By Owei Lakemfa
THERE were attacks from last week at the border areas of southern and northern Sudan, Africaâ€™s largest country. The clashes were between the south-based Sudan Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA) and Arab marauders from Darfur (the Janjawid) aided by the northern army (SAF) Raids by the latter group are not new. In fact, their murderous raids against the people of Darfur which resulted in about 400,000 killed andÂ 2.5 million displaced, has been classified by the international community as genocide.
It is due to such raids that Sudanese President, General Omar Hassan al-BashirÂ was indicted by the International Criminal Court which has declared him a fugitive. These raiders had also for decades, massacred peopleÂ in the south.
But last Friday, the SPLA killed 58 of them while 85 were injured.Â They had tested the will of the SPLA and had been heavily punished. The clashes are unlikely to escalate because the raiders have tasted the fire power of the SPLAÂ and,Â the northern army which has for 55 years been unable to subjugate the southern people, is not likely to risk another war.
On the other hand, the SPLA is not interested in another all out conflict because it is confident that the January 9, 2011 referendum in the oil rich south is likely to end in the independence of the region from the rest of Sudan. The 2005 peace accord that included this referendum also guaranteed the south autonomy, including the right to maintain its own army, the SPLA.
The clashes were also partly a struggle about what will constitute the borders of the new country and the old Sudan. The north has the knack of sending Arab militia backed by its army to brutally assert control over such areas. In 1983, after such raids, the governmentÂ excised the rich agricultural lands of Renk and oil producing areas around the Bentiu and merged them to the north.
In one of the most audacious moves ever, that same year, the north under GeneralÂ Gaaffar el-Nimeri decided to construct theÂ Jonglei canal in the south which needed the resettlement of the local population and the eventual resettlement of some 2.5 million mainly Egyptian peasantsÂ in the area. When mass protests by the potential victims followed, NimeriÂ in a feat of angerÂ cancelled the limited self-autonomy that had been granted the south in 1972 as part of a peace deal.
He also carved the south into three new sub-regions. It is such insensitive and brash actions, including massacres and enslavement that has pushed the great Sudan to the brink of disintegration.
This is an unfortunate scenario because at this time, Africa needs greater unity and cohesion. The reasons for the move towards a split is the result of a murderous northern elite using religion, race, ethnicity and a vicious army to subjugate the rest of the country and perpetuate genocide against the west and the south.
Since the Sudanese elites use arabicisation and islamicisation as instruments, it is tempting to conclude that the Sudanese war which pitches theÂ largely Arab and Islamic north and the black and Christian south shows that the Arabs and Blacks are radically different.
First, what we have in Africa are essentially a mix of Arabs with Berbers, BlacksÂ and if you like, Cushites. Secondly, three quarters of Arabs and Arab speaking people live in Africa. They are spread in some nine countries: Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Egypt, Libya, Mauritania, Western Sahara and Sudan.
Thirdly, Africaâ€™s relations with Arabs pre date Islam. Emperor Negus of Ethiopia was said to have given sanctuary toÂ the followersÂ of Prophet Mohammed (SAW) when they were under attack before Mecca was taken. Fourthly, no country can claim to have contributed more to the liberation struggles in Africa, especially in the southern African region than Algeria.
When in the early 1960s, Nelson Mandela and a delegation of the ANC visited Morocco, he reported that: â€œRabat was the crossroads of virtually every liberation movement on the continent. While there, we met freedom fighters from Mozambique, Angola, Algeria and Cape Verdeâ€.
But despite these, including Arabic, sipping into African languages like Hausa and Kiswahili, both sides have race differences and attitudes which are magnified in the Sudanese conflict. Mansour Khalid, Sudanese Foreign Minister (1971-74) explained this: â€œâ€To a certain extent, the Arabs have tended to look down upon the African as ignorant and pagan, seeing themselves as the disseminators of civilization.
This superiority attitude coupled with bitter African memories of Arab slave trading expeditions obviously has had an effect the way Africans and Arabs perceive each otherâ€.
The first phase of the southâ€™s armed struggleÂ for independence began in 1955 and endedÂ in March 1972 when General NimeriÂ and Major General Joseph Lagu, the leader of what was known as the Anya-Nya revolt, signed an agreement which guaranteed the south regional autonomy.
The second phase of the civil war was triggered off by Nimeriâ€™s September 1983 imposition of Sharia on the whole country. Within three months, 119 amputations had been carried out. Two battalions of the army led by Colonel John Garang broke away to found the SPLA which within two years had taken over most of the south. Ironically, the SPLA started out not as a southern group, but as a pan- Sudanese movementÂ which saw the south as an integral part of a united Sudan.
This is reflected in its 1989 four-point peace agenda which included the formation of a non- sectarian, national government that would include the trade unions and free all political prisoners. Other demands were theÂ production of a new constitution and the integration of the northern army and the SPLAÂ to establish a national army. The north-south war has cost over two million lives.
Sudan was originally known as Nubia before it was changed in the 19th Century to Bilad as-Sudan, meaning, the Land of the Black People. But its complexion and history began to change when Byzantine Egypt was conquered by the ArabsÂ in AD 640-42 and they pushed into Nubia, bringing new settlers and a new religion.