Articles and Analysies
Sudanese Identity: Why the Renewal of the Question? by Salah Shuaib
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Jan 1, 2010 - 8:54:38 AM

Sudanese Identity:  Why the Renewal of the Question?

Salah Shuaib

The Sudanese questions being not satisfied by multiple answers are much diverse. However, let us first say that all our questions connected to the identity issue should be subjected to comprehensively constructive answers through an open and serious dialogue.

An aspect of the inability of the elites and the public in realizing the dream of a consistently progressed state is certainly linked to the lack of an accepted and rational definition of the Sudanese identity crisis.

In fact, our identity would have been supported by the people will expressed at conditions in which the opportunities for a democratic dialogue are equal. But in the failed states, the people will is nothing more than a deliberated manipulation by the rulers.

What was missing in the governmental tries to base the Sudanese identity is a practical system of the constitutional rights and duties that sustains the stability of the country and blocks the way of the political chaos caused by the identity conflicts.

Unfortunately, Sudan’s historic deteriorating policies did not allow us to hold the constitutional conference that all of the ethnic groups should been involved in, and not only the national parties, in order to formulate answers to the questions of the State identity, and also to make a road map on how we could establish a real homeland, judged by a nationally accepted accord.

That proposed constitutional conference which Albasheer’s July 1989 military coup event thwarted, was expected to pave the way for peace negotiations that might have solved the problem of Southern Sudan. Hopes were high, then, because the peace initiative signed by Garang and Almergani, indeed, represented a breakthrough in space policy of the last democratic system.

At that time one predicted that the peace initiative was able to address the issue of Sudanese identity before striking a reconciliation of how to present solutions for the other problems that have destabilized the country development.

But now, anyone looking at the Sudanese political field would inevitably conclude that those current national grievances, in the governing center and the marginalized areas, are doubled to those ones before the deadline of that proposed constitutional conference. To that, what is clear now is that the country is increasingly involved in clashes over ethnic identities rather than ideological ones.

In addition, Khartoum’s policy, in terms of form and essence, was assumed to be identical to our own reality as Sudanese. That means that matters such as restructuring the state, cultural rights, foreign policy, development projects, and the like, are assumingly consistent with the fact of our being history.

It is critically important to identify our (Sudanism reality) with the country findings, as one opines. This identification is the entrance towards what we persuade of humane goals and means, such as unity, peace, justice, progress, tolerance, development and stability, etc.

Even more so, the distortion of ethnic identities of other nations should not dissuade us from reexamining the definition of our identity, in order to bridge the gap between the ideal of identity conceived for us and what is reflected on the ground. Yet, it doesn’t matter much for those political critics that the identities of the United States, Sweden, Australia, and the like, are not ready to shape. In fact, these global conditions should not obviate us from searching the exact identity fitting for our people. Moreover, it is not we who reject posing the question of identity just because of the existence of theoretical references on identity that see the issue of identity as so vague.

“Who are we?” is a question doesn’t need a long and complicated interpretation, but the ignorant policies of the post-independence authorities responded to such a question by the form in which it has given Arabism room to rise above the cultural models of other Sudanese boundaries.

"We have planned to impose the Arab and Islamic identity on the entire country”, says Alnour Hamad, “and that act was filibustering the experiment of the Sudanese nation that would have be judged by a constitution, which gives rights on the basis of citizenship, and not on the basis of religious affiliation, or political, or ethnic, or gender, or regional, or class background. The forced scheme of Islamization and arabization, after the independence, has led us to survive the danger of the self-determination.”

In this climate of cultural imposition, the Southerners and others who do not speak Arabic have become just an audience only, and not producers, of the national literature. They were audience for news programs of the Omdurman Radio and the national television, and not the creators of events and decisions.

If those marginalized Sudanese were eager to present their songs, the official committees, responsible for filtering the cultural productions of  the country’s radio and television, had already identified that the criteria of “Omdurman song” is the standard for all the Sudanese singers, no matter what is their difference of cultural environment. And, if those officials were kind enough to make concessions for those singers coming from marginalized areas, they would determine a short time from the general broadcasting called “the boundaries song”, with no enough artistic helps that apply to those singers who present the Omdurman song.

The miss is not only that, the center norm was that the presenters of radio and television talk shows have to comply with the language of Omdurman, and this means that there is no way to the marginalized area languages to expose themselves and reflect the reality of diversity. In this tradition, the potential of the people of these marginalized areas to employ in broadcasting apparatuses would be nothing.

For our brothers in the south, it looks as if the governing center norms tell them that the national television is not national as they understand what the meaning of “national” should be. They are not qualified to read the news, and their songs are undesirable in the order of the mentioned official committee.

And for one to become clearer in telling the truth, the central cultural climate is welcoming not the south customs, and that Sudan’s information instruments are used in the service of for Muslim and Arab mainly, and not those Southerners.

The question of identity in Sudan is almost suffocated by some intellectuals who have always stressed that the benefit of thinking about identity doesn’t belong to the people concerns. Other attempts of suffocation come, sometimes, with treason messages. And they say that the concept of identity is academically problematic, that in order to make any dialogue on identity difficult. It is true, however, that the identities of the other nations are unstable and doomed to endless examples. But the must is that we are obligated to build on the initial consensus on our identity type, which is carefully taken from the cultural heritages of all the Sudanese ethnic groups.

Consequently, some researchers have already determined that the talk about identity is not important, and that what is important is the establishment of a social system that meets the conditions of citizenship. That determination is of what should be valued, but it doesn’t apply to those who carefully reread concepts to reach to a new level of enrichment of national aims.

In the cultural field, there are no definitive answers to the matters people are concerned about, as well as the understanding of the political issues differs between a generation and another. If the previous generations made enough controversy on the affairs of religious interpretations, artistic schools, the duties of the State towards those who make it, then there are no obligations for the new generation to ignore such concepts. Therefore, matters connected to our identity, such as Arabism and Islamism and Africanism, are requiring new and dare debate, as long as that such a cultural field could be energized by unlimited answers to Sudan’s problematic subjects.

Salah shuaib is a Sudanese writer and journalist. He can be reached at [email protected] 

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