Home | Comment & Analysis    Sunday 20 June 2004

Khartoum’s intolerable racial folly


By Philip Ochieng, The Sunday Nation

NAIROBI, June 20, 2004 — Why does the Sudanese government embarrass me so? Because it is Arab and many people - including Arabs - identify me with "Arab causes". But they completely miss the point. I do not support Arab causes as a permanent principle. In principle, I support only oppressed social groups - races, tribes, nations, classes, religions, sects, genders. Such groups may, of course, include Arabs. For instance, I speak out again and again for the Iraqi people, not because they are Arab - in fact, many are not - but only because their struggle against Anglo-Saxon imperialism and aggression is just.

What, in any case, would you say is the Arab cause? Subjectively, at least, those who pass as Arabs have as many conflicting causes as the states, religions, social classes and economic interests and households in which they live.

I reiterate that side only with such an Arab cause as may coincide with my idea of world justice at any particular time and clime. If I did not make this distinction, I would not be able to criticize the failings of so many Arab groups and individuals.

I would write dithyrambs for Shariff Nassir, Rashid Sajjad and Twahir Sheikh Said and sing Halleluyah for what Omar el Bashir, the Sudan’s very Arab president, is doing to that country’s black people.

That the conflict is politico-strategic - driven by profound economic interests - is not the thing about it. Such is the nub and core of all international conflicts. For instance, it is the only reason that President George Bush and Premier Tony Blair are riding roughshod all over the Middle East.

Indeed, the Sudan’s South has always promised milk and honey. More recently, black gold has been found to flow viscously all over it. Delirious greed makes myopic. And - like Mr Bush - Mr Bashir thinks he can secure the wealth by purely military methods.

What makes his case special and embarrassing is that his is a multi-racial state, and the politico-strategic conflict coincides perilously with the race divide. The racial ramifications include the fact that an Arab state is slaughtering by the lakh whole black populations within it.

The race line also coincides with the religious line, the dichotomy between Islam (the Arab north) and Christianity (the black south). Recognizing its own self-interests in it, the Western intelligentsia claims that Christianity is what is at stake.

Khartoum plays right into Western hands by trying to impose, for instance, shari’ah on the South, a Koranic concept as distorted in the mind of the ordinary Westerner - and, therefore, as scary - as Lewis Carroll’s "Bandersnatch".

That "Muslim fundamentalism" is the Sudan’s number one problem - that poor dear Christianity is what is under threat - is something I leave to Father Dowling and the US evangelical churches which recently "poured" money into trying to prejudice Kenya’s constitution-makers against Islam.

The fact remains, however, that the Khartoum regime is Arab and Islamic and that its enemies in the South are black and Christian. Observers accuse the regime of systematic and ruthless human rights abuse in the South.

We are told of genocides, wholesale slave markets, child labour, women bound for sale to harems throughout the Middle East, whatnot. The point is this: How can the African Union (AU) continue to bury its head in the sand against this economic racism and ethnic cleansing?

For it is a travesty of that Afro-Arab brotherhood to which such great nationalists as Kwame Nkrumah, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Julius Nyerere and Ahmed Ben Bella invoked us at the beginning of the sixties.

Arab occupation since the seventh century of black Africa’s northern coasts and lower Nile Valley - indeed, all the way to our own littoral and Zanzibar and Pemba - is a time-honoured fact of history.

It cannot be wished away. And it makes such Arabs as African as I am. It makes them my brothers and sisters. And I will protest vehemently should you subject any of them - even Shariff Nassir - to injustice.

But, for exactly the same reason, I cannot understand that a class of Arabs should arrogantly be slaughtering black Africans deep inside Africa while official black Africa watches as though nothing is happening.

Why is the African Union so profoundly silent about a racial tragedy of such monumental proportions?

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