Behind the crisis in Sudan

October 2, 1991

The United Nations has appealed for $400 million in aid to help an estimated 22 million people affected by drought and civil war in the Horn of Africa. One of the countries worst afflicted is Sudan. The UN estimates that 8 million people in Sudan need emergency relief; malnutrition among young children exceeds 40% in some parts of the country. In southern Sudan, 1.3 million people lack food, shelter, access to water and medical supplies. MARIANO D. NGOR, deputy chairperson of the Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Association (SRRA) and the Friends of African Children Educational Foundation (FACE), explains the background to crisis.

Sudan has been at war internally since it gained independence from Britain on January 1, 1956. Successive governments have failed to construct a nation with which all citizens can identify regardless of race, sex, religion, region or political belief.

All Khartoum governments, military and civilian, have been sectarian dictatorships, basing their rule on racism and religious bigotry. The elite who succeeded the colonial administration mistook colonial policy for historical reality and continued to think in terms of northern Sudan against the south, or north against western Sudan.

Promises at independence to grant autonomy and equity in development to the south and west have not been honoured. Instead, successive governments have pursued a policy of annihilation of particular Sudanese communities.

The minister for war during the General Ibrahim Abboud regime (1958 to 1964) once said he was ready to depopulate the southern parts of the country. He admitted, without so much as a blush, that all he was interested in was the land. He was not bluffing: many villages were set on fire, and people who tried to escape were thrown back into the flames on the order of army officers.

Children, old women and youth were butchered in cold blood. Pregnant women were bayoneted in their wombs to destroy future rebels.

Atrocities and oppression led to armed conflict in 1955 that later escalated into full-scale civil war.

From 1972 to 1982, a degree of political stability was achieved after a peace agreement was signed in Addis Ababa. But this treaty was progressively undermined and ultimately abrogated in 1983.

Dictator Jaafar Al Nimeiri, who hoodwinked the world into believing that he had ended the civil war in 1972, secretly continued the campaign of genocide against the southern and central parts of Sudan, using retired soldiers or troops on leave. Nimeiri had said in 1970 that the war against the south was to defend Arab Islamic civilisation.

Civilians were ambushed and slaughtered by troops masquerading as bandits. Khartoum exploited and encouraged inter-tribal tensions. The Misseiriya and Rizeigat people, who had previously lived in harmony with the people of the central, western and southern parts of Sudan but who are racially and religiously akin to the ruling elite, were incited to attack their

These circumstances led in 1983 to the formation of the Sudan Peoples' Liberation Movement (SPLM) and its military component, the Sudan Peoples' Liberation Army (SPLA). For the first time since independence, a broadly based national progressive movement had emerged to champion democracy, social justice, national development and the integration of all nationalities in the country.

The SPLM became the leader of the popular struggle against Nimeiri's dictatorship. The SPLA was a match for Nimeiri's military, finally enabling the people to remove him. However, his generals were quick to steal the revolution.

Had the war against certain Sudanese communities ended with the overthrow of Nimeiri in 1985, we would have been ready to open another chapter in the history of our country. But it was not to be.

Nimeiri's successor, the civilian Sadiq al Mahdi, declared in 1987 that "Islam has a holy mission in Africa, and southern Sudan is the beginning of that mission. If the SPLM does not stop this war, the north will exterminate the south Sudan population."

Mahdi was overthrown in a military coup in June 1989 by Lieutenant-General Omar al Bashir, but the war has intensified. His regime has heightened the importance of religion by implementing Islamic law. Courts are now free to impose crucifixion, stoning and amputation.

The regime has imprisoned without trial leading academics and the entire leadership of trade unions and professional associations. Its armed militias are terrorising the southern, central and western Sudan. Thousands of women and children in drought-affected areas have been massacred or enslaved.

Bashir launched a policy of undermining the position of women under the banner of Islamic propriety. Sudan has a tradition of female participation in society. A large number of students at the universities have been women, and women have held senior positions in many government departments. Previous governments included women cabinet ministers. Women are now being dismissed from the public service, access to higher education is being restricted, and their freedom to travel is curtailed.

The present disaster is mostly human-made. The war has brought all development to a halt. Famine is inevitable when millions of peasants are driven from their homes, their cattle slaughtered and crops destroyed.

Since 1983, more than 500,000 refugees have sought sanctuary in south-west Ethiopia. However, since May, the refugees have been attacked and driven back into Sudan. They are being bombed continuously by Sudan Air Force jets.

The SPLM controls the whole of the rural south, some areas of Darfur, Kordofan and Blue Nile regions and the entire areas bordering the Central African Republic, Zaire, Uganda, Kenya and part of the iopia. It controls four of seven provincial capitals in southern Sudan.

The SRRA and the FACE Foundation objectives in Australia are to stimulate public interest and promote peace in Sudan. We gather donations for relief work and rehabilitation and development. We can be contacted at PO Box 438, North Adelaide 5006.

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