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Country of the Black Pharaohs

On July 9th 2011, South Sudan’s legislative assembly ratified the country’s new constitution. This has been the unequivocal outcome to half a century of conflict and tension, condemning the unified country to an uncertain future. Sudan is generally considered an outlier in its region- despite steady economic growth, the current government of the Republic of Sudan has been accused of lacking respect towards the basic human rights and fundamental freedoms of its citizens.

Sudan as a unified country had an immense territory, the biggest on the African continent- its surface area is estimated at a little less than 2 million square kilometres . It extends north to south for approximately 2000km; experiencing different climatic and geographic transformations from one region to the other. Due to this diversity, peoples who practice vastly different ways of life often find themselves in direct contact with one another; an example of this being the conflict which occasionally arises between nomadic and sedentary groups. Furthermore, the incredible geographic size of this country, coupled with its extreme diversity of terains and cultural groups, present a serious challenge for the new country’s governance. Finding a way for local authorities to communicate and  effectively govern the whole of  South Sudan is not proving to be an easy task.

Even in Sudan’s infancy (they were free from colonisation in 1956), the southern part of the country  claimed independence from greater Sudan under the leadership of a government located in Juba (today’s capital city of South Sudan). This led to the country’s first armed conflict, which lasted from 1956 to 1972 and cost some 500 000 people their lives (mostly civilians). The international community eventually helped to reach a peaceful agreement between the two factions, but the peace that it created could only be maintained for two years. Armed violence erupted once again when in 1983, the Sudanese president Jaafar al-Nimeyri decided to impose Sharia law on the whole territory. Jaafar al-Nimeyri’s dream of creating an all-Islamic state was unfortunately also shared by his successors. Two of which, Hassan al-Turabi and Omar al-Bashir (former Sudanese president after a coup in 1989)  played host to famous Al-qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, who settled in 1991 in Sudan. Plunging the nation into Islamic fundamentalism was a subversive choice that greatly divided the country, especially the christian and animist minorities which felt that Islamic law did not represent their interests. For the following two decades, conflict ensued between the forces of Jaafar al-Nimery from the north, and the Sudan People’s Liberation army of the south- fiercely battling for their independence from Khartoum’s iron fist. The second civil war (1983-2005) was one the worst armed conflicts of the 20th century. The chaos and famine-related effects of the second civil war have resulted in more than four million displaced people, and according to rebel estimates, more than two million deaths over a period of two decades. A literal bloodshed that has unfortunately not stopped.

The country’s separation did not, as planned, lead to total peace. Violence is still an omnipresent factor of Sudanese life, especially in South Sudan and Darfour. Darfour has had a particularly difficult time, suffering from intense, widespread famine and the continuing desertification of the already-arid Sahel region. Divisions of wealth between different ethnicities in this poor region are extreme and have also been known to cause relatively small inter-ethnic conflicts. In South Sudan the SPLA (Sudan People’s Liberation Army) and JEM (Justice and Equality Movement), which are comprised mostly of local tribes, strive for more equitable redistribution of wealth because the southern part of Darfour is said to have massive reserves of oil which, as usual, triggers tensions. Khartoum has proven repeatedly that they have little interest in having these reserves controlled by the Sudanese people, and has even recently sent paramilitary troops to the region-creating yet another conflict, causing the death and displacement of thousands of people.

The country of the Black Pharaohs and the newly existing South-Sudan have known two civil wars, felt the direct consequences of climate change and fallen victim to reasource-spurred conflict . At the end of the day, like in every conflict, it is the masses that pay the human price for the violent nature of a few elite men. Perhaps a closer look at the situation by the international community could help these two countries arise from misery and exploit the incredible bounty of natural and human ressources their country has to offer .

Image License: Some rights reserved by UNESCO Africa

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