Home | Comment & Analysis    Wednesday 7 November 2012

The Islamists Who Fell Under the Bus (2-3) - Bitter Harvest


By Mohamed Elshabik

November 7, 2012 - In his recent book, William Easterly author of “White Man’s Burden”, blames the British for keeping North and South Sudan together, while other sources blame the British for doing the reverse. Either way, in Sudanese memory, the British are blamed for their separate administration of one country by restricting migration and movement between the two parts. As a result, Sudan’s post colonial era emerged as having an identity influenced by both the Middle East and Sub-Saharan African.

Nevertheless, Colonialism whatever its form was, in essence was nothing but promoting the interests of the oppressor. Its policies were not implemented out of consideration for the colonised nations, but were driven out of pure self-interest. The British partitioned Sudan for the sake of protecting its own influence and to avoid the southward spread of what was considered an unruly and potentially dangerous Islamic influence. Although Sudan is no exception, a hasty glance at the current political crisis currently making headlines reveals the roots of the divisive seeds planted by British colonialism.

During this Colonial period, Sudanese elites fought for their country independence. Although they abhorred the notion of British imperialism, when given the power, they ended up continuing with the same colonialist policies in isolated regions and as a result perpetuated the division initiated by the British Colonialists.

In reality though, the Sudanese have for decades failed to overcome the syndrome of colonialism. It is easy to attribute the defects and failures of decades of post–independence governance to colonialism, yet it is difficult to understand how six decades after independence, the Sudanese continuously struggle to decipher the question of identity.

Nonetheless, beyond the top-down tragic-political defect, lies another reality. A bottom-up culturally rooted identity has emerged. What seems to be a contradictory, multi faceted and fragmented identity, has in fact shaped a sole Sudanese identity, a mixed identity spontaneously emerging from interaction among local communities. Inter cultural diversity has produced a unique consciousness of accepting differences. A sense of recognition inextricably intertwined with context and diversity. Disparate elements - Arab, African, Nubians, Bija, Muslims and Christians – mingled and crafted the unique notion called SUDANESE.

For many years, socio-cultural and trade ties have been strong between the Sudanese. The dominant spoken language in South Sudan was and still is Juba-Arabic. Many North Sudanese traders have lived and settled in the South and they are still living there. They have no fear despite living in the South for decades of wars. Similarly some Southern Sudanese during war times have migrated and settled seeking peace in the North. Up to the present day, not many people in the North share the extreme and hate-inspiring views expressed recently during the Islamists era. For the Sudanese in the North and South, hospitality and respect used to be shown during peace and war times. Actually, one of Sudan’s significant failures that led to secession of its Southern part, was the Isalmists penetration into the political field in 1977. Ever since, the Islamists have robustly boosted their projection of a pure Islamic and Arabized country.

Thus when we gaze into the past we find that historically the differences were recognised and accepted. But the politicians in Khartoum failed to effectively address the peripheries’ development needs, concentrating wealth and resources in the centre, and equally failed to embrace and represent Sudan’s significant diversity.

Both the Jonglei water canal and oil exploitations projects, two could have ensured Sudan’s unity. Yet they proved to do the reverse. The story of oil in Sudan in particular provides another example of how short-sighted leaders can lead their country into suffering instead of development.


In 1972 Sudanese president Jaáfar Nimeiry (1969-1985) signed the Addis Ababa peace agreement which ended the first civil war in Sudan. The agreement was known worldwide as the textbook example of a successful resolution of civil war. The success of the peace agreement was largely attributed to the efforts made in the roundtable conference that took place during the second democratic period in Sudan (1964-1969).

A peaceful intermission (1972-1983) allowed the launch of water and oil development projects.

Work began in oil project in South Sudan in the 50s. But successful results of oil exploration were achieved in the mid 70s by Chevron.

The Jonglei canal in the river Nile was sought to circumvent Al Sudd (a vast swamp in South Sudan), where as much as half of the inflowing water evaporates because of lakes and swamps, flooding an area bigger than the size of Belgium and Holland.

Jointly financed by Sudan and Egypt, an agreement on the Jonglei canal project was signed in 1974. At the time it was the biggest, boldest and most daring water scheme in the world. The diversion of the water to bypass swamps and reduce losses due to evaporation would save the two countries 4.5 billion cubic meters annually.

A German-built bucket wheel excavator was imported from Pakistan at the cost of 50 million dollars. The machine was carried piece by piece via railways in Pakistan and Sudan. The machine was nicknamed Sarah in Sudan after the daughter of the mastermind of the project, a former Sudanese Minister of Irrigation, who on the same day as he was witnessing the launch of the biggest machine in the world, received the news of the birth of his daughter Sarah in the field site.

Shortly after the peace agreement in 1977, Nimeiry embarked on a different course of agreements and reconciliation initiatives, this time with his political religious opponents (Umma Party and NIF). Alsadig Almahdi of the Umma party’s influence remained limited and his success was nominal. In contrast, pragmatic Turabi’s participation had a very different outcome.

Under the influence of the newcomers, Nimeiry shifted towards the political and religious right. In 1980 Nimeiry created the Unity (Alwihda) province and stated his intention to mark the new province as an asset of both the South and North. The new plans were sceptically seen as an attempt that would eventually lead to redrawing the borders of the South, and remove the newly discovered oil fields from Southern administrative jurisdiction.

Furthermore, in a blatant breach of the 1972 agreement, the Southern region was re-divided into three regions. The three regions replaced one autonomous Southern region as stipulated in the agreement, with three less autonomous regions. The Southern Sudanese people were justifiably discontented with the new changes and their fears and scepticism about the central government’s intentions to control the oil led to increasing resentment in the South.

Nimeiry’s association with NIF led to the nationwide imposition of the Turabi’s brand of the Islamic shariaá law in 1983. To Nimeiry; Shariaá was the last card to play to appease the Islamist constituency, especially since the development plan to turn Sudan into a food basket dream, had vanished. To Machiavellian Turabi; actions should be based on practical, not idealistic considerations. As he failed to remove Nimeiry, he could still push the Islamist’s agenda through using his position as Minister of Justice. For the South; shariaá was the straw which broke the camel’s back.

Predictably, a second civil war broke out in 1983. The SPLA’s early attacks during Sudan’s second civil war led by the Sudan people’s liberation Army (SPLA) initially targeted the Jonglei canal project and oil installations. By this time, two thirds of the Jonglei project was complete. However Jonglei French Co and Chevron’s work came to halt in 1983 and 1984 respectively.

Unlike what many thought, the SPLA was not against the Jonglei project and water was not the main motive behind the second civil war in Sudan. John Garang (1940-2005), the leader of the SPLA, did his PHD thesis in socio-economic development in his native Jonglei area. However the project provided a soft target for the SPLA to launch its guerrilla war.

Today, Google pictures show Sarah the 50 million dollars excavator, still lying abandoned and rusted in the desert of Southern Sudan. Sarah the daughter is happily living in Khartoum with her two kids.


Shortly before the turn of the century, in the last quarter of 1999, Sudan started to export oil.

The relationship between China and Sudan goes back more than 120 years. Both countries shared animosity and hostility towards the famous British Major-General Charles Gordon (1833-1885), also known by his popular name Chinese Gordon.

During the Islamists era the relationship with China grew stronger and more profound. The Chinese political tradition of non-interference made China the paramount global ally of Khartoum. In the nineties, the Chinese built the longest pipeline in Africa that linked oil fields with Sudan’s main port in the Red Sea. Sudan represented an opportunity for China; to build its oil sector expertise, and secure its hunger for energy resources.

For China, the relationship with the ruling Islamist junta in Khartoum was equally important. Chinese support helped the regionally and internationally isolated regime during the 90s to breakaway from the western economic and political embargo. The flow of oil revenue in Khartoum, relieved the regime from its economic difficulties, induced foreign investment in the country but more importantly enabled it to maintain its political patronage network.


“Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists and every government that supports them. Our war on terror begins with Al Qaida, but it does not end there. …”
Sept. 20, 2001, President George W. Bush

George Bush’s message was clear. Overnight the relationship between the Islamists and Washington turned. The Islamists, who’s famous catchphrase during the nineties was “America and Russia’s riddance time is approaching”, suddenly became America’s faithful ally in the war on terror. (Reference is the glowing reports made by the CIA on Sudan’s collaboration in the war on terror.) Sudan provided CIA Agents with Al Qaeda’s file and all the information their possessed on their once upon a time friends. Not only did they provide information, but in fact Sudanese authorities captured, arrested, convicted and prosecuted many of their hosts. In 2004, out of the twelve major conventions and protocols against terrorism, Sudan has ratified eleven.

Sudan’s former Director of National Security and Intelligence Services was considered as the go to man in Sudan on the war on terror. Allegedly, he was flown to Washington in 2005 and presented valuable information on terror activities. In a recent interview, Abdel Karim Bilhaj, a Libyan fighter who played a major role in “Liberating” Libya from Ghaddafi (Military Governor of Liberated Tripoli at some point), mentions how the Islamic regime in Khartoum betrayed them and handed them to the Americans and Ghaddafi. The Islamists did whatever they could do to avoid American military interventions.

Khartoum continued to collaborate, but Khartoum’s goodwill was not reciprocated. Apart from commending Sudan for being a strong partner for its counterterrorism efforts and for aggressively pursuing terrorist operations that endangered US security, Sudan’s commendable efforts did not pay back. Washington neither removed Sudan from the list of the countries sponsoring terrorism, nor lifted its sanctions’ towards Sudan. For Washington two reasons justified its stance; firstly Washington does not pay for what it gets for free, secondly, a new war had ignited in the western region of the country, Darfur.


The dawn of the new millennium was momentous for the Sudanese people for both good and bad reasons. The early 20s brought with them a certain opening of the political and economic environment. The flow of oil revenues attracted foreign investment. All trends suggested that Sudan was on a path of prosperity and that it was ripe for investment, trade and partnership with the external world.

At the same time, the regime entered a process of political reconciliations with its opponents and the political parties were allowed to register and work inside the country. Consequently, Sudan witnessed an increased return of exiles and a wider tolerance for freedom of speech.

However, the regime paradoxically sent a contradictory signal to some opposition elements, making it clear that the regime could only be changed through an armed and violent struggle. President Bashir and different NCP leaders called for the opposition to carry weapons if they seek regime change, asserting that their path to power was forced and they would only let go of their rule by force. Such attitudes were to shape the course of the booming peripheral conflicts.

The name Darfur means the land of Fur. Historically Darfur has faced many years of tension over grazing land and water. However, the clashes between the indigenous pastorals and nomads were sporadic and have always been contained by community local leaders. Local tribal leaders were supported by the government, which delegates responsibility, though maintains an oversight role. Local administrative, tribal leaders and government officials have always maintained respect for each other’s sphere of responsibilities.

Unlike what has largely been depicted as an Arabs vs African war, the motivation behind the recent war in Darfur was marginalization. The conflict flared when rebels in 2003 decided to respond to president Bashir’s call for opposition to carry arms to make their voices heard. Just like the war in the South, the Darfur rebellion was rooted in peripheral negligence by the central regime in Khartoum. Sadly, these problems and grievances are not unique to Darfur, but a consequence of a governance failure emanating from Khartoum that affects all of Sudan.

Having said that, it is important to highlight how the Islamist governments’ inconsiderate and disproportionate response to the country-wide political crisis and neglect, in this case Darfur, escalated the conflict and turned it into a large scale war in Darfur, that is now approaching its tenth year.

The government responded to the small attack, with a brutal counter-insurgency campaign. Lt. General Ibrahim Suleiman who was Darfur’s governor when the rebellion erupted, was sacked from his position because of what was then considered a “soft policy”, due to his predisposition to listen to rebels’ demands. It is worth noting that it was during his tenure as chair of North Darfur security committee that Musa Hilal, the famous tribal leader, was detained and sent to prison. General Ibrahim Suleiman had his concerns about the increasing power and influence of some community leaders.

Narrating Darfur’s nine years of war falls beyond the capacity of this article. Nevertheless, the scene of those years fills everybody who has witnesses it with sadness. Darfur has an ancient history, a crossroad between the Arab and African world, a land of Islamic sultanate that provided shelter, food, market and pastures for the west African pilgrims on their way to Haj in Makka in the past centuries. Above all Darfur, like other regions of Sudan, has legitimate development demands.

These grievances deserve to have been dealt with better. Just as the South war was starting to wane after twenty years of continuous fighting, it seemed very clear that Islamists learnt nothing, maintaining their belief in solving problems through violence. One senior NCP leader was asked about the Darfur rebellion in its first days, he responded: “They are twenty people using ten cars, we’ll finish them in ten days!”. His timing proved considerably off.

Darfur represents yet another governance failure. Certainly, the Islamists are the ones responsible for breaking the social fabric and igniting sedition between the Darfurians, who have been living in harmony over the years. It was due to involvement from different segments of authority, that different groups in Darfur were fighting each other.

Al-Sadig Al-Mahdi (Umma party who rationally have the biggest influence and popularity in Darfur) could have demonstrated leadership responsibility and made a strong stance in the Darfur conflict for the sake of the people who gave not only their votes to the Umma in all previous elections, but also for the blood and souls they scarified throughout the history for the Mahadist movement, the backbone of the Umma party.

The Darfur rebel leaders, over the years failed to unite their goals and leadership. It was through their several splinter movements and internal divergence, that NCP was able to effectively play its brinkmanship policy of divide and rule. To many neutral observers the fragmentation of the rebellion into several factions in Darfurhas weakened the cause and generated fallacious, untrustworthy leadership.


The promise of a rich and prosperous Sudan, and the confident assertion by the Islamists that oil exploitation will bring about development, stability, equity and economic growth to Sudan, have all proved to be wishful thinking. Present economic circumstances suggest that oil revenues were not best employed.

Despite the giant Alfatih tower in the centre of Khartoum, new luxurious hospitals, foreign restaurants and the continued boom of residential towers in the capital, real growth and development was undermined. As a matter of fact, the economic development which took place in the country was both artificial and superficial, and largely unreal, as it did not respond to the priorities of the country. Pathetically, that development was linked to the spread of the latest communication technology which not only symbolised the unrealistic economy but also has had disproportionate social and political effects. In short, the reality was that Sudan was suffering a unique constellation of belated problems which although exemplified several world-wide trends, was in an environment of particularly strong contrasts. While it appeared to make democratic and economic strides, it was undeniably a locus of instability, military action, institutional corruption and superficial development.


In their second spell in power, whilst Islamists were busy with the concomitant luxury that oil revenue had brought, as well as in helping the Americans in their war on terror, the destiny of South Sudan was neglected.

When the Christian right took control of the White House office in 2000, Sudan’s civil war was one issue on the foreign policy table of the republicans. On his second day of presidency, President George W. Bush directed his staff to work on bringing an end to the longest war in Africa. Thanks to the Islamists who diverted the war in South Sudan from a mere civil war, to a religious war when they declared the holy war in the south, the issue of the war was of concern to the many influential evangelical Christians in Washington, who saw the war as being about the persecution of Christians in South Sudan.

Considering the various elements, the Bush administration changed the policy towards Sudan from a policy of isolation in the nineties to one of direct involvement. Under the pressure of the Christian groups, John Danforth a former senator and Episcopal Minister was appointed as Sudan’s presidential envoy. His main mission was to unlock the ongoing negotiations between the North and South. Danforth vigorously engaged himself as the mediator of the negotiations and later became the mastermind of the new US policy towards Sudan. “The devil you know”.

The marathon of negotiations was ended by the signing of the CPA in 2005. The CPA was a turning point in Sudan’s new history and eventually led to secession of the South in July 2011. The Islamists and SPLM, instead of each acting as premus inter pares, took on the burden of deciding on Sudan’s destiny on their own. Neither party possessed the legitimacy to represent the North or South. One Sudan was stipulated in the NIF charter, and one New Sudan was never thought to be questioned in the vision of SPLA leader John Garang.

With the new global circumstances, the SPLA seemed to accept the concept of a referendum. However they then demanded that any such referendum should include the redrawing of the 1956 boundaries of what constituted Southern Sudan. They additionally complicated matters by demanding that other areas of Sudan, namely the Nuba mountains and Ingasana hills, should also be afforded referenda on self-determination. Special protocol was drawn later in the CPA for the three new contested areas.

The challenges seemed to be bigger than any individual political polity. Many political Sudanese figures spoke out about the need to hold conferences to reach consensus over Sudan’s complex governance issues. Such initiatives could have empowered those who led the negotiations. But, power hubris was stronger than any attempts made to hone the voice of wisdom. Overwhelmed by the funds pouring in from oil, and under huge international pressure to sign a peace agreement, Islamists in Sudan paid the minimum degree of scrutiny, and insufficient heed to the obligations of patriotism.

21 days after signing the peace agreement the SPLA leader John Garang died in an airplane crash on the 30 July 2005. The death of the charismatic leader was a big setback to the newly signed CPA.

People are still debating whether South Sudan would have been separated had Dr. John Garang lived longer? The CPA granted the right of self-determination to the people of Southern Sudan, but the main feature of the CPA was that the two parties had to work together to promote and cement the idea of unity to make this attractive during the transitional period.

Despite all its shortcomings and its duality the CPA was a commendable work, as it created a unique system of one state-two systems. The challenge would be the implementation and maintaining the sustainability of the agreement.

Dr. John Garang was a leader who believed in the concept of a united Sudan. His passing is believed to be a trigger which strengthened the call for secession. Ali Osman Taha, the Sudanese vice President, and Dr. Garang, the two men who spent three years negotiating, kept many of the agreements secret. Some reports revealed that the strong friendship and trust built between the two men during the three years of negotiations was the guarantee for Sudanese Unity had Dr. Garang lived longer. Seemingly a gentlemen’s agreement between the two was made in the Nivasha resort.

Nevertheless, great nations were not meant to be built by the goodwill of the leaders. Dr. John Garang died and Taha had to leave Sudan for a while after the agreement. His departure to Turkey was mysterious and reports revealed severe disagreement after Nivasha within the NCP party. Taha and his group who signed the agreements and knew all its details were forced to back off. The NCP hardliners again formed the NCP caucus in the Government of National Unity (GONU). The formation of the GONU took longer than expected. The reason was vague but obvious to Sudanese observers. It was all to do with OIL.

In a manner akin to the American troops, when they surrounded the Ministry of Oil building in Bagdad in 2003 to protect it like strategic jewelry. Islamists insisted on retaining the Ministry of Oil, although it was agreed it would belong to the SPLA in the distribution of the GONU positions. Marathon negotiations and appeals were made to the NCP so as not to violate the agreement from its outset but all to no avail. NCP’s focus was elsewhere. The concept of attractive unity started to crack for the sake of the low hanging fruit “OIL”. In the end, Slava Kiir, Garang’s successor made it clear “we know it’s unfair but we won’t fight any longer for it. We’ll let NCP take it until the transitional period finishes, only then we’ll get back our land and oil fields”.
History was repeating itself. Just like after the Addis Ababa agreement, the Islamists actions were not of any help in formulating the paradigm of “attractive” unity.


President Omer Albashir made one of his last attempts in 2010 when he offered South Sudan all oil revenue if the Southern Sudanese would vote for unity. It was a desperate and late call. The South Sudanese overwhelmingly chose to secede. The president’s deeds and policies throughout the years had spoken louder.

The goodwill that the president showed towards South Sudan on the 9th July 2011 didn’t pay off. In fact president Bashir was treated as a pariah that day. In his speech in Juba, Bashir urged the United States and International community to lifts sanctions and pay the entitlements that were promised in the CPA. The president was pathetically reminding the world that he did his part, and in return he pleaded for the world to do its part. The Sudanese were shocked and saddened by the scene of the Sudanese flag going down in Juba on its independence day. Ironically, Bashir’s pledges were met with calls for more work. On the 9th July 2012, the President of South Sudan, Silva Kiir, witnessed the day he long fought for by fulfilling his soldiery oath.

President Bashir didn’t fight for such a day. President Bashir didn’t fulfill the oath he made to protect Sudan’s soil. President Bashir deprived Sudan from retaining its distinction of being Africa’s largest country. President Bashir divided Sudan but didn’t achieve peace for it, as out of the sixteen states, war is still ongoing in four states, and the country is on the brink of war with its new neighbor. History will be so harsh Mr. President, yet I whisper in your ear the famous Sudanese proverb that could best be translated as “forget the strayed herds, tend what remained”.

The Author is a Sudanese International Social Worker, he publishes his opinions at his blog website and different Sudanese forums. He can be reached at: mohamedelshabik@gmail.com

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  • 8 November 2012 06:59, by Mapuor

    Objectivity of this kind is what is needed.Forget the strayed herd,tend what has remained.Thank allot Mohamed Elshabik

    repondre message

  • 8 November 2012 11:36, by Paul Chadrack

    Mr Mohamed, are you crying, because south has gone for good?, the war in south sudan started in 1955, was Basir there?, it came because of your Marginalization policies which was used by all the so call arab in the north.

    repondre message

  • 9 November 2012 07:12, by George Bol

    This article is substantial but why educators in the North advise their counterpart about the problem of South and North.I think the North has failed to understand that the South Sudanese are people that can not be subjugate by all means but by relationship and fair trust.South can not be marginalized,it took long because we have our loss brothers who blindly supportJallaba other things would done

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