Sudan implodes under racial hierarchy and superiority complex

Diaspora Despatch

LaBode Obanor

Sudan has been plagued by numerous crises and conflicts that have severely affected its people and its development.

With a massive landmass bordering the Red Sea, the Sahel region, and the Horn of Africa, a racial mixture of light-skinned Arabs in the north and dark-skinned black Africans dominating the south, the country has been scourged in endless violence since it got its independence from imperial Great Britain.

Sudan derives its name from the Arabic bilad al-sudan, meaning “land of the blacks,” It was a protectorate of Egypt until 1956 before it gained independence from the hegemonic power of the British Empire. Sudan was ruled without regard for the needs and interests of its people. Just as in the case of Nigeria and other parts of Africa, the British used a divide-and-rule strategy to maintain control, enabling them to exploit the country’s resources while keeping the population suppressed. Tactics often deployed were to pit the light-skinned indigenous people against their darker-skinned counterparts bestowing on them a false sense of racial superiority over their fellows. 

Here is how they did it: The British would vest some privileges, higher status on the lighter-skin-toned population, so they felt superior to their black brethren. By so doing, manipulated them into believing that any perceived gains by the dark-skinned populace would come at their expense. Or make them feel that the others who purportedly look not like them, threaten their survival. Thus, by conferring the privilege of whiteness on the Arabs, they ignored the struggle against their common oppressor and began warring with their black compatriots for control of whatever resources were left. While their colonial master, like bandits, hauled their resources to faraway Britain. Such colorism–intra-racial racism contributed significantly to the social, political, and economic challenges that Sudan faces today.

Sometime before January 1, 1956, in pseudo-independence maneuvering, the British divided Sudan into northern and southern regions with very different cultures and religions to ensure the endurance of their morbid construction. The northern part was Muslims of Arab descent who were considered the elites controlling all the resources, while the southerners were largely composed of black Africans who followed traditional beliefs and Christianity. The power imbalance inherent in this arrangement led to economic, political, and ethnic marginalization of the southern people. This led to calls for secession, which the northerners vehemently opposed.

After the Britishs exit, Sudans leaders struggled to create a stable government based on democratic principles. The first post-independence government was overthrown in 1958, and this began a series of coups, counter-coups, and political instability. The military assumed power in 1969, and military regimes ruled the country for the next thirty years amid an ongoing war between the government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), which represented the interests of the people in the south of the country. 

Notably, southern Sudan has oil reserves, but most of the oil wealth is used to fund the Arab-dominated military and the northern part of the country. Precipitated by the institutionalized racial hierarchies ubiquitous in the country, the unfair wealth distribution led to grievances from the Southerners who felt cheated, thus leading to more conflicts.

Apart from resource oppression, the black Sudanese also endure racial insults from their Arabspeaking brethren. For instance, the derogatory termabeedused by Arab Sudanese to describe the black southerner meansslave. According to Jok Madut, in his book “Sudan: Race, Religion and Violence, the term, which has the same meaning as “nigger” is used to describe those of lower social class who lack morality. It has also become associated with poverty and people with filthy physical appearance. For example, it is not uncommon to assume most criminals are abeed because they are considered poor and non-Arabs. Or to walk into a government building or bank and not see the depth of racism. Only a sea of light-skinned Arab speakers fills the middle of high-end jobs.

Socially, politically, and economically, darker-skinned Ugandans are prejudiced, from policing, and the unfair justice system, to employment, housing, and healthcare. The light-skinned Arabs, over the years, conveniently attached a social stigma to dark skin so that even the black Africans in the Darfur region and others began bleaching their skin in response to their feeling of inadequacy and insecurity due to their perceived physiological deficiency.

Skin color bias plays a significant interplay in perception and interactions in never subtle ways. For example, black-skinned Sudanese are widely abused and racially dehumanized in public spheres. The disdain and animus are so profound that the BBC reported on it in 2020. This was during the anti-racism protest following the George Floyd killing at the hands of police and the notion of whether Black Lives Matter. A marriage between a light-skinned Arab Sudanese and a famous Sudanese footballer exposed racial decadence. Rather than solidarity with the plight of the black person, many Sudanese social media users hurled racial abuse at the black footballer, Issam Abdulraheem, and his light-skinned Arab wife, Reem Khougli, following their marriage.

“Seriously girl, this is haram (Arabic for forbidden)… a queen marries her slave,” one man commented on Facebook after seeing a photo of the couple.

Such anti-social virulence and continued jostling for resource control have led to the ongoing conflict in the country.

In the early 2000s, because of the continued abuse by Arabs Sudanese and their oligarchs in authority, ethnic blacks began attacking the ruling government, accusing them of practicing vicious apartheid and systematic oppression. In response to the attacks, the government violently carried out a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the non-Arabs. This led to Sudans deadliest conflict- the war in Darfur. The war was no doubt sparked by tensions between the Sudanese government, controlled by the Arab Sudanese population, and the non-Arab Africans in Darfur.

The Darfur conflict resulted in the displacement of over two million people and caused the deaths of approximately 300,000 people. 

The war lasted sixteen years and ended three years ago. Now we are back at it again. Last week, the world woke up to headlines that fighting had resumed due to an unresolved power struggle between the Sudanese armed forces led by the countrys defector ruler Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and the paramilitaries of the former warlord Gen Mohamed Hamdan (Dagalo) called the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). This is the same militia (also known as Janjaweed) employed by the former dictator, Omar al-Bashir, in 2003 to quash the black agitators clamoring for equality and fairness. The Janjaweed is notorious for widespread atrocities and raping of blacks in the Darfur area. Now, with unending distrust between those with guns, while feuding with civilians in the south, it appears this country is unlikely to get a reprieve anytime soon.

More exigent is the neglect of the core of the problem– the ongoing state-sponsored exclusion and cultural and social apartness which has caused Sudan to remain in a perpetual state of endless warsPerhaps the time to address this is overdue.

Paradoxically, the Arab-speaking tyrannical elite with illusory superiority seem to be wrestling with internal contradictions because they dont look much different from the blacks. One can easily tell a stark difference between the skin tone of a Middle Eastern Arab and a Sudanese Arab because the latter looks more African. He is not authentically Arab because of his skin tone and thus cant claim Arabness. Because to be authentically Arab,it isnt enough to speak Arabic or have facets of Arab culture syncretized into your own, but your blackness needed to be invisible.” And this they cannot do. Thanks to Centuriesold homogenization between the light-skinned and darker-skinned populace.

Thus, if the Arabspeaking Sudanese hope to achieve peace, they must stop the persecution, the institutional exclusion, the racial, structural, and socio-economy marginalization of the blacks, stop the Arabization and Islamization plot and forge a sustainable truth and reconciliation arrangement. Then and only then can a lasting peace and progress be achieved. The burden is on them. 


Twitter: @Obanor


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