Friday, August 14, 2020

Sudan's Race Question

Sudan is an ethnically diverse country. While the majority is made up of Muslim Arab-speaking tribes of various backgrounds, there are many non-Arabised ethnic groups, including, Nubians, Beja, Fur, Nuba (ethnically different from Nubians), Fallata and others. These communities have been historically marginalised, discriminated against and politically ostracised.

Part of the reason for this has to do with British colonialism, which favoured some tribes over others, but much of it also is related to Sudan's pre-colonial history. In the seventh century, the Christian Nubian state of Makuria concluded a treaty (known as al-Baqt) with Egypt's Arab conquers, which among other provisions included the transfer of 360 slaves per year to new Egyptian rulers. This established Sudan as a source of slaves for Egypt and the rest of the Arab world. 

Over the following centuries, Arab tribes gradually migrated into Sudanese lands and intermarried with the local Black African population, thus gradually Arabising it. Some of these tribes engaged in the slave trade. The gradual Arabisation dislocated culturally parts of Sudan from Africa, solidifying the belief of Arab superiority and native non-Arabised inferiority and laying the foundations of modern Sudan's identity crisis. Those who were enslaved were almost exclusively members of the non-Muslim non-Arabised tribes. After independence, the Sudanese society continued to be plagued by this historical legacy. 

Indeed, political and economic power was almost exclusively in the hands of members of the Arabised tribes.
This oppression and marginalisation had led to the first Sudanese civil war (1955-72) and then in the 1980s to another one. When al-Bashir came to power through a military coup in 1989 backed by Islamist forces, this situation deteriorated further. Discrimination and violence against non-Muslims and non-Arabs got worse, as his regime sought to frame the conflict in religious terms.
Protesters in Khartoum, Omdurman, and elsewhere faced beatings, shootings, rape and torture. Those who perpetrated these brutal acts were the same fighters who had been deployed in Darfur to wreak havoc on impoverished and marginalised communities. The protests brought together citizens from all over the country and cross-communal solidarity started to emerge, as people shared their stories of violence and pain.
And then one day in February, during a protest in Khartoum, the crowd broke into a new chant: "Ya unsuri w maghrur, kol albalad Darfur [hey you racist and arrogant, all the country is Darfur]." This was probably the first time that so many people in the north faced off with the military regime and showed solidarity with Darfur. This was the Black Lives Matter moment of Sudan. Thus the country united. The dictator fell. And a new beginning was promised to people of all ethnicities and colours. 
But more than a year later, not only are racial slurs still regularly used for non-Arab Sudanese people, but little has changed for Darfurians and other marginalised communities as well. In July, violence erupted in the region once again, killing at least 60 people. According to the United Nations, some 2,500 people had to flee to Chad as the situation remains unstable. The Sudanese media, which now supposedly enjoys more freedom than under al-Bashir, ignored the news, demonstrating just how little Darfurian lives matter in Khartoum.   The Sudanese elite continues to deny its Africanness and behaves like a settler-colonial authority. But common people, who last year were in the streets fighting for a better future for their country, also seemed uninterested. 
There will be no progress until the anti-racism struggle at home and worldwide has to be an integral part of that process and stand with our brothers and sisters in Darfur, in the rest of Africa and the rest of the world.  

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