, "be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character". The enemies of hope had to act and act quickly before goodness broke out in a country that has been in conflict for most of its post independence (1956) existence.'

This week we seek to underline the challenge of how to rekindle this bridge of hope in a context where all of the elements of the negotiations over the 9 January 2011 referendum point to the planning for war. Such a bridge of hope requires concrete engagement and understanding of the crosscutting issues of exploitation, domination, Arabisation, Islamisation, patriarchy and religious intolerance that have plagued the peoples of the Sudan since the waves of plunderers and slave raiders after the 7th century.

Briefly, it is important to assert that while the international media has focused on the technical questions of divergences over the Abyei referendum and post referendum outstanding issues of security, citizenship, oil and water resources, currency matters, assets and liabilities and international treaties and agreements, the referendum itself opens deep conceptual issues relating to self determination, history, slavery and the future of Africa in the 21st century. The referendum touches on some of the most sensitive and emotive questions for Pan-Africanists; it thus requires a level of serious engagement by all, but especially Pan-Africanists.

Only last week, the African Union High Level Implementation Panel for Sudan headed by former South African President Thabo Mbeki reported to the UN Security Council that the AUHLIP was confident that there was a framework for the settlement of the outstanding issues of the CPA and a clear path for the negotiation of post-referendum arrangement, including the question of achieving a just and lasting peace in Darfur. From the wording of the report to the UN on the referendum process, the recommendation reads as if the outcome was already known. Pan-African persons who love peace, justice, and who stand for African unity should be concerned that negotiations are going on behind the back of the people.

It has always been the position of the progressive Pan-Africanist that freedom and emancipation of Africa are tied to the unification of the peoples of Africa. This position had been clearly outlined by Kwame Nkrumah in the book, 'Africa Must Unite'. It is even clearer 50 years later in the midst of a changed world economy that the peoples of Africa need unity in order to transform the inherited structures of exploitation. These structures have been reinforced by the plunder of Africa's resources, and by the attempt to change Africa's agricultural practices through the intellectual property rights regime of the advanced capitalist countries. Sudan stands at the crossroads of the Africa of conquest and enslavement and a future of peace and reconstruction.

There is no doubt that the complex historical legacies, especially the history of slavery, Arabisation and Islamisation weighs heavily on the peoples of all parts of the Sudan, especially the peoples from the South. While the peoples of the East, West and South suffered from the arrogance of the rulers around Khartoum, it was in the South where there was a clear Pan-African articulation of the struggles for respect and dignity. This Pan-African articulation fed into a section of the Pan-African movement that was keen to debate the question as to: Who is an African?

It is against this background that progressive Pan-Africanists are calling for a more rigorous discussion on the questions that will arise from the outcome of the referendum. We want to state clearly that having gone down this road of a referendum in the CPA agreement, it is the right of the Sudanese to make their own decision about how they want to be governed; but we assert that that the questions of peace, social justice, and transformation for all the people of the Sudan should not be separated from the referendum.

Ending the oppression of women, checking religious chauvinism, providing equitable access to resources, cleaning up the environment, the free movement of peoples and creating opportunities for economic transformation are issues for the Sudan as well as her neighbors. These are issues that extend beyond the referendum. Pan-Africanists would want to put forward the question of peace and justice as primary concerns.


With a landmass that is larger than Western Europe put together, Sudan is the tenth largest country in the world, and the largest in Africa. The country is endowed with diverse peoples and vast natural resources, including petroleum, iron ore, copper, chromium ore, zinc, tungsten, mica, silver, gold, and hydropower.

From the period of the Middle Ages, external forces were attracted to this vast wealth of this area. The waters of the Nile that unite the differing peoples of Africa and the peoples of the Nile basin region is one of the most valuable resources of this part of Africa and provided the basis for Meroitic and Pharaonic civilisations. Stories of the greatness of the Kush and Nubian epochs attest to a region that contributed significantly to human transformations long before other regions of the planet earth. It was this glory and wealth that for centuries attracted invaders into a region that precipitated resource wars.

One group of people who were attracted were those from Arabia who migrated to this region and participated in slavery and in the enslavement of Africans. This history of enslavement and Arabisation are profound questions that call out for the kind of historical rendering that will cleanse former slave dealers from arrogant attitudes of perceived superiority. The present borders of Sudan were carved out during the infamous scramble for Africa when peoples from different regions, cultures, languages, ethnicities, nationalities, and different religions were thrown together into this space called the Sudan.

Sudan carried a long anti-colonial and anti-imperialist tradition because it was one of the societies that inflicted military blows on the British. Thus, when Sudan became the first African country to attain independence in 1956, the Sudanese society had well-developed political movements with trade unionists, religious groups, community groups, women's groups, and the Sudanese Communist Party - which became one of the strongest communist parties in Africa.

It was the fear of this party that led Western powers to support the conservative Islamists against the popular forces. Militarism and conservatism drove the country to war soon after independence when the southern soldiers mutinied at Torit against northern chauvinism. This mutiny deteriorated into war in the absence of forces that could negotiate a future for an independent Sudan that recognised the peoples of the East, West, South and North as equals to the confirmed Arabists. This war, called the First Civil War of the South, ended in 1972 with the Addis Ababa Agreement. During this war, the binary images of the Arab Muslim North against the Christianised Southern African became part of Western political discourse.

These binary representations of Arabs and Africans, Muslims and Christians concealed a more complex tapestry of patriarchy and militarism seeking to obliterate African religious traditions as well as the matrilineal vestiges of kinship networks that resisted conquest and enslavement. One of the limitations of the old communist formations in the Sudan could be found in the inability to grasp the complexities of a society that represented nationalism in religious forms. This inability of the Communists to creatively grasp the history of the Sudan provided an opening that was exploited by the anti-people and anti-communist forces during the cold war. Thus, although the anti-imperialism of the Islamists was clothed in religious language, the West supported the Islamists in the Sudan as a counter to the communist and trade union forces, especially after the Ethiopian revolution of 1974 that promised to spread a new brand of radicalism across the Horn of Africa. Both the issues of access to oil in the Middle East and the future of Palestine combined to ensure that the issues of peace and justice in the Sudan could not be divorced from peace and change in both Africa and the Middle East.


The end of the Cold War brought about a divorce between the Islamists and the West. In the book, 'Sudan: The Elusive Quest for Peace', the authors spelt out in great detail the history of Arabisation and Islamisation in the Sudan and the relationship between the Islamists and the western powers. This love-hate relationship had been marked by the deep anti-imperialist traditions that emanated from the fact that Islamic religious leaders provided intellectual and political leadership at the time of the imperial scramble. Among the ruling class of the Islamist forces who dominated the economy of the Sudan from the region around Khartoum, there was no contradiction in opposing European colonialism while celebrating an Arab identity based on the history of enslaving Africans. In this book the authors defined both Arabisation and Islamisation in the Sudan:

'Although Arabisation preceded Islamisation, the latter became the justification for the establishment of the hegemony of Arabism over that of Islamism or the unifying concept of Sudanism. Arabism can be defined as the ideology of ethnocultural superiority that manifested itself in Sudan following the rule of the Ottomans in 1821, while Islamism provided the ideological and economic justification for the continued subjugation of unbelievers. Sudanism is territorially centered nationalist formulation that rejects both the racialization of Arabism and the sectarianism of Islamism. The flexible formulation of a multinational Sudanic state- with equality and dignity for all its citizens regardless of ethnicity or religion- carries the promise of a peaceful resolution in the twenty-first century." (p 20)

During the Cold War, the West, and especially the USA, turned away from the promise of society with dignity and equality for all and supported the ideology of Arabism and ethnocultural superiority as an anticommunist force in North Africa and the Middle East. This support increased after the overthrow of Haile Selassie in Ethiopia in 1974 and the rise of the Mengistu regime in Addis Ababa. During this period, the USA drew from the resources of Saudi Arabia to support the ideological and political ambitions of the Islamists who were promoting Arabism in the Sudan. Osama Bin Laden became a crucial link in this alliance between the USA and the Arabists and it was from Sudan that the USA recruited hundreds of fighters to confront the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.

Once the Soviets were expelled, the US and the Islamists fell out. By this time the oppression of the peoples of Sudan was intensified by the imposition of Sharia law. It was during this period that conservative Christian groups within the US latched on to the war in Sudan and sought to re-present it as a simple one between Muslims and Christians, and between Arabs and Africans.

Oversimplified answers to complex issues were compounded by the discovery of oil in the Sudan. During the Clinton administration the rhetoric against Sudan increased and after the 1993 bombings of the World Trade Center, Sudan was listed as a state supporting terrorism. The bombing of a pharmaceutical factory in the Sudan in 1998 exposed the distance that the USA had moved from its earlier alliance with the Islamists. The bombing increased the legitimacy of the Islamists who had already imposed Sharia law. Sudan became identified with the anti-imperialist camp even while fighting a war to oppress the peoples of all regions. It was the war led by the SPLM that promised a new direction for the society in so far as the SPLM under Garang represented itself as fighting for a new Sudan and fighting for all the peoples of the Sudan, not just the southerners.

After the events of 11 September 2001, the Bush administration moved to cooperate with the leaders in Khartoum and carried out back channel negotiations with this government. Although in the West the public rhetoric against Sudan had intensified when the Sudanese government took away the oil contracts from US and Canadian companies and sought to diversify its partners in Asia, the US hostility towards Sudan was mediated by the long-term plan of the Bush-Cheney oil forces to patch up relations with the Islamists. It was the position of the US foreign policy establishment that that they did not want to see the break up of the Sudan. Former Senator John Danforth was dispatched as a special representative to work with African leaders to broker the peace agreement that eventually was signed on 9 January 2005 as the CPA (Comprehensive Peace Agreement).

Space and time does not allow for an elaboration of the twist and turns of this twelve-year negotiating effort under IGAD (1993-2005). What is important to note is that the leader of Libya sought to undermine the efforts of IGAD while mouthing slogans about African unity and the importance of the African Union. What was equally important was the reality that there was nothing comprehensive about the agreement because the question of Darfur showed that peace between the North and the South did not fully cover the issues of domination and exploitation in all parts of Sudan. In the midst of the negotiations over the long twenty-year war, the eruption of the mass killings in the Darfur region brought one other region into the spotlight.

The Bush administration sought to work with the sensationalisation of the Darfur question by the US media stating that the killings represented genocide even while the CIA was cooperating with the Islamist leaders in Khartoum. Both Alex de Waal and Mahmood Mamdani have written extensively on the duplicitous activities of the US forces in the Sudan. What was emerging was the fact of how the presence of vast oil resources in the Sudan and the rise of China as a force in Africa complicated the forward planning of the Western powers in the Sudan and Africa.


The CPA established the consensus to have a referendum on 9 January 2011, where the people of Southern Sudan would decide if they want a separate state. After John Garang, who had been working assiduously for both the referendum and a united Sudan, was killed in a plane crash six months after the CPA, the Pan-African world was robbed of an advocate for Pan-African unity and consolidation of African independence. The recursive processes of war, militarisation, insecurity, and plunder formed a loop with new forms of oppression in Darfur, the western part of the Sudan. The polarised debate about Darfur in the midst of the Global War on Terror supported the very simplistic conceptions of the Sudan that fed into the neo-conservative resurgence under George W. Bush.

The emotive appeals of the Save Darfur Campaign were seized upon by the conservative religious groups who believed in the idea of a second crusade against Islam. It was in this era of conservatism and militarism that the neoconservatives hijacked the US foreign policy direction on the Sudan. It had been the explicit position of the US since 1963 that it was not in the interest of African states that the continent be further balkanised. Hence, the foreign policy establishment opposed the independence of Biafra during the Nigerian Civil War 1967-1970. Secondly, during the war over Ogaden, the US government opposed the secessionists who were fighting for a greater Somalia. This was despite the fact that the so-called Marxist government in Addis Ababa was seen as an enemy. The principles of keeping African states united had been so powerful that the US agreed with Soviet Union and Cuba over the question of Ogaden.


Last week, at the conference of the African Studies Association in California, the US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs signalled the willingness for the US to recognise an independent Southern Sudan if this was the vote after 9 January 2011 . He gave two examples of US government's recognition of independent states: That of Cape Verde breaking away from Guinea Bissau and Eritrea breaking away from Ethiopia.

Progressive Pan-Africanists had supported the independence of Eritrea, despite the clear Nkrumaist position that the future of Africa was to be in the unity of the peoples across borders and the artificial states imposed at Berlin. It was the argument of the Pan-African movement at that time that the peoples of a society should not be coerced into a political entity that denied their dignity and humanity. After fighting for 30 years, Eritrea achieved independence from Ethiopia and became a member of the Organization of African Unity (now the African Union). But very soon after this independence the militarism and masculinists' ideas that had shaped the independence process broke out over outstanding border issues. This led to a series of wars between Eritrea and Ethiopia.

The independence of Eritrea did not in essence bring peace to the people of Eritrea and Ethiopia. In fact, the peoples of Eritrea and Ethiopia are now dominated by repressive dictators who at one time sounded the progressive rhetoric about the right to self-determination. It is this memory of the border wars between Ethiopia and Eritrea that made the statement about the establishment of 'soft borders' sound like a recipe for future wars in the Sudan.


It is this experience of the Eritrean process that calls for rigorous Pan-African engagement with the referendum process in the Sudan. We must reassert that it is the right of the Southern Sudan people to vote and decide how they should be governed; we agree completely that all Sudanese do not want Sharia law. Most of the Sudanese people want peace. This yearning for peace has been expressed clearly in the meetings that brought together all the peoples of the Sudan, not just the leaders of the North and the South. One such meeting was held in Kampala, Uganda, 17-20 July 2000. This meeting was arranged under the auspices of the Global Pan African Movement and Tajudeen Abdul Raheem had brought together Sudanese from the North, from the South, from the Nuba mountains and from all of the varying groups in the Sudan that opposed Arabism and Islamisation. This Pan-African meeting demonstrated the reality that the struggles for dignity and freedom in the Sudan was not confined to the South but involved all of the peoples of the Sudan.

The Second Kampala Declaration on Human Rights, Democracy and Development in Sudan affirmed 'that Sudan is a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural country and that it is vitally important to ensure equality and respect for all nationalities, cultures and religions in the country. Participants in the Conference, who hailed from every corner of Sudan, stressed the importance of the devolution of power to the regions in a genuine federal system or comparable arrangement that empowers the disparate peoples of Sudan, to enable them to protect their traditions and cultures.

This conference had a very strong representation of women from all parts of the Sudan who argued that the Sharia laws and Arabism oppressed all women in the Sudan. The conference benefited from strong and vigorous contributions from women participants, from both political parties and civil society. This was reflected in the communiqué that stated:

'The Conference noted the suffering of women in Sudan, South, East, West and North, on account of war, dictatorship and discriminatory, extremist laws and policies. The Conference reaffirmed the resolutions of Kampala 1 with regard to the importance of women's rights. In particular, the Conference resolved that:

'A future transitional government should cancel any laws and policies that are incompatible with the rights of women as enshrined in international human rights conventions.

'All political parties should ensure adequate representation of women at all levels including the highest.

'There should be a National Women's Convention to address all issues of concern to Sudanese women in 2001.

'Cultural exchange between Sudanese women and with regional and international women's organisations should be encouraged.'

The events of 11 September 2001 intervened to short circuit this independent organisation of women. One issue that has not been on the agenda in the negotiations of IGAD or the African Union High Level Implementation Panel for Sudan is the issue of the rights of women in the South after the referendum. At the time of the African Union Summit in Kampala in July 2010, Wangari Maathai raised the question of the centrality of the women of the Sudan in the context of the referendum. She had written that:

'Achieving lasting peace and security in Sudan is not possible without women's full inclusion and especially within decision-making processes. Yet, up to now, women are almost invisible.'

I would agree with the observation that 'an integral part of the responsibility to be inclusive is ensuring that those most affected by the referendum have a voice -namely, Sudanese women.'


During the period of decolonisation, it was the mantra of all liberation leaders to state that the freedom and independence of Africa was linked to the emancipation of women. All over Africa the increased exploitation of women ensures that peace agreements and accords that do not deal with the multiple oppressions of women will lead to increased insecurity for all. Thus while the leaders of the South are working hard for the end of ethnocultural arrogance and Arabism, it is equally imperative that the forces for justice in the Sudan work just as hard for the end to all forms of oppression against women. We must remember that one important element of conquest in Sudan was the overthrow of vestiges of egalitarianism and the importance of female deities in the communities.

The politics of god merged with the politics of patriarchy and these forces became enmeshed in the international and regional politics of the Horn of Africa and the Middle East. Islamic fundamentalism represented itself as an anti-imperialist force while internalising the culture of capital. The Global War on Terror made the Sudan a field for opportunistic alliances. The existence of vast oil deposits in all parts of the Sudan brought the Sudan into the centre of international geo-politics.

The urgency of the post-referendum matter also emanates from the fact that most of the neighbours of Sudan would like a weakened and divided Sudan. It is not yet time to call names of countries with outstanding claims based on contested colonial borders and the resources therein. Whether it is in the east or the west, the issues of oil and water have lent special importance to Sudan. While the US government has been critical of oppression in the Sudan, the same government has been supporting an equally repressive government in Chad.

The political leader of Libya has opportunistically sought to ingratiate himself with Islamist and other oppressors while seeking to carve out a leadership place in the African Union. In the past two months, this leader apologised for Arab participation in the slave trade in North Africa. This apology could have been meaningful if the leader had mobilised resources to sensitise Arabists all over North Africa of the need for healing from the distortions engendered by a consciousness of ethno-cultural superiority. Such healing is part of defusing this polarised and binary conception of Arabs and Africans in the Sudan and societies such as Algeria, Morocco, Chad, Egypt, Tunisia, Mauritania and Libya. This healing is part of the repair necessary to transcend the dangerous mix of religion, war, water and petroleum products in that region of Africa.

Oil in the Sudan has become central to international geopolitics. The Chinese presence in the Sudan has provided enough fodder for the neoconservative forces in the US to push for war. No less a person than Lt. Col. Karen Kwaitkowski had outlined in 2005 the intentions of forward military planners in the Pentagon to make Sudan a battleground. The ascendancy of the militarists in the planning of the US policy for Africa was manifest when the Obama administration appointed Major General Scott Gration as the special envoy to the Sudan.

It is against this background and the increased emphasis on US military engagement with Africa through the US Africa Command that Pan-Africanists need to pay close attention to the proposal of the Obama administration for the negotiation of the Southern Sudan solution with the Sudanese government. For the past 20 years, Sudan, especially the southern part, has been the playground for international NGOs and conservatives in the humanitarian industry.

It has also been the scene of using Africans as guinea pigs for Western medicine. A fictional account of these drug trials were outlined by John Le Carré in 'The Constant Gardener'. We learnt that the truth was even more outrageous than the fictional representations of the crimes of the NGO and international pharmaceuticals. Southern Sudan became a playground for western missionaries and NGO organisations. A culture of dependence and impotence was nurtured with the concept of the 'Lost Boys' of the Sudan gaining cultural power in the West.

Southern Sudan has also been drawn into the geopolitics of the Palestinian question and the struggle for democracy in the Middle East. It is known that the forward planners of the US Africa Command and the private military contractors see the Sudan as a thriving business opportunity. The US and members of the UN Security Council are known to have frustrated a vigorous Pan-African peace keeping mission that could have worked closely with the UNMIS (UN Mission in Sudan).


John Garang was an independent African leader who represented the kind of leadership that could have secured the support of the people in the North and the South. His death was convenient for war makers in Africa. Progressive Pan-Africanists must now be vigilant and be engaged with this referendum process to ensure that those who are interested in oil and war do not dominate the future of Sudan. It is the engagement of the progressive forces that will ensure that the negotiations over the referendum do not provide room for militarists. It is necessary to remember that the first negotiation that led to the Addis Ababa Agreement failed because of the partial nature of the agreement. In this context it is alarming to read from Thabo Mbeki that, 'Darfur will remain a concern as an ongoing part of this process.'

The issue of Darfur cannot be a side issue in any effort to strengthen what was considered a Comprehensive Peace Agreement. We are calling on Pan-Africanists to be engaged with the work of Thabo Mbeki; we agree with Mahmood Mamdani that there should be a negotiated solution to the issue of the Sudan. New forces on the international scene such as Russia, India, Brazil, Vietnam, and China should work with the UN to ensure that there is peace in the Sudan after the referendum. In particular, the Chinese political leadership must work closely with the forces for peace in the Sudan in both the north and the south to prevent a repeat of Eritrea/Ethiopia debacle. China cannot depend on the intellectual resources of the West to inform its engagement with the referendum. Neither can China allow short-term greed in relation to oil cloud the understanding of the need for peace.

The National Congress Party (NCP) and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) do not represent the totality of the Sudanese polity. We agree with the Sudanisation message of John Garang: 'with its composite vision of the "new Sudan" where all Sudanese would participate as equals.'

African unity is needed now more than ever to guarantee peace. We seek the kind of unity that recognises that that there are many different languages, religions, cultures, and histories in Africa. We want to reiterate that the Pan-Africanist position on Sudan and Africa is for peace, reconstruction, repair, healing, and transformation. These are what we desire for a post-referendum Sudan.

Horace Campbell is a teacher and writer. His latest book is 'Barack Obama and 21st Century Politics: A Revolutionary Moment in the USA', published by Pluto Press.

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