Category Archives: Sudan

The new Republic of South Sudan: Independence Day and the invention of tradition

by Nicki Kindersley

“Why isn’t Ban Ki Moon here?” asked my neighbour, sitting in the hard-won fifth row seat in Freedom Square in Juba, at the first anniversary of South Sudan’s independence as a new nation.  “It’s a snub!”

Expectations were high for this year’s ceremonies after the huge celebrations held at independence on 9 July 2011.  Many left work early on Friday the 6th, and announcements of a public holiday on the 9th were posted across town and in public offices.  Banners declaring 2012 as the year that South Sudan became a player on the ‘World Stage’ decorated Freedom Square.  While many people anticipated a repeat of the grandeur, investment and international interest of last year, most, however, were disappointed: not only did South Sudan’s deep financial crisis severely limit the scale of events, but there was also no real discussion – at least in public – about what should constitute the ‘traditions’ for Independence Day in the South. Leading up to 9 July 2012, there were simply no clear expectations about what Independence Day meant for this new nation.

Various ‘traditions,’ both spontaneous and engineered, were enacted in Juba over the weekend, and often competed for space and interest. Formally, the government repeated the basic outline of last year, with ranked seating rigged up in Freedom Square in front of the well-decorated podium, half reserved for SPLA generals and the other half for miscellaneous dignitaries.  John Garang – the leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in the second civil war and the leading face on all national currency – was invoked many times in speeches and in the ceremonial respects paid to his mausoleum by President Salva Kiir and President Museveni of Uganda.  Many speakers invoked the now-standard ‘traditional’ national story of the South’s struggle towards independence, led solely by Garang and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). Many audience members felt frustrated in listening to this oft-repeated tale rather than any mention of growing problems in the nation, including the financial crisis, unemployment rate, corruption and ongoing border war.

Behind this somewhat predictable display, however, was the sound of drums: sponsored by the government, several official dancing groups performed throughout the ceremony, watched by people tired of speeches.  This was also a smaller repeat of last year: budget constraints meant that the majority of the beaded and feathered dancers were local Bari and Acholi communities, or groups formed in Juba. Clustered in ethnicities, with circles of spectators creating small arenas, the dancers performed throughout the more formal ceremonials behind them, with members of their ethnic communities joining in with the more ‘traditionally’-attired dancers. These displays of discrete, ‘traditional’ ethnicities were a demonstration of what the government likes to call ‘unity in diversity’.  Local ‘tradition’ (albeit in neatly delineated ethnic groups) had been brought in to bolster a new, more fragile, national ‘tradition’ in Freedom Square.

These government-run ceremonial displays of ethnicity and nationhood, however, were matched for size and outdone in enthusiasm by the more spontaneous and popular events of the night before.  Like last year, celebrations started early: people turned out onto the streets of southern Juba, dancing, drinking, throwing burning paper and lighting aerosol cans, and riding around on pickup trucks (and in one case, this year, a tractor).  This raucous celebration was a carbon copy of last year’s joyriding, and actually disrupted the more ‘official’ event at Nyakuron Cultural Centre by blocking the roads entirely.  This was the real popular event of the weekend, encouraged by the idea circulating last year that the unofficial but real moment of independence was at midnight on the night of the 8th: the moment of the country’s birth.

“Maybe this should be a tradition,” said a radio commentator, looking at the dancing in Freedom Square.  These initial celebrations, while often disorganised, uncertain, disruptive and politicized, were all attempts, consciously or not, to repeat, formalise and enshrine particular practices and ideas about how the independence of the nation should be demonstrated.

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South Sudan’s “Christian and Animist” Population

Evans-Pritchard: Nuer Religion

Cover of E. E. Evans-Pritchard’s “Nuer Religion”

By Grant Brooke

To be a right writing observer of the two Sudans – these days – means one must go to some length to ‘de-mythologize’ the conflict. One must dispense of the simple tropes of a “Muslim North and a Christian South,” generally for the phrase a “Muslim North and a largely Christian and Animist South.” Adding the “animist” seems to be sufficient enough evidence for de-mythologization. The phrase is now the wording of choice for the UNHCR, BBC, The Christian Science Monitor, Economist, Reuters, Fox News, the New York Times, the Telegraph, several recent academic papers, as well as any number of local NGOs and missionary organizations. It has even found its way into the definitive wikipedia page for Southern Sudan.

And yet, describing the region as a “Muslim North and Christian and Animist South” carries with it three major problems:

– There a multiple forms of Islam and regionally specific religions in the North

– There are a large number of Muslims in the South (upwards of 10%)

– And, chiefly, there are no “animists” in the Sudans.

Let me expand a bit on this last point.

The usefulness of the term “animism” is an old debate in anthropology and religious studies. It was popularised in 19th century by Sir Edwin Taylor, and was later utilised by a number of social Darwinists. The same people who thought lighthouses should be banned so that bad sailors would be evolutionarily killed off on their way into port.

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John Calvin’s South Sudan: The Theological Groundings of Great Lakes Advocacy

By: Grant Brooke

Generally this forum leans towards the academic. But, for this post, I’d like to begin with a personal confession: In late 2005 I dabbled in Neo-Calvinist (sometimes called Neo-Evangelical) international advocacy. There was a weekend in my misspent churchly college years when my closest friend – now one of the Horn of Africa’s leading journalists – and I illegally camped in a Washington, DC park with hundreds of other evangelical youths. We were there for either the “Lost Boys” or the “Invisible Children” – Uganda or Sudan, I don’t remember which. It didn’t really matter. What mattered was that we were there, and our presence is what our God desired. He wanted us to be cold. He wanted us to ponder starving African bodies. He wanted us to join in his grand Manichean narrative of history. He wanted us to pass around tracks from the Evangelical David Crowder Band, and flirt with likeminded Christian campers.

Years later, as a reasonably secular, restrained academic, it is clear that perhaps I, more than God, wanted to be cold, to ponder starvation, to flirt, listen to music, and place myself in a grand historical drama. The Calvinist theologian I idolized in my college days – Karl Barth – used to say something like ‘when we try to speak of God we often end up yelling about ourselves.’  Perhaps I should have taken heed of his words, as I stood in that park, enjoying the image of myself shouting about an Africa I neither understood nor, in truth, cared to understand.

The Kony 2012 incident has made clear that people like my college self continue to wield considerable influence on U.S. policy in the Horn of Africa. I date their involvement to 1998; the early days of the Bush 2000 campaign. Allen Hertzke, an American academic sympathetic to Evangelicals, suggests that these American Evangelical groups are in large part responsible for the international drive for South Sudan to secede from Sudan. I’m prone to agree. Though, unlike Hertzke, I’m unconvinced that the U.S. Evangelicals’ effect on African policy is all-in-all a good thing. Too often their media outlets simplify facts, and obscure the role of African religions, presenting the conflicts as Christian vs. Muslim. Too often they motivate their members to action by degrading Islam as fundamentally evil and fanatical. Too often they turn a blind eye to the atrocities committed by those they openly support.

The groups’ mistakes are well documented – as seen with the reaction to Kony 2012, whose producers were on their way to meet Sudan’s “Lost Boys” when they ran into Uganda’s “Invisible Children.” As U.S. policy towards the Great Lakes in particular continues to often be defined by ad-hoc moments of catalysing advocacy– “Save Darfur,” “Kony 2012,” the budding “Save Nuba” movement – rather than well drawn, long-term, regional planning, I think it’s time we reflect on why these movements continue to thrive despite their systemic errors.

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Insects and Islamists: war rhetoric in the two Sudans

by Nicki Kindersley

The new on-off war between Sudan and South Sudan has attracted much international attention, particularly because President Omar Bashir of Sudan has recently begun to use some disturbing words.  Bashir, not one to shy away from a good play on words or a punchy slogan, has encouraged and popularised the use of the term hashara – insect – in reference to the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), a play on the term haraka (movement).  This term has been taken up by enthusiastic proponents of this state propaganda in violence and personal attacks on Southerners in the north, and in inflammatory op-eds in the more enthusiastically pro-war newspapers in Khartoum. (See on Bloomberg and at Human Rights Watch.)

This rhetoric – explained well by Magdi at StillSUDAN  – has been well-publicised, partly because of the easy parallels with the Rwandan genocidaire use of the term “cockroaches.”  The focus on this nastily entomological preoccupation of northern Sudan, however, should not distract from the overall seachange in rhetoric in both Sudans since the independence of the South last year on 9 July 2011.  Both sides (to varying extents) are moving towards a more violent, racist and inflammatory language.

This does not mean that the Southern politicians are openly engaging in the same kind of up-front incitement as Bashir and his supporters.  While Bashir reserves his more virulent speeches for less reported events within Sudan, the SPLA has engaged in a more international-oriented type of terminology, accusing the North of planning ‘genocide’ and ‘Islamisation’ ideas that buy into international – and often evangelical and right-wing – biases and fears.  This is a more politically “acceptable” level of fear-mongering, particularly in NGO and UN-heavy South Sudan; however, away from these public pronouncements, Southern rhetoric is less self-consciously measured.  Southerners returning from other countries, particularly the north, have been called jellaba – exploitative northern traders – and Arabs; some have been called sell-outs and disloyal.  The Ministry of Energy and Mining hung bright red posters around its compound in Juba for South Sudan’s independence day in 2011 calling the northern Sudanese ‘traders of slavery,’ colonisers and even ‘the cursed devil.’  Racial explanations of the current crisis are now far more acceptable in many circles, or at least more prevalent, as this language permeates both north and south.

While Bashir’s rhetoric is arguably nastier, both Sudan and South Sudan’s authoritarian and military-led governments have persistently (and often successfully) mobilised this racial and jingoistic rhetoric since the beginning of the civil wars in the mid-1960s; terms abd/abeed (slaves), farkh (descendants of slaves), slave traders, jellaba and colonialists have loaded historical legacies of their own.  Tracing these terms provides a visible historical barometer of politics and tensions.

This rhetoric is often racist, but more importantly it is mobilising and uniting, while also polarising each side.  As the undeclared war has escalated between Sudan and South Sudan, this language has become at least internally socially acceptable to some – for example, Sudan Tribune’s comments pages are proving difficult to control, despite being the preserve of the English-speaking, online and often diaspora Sudanese minority (see here) The CPA period from 2005-2011 – much like the 1972-1983 period under the Addis Ababa peace agreement – has been a temporary hiatus from the overt public use of this language.  The insects were put on ice.

Nicki is a PhD student at Durham University, researching the recent history of Southern Sudanese communities and their political activity in greater Khartoum, Sudan. You can read more of her work here.

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The Sudanese Islamic Movement: the third tareeqa, part two

Picture credit: Magdi el-Gizouli / StillSUDAN

This is part two in a series of two posts on the reorganisation of the Islamic Movement in Sudan by Magdi el-Gizouli. Magdi el-Gizouli is a fellow of the Rift Valley Institute, a regular contributor to the Sudanese press, and author of the influential blog StillSUDAN. Click here for part one.

The 11 May extraordinary meeting of the Islamic Movement’s Shura Council was in a sense an attempt to translate the remarks of the President into organisation principles. In the NCP media the debate was titled the relationship between the three Hs – the haraka (movement), the hizb (the party) and the hakuma (government), but none of the NCP’s bigwigs actually advocated for the ‘guardianship’ of the haraka over the hizb, at least not in public, with one notable exception, al-Tayeb Mustafa, the presidential uncle and the chairman of the Just Peace Forum (JPF), the president’s home-grown party as it were. Mustafa contended that the memo did not go far enough, and failed to address the real issue at stake, in his words the marginalisation of the Islamic Movement in the regime. It is our ambition to inherit the NCP, he told a meeting of his party’s Shura Council late in January. The NCP is too weak to withstand the challenges facing the country, he said. Continue reading

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The Sudanese Islamic Movement: the third tareeqa, part one

Picture credit: Magdi el-Gizouli / StillSUDAN

This is part one in a series of two posts on the reorganisation of the Islamic Movement in Sudan by Magdi el-Gizouli. Magdi el-Gizouli is a fellow of the Rift Valley Institute, a regular contributor to the Sudanese press, and author of the influential blog StillSUDAN. Come back on Monday for part two!

Earlier this month the Shura (Consultative) Council of the Islamic Movement, an extended central committee of four hundred members, held an extraordinary meeting to discuss a draft new constitution of the Movement to replace a set of ad hoc rules to which only its members had access. The new constitution identified the Movement, the parent organisation of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP), as a cultural, social and religious organisation and effectively surrendered its political mandate to the ruling NCP. News of the 11 May Shura only reached the media in the form of a concise communiqué. In fact, the Islamic Movement itself can be considered a semi-clandestine organisation; it has neither headquarters nor a legal personality. A private citizen in Sudan can only access the Movement as a member, and it rarely demonstrates its existence when not in crisis. In January of this year news surfaced in Khartoum that a memorandum signed by a thousand members of the Islamic Movement had been submitted to Nafie Ali Nafie, the deputy chairman of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP). Initially, the party denied that any such document existed, but was soon forced to go public under the pressure of al-Intibaha, the newspaper which eventually published the document, now dubbed the ‘memorandum of the thousand’ following established tradition.

Memoranda are a distinctive genre of political writing in Sudan imbued with a particular fetishist awe. High politics, to the ruling classes, is at most no more than the exchange of such texts. The first in that line in Sudan’s modern history is arguably the audacious 3 April 1942 memorandum of the Graduates Congress ‘in the name of the Sudanese people’ to the Condominium government requesting “the issue on the first possible opportunity by the British and Egyptian governments a joint declaration grating the Sudan… the right of self-determination, directly after the war”. Douglas Newbold, the civil secretary at the time replied saying the Congress had “forfeited the confidence of the government”. There could be “no restoration of that confidence” until the “Congress had so reorganised the direction of its affairs” that the government could “rely on having its wishes respected and its warnings observed”. In private Newbold took a more lenient line with Ibrahim Ahmed, the President of the Congress, and his fellow seniors, widening the split between so-called moderates who favoured reconciliation and extremists who sought confrontation. Ibrahim Ahmed, and Newbold, prevailed, but Sudan was delivered to the effendiya of the Congress a few years later. Continue reading


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“Sudan in the spotlight:” free articles from Routledge

Happy Africa Day! To celebrate, Routledge is offering open access to several top academic articles, including a dozen on the theme “Sudan in the spotlight.” To view the articles, go here and download the pdf document. Articles include:


“Sudan elections: inaugurating the last unified political order?” by Paula Roque

“Repression of Sudanese civil society under the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party” by Bashir Ali

“The Horn of Africa in the shadow of the cold war: understanding the partition of Sudan from a regional perspective” by Khalid Mustafa Medari


Happy reading!

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South Sudan’s New ‘War’: The SPLA-JEM Alliance Moves North, Part III

This is the conclusion of a three-part series by Dr. Carol Berger on the increased mobilisation of armed forces in South Sudan. Please see Part I and Part II.

“Youth Mobilization Awareness Committee (YMAC) It is
SPLA Ligitimacy [sic] to capture Heglig and stay therein. No
Withdrawal!!” Demonstrators heading to the UNMISS base in Rumbek,
Lakes State, 14 April 2012, to protest the UN’s call for the SPLA to
withdraw from the oiltown of Heglig in northern Sudan. Credit: C.

The government has organised protests against the UN in most urban centres. In Rumbek, the protest took place on April 23. About 300 people, some of them primary and secondary students in school uniforms, marched towards the UNMISS base at the north end of town. At the lead were dozens of motorcycles driven by government employees. I took a few photos of placards condemning UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon for demanding that the SPLA withdraw from Heglig. And then a plainclothes security man stopped and questioned what “authority” I had to take photos. It was indicative of the state’s imperfect comprehension of a public protest, the uncertain grasp of political expression. There were two government employees filming the “protest,” but I was the lone spectator. For state officials, “demonstrations” are for the use of government.

* * *

As the bombing along the border worsened, UN-contracted pilots detailed to fly north of Bentiu, into the conflict-affected area, struggled to get reliable information about the ground situation. The UN’s weekly situation reports were of no use for pilots landing in areas targeted by northern bombers. One pilot in a key UNMISS aviation point was reduced to making a nightly Google search, typing in “South Sudan news”, in preparation for his early-morning flights. He was still better informed than the airstrip’s UN head of aviation security. The European official, not trusting the UN’s own Department of Security and Safety, made cellphone calls to his ambassador in Juba. He described the UN’s coordination of air traffic as “a catastrophe.”

While a handful of journalists wrote gripping reports about the taking of Heglig and eventual retreat, the import of events seemed lost on international staff working for the UN. On April 21, as the bombing of Bentiu by SAF continued, the UNMISS base at Rumbek, just 150 miles south, sent out a mass email:

Dear colleagues and partners;

UNMISS Rumbek Staff Welfare Committee would like to invite you to a get together at Lulu cafeteria [UNMISS compound] today evening at 18:00. This is also an occasion to welcome our colleagues who were relocated from Bentiu. There will be music played and each individual will pay his own consumption, of course at the usual cheap prices of Lulu.

We are very sorry for the short notification. I hope, if you choose to come, you will enjoy it.

Best regards

An AFP correspondent, who travelled to Heglig after SAF forced the SPLA into a retreat, said the number of dead bodies wearing SPLA military uniforms was “uncountable”. SAF claimed to have killed 1,000 SPLA in the retaking of Heglig, but no outside confirmation was available. The wounded were being treated in Bentiu, and also in Juba. Intermittent closure of the Juba International Airport was said to coincide with the landing of transport planes carrying the injured, and the take-off of planes carrying new troops to the front.

* * *

Before I left my Juba hotel, before getting into a car with no petrol, I had asked to see the manager, to say goodbye. He’s “outside”, I was told, at the SPLA headquarters, a sprawling site on the northwestern edge of Juba. The Chinese businessman who owns the filthy hotel that I often sleep in, no more than a collection of mouldy portable housing units, is a major procurer for the military. The dogs of war are roaming. There is profit to be made.

Dr. Carol Berger is a postdoctoral researcher at Bristol University. She was resident in northern Sudan in the 1980s, working as a foreign correspondent, and has lived in South Sudan for four of the past six years. Her doctoral thesis (Oxford University, 2010) is titled “South Sudan’s Red Army: The Role of Social Process and Routinised Violence in the Deployment of Underaged Soldiers.”

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Filed under Heglig, JEM, South Sudan, SPLA, Sudan

A Comment on Gérard Prunier’s ‘Give War a Chance’

By Grant Brooke 

Last week in the New York Times, Gérard Prunier’s joined an increasing number of SPLM-connected voices calling for war with Sudan. Prunier’s piece is right on several points: 2005’s CPA excluded many necessary parties, the partition focussed too much on religion as the divisive factor, Khartoum cannot be trusted to follow through with international agreements, and al-Bashir’s recent language to describe his opponents is quite despicable. However, the op-ed – and the subsequent pro-war argument – has three core flaws:

1)     It completely ignores the economic realities of the current conflict.

2)     It assumes a united anti-Bashir front is possible, and will yield (a third) Sudanese Spring.

3)     His argument comes far too early.

Allow me to expound on each point:

By ignoring the economic realities of the current conflict, Prunier furthers a line of thinking that holds Khartoum as an irrational religious actor rather than the torturous rational actor the regime most often behaves as. This prospective conflict does not arise from identity politics. It is a direct result of the game of economic chicken the North and the South have been playing for months. To the World Bank’s astonishment, the South has chosen to completely shut-down its economy in order to avoid paying exorbitant transfer fees for its oil. The results are staggering.

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South Sudan’s New ‘War’: The SPLA-JEM Alliance Moves North, Part II

This is Part II in a 3-part series by Dr. Carol Berger on the increasing mobilisation of armed forces in South Sudan. Part I can be found here.

It was late on the evening of April 17 when I was summoned to meet South Sudan’s vice-president, Riek Machar. By chance, we were staying in the same guest lodge in Wau, the capital of Western Bahr el Ghazal State. The lodge, a former British colonial-era guesthouse, is located along the banks of the Jur River. It is the end of the dry season and the river is low, no sign of the hippos which loll about in its churning waters during the height of the wet season. I had been in my tent, typing up notes and sweating from the heat, when dozens of heavily-armed soldiers began filing past, signalling the arrival of a VIP. That they were speaking Nuer suggested it must be the vice-president, one of the few senior members of the South Sudan government who is not a Dinka. I passed my card to one of Machar’s aides, and waited for him to finish his talks with local officials.

Machar was one of the key figures in the South’s civil war, both with and against the late leader Col. John Garang. Today, as the number two in the government of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, Machar is emerging as a central figure in the South’s confrontation with northern Sudan.

He spoke confidently about the South’s claim to the disputed oil site of Heglig. “We have liberated Heglig,” he began. “And we hope to liberate other areas north of Heglig. If that means there will be confrontation, then there will be.”

With him was his wife, Angelina. The third person in the small, dimly lit room, was a tall soldier in blue camouflage. He stood a meter away, ironing on a cloth-covered coffee table. He finished ironing a woman’s shirt and carefully placed it on a hanger.

“We intend to stay [in Heglig]. It is our land, and we intend to defend our borders, not more than that. We are not ambitious to claim territory of the north.” His last words to me were “We are not expansionist.”

Machar took a call on his cell phone, telling the person on the other end of the line that he had “three missions” to complete. The next day, he flew by helicopter to the garrison-town of Raga, to the northwest of Wau. The site is important to the coordination between the SPLA and JEM. There he met with a senior SPLA strategist, Gen. Pieng Deng Kuol. Fighting between SAF and SPLA to the north of Raga could mark the opening of a second front. By Thursday he was in Rumbek, holding a rally at which his wife implored the mothers of Lakes State to allow their “children” to join the SPLA. When a number of youths went onto the podium, to show their desire to join up, eyewitnesses say that mothers, some weeping, begging their sons to get down. The next day, he flew on to yet another state.

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