By Omer M Shurkian*
August 31, 2006 — The Sudan, as a country, is continually evolving culturally, ethnically and socially. It has been a ‘multi-cultural’ state for years, but race issue throughout these years had controversially occupied, and it still plays a pivotal role in, Sudan’s enigma. This is true because the indigenous groups in the Sudan are generally the most disadvantaged and poorest sections of the community and often feel ‘strangers in their own land’. The miserable situation of the indigenous peoples’ affair is enacted and endorsed by successive central governments in Khartoum that attended to more marginalisation of these groups in the machine of power. This crisis of governance gives rise to socio-economic inequality, which often hampers development, education, health and reduces the standard of living of so many a people. It does not only erodes but it undermines all indicators of social capital which would have acted as a buffer against socio-economic disadvantage suffered as a result of the lack of exploitation of abundant and untapped economic resources. Nevertheless, what is crucial is that in a vast country like the Sudan fundamental questions should arguably be separated from the idiosyncratically personal interests and subjective values of the arguers. Objectively, the arguments should not rest on extraneous factors such as the chimerical outcry of foreign collusions; instead, it should be socially scientific and dictated by relevant considerations to the undertaking ventures if the Sudan were to be redeemed from teetering towards the edge of catastrophe. Nonetheless, a large section of population in the Sudan is more downbeat, burdened with disappointments and replete with unexpressed dissent. The indigenous Beja people in Eastern Sudan are one example of such downtrodden community.
The impasse in Eastern Sudan in which the Beja represent a cornerstone can be examined through the model of critical social theory and the way it deals with the problem of resistance within communities. In other words, the theory is an appropriate one because it seeks to articulate resentment, thwarted desires and repressed needs, and the felt grievances of the Beja people by focusing on an account of the dynamics of the situation in which they find themselves in not by default, but by design. The paper seeks to demonstrate that the Beja have chosen to act in the specified way, including armed struggle, to provide a vocabulary in virtue of which they and their situation can be expressed, to explain why the conditions in which they find themselves are frustrating to them and to rid themselves of dissatisfactions through a programme of action.
THE BEJA PEOPLE: HABITAT AND HISTORY
The indigenous Beja people are nomads who have inhabited the semi-desert area in the Red Sea coast of Sudan and the hilly country behind it for thousands of years. The ancient Egyptians referred to them as the people of Buka or Medju (Medjay), the Romans dubbed them Blemmyes and in the Odessa they were described as Erembes. The Pharaohs called them Absha, meaning ‘the desert dwellers’ – that is, the Bedouins in Arabic language - and Ramses II called them Beja, purporting ‘fighters’. It is important to note that besides the Nubians, it is well documented that the Beja were employed in the Egyptian army and were credited for their fortitude and the expulsion of the Hyksos from Egypt. The war-like Blemmyes (Beja) had normally fought with curiously shaped bows, and it was from them that the tribes of Hijaz and Yemen (in Arabia) – and the other Arab tribes – adopted the use of the bow. The Nubians, on the other hand, were called by the Arabs the ‘archers of the eye’, because of their accuracy and ability to shoot a foe through the eye-slits of his helmet. Historically, the Beja ruled the vast territory of theirs in five kingdoms – namely, the Naqis, Baqlin (Taflin), Bazin, Jarin and Qat’a (Qit’a, also perhaps Qas’a).(1)
THE BEJA POPULATION AND TRIBES
The Beja population is divided into a number of tribes and sub-tribes. The main groupings include: the Amarar, Besharin, Hadendawa, Halanga and Beni Amer, whereas Arteiga, Ashraf, Kamalab, Malheitkanab, Sigolab, Shailab, Kimilab, Hassanab, Memran and Habab are considered as sub-tribes. The first four and a few of Beni Amer speak a Hamitic language – namely, Bedawi, Bedauye or To Bedawie – while most of Beni Amer speaks Tigré, a Semitic tongue. The Bedawi language is an Afro-Asiatic language; it is often seen as Cushitic, but several scholars, notably Robert Hetzron, have regarded it as an independent branch of Afro-Asiatic; but Idris Mohamed Jameil emphatically disagrees with the argument that the Beja belong to Kush son of Kana’an son of Ham son of Noah. Rebutting this theory as the Israelite interpretation of history, Jameil claimed that the Beja are Semites, corroborating his own belief by alleging that a number of Arab tribes migrated from the Kingdom of Himyar in southern Yemen and resettled in the Bejaland after the destruction of Ma’arb Dam in the third century BC, including the Bali and Rabe’ia tribesmen – namely, the two branches of the Qahtaniyya tribe. Due to their fighting characteristics, the Bali became the ruling dynasty in the Beja territory, but, eventually, they were annihilated by the indigenous Beja people because of the wars they created. The intermarriages of these new settlers with the local population produced some sections of the Beja people with all their distinctive features, Jameil claimed. As for the word Beja, he concluded that it was an Arab misnomer of Badu (nomads).(2)
THE BEJA, THE ARABS AND THE NUBIAN CONNECTIONS
The history of migration of man is a complex process since it is intertwined with spiritual belief, mysterious stories and archaic factors that make it rather impossible to attest. What makes this process too difficult to prove is the lack of historical annals and the reluctance of researchers to conduct studies, using archaeological records, Sudanese oral tradition and the travel descriptions of the early explorers. Invariably, a number of ethnic groups in the Sudan have traced their origins to outside the country and the Arabs are a typical example. From the available literature, the Arabs have been divided by historians into three classes according to their great ancestors. They are:
• The perished Arabs who were supposedly punished by destruction and deluge because, as legend has it in the holy book of Qur’an, they flagrantly disobeyed their Prophets and flouted God’s instructions; they were: ‘Add, Thamood, Tasam, Jadeis, Imlaq and so forth.
• The pure Arabs, who are believed to have descended from Ya’arub ibn Yashjub ibn Ghatan and thus called Ghataniyun, had lived in the Yemen; they included a number of tribes and sub-tribes, but only two of these tribes became prominent – viz., Himyar (with three sub-divisions) and Kahlan (with eleven sub-divisions).
• The Arabised Arabs: they are those who can be identified with Prophet Abraham, his Egyptian-born wife, Hajir, and their son, Isma’il. They settled in Mecca. His progeny formed this category of Arabs who normally called themselves ‘Adnaniyun – that is, after their great grandfather, ‘Adnan.
For a number of causes, the authentic Arabs from southern Arabia migrated within the Arab Peninsula and without. These reasons can be summarised as follows:
• the disruption of their trade to the utmost degree as a result of the domination of the Anbat Kingdom in northern Hijaz, severing their trade route between Yemen in the south of Arabia and Sham in the north;
• the Roman control of maritime routes in the wake of their colonisation of Egypt, Syria and northern Hijaz;
• the inter-tribal disputes within the Yemen itself – namely, the clashes between the Hamdan and the Himyar tribesmen; and finally
• the collapse of Ma’arab Dam in 450/451 AD.
The allegations by Mr Jameil that Balliyun and Beni Amer migrated to the Bejaland through Eritrea from the Yemen may need further research to authenticate his hypotheses. According to the Arab tribal map of antiquities, the Balliyun who were believed to have resided in the Gulf of Aqaba near Jordan, were not enlisted with the tribes which left the Yemen, nor were there any other sources or citations indicating their migration to the Sudan. In fact, ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Khaldoun, the renowned Arab sociologist, stated that the Balliyun (Balliy, Baliyin…) originally lived in the territory stretching from the area between the Sinai Peninsula and Yathreb (al-Madina) in Arabia. Invoking folktales and pandering to myths and legends are not unusual practice in the Sudanese habits of perseverance to claim Arab genetic lineage. This type of pretext defies the logical form of the well-known deductive-nomological model of explanation, and leaves the structural identity of explanation and prediction in social science at crossroads.
The Roman emperor Diocletian (284-304 AD), unable to repulse the attacks of Blemmyes, abandoned the old southern frontiers of the empire and withdrew to the Aswan cataract. Then he invited the Nobatae from western oases (probably Kharga oases) to settle in the Nile valley in order to separate the lands of the Blemmyes to that of Egypt, thus acting as a buffer state. This state of affairs continued in Lower Nubia until 350 AD. (3) By viewing this invitation as a voluntary venture, it constitutes a different element in the history of human migration since the most common displacements have taken place throughout centuries as a result of either natural disasters or political upheavals – such as, the outbreak of famines, floods, volcanoes, epidemic diseases, wars or mass slavery. Questions as to how many of the Nobatae were resettled there, and were they able to affect the demographic changes of the area socially, linguistically and culturally remain mooted. For until these questions are answered there is no way to ascertain the socio-economic changes brought about by these invitees. Nonetheless, under constant Roman pressures, the Beja retreated to the Red Sea hills, which proved to be inaccessible to foreign intruders.
In the sixth century AD, the Nubian kingdoms in Northern Sudan embraced Christianity and in the seventh century Islam was foisted on them, but the Beja who became Muslims in later years were not affected by Islam, and their distinct culture and identity remained intact, even after the influx of Arabs into the Sudan and the discovery and exploitation of gold mines in the Red Sea hills. During the reign of Mamlukes in Egypt, Sultan al-Nasser Mohamed ibn Galawoon despatched an expeditionary force to the Beja territory where they killed 460 Halanga tribesmen and injured several others. The Halanga, who refused to surrender nor were they willing to reach a deal with the Egyptian invaders, preferred to do it or die rather than being captured as slaves.(4) Due to Beja raids against the Muslim residents of Aswan in Egypt, Caliph Mamoun sent a punitive force to punish them in 831 AD. The force, which was led by ‘Abd Allah ibn al-Jaham, defeated the Beja and subjected them to a humiliating treaty that was signed by their Paramount Chief – namely, Kanoun ibn ‘Abd al-‘Aziz. Its terms run as follows:
(1) The Bejaland from the borders of Aswan to Dahlak and Badei will be the dominion of Caliph, and the Beja and their chief are his slaves.
(2) The Beja King should pay land tax, which comprises 100 camels and 300 dinars annually.
(3) The Beja should respect Islam; they should not impinge on it nor should they aid and abet anyone against the adherents of Islam.
(4) They should not deny a Muslim an access to their land, nor trade whether by land or sea.
(5) If a Muslim entered [their land] as a trader, resident, passer-by or pilgrim, he should enjoy a safe passage until he leaves.
(6) If the Beja happen to be in southern Egypt as passers-by or traders, they should not carry arms nor should they enter cities and villages by any means.
(7) They should not destroy any mosque built by Muslims at Saiha and Hajr.
(8) Kanoun ibn ‘Abd al-‘Aziz should allow the tax collectors of Amir al-Muminein [the Prince of the Faithful] to enter the Bejaland to levy alms from those who embraced Islam.
These dictated terms of subjugation are as preposterous as those forced onto the Nubians by the Arabs in the wake of the battle of Dongola in 652 AD; thence and after, it has been referred to as the Baqt Treaty. In addition to these conditions as to cater to Arabs’ interests in the Nubialand, the Nubians were forced to pay 400 slaves annually from which 40 were to go to the Arab Governor of Aswan as his private chattels and the remaining rest were to be transferred to the Caliph of the Faithful in Baghdad, the centre of the Abbasid Dynasty rule in Iraq. Statistically speaking, one could imagine as to how many Nubians were captured, taken into slavery and delivered to the Arab world according to this ignominious Baqt Treaty that lasted for more than six centuries. History records have shown that this was a blatant, unprovoked attack by the Arabs on a sovereign state. Like Christopher Columbus and his brothers Bartolme and Diego who forbade natives in colonies on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola from Baptism so they could be used as slaves, the Arabs were not interested in spreading Islam, bearing in mind that Islam forbids enslaving fellow Muslims. Instead, they were interested in exploiting Nubian wealth, including gold bullions, trade and slavery. The fact that they were providing the Nubians with annual amount of wine, which is prohibited by the Islamic faith, is a solid proof of this account. So this is the kernel of emotional truth behind a nihilistic hate with which the African Sudanese have become gripped, and, long after that, the hate will still burn.
THE BEJA: DEFENDING THE MOTHERLAND
Like the other indigenous population of Sudan, the Beja people have fought bravely throughout their chequered history to defend their motherland, culture and economic resources. With some remarkable successes, they repelled foreign encroachers, on the one hand, and suffered immensely, on the other hand. The incursion of the Anglo-Egyptian forces in Eastern Sudan was met with a fierce resistance from the Beja tribesmen. The epic resistance of the Beja earned them the awe and respect of their enemies: this sublime struggle was inscribed in history annals as a poem by the Victorian poet of the day, Rudyard Kipling (1865 – 1936), in his famous Fuzzy-Wuzzy (Appendix I). Due to the gross violations of human rights, the British ‘victories against Osman Digna [in Eastern Sudan] had had a mixed reception in Britain, and the [British] Government had been attacked for allowing an indiscriminate massacre of unarmed [Beja] tribesmen. When finally the British subdued the Beja resistance, they captured their leader – viz., Osman Digna – and treated him with awe and respect for fear of retaliatory attacks from his followers.
The Beja, therefore, have been characterised by a protracted history of politico-military struggle, and they stood, in the past, as a bulwark against every invading force, which had contemplated the occupation of Sudan from the East. Against this backdrop, the Beja have chosen the means of their struggle to attain their ends. In so doing, they have opted for the greatest of our global fears, alongside natural disasters, which is war. It is always said: ‘War is fear made manifest, the antithesis of all we profess to hold dear.’ The crisis in Eastern Sudan is not unexpected: they are bound to happen, because of the political evolution taking place throughout the Sudan, including the armed resistance that had just been peacefully settled for Southern Sudan, the Nuba Mountains, the Funj region and the hitherto dispute in Western Sudan. Undoubtedly, the concessions made to the rebels in these aforementioned areas have allured other marginalised groups in the country to take to arms as the only language apparently understood by the Khartoum regimes, which appear to have become impervious against the realities of communities, which have been scarred by constant despair and faded aspirations.
THE BEJA CONGRESS AND STRUGGLE FOR REGIONALISM
After its independence from the Condominium Rule in 1956, the Sudan was left in a political quagmire, and its political leaders squandered their time on factional bickering, party squabbles and ideological chasm. The Northern political parties were affected by the general political mood engulfing the entire Arab world; and, therefore, terminologies like Nasserism, Communism, Arab Nationalism – or the era of ‘isms’ - and Muslim Brotherhood were not uncommon in the Sudanese political arena. In the second half of the last century, the Arabs tried secular nationalism as a philosophy to deal with so many an injustice imposed on them by outsiders and their rulers alike, but found that it was simply not working. Later on there was a belief that there was nowhere to go, but the route of fundamentalist Islam; this was, and is, not necessarily the right track, bearing in mind the multi-religious nature of most, if not all, of these countries. Back home, the Sudanese traditional parties were competing on campaigning against the Sudan Communist Party and feverishly advocating the introduction of Islamic Constitution, while neglecting the thorny issues of the constitutional set-up of the South and, to a lesser extent, the fermenting dissent amongst the Nuba, Dar Fur and the Beja people. The result of this morass of affairs is that the post-independence governments of Sudan have abjectly failed to draw all the Sudanese nationalities around a congenial ‘social contract’. This would have solved the problems created by the crisis of governance, including social marginalisation, the deniability of equality and justice for all the citizens of the country, which are now thought of as inalienable rights, regardless of people’s ethnic origin, creed, the texture of hair, geographical belonging, cultural background, social orientation or political affiliation. The Beja people, amongst other indigenous nationalities in the Sudan, are to bear the full brunt of these failures.
If anything, a credit to the establishment of the Beja Congress can be traced to Dr Taha Osman Baliyya, later to become the congress’s godfather. Dr Baliyya, first and foremost, worked as a medical doctor at Port Sudan Hospital. As a result of the badgering requests of his friends, he resigned from the public service and opened a private clinic in the city of Port Sudan. He did so in order to serve his fellow tribesmen socially, politically and publicly. He had been an expatriate in the service of Emperor Haile Selassie’s Ethiopia, and one of the closest physicians to His Majesty in Addis Ababa. Leaving the comforts and the hedonistic lifestyle, as a personal physician of the emperor, was not an easy choice someone could easily contemplate. Nonetheless, Dr Baliyya left Ethiopia for the Sudan in 1951. Once he was ensconced in the city of Port Sudan, he was elected as the Chairman of the Port Sudan City Council, the Chairman of the International Rotary Club and, eventually, the leader of the Beja Congress.
It was allegedly publicised that the Indian leader – namely, Jawahir Lal Nihru – visited Port Sudan in 1938 and advised the Beja people to form a political body by which they could protect and campaign for their social, economic and political rights. This is why some scholars have argued that the Beja movement, as a regional force, had begun before Sudan’s independence in 1956, while other similar groups had been egged out in the post-independence Sudan, particularly the Fur in Western Sudan. Unlike the South, the Beja Congress has never been a separatist one, and the Beja people have lived amicably with the neighbouring communities since time immemorial, with the exception, of course, of rising up against internal and external assailants in cases of self-defence. Despite their persistent call for such an organisation within the Birish Club in the 1940s in Port Sudan city and throughout the Beja Club in 1951, their request was flagrantly rejected by the central authorities. In fact, ‘Ali Abu Mohamed Maneinai may argue that the credit to the idea of the congress goes to Ustaz Mohamed Karrar Kajar in 1948 when he asked his fellow teacher in Suakin Primary School that why the Beja people could not have a congress – that is, like the General Congress of Graduates in pre-independence Sudan or even the Indian Congress – to advocate for the welfare of the Beja communities. These communities’ situation is tragically rooted in socio-economic decay, daunting illiteracy, intolerable destitution and endemic diseases, including tuberculosis, malaria, cholera and child diseases, to name but a few. Kajar, who was seconded to Suakin Primary School to fill a staff gap created by sending two members of staff to Bakht al-Ruda Institute of Education for further training, left for his former school in Port Sudan city. It was not until 1953 when this notion was materialised, and that when Kajar was transferred from Tokar to Port Sudan city. In one evening in that year at Port Sudan Social Club, Kajar reintroduced his old proposal of creating the congress to his audience, and the proposition was quickly picked up by Dr Baliyya who not only did welcome it with alacrity, but he also urged his colleagues to work together to make it a reality. Kajar, as one of the early graduates of Bakht al-Ruda Institute of Education, was elected as the first MP for al-Amarar and Besharin constituency in the first parliamentary elections in the Sudan in the 1950s. In his last days, he was elected the Chairman of Suakin locality.
In April 1956, a provisional meeting of the Beja Congress was convened at the Beja Club in Port Sudan city, which attracted a wide audience of distinguished Beja figures, intellectuals and chiefs. In that meeting, the proposal of establishing the congress, its aims and objectives were thoroughly discussed. On August 13, 1958, MPs of the Beja tribes invited the then Prime Minister, ‘Abd Allah Khalil, and his Cabinet to Port Sudan. In a large gathering in which Beja Chiefs, MPs, leading personalities and the public took part; the Cabinet was presented with a twelve-point petition. One of the points was a demand for a form of Government for the Sudan in which the Beja would have a far greater say in their internal affairs. The Cabinet Ministers were asked to make their comments in the visitors’ book that lay open to the public. The comments were reported to be favourable. In this historic gathering, the deliberations continued for three evenings successively, and the inaugural session was blessed with, and endorsed by, telegraphs from religious and political leaders of various denominations in the country. Back in Khartoum, the Prime Minister found a similar invitation for him and the Cabinet to attend a tribal gathering of Dar Fur and Kordofan Provinces to be held in al-Obeid; it was signed by the MPs of the two provinces, who wished to see a form of Government in which they had more say in their own internal affairs, and be less subjected to Khartoum in such matters.(9) The second meeting of the Beja people, which took place in mid-October 1958, was a comprehensive one as it included the representatives of all Beja sub-tribes, their leaders, paramount chiefs, all sectors of Beja communities and the humble citizens of Port Sudan city; subsequently, the gathering witnessed the birth of the Beja Congress under the leadership of Dr Baliyya and the secretariat of Mr Abu Musa ‘Ali.
The repercussions of the establishment of the congress were felt far and wide, and the news of its birth was received with mixed feelings in the political arena in Khartoum, especially amongst those domineering groups with vested interests in the Bejaland. These opportunistic parties perceived the objectives of the congress as a threat to their personal properties, and considered a call for sharing vital resources in Eastern Sudan as an unacceptable demand. The negative feelings and mounted suspicions towards any sort of development or the vital enhancement of the conditions of the marginalised communities have become an entrenched factor in the psychological structure of the domineering class in the Sudanese cities and towns. To them, the situation was worsened by the emergence of the General Union of the Nuba Mountains in 1954 and Soni Movement in Dar Fur. As expected, the squabbles amongst the political parties led to each faction’s recognition of either of these regional groups as a countervailing force to its archrival in the area. Consequently, the Umma Party backed the Beja Congress to weaken the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and its sectarian wing – that is, al-Khatmiyya sect – in Eastern Sudan; whereas the Sudan Communist Party viewed the Beja Congress as a reform movement against sectarianism. (10) The newspapers of the day wrote favourably about the birth of the Beja Congress in October 1958. In an eloquent language, Azzaman (The Time) daily wrote:
It is a good thing for the leaders of the ruling parties to travel to Eastern Sudan and listen to the Beja complaints in order to feel by [or to witness for] themselves that Eastern Sudan is a part of the country, which has been victimised. But it should be known from this very day that the matter is far greater than a party or sectarian issue. The parties have failed to rescue Eastern Sudan from its destitution, and they still practise conspiratorial, manoeuvring behaviour and the failing means of staying in coalition at any expense even if it purports that people have to die of hunger, famine or thirst.
Under the title of ‘Salutation to the Beja Congress’, Ustaz Nasr al-Din al-Sayyid wrote in the daily al-‘Alam (The Flag) – the mouthpiece of the National Unionist Party:
Those who suspect the nature of this tribal conference realise very well the state of backwardness and the lack of progress from which the Beja group still suffer in this country… consequently, this conference, which is organised by the Beja leaders, could not have succeeded at all had they not addressed their famished and illiterate people as a means of a noble end. This has made the Beja citizens to acknowledge their position under the sun… the sun of this country that has huge resources in the South, North, East and West.
After barely a month from the creation of the Beja Congress, Lt-Gen Ibrahim ‘Abboud seized the reigns of power in the Sudan in a military coup d’état on November 17, 1958, and all political parties and regional pressure groups were banned, including the Beja Congress. When democracy was restored in the wake of the popular uprising in October 1964, the congress was reinstated, and it contended the parliamentary elections that took place in the following year. The Beja students at universities and their intellectuals voted in independent candidates for the Constituent Assembly and won nine seats. These candidates, although ostensibly independent, campaigned on the programme of the Beja Congress of 1958. The Beja MPs achieved somehow certain goals for their people, including the appointment of Beja graduates as civil servants in the Ministry of Local Government during the tenure of Sayyid Sadiq al-Mahdi’s short-lived Government. Needless to say, and under the treachery of traditional and sectarian parties, the Beja MPs failed to ameliorate the lifestyle of their people in their homeland. That post-‘Abboud era was little more than a charade of democracy. What was required was the need for ‘effective democracy’ from which all elements of the country’s population had the opportunity to benefit, but that was not materialised. Thus, frustration with national politics led to the activation of regional groups to lobby for the amelioration of socio-economic conditions of their respective areas. Like the General Union of Nuba Mountains and the Dar Fur Development Front, the Beja Congress ‘had its origins in dissatisfaction and disappointment with the traditional parties (in this case, the dominant PDP and al-Khatmiyya)… [the congress’s] aims and objectives were included in the various statements signed by its President, Dr Baliyya (the only Beja doctor at that time), and the policy statements emphasised decentralisation and the establishment of a regional administration with the sole purpose of promoting the interests of the local Beja and other related ethnic group[s].’ It was also publicised that these regional forces and their leadership ‘repeatedly referred to the backward condition of [their] people and blamed vocational policies for this; they suspected that they were as deprived as the Southern Sudanese, and perhaps more so, however, they rejected any suggestion of secession.’
After the parliamentary elections of the 1986 – that is, after the demise of Nimeiri’s regime in a popular uprising in April 1985, the Beja Congress failed to secure a seat in any of Port Sudan city constituencies, but it succeeded to win Sinkat Constituency, and their representative became the only Beja MP in the post-Nimeiri Constituent Assembly. To sabotage the work of genuine Beja representatives, the National Islamic Front (NIF) launched the Islamic Beja Congress in the period between1985-1986. (12) By launching a presumably Islamic Beja Congress, the NIF had implicitly alleged that the existing Beja Congress was non-Islamic, agnostic or atheist. This is the way the NIF has invoked Islam and, of course, the Qur’an as a unitary source of knowledge. Islam is also conjured up as a ritual authority and as everyday guide or even as a scripture possessing magical powers. However, the wider communities of Sudanese Muslims approach Islam from a religious domain: while embracing Islam as a faith, they tend to stick to their indigenously cultural aspects and linguistic diversities to reflect the outlook of their African identity, but not the pseudo-cultural identity of the Arabised stock. Such a fake identity, which is taught to schoolboys and eulogised in the media, is neglecting the indigenous Sudanese proud history – or else distorting the past and portraying them as worthless, sub-humans whose only contribution to the world was in the form of slaves. Islamists, with a racist ideology at the centre of their political programme, are at the heart of much that is wrong with the Sudan today. The implicit premise that race or religion is an accurate predictor of virtues is a ‘recipe for conflicts’. By branding whole communities as sub-human beings not only legitimises prejudice amongst the general public, but it is also intellectually unsavoury, and it can engender feelings of resentment amongst targeted groups.
On November 6, 1995, the Information Organ of the Beja Congress published a tract entitled ‘The Beja Congress between Question Marks’ in which it attempted to answer six questions as they were raised by its detractors. The critics have adduced to the following concerns for contemplation:
(1) When it opted for the armed struggle in 1990, the Beja Congress had been conspicuously dominated by a few tribesmen in the absence of others which gave the automatic impression that it was a small-tribe-led movement whose members were victimised by the stringent measures of the regime against their small-scale businesses. Accordingly, it stood accused of under-representation and political immaturity in contrast with a historic movement that should have gathered together all the causes of political leap.
(2) The Beja Congress is a regional organisation promoted by certain political parties – namely, the Umma Party – in order to erode the support of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and the Khatmiyya sect in Eastern Sudan.
(3) The Beja Congress is an Eritrean-made revolution as a retaliatory measure against the Sudanese regime for its backing of the Eritrean Islamic Jihad movement and its subversive activities against the Eritrean Government.
(4) The Beja Congress was formed in contrast with the legislations governing the political parties in the Transitional Period that will be ushered in after the demise of the NIF regime. According to such regulations, as endorsed by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) at its London Conference in February 1992, article 43 stipulates: ‘Citizens have the right to form [political] parties, trade unions, associations and [social and cultural] clubs according to the laws governing these rights, and they [these parties] should not be created on a religious or tribal basis.’
(5) Will the armed members of the Beja Congress concentrate, in their possible activities in Eastern Sudan, on attacking non-Beja civilians, shops and properties? What will be the position of the Beja Congress towards the Sudan Armed Forces, police and prison wardens? Will they be legitimate targets to their activities?
(6) What will be the Beja Congress counter-measures against the regime’s response to their activities?
Firstly, the NIF regime has systematically targeted the Beja people in their livelihood; the closure of Shelatein harbour from time to time spawned adverse effects on some Beja families whose survival mechanisms were completely dependent upon this vital means of life. The exorbitant raising of taxes by the customs and excise of Hala’ib had damaging consequences on the commercial sectors of the Beja community. As if it was not enough, the authorities forbade the Beja sailors from sailing for several years since the days of Nimeiri’s May regime up to date. Such a draconian measure had led to the deterioration of their boats to the detriment of some Beja families whose chances of existence entirely depend on this trade as small businessmen. Needless to say, the arrogant reaction of the regime leaders towards the Beja is to be mentioned here. In 1994, a group of Beja citizens presented the authorities with a petition demanding power-sharing. Ironically, those Beja people who handed in the memorandum were loyal to the regime. Upon receiving this, President Omer al-Bashir responded to them in Port Sudan: ‘You, the Beja people, have demanded the inclusion of your sons in power; this should be clear to you that we do not give power to those who ask for it, but to those who are strong and honest.’ This rhetorical reply – rather than the logical one - by the president invoked the very response by Caliph Omer ibn al-Khattab to one of Arab sycophants who came entreating the caliph for a post. However, in the Sudan the challenge was construed by the Beja as throwing a gauntlet onto them, and they quickly picked it up. In an earlier speech by the very president, he challenged the NDA to bear arms if they wanted power-sharing as the regime would only talk to those who resorted to the armed struggle, so Bashir boasted. On previous occasions, there were also some despicable confrontations between the Beja and some key members of the regime, including Col Mohamed al-Amin Khalifa and Dr ‘Ali al-Haj Mohamed. Such a scornful behaviour reflects a short-sighted vision and the parochial assessment of crucial issues by the leaders of the regime. Not only are the aspirations of the Beja people confined to the appointment of a Beja governor, administrator or political representative to change their degrading, social life, but the Beja Congress is also striving very hard to implement a ‘socially wide project’ in which their communities are transformed into a ‘modern city’ with all its civilised values and amenities.
Secondly, some detractors of the Beja Congress may argue that Eastern Sudan comprises a number of tribes, including the Beja tribesmen; so why the Beja Congress? In reply, the Beja Congress acknowledges that besides the Beja there are other tribes in the area, including the Shukriyya, Rasha’ida, Fellata, ‘Ababida and so forth. But the Beja word in the organisation’s nomenclature is a ‘social class which designates impoverishment and it characterises the economic, human, social and pauperised circumstances that engulf such a society.’ The Beja Congress, furthermore, does not claim to have a full monopoly of the representation of all people in the area, as they are free to choose any national body, traditional, sectarian or dogmatic party, sectional group or trade union that will pander to their great expectations and far-reached aspirations. Due to these facts, the Beja Congress will not seek to force the others to acquire formulae it created because of its special circumstances. To those critics who claim that such moves could encourage other ethnic groups to form parallel associations – for example, the Sha’igiyya Congress, the Rash’ida Congress, the Nubian Congress and so forth – should know that political parties and social organisations emerge and evolve as a result of extreme needs and not as a mere counter-reaction or myopic imitation. According to Ustaz Mohamed Adarobe Ohaj in his book, ‘From the History of the Beja’, the word Beja does not imply a specific ‘ethnicity’, but it represents all resultant races living in the Eastern region of Sudan side by side and speak Bedawi, and those who regard themselves as part and parcel of this melting pot. Only those who want to keep a distance between themselves and the inhabitants of the area are willing to detach themselves from this generic definition. (14) Like the Nuba Mountains region in south central Sudan, the Beja Congress has adopted this very name as a provisional stage to incorporate socio-economic and class struggle under its characteristic features and current designation in order to rid the area off injustice that has befallen them due to differently historic and human factors. This should not be understood nor interpreted as a chauvinistic or ‘regionophobic’ concept against other communities in Eastern Sudan, since the Beja people have lived in a mutually beneficial, symbiotic relationship with their fellow citizens in the area for millennia.
Thirdly, due to socio-economic structure, which had been evolving in the Sudan before and after its independence in 1956, the Beja were left in the cold. The Anglo-Egyptian authorities concentrated the socio-economic projects in the centre of Sudan for their own colonial interests; and, by so doing, they neglected the rest of the country. Even the railway that was constructed in the past in Eastern Sudan was meant to serve the central Government through fetching goods from the different parts of Sudan and exporting them through the country’s only coastal port - Port Sudan that lies 680km (425 miles) northeast of the capital, Khartoum - to the outside world, and importing the procurements into the centre. The Beja people alongside these rail tracks, and the current highway linking Port Sudan with Khartoum, reap nothing. The post-independence Sudanese regimes are set to follow in the footsteps of the colonisers. Similarly, the status of influential families that have played exploitative roles in the Sudanese society and political life has remained stagnant throughout the modern history of the country. The deprived people, including the Beja, continue to suffer. These stark differences in regional development, the avaricious nature of power brokers, lack of a coherent social policy, wealth accumulation and social domination by a few sum up the tragic paradoxes of Sudan today.
Fourthly, the principles of the Beja Congress can be outlined as follows:
(1) Overthrowing the tyrannical regime in the Sudan, and the creation of a pluralistic, democratic and just Government.
(2) Supporting the revolutionary choice of the people and the Sudanese political forces in achieving the objectives of the ‘New Sudan’. The New Sudan that is based on the correct reading of the circumstances of the country, its identity, diverse cultures, multifarious ethnicities and faiths and the recognition that national unity requires strong realisation and positive pampering to the realities of diversity through the rejection of discrimination which is based on the domination of some races and cultures.
(3) The most important factor in aggravating the Sudanese problems is economic, social and service malpractice in particular areas, and depriving other regions – such as, Eastern, Western and Southern Sudan – from power- and wealth-sharing, in general.
(4) In order to redress the imbalance of uneven development in the fields of wealth distribution and social services, balanced and just measures are needed to develop the marginalised areas, provide training and establish new projects and infrastructure to close the developmental gap and human depredations, and to promote the objective reasons in order to restore confidence that is based on practicable and palpable justice.
(5) The Beja revolution emerges, therefore, from its intrinsic causes, and it is not an agent for anybody in ‘borders conflict’.
Lastly, in the 1990s new blood was injected into the Beja Congress, and the baton of struggle was handed over to a new breed of freedom fighters whose utmost concerns – like their forefathers – were the welfare of the Beja nationality, political equality, economic development and social security. As a result, the Beja people – under their legitimate representative, the Beja Congress – joined the NDA in 1995. They resorted to armed struggle as a means to draw the authorities’ attention to their inalienable rights in the Sudan. They, accordingly, engaged the Government troops in areas south of the Red Sea and Hamoshkoreib city. In its early years, the congress assumed the role of a charity association, as it became involved in furthering developmental projects far more than pursuing political activities. This concentration of efforts in charitable schemes was to make up for the lack of vital services in the region. But rights cannot be begged forever, as there is a time when these rights are demanded by political approach and armed struggle: it is the time when all peaceful opportunities were exhausted as it happened with the Beja and the Sudanese authorities. However, it was not until 1989 when the congress avowedly declared its military opposition to the newly installed regime in Khartoum. The congress then signed the NDA Political Charter, committing itself to the opposition of the NIF regime together with all NDA founding members. Moreover, it participated and endorsed the London Declaration in 1992, the Nairobi Declaration in 1993, the Asmara Declaration in June 1995, the Kampala Declaration in 1999, the Cairo Declaration in 1999, the Tripoli Declaration in 1999 and the Masawa Declaration in 2000. The Beja resistance in Eastern Sudan was later strengthened by the SPLA combatants, other NDA forces and the Free Lions; the latter being the armed organisation of the Rasha’ida ethnicity in the region. The Beja Congress was, therefore, part and parcel of the NDA’s opposition to the regime, thus believing in political and armed struggle to topple the regime and establish a ‘modern Sudanese state based on democratic rudiments, justice, equality and the restoration of usurped rights to the poor and the marginalised population of the country’.
IDENTITY CRISIS: A POLITICO-SOCIAL DISCONNECT
Not only is the Beja resistance against the central authorities confined to the armed struggle, but it is also transcending to include cultural opposition against the assimilation process that has been championed by the Khartoum governments for several decades. The cultural strife involves the Beja adoption of the Bedawi language, spoken by around two million people, as a medium of education in the areas controlled by the Beja Congress forces in Eastern Sudan. Practical steps are under way to write this language, which can be traced back to four thousand years ago, and five books have already been published in this language and nineteen schools in Eastern Sudan are using it in teaching.
In a public rally in London on Saturday, September 18, 2004, Dr Johan Garang de Mabior, the SPLM/A Chairman, was relating to an audience that while he was in Eastern Sudan, he was communicating with the Beja youth in the SPLA, who did not speak Arabic, through an interlocutor. Garang was speaking in Arabic, while the interpreter was translating his words into Bedawi - the Beja language. Garang remarked sardonically that he must have been in a foreign land. Was this not the Sudan whose Northern leaders had been vociferously alleging since independence that it were an Arab country! Garang then ironically asked the leader of the Free Lions of the Rasha’ida ethnicity – viz., Mabrook Mubarak Saleim – as to why they took up arms against an Arab, Islamic state, bearing in mind that the Rasha’ida group had migrated from Saudi Arabia to the Sudan as late as in 1869. Mr Saleim retorted: ‘Dr John [Garang], you do not know the history of Sudan.’ When Dr Garang asked amazingly, Saleim was quoted as saying: ‘In the Sudan, if you are black, you will be called abid (slave); and if you are of a white skin, then you will be called halabi (gypsy).’ The bewildered SPLM/A leader, Dr Johan Garang, asked eagerly: ‘Who are the true Sudanese then if I may ask?’ ‘You have to be a ‘bastard’ in the Sudan to qualify as a true Sudanese’, came the reply from Mr Saleim. Mr Saleim’s answer may, in fact, sounds allegorically insulting, but in the Sudan the mulattos, the hybrid offspring of Arabs and Africans, whose colour of skin is asmar (Arabic word for brown) is the favoured race colour in the Sudan which is lauded in lyrics, poetry and traditional proverbs as a symbol of a highly social status. Ironically speaking, these people are the unsung heroes of the land. Such mid-way identity catastrophe is a socio-political dilemma in the Sudan as such people whose features and souls are manifested in this category could not be loyal to either end of the racial axis - whites and blacks. These were, furthermore, the diehards who were identified in the past as the Popular Defence Forces in the buffer zones, and they fought vigorously in the regime’s camp against the SPLM/A in the 22-year-long civil war. They are repeating the same scenario under the infamous name of Janjaweed in the ongoing civil war in Dar Fur. Needless to say, both ‘abid and halabi’ terms are pejoratives, and they explain the identity crisis the Sudanese people are going through. These degrading remarks and preposterous slurs are usually said publicly by the Sudanese in their daily folklore and ridiculous jokes, but those who are in high places and key positions translate such prejudices into Government policies and directives. These prejudices, on the other hand, can be far-felt in practical discriminations through the allocation of power- and wealth-sharing, the distribution of job opportunities, educational chances, regional development, learning scholarships, vocational training, land allotment and so forth.
It is worth noting that the Rasha’ida tribal group in the Sudan claim to have descended from the renowned Abbasid Caliph, Haroun al-Rasheid, and his wife, Zubeida the Hashimite. Subsequently, the name Rasha’ida sprang up to denote their lineage to Haroun al-Rasheid, but sometimes they are referred to as Zubeidiyya – that is, the ancestry of Rasheid’s wife, Zubeida. In reference to a woman, the Rasha’ida consider this as an offence since Arab culture, which is strictly patriarchal, perceives an association with a woman as an insulting and degrading matter. In tracing their roots to outside the country, the Rasha’ida in the Sudan are an extension of their kith and kin in Kuwait and Libya, and their fellow tribesmen in these countries have persuaded them to accept the principle of political dialogue with the Khartoum regime as a peaceful means to put an end to the armed dispute. The peace talks, which began in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, on June 14, 2000, between the Rasha’ida’s Free Lions and the Sudanese regime were attended by the Paramount Chief of Rasha’ida in the Sudan, Ahmed Hameid al-Baraki, and al-Bara’isa Rasha’ida in Libya as observers. The two sides reached an agreement on June 17, 2000, which gave, inter alia, a time-table for the implementation of the settlement. The signatories of the accord were Dr Kamal ‘Obeid, Secretary for Foreign Relations in the National Congress Party on behalf of Sudan Government, and Mr Mabrouk Mubarak Saleim, the Chairman of the Free Lions. The signing ceremonies were witnessed by the representatives of Rasha’ida in Libya, in the person of ‘Abd al-Raziq and Sayyid Mohamed Taha, and by Mubarak al-Duwaila as a representative of Kuwait. (15)
DECAY IN SOCIAL WELFARE AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
Some statistics indicate that the Beja people’s share in power in the last half century is so minimal (1.4 – 3.0%) whereas the people from Northern states have continued to retain the lion’s share. Likewise, the picture on health and education is patchy. As one of the vastly neglected regions of Sudan, the Beja area in Eastern Sudan where their people continue to suffer the adverse effects of desertification, rough roads if any, decrease in rainfall, the scarcity of pastures for their animals which most of them had perished by the drought of the 1980s, impoverishment, lack of healthcare and educational opportunities, and the postponed developmental services, including the overdue projects of Setait Dam and Port Sudan Water and Electricity Project. The population rely on the efforts of international NGOs – such as, the International Rescue Committee and Samaritan Purse – to provide food aid, clean water, basic health supplies, vaccination, education services and assistance in the alleviation of rampant poverty and vulnerability imposed upon them. This has had a direct effect on an increase in death for pregnant women, which runs at the rate of 70%, and illiteracy that stands at 90%.
The Beja’s neglect and economic marginalisation can be ascribed to a number of factors, including the lack of representation in the centres of national planning and executive decision-making. To address some of these issues, the Beja have engineered a novel procedure. In 1952, they approached Maj Salah Salim - then Minister of Sudan Affairs in the Egyptian Government of July 23, 1952, who was visiting Sinkat in that year - to establish Egyptian Mission Schools in the Beja region. The minister agreed instantly to open a total of three Egyptian Mission Schools in Port Sudan city, Waqar and Sinkat. Regardless of Maj Salim’s largesse in spending money in the Sudan for political favours – probably as briberies for unity between the Sudan and Egypt, the man spent his childhood in Sinkat where his father was deputy-manager of the Post Office in mid-1920s. In the 1970s, the Beja also requested Mr Bashir ‘Abbadi, then Minister of Transport, to increase the intake of Beja students to Jibeit Industrial School from 10 to15%. In their arguments with the minister, the Beja activists exploited the fact that the minister belonged to al-‘Ababida tribesmen – one of Beja’s offshoots – to persuade him to come to their terms. Not only did the Beja appeal to their kith and kin in high places for regional support and development, but they also invoked those officials, professionals or military personnel who happened to have either partly studied in the Bejaland, had been working there or lived part of their life there.(16)
The Beja leaders, quite rightly, think that the lucrative revenues of Sudan’s ports, minerals, agricultural products and animal wealth, which are abundant in their region, should be spent on their area for socio-economic development. Beja families have been working in the ports as labourers for generations, but in recent job losses, Government figures say up to 28,000 of them – after the mechanisation of the port – have compounded feelings of anger towards a central Government, which is releasing large amounts of oil to the world from here. Reportedly, it is argued that the customs of Port Sudan harbour were moved to Khartoum to give jobs to Government party members and to prevent Beja from claiming their share of regional customs’ revenues. During the Condominium period, the British administration oversaw the confiscation of prime Beja land in order to construct agricultural schemes, such as in Gedarif. According to Ohaj Mohamed, during this colonial period, when a British inspector arrived at a tract of land, he would ask its landlord, and whoever claimed that the land belonged to him, would have to pay land tax for the Government. To avoid these taxes, a number of chiefs were satisfied with small pieces of land, with an exception of a certain Hadendawa chief, who was courageous enough to assume the ownership of every piece of land that was jettisoned by its rightful owner. At some point, the British inspector asked this very chief about the sky above all these lands he alleged to have owned. Then the chief daringly retorted that whatever lay on his land was his, but he had no idea about the rest. President Nimeiri’s ‘Unregistered Land Act’ of 1971 made the situation worse for the traditionally nomadic Beja, who had found themselves forced to get work as casual labourers on the schemes. Thousands of animals died as prime-grazing land was expropriated, and the Beja were forced to sell cheap those that didn’t.
Thence to education. The educating has continued to play a significant role in today’s world, and it has become a necessity. This is important because education is a means by which a person can break the cycle of poverty in the family, and it is, therefore, a means of social and economic mobility. With a good education, children can have more opportunities and make choices about their lives. The education, therefore, has become one of the fundamental rights of children, and some of the articles in the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) are about every child’s right to an education, including article 28, which reads: ‘You have the right to an education,’ article 29 that stipulates: ‘You have the right to an education which tries to develop your personality and abilities as much as possible and encourage you to respect other people’s rights and values and to respect the environment,’ and article 42, which asserts: ‘You have the right to learn your rights.’ According to a memorandum issued by the Department of Educational Planning on school meal and pupils’ accommodations, the World Food Programme – in co-operation with the Ministry of Education in Kassala State – subsidises the school meal for a number of schools in al-Gash, Hamoshkoreib localities and Kassala Rural District where the programme covers 47 schools. As a result of these programmes, 6,422 pupils have benefited from this scheme (3,372 in al-Gash, 2,810 in Kassala District and 240 in Hamoshkoreib). This assistance has increased the intake of schools where 2,224 pupils have been admitted to these schools in the aforementioned localities – viz., 17.8% in Kassala District, 34.8% in al-Gash and 39.9% in Hamoshkoreib. But, unfortunately, there are 65 schools that have not benefited from this support and their population of 11,689 pupils are bereft from this opportunity. However, statistics shows that there are 66% of children of school-age who are not attending education of any kind in the rural areas, and 66% have already left schools. These vivid facts show a pessimistic picture of education in Eastern Sudan. Nonetheless, schools in the region are characterised by a high rate of drop-out after the first year of enrolment. This stark result is due to a number of reasons:
(1) The Beja community is a nomadic one, and it entirely depends on their animal herds.
(2) The Beja society does not put emphasis on education.
(3) The acute economic conditions and the high standard of living dictate the participation of children from poor backgrounds in domestic chores – such as, fetching water, collecting wood and looking after the families’ animals; these activities disrupt their education process.
(4) The incompatibility of school curriculum with the rural environment and its needs.
(5) The long distances between school sites and the residential areas.
(6) Lack of essential services in the area.
(7) The post-1990 educational institutions have become unattractive to pupils due to lack of exciting activities.
(8) Failure by the local authorities to fulfil their commitments on the accommodation issue, which could have helped in providing suitably educational environment; such a failure resulted in children from disadvantaged homes being left out.
(9) The withdrawal of primary schools subsidies by the state and the Federal Government by passing their responsibilities entirely to the local authorities.
(10) Viewing education as a religious activity led to directing children to khalawis (Arabic word for religious centres).
(11) Lack of drinking water, let alone hygienic one.
(12) The schools are built from makeshift materials that make them environmentally unsuitable for education, and they lead to a high drop-out.
Some or all of the above mentioned stumbling blocks are distinctly the responsibility of both the central and gubernatorial governments. The governments’ understanding and responding to the evolving realities are very important. The withdrawal of school subvention by the Government has automatically deprived poor pupils of educational opportunities, as has the closure of boarding houses. Subsidy is not the only measurement of neglect, but it is the most quantifiable, and hence most commonly factor used. It is well known in the Sudan today that tuition fees issue is becoming a big problem that hampers children from education in this chronically under-funded field. Students are normally expelled from schools, colleges and universities for a lack of finances; and intervention by non-governmental organisations will help the people suffering in all marginalised areas, but preventing future crises will require much more robust action from the state. Failure by the Government to address these issues will lead to the recurrence of severe hardships, the continuation of children drop-out of schools to make end means and increase in illiteracy rate and ensuing destitution.
The conflict in Eastern Sudan is inseparable from the whole malaise afflicting the entire country. And that in tackling these regional disputes, a national programme is required. In the Sudan, however, all indications show that the governing system is wilfully skewed against the interests of the marginalised people. The Government, for its part, should improve its governance, the transparency of its political and financial procedures and crack down on corruption, stop wriggling out of its promises. At the heart of Sudan’s political system, there is corruption and stifling bureaucracy, and the growing inequalities between the urban rich and the rural poor are creating new tensions and resentments, as social discrimination begets economic marginalisation. Sudan’s progress in exporting oil in recent years should not, of course, be allowed to conceal the state’s persistent failings. Extreme poverty is still widespread and on a scale inconceivable to those corruptible officials in Khartoum. The Sudan needs root-to-branch reform of education, health, justice, the civil service, the banking system and so forth, if it is to begin to meet the challenges of the modern world.
The Sudan is an epitome of a ‘failed state’: the one in which its leaders have failed to protect their own citizens, or wantonly have embarked on a spree of human rights violations, systematic rape, murder, genocidal acts and so forth in order to annihilate a targeted group of population or ethnicity. When a government turns against its own people, it is no longer a government: it is an aggressor. Such a situation is not to be presumed until it becomes evident in a particular case. One example of such atrocities took place on Saturday, January 29, 2005 when police forces in the city of Port Sudan, eastern region of Sudan, opened fire with live ammunition on a demonstrating crowd, killing 19 people including two children and a woman and wounding tens of people. The two children were from Daim Arab in Port Sudan city and aged 12 and 14 years. The woman, who was pregnant, was injured and later died in hospital. The majority of the persons killed were young people aged between 18 and 28 years old. Some were universities graduates and students who had completed high secondary school. (17) The Beja people have the right to call for the prosecution of the perpetrators of this massacre. Now, the world is witnessing the beginning of a period when the sovereignty of such ‘failed states’ is no longer absolute and rulers know that they will be called to account, before an impartial international court, for crimes they commit against their own people or against their neighbours. With such a court, every tyrant everywhere must know that national sovereignty does not give him the right to perpetrate whatever atrocities he likes within the frontiers of his own state. There are limits; the case of the former leaders of the now antiquated Yugoslavia – including Slobodan Milosevic - the ongoing case of the former President of Chad, Hissen Habré, between Belgium and Senegal and, more recently, Charles Taylor, former President of Liberia, is a clear reminder that things can never be the same again.
However, any future solution for the question of Eastern Sudan must include the following matrices: the welfare of the Beja people, land tenure, the enshrinement of peace agreement in the Sudan Constitution, equitable wealth distribution, fundamental freedoms, genuine federalism, power-sharing, socio-economic development and the identity of the Beja people. In focusing on the subject of identity, the move should be aimed at creating a ‘shared society’ in which people are encouraged to make choices in their lives to cement a ‘pluralist society’ with respect and tolerance for cultural diversity, and where people are free to assert their identity. The approach, adopted by the successive governments of Sudan, is at its worst described as a ‘colonist’ policy, whereby a group of people – using the public institutions, means and resources - are poised on displacing existing culture and establishing their own against the will of the indigenous citizens. As a matter of fact, there are certain provisos that are deemed as of a crucial nature in the future implementation of agreements in the Sudan. Firstly, the matter requires political courage and dedication of a high order; it is only by being self-consciously introspective about the foundations of what is agreed upon in terms of theory and political practice that socio-political change can be substantiated. Secondly, the retention of armed forces of the rebel groups – in other words, without invoking the tested-and-failed process of absorption in the so-called national army in the wake of Addis Ababa Accord in March 1972. This will act as a bulwark against any dishonouring of these agreements. Thirdly, the involvement of a third party as a witness to oversee the agreements and the follow-up assessment and evaluation – for instance, the UN, the EU, the AU and the Arab League, and the avoidance of religiously motivated organisations, like the Organisation of Islamic Countries. However, the insistence of the Sudan and Eritrean Governments to do away with the Eastern conflict in the absence of the international community does not augur well for the people of Eastern Sudan in both short- and long-term settlement of the dispute (Appendix II). Without adhering to and addressing these basic issues, any agreement reached - not only for the Eastern problem, but for all regions of Sudan - would be a matter of time before it is scuppered once again.
* Dr Omer M Shurkian is a Sudanese from the Nuba Mountains in central Sudan. He is the former chairman of the UK-based Nuba Mountains Solidarity Abroad (1999-2003). As a human rights activist, he was involved in a campaign against the Sudan Government’s human rights violations meted out on the Nuba people in the Sudan. He has published a number of articles on the plight of the Nuba people; he is the author of the incoming book in Arabic whose title can be translated as The Nuba in Sudan: the struggle of a people in search of justice and power-sharing; Dar al-Hikma: London, 2006. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org