Title: Questions of National Unity, leadership and Cultural Identity in Sudan *By: Taha Daoud
Author: طه داوود
Date: 12-01-2020, 01:24 PM
01:24 PM December, 01 2020
Above title is connected to a number of entity-related questions/problems. These unanswered questions have been challenging our country all the way through its modern history, and continually adding more sophistications to our fragile sociopolitical conditions.
Said questions may be briefly stated as follows:
Why our consecutive governments since 1956 till date, civil or military, continued involving in domestic wars leading to disastrous outcomes on all levels on the top of which was the separation of South Sudan in 2011؟
Why our communities resort to tribal or regional alliances in times of uncertainty or unrest؟
Are they leadership problems or nationwide ones؟
Could they be classified as elite issues or community issues؟
Are they created by the ruling regimes or by public or by both؟
Although Sudan has become an independent state since 1956, aforementioned problems have been left without any solutions, or even serious attempts to reduce their short and long run impacts on different aspects of life. Our successive ruling regimes whether civil or military together with their supporters from the elites, failed in bearing the responsibility towards their people. Those regimes were behind today’s dilemmas which our country is suffering from.
In 1821, Muhammad Ali Pasha, ruler of Egypt (1805-1848) sent large military troops to occupy his southern neighboring country, to put his hands on its rich mineral resources, and to recruit its strong and brave men in his armed forces.
With less efforts, the invaders defeated the Sudanese weak and scattered kingdoms and Sheikhdoms whose powers and legitimacy were mainly derived from tribal loyalties rather than nationwide support.
The occupation of Sudan by the Turco-Egyptian troops produced a new situation, new rules, new regulations and strangers on all key positions. In fact, the new government system with its unfamiliar actions contributed in broadening the gap between the people and the new administration.
However, it is worth-mentioning that, the occupation authorities did a great favor for Sudan by combining the scattered sultanates and sheikhdoms into one entity under a central government based in Khartoum, the capital city, which was chosen and established by the occupation in 1821.
Abovementioned unification was limited to the geographical and political aspects only, because the awareness of citizenship and national affiliation was not well rooted among the people, and the new administration was not keen to boost such concepts, instead, it focused all efforts to protect the territories and collect heavy taxes from the public and exploit the huge gold resources.
Actually, tax collection from people suffering from poverty was unbearable burden, and it was the biggest field of corruption of the Turco-Egyptian Administration.
Sir Samuel Baker describes the tax system in Sudan during his visit to Khartoum in 1862 as (a bad and an unparalleled looting practice in history. The Turkish and Egyptian soldiers of Khartoum military base were mercilessly beating the people of Khartoum to force them to pay the amounts haphazardly calculated by the soldiers, and sending armed troops to attack sorghum stores and cattle barriers in the remote districts)- Sudan Modern History (119: 2018).
People started some sort of resistance against the oppression, corruption and unfairness practiced by the government. Those movements were growing and widening over the time, and were a true expression of people's anger and objection. The protest continued until the break out of the Mahdist revolution in 1881.
Once declared by its leader Mohamed Ahmed Al-Mahdi on March 1881, the Mahdist revolution rapidly attracted followers from all over the country. This strong startup of the revolution though the situation was so risky, is attributable, in my view, to the charismatic personality of Mohamed Ahmed Al-Mahdi himself. Al-Mahdi was a difference maker. He was confident enough to gain the trust of his subordinates.
Thus, thousands of enthusiastic fans from all districts of Sudan migrated to him to become his loyal fighters in all his coming deadly battles against the enemies and invaders until the final victory in 1885.
As stated above, on the top of the factors behind this great success of the Mahdist movement is his leadership skills. People were in lack of someone who can organize them and exploit their hidden powers and utilize their will and enthusiasm in the right direction, and Al-Mahdi was the right leader at that moment. He was able to utilize his own talents and skills to trigger the energy of millions of people towards achieving certain goals and objectives.
However, the sudden death of Al-Mahdi formed a big shock to all his followers. They were not expecting that their inspiring leader will suddenly disappear in such a critical moment, as he repeatedly promised his followers that he will lead them to open Egypt, Makkah and Iraq where he will die!
The unexpected death of Al-Mahdi contributed greatly in the quick collapse of the Mahdist state. The masses supporting him, though shocked by the sad news, were able to get back to reality, to square one, sadly the square of hostility, tribal alliances and disputes over lands.
The British forces, supported by Egyptian military, succeeded in defeating the Mahdist state and reoccupying Sudan in 1898 forming a ruling coalition between Egypt and Britain known as the condominium rule, but the actual power was under the British partner leaving a very limited role to the Egyptians whose country was already under the British Administration.
Did the British Administration succeed or fail in establishing a modern state and a new civil society with a new vision where priority is given to nationwide goals instead of narrow tribal loyalties؟
I believe that the British Administration had partially succeeded in achieving the geographical unity of the country and in creating strong and reliable transport and communication infrastructure that helped connecting its remote districts. Also the British Administration was successful in establishing modern cash crops schemes which secured permanent and seasonal jobs for hundreds of thousands of people from different districts and ethnicities. Nonetheless, said advances had limited effect on enhancing citizenship and social solidarity among the people.
Therefore, our national unity crisis has not ended after the departure of the colonial regime in 1956. We continued celebrating our independence day every year, but we failed to understand the real meaning of independence and the real meaning of freedom. Our elites proved all the time that they are unable to lead the nation.
To sum up, it would be crucial to all concerned parties to frankly address our long-lasting questions on national unity, leadership and identity.
Though it is so difficult to give specific answers to such questions due to the strong interconnecting lines between the concerned parties, but generally, we can confirm that all parties are responsible, i.e. the crisis originates at the bottom, in the society at large, then moves up to the top line, the line of the ruling entities and their supporting elites.
So, any answer to such questions should be based on a comprehensive sociocultural analysis tackling the identity question. We must recognize that we have multi identities striving to express their richness and diversity. We need some sort of a formula or a reform plan to remove all obstacles, pave the way and give equal chances to such mixed cultures to be seen by all, rather than keeping them hidden and ignored.