Sora - a female name from South Sudan, meaning revolution.
SORA - a revolution in global awareness. A revolution of knowledge

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The Sudanese Online Research Association welcomes contributions of essays, papers and projects about Sudan and the Sudanese Diaspora. The following headings link to research papers that are published exclusively through the Sudanese Online Research Association Online Library. If you require further details about the authors please email.

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What Are The Sudanese People Fighting For? - Douglas Johnson book review, By Chaplain Kara Yokoju
Click here to download the full text, printable version

**This article is kindly published with permission and support from the Australiasian Journal of African Studies and the Author. **

What Are The Sudanese People Fighting For?
Douglas H. Johnson, The Root Causes of Sudan’s Civil Wars, Oxford, James Currey; Bloomington & Indianapolis, Indiana University Press; Kampala, Fountain Publications, 2003. pp 234; bibliographical essay; appendix; index; maps. ISBN 0-85255-392-7 (James Currey Oxford) ISBN 0-253-21584-6 (Indiana University Press).

Douglas H. Johnson draws upon his extensive knowledge of the Sudan to seek a broad explanation of the root causes of what is described on the cover as ‘one of Africa’s longest and most intractable conflicts’ and one which for some thirty years has threatened to break-up this vast country of many racial, ethnic, cultural, religious, political and economic differences. He begins with the historical structure of North-South relations which relationship he argues in Chapter 1 has been misunderstood and its historical causes ‘ misrepresented’. States; trade & Islam before 1820; the Egyptian conquest and the Mahadiyya & internal colonialisms are used to reject the claim that Sudan’s civil wars are the result of colonialism alone. Chapter 2 however stresses the impact of British overrule from 1899-1947: the pattern of the conquest & occupation, North & South and Southern policy were based on the concept of one country two systems, so that after the departure of the British in 1956 it was impossible to run the country as one country one system.

Chapter 3 covers the period deals with the period 1942-72, the rise of Nationalism leading to Independence; how, in the eyes of Southerners, the Northern rulers who took over from the British at independence were regarded as new colonialists; and the outbreak of the first civil war was a result of that Southern disappointment. Chapter 4 which deals with The Addis Ababa agreement & the regional governments 1972-83 underscores the significance of that agreement but the difficulties encountered in implementation process. Issues such as security; integration; political interference by Khartoum in the Southern region’s affairs; economic confrontation between Khartoum and Juba; the borders problem with the North annexing parts of the South; the oil found in the South but exploited by the North; the North and Egypt dependent on water from the South; Dinka domination in the South; political fights in the North; and international pressures on Nimeiri. Nimeiri’s unwillingness to address Southern grievances and his unilateral decision to abrogate the agreement in 1983 resulted in Southerners taking up arms to fight the government in the second civil war 1983-5 dealt with in Chapter 5 while the Northern parties’ political decision to turn Sudan into an Islamic state increased the momentum of the fight for liberation in the South between 1986 to 1991, dealt with in Chapter 6, which shows how the SPLA position improved as more Southerners join in to fight.

From Chapter 7 the author then traces the internal conflicts that led on the one hand to factionalism in the SPLA and on the other the civil war within Islam and which have meant that ‘(t)he current civil war has intensified in complexity the longer it has been fought.’(p 127) The internal power struggle within the SPLA leading to the 1991 split into two factions (Torit and Nasir ) of 1991. Chapter 8 discusses the Nuer civil war following the split of the SPLA in 1991. The Nasir faction, which became known as SPLA-United, has had its own internal power struggle between Riek Machar and Lam Akol. The Nuer civil war also saw the traditional Nuer-Dinka hatred intensified. The fighting left many killed on both sides.

Chapter 9 deals with multiple civil wars 1991. During this period ‘a network of internal wars’ were taking place in many parts of the country; for example, the civil war within Islam where Islamic factions in the North were fighting each other to install their own brand of political Islam in Sudan. The Islamic civil war spread to the Nuba Mountains, Southern Blue Nile, Eastern Sudan and Darfur. The SPLA became involved in the Islamic civil war in order to defend the non-Arab population in these areas. It was successful in the Nuba Mountains and Southern Blue Nile. Chapter 10 deals with the war economy and the politics of relief.

The author argues (see Chapter 10, The War Economy & the Politics of Relief) that ‘the civil war has been fought on the ground as a resource war’ (p151) and that civilians ‘have often been treated as a resource to control’. Both sides in the war involve capturing labour and territory. The relief agencies were faced with a dilemma-were they to satisfy the demands of the Sudan government, the SPLA or the donor countries.

These ten, detailed chapters lead to the conclusion that ‘no single factor can account for the profound divide now separating the main regions of the Sudan, nor for the ferocity of the multiple civil wars which pit different parts of Sudanese society against each other’ (p.167).
In the final Chapter 11 the author therefore turns to the question of Sudanese ideas of peace and war and the attempts the Sudanese themselves have made to resolve the conflict; internally as well as through international intervention. The author points out that the internal peace attempts include Wunlit Dinka-Nuer conference of 1999 which paved the way for resolving not only the Dinka-Nuer conflict but other people to people conflicts in the South. This became a model for a grass roots ‘peace movement’ in the South based on the notion of a ‘moral community’. While in the North, the Islamic ‘moral community’ is based on the principle of exclusion. Peace can only come with the exclusion of other Islamic and non-Islamic groups. The other internal peace attempt was the so called ‘peace from within’ 1996/97 in which Riek Machar signed an agreement with Khartoum which promised the South more powers to run its own affairs. However that proved to be a false promise and Riek Machar rejoined the SPLA to fight Khartoum. The international interventions to try to bring peace to Sudan include the Frankfurt Declaration of January 1992, Abuja 1 and 2 and IGAD (Inter-governmental Agency for Draught and Desertification) consisting of Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Djibouti, Somalia and Sudan. Under IGAD these countries agreed to mediate a peaceful end to Sudan’s civil war. The other peace initiative was the so-called Libyan-Egyptian peace plan of 1999. However, IGAD remains the only credible agency charged with the task of ending Sudan’s war and bring peace to that country. It has done well so far in bringing the parties together and commits them to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in which they agreed to negotiate until an agreement on all contentious issues is reached.

The author notes the pressure from the international community for the parties to reach an agreement by the end of 2003 but warns against a repeat of the ‘shambles of independence, when international intervention circumvented the self-determination process’ in which the people of the South were denied a vote through referendum to decide for their future. It is to be hoped that those who have been engaged in the on-going peace talks in Kenya that currently (late 2003) bring hopes for success have born this in mind. It was the deferment of the decision to allow Southerners to exercise their right of self-determination that resulted in the current civil war. No peace agreement should be imposed on the people of the South because of interest of foreign governments seeking access to and exploit its oil. A peace agreement that fail to address ‘the root causes of Sudan’s civil wars’ will lead to a third wave of civil wars throughout the country the end of which will mean many Sudans.

In conclusion, I recommend this book to scholars of Sudanese Studies, Africanists, Diplomats, Relief and Human Rights workers and any one seeking to understand the root causes of Sudan’s conflict.


Chaplain Kara Yokoju
School of Politics and International Studies
Murdoch University, Perth WA.



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