OPINION: Tabaro: Identity, Militarism, and Reclamation of the Sudan
By Edgar Muvunyi Tabaro
Sudan [Khartoum, not to be confused with its peer South Sudan] is up in flames, as had been predicted by pundits.
All the leading media I’ve come across seem to be regurgitating mantras and orthodoxies in scripts that define conflict in Africa.
Largely Eurocentric, defined by the template, race, religion, or ethnicity. This paper, though agreeing with these conclusions, shouldn’t be bought wholesale. A wrong diagnosis of a disease invariably leads to a wrong prognosis and, by extension, failure to cure the underlying disease.
Nearly all territories above the 14th parallel [14° North of the Equator] in Africa are in turmoil. Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, Chad, Libya, Chad, Niger, Mali, and Mauritania, among others, are at war with full-blown civil strife.
When human beings relate, they are bound to disagree regardless of race, creed, or station in life. In politics, disagreements in this part of the world, when not attended to, often degenerate into full-blown war.
So, what is peculiar to these territories aside the civil strive? The area has been at the receiving end of climate change, appropriately called desertification. There has been an increase in temperature and less precipitation, giving only 200 to 800 mm of rainfall per year.
Water sources have dried up, including lakes like Chad, which are shrinking in size. Crop failure due to water stress coupled with the devastating effects of the locust invasion has created a humanitarian crisis of the proportions of the [in] famous US for Africa concert to raise awareness to save “us” from famine in 1984.
These have caused the forced migration of the inhabitants of this area. Forced migration and the absence of effective state control/presence in these vast territories have given rise to tensions between communities pitying nomadic and transhumance herdsmen and planters and cultivators occupations, which, for socio-economic as well as anthropological factors, have informed primordial identities and, by extension, the production and/or politics along these lines.
Enter the present crisis in the Sudan that escalated to full-scale war in the capital Khartoum on Saturday, April 15, 2023, when the Rapid Support Force [RSF] of Gen. Mohammed Hamdani Dagalo, aka Hemedit, deputized by his brother Abdallah Dagalo, attacked positions of the Sudan Armed Forces [SAF].
The escalation of the conflict to outright war in Khartoum and parts of Darfur flows from a failed political settlement process under the “Political Settlement Framework,” which had been under discussion and negotiation since February 2023 and was to culminate in the signature of an agreement on Saturday, April 8, 2023.
The signing of the agreement failed when the SAF, loyal to Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and hell-bent on handing over power to civilian rule, rejected the integration of the militia RSF into the SAF and the civilian partners in the transition administration.
The Forces for Freedom and Change [FFC], which comprises the intelligentsia and civil society, are pushing for justice and accountability for years of gross human rights abuses, genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and torture, overly pointing fingers at the RSF. Freedom and Change are critical factors in Sudan.
Sudan attained independence in 1956. For all this period, only six years have been under civilian rule. In 1958, Gen. Ibrahim Abboud took power in a military coup, himself overthrown in a coup.
The October Revolution of 1964, in turn, ousted Gen. Jaffer Nimeiry. An elected civilian government of Sadiq Elmahdi in 1985 was overthrown by Gen. Omar El Bashir, who was in turn ousted by his Deputy Gen. Awad bin Auf following civil society-led protests that lasted nearly 6 months but lasted only a day before handing over to Gen. Burham in April 2019 in a loose coalition with civil society and RSF under a civilian Executive PM Hamdock.
Hamdock was overthrown in a putsch by the SAF and RSF in coalition with tribal provincialists [they resent the Khartoum elite].
Post-independence, Sudan has been defined by a militarist state, deploying repression, exploitation, dispossession, inhuman and degrading treatment of its citizens, outright state-sponsored ethnic cleansing, and genocide pitted mainly against dark-skinned people and non-Moslems [more politically correct “Muslims”] at the altar of regime survival.
This is the crux of the contemporary political impasse. Sudan’s written history, dating from 350 BC records that Sudan has been a contestation of blacks [Nubian, Kermit, Kushites, etc] Arabs [ironically, some Arabs in the Sudan are as dark as the darkest Black African peoples], Romans, Greeks, and Afro-Asiatic peoples [Tigray, Amhara, Somali, Berbers, Tuareq] Turko-Egyptian tribes , Christians [Orthodox, Coptic, etc.] with the result that Sudanese are not agreed as to the identity of the Sudanese!
Ironically, the etymology of the noun Sudan is “sun-burnt/baked” peoples, which translates into Afrikan, black, or Kermites depending on the dialect of Arabic. These primordial identities have, for much of mordern Sudan been in confrontation, leading to exclusion and passionate agitation for mutual annihilation or extermination.
At the apex has been the monoplisation of power among the light-skinned Arabs, mainly the Jal’aian tribesmen and other less significant Arab tribes referred to as “Riverine peoples,” who are noted for their cultural sophistication [arts, music, architectural works, dance, literature, etc.], education, and occupation [professionals, commercial farmers, traders, etc.] that comprise the elite and intelligentsia of the FFC and are at loggerhead with the tribal lords from the countryside/provinces.
The demands of the FFC are simple: constitutional rule, accountability, and justice for the victims of decades of abuse of authority.
Bill of Rights
It is the most considered opinion of this author that an arrangement, be it interim or long term, with an entrenched Bill of Rights whose near sacrosanct provisions, or more appropriately, “non derogation,” of the right to a fair hearing, freedom from slavery, and freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment would, at the stroke of the pen, usher in a new dawn for a people with probably the richest history of human kind and earliest recorded civilization eched in pluralism, diversity, and a liberal democracy.
How will this be achieved? It will be difficult, but not impossible. Post-1986 NRA/M Uganda, an amalgamation and integration of 22 previously radically opposed fighting [militia?] groups “cobbled” together in rebuilding a state after years of turmoil and some 6 months of siege and division of Kampala between multiple millita.
Sudan could do well to borrow from the Ugandan experience. Relatedly, from my interactions with the political elite in Khartoum, they are looking at President Museveni and an elderly statesman with “clout” who can call the warring parties to order and chart a path to conflict resolution.
This is informed by the entrenched interests of its neighbors, which feed into the domestic malaise in Khartoum.
Ethiopia has come close to a full-blown war with Sudan over the Alfashaqa Triangle, a 260 sq. km. fertile land area belonging to Sudan but effectively administered by Ethiopia, which has come under contention among Amahara and Tigray [rebels] and is close to Eritrea.
In June 2022, Ethiopian troops killed seven Sudanese soldiers, in response to which Burhan sent fighter jets into Ethiopia, flattening a column of an Ethiopian military convoy. Libya, Chad, and South Sudan have domestic challenges of a similar proportion, thereby leaving Uganda and Egypt out of the equation.
Egypt is deeply involved in combat in Khartoum at the time of writing this paper [the fighting broke out when the Egyptian Army and SAF were conducting joint training exercises]. As such, I beg to submit that Uganda is best suited to be the arbiter!
The writer is a Ugandan lawyer with KTA Advocates and a Special Envoy of the UMMA Party.