Monday, 28 November 2011

Sudan's numerous conflicts are not isolated but are a direct result of the policies of Khartoum

Last week, 62 US Representatives signed a letter urging the Obama administration to change it's policy towards Sudan to reflect the fact that each individual conflict in the country cannot be viewed or dealt with in isolation; rather each conflict must be seen as a symptom of a larger problem- the repressive policies of the Khartoum government.

The British Sudanese writer Jamal al-Mahjoub once said that to understand Sudan you need a layered map like an old cellophone digaram once found in encyclopedias. The journalist Deborah Scroggings furthered this theory in her enlightening book Emma's War, " As you peeled away the top piece of cellophone labelled 'Sudan', you would find a succession of maps lying underneath. A map of languages, for example, and under that a map of ethnic groups and under that a map of ancient kingdoms..." 
Using the same idea of a layered map, Scroggings describes Sudan's long running civil was as thus "A surface map of political conflict- the northern government versus the southern rebels and under that a layer of religous conflcit- Muslim versus Christian versus Pagan; and under that a map of all the sectarian divisions within those categories; and under that a layer of ethnic divisions; then a layer of tribal subdivisions; then linguistic conflicts; beneath that still, economic divisions..."

Scroggins description is dense but apt; the decades long interconnected conflicts in Sudan are dense and cannot be simplified down to one neat reason that can be solved by George Clooney paying for a satellite to monitor the region (helpful as that gesture is for monitoring the situation in Darfur.) US policy makers seem to be relying on humanitarian actors, like George Clooney and his satellite, to promote a public image of acting or having done something, when really at a political level, there has been nothing substantial done to address the real issues in Sudan.

Humanitarian actors are essential to address certain issues in the region but they do not have the capacity or the power to effectively change the political situation and the political situation is the problem; the largely Arab north has historically been exerted power over the South of the country and abused souths inhabitants to extract its vast natural resources.

There are a number of reasons that explain why the northern part of Sudan has the advantage over the south. First of all, the sheer size of Sudan (approximately equal to Western Europe, before secession of the South) means there is huge differences and varieties in culture, politics and education caused by such a large geographical spread and differing influences. The predominently Muslim people of north Sudan tended to be better educated with higher levels of literacy than their Southern counterparts; this was due to the influence of Islam and also it's colonial past when British and Egyptian administrators favoured Sudanese Arabs over Black Sudanese. This legacy was still a huge factor in Sudanese politics in the 80s and continues to be to a lesser extent today; it enabled the Khartoum government to impose their policies as there was a distinct lack of capable Southerners to take over the administration and running of their own region.

The Souths rich mineral resources, coupled with its lack of educated, capable leadership effectively turned it into little more than a producer of raw materials that enriched the north; southern Sudanese became labourers and often slaves who kept the North running. Meanwhile southern Sudan saw little or no investment in education, industry or infrastructre. Famine consistently raged through the region in the 80s; as well as being neglected by Khartoum, people of the South also suffered at the hands of their own rebel groups who often seized humanitarian aid and sold it off for their own profit.

The genocide in Darfur galvinised global popular opinion and mobilised a new generation of activists to try and halt the atrocities being committed. It focused an unflattering spotlight on Khartoum and its policies; an concentrated international effort was made to address the issue and, soon after, to address the issue of southern Sudan, resulting in the secession of the South this summer.

But the rather thorny issue of the three disputed border states, South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Abyei, was simply left to one side. The inhabitants of these states were not given a referendum for self determination; the mineral and oil deposits their land sits on was simply too valuable for Khartoum to lose, on top of losing the Souths oil reserves. The south was proving too troublesome to keep and international pressure meant Sudan had to let it go; but the International Community seems wearied by the constant waves of conflict engulfing the country and Khartoum bet they would be reluctant to act or intervene in yet another conflict.

They were right. Responses to the atrocities carried out by Khartoum in these resisting states has been half hearted at best. The International Community is failing to grasp that Khartoum is effecting a policy of ethnic cleansing (at the very least; further research and documentation is needed to investigate claims of genocide), to clear these valuable lands of troublesome black, mostly Christian or Pagan residents who resist Khartoums' efforts to impose Sharia law and are anxious to see the benefits of their own lands resources.

It's easy to criticize the International Community's current response to the situation in Sudan but harder to know what the next step should be; such a complicated conflict does not present any easy solutions. But at the very least, a policy change by the US would be the first step towards properly addressing the numerous conflicts in the country and perhaps, finally, bringing them to conclusion.

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