Sudan: Storm Over the Nile
by Eric Margolis
by Eric Margolis: The
Dear Leader Calls for Holy War
Sudan is about
to face a dangerous political storm that may tear asunder that vast
nation and send tremors across Africa.
is scheduled on 9 January in which southern Sudanís eight million
inhabitants may vote to separate from the 34 million citizens of
northern Sudan and create their own new nation Ė South Sudan. The
United States has been quietly playing the key role in engineering
the breakup of Sudan.
Many of modern
Africaís borders are artificial: they were drawn by European colonial
powers heedless of the continentís tribal, linguistic or economic
in these borders are likely to unleash dangerous tensions, even
demands for secession across the continent.
One of Africaís
strongest taboos has been that borders inherited from the colonial
era are immutable. A break-up of Sudan, Africaís largest nation,
will bring into question the continentís entire geopolitical architecture.
from the Arab world and the sub-Saharan Sahel into the heart of
black Africa; it was cobbled together by the British Empire to safeguard
the Nile, Egyptís sole source of water, and to provide agricultural
is a dizzying collection of almost 600 often feuding tribes speaking
400 different languages spread over a vast area: northern, Arabic-speaking
Muslims and Nubians; ferocious Beja from the Red Sea Coast ("Fuzzy-Wuzzies"
to the British); wild Bagarra nomads from Darfur; and Stone Age
tribes from the upper Nile.
thinks Sudanís problems are something new would do well to go back
and study Britainís epic 19th-century wars to conquer Sudan, and
the historic uprising and resistance of its Islamic leader, the
Mahdi. One cannot understand modern Darfur without referring to
its tribal conflicts of the 1880ís.*
It is remarkable
that Sudan has held together for so long. A low-intensity civil
war has raged for 60 years between Muslim northerners and non-Muslim
southerners in which two million are said to have perished. Muslims
make up 75% of Sudanese; animists (traditional African faiths) account
for about 20%, and southern Christians some 5%. Islamic law has
been applied in the north, but rejected by most non-Muslim southerners.
Christian secessionist movement has long been advised and financed
by British and US Christian missionaries who saw the regionís tribes
as fertile ground for conversion. Western "humanitarian"
aid groups have played a key role in fostering the south Sudan independence
groups, including so-called "Christian Zionists," who
are fiercely anti-Islamic, have been playing an important role in
promoting southern Sudanís secessionist movement. Since evangelicals
now constitute a key Republican constituency, the party has been
quick to adopt the cause of south Sudanese secession.
has been rent for decades by local conflicts between its three main
pastoral Nilotic tribes, the Dinka, Shilluk and Nuer, who routinely
launch raids on one another for cattle and women. Their feuds are
likely to carry over into a new south Sudanese state.
Sudan has also
suffered another confusing conflict in the remote western regions
of Darfur and Kordofan between nomadic and farming peoples. The
International Criminal Court in The Hague has indicted Sudanís strongman,
Gen. Omar el-Bashir, for war crimes in Darfurís murky tribal war
that has become a cause cťlŤbre in the West.
Just how much
Gen. Bashirís regime is responsible for alleged mass killings in
Darfurís tribal mÍlťe remain uncertain. But Sudan
is on the US black list as a terrorist supporter and under US sanctions.
Independent-minded Sudan, branded a "rogue state" by Washington,
has long been targeted for "regime change." The US media
and evangelical Christian groups have demonized Sudan and Gen. Bashir,
and branded him a dangerous Islamist.
North America over Darfur is exceeded only by the publicís total
lack of knowledge about this remote, complex region that is deceptively
Ė and quite wrongly Ė portrayed by media as a simplistic morality
struggle between wicked Muslims and helpless black farmers.
been very active in arming and supporting the South Sudan SPLA guerilla
movement, and will assume an even more influential role if southern
Sudan goes independent.
been involved in Sudan since the 1950ís. Israel successfully bribed
the late Sudanese dictator, Jaffar al-Numiery, to allow Ethiopian
Falasha Jews to fly to Israel from Sudan.
of oil were discovered in Sudan over the past decade. They are mostly
located in south Sudan but the Khartoum government controls the
export pipeline which runs north to Port Sudan on the Red Sea. China
has become a major customer of Sudanese oil. Washington intends
to elbow the Chinese out of Sudan if the south breaks away.
global oil plays a primary role on US foreign and military policy.
As a result, the US has become ever more deeply involved in Sudanís
affairs. Washington has been discreetly working with southern Sudan
to create a government, financial system, police, and army. South
Sudanese officials are being trained in the US. The number of US
diplomats and intelligence officers in Sudan has tripled.
of Sudan may have an immediate effect on other unstable neighbors,
like Somalia, Chad, and the Republic of Congo. Ethiopia, itself
an unstable amalgam, may get more deeply involved in the region.
eternally sensitive about who controls the Nileís life-giving waters,
is deeply worried about Sudanís future and fears a new regime in
the south may begin diverting the riverís waters.
Just at a time
when the US is increasingly active in Djibouti, Yemen, Somalia,
Mali, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda, it finds itself deeply involved
in engineering the break-up of Sudan.
All this may
be a bridge too far for the already over-stretched US military,
intelligence services, and State Department, not to mention the
empty US Treasury that now runs on borrowed money.
in 19th-Century Sudan should read Khartoum
by Michael Asher, an ex-SAS officer and old Sudan hand. A brilliant,
stirring recounting of the Dervish uprising, ďChineseĒ Gordon, and
Imperial Britainís river wars up the Nile to Khartoum.
him mail] is the author of War
at the Top of the World and the new book, American
Raj: Liberation or Domination?: Resolving the Conflict Between the
West and the Muslim World. See his
© 2011 Eric Margolis
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