Antumi Toasije explains why the current crisis in Sudan, in which the Northern Sudanese Arabs are trying to gain control of the Center, Southern, Western, and Eastern regions belonging to black Sudanese, is much more than a postcolonial racial tragedy. Important economic issues are at play in these regions rich with petroleum and minerals. Toasije analyzes the possibility of a UN military intervention, denounces the fact that internal conflicts put Africa back in the hands of foreign troops, and calls for a nonreligious Sudan, united, and linked to the rest of the continent.
Antumi Toasije is a historian finishing his doctorate in African Studies. He is a member of the Group of African Studies at the Autonoma University of Madrid and the director of the Journal “Citizenship, Migrations and Cooperation” based in Baleares. He also directs the Pan African Center of Cultural Studies.
UP UNTIL A LITTLE BIT AGO, THE INTERNATIONAL BLACK COMMUNITY VIEWED THE CONFLICT in the postcolonial Sudanese state as a racial matter. We understood that the Sudanese Arabs from the north were trying to gain control of the regions of the country controlled by black populations in the center, south, west, and east.
This reading of the situation backed by the public opinion of African-Americans and led by Colin Powell, called for a direct United States intervention in the country. But, as always, the conflict is much more complex than we had originally thought.
Commissioned by a Pan African organization, I had the opportunity to interview the Ambassador of Sudan in Spain in 2003, shortly after the conflict in Darfur had broken out between the Sudanese Government’s militias known as the Jajaweed, and the Movement for Justice in Sudan (also known as the Liberation Front of Darfur) and its most active section, the Movement for Justice and Equality.
At that time a notice had appeared in the German media that Syria had tested chemical weapons in the immense region, with the complicity and support of the Sudanese government. The interview with the Ambassador of Sudan did nothing to clear up any doubt I had over the chemical weapons test, but it did give me a better sense of Sudanese identity.
One phrase, above all, was of extreme interest: we understand the motivation for conflict in the south, but what is most painful for us is that the conflict has broken out with our brothers in the west as well.
This statement was enough to infer that Sudanese identity is more than just racial, if not also principally religious and cultural.
One hundred and twenty years ago, Sudan, which had been used as a hunting reserve for blacks to be enslaved by Egyptian Sultans, was invaded by the British.
The British government had decided that it was essential for them to culminate their invasion of Cairo by conquering the entire coast up until the Cape and close off access to Asia on par with their control of the Nile. And it was only in 1890, when the Mahdi state hindered British plans, that the British gained control of all of Sudan and set about the task of dividing it.
PEOPLE, COTTON AND OIL
In 1924 a new law was instituted to stop the northern Sudanese from going into southern territories and vice versa: a law to be maintained until roughly about 1956 when Sudanese independence was won. The resulting country wide division led to inevitable conflicts immediately following independence, including two civil wars and various disputes that had supposedly ended with the Peace Agreements of January 5th, 2005, despite the suspicious death of southern leader Dr. John Garang de Mabior.
In the past the main business in Sudan was people, than later marble and cotton, and now oil. The abundant sources of oil in the south and the Darfur regions have stimulated the economic interests of China, whose burgeoning economy is in constant need of energy due to colossal interior works projects like the Three Gorges Dam, and other operations that more and more resemble western neocolonialism. China’s growth has caused much unrest in the US, whose interests lie mainly in penetrating the African continent from the Bight of Biafra.
PAN AFRICAN MOVEMENT AS A SOLUTION
In online Internet forums, young Sudanese are allowed to express their opinions openly, and from these forums more and more support is emerging for the Pan African movement. Some of these supporters, like Koang, participated in the liberation movement of the south, yet rather than advocating a north south separation, they have hopes for a strongly united Sudan, which is nonreligious, and has close ties with the rest of Africa.
Contemporary central African culture has even begun to reject the notion that Arabs are culturally colonizing Africa in a similar way to the West. There is now, a movement to reinforce Pan African identity, and look for common uniting factors like the suffering of all Africans without regard to culture or religion.
As well as protesting the perception of African-Arabs as being a malignant force, many are also standing up against the intervention of the United Nations on the continent. There is a general feeling that the UN would supplant the supposedly inefficient African Union, which sent out peacekeeping forces to Darfur (AMIS) in July of 2004. But stopping the blue berets from entering into Sudan is no longer a possibility.
On March 24th of 2005, the UN approved an operation to mobilize half a thousand Chinese soldiers and send them into Darfur by May 28th of this year.
AFRICA IN FOREIGN HANDS
Once again, the armed conflicts within Africa have delivered the continent into foreign hands. The presence of foreign troops on African soil will be a major stumbling block for the emergence of a Pan African democracy, and for economic growth. It’s curious that throughout all of the conflicts that have broken out in Europe, there have never been any blue berets under African command on European soil.
The action of the blue berets will certainly bring outrages to the African continent. But it is possible that they will pacify the region, and solidify the distribution between China and the United States of Sudanese oil. But their actions will be to the detriment of the Sudanese people and to the entire African continent. And so we must ask ourselves:
Will Western civil society understand that Africa desires full control over its own resources? Or will the West continue to support policies of war that murder the people in the supplying countries, just to fill up Western fuel tanks?