From being host to a net influx of refugees from neighbouring states in the 1970s and early 1980s, Sudan has become a generator of forced migration on an unprecedented scale, creating the world’s largest crisis of human displacement. Since 1983 two million Sudanese are reckoned to have died as a result of conflict. About a million have fled to neighbouring countries, and some six million - one sixth of the population - have been displaced within the country. The process has, until relatively recently, been accelerating. It took two decades of war in South Sudan to displace four million people, but less than three years to displace two million in Darfur.
In previous conflicts in Sudan, before 1989, displacement had been a secondary consequence. From the late 1980s the deliberate uprooting of local populations, often by local militia armed by the government, became a strategy for the conduct of war, and a military and economic objective in its own right. Prior to the North-South ceasefire in January 2002 the strategy for mass population displacement involved militia attacks on the ground, burning, looting and the abduction of women and children, coupled with bombardment from the air by Antonov planes and helicopter gunships. It enabled the government to seize and reallocate land and resources, while turning largely self-sufficient village populations into vulnerable and dependent communities deprived of their right to land and permanent shelter, living precariously on the periphery of the capital.
The forced depopulation of oil-rich areas in the Upper Nile region of South Sudan in the 1990s made it possible for oil exploitation to proceed unhindered, and was accompanied by the influx of ethnic groups, often of Northern origin, seen as loyal to the government. In Darfur and the Nuba Mountains, too, small farmers and nomads lost their land rights, as the government gave itself the right to occupy and dispose of land from which displaced people had been driven. Rebel groups, prone to divisions and shifting alliances which the government has been quick to foment and exploit, have contributed to the instability while being unable to offer sufficient protection to their civilian supporters. There are an estimated 1.5-2 million people displaced inside South Sudan, a significant proportion of whom are the casualties of fighting between rebel factions.
Great expectations have been placed on the peace agreement signed on 9th January 2005 between the Khartoum government and the largely southern Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M), including hopes of a ‘peace dividend’ and the eventual return of refugees and displaced people to South Sudan. The immediate reality is far more uncertain. Not only is the agreement far from secure, South Sudan is still volatile, and so devoid of infrastructure, administration and opportunities for resuming a livelihood that its capacity to absorb returnees – or, indeed, finance - is limited.
By October 2005, only a small number of refugees sheltering abroad had returned spontaneously to South Sudan, along with some 250,000 internally displaced people (IDPs). (OCHA, 10 October 2005; UNHCR briefing, 15 October 2005). Meanwhile, however, the government has used force to relocate IDPs, demolished their homes and pressured them to leave, and has obstructed and harassed the agencies whose role is to assist and protect them. UN agencies expect the return of hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese in the dry season from November 2005 to March 2006, largely because of this ‘push factor’. Whether this rate of return is workable or desirable is a different matter. Some pioneer returnees have come back to Khartoum already, defeated by the difficulties and the devastation of the south.
In Darfur, the international response was late and dogged by argument. Escalating violence continues to threaten the viability of aid operations, and the African Union forces sent to stabilise the area have an inadequate mandate and are by general agreement woefully under-resourced and few in number. There are still incidents of displacement in Darfur, and limited prospects for return. A few quiet or partial returns have been reported, whose success or failure will be reflected in the region’s harvest in the dry season.
- Sudan Tribune: Maps and Data pages - http://www.sudantribune.com/rubrique.php3?id_rubrique=5
- United Nations: Map of Sudan - http://www.un.org/Depts/Cartographic/map/profile/sudan.pdf
- Miller, Michael S. Oil & human rights in central and southern Sudan: a geographic resource - http://www.rightsmaps.com/html/sudmap1.html
- Brown, David M. Lives in Our Hands, Newark, UK: Aegis Trust, June 2005 - http://www.protectdarfur.org/Pages/Download_Docs/Lives_in_Our_Hands.pdf
- De Waal, Alex, ‘Counter-Insurgency on the Cheap’, London Review of Books, 26 (15), 5 August 2004 - http://www.lrb.co.uk/v26/n15/waal01_.html
- Forced Migration Review No. 24, Special Issue on Sudan, November 2005 - http://www.fmreview.org/mags1.htm
- International Crisis Group, Sudan pages - http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?id=1230&l=1
- Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) – formerly the Global IDP Project - http://www.internal- displacement.org/8025708F004CE90B/(httpCountries)/F3D3CAA7CBEBE276802570A7004B87E4?OpenDocument
- International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) - http://www.icrc.org/Web/eng/siteeng0.nsf/html/sudan!Open
- Justice Africa - http://www.justiceafrica.org/
- Peter, Marina: Sudan - Studies on country-related conflict analysis – Friedrich Ebert Foundation / German Development Service, June 2004 - (In German: http://library.fes.de/pdf-files/iez/02666.pdf An English translation is available but had not been posted as of 1 February 2006 )
- Rift Valley Institute - http://www.riftvalley.net/inside/slinks.htm
- Sudan Mirror, archive pages - http://www.sudanmirror.com/archives
- Sudan: The passion of the present - http://www.passionofthepresent.com
- Sudan Tribune: http://www.sudantribune.com
- United Nations Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN), Sudan pages - http://www.irinnews.org/frontpage.asp?SelectRegion=East_Africa&SelectCountry=Sudan
Overview of the Historical Context
Sudan, potentially one of the richest countries in Africa, has instead become the setting for a chronic humanitarian political crisis and multi-faceted conflict. The country has suffered warfare of varying intensity for most of the period since independence in 1956. Its first civil war – over South Sudan’s attempted secession, among many factors - began in 1955 and lasted until 1972, creating a million forced migrants. War re-erupted in 1983, now characterised by shifting alliances of regular troops, liberation armies, militias and gangs. The conflict has not been simply one of ‘North’ versus ‘South’ - its primary manifestation - but one of peripheral minorities against a central elite, that is to say, against ‘the clique from the central Nile Valley who have dominated Sudan’s governments and controlled its economy since independence’ (Douglas Johnson, Parliamentary Brief, February 2005). The war in Darfur has underlined this fact, and tensions in north-eastern Sudan have similar grounds, with groups who see themselves marginalised by the power elite taking up arms after the failure of civilian politics, hoping also to overthrow a profoundly unpopular government.
The often-highlighted religious aspect can be misleading, as Muslims have fought Muslims in the north, and Christians have fought Christians in the south. Indeed, the decades of ‘Arabisation’ and Islamisation pursued by hard-line ideologues in successive governments – most notably since the National Islamic Front’s 1989 coup d’etat - have alienated as many Muslims as Christians. (Moreover, most southerners practice traditional religions, not Christianity.)
Sudan’s huge, unwieldy size was shaped by foreign rulers – first the Ottoman Turks and then the joint Anglo-Egyptian Condominium, which took 30 years to consolidate it by force in the face of opposition on its southern and western edges. Its external boundaries bear little or no relation to the populations on either side, and in every direction there are ethnic groups divided between countries. To the west, the Masalit and Zaghawa are in both Darfur and Chad; to the north, the Nubians are in Sudan and Egypt; the Beja cover north-eastern Sudan and Eritrea; the Anuak south-eastern Sudan and Ethiopia; the Acholi, South Sudan and Uganda… and so on.
Within the country, there are fault-lines between regions, communities, cultures and ethnic groups, as well as steep imbalances of wealth and power between the centre and the periphery. Where social equilibrium has been established locally – and the capacity for peace-making at a local level is often under-valued - it has often been deliberately destabilised by larger forces, particularly the central government. Also influential are the vested interests – usually of an economic or military-strategic nature - of individuals, groupings, neighbouring countries and members of the wider international community. War has been, and remains, a source of profit for some.
Deeply rooted prejudices arise from Sudan’s history of slavery. Slaves from South Sudan were for centuries brought north by traders and soldiers, some ending up in northern Sudan and others being sold on to Arab countries, including Egypt. This history also contributed to Sudan’s crisis of identity. While a large proportion of northern Sudanese claim ‘Arab’ genealogy through the male line, a great many are also descended from South Sudanese or other ‘African’ great-grandmothers. Their efforts to distance themselves from their ‘African’ roots and distinguish themselves from their perceived inferiors have had a profound impact on the nation’s psyche.
Sudan’s history is one of population flux and mixing. The amassing of armies in the capital in the 19th century brought in migrants from all over the country, as did the expansion of agricultural schemes in, for example, the Gezira region of central Sudan and eastern Sudan in the 20th century.
Various populations of West African origin, including Fulani and Hausa speakers, have settled in Sudan, with the encouragement of the Condominium government. In recent years some of these have proved useful to the government, and been rewarded with land following, for example, the displacement of Nuba farmers in the 1990s.
One of the limits on movement came in the late 1920s, when a misguided attempt by British administrators to protect the South Sudanese, Nuba and others from the depredations of slave traders and merchants led to the establishment of ‘Closed Districts’, cut off from northern influence. When the Ordinance was lifted in the mid-1940s, the north had advanced far more rapidly than the south, having started from a position of advantage, and was more politically sophisticated and economically developed. The two sides were unevenly matched in the jockeying for power during the ‘Sudanisation’ process that preceded independence, by which the administrators of the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium were replaced with local officials.
A slow-burning civil war between North and South began in 1955, a year before Sudan’s independence, and continued until the South gained regional autonomy in 1972 with the Addis Ababa Agreement. Periodic massacres had created waves of human displacement and war had kept many areas of the South at or below subsistence level. The president at the time, Jaafar Nimeiri, initially enjoyed South Sudanese support.
A decade of relative peace followed until 1983, when Nimeiri ‘re-divided’ the South and effectively abrogated the 1972 Addis Ababa Agreement. This revived war in the south, and prompted the formation of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. The SPLA under the leadership of Col. John Garang managed to take control of much of South Sudan, with the exception of isolated garrison towns, in the late 1980s. In 1991, however, it suffered a disastrous split when rival commanders attempted to replace Garang but ended up breaking away instead. SPLA factions then went to war with each other, and hundreds of thousands of civilians died or were displaced as a result. More deaths were caused by this faction fighting among rebels than by direct government action.
Among the earlier forced migrations in Sudan could be counted the retreat of the Nuba and other African ethnic groups from ancient northern Sudan into the safety of the Nuba Mountains. The Nuba Mountains and the Southern Blue Nile have mixed populations which are almost microcosms of the whole country. The SPLA/M has claimed, and up to now held, territory in these areas, where some but not all of the local population have supported the armed struggle for nearly two decades.
The third key ‘marginal’ area of the north adjoining South Sudan, Abyei, is considered a special case and will have its own referendum after six years to decide where its future will lie. Meanwhile it will come under the joint control of the interim ‘presidency’.
- Abyei Boundary Commission report, October 2005 http://www.riftvalley.net/inside/pdf/abc_final_14062005.pdf
Disputes over access to fertile land and water, or over stolen cattle, long-present factors in rural life, have been exacerbated by population growth, central government manipulation and the introduction of modern technology. Minor conflicts which in the past were relatively easy to resolve by traditional methods of negotiation, now escalate rapidly because of the easy availability of cheap small arms, often from neighbouring countries.
The drive for oil, a central government concern, became a key reason for land clearances in the south. Since its discovery in 1979, governments in Khartoum have wanted the oil zones to be occupied by a compliant population, and sought the destruction of the rebels’ support base among local Nuer and Dinka villagers. Initially this involved only proxy militias armed by the government, but oil money soon enabled the purchase of military hardware, including helicopter gunships, jet fighters and bombers.
The seizure of power by an Islamist junta in 1989 introduced a coherent and systematic policy of social engineering. The regime’s overt basis, its so-called ‘Civilisation Project’, actively sought to destroy the cultural roots of the displaced populations, with the establishment of camps known as ‘Peace Villages’, initially in the Nuba Mountains area of South Kordofan. These became notorious for separating families – most of whose menfolk were killed - allowing militiamen to rape with impunity, and intensive indoctrination. The outcome was the creation of a large and vulnerable population of dispossessed people with diminished rights.
Man-made famine, the destruction of farms and food stocks, and the manipulation of access to aid agencies, meant that food became a weapon, and a tool for generating displacement.
‘There is clear evidence that aid has saved lives, protected livelihoods and – when delivered in substantial quantities – prevented distress migration. Nevertheless … the effectiveness of aid remains profoundly compromised so long as the underlying crisis of human rights and political legitimacy that has given rise to the need for emergency assistance in Sudan remains unaddressed.’ (Keen, D., The Benefits of Famine: A Political Economy of Famine and Relief in South-West Sudan, 1983-1989, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994).
- Amnesty International: Sudan: Rape as a Weapon of War, London: Amnesty International, 19 July 2004 - http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGAFR540842004?open&of=ENG-SDN
- Bradbury, Mark, ‘Normalising the Crisis in Africa’, Journal of Humanitarian Assistance, 3 June 2000 - http://www.jha.ac/articles/a043.htm
- Duffield, Mark, ‘Aid and complicity: the case of war-displaced Southerners in the Sudan’, Journal of Modern African Studies, 40, 1, pp. 83–104, 2002 - http://www.journals.cambridge.org/article_S0022278X01003822
- Human Rights Watch, The Human Rights Causes of Famine in Sudan pages - http://www.hrw.org/campaigns/sudan98/
- Sudan Human Rights Organisation: Cairo Branch - http://www.shro-cairo.org/index.html
- Sudan Organisation Against Torture - http://www.soatsudan.org/
- UK Energy Information Agency, Sudan Country Analysis Brief, March 2005 - http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/cabs/sudan.html
- US Library of Congress, Country Studies: Sudan, November 2005 - http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/sdtoc.html