The problems that the Borderlands raise, being that area of Africa stretching from Sudan on the Red Sea to Mauritania on the Atlantic Ocean, date back thousands of years. That area provides a sharper, historically based, holistic definition of the African personality than that hitherto offered by the Black consciousness movements in the Americas and southern Africa .
The last population census conducted in Sudan was in 1983. Population figures in Sudan, the largest country in Africa, and especially southern Sudan, are the subject of continual dispute. Sudan’s total population was estimated to be close to twenty million people, with 80-85% settled in rural areas. While 39% of Sudan’s population considers itself as ‘Arab’, the ruling elite in Khartoum present Sudan as an ‘Arab’ country, which most international bodies and scholars accept. In Sudan, mainly around Khartoum, exists a minority group of mixed race Black people who do not consider themselves Africans and who participate in the oppression and the enslavement of the majority African population. Clearly what is at stake here is not a matter of colour, but a question of culture. What the Borderlands teach us is that the African personality is primarily defined culturally. It is not race based.
This has profound implications for the struggle of the Africans in the new millennium. For the African unity movement it means wiping the slate clean and returning to the drawing board. With hindsight we conclude that too much emphasis was placed on colour, politics and economics as a basis for unity, at the cost of marginalising the significance of culture, and that indeed culture is the missing link in development. This is something that apparently the Rastafari concluded early on in the elaboration of their philosophy, with their acknowledgement of the centrality of culture, whilst not denying race, whereas the Communists, as seen in South Africa and Sudan, mistakenly denied race as a factor in social relations, only referring to class , despite their awareness of the national question.
As regards the historical progression of humanity in the Afro-Arab Borderlands, the doctoral thesis of Cheik Anta Diop in 1960 established the cultural origins of the Egyptian civilisation as being African. This was further affirmed at the UNESCO sponsored Symposium on the Peopling of Ancient Egypt and the Deciphering of the Meriotic Script convened in Cairo, Egypt, 28 January to 3 February 1974 and attended by Diop and Theophile Obenga. An examination at the National Museum in Khartoum, in Sudan, in December 2002 found irrefutable evidence that the earliest civilisations in the area of present day Sudan were African cultures. With the passage of time an Indo-European peoples entered north Africa through the Nile Delta pushing southwards the Africans, so that today the Borderlands define the line of confrontation between Afro-Arab cultures.
In the Borderlands, due to the Arabisation of its peoples, some of those leading the fight southwards are Black people, such as Sudanese President Omar Hassan Ahmad Al Bashir, who is of Nigerian Falata origin, who are culturally Arabised, who have been denationalised, having lost their African identity over generations.
It is no accident that the longest war in Africa was fought in the Borderland area of South Sudan starting, in the latest phase, on 17th August 1955. The fact is that the Borderlands wars have been going on and off for hundreds of years in a relentless Arab advance, pushing southwards, supported latterly by Arab League members. The costs of the protracted war were the debasement of the value of human life, the stoking of ethnic divisions as a basis for control and the disconnect between the authoritarian leadership and the mass movement, manifest in an absence of caring and social responsibility for the other, such that there is visible indifference to suffering within the ranks and the random use of violence. All these are manifest in Southern Sudan society today. It is a situation of survival of the fittest. The war tore the social fabric, traumatising the entire population, destroying what little infrastructure, such as roads, there had been, ending education, health and social services, creating a society where informants and collaborators flourished and the honest were considered naïve. Recent population estimates for southern Sudan (1998-2004 ), being extrapolations derived from multiple sources and indicators, vary widely from three to eight million.
In Darfur, which is located in the west of Sudan, a similar war to that which existed in south Sudan, is being fought. Whereas peace came to Southern Sudan, with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005, in Darfur there is no prospect for peace, in the short term, with the Darfuri committed to avenging the genocide by the Khartoum government, of their own. Whereas the current war in Darfur started in the new millennium, it has all the features of the war in the south ( eg the use of rape as a weapon, ethic cleansing, genocide, enslavement, aerial bombardment etc ). Whereas formerly the Darfuri, who are mainly Black Arabised muslims, considered themselves Arabs, the current war being wagged against them, has lead to many of them adopting an African identity, after realising that they are considered inferiors by Khartoum, which is settling in their area Arabised Africans from west Africa, such as the Taureg. A consequence of the Darfur genocide is the pending issue of a Writ by the International Criminal Court (ICC) against Sudanese President Bashir.
It is widely believed that if Bashir can sign peace with the Darfuri he may go back to war with the South, or with the Nubians in the Borderlands near Egypt, or with the Easterners living along the Red Sea, or any of the other marginalised groups in Sudan. Traditionally Khartoum has been at war with the periphery/marginalised parts of the country and consumed the wealth from the periphery into the centre, which is Khartoum, where an apartheid type of social system operates, at the top of which are the Arabised/Islamised mixed race/coloured group and at the bottom are the Black Africans, with a few Black African muslims making it to the top, such as Haruna, the Black muslim Darfuri Minister for Humanitarian Affairs, who is wanted by the ICC, a Writ has issued for his arrest, for executing the Darfur genocide, masterminded by President Bashir.
Prof. Helmi Sharawy of the Arab Research Centre for Arab-African Studies and Documentation (ARAASD) in Cairo, headed by Prof. Samir Amin, in his paper entitled ‘Arab Culture and African Culture: Ambiguous Relations’, defines the current status of Afro-Arab relations as ‘ambiguous’. Whereas the war in the Sudan is above-ground, that in places such as Mauritania is manifests by way of social tension and from time to time, by physical conflict, as well as an inability to maintain a democratic system, resulting in frequent military interventions in the state. The state of social relations throughout the Borderlands in places such as Niger, Mali, Tchad, Southern Libya and Algeria would be described as tense, in places conflict driven. In Mauritania a small Arab/Moor group holds in awe the majority African population, through an oppressive social system permitting the hereditary enslavement of Africans.
By B.F.Bankie, former researcher at the Kush Institution, Juba, Southern Sudan