Causes and Consequences
The long-established tensions between the centre and the periphery are characterised by a chronically unjust division of power, wealth and investment, and by the inability or unwillingness on the part of the central elite to manage the ethnic, religious and cultural diversity of the vast country.
There has been a series of moves by the centre to impose a narrowly defined identity on the population. A crude version of Islamic sharia law has constituted the basis of public and private law since 1983, despite the popular overthrow of the dictator who instigated it, Jaafar Nimeiri. This measure was consolidated in 1989, when a new regime began the wholesale political restructuring of Sudan to establish it as an Islamic republic. Many Muslims as well as non-Muslims have suffered as a result.
When Lt-Gen Omar al-Bashir, Hassan al-Turabi and the National Islamic Front (NIF) ousted Sadiq al-Mahdi’s elected civilian government in June 1989, they seized power when the prospects for peace with the SPLA/M were stronger than at any time since 1983. Northern secular political groups had been working towards a negotiated solution to the civil war, and pressure from the public and the armed forces had obliged Sadiq al-Mahdi to move in the same direction. The 1989 coup ended these negotiations, and with them the prospect of a restoration of regional and religious rights.
Turabi remained the principal ideologue of the regime for a decade, until he became too visible on the international stage. He was jettisoned in 1999, a year after the US attacked the Shifa pharmaceutical factory in Khartoum, when a nervous regime was trying to present itself in a different light. He and his supporters formed the opposition ‘Popular National Congress’ and built (through the Justice and Equality Movement, or JEM) alliances in the west and east of the country. However, his former deputy in the NIF, Ali Osman Mohamed Taha, whose Ministry of Social Planning oversaw the ‘Civilisation Project’ in the 1990s, stayed in the government and became an extremely influential Vice President.
A Government of National Unity (GNU) was appointed in September 2005 following the signing of a Comprehensive Peace Agreement on 9 January 2005 between the Khartoum government and the largely southern Sudan People’s Liberation Army / Movement (SPLA/M). The GNU is nevertheless dominated by the inner core of the NIF, figures who have held power since 1989, and their party has a built-in majority of 52% in the new government.
The NIF adopted the new name of ‘National Congress’ in the late 1990s when controlled elections were held. The security apparatus in the north, the implementing agency of the NIF / National Congress and responsible for the Darfur strategy, remains unaltered.
The role of the Northern opposition parties in the GNU remains to be seen. Much of the real opposition is still excluded, either by choice - because of the limited extent of power on offer - or because they are still banned.
A few former members of the Umma Party and the Democratic Unionist Party who have been collaborating with the regime for years are listed as ‘Northern opposition’ for cosmetic purposes. ‘The National Islamic Front / National Congress Party will continue to rule Northern Sudan.’ (Africa Confidential, 7 October 2005)
Ending the war with the SPLA/M took years of negotiations in Kenya, under the aegis of what are referred to as the IGAD countries (Inter-Governmental Authority on Development - Kenya, Uganda, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Djibouti, plus Sudan and - formally - Somalia) and with the support of Western countries, chiefly the United States, Britain and Norway.
The Khartoum government has gone ahead with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement only under strong external pressure, particularly from the US. After a six-year interim period, during which the government is supposed to make unity ‘attractive’, South Sudanese will be able to choose unity or separation in a referendum. However, South Sudanese are saying that there is little sign of effort to ‘make unity attractive’ so far.
Moreover new conflicts – particularly Darfur – began before the North-South peace deal was concluded, while some existing crises – particularly eastern Sudan - have worsened. In the oil fields of Upper Nile, an estimated 100,000 Shilluk (Collo) people around Malakal have been driven out and their land occupied by tribes loyal to the government, echoing the fate of Nuer and Dinka in Western Upper Nile in the 1990s. The southern border area with Uganda is destabilised by the incursions of the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army – LRA – which has received crucial Sudan government backing, and the Beja people in eastern Sudan – where the oil pipeline has its sea port – are being treated as insurgents.
In South Sudan, an entire generation has grown up knowing only war, and deprived of basic resources and access to education. Often violence is seen as the only means to secure access to resources or settle a conflict. The result is continuing low-intensity conflict.
- Rone, Jemera, Crises in Sudan and Northern Uganda, New York: Human Rights Watch, 1998 - http://www.hrw.org/campaigns/sudan98/testim/house-03.htm
- Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD): Sudan Peace Process pages - http://www.igad.org/sudanpeace/index.htm
- Parliamentary Brief, Sudan pages - http://www.thepolitician.org/sudan