By Steve Paterno
July 15, 2007 — Long time ago there was a gathering of the Anyanya people in Eastern Equatoria. The Anyanya came from all corners of the South for a conference in Eastern Equatoria region of South Sudan . They came from all corners of the South, which means they represent all the different ethnicities of the South Sudanese groups with all their varying backgrounds in language, culture and physical features. By the way, South Sudan has as many ethnic groups as one can get.
During the conference, one of the individuals from one of the Eastern Equatoria ethnic groups was not at ease seeing some of the people at the conference. As he could not hold his temperament and suspicion anymore, he approached those individuals whom he was not happy with their presence at the conference. In a most rudest way possible, he asked them in Arabi Juba, “are you Mundukurat?” (Mundukurat is a word for Arabs. Not to mention that whether an Arab would have understood his Arabi Juba leave alone if an Arab knows what Mundukurat means). In response to his question, those individuals replied that they were not Mundukurat. Not satisfied with the answer, he insisted, “are you fathered by Mundukurat?”
Anyway, luckily enough, it turned out that those individuals suspected of being Mundukurat were actually from Azande ethnic group. The reason they were suspected of being Mundukurat because of their physical features. Those Azande people are lighter in complexion that they can pass for Sudanese Arab. By the way, the Sudanese Arabs are not that light in their complexion. Some of the Africans, especially the Bantus could even be lighter than them. The Arabism in Sudan is not based on physical features but rather based on a concept that is infested in people’s psych. The physical feature is a bonus though, because the more lighter one is the more of authentic an Arab he is, or the more he would be resented in some parts of the South.
The moral of this story is just to show how resentful some of the Southerners are with the Arabs. Because of a bitter history of hostilities between the Southerners and Arabs, some Southerners have no any reason to trust the Arabs in anyway or shape possible. They resent anything Arabic in nature. It is interesting that lighter skin is something that some circles enjoys, but in other parts of the South, people of lighter skins are scorned, simply because they resemble the Arabs. Speaking proper Arabic is viewed as a betrayal. Instead, they corrupt the Arabic language to form Arabi Juba to suit them. Studying Arabic in some parts of the South is an equivalence of illiteracy. Circumcision is an Arabic culture, and those who are circumcised are looked down at. Wearing jallabia, (an Arab Muslim attire), guarantees you a hall of shame in the best of clowns. Every Muslim is an Arab, even if one of them is your own son. Those Southerners who serve in the Khartoum armed forces are considered Arabs. The Southerners who work with the Khartoum government are Arabs too. And, yes, those foreign countries who support Khartoum government are Arabs too. Anyone can be an Arab, as long as they believe in it or imitate like one. Sounds like religion, huh! If Arabism is revolutionalized and conceptualized, it is in Sudan . Sadiq al-Mahdi called it the “bright and civilizing” aspect of Islamic religion and Arabic culture that have been contributed toward the intercultural exchanged in the Sudan . Disaster this may be, it may be ‘bright and civilizing” to someone of al-Sadiq ilk.
These sentiments are widespread and are not just confined in certain circles. As blunt as they are, majority of Sudanese, Southerners or otherwise clearly identify with them. They practice it in their daily living. Just listen to the politicians whether they are presidents or ministers, they evoke these sentiments all the time. Even John Garang, who favored a united Sudan whereby all the Sudanese people will live peacefully together regardless of their differences, had to appeal to the Southerners for their resentfulness toward the Arabs to wage a revolutionary war against the government in Khartoum . To prove this, one does not have to go further than review the SPLA propaganda and songs sang against the Arabs, Islam, and those Southerners and other countries who collaborated with the so-called Arabs. Likewise, one also has to review the propaganda coming from Khartoum whereby they have to appeal to their Islamic religion and Arabic culture to wage a genocidal war. Do the words infidel and abit mean anything to those in Khartoum?
The way Arabs are perceived in Sudan , it has less to do with the physical racial features but most of it is a concept built out of perceptions. For example, a non-Darfurian cannot differentiate between a Janjaweed or an SLA rebel based on their physical characteristics. And a foreigner cannot differentiate al-Turabi with an old Azande gentleman. This is the reality that the CPA cannot resolve. The CPA is a compromise between the SPLM and the Khartoum government. Most of those who fought for SPLA would have wanted nothing to do with the Arabs, because majority of them joined the SPLA to fight the Arabs. On the other hand, Khartoum government would want to continue the subjugation of the people of the South, but in the end, they have to compromise, hence produced the CPA.
One of the significant provisions of the CPA is the formation of one Sudan two systems. That the South must has its own government, unfortunately, the CPA makes an attempt to define the South only geographically, even though that geography have to yet be demarcated and defined properly. What the CPA fails to identify is the people of the South. One of the elements of a government to exist is that it must have a defined territorial presence where it can claim legal control as well as specific people who will constitute that government.
Another element of the CPA is to conduct the census, but in the case of South Sudan , the census would make no sense as there are no specific people who are defined as Southerners or a territory for that matter. And then, there is a referendum to be held in the year 2011, whereby the Southerners supposed to vote either for separation or unity with the North, but again, that will be problematic as there are no specific Southern Sudanese people and territory.
The question is: who are really the Southerners? Are they those who resent anything Arabic and Islamic? Are they the people from the tribes of the South? How about those from the Southern tribes who embraced Islamism, Arabism, and work with Khartoum ? Or is it that being a Southerner is something that anyone can claim, regardless of who they are, where they come from or what they believed? In anyway, the confusion continues, and the people may as well live in the dilemma, at least for the time being until they clear out this identity crisis.
* Steve Paterno is a Sudanese residing in the U.S.A., and he can be reached at [email protected]