By Patrick Brogan
Sudan, since its independence in 1956, has been a nation at conflict with itself and it is a trend that continues to this day in what was Africa’s biggest state.
The Ottomans and the British
Sudan has spent much of its history in the shadow of its northern neighbour, Egypt, and more recently those two geopolitical behemoths in the region, the Ottomans and the British. In the 1820’s, Muhammed Ali invaded Sudan. He was effectively the viceroy of Egypt under Ottoman rule. This was a return to ancient times when Sudan was seen as Egypt’s southern province. The joint Ottoman-Egyptian venture lasted until 1899 and then the British took the Ottomans’ place.
Britain long feared other colonial powers interfering in the region so taking control and influencing Sudan strengthened their position the region. As Britain wanted control of the Nile, Sudan was a key strategic point on the map. Due to its size and location, it was difficult to rule. They came to a compromise with Egypt — known as the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium –, whereby the Egyptians would rule with British backing, much like they had before with the Ottomans. British rule there lasted until 1956 when Sudan finally gained independence.
From that date until now, the Sudanese have seen generals, Islamists and Communists all jostling for power. One thing has been consistent though, conflict within Sudan. Although this had been rumbling on for quite some time, international attention was brought to this in 2004 when violence in the Darfur region became too obvious to ignore. In short, this conflict was ethnic with Arabs one one side and black Africans on the other.
The Government of the time was accused of suppressing black Africans in favour of Arabs. The Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) took matters into their own hands and turned violent on government forces. The army responded with air-raids and the Janjaweed militias became involved and were accused of attacking innocent Africans to the point where US Secretary of State Colin Powell described it as a genocide. Although the conflict has simmered down and international attention moved on, the Darfur crisis has never been fully resolved. While this was going on, another region of historical unrest was also starting to raise its head.
Still the world's newest country. All pics from Pixabay
The South Sudan region has always been unsettled within the wider nation of Sudan and civil war broke out there as early 1962. Again, like Darfur, tensions never fully dissipated and in 1983 the Government forces were back at it with South Sudanese rebels, this time in the form of John Garang and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). The issue was finally resolved in 2011 when South Sudan became an independent country.
Or was it? That’s too straight forward for Sudan. Like many oil-rich regions, South Sudan has found that the black gold is a mixed blessing. Mo’ oil, mo’ problems. Abyei is an oil-rich area and Khartoum and the newly formed South Sudan agreed to share the spoils. That is until the southerners, under president Salva Kiir, accused their neighbours of stealing oil. $815 million dollars worth. In 2013, the two sides reached an agreement, but, this was not the end of the problems for the fledgeling nation.
Before we continue on with the story of South Sudan, it is important we focus on the current Sudan president, Omar al-Bashir. His political career was born out of war. He led a military coup in 1989 and has been head-of-state ever since. Quickly after grabbing power, he led his army against militias in the south of the country. Some claim this caused the deaths of two million people with a further four million more being displaced.
The forces of savagery were unleashed in Darfur including the rape of 110 schoolgirls in Tawila. Their school was then burnt down after. The New York Times journalist Nicolas Kristof wrote; “The government of Sudan is engaging in genocide against three large African tribes in its Darfur region here. And the world yawns.” Is history repeating itself? There are many that want al-Bashir put away for war crimes, including journalists, US diplomats and even those within the UN. A dedicated site called bashirwatch.org has been set up with this goal in mind and they claim that the global community’s indifference has let “the Sudanese government to continue to commit similar abuses in other regions and kept the main perpetrators of the genocide in power.”
Salva Kiir v Riek Machar
In July of 2013, Kiir sacked his entire cabinet. A few months later, in December, Kiir accused the former vice-president, Riek Machar — one of those sacked a few months before –, and his supporters of leading a coup against his long-standing government. Over 1,000 lives were lost and 200,000 people were forced to flee in the weeks that followed and the US moved many of its Africa Command near South Sudan’s borders. This forced both sides to sign a peace agreement.
However, the violence did not end there. There have been reports of gang rape, cannibalism and individuals being burnt to death since then. This week, the UN has called for a regional protection force deployment due to humanitarian efforts being hampered. The government in Juba said it sees no need for additional forces and said it would no longer except the 4,000 peacekeepers stationed there. Meanwhile, the ordinary citizens suffer.
This conflict, like a virus, has spread all around the region. Sudan and South Sudan share borders with Egypt, Libya, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, DR Congo, Central African Republic, Chad and Arabia is just across the Red Sea. In some way, all these nations have felt the impact or influenced the ongoing wars here. Over a million have left the land of Azza. Many ended up in Uganda. 270,000 refugees seek shelter in a settlement in Bidi Bidi alone. Another 300,000 people are expected over the border this year. More-than-likely, they will be here for years to come.
Many factors have caused this humanitarian disaster
We see this time and again. Colonial powers ravage a nation and then hand over independence when they no longer have control or desire or bleed the country dry. It is discarded. The socio-economic, religious and ethnic problems they created are left unresolved and in most cases, the new nations don’t have the resources to solve them. War ensues. These cycles are hard to break. The rule of Britain and Egypt and the Ottomans may seem like something from a history book, but they helped create the conditions that caused this civil war. To paraphrase William Faulkner, the past isn’t even past.
For this reason, Turkey, Egypt, Britain and Arabia have a particular responsibility to resolve the crisis. America, with its huge material resources, too, is key to any solution. Whether it will happen or not is difficult to say, but as so often with this country the worst possible outcome is usually the one that comes closest to happening. In the 1930’s, the Sudanese poet Khalil Farah wrote; “Azza (Sudan), in your love, we are like mountains, and for anyone who dares to infiltrate your purity, we are like catapults.” If only that were true, Khalil, if only that were true.
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