The Nuba Vision

Volume 1, Issue 1, June 2001

By Suleiman Musa Rahhal

In February 2001 the US Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) produced an important report on 'U.S. Policy to End Sudan's War'. Compiled by a panel of experts to inject a new momentum and determination to find a just and lasting peace for Sudan,  the report covered most of the underlying causes of the conflict and made some useful recommendations to the new American Administration. 

However, I believe the policy document falls short in its failure to address the problem of the marginalised people in Northern Sudan, namely the populations of the Nuba Mountains in Central Sudan, the Ingessena Hills in Southern Blue Nile, the Beja Hills in Eastern Sudan and of Darfur in Western Sudan. The document made no reference at all to these regions.

All these ethnic groups live in northern Sudan and together outnumber the Arab population. The people of these regions also resorted to armed struggle more than a decade ago. They are fighting for similar causes to the people of Southern Sudan: to achieve freedom, justice, power sharing and the right to their cultural identities. 

I agree with most of the facts and recommendations in the CSIS report. However, I firmly object to the idea of creating one Sudan but with two self-governing systems in the North and South. I believe that such an unsatisfactory political arrangement can not be taken as a serious solution for bringing about a comprehensive peace settlement for the complex problems of the Sudan. 

The dichotomy of North-South conflict has led many people to believe that merely dividing Sudan into two confederal states would solve the problem. But this is not the case when you look deeper into the root causes of the conflict. 

It is true that the people of Southern Sudan twice took up armed struggle against the North. But the second civil war which erupted in 1983 added a new dimension to the conflict. That is so since this war has spread vertically from the south to reach other regions in Northern Sudan. 

Thus we strongly believe that creating two confederal states in Sudan based entirely on the factors of religion and ethnicity will not bring a just and lasting peace for the Sudan. The conflict is now greater and more complex than it was any time before. It is thus futile to assume that it would be resolved merely on the basis of religious and ethnic factors. This proposed division would in fact result in creating wider divisions within these confederal states.  Sudan is a county of tremendous diversity in terms of religion, ethnicity, culture and languages. Recent oil exploitation in the South has added a further socio-economic factor to the present conflict. These diverse factors make it extremely difficult to draw a sharp line in the middle and divide the country into north and south. In the last two decades Sudan has undergone so much demographic change that there have been massive population movements throughout the entire country. Civil war and famine are two prime causes for these shifts.  

Since all major economic development is concentrated in the north of the country, people from the South and Western Sudan have been leaving their regions over the years to settle in the north, looking for security and for better economic opportunities. That naturally led to an increase in the numbers of indigenous African people in the north. This is an important socio-political factor that can not be disregarded by any body serious in solving the present conflict in the Sudan. 

Furthermore, the ethnic composition of Sudan according to the first population census of 1956 shows that 61% of the population were identified as indigenous African while 39% were identified as Arab Sudanese. As far as religion is concerned 70% of Sudanese are Muslims and the other 30% are Christians and followers of traditional religions. The non-Muslims of the North are found in the Nuba Mountains, Ingessena Hills and South Darfur. In addition there are other Christian groups living in the north, like Copts, Armenians, Greek, Syrians, Lebanese, Ethiopians, Eritreans and Italians who are Sudanese citizen. What will happen to all these people if the Sudan is to be divided into two confederal states based on the factor of ethnicity alone? Definitely there will be minority of Southerners in the north and at the same time there will be minority of Arabs in the South. One would certainly expect some tensions and resistance on both sides.

With the present complexity of Sudanese society due to recent demographic changes it would be impossible to divide the country into two separate self-governing states on the basis of religion and ethnicity, as suggested in the U.S. policy document to end the war in Sudan. The Christian and the African ethnic minority in the north will not accept living under the domination of the Arab and Muslims. At the same time the Muslims and the Arab minorities in the south will not accept the domination of the Christians and Southerners.  Struggle and tension will thus continue in both states. 

Another important factor which we need to bear in mind is the lack of power sharing. The marginalised people of northern Sudan will not compromise on their demand for power sharing any more than will the people of Southern Sudan. They resorted to armed struggle in order to have equal power sharing and to enjoy the fruits of  economic development in the region. It is because of this that they totally reject any solution that risks the continued concentration of political power in the dominant northern elite. 

Last year's publication of “The Black Book”, which justified the consolidation of power in the hands of the Northern Arab elite, solidified the minorities fears of Arab domination. The marginalised people are against the centralisation of power by the political elite since they have already long experienced abuse of power by the northern leaders. Merely dividing the country into two separate self-governing states will not solve the problems and disadvantages associated with the centralisation of power.

Another foreseeable problem that might lead to the eruption of new conflicts due to the division of the country is the question of, the nomadic tribes from both sides who migrate across the boarders during the dry and rainy seasons, looking for grazing and water for their livestock.  If the division of the country takes place as planned the interests of these nomadic or semi nomadic people will be jeopardised. Their life-style will be threatened and this will lead to fresh border conflicts of the sort that already devastate Southern Darfur and Kordofan. 

The U.S. Government should carefully examine all these factors in order to reach a better understanding of nature of the Sudan's conflict. The people of Sudan have been waiting for many generations since independence in 1956 for a genuine peace settlement in Sudan, and we believe it is high time that a just peaceful solution for the conflict must be found. The U.S. initiative couldn't have come at a better time and many Sudanese, particularly the marginalised people of Northern Sudan, welcome it warmly.
However, in order for the U.S. initiative to succeed and bring about a just, lasting and comprehensive peace settlement in Sudan, the U.S. Government needs to look into the core causes of the Sudan's conflict from a wider point of view. The interests of the whole people of the Sudan and not the interests of South and North alone should be taken into account. It essential that any such initiative should not fall into the same trap of IGAD that unwisely dichotomises the conflict between north and south alone while ignoring the 'north-north' conflict. 

Since both IGAD and Egyptian-Libyan initiatives have reached deadlock and both initiatives have lost the support of many Sudanese people, we think it is important that the US Government, together with the European countries should be involved and play their role to keep up the peace momentum. First, they should play their role to revitalise the IGAD initiative and its declaration of principles and work to integrate both the Egypt-Libyan and American initiatives into this. Secondly, they should put pressure to bear on the Sudanese Government as well as on the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) to accept the widening of the IGAD Forum for discussion. This of course will give the people in the marginalised areas in the northern Sudan the chance to take part in shaping the future of their country. Thirdly, they should agree on a neutral country to host these delicate peace talks. For example one of the Scandinavian countries might be acceptable to all parties concerned. 

If the Sudanese people are to each a comprehensive peace settlement they must learn from the experience of others, such as the South Africa experience, which is a good example for conflict resolution for the rest of the world. We should follow the example of a people who managed to reach a just and lasting peace despite the bitterness of their conflict. A workable peace cannot be built in one day. It certainly cannot be built on injustice with some people still left with deep grievances. A just and equitable peace means that all the people of Sudan should be represented at peace talks to decide the future of their own country. 

If our politicians are not prepared to compromise to reach a peaceful solution then we might find ourselves forced to accept what the international community dictates to us. That would be something that many of us would not like to see happening in Sudan. U.S. Policy for ending the war has already indicated dividing the country into two self-governing states under one roof, which of course is not acceptable to many people in the Sudan, especially the people of the marginalised regions.  

IGAD, Friends of IGAD and the U.S. Government should do their utmost to
safeguard the unity of the Sudan. They should exhaust all their efforts to bring about the formation of a New Federal United Secular Democratic Sudan, which in my opinion is the best option. Dividing the country into two confederal states cannot be a proper solution to the problem of the Sudan. Why only two confederal states anyway? If confederation is the best option to solve the problem of the Sudan then we need at least five states to solve the problems of religion and ethnic identity. 

Finally, let us concert our efforts now when there is a window of opportunity to achieve peace in Sudan. It is the duty of every Sudanese to see that this opportunity should not be missed, as we have many times in the past. It is now or never for us to achieve peace and it could be too late when we may wake up one day and find that we have no county to govern, as happened to the Somali people a few years ago.

We therefore call upon all the Sudanese political leaders, political parties, organisations, civil society and above all the silent mass of the people in Sudan to demonstrate their genuine concern for the future of our county.