There were two main migrations out of Africa. There was the first exodus of the original man ( Homo sapiens sapiens ), who was black and who settled all over the world. The next migration out of Africa was forced by slavery. Although the western Diaspora in the Americas, the Caribbean and Europe is known, the eastern Diaspora, which preceded the western Diaspora by a millennium, is not generally known. The African eastern Diaspora is found wherever Africans were taken in Caucasia and Turkey, in Arabia, in the Gulf, in India and points further eastwards. The eastern Diaspora is coming into view, largely as a result of an increasing conscientiousness of African identity in places such as South Sudan and Darfur, where Africans who formerly, since time immemorial had identified themselves as Arabs, are coming to realise that they had been denationalised of their African identity, due to enslavement, colonisation, forced Islamization and Arabization.
For instance in Darfur, in western Sudan there are three main black African groups, the Fur, the Masaaleit and the Zaghawa. Interestingly, in the past the Islamic leaders of Sudan, such as Turabi, tended to all originate from Darfur. These three African ethnic groups, which in recent times have been the subject of genocide by central government in Khartoum, were widely used by Khartoum as shock troops in its war against south Sudan, and to good effects. They are remembered in the south for their callous brutality against southerners.
With the war coming to an end in south Sudan, with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005, the southerners attained some measure of self-government. The Darfuri Africans got nothing. It is this, and their long-term marginalization, which caused the Darfuri to go to war with Khartoum, in the realisation that they had been used by Khartoum, which through it’s genocide in Darfur, clearly saw the Darfuri not as fellow Arabs, but as inferior Africans. There is that well recorded statement by some Arab and Sudanese leaders that the Darfuri have yet to achieve full Arab status ( ie that they remained too African and insufficiently Arabised).
One of the central connections of Africa with its Diasporas is culture. However Arabised and westernised the African Diasporas are, they retain elements, sometimes distant, of African culture.
The study of African society, especially from the cultural perspective, teaches us that the unity movement of Africans should have consciously advanced through culture, then the economy, to finally arrive at the political union of Africans within or outside the continent – for the movement towards unity began in Africa, was taken outside Africa and was then carried back to Africa. The Charter of the Organisation for African Unity (OAU) taught us that the organisation was dedicated to continental unity only, despite the Pan-African impulses which lead to its creation. Neither the OAU nor the African Union (AU) made any pretence to include the African Diasporas in their deliberations or administration. Yet the key link in the history of the African unity project is the linkage of Africa with its Diaspora.
As the significance of the struggle in the Afro-Arab Borderlands is better understood, so will the contestation around the African identity intensify. The Mauritanian, Garba Diallo says, ‘ a millennium of massive religious/ideological and human influx from the Middle East into the region has not only physically pushed the native population towards the south, but it has also displaced their African identity. The problem has become so profound that many of the Sahelian people cannot tell whether they are African, Arab or a mixture of both. This identity crisis is the root cause of the bloody wars of the Arabized regimes in Africa’. As the realities of this area are better understood, one of the consequence is likely to be fresh thinking about the sequences and consequences of unity.
Despite the happenings in the Borderlands (e.g. slavery, genocide, wars, racial oppression etc), which developed over a millennium, the states of Africa have in general been in denial and have chosen to ‘look the other way’, as regards these events, on the basis of non-interference in the affairs of sovereign states. Thus the realities in the Borderlands were ignored as an issue in the OAU/AU and elsewhere by those who would be expected to champion the cause of their kith and kin. There has even been talk that concerned persons should ‘not disturb the peace’ by raising such issues at this time. Some Africans are saying that the issue of reparations for Arab-led slavery should not be addressed in this period of world history, due to ongoing developments in the Middle-East, again deferring the Arab question.
One of the first steps taken by the Khartoum government after self-government, was to join the Arab League. The support by the Arab League states to the government of the Sudan in Khartoum in its fight against south Sudan and African nationalism is long standing and substantial. The support of the Arab world by way of finance and in terms of military supplies, has at times taken the form of volunteers. Ben Laden, the Muslim fanatic, spent time in Sudan and in Juba, fighting on the southern front of the fundamentalist global Jihad. After Sudan he went to Afghanistan. Will he next proceed to Somalia ? This war by the central government in Khartoum has received consistent support from the Palestine Liberation Organisation and Hamas, it’s Islamist wing. Hamas is on record of receiving substantial material support from Khartoum. Africa has no comparative reaction to the quest of Arabia to push southwards its interests and to secure for the National Islamic Front (NIF)/National Congress Party (NCP) control of the headwaters of the Nile, as far south as Uganda, if needs be. The OAU/AU was unable to discuss these matters, given it’s internal financial situation.
The mercenary Lords Resistance Army (LRA), after moving from northern Uganda, was installed in Juba and supported for many years by Khartoum. Now that the LRA has relocated to the Congo, it most likely is still financed by Khartoum, to cause mayhem on the southern boundaries of Sudan. Such mayhem is used to soften up the area, before the jihadists go in to convert. This terror tactic was used in west Africa, in places such as Liberia and Sierra Leone. Africa, in the past remained in a defensive posture in its handling of Arab hegemony, suffering in silence, while sustaining its support for Arabia in its conflict with Israel. This embittered the southern Sudanese, who had begun fighting Arab colonialism on their own with traditional weapons in 1955. But for the protracted fighting of the southerners against Khartoum, Arab hegemony would have overrun the south and moved into Uganda. Turabi was intent on achieving this. As it was the southerners stemmed the tide of the Arab onslaught. In point of fact what has happened is that Arab influence moved round the south and into Somalia. It will not stop there. It must be understood that these are historical processes. After Somalia will come Kenya and after Kenya will come Tanzania. It is this push south, starting over a thousand years ago, which is the older and historically more significant feature of our oppression as a people, as compared with the western enslavement, which began some 500 years ago.
Despite the various international conventions supposedly assuring human rights for all, Africans were only recently considered subjects of international law, whereas before they were treated as its objects, and it was well known that in places such as South Africa, they were denied human rights by the apartheid system, later considered to be a crime against humanity. It was only by 1994 after the racist authorities in South Africa had come under sufficient international pressure, that a planned regime-change took place in that country, prior to which the international community had chosen to ‘look the other way’ as far as the human rights abuse, which went on in the country, despite the work of Smuts in the formation of the League of Nations. The question needs to be asked, why no anti-apartheid movement developed in solidarity with the south Sudanese or the Mauritanians? South Sudan lost some three million persons during the long years of war. Why are Africans apparently indifferent to the genocide currently going on in Darfur?
Sudan and other countries in the Borderlands continue to experience a similar situation as South Africa and Namibia prior to 1994. However, it needs to be stressed, that the situation in the Borderlands is more complex and its problems far more deep rooted than those found in Southern Africa. Sudan today, like South Africa was in 1994, is ruled by a minority, in this instance, a ‘coloured’ mixed race group, centred on Khartoum, implementing a Bantustan – type policy of separate development, with Khartoum accorded the benefits and South Sudan, Darfur, Nubia, Blue Nile, Nuba Mountains, the East etc, being marginalised and denied resources. Under Khartoum’s social conventions, black Africans are permitted status, only if they Islamise, Arabise and denationalise.
Central government in Khartoum is at war with large parts of the rest of the country, including areas, such as Darfur, where the population is largely Muslim. Weapons of mass destruction such as poison gas, aerial bombardment were/are used by the government against defenceless people. Rape is used as a weapon. The pattern of human rights abuse by Khartoum against not just South Sudan, but other areas and the absence of a co-ordinated international response substantiates the claim that Africans remain partial beneficiaries, of international human rights norms. For Arabia, Africa remains a civilisation vacuum, waiting to be filled by Arab culture and Islam. Whatever the truths of history concerning the African origins of world civilisation (Cheikh A.Diop), such tenets are not taught in schools in Arabia. The knowledge that the original civilisation in the Nile Delta was black African is denied the Arab people. African political elites are accorded deference in the Arab world and diplomatic protocols are observed in state to state relations. Sudan teaches that it is at the level of ‘people to people’ or ‘state to people’ relations that the spirit of the OAU/AU supposedly guided by Pan-Africanism, is in need of improved performance by the Arab brothers. Those in the Borderlands tell us that double standards are deliberately implemented and that cohabitation in places such as Sudan and Mauritania is an apartheid nightmare.
B.F.Bankie, former Researcher at the Kush Institution, Office of the President, Juba, Southern Sudan.