18 Years of Civil War in the Sudan

Prelude

In 1992, Prof. Spillmann invited me to give a talk here in Zurich about the civil war in the Sudan. Almost 10 years later, he has asked me to do the same again. Unfortunately, most of the problems we explored then are still with us today and many of the issues we discussed at that time are still being discussed now. The war situation is almost identical to that in 1992. The government controls most towns in the South while the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) controls most of the country-side. During the last 9 years, over 1m people perished, and about as many left their homes fleeing the war and famine and huge tracts of land have been devastated. Yet, peace is still as elusive as ever, while the misery is consistently being compounded. Everything has been turbulent and in flux and yet appears to have stayed the same - with the exception of the menacing factor of the growing oil wealth and its implication on duration and intensity of the war

I would like to thank Prof. Spillmann for his far-reaching contributions to peace and security studies and for asking me then and now to bring to the attention of a larger audience the predicament of the peoples of the Sudan, the largest country in Africa.

 

History of the conflict

The Anglo-Egyptian Condominium government took 25 years to subdue the Sudan. This process was especially difficult in the South, where until the 1920s government consisted largely of punitive military expeditions and periods of exceptional violence.

To pacify and govern the North, the new rulers promoted the political and economic influence of Sayyid Ali al-Mirghani, head of the Khatmiyya sect and Sayyid Abd al-Rahman al-Mahdi, head of the Ansar sect. Sayyid Abd al-Rahman reconstituted and to some extent secularised the Ansar organisation, which became the Umma Party, while Sayyid al-Mirghani patronised the emergent nationalist movement, led by Ismail al-Azhari, and allowed the Khatmiyya fellowship into the Democratic Unionist Party, the DUP.

While the British concentrated on economic, political and infrastructural developments in the North, such as the Gezira scheme, the railways and the introduction of modern civil administration, they allowed the West and South to stagnate under the "native administration" of the chiefs and sheikhs.

This policy towards the South amounted to total separation of South and North - tribal structures were maintained - little or no effort was made to promote social or economic development - and education - with English rather than Arabic as the lingua franca - was elementary and minimal. The result was not only isolation of the South from the North, but also from the rest of the world.

In the 1930s and 1940s, nationalist political activities in the North were developing at a rapid pace. Catalysed by internal and external developments associated with the Second World War, the political pressure led to independence in 1956.

Only in 1948, did the colonial powers begin to loosen their grip of their Southern Policy. The Juba Conference was allowed to take place, and southern chiefs agreed with northern nationalists to pursue a united Sudan. (1)

"The crash programme of integration that then occurred was too little, too late. In 1953 the 800 administrative posts vacated by the British were `Sudanised'. The northern politicians allocated mere four posts to Southerners; an insult but also an indication of how education in the South had lagged behind. In the south, `Sudanisation' was tantamount to `Northernisation'. As independence approached, the Southerners saw their British administrators being replaced by Northerners. In 1955 the southern garrison at Torit mutinied on hearing that they were to be transferred to the North. Their rebellion formed the nucleus of the Anyanya separatist movement, which was to fight Sudan's first civil war for seventeen years." (2)

The 1972 Addis Ababa Accord

Since independence the Sudan has alternated between civilian and military rule in a fruitless search for economic development and the resolution of the Southern problem.

In July 1971, when Nimeiri was returned to power after a short-lived coup supported by the Communist Party, he severed all connections with the `socialist' countries and rushed headlong to embrace the West and the prospects held out by its `free market' economy.

For his grand new plans to succeed, peace was crucial. In 1972, following negotiations with Joseph Lagu, who only two years previously had brought the Anyanya movement under his sole command, Nimeiri and Lagu signed the Addis Ababa Accord that brought an end to 17 years of civil war. The basis of the agreement was regional autonomy for the South, but it left several key concerns only half-answered.

The years between 1972 and 1983 were years of uneasy peace. Many Equatorians were unhappy about what they felt was the hegemony of the Nilotic people - Dinka, Shulluk and Nuer - in the Regional Government, which became the major source of wealth and social prestige in the South. The balance of power between Equatorians and Nilotes was altered in 1979 with the fall of Idi Amin in Uganda and the return to the Sudan of many well-qualified Equatorian professionals and administrators.

Most Southerners were disdainful of the way Nimeiri interpreted the Addis Ababa Accord in an attempt to redraw the boundaries of the South to include the Bentiu region, where oil had been discovered, into the North. This feeling was compounded when the central government ignored the concerns of local people when it gave the go-ahead for the construction of the Jonglei canal through the swamps of the Sudd.

Southern politicians were also divided amongst themselves. Equatorians were against Dinka and Nuer, Anyanya `haves' against Anyanya `have-nots'. Nimeiri tried to exploit these divisions to his own advantage and began manipulating the course of events by appointing and dismissing senior southern politicians. These machinations culminated in the "redivision" of the South in 1983. Three regions were created out of the one autonomous region, and the single regional government was abolished. While Equatorians rejoiced, the unseated Dinka and Nuer felt humiliated and deceived. The spectre of a new civil war began to haunt the South, but this time the Nilotic tribes were bound to be the major actors.

In the same year that Nimeiri redivided the South, a number of mutinies took place, notably the one of the garrison at Bor, which then became the nucleus of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) of Col Dr John Garang.

The SPLM/SPLA

The SPLA, unlike the Anyanya movement, announced that it was not fighting for an independent South: its declared aim was a unified secular and democratic Sudan. The SPLA saw itself as an integral part of the struggle of all the marginalised groups in Sudan, including the Nuba, Ingessana and western Sudanese. John Garang repeatedly called for a national constitutional conference to agree on a secular and democratic constitution for the whole country. It has always been questionable, however, whether the SPLA would be able to maintain this position in the face of huge practical and psychological obstacles, not least, that most of its rank and file were motivated to fight by ethnic and religious reasons. During the early years of the movement, Ethiopian government support was crucial to the SPLA, and since Ethiopia had problems with its own secessionists it would have been unwilling to assist an action likely to lead to a re-drawing of international frontiers. (Since the fall of the Dergue in May 1991, of course, the Eritreans have succeeded in just such a revision).

Internal dissent in the SPLA reached crisis point in August 1991, when a break-away group - the `Nasir faction' - called for the overthrow of Garang and for an independent South, abandoning all ambitions of a unified secular state. Although the separatists failed to unseat Garang, they nevertheless, were able to revive the principle that `self-determination' for the South must take priority over unity of the Sudan. They voiced a common southern pint of view that the difference between the Islamic Front regime and the opposition Umma and Democratic Unionist Parties was minimal and that Northerners could not be trusted.

The end of the Cold War has meant diminishing strategic importance in the global sense for Sudan, but other considerations have come to the fore and are gaining momentum. The Islamic fundamentalist movement has expansionist ambitions, and the people of neighbouring Egypt have an ever-growing demand for water. In the shifting sands of the new politics of the region, all participants are continuously forced to reconsider their course of action, and the SPLA is no exception.

The Koka Dam Agreement, March 1986

Following the overthrow of Nimeiri in 1985, the 'National Alliance' of radical political forces that led the popular uprising met the SPLA/SPLM at Koka Dam in Ethiopia and reached an agreement on a basic formula for peace, which included the convening of a constitutional conference. The Koka Dam Agreement was endorsed by the Umma Party and rejected by the DUP and the National Islamic Front (NIF).

The Umma Party leader and new Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi soon abandoned Koka Dam, however, having successfully revived the old Mahdist alliance of Jellaba and western Baggara and obtained huge arms supplies from Libya and Iraq. He began to pursue the war with renewed vigour, arming the Murahaleen Arab militias, whose loyalty to him "would be greater than their accountability to the law and the state". (1)

By the end of 1988 the DUP was sufficiently concerned about Sadiq's intentions that it negotiated the 'November Accords' with the SPLA/SPLM. It agreed in principle to freeze the Islamic Sharia laws pending a constitutional conference, implement a cease-fire and cancel the state of emergency imposed by Sadiq in 1987. The popularity of this agreement was demonstrated when DUP leader Mohamed Osman al-Mirghani was given a hero's welcome at Khartoum airport on his return.

Faced with massive popular endorsement of the November Accords - and implicit condemnation of his own stance - Sadiq al-Mahdi turned to the NIF for support, setting up a new coalition government which excluded the DUP. But the army had become convinced of the futility of the war, and in February 1989, dismayed by the lack of political resolve, issued an ultimatum to Sadiq: unless there was progress towards peace, and the militia were disbanded within one week, the army would step in.

Eventually Sadiq capitulated: the NIF left the government and the DUP returned. Negotiations were started with the SPLA; a cease-fire was achieved fairly quickly, and the UN famine relief programme Operation Lifeline was resumed.

The Constituent Assembly agreed to freeze the Islamic laws, and a date - 18 September 1989 - was set for convening the constitutional conference. Sadiq was due to meet Garang in Addis Ababa on July 4.

The meeting never took place. On June 30, with perfect timing, a military coup staged by the NIF aborted the peace process and with the fervour of 'jihad' unleashed a reign of terror in the North as well as the South. The new regime escalated the war in the south to new levels of brutality with the backing of radical Islamic and Arab countries. Iran, especially, became a source of enormous military and economic support.

The NIF has been single minded in its resolve to solve the 'southern problem' once and for all with its version of total war waged under the banner of Islamic Jihad..

The jellaba business class regards the South as a natural extension of their economic base, their strategic resource reserve. They would rather see the continuing devastation of war than accede to southern demands for self-determination and resource control.

 

The SPLM split

Following the collapse of the Dergue regime in Ethiopia, the SPLM suffered a huge set back. Two of its guerrilla commanders, Riek Machar (Nuer) and Lam Akol (Shulluk), split from the SPLA ostensibly in protest at the leadership’s refusal to adopt southern independence as a policy platform. The political motivation for the split was soon replaced by ethnic polarity, as many SPLA fighters of Nuer or Shilluk descent joined the two rebels, and clashes with loyalist troops ensued. The weakness of an overarching regional consciousness among the southern populace is a persistent obstacle to political mobilisation in the South. While the North is increasingly perceived as the enemy, many young Southerners joined the SPLA units and militias in order to settle local scores. Furthermore, the northern government skilfully exploits ethnic animosity among southern groups.

With the assistance of several African governments, the NIF has arranged a series of meetings with the southern dissidents, including the crucial meetings at Frankfurt in 1992, and Nairobi in 1994 which led to the Khartoum Peace Accord of 1996, so-called 'Peace from Within'. The SPLA renegades, far from furthering the cause of southern independence, cut a deal that secured them and their followers material benefits. In return for handing over his homeland around Nasir, near the Bentiu oil fields to government troops in 1995, Machar was offered a position in the government. However, while the government can prize individual leaders and their immediate followers out of the southern opposition, they cannot consolidate this into a workable alliance. What unfolded instead was the progressive fragmentation of such groups or their return to the SPLA. Machar’s authority in Nasir was challenged in 1997 by a southern officer who originates from the same locality, Brigadier Paulino Mateb, with violent clashes between their respective followers reported across the province and even in Khartoum. Since then, Machar has left the government and returned home. Rumour has it that he is planning his return to the SPLM/LA soon.

This strategy of co-opting selected ethnic minority groups is coupled with the arming of militias of nomadic tribes of Arab or Arabised herders. Launched by the government of el Mahdi (1997), this strategy re-directed the economic frustrations of nomadic herders who had been squeezed out of traditional pastures by drought and/or economic development, towards combating southern secessionists. The Khartoum government, by playing on traditional links between the Umma Party and the Baggara based on the values of ethnicity, religion and ancient oppositions and animosities, rekindled by crises, have drafted the Baggara militias into initiating the very economic policies that have adversely affected their traditional lifestyles. Recruited by security personnel employed by local landowners and oil companies, the militias were formed in 1985. They were armed by the government and officially recognised by the 1990 Popular Defence Act. Yet while there are hefty inducements to join forces with the government, there are also clear threats that refusal is not an option. Government officials employ the carrot and stick approach - cars and houses for tribal elders presented with veiled threats of imprisonment and expropriation. Once organised, militias are exempted by the declaration of jihad, the holy war, from prevailing agreements between Arab and Afro communities or any legal obligation. In the Nuba Mountains, for example, all Nuba are suspected SPLA sympathisers, and hence enemies of the faith. While the Sudanese government plays down the religious dimension of its internal campaigns to outsiders, that dimension provides a powerful rallying cry and eliminates the decade-old process by neighbouring communities to establish forms of trans-cultural co-operation and coexistence.

One of the consequences of this deliberate policy of informalising warfare is to spread violence and insecurity across the countryside. The interrelationship between economic causes and humanitarian and political consequences have been evident and devastating in Bahr el Ghazal. While during the colonial regime land ownership of the dars was vested in the tribes, the abolition of Native Administration after Independence left all land not registered as private in the possession of the State. When international finance became available with the World Bank loan of 1968, the parastatal Mechanised Farming Corporation expanded its activities south into southern Kordofan and Upper Nile. These schemes cut across the trans-humance routes of the nomads. While they had previously followed routes offering the best pastures and plentiful water, they now had to move rapidly and under tight control along narrow corridors. Intrusions on the well-defended mechanised farms incurred heavy penalties. Kept in check by the army and squeezed off the land by mechanised agriculture, the nomads turned on their traditional tribal enemies, the Dinka. In the early 1980s the intrusion by herders into the smallholdings of small-scale farmers erupted into a flurry of disputes. With the deterioration of the war in the South, violence escalated along the Baggara-Dinka transition zone. For the militia, raiding and pillaging turned into a way of life with devastating effects for the rural economy.

The Peace from Within has almost collapsed with Riek Machar abandoning his post and fleeing from Khartoum. However, this move did not significantly change the political and military status quo.

The war is still raging with great ferocity around the oil fields. Oil money is enabling the government to pursue the war with added vigour. The future does not augur well for the people of the South.

The current stand in war and politics

 

  1. The war fronts:
  1. The government has launched its dry season offensive in northern Bahr El Gazal on the 12th of January 2001 in order to :
  2. a. reverse gains made by the SPLA last year

    b. foil moves to consolidate those gains

    c. secure the oil fields from military incursions

    The government troops are supported by their southern ally general Paulino Matip, a Nuer fighting against the SPLA and by Arab militias from western Sudan. All trains to the South are exclusively reserved for the military

  3. The government is preparing large-scale offensives in the eastern front and in the Nuba Mountains.
  4. To achieve its military objectives the government is on a spending spree purchasing and producing weapons and ammunitions. Money from oil exports and its greatly enhanced creditworthiness are making this possible
  5.  
  6. There is a real and growing threat of devastating famine in Darfur and Bahr El Gazal. The government is using food as a weapon in its scorched earth policy in the oil regions

 

  1. The political front
  1. The National Democratic Alliance NDA of the opposition forces has suffered a set back when Saddig El Mahdi left its ranks and returned to Khartoum in pursuit of reconciliation with the National Islamic Front (NIF) only to find the latter hopelessly split.
  2. Dr. Hassan El Turabi, the grey eminence of the Islamic movement in the Sudan has abandoned its National Congress and constituted his own Popular National Congress, PNC. He went much further and signed in Geneva, on the 12 of February 2001 a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU)with the SPLM which stipulates co-operation to overthrow Bashier's regime albeit by peaceful means. The Memo upholds the right of the South for self-determination. Turabi was duly arrested. The PNC followers are very active especially among university students. They are a substantial and effective force in the political landscape of the Sudan.
  3.  
  4. The SPLM rang a big political victory by signing the MoU. The MoU stipulates in paragraphs 3 and 4 respectively:

"The two sides affirm that the Sudan politically pluralistic, religiously and culturally diverse and there ought to be found a mutual consensus on a new Social Contract that does not permit discrimination among citizens on the basis of religion, culture, race gender or region" and

"The two sides affirm that the right to self-determination is a legitimate Human Right and the unity of the Sudan should be based on the voluntary will of its people. The two sides condemn the regime's latest attempts to wriggle out of the right of self-determination after having declared its commitment to it in previous initiatives and agreements"

The MoU met with mixed reception. The majority saw in it a big step forward. However, there are many critics and doubters among both Northerners and Southerners. The crucial point of their critique lies in their mistrust of Turabi. They believe that he is only playing a political game and that he does not mean a single word of the Memo he signed. I do not share their sentiments. Firstly, by signing this MoU all traditional political parties. which sat before the coup in the National Assembly have accepted the need to overthrow the current regime and have formally accepted the right of the South to self-determination. This is no trivial matter! Secondly, such a big change of direction has profound impact on the political education of young Islamic fanatics. Suddenly, the basis for Islamic Jihad has fallen to pieces. Even if Turabi retracts his commitment, things cannot go back to square one. The edifice has been rattled by this earthquake and that will have grave implications.

THE CIVIL WAR IN THE SOUTH

Since the firing of the first bullet in 1983, the reappearance of the war between northern and southern Sudan has generally been interpreted as a typical ethno-religious conflict emanating from differences between Muslims and Christians, or Arabs and Africans. While this categorisation may have had served well as a description of the earlier the conflict in the 1950s, and still has some bearing on how the war is being conducted and perceived, our opinion is that the nature of the conflict has changed. Conflicts are processes, not static events. And over the last five decades developments in the Sudan have gradually if consistently changed the nature of the conflict between the North and the South from being a classic ethno-religious conflict to one primarily over resources, with the economic and resource crisis in the North emerging as the driving force in the Sudanese civil war.

 

The two Civil Wars

The Sudan is a country at war with itself. Violent conflict is raging in four fronts in the Sudan, civil war in the South, high intensity conflict in the Nuba Mountains and high to medium intensity conflicts in the East and West of the country. To understand the turmoil of violence and dislocation, a differentiation between structural and direct causes of violence is useful. Structural problems are responsible for making the country susceptible to unrest, while the direct causes are the ones that actually precipitate violent conflict.

Structural causes of violence

Countries of the Horn region in general and the Sudan in particular are plagued with inherent structural problems that are conducive to violent conflict, whenever immediate causes arise. These major structural issues are augmented and reinforced by resource and identity dichotomies. They collectively influence the state of war and peace in the Sudan. For example:

1. Poverty:

*The per capita income is less than a dollar a day

*68% of the workforce works in agriculture and animal husbandry; 9% in industry and 23% in service sector, compared to 1.8%, 21.2% and 77% respectively in the UK

  1. The post-colonial state:
  2. The post-colonial state failed to be the vehicle of development, peace and democracy. Instead it has become highly politicised, often a one-party clientelist

    state (EPLF in Eritrea, TPLF in Ethiopia and NIF in the Sudan). Such states are incapable of meeting the challenges of development, democracy and peace.

  3. Non-productive urbanisation:
  4. Contrary to the urbanisation process during the industrial revolution, the Sudanese urbanisation is people's movement from areas of low food and physical insecurity to urban centres, where food and physical security are relatively better maintained. Almost 40% of the young are unemployed and are thus available for other forms of exploitation, for example, recruitment in jihad and other military campaigns.
  5. Most people are thus doing the same things:
  6. Most people plant the same crops and rear the same animals. There is little structural differentiation in the national economy. This means that in time of crisis, very little help can be expected from other sectors of the economy, the way, for example, the United Kingdom is currently dealing with its BSE and Foot and Mouth crisis.
  7. Environmental degradation:
  8. The too-many-people-doing-the same-thing-syndrome means that damage to the natural environment is being reinforced and aggravated year in, year out. Degraded land is promptly abandoned and the tractors moved into adjacent and far away lands. There are however, scarcely any virgin or no-mans land left. The indigenous owners resist the encroachment of mechanised agriculture and often violent conflicts erupt between absentee landlords supported by the government and the local people. If the tractors fail, tanks move in. Examples: movement of mechanised agriculture into south of the Blue Nile, into the Nuba Mountains and towards the South proper. (See map)
  9. Land scarcity:
  10. The land available to traditional farmers has dwindled due to allocation of huge tracts to large-scale mechanised farming owned by absentee landlords. 9m hectares are owned by 8,000 families, while 4m hectares belong to 4m traditional farmers! In one single public announcement in 1993, the government distributed some 7m hectares in southern Darfur alone. One Galal El Dien Issa Mustafa was granted 439 thousand hectares, about half the land area of Lebanon!
  11. Uneven development:
  12. The overall situation is further compounded by uneven distribution of resource endowment. Resources are unevenly distributed and unevenly shared. Land is scarce in the Highlands of Eritrea and Ethiopia; water is scarce in the plains around Jebel Marra and the Nuba Mountains in western Sudan; there is more rain in southern Sudan but the soils are not as good as in the North.
  13. Climatic variations:
  14. Since 1967, rainfall has been erratic and has decreased to half its annual average. The beginning of the Sahel drought coincided in the Sudan with the establishment - with support from the WB - of the Mechanised Farming Corporation, MFC. The scissors effect of draught and land scarcity has left deep wounds in rural Sudan and people took up arms against their perceived enemies, mainly the state and its allies the Sudanese business class, the so-called the Jellaba.
  15. The low status of women
  16. Women social, economic and political status is one of the major structural impediments to economic and social progress. In all countries of the Horn and in the Islamist Sudan, very few women are allowed a significant share in public life.
  17. External players:

Economic policies of Multinational Companies, the MNCs, the IMF and the WB have encouraged export agriculture against the requirements of the country's food security. For example, during the famine years 1982/85, the Sudan exported 621,000 metric tons of sorghum, the staple food of the people, to the European Union (EU) and to Saudi Arabia for animal feed. The IMF's country representative called plunder "the Sorghum Success Story in the Sudan" He praised the government of the Sudan for exporting sorghum and earning so much foreign currency!

.

Resource and identity problems

In addition to these structural problems which beset the Sudan, deep rooted, traditional identity dichotomies (ethnic, cultural and religious differences) between North and South play an important role in inciting violence in the land. On top of all that, new and far-reaching resource issues emerged during the 1970s and 1980s, which rendered the South immensely lucrative in the eyes of the northern Jellaba. The discovery of oil in Bentu in the South, the digging of the Jonglei Canal, the prospects of some 10m hectares of former swamp land made cultivable and the possibility for the military - at last - to move their motorised armed convoys by land from Khartoum down to Juba without encountering the bottle neck of the Sud swamps. The fragile edifice of the Sudanese society began to collapse under the strain of the impact of expanding and compounding resource and identity problems.

The resource factors

The gradual depletion of large tracts of land in the North through unsustainable large-scale mechanised farming, denuding of forests and grazing lands, erratic rainfall and the mismanagement of water resources have all conspired to lower the productivity of the central plains, the major source of wealth and subsistence in northern Sudan. For the first time, the Jellaba and their state became immensely interested in the natural resources of the South, namely, land, oil and water.

 

The Lure of Oil, Water and Land

The Oil

In April 1981 Chevron announced the discovery of commercial deposits of oil in the Unity Field in its south-western concession. Recoverable reserves from Unity and the adjacent Heglig fields were officially estimated at about 236 million barrels. Confirmed oil reserves for the whole of Sudan are estimated at 2,000 million barrels. This is enough to earn the country some $10,000m or cover its projected energy needs for ten years.

Original plans to process the oil locally were deferred in September 1982. Instead, with Chevron's encouragement, the Nimeiri government opted for the construction of a refinery and an export terminal south of Port Sudan, linked to the oil fields by a 1,400-km pipeline.

This sudden reversal of policy alerted people in the South to the probable intentions of Nimeiri and his backers among the Jellaba. One of the first acts of the SPLA was to attack Chevron's oil field operations, forcing the company to suspend work in February 1984.

Since then, large deposits were discovered in many areas mainly in the South. Extracted oil is transported through 1600km pipeline to the Red sea ports for exportation. To secure the uninterrupted flow of oil, the government has waged scorched earth military campaigns. Indiscriminate killing and burning are in full swing all over the exploration and extraction areas. The Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company, GNPOC, is made up of the Chinese National Oil Corporation, CNPC, with 40% of the shares; the Malaysian Petronas Carigali Overseas, which holds 30%; the Canadian Talisman Energy Inc. with 25% stake and Sudapet with only 5%! The Lundin Oil AB, a family-owned Swedish oil company based in Geneva has struck oil in block 5a. Lundin is the major operator there with 40% of the shares. Other stakeholders in this concessions are Petronas with 28.5%; OMV of Austria with 26% and again Sudapet with only 5%. The British companies Weir (Glasgow) and Rolls Royce supplied the pump stations.

200,000 barrels are exported daily, soon to increase to 400,00 b/d. Already the oil is covering the running costs of the civil war, some $400 per annum. Above all the creditworthiness of the Sudan has shot up. Once again, sales people are coming to Khartoum offering everything from Chanel 5 to helicopter gunships. China, Malaysia, Austria, several east-European countries including Russia, Poland, Bulgaria and Ukraine are all cashing in. Even the European Union is now engaged in critical dialogue with the Sudan! The oil areas have become both: extraction and killing fields. The omens are bad for the people of the Sudan, especially in the South.

The Water

Since the beginning of the century the idea of constructing a canal to drain the Sudd marshes of the White Nile at Jonglei has been debated by developmentalists and environmentalists. Motivated by the desire for more water downstream and the prospect of uncovering a vast expanse of fertile land, the Jonglei canal is one of the most intensively researched water projects in the world. What has always been conspicuous by its absence, however, is any serious assessment of how the local people - some 1,700,000 Dinka, Shilluk and Nuer, Murle, Bari and Anuak directly and indirectly affected by the project - actually felt about it. (3)

Actual construction of the Canal began in 1978 as a joint Sudanese-Egyptian project in collaboration with the French CCI Company. Aimed at conserving some 4 billion cubic metres of water evaporating annually the operation was forcibly suspended in 1984, having completed 250km of the proposed 360km, following a series of attacks on the construction site by the SPLA.

Egypt desperately wants the additional water represented by its half share in Jonglei (some 2b cubic metres), to help grow more food for its burgeoning population. Before the expansion of mechanised farming, the Sudan was not under the same pressure to obtain water. Since the mid-1970s, however, water has become the limiting factor for agricultural expansion in many parts of northern Sudan, since: new irrigation projects need more water.

The 450,000 Dinka, Shilluk and Nuer who were directly affected feared the drastic changes the Canal would bring to their way of life. They could not accept the prospect of life without the migration to the toich (swamp area) during the dry season, when they would find fish and improve the milk yield of their cows. They also feared the prospect of alien people being settled in their midst, and the possibility of conflict. Rumours that Egyptian farmers would be sent to the canal area sparked student riots in Juba in November 1974. There was justifiable mistrust of the project from Southerners who saw the North and Egypt benefiting while their own lives were irreversibly changed, and not for the better. By drying out the swamps and taking away the "grass curtain", the canal would open up the entire Sudd area for mechanised farming, the domain of the Jellaba, and also allow the north to move military equipment and troops into the South with greater ease. Thus the project's giant earth-excavating machine, the biggest in the world, was one of the SPLA's earliest targets, much to the chagrin of the governments of Sudan and Egypt.

 

The Land

The fertile savannah plains of acacia trees and tall grass are where the "bread-basket" was envisioned. More predictable rains make makes these plains suitable for sorghum, millet, maize, sesame, groundnuts and cotton. The huge expansion of large-scale mechanised farming which constantly devours new land, spread into southern Kordofan and the northern parts of Upper Nile province. The owners of the mechanised farms, having exhausted vast tracts of the north, pushed inexorably southwards into the area inhabited by the Nilotic tribes, the major cattle economies of the South. Having seen how the Nuba were squeezed off their land in southern Kordofan, the local people were hostile to this incursion, and their response was the same.

The NIF government is planning the distribution of some 17m feddans in the Jonglei among its supporters. In one single day, the government allocated 16,5m feddans in southern Darfur to its clientele.

The dynamic nature of identity. The inversion of ethnicity (identity) from perception to cause of violence

At the beginning of 2nd Civil War in 1983, the causes that precipitated the new conflict were clear for every one to see. The SPLA attacked concrete targets: the oil installations, the digger at Jonglei, the tractors of absentee landlords. The South was defending its resources from the onslaught of the Jellaba and their government. Soldiers of the SPLA and members of the SPLM were convinced that the war was all about the exploitation of resources taking place along the traditional faultlines of ethnic affiliation. However, when asked 15 years later, many Southerners belonging to the same category of people, responded that war is mainly about Arabisation and Islamisation.

Thus the perception of the war as an identity war between Muslim Arabs and Christian Africans began to take root in the minds of many Southerners. Identity inverted from being a perception of the conflict into an inherent cause of it; from being an abstract social and political category into a concrete social force. Effect has inverted to a cause. That is why enduring, old, conflicts are difficult to resolve because the initial causes are constantly being augmented by the inversion of feelings (perceptions) into the causal sphere.

The Inversion of Ethnicity (Identity) from Perception to Cause of Violent Conflict

I found a plausible explanation for this inversion of perception into cause in studies concerned with animal and human behaviour respectively. Studies in human behaviour revealed that people usually judge options according to the size of the effort they invested into that option rather than the size of expected returns, what human behaviour scientists called the Sunk-cost Fallacy. In animal behaviour, scientists found the reverse tendency, animals chose the option with the highest future benefit and thus do not follow what they termed the Concorde Fallacy.

 

Ethnicity as Perception ---- time & cost ------ Ethnicity as Cause

Human Behaviour Animal Behaviour

‘Sunk-cost Fallacy’ ‘Concorde Fallacy’

(To judge options according (To judge options according

to size of previous investments to future benefits not past

rather than the size of expected returns) investments)

Human beings often chose the sunk-cost option

Animals select according to the size of expected returns

The inversion of ethnicity in time is probably due to the sunk-cost fallacy. "We will not give up now, not after we have sacrificed so much. We will not betray our dead! We will not go back."

(The human and animal behaviour scientists were unaware of their respective research until a chance meeting in Oxford in 1996!) (4)

Dispelling some myths about the war:

Many people concerned about the human cost of the civil war in the Sudan and who perceive it as a war between African Christians and Arab Muslims here are some curious facts that may help dispel misconceptions about the war and should show at the same time the degree of complexity of an African internal war.

  1. The majority of foot soldiers of the Sudanese army some 80-90% are Southerners, Nuba and Westerners, some 40% of them are non-Muslim.
  2. Though a by-product of the war, South/South conflict is often more violent and devastating than the Civil War itself, for example, (the Nuer/Dinka and Nuer/Nuer conflicts)
  3. Many Southern politician and army officers are allied with the Khartoum government and are supporting it.
  4. Almost 3m Southerners live and work in the North.
  5. Ordinary Northerners loath the war, only the jellaba, the Sudanese business class have vested interest in its prolongation

The way forward:

The only way forward must lead to lasting and just peace, respect in law and practice of democracy and human rights and the pursuit of sustainable development for all. One of the obstacles slowing the realisation of these aims and objectives is the weakness of the political opposition. The NDA has been partly paralysed by Saddig El Mahdi and his petty manoeuvres during the time he was abroad. Now that he has returned to Khartoum, Saddig is trying hard to reconcile his party and any one who so wishes with the NIF regime. The situation is further complicated by the split in the NIF between Turabi the spiritual leader and Bashier the president, by the forced though slight opening up by the government and by the increasing oil wealth.

The flow of arms purchased by oil money does threaten the SPLM/LA in the field, but the expected return of Riek Machar to the fold may help redress this imbalance. The SPLM is further encouraged by the signing of The Memorandum of Understanding with Turabi's faction.

The state of war and peace is further complicated by the unsynchronised attempts of regional and international initiatives to mediate in the conflict

  1. The IGAD Initiative (insists on self-determination for the South)
  2. The Egyptian/Libyan (drops self-determination altogether)
  3. The new US administration (divided between a strong Christian lobby, which supports the Christian South and the business and diplomatic lobby which advocates moderation in face of growing weakness of the NIF fundamentalism)

 

External Players

The influence of outside powers is growing in proportion to the decline of Sudanese power. In spite of oil revenues, the wastage of continuous warring has arrested economic and social development leaving the country in a weak relationship vis--vis foreign donors and trade partners.

While most external players support the unity of the country, they hold different visions for the Sudan. In the Gulf, Muslim Brotherhoods vehemently support the colonisation of the south, which they perceive as a frontier of Islam and Arab culture. Africa is viewed as an arena for conversion, where Islam and Christianity, as well as the Muslim world and the West are in competition. There is even a perception that the forceful invasion of southern Sudan is a defensive move, to safeguard a legitimate interest within an accepted sphere of influence. The webs of personal relationship between northern Sudanese and the Arab world bind ties of ideology and culture even closer. More Sudanese professionals are working in the oil-economies in the Gulf than in Sudan. Sudanese-Saudi Business conglomerates have built up holdings on both sides of the Red Sea, and venture capital from the Gulf has flown into developments in the southern lands of Sudan, particularly agro-business and oil. Religion, culture and economic interests have therefore combined in support of an aggressive and uncompromising government policy towards the south.

This show of pro-Islamic, pro-Arab support is rounded off by the national governments of Iraq and Libya, for whom the Sudan is one of few available partners in their international isolation. While Libyan and Iraqi support is valuable for sections of the military and of the government, it also attracts the wrath of the superpowers, illustrated by the cruise-missile strike on Khartoum on 20th of August 1998. In response to attacks on the US embassies at Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, the US Navy bombed the site of an alleged chemical weapons factory belonging to Usama bin Laden. More importantly, Sudan as a ‘certified’ supporter of international terrorism is ineligible for US overseas assistance and has no trading privileges.

Egypt, the most important partner in the Arab world, however, does not support aggressive Islamisation. Not only is the Egyptian Government under serious pressure from a violent and powerful fundamentalist movement at home. Its overriding concern is to secure the free flow of Nile waters on which the country is dependent. In the case of Egypt, the aspirations of Islam and the expansion of Arab culture are secondary to the pragmatics of survival. The country’s historic ambition has been to ensure the stability and co-operation across the Nile valley. It therefore maintains links with all parties involved, by maintaining relations with the government as well as supporting conferences of the opposition. Egyptian influence has contributed to the resolution of SPLA leader John Garang to insist upon a united Sudan, against calls among his followers for southern secession.

A counter weight to these Islamic and Arab interests is provided by the national governments of Eritrea, Ethiopia and Uganda. All three governments resent the ruthless arabisation and Islamicisation policies of the NIF government, a danger they also have to contend with at home Ethiopia has been supporting the SPLA since its inception, and ensured the dominance of the military wing within the movement. It also provides bases for the Sudan Alliance Forces and has ferried troops and materials to Uganda. When in 1991 the new EPRDF government expelled the SPLA temporarily from Ethiopia, they were invited by President Yowerri Museveni to set up bases in Ugandan. Not only have these served as a springboard for attacks against government positions in Equatoria province. The SPLA have also conducted joint offensives against units of the Lords Resistance Army, operating with Khartoum’s backing from within Sudan. Since independence, Eritrea has provided bases for the SPLA, the SAF and the Beja Congress, which has enabled the opposition to take the war to the north. (5)

A dual role is played by the west, supporting both government and rebels. The US provides covert support to the SPLA, while France has been delivering arms to Khartoum. Humanitarian relief provided by Non Governmental Organisations in response to the famines in southern Sudan, and co-ordinated under the programme Organisation Lifeline Sudan (OLS), has fed both government garrisons and SPLA fighters. Fundamentalist Christian groups in the US, meanwhile, have funded the opposition forces more directly.

Far more significant, until the mid-1990, however, has been the role of the international financial institutions (IFIs), particularly the World Bank. Loans were made available on favourable terms to the Sudanese government to finance the expansion of commercial agriculture into the south.

Overseas interests are therefore to be regarded as one root cause in the continuation of the conflict.

Conclusions

It is very difficult to foresee future developments. Too many subjective and objective factors are in interplay in the Sudan now. The growing oil wealth does provide the current regime with both a strong reason to wage war as well as the means to do so. Oil has also the mysterious power to soften the stance of active and potential business partners, even western countries, towards Islamic fundamentalism in the Sudan.

One internal indicator for the changes going on is that in the near past people were taken by force into military service. Today, many poor unemployed youth join the service voluntarily. There is both money, loot and safety in being a soldier.

The 1st military regime lasted 6 year (1958 to 1964)

The 2nd military regime lasted 16 years (1969 to 1985)

The current regime is already almost 12 years old and still going on.

It is my firm conviction that in all the uncertainties that cloud the political sky of the Sudan, one thing is becoming increasingly reliable. The Islamic project of the National Islamic Front has failed in the Sudan. It is only a matter of days, months or perhaps years before the regime must either fundamentally transform or perish.

Mohamed Suliman

London April 2001

Bibliography

  1. Africa Watch, Denying the Honour of Living - Sudan, a Human Rights Disaster, London 1990
  2. M. Duffield, Sudan at the Crossroads, IDS Discussion paper No. 275, Sussex University 1990 (p8).
  3. George Tombe Lako, The Jonglei Canal Scheme as a Socio-economic Factor in the Civil War in the Sudan, in African River Basins and Drylands Crises (editor, Darkoh) OSSER 1992
  4. New Scientist, Call it quit, vol. 158, issue 2135, page 40
  5. The chapter on External Players was taken with slight modifications from: Klein A.,
  6. the State of War and Peace in the Horn of Africa 1998, IFAA publication March 1999.