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State of the World's Minorities 2008 - Sudan

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 11 March 2008
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities 2008 - Sudan , 11 March 2008, available at: [accessed 25 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

In Sudan in 2007 the position of minorities worsened. In a country which is home to more than 56 ethnic communities, and over 600 sub-ethnic groups, the relations between different minorities are extremely complex. However, the primary difficulty is that of governance. Successive governments in Khartoum, including the current one, have pursued a policy of disenfranchising minorities, while concentrating the economic and political power in the hands of narrow elite based in the capital. Marginalization has, in turn, fuelled conflict – historically in the south, among the peoples of mainly Christian and animist traditions, more recently in Darfur in the west and Beja in the east. And in 2007 new flashpoints emerged in Kordofan, in the heart of the country, and in the north among the Nubian and Manassir peoples.

The Comprehensive Peace Agreement

The biggest body-blow to the prospect of a new, more inclusive Sudan in 2007 was the prospect of the unravelling of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). This keynote agreement, signed in 2005, brought an end to the war between the rebels of the South and the Islamic government in the North. Although not perfect, the CPA contains provisions of critical importance to minorities, including (1) a national census, which would have helped accurately determine the ethnic composition of the country, (2) national elections by 2009, which may have increased the political representation of minorities and (3) a referendum on self-determination for the South by 2011.

All of these were thrown into doubt when the former rebel movement, the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) announced it was withdrawing from the Government of National Unity (GoNU) in October 2007. It accused the government of reneging on key provisions in the CPA – including the redeployment of troops, and the demarcation of North/South border, and status of the oil-rich territory of Abyei. Although the SPLM later rejoined the GoNU, the incident exposed the fragility of the CPA. If it does eventually collapse, then analysts predict catastrophic consequences – not only would there be the outbreak of a new, more deadly phase of the North-South war, but also the prospects of settling Darfur would recede even further.


The conflict in Darfur is roughly said to pit 'African' farmers (the Fur, Masalit, Zaghawa and other, smaller ethnic groups) against 'Arab' nomads. This has always been an overly simplistic explanation, but in 2007 the picture in Darfur darkened even further, as allegiances started to fracture and shift. At the start of the fighting in 2003, there were two main rebel groups. Now, there are over a dozen – some sponsored by regional governments, such as Chad, Eritrea and Libya. The fracturing of the rebels is partly a consequence of the ill-conceived Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA), signed by one rebel group and the government in 2006. Struck under international pressure – in particular from the US and UK – the DPA actually intensified the fighting on the ground, as former rebel allies took up arms against each other, while the government continued its military campaign, under the guise of supporting the peace agreement.

Another key development was the splintering of unity among the Arab Janjaweed militia. In January 2007, various militia – once allies – turned on each other in an outbreak of fighting just outside Nyala in South Darfur. This led some Darfuris from Arab tribes to seek refuge in enormous aid camps for the first time, heightening tensions there immensely.

Aid workers in Darfur, have reported that these developments have hardened ethnic divisions as, in times of great uncertainty, people have sought protection from their tribal groups. Although the international peace effort was reinvigorated in 2007, there is no doubt that the task of securing a lasting deal is immeasurably more difficult now compared with two years ago. The UN Security Council finally authorized deployment of a 26,000-strong peacekeeping force – with most of the troops drawn from Africa – although how easy it will be to deploy, given Khartoum's previous history of prevarication and obstruction, remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, the intolerable situation on the ground in Darfur is marked by upsurges of unpredictable violence. In October 2007, 10 African Union troops were killed in the town of Haskanita in North Darfur – their assailants rumoured to be a splinter rebel groups. Within days of the attack, the government had responded by flattening the town, leaving only a few buildings standing, and driving out the town's inhabitants – numbering several thousand.

Kordofan, and the North and the East of Sudan

In August 2007 a Darfuri rebel group attacked the town of Wad Banda in the neighbouring province of Kordofan, killing around 40 people, most of them from the police. This crystallized fears that the Darfur war would begin to spread to other disaffected regions. As analysts noted, as in Darfur, the marginalized, neglected status of Kordofan, with high levels of unemployment, made it ripe territory for rebellion.

Similarly, in July 2007, the International Crisis Group reported the growing restiveness in the north among the Nubian and Manassir peoples over unpopular plans to build hydroelectric dams on their traditional lands. The dams would cause massive disruption of local communities, and some – particularly among the Nubians – fear that the projects have the covert aim of destroying their ancient traditions and cultures.

The Los Angeles Times reported from the area in 2007, saying a rebel group calling itself the Kush Liberation Front had been formed, after security forces had opened fire on a Nubian protest in the northern town of Sebu. One rebel leader reportedly identified the need to get rid of 'the Arabs' as a prerequisite to building a new Sudan.

Meanwhile the situation in the east of the country remains fragile. The Darfur uprising was followed in 2005 by a rebellion in the eastern region, when the Beja Congress joined up with a smaller Bedouin group, the Rashaida Free Lions, to form the 'Eastern Front'. The fighting there ended in October 2006, with the negotiation of a CPA-inspired power-sharing deal, but this has yet to be fully implemented. Until it is, the threat of another uprising remains

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