Breaking News

Is South Sudan A Brigde Between Arabism And Africanism

More than 70 per cent of the people who speak Arabic as a first language live in Africa, have African genes and have a culture of mixed Arab and African components.

African literature written in Arabic forms the third side of African literature alongside English and French. Unlike what is said by some Europeans called “half-intellectuals” by author Fadili Jamma the literature of the Arab Maghreb, Egypt and Sudan is not at all “just” Arab in nature; it is also African literature.

There are ten Arab countries in Africa. They constitute a real possibility for an ethnic and cultural mix leading to an Arab-African cultural revival. Of those countries, Sudan was the closest to achieving this; it was always referred to as a bridge of communication, and a cross between Arabism and Africanism. Professor Yahya Al-Awad quoted the late, great writer Tayeb Saleh, who said that Sudan’s strategic choice is to serve as a bridge for interaction between the North and South Sahara. This option is in line with Sudanese national interests, and in favour of liberating us from the prisons of Arabism and Africanism, where we’re not recognised by either.

Sudan is qualified to be the bridge between Arabism and Africanism because of its geography and demography; the richness of its diversity in terms of ethnicity, culture, religion and language has led to it being called Little Africa. However, for this qualification to materialise, three main conditions have to be met together: the construction of the modern state of Sudan post-independence; Sudan remaining united in the north and south, maintaining both its Arab and African dimensions; and building a two-way bridge between Arabism and Africanism, both to and from the north and south.

Unfortunately, the Sudanese elites have failed to achieve any of these conditions, which is a failure that hinders us to this day. It is a failure of such dimensions that it has almost killed the notion of the country being the Arab-Africa bridge.

The Arab Islamic elite in northern Sudan believe that it has a sacred mission to spread Islam and the Arabic language and culture in southern Sudan and beyond into the African hinterland. While I do not necessarily disagree about this, it must be done using peaceful means with genuine friendship and open interaction, with what is regarded as sacred not being the message on its own, but also the preservation of the mosaic of diversity. However, it seems that the northern elites did not take into account the sensitivity associated with this concept of Sudan being the bridge between Arabism and Africanism, and they have maintained the connection as a one-way street, from north to south only.

Meanwhile, the elites in the south accuse those in the north who call for Sudanese unity, and who deny the reality of diversity and pluralism, of thinking of the tribes in South Sudan as if they have little or no culture. Thus, insist the northerners, unity can only be achieved through converting those in the south to Islam and teaching them Arabic by force. The southern elites continue to point out that ignorance and fabrications have prompted the north to claim that Arabic, or the Arabic-Juba dialect, is the lingua franca of the different southern tribes. In fact, the Arabic language of Juba does not extend beyond the boundaries of the city after which it is named; it is not spoken by members of the Bari tribe who live around the city, let alone the other tribes of the South. Neighbouring tribes there either learn each other’s languages and speak to each other, or just communicate through a translator.

I think it is fair to acknowledge that the northern elites which ruled Sudan after independence proceeded with unprecedented enthusiasm, in the name of “patriotism”, to implement a policy of Islamisation and Arabisation of the South as the only solution to the war that started in Torit in August 1955. The cultural, religious and ethnic differences between the south and the north were not recognised until after the October 1964 revolution, under the interim government of Sirr Al-Katim Al-Khalifa. This was a positive breakthrough which was developed and led to the round table conference in 1965, attended by all political forces from North and South and representatives of seven African countries as observers: Egypt, Algeria, Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania and Ghana.

The conference failed to reach the desired results. The southern elites blamed their northern counterparts of uniting against some of the core points they raised. It is true that the Addis Ababa agreement signed by the Jaafar Nimeiri regime with the southerners saw Sudan enjoy a comprehensive peace that lasted eleven years, but the civil war was renewed after Nimeiri himself revoked the agreement. In this regard, prominent southern politician Dr Lam Akol says that Nimeiri violated the agreement after the 1977 reconciliation with the northern parties that were opposed to him, and remained opposed to the Addis Ababa agreement, and even claimed that there were secret clauses within it.

As for what’s left of the Arab-African bridge, it was destroyed by the imposition of the Islamic regime in Sudan under Omar Al-Bashir. This depended on a narrow partisan vision, through oppression and tyranny, using policies which assumed racial superiority, to the point of launching a Jihadist war in the south, as well as other policies and practices that continued until after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in January 2005. All of this paved the way for the separation of the south to form the new state of South Sudan in 2011.

In Khartoum magazine, in1981, Dr Musa Al-Khalifa wrote: “If a culture has assumed that its language is the best, and its religion is the best, and its member is the best, then it raises its citizens by projection to believe that other cultures are inferior. When looking at the problems of racism, we find that they result from the dominance of a particular culture, considering it as advanced and selected, and this is based on the concept that there is a higher culture and a lower one.”

Isn’t this what we have seen — and continue to see — in Sudan? Is it still a bridge between Arabism and Africanism?

No comments