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Behind the continuing crisis in Sudan

Published Aug 12, 2005 10:44 PM

Sudan, by area, is Africa’s largest country. This Jan. 9, the Sudanese government and the Sudan People’s Liber ation Movement, headed by John Garang, signed a peace agreement that ended two decades of warfare between north and south in which 1.5 million people are estimated to have died.

Mohammed Hassan

The pact gave the southern region autonomy during an interim six-year period to be followed by a national referendum; agreed to split oil revenues 50-50 between north and south; and established a new government of national unity in which Garang would become first vice president of Sudan. The agreement brought rejoicing throughout the country.

However, on July 30, just three weeks after he took office, Garang was killed in a helicopter crash in southern Sudan while returning from a meeting with the president of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni. The helicopter belonged to Museveni.

Garang’s death reopened the struggle, even though the Sudanese government immediately announced that his deputy would take over as vice president. Bloody fighting erupted in Khartoum between police and partisans of Garang.

What are the issues behind this struggle, and what role have the Western imperialist powers, some of them former colonizers of the area, played in it?

In August of 2004, as another crisis was developing in Darfur, a vast region in the west of Sudan, the Belgian newspaper Solidaire interviewed Mohammed Hassan, a former diplomat in Sudan’s neighbor, Ethiopia, about the situation in Sudan and talk in the West about the need to intervene there for “humanitarian” reasons. What follows are excerpts from that interview a year ago.

In August 1998, the U.S. organized a war of aggression against Congo, Sudan’s neighbor. They encouraged Rwanda to invade Congo and provided it with weapons and military advisers. For the U.S., war was the only way to keep Congo in check. This war has made already 3.5 million direct and indirect civilian casualties. And now these very people who instigated the war in Congo are showing concern for the humanitarian situation in Sudan? Now they are incensed about the 10,000 deaths this conflict [in Darfur] has caused?

U.S. imperialism has never had any humanitarian concern and has never been disturbed by ethnic cleansing. The U.S. is taking advantage of the dramatic situation in the western province of Darfur for its own economic and political interest.

Sudan started to export oil in 1999. Last year, revenues from export amounted to $1.2 billion and in 2005 this will rise to an estimated $2 billion. The most important destination of this oil is China. That is the real reason for the U.S. concern.

Britain conquered Sudan at the end of the 19th century and added it to Egypt. From the very start of the colonization, they made Sudan into a laboratory for their tactics of “divide and rule.” The people have been saturated with racist propaganda. All colonizers did that. Look at Rwanda and Burundi, where Belgium was responsible for the rivalry between Hutus and Tutsis which has led to several instances of genocide.

In Sudan, the British established an administration on the basis of racism and ethnicism. According to these ideas, the northern, brown, Arab Sudanese were superior to the black population in the south because they were believed to be more similar to the European “race.”

[The British] institutionalized these racist ideas: the north of Sudan was separated administratively from the south—a form of apartheid, in fact. The north was governed from Cairo in Egypt while the south’s administration was based in Nairobi, Kenya. The British established a system of “closed districts,” which means it was all but impossible to travel from north to south. The age-old trade relations between the north and the south were cut, destroying the traditional relations between north and south.

In the north, the British allowed Islam and the Arabic language, while they were forbidden in the south.

In the north, a centralized administration was established with the help of young Sudanese graduates from Egyptian univer sities. In the south, the British governors ruled indiscriminately. Just like in Belgian Congo, the south’s education was left to Christian missionaries who held the population mentally captive in the Middle Ages.

On Jan. 1, 1956, the British chose to separate Sudan from Egypt and reunite it again into one state. That was met with resistance from the small elite in the south, as they were afraid to lose all power to the north.

At that time, the north was veering toward the anti-colonial policy of Nasser in Egypt. Great Britain therefore supported the southern elite to rise up against the north. Before the independence, civil war erupted between north and south.

The country has been ravaged by civil war ever since, except for a short interruption between 1972 and 1983. In 1983 the division gained the upper hand again and war resumed. In April of this year, there was a new peace agreement.

That is the history of the conflict. Those who are responsible for ethnicism, the colonizers, would now like to intervene to save the country from ethnicism. Isn’t it ironic? Africa belongs to the Africans. The 1972 and 2004 peace agreements were the work of the Sudanese themselves. Intervention by the U.S. and Great Britain would mean greater dependence and a new form of colonialism that would worsen the people’s sufferings. It would never be able to liberate itself from social and economic poverty because it will lose control of its natural resources.