The Role of Arab-Islamic Elite in the Matters of War and Peace: North-South Relationship
Charles K Deng
I have argued in the first part of this article that the Arab-Islamic elite is proving once more that it has learnt very little from thirty-eight years of military rule and twelve years of the myopic sectarian governments. It has presented in the media, a doomsday scenario about whether the recently signed peace agreement is capable of achieving peace and prosperity for the Sudan failed state. It is indeed evident that the Arab-Islamic elite is—as usual—irresponsibly mishandling the issues of war and peace. It sees nothing in the agreement, but only the possible partnership between the SPLM/A and the hated theocratic Khartoum regime. This aspect of the agreement is given excessive attention and prominence—accompanied by the outrageous claims that the South is responsible for the miseries of Sudan—at the expense of the most important provisions of the peace agreement.
If such is the attitude and rhetoric of the Arab-Islamic elite, and if the country is ultimately divided, the Arab-Islamic elite will bear—if not all—the greatest share of responsibility for such a dramatic end of Sudan. It has failed to play the role that elite has played around the world. In Europe, it was the elite, which brought about the downfall of the feudalistic Europe Again, it was the elite that spearheaded the French revolution under the slogan of the separation of church and state. In India, a country that resembles the Sudan in every essential aspect, it is the elite, led by Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru and the Congress Party, that kept the unity of India, despite the disparate ethnicities constituting India. These leaders and the Congress Party successfully resisted the call by the Hindu majority that the country be governed in accordance with Hindu religion and language.
Since the early fifties of the last century, the Indian Congress Party intentionally adopted economic, social and administrative policies aimed at achieving social justice and preserving the unity of India, making India a formidable developing industrial giant and the largest democracy in the world today. Given a better vision, how much the northern sectarian parties and the Arab-Islamic elite could have done to avoid the situation the Sudan is presently in? In 1936, instead of Sudan Graduate Congress following the footsteps of the Indian Congress Party, the graduates adopted the name, leaving by way side the content that made the Indian Congress Party a great party, and this is manifest in the role the Arab-Islamic elite played in the constitutional development of Sudan.
In the mid-forties of the last century and all of a sudden, the British colonialists decided to unite the Sudan, a country they had never ruled as a united entity (the closed districts policy and separate advisory legislative body for the north only). Against this backdrop, the British colonialists organized two conferences: the Sudan Administration Conference 1946 and the Juba Conference 1947. The two conferences were a watershed in the history of the Sudan, particularly the Juba conference 1947. Although southern Sudan was not represented in the Sudan Administrative Conference of 1946, that conference decided, among other things, on the unity of the Sudan.
The 1947 Juba conference was convened and chaired by the Colonial Civil Secretary, Sir James Robertson, during which he told the conferees “as you know, there has been for the last three years in Northern Sudan an Advisory Council and one of the recommendations made by the Sudan Administration Conference is to develop the Advisory Council into a more authoritative and responsible body, with power of making laws and to some extent of controlling the work of the administration”. Sir James Robertson also told the conferees that one of the recommendations of the Sudan Administration Conference was that the South should send representatives to new assembly to be formed. The reasons given by Sir Robertson for such a course were, first, if the Sudan were to become self-governing and self-dependent, it must not be divided up into small week units; second, though the Sudan was a vast country in area, it was small in wealth; and third, the sooner the South and North came together and worked together, the sooner they would begin to coalesce and cooperate in the advancement of their country.
It became therefore abundantly clear to the southern representatives at the conference (the South was represented by 18 delegates, mostly chiefs and clerks) that the British colonialist had decided to unite the country. And the purpose of the conference was to ascertain whether or not the “South was to throw in its lot with the North and to be represented in the Legislative Assembly, which was then envisaged”.
Generally, the 18 representative of the South had, in principle, no objection to the unity of the Sudan, provided that the following guarantees were accepted:
• Respect, preservation and encouragement of Southern cultures, including its languages, traditions, beliefs and heritage.
• Commitment to equality between citizens in the future united Sudan.
• Commitment to racial equality.
• Rapid economic development and expansion of education among southerners (it is to be noted that until that time (1947) there only existed a one year old high school, Rumbek Secondary School).
• Participation of Southerners in the administration of the country, on the national level, and if the Sudan were to become independent, it should be based on federal system(see 1947 Juba Conference Minutes).
At the conclusion of the conference, Sir James Robertson emphasized the fact that the conference was “exploratory only and that no decisions were being taken”. He further reiterated that Northerners and Southerners were suspicious of each other; and that Northerners suspected the South of “separation”, while Southerners suspected the North of future “domination”.
However, some southern analysts still conclude that Juba conference was not about unity but the participation of southerners in the Advisory Council. I believe that the conclusions of these southern analysts are not supported by the explicit wards of Sir James Robertson quoted above and by his subsequent statements on this subject before his death. An objective reader of the salient historical facts of that epoch would conclude that both, the British and northern elite, had their hidden agendas. The British colonialists had their eyes and hearts set on Suez Canal Zone and its strategic importance for Great Britain. Due to the historical claim of sovereignty by the family of Mohammed Ali Pasha over the north Sudan initially, the British also knew how dear the Sudan was to the Egyptian monarchy. To be sure, the British did not want to go as far as conceding sovereignty over the Sudan to the Egyptians, but would please the Arabs of the Middle East, if Southern Sudan were appended to the North. This is clear from the words of Sir James Robertson when he says that: “The policy of Sudan government (meaning the British colonialists) regarding Southern Sudan is to act upon the fact that the people of Southern Sudan are distinct African and Negroid, but that geography and economics combined (so far as can be seen at present time) render them inextricably bound for future development to the Middle East and Arabia and Northern Sudan: and to ensure that they shall by educational and economic development be equip to take their places in future as socially and economically the equals of their partners of the Northern Sudan in the Sudan of future.”
What Sir James was saying in the above quoted sentence was that Egypt would not have the northern Sudan as part of the so-called unity of the Nile Valley, but appending the South to the North might please them and the Arabs of the Middle East. The rest of the quotation is superfluous, and was intended to be a decoration to please southerners. Indeed, the colonialists were in the business of buying and selling, a quid pro quo.
Nonetheless, the Egyptians were still highly suspicious of the British agenda in the Sudan and had rallied the support of the Arab-Islamic elite under the banner of “the unity of the Nile Valley”, meaning practically that the British should not be allowed to separate Southern Sudan from the rest of the country. In addition to its support for the Egyptian claim, the Arab-Islamic elite had their own private agenda, which wanted the inheritance from the British of the animist backward African tribes of Southern Sudan, so it could experiment with arabization and islamization of purely African people of the South.
The rest of the conference proceedings were devoted to Sir James Robertson reporting on the 1946 conference and plenary discussions between the northern delegations composed of well-educated elite and the southern representatives, most of whom were chiefs and clerks in the colonial administration. As intimated above, southerners had no problem with the unity of the Sudan, but wanted time and guarantees such as allowing southerners to get more education before joining the North in one legislative council, as was suggested by Sir James Roberson. Southerners also proposed the setting-up of a separate advisory council, before joining the legislative council proposed for the whole country. This meant the legislative council could be set-up for the north, while southerners begin to learn about legislation in their a separate advisory council, but this was watered down to rapid development of local government, i.e., local and province councils. Further, some southerners expressed the need for guarantees, including federalism if the country were to be independent in the future. Sir James Robertson and his northern allies, time and again, explained that the conference was “exploratory” in nature and no decision would be taken in the matters under discussions.
This was the story of Juba conference and Southern acceptance of unity with some guarantees such as federalism. The only support for the Southern viewpoint came from the visionary Ibrahim Bedri who argued that federalism was the only system suitable for the Sudan. The rest of the members of Arab-Islamic elite delegation, supported by the colonialists, were silent. Ironically, however, and since the Juba conference, the North has accused the South of being the mouthpiece of the their masters, meaning the British colonialists. All the northern political parties have repeatedly used this accusation over and over for the last fifty years. Notwithstanding, the relative social and economic development preference the colonialists gave to the North, the rigged outcome of the proceedings of Juba conference and the events that led to independence of Sudan in 1956, the North did not see that British policy in the South as a policy of abject neglect, it rather perceived it as anti-Islam and Arabism, and one favoring the separation of the South. I do not absolutely understand how the Arab-Islamic elite has become to understand how such policy became British favoritism of the South. In any case, Southerners have allowed this accusation to stand for so long that it almost became an established fact. It is time for southern scholars to give attention to this unfounded historical allegation and prove to all Sudanese and the world that the opposite is true.
After 1947, the British colonialists put the Sudan on the fast tract to independence. In 1948, the Legislative Assembly was established for the whole Sudan, and South was represented by a couple of handful members. The problem was that this whole debate about independence was conducted within extremely limited circles to the exclusion of the South. On December 13, 1950, the Legislative Assembly passed a motion requesting the Condominium Governments to declare self-government for the Sudan before the end of 1951.Three southern members of the Assembly opposed the motion, among them was late Both Dhiue, who clearly stated that if the Sudan were to attain self-government and if the South were to remain part of a united Sudan, then federalism must be accepted. Now this was the second time southerners had raised the issue of federalism.
The Colonial Governor-General of the Sudan responded positively to the motion, and a constitutional draft committee was formed. Both Dhiue represented Southerners in the committee, while Stanislaus Pysama and Benjamin Loqui took up southern representation in the sub-committee, charged with the drafting of the electoral law. Both Dhiue again raised the issue of federation during the deliberations of the committee. Again, it was Ibrahim Berdri who supported the southern viewpoint.
The proceedings of the constitutional committee went smoothly. However, in 1951, the Egyptian prime minister, al-Nahas Pasha, abrogated the Condominium Agreement and Anglo Egyptian Agreement of 1936 and called for King Faroug of Egypt to become the sovereign of Sudan. As a result, five northern members of the committee called for the Sudan to be placed under the UN trusteeship, because the Condominium governments had lost their legitimacy due to the fact that one of the parties to the Condominium, Egypt, had abrogated the Condominium Agreement of 1899. When that demand of these members was rejected and before any draft could be submitted to the Sudan Government, the northern members—who constituted a little more than 99% of the committee—resigned (see Dr. M Khalid, The Role of Elite in the Sudanese Politics, 1993).
The British colonial authority in the Sudan had no other choice but to continue down the road of self-government and ultimately independence. Judge Stanley Baker of the Khartoum High Court was given the task of drafting the 1952 Self-Government Act, using the minutes of the deliberations of the constitutional committee.
\Some provisions of the Self-Government Act granted special powers to the Governor-General for the protection of the civil service and the three Southern Provinces. Indeed, the colonial authority knew precisely the consequences of giving the Arab-Islamic elite complete control over the whole country during the self-government period (see M. Khalid, supra). Regardless of the Sudan colonial administration concerns about the constitutional development in the Sudan, the Foreign Office in London (the Sudan unlike many British colonies in Africa was administered by the Foreign Office, not by the Colonial Office) had different ideas. Southern Sudan did not show in the political radar of the Foreign Office, Suez Canal was of strategic importance more than some few millions naked Africans in Southern Sudan. Based on Baker’s constitution, elections were held in late 1952, and were won by al-Azhari and his National Unionist Party (NUP).
During this period, Sudanese in the colonial civil administration were—almost all of them from the north—given more responsibilities for the administration of the country. As confidence-building measure, many northern civil servants were transferred to the South. The experiment began disastrously, as the new masters, in the eyes of the South, limited their presence among the few jallabas (northern Arab petty traders), and treated southerners and their traditional way of life with utter disrespect and contempt.
Hence, on the one hand, the British colonialists were not indeed interested in the internal balance of political power between the North and the South, but with external question of Egyptian claim of sovereignty over the Sudan and the their retention of continued stay of the British army in the Suez Canal. The Arab-Islamic elite, on the other, simply considered southerners as a colorful appendage to what they deemed as Arab-Islamic Sudan. Mohammed Ahmed Al-Nigumi later wrote in A Great Trusteeship (London, the Caravel Press, 1957) and quoted in Gerad Prunier (The Identity Crisis: The Making of The Sudanese Civil War):
Let us keep in mind that our Southern brothers have practically no taste
for politics and political constitutions and that party politics and
political propaganda, if practiced in their country, would lead to
confusion and give chance to crooks to assume false leadership…
What they need is…progressive work to improve their lot and bring
them as quickly as possible to the intellectual standard of the North,
with least publicity…They need an honest stern coaching with the
agility and caution of a lion’s trainer and a long-term plan of immigration
to their country. Through this free and unrestricted mixture…our mutual
problems will dissolve so that within two to three generations there will be
no Northerner or Southerner (emphasis added).
In February 1953, a conference to decide the future of the Sudan was convened in Cairo. All northern political parties attended it; even some among those who represented the northern parties, a number of them were actually the presidents and general assemblies of some of the parties invited to the conference. Southerners and all non-Arab-Islamic parties were entirely excluded from a conference that had to decide the future of the Sudan. A situation, which made Sir Ralph Richardson, the British High Commissioner to Cairo, to ask the question why Southern Sudanese were not represented at the conference. Major Salah Salim, a member of Egyptian junta, which took power in Egypt in July 1952, audaciously answered the British diplomat that the northern parties represented the South, and there was no need for the presence of southerners. The Cairo meeting resulted in the Anglo-Egyptian Agreement, which paved the way for progressive British disengagement from the Sudan. That Agreement provided, among other things, for self-government period to be followed by a referendum in which the Sudanese would decide whether to become independent or unite with Egypt.
1954 was an uneventful year but was characterized by the decisions of the Sudanization Commission, comprising of senior Northern civil servants, British and Egyptian colonial officials. The results of Sudanization Commission were derisory to the whole south. Out of the top 800 administrative positions vacated by the British and the Egyptians 794 went to northerners. The army officers’ hierarchy was taken over by the north. A southern trader ( businessman in today’s terminology) expressed it elegantly: “It looks as if our northern brothers are out to colonize us for another one hundred years.”(see Gerad Prunier above). For political expediency, the Arab-Islamic elite could not find three southerners they could make governors of the three Southern Provinces(see M. Khalid, supra).
Under these circumstances, the Southern Equatoria Corps based in Torit exploded, and it exploded precisely on August 18, 1955. Torit revolted in a bloody fashion; many newly transferred northern army officers were killed by their junior southern soldiers. For the southern soldiers it was an insult to be treated in the manner northern officers treated them. There was no attempt from the part of Northern officers to gain the confidence and loyalty—a thing most civilized army officers do around the world—of their southern soldiers, but treated them with contempt, in the same manner and fashion their civilian counterparts in the administration treated the southern civilians.
Thus, in the Sudan, whatever might have been the political reality—and it was a grim reality, particularly after Torit revolt and before the colonialists could pack their bags—the Arab-Islamic elite, whether in power or outside it, could not see the course the country was heading to. Rather than looking into the causes of the revolt, the Arab-Islamic elite called for revenge against those who participated in the Torit revolt. Kangaroo military courts were set up and southern officers, as few as they were, and NCOs who were accused of participation were hurriedly condemned and executed—except for those who managed to take to the bush, later on forming the nucleus of Anyanya Movement. Again the British colonialists helped the north in dealing with Torit revolt. The Governor-General cut his leave and senior British army commanders were sent to the South to deal with the mutiny. The Arab-Islamic did not only applaud the British help in containing the mutiny, but approved of such an unfair justice, and prime minister, al-Azhari, described the Torit revolt as a “storm in a tea cup”.
Since that time, Southern Sudan came under martial law, which persisted and remained in place until the present day. Nonetheless, this did not register in the conscience of the Arab-Islamic elite that something must be wrong in the “Kingdom of Denmark”. On the contrary, it encouraged, governments after governments, the continuation of such policies in the South and along the same path of emergency laws for the last fifty years. Consequently, one-third of Sudan knew no civilian life for so long a time. Indeed, such political existence must have negative repercussions for the whole country, and presently, no amount of wailing by any section of the Arab-Islamic elite will prevent the Sudan falling apart.
A little more than four months after the Torit Revolt, and precisely on December 19, 1955, al-Azhari decided that the Sudan should become independent and the declaration of such independence should be made in parliament, notwithstanding the provisions of Anglo-Egyptian Agreement of 1953. That agreement provided that self-determination for the Sudan should be put before the Sudanese people in a referendum to decide whether Sudan would become independent or be under the Egyptian Crown. As the decision of independence was to be made inside parliament, requiring the unanimous vote of the representative of the Sudan, Southern representatives made it very clear that there was no way they would be a part of such decision if the issue of federation were not settled.
Realizing the importance of southern vote in favor of independence and those southern members of parliament might spoil the party, the northern Arab-Islamic elite found, perhaps, some fundamental truth in the old adage that “The dealer always cheats”. Consequently, the elite came up with a deception that southern demand for federation would be taken into consideration when writing the permanent constitution. With this obvious cunning, southern representatives in parliament agreed, and on December 1955, the parliament voted unanimously, in a spectacular show of national unity, for the declaration of independence of the Sudan. Under that unanimity, al-Azhari raised the flag of independent Sudan on January 1, 1956. However, one month thereafter that agreement was forgotten, and al-Azhari threatened every southern Member of Parliament who insisted on federation would be dealt with the “use of full force of steel”(to be continued).