South Sudan and the African Experience: The Quest for a New Political Order

Mahmood Mamdani May 20, 2011

Editor’s Note: Named as one of the “Top 20 Public Intellectuals” by both Foreign Policy (U.S.) and Prospect (U.K.) magazine in 2008, Mahmood Mamdani writes on the intersection between politics and culture, colonialism, the history of civil war and genocide in Africa, the Cold War and the War on Terror, and the history and theory of human rights.

In the following article, based on a talk at Uganda’s Makerere University in March, Professor Mamdani explores many of these issues in relation to Africa’s newest nation, South Sudan. In a January 2011 referendum, some 99 percent of voters endorsed the creation of South Sudan, which is slated to achieve formal independence on July 9, 2011.

At the end of this article, The Indypendent has provided a reference guide for some of the key names, organizations and events discussed in this article.

Whatever one’s point of view, it is difficult to deny that the referendum held in January 2011 on South Sudan — unity or independence — was a historic moment. Self-determination marks the founding of a new political order.

Nationalists may try to convince us that the outcome of the referendum, independence, is the natural destiny of the people of South Sudan. But there is nothing natural about any political outcome.

Consider, for example, who is the self in what we know as self-determination? In 1956, when Sudan became independent, that self was the people of Sudan. Today, in 2011, when South Sudan will become independent, that self is the people of South Sudan.

That self, in both cases, is a political self. It is a historical self, not a metaphysical self as nationalists are prone to think. When nationalists write a history, they give the past a present. In doing so, they tend to make the present eternal. As the present changes, so does the past. This is why we are always rewriting the past.

Now, the referendum is a moment of self-determination. Not every people gets this opportunity. If the opportunity comes, it is once in several generations. It comes at a great price paid in blood, in political violence. Many have died to make possible this moment of self-determination. Let us begin by acknowledging this sacrifice, which signifies this historical moment.

Rather than tread on firm ground, I want to pose a set of questions to serve as guidelines to how we may think of South Sudan in the days and months and years ahead.

One: How should those committed to Pan-African unity understand the emergence of a new state, an independent South Sudan? What does it teach us about the political process of creating unity?

Two: As we write the history of self-determination, how will we write the history of relations between the North and the South, as the history of one people colonizing another or as a history with different, even contradictory, possibilities?

Third: How did the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), historically a champion of unity of Sudan, a New Sudan, come to demand an independent state?

Finally: Now that the SPLA’s political project has changed to the creation of a new state, this raises a different question: Will the South establish a new political order, or will it reproduce a version of the old political order, such as the old state we know as Sudan? Will independence lead to peace or will peace be but an interlude awaiting a more appropriate antidote to ongoing political violence in Sudan?

Like the self, unity does not develop in linear fashion, in a straight line, from lower to higher levels, as if it were unfolding according to a formula. This is because political unity is the outcome of political struggles, not of utopian blueprints. Anyone interested in creating unity must recognize the importance of politics and persuasion and thus the inevitability of a non-linear process.

We often say that imperialism divided the continent. I suggest we rethink this platitude. Historically, empires have united peoples by force. France created two great political units in Africa: French Equatorial Africa and French West Africa. Britain created two great federations — the Central African Federation and the East African Federation — and it created Sudan.

These great political units split up, but that division was not at the moment of colonialism, rather it occurred at the moment of independence. This was for one reason: the people in question saw these political arrangements as so many shackles and struggled to break free of them.

Unity can be created by different, even contradictory, means — it can be created by force, and it can be created by choice. This is why we need to distinguish between different kinds of unities: unity through bondage and unity through freedom. This is why a democratic position on African unity is not necessarily incompatible with a democratic right to separation, just as the democratic right to union in marriage is not incompatible with a democratic right to divorce.

The Organization of African Unity (OAU) had two provisions in its charter: the sovereignty of all states, and the right of all peoples to self-determination. Most observers saw these as contradictory. I suggest we revise this judgment in retrospect.


We need to rethink the relation between sovereignty and self-determination. Sovereignty is the relation of the state to other states, to external powers, whereas self-determination is an internal relation of the state to the people. In a democratic context, self-determination should be seen as the pre-requisite to sovereignty.

There are, in the postcolonial history of Africa, two great examples of self-determination, of the creation of a new state from a previously independent African state: Eritrea was the first, separating from Ethiopia in 1993; South Sudan is the second. No state in history has agreed to cessation of a part. Cessation is always forced on a state. This is why we need to ask a question in both cases: how was cessation possible?

Eritrean self-determination was the outcome of two important developments, internal and external. Internally, it was the outcome of a struggle lasting nearly four decades, culminating in a military victory over the Mengistu Haile Mariam regime, known as the Derg. Externally, the relevant factor was the end of the Cold War.

The referendum on Eritrean independence was notable for one reason. In spite of the close relation between Eritrean and Ethiopian armed movements, the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) and the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), and their joint victory over the Ethiopian empire state in 1991, the Eritrean people voted overwhelmingly in 1993 to establish a separate and independent state.

In South Sudan, self-determination is the result of a different combination of developments. Internally, there was no military victory; instead, there was a military stalemate between the North and the South. So how did South Sudan win its political objective — independence — in the absence of a military victory? Until now, this remains an unanswered question.

My answer is provisional. In the case of South Sudan, the external factor was more decisive. That external factor was 9/11 and, following it, U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. In my view, it is only this factor, the real grip of post-9/11 fear, the fear that it will be the next target of U.S. aggression, that explains the agreement of the government in the North to include a provision for a referendum in the South in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).

The result of the referendum could not have been in doubt. It would have been clear to anyone with a historical understanding of the issues involved and of the experience of the process leading to Eritrean independence that the referendum would lead to an overwhelming popular vote for an independent state in the South.

Why then did the power in the North agree to a referendum? My answer is: the agreement to hold a referendum deferred a head-on confrontation with U.S. power.

Is independence the end of a colonial relationship? This is indeed how one tendency in South Sudan thinks of independence, just as some who called for Eritrean independence spoke of Ethiopia as a colonial master. The analogy is misleading for at least one reason. Whereas the colonial power left the region, North and South will always be neighbors.

You can leave your marriage partner, but you cannot leave your neighbor. Neighbors have a history, and that history overlaps geographical boundaries. Though North and South are distinct geographies, they have overlapping histories. I would like to highlight key developments in that history.
The first development was that of migrations, both voluntary and forced. Let us begin with voluntary migrations.


One interesting example takes place in the period before Western colonialism, even before the regional slave trade, when the Shilluk migrated from the South. From among the Shilluk rose the royal house of the Funj, with a sultanate that had its capital at Sinnar. As it expanded, the sultanate raided the South for slaves, mainly for slave soldiers. For reasons that need to be explored further, colonial historians have termed these raids the Arab slave trade.

The Sultanate of the Funj was the first Muslim state in the history of Sudan. Sinnar ended a thousand-year history of Christian states in the North, demolishing Christian states in the region and inaugurating the political history of Islam in Sudan. Given the conventional understanding that equates Islam with the North and Christianity with the South, we should remember that political power in the North, in Nubia and Beja, was Christian — and that the royal family of the first Muslim state in Sudan came from the South, not the North.

In contrast, Islam came to the North in the form of refugees and merchants, not royals or soldiers.

The migrations that we know of better were forced migrations, slavery. The South plundered for slaves from the 17th century onward with the formation of the Sultanate of the Funj along the Nile and the Sultanate of Darfur in the west. But the slave trade became intense only in late 18th century when the Caribbean plantation economy was transplanted to Indian Ocean islands.

The rise of a plantation slave economy has a number of consequences. Prior to it, the demand for slaves came mainly from the state; it was a demand for slave-soldiers. As slave plantations were developed in the Indian Ocean islands, in Reunion and Mauritius and other places, the demand shifted from the state to the market. The scale of the demand also increased dramatically.

Nonetheless, most of those enslaved in the South stayed in Darfur and Sinnar as slave-soldiers. Most of those in Darfur became Fur. Most of those in Sinnar became Arab. They were culturally assimilated — mostly by consent but the kind of consent that is manufactured through relations of force. For a parallel, think of how African slaves in North America became English-speaking Westerners — thereby taking on the cultural identity of their masters.

This history should disturb our simple moral world in a second way: some of the Arabs in the North are descendents of slaves from the South.

The second great historical development that has shaped relations between North and South in Sudan is that of anti-colonial nationalism. The event that marks the hallmark of anti-colonial nationalism is the Mahdiyya, the great Sudanese revolt against British-Ottoman rule, known as the Turkiyya. Led by Mohamed Abdulla, the Mahdi, this late-19th-century rebellion was, after the 1857 Indian Uprising, the greatest revolt to shake the British Empire. With its firm social base in Darfur and Kordofan, the Mahdiyya spread first to the rest of northern Sudan, and then to the Dinka of Abyei, the area along the present-day border between South and North Sudan. The Dinka said the Spirit of Deng had caught the Mahdi.

Modern Sudanese nationalism begins in the 1920s with what has come to be known as the White Flag revolt. It was spearheaded by Southern officers in the colonial army, and marks the turning point in colonial policy in Sudan, when British power decided to quarantine the South from the North. This is how North and South came to be artificially separated in the colonial period, with permission required to cross boundaries. This kind of separation is, however, not unusual in the history of colonialism — Karamoja too was a quarantined district in colonial Uganda.

The third point is key: an even worse fate met the people of South Sudan after independence. A state-enforced national project unfolded in Sudan, at first as enforced Arabization, later as enforced Islamization.

This — rather than the colonial period — is the real context of the armed liberation struggle in the South, for the fact is that it did not take long for both the political class and the popular classes in the South to realize that the independence of Sudan had worsened the political and social situation of the South, rather than improved it.

The Sudan People’s Liberation Army’s political program was not an independent South; it was a liberated Sudan. The SPLA did not call for the creation of a new state, but for the reform of the existing state. The demand for a New Sudan was the basis of a political alliance between the SPLA and the political opposition in Khartoum. It was the basis on which the SPLA expanded the struggle from the South to border areas.

After SPLA leader John Garang signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and returned to Khartoum in July 2005, more than a million people turned out to receive him. They represented the entire diversity of Sudan — from North to South and east to west. They included speakers of Arabic and other Sudanese languages. Many drew comparisons with the return of Robert Mugabe to Harare. Garang’s return was a shock across the political spectrum, especially to the political class in the North.

This historical survey underlines the fact that there is not a one-dimensional history of Northern oppression of the South. True, Northern domination is the main story, especially after independence. But there was a subsidiary story: the story of joint North-South struggle against that domination.

If the SPLA had participated in the Sudanese elections in 2010, it would most likely have won — whether led by Garang, Salva Kir, or Yassir Arman. Ironically, then, precisely when the SPLA was on the verge of realizing its historic goal of power in the whole of Sudan, it gave up the goal and called for an independent South.


Part of the answer lies in the orientation of the political leadership, especially after the death of Garang. The SPLA was a movement with a strong leader — the weaker the organization, the more difference the death of one individual makes.

The history of liberation movements in this region testifies to this fact. It should also remind us that it is not unusual for strong leaders to be eliminated towards the close of an armed struggle. Remember the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) and the killing of Josiah Tongogara in 1979 on the eve of its victory; The African National Congress (ANC) and the assassination of Chris Hani in 1993, also on the eve of victory; and the SPLA and the death of Garang soon after his return to Khartoum.

It is worth comparing the SPLA with the ANC. Both were successful in undermining the attempt of ruling regimes to turn the struggle into a racial or religious contest. The ANC succeeded in recruiting important individuals from white population, such as Joe Slovo and Ronnie Kassrell. Similarly, the SPLA included key cadre from the Arab population like Mansour Khaled and Yassir Arman. The difference between them is also important: Whereas the line that called for unity, for a non-racial South Africa, won in the ANC, the line that called for a New Sudan was defeated in the SPLA.

In both cases the forces representing unity and those representing separation contested each other throughout the history of the struggle. In South Africa this was the difference between the ANC and the Pan-Africanist Congress of Azania. In the case of South Sudan, the two lines were represented by the SPLA and Anya Nya II, a successor to a rebel group from Sudan’s first civil war. The first called for a New Sudan, the latter for an independent South Sudan.

The first letter, S, in SPLA does not stand for South Sudan, but for Sudan. The second letter, P, stands for the people of Sudan, not peoples of Sudan. It is singular, not plural, as in many peoples inside one Sudan. The SPLA was founded as a nationalist project, an alternative to other kinds of nationalisms, to Arabism, to Islamism, but also to a separate South Sudan nationalism. The SPLA was a project to reform the state, not to create a new state.

Garang’s speech at Koka Dam in 1986 was the most explicit statement of why the future of the South and the North lay together, why political salvation lay not in the formation of a new state but in the reform of the existing state.

Today, the line calling for independence has emerged triumphant. How did we get to this point?

Part of the answer lies in the nature of political leadership. Another part of the answer lies in ongoing political developments. The key development was the experience of power-sharing.

The first power-sharing agreement in Sudan was forged in 1972 as a result of the Addis Ababa Agreement. It lasted 10 years and broke down when it was no longer convenient for the regime in the North. It also collapsed because the agreement had little popular support in the North. Why? Because the 1972 agreement reformed the state in the South but not in the North.

The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement was built on lessons of the 1972 accord. The key lesson was that power-sharing had been too narrow. As a result, the CPA called for a broader sharing of powers ranging from political power to wealth to arms. Still, it remained a sharing of power between elites, between two ruling groups, the National Congress Party in the North and the SPLA. It left out the opposition in both the North and the South. It was power-sharing without democratization.


What would democratization mean in the present context? Is there a link between democratization and violence? If so, what is that link?

I want to begin with two observations, one on political order, and the other on political violence. The first has to do with the link between organization of the state and maintenance of civil peace in a post-civil war situation.

Think of Uganda, 1986, which had just come out of a civil war. The terrain was marked by multiple armed militias, the best known being the Uganda Freedom Movement and the Federal Democratic Movement of Uganda. The Ugandan solution to this problem was known as the broad base. Rival militias were invited to join the new political order, but on two conditions: first you could keep your political objectives, whether monarchist or militarist, provided you gave up your arms; second, you could have a share in political power — a governmental position — provided you gave up control over your militia.

South Sudan, too, is attempting to create a broad base. But in South Sudan, different members of the broad base have kept not only their arms but also command over their respective militias. Every important political leader in the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) has his own militia, so that one has to ask: What happens if a leader loses his position within the SPLM or loses an election? The obvious answer is that commander leaves with his militia.

Take the example of Gen. George Athor, who rebelled after losing the April 2010 election for governor of Jonglei state. He led his militia into rebellion — attacking Malakal in the oil-producing state of Upper Nile. Gen Athor had contested the election as an independent candidate. But what is to prevent a general who contests as an SPLM candidate and loses the election from withdrawing with his militia?

Most discussion on the question of violence in South Sudan today focuses on the specter of North-South violence. There is hardly any discussion on violence within the South. Even when internal violence in the South is discussed, it is seen as a consequence of North-South tensions.

We need to look at both internal and external violence, violence within state boundaries and violence between states. Political violence in African states is not between states, but within states. The exception is where one state was created from within the womb of another — like Eritrea out of Ethiopia — or where one political class was nurtured in the womb of another, like the relationship between the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front and the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front, the Eritrean and Ethiopian armed movements, or the Rwandan Patriotic Army in Rwanda and the National Resistance Army in Uganda.

The first kind of violence abounds in postcolonial Africa, such as in the Rift Valley in Kenya, Darfur, the Ivory Coast and Eastern Congo. It is common to refer to all types of internal violence as “ethnic violence.”

All these cases have one thing in common. All have reformed the central state by introducing elections and a multi-party system. But elections seem to lead to violence rather than stability. Why? One clue is another similarity between these cases of internal violence. None has managed to reform the local state — the local authority — the District Authority that the British used to call Native Authority.

As a form of power, the Native Authority is of colonial origin. Colonialism spread a fiction: that Africans have a herd mentality and tend to stay in one place, so Africans have always lived in tribal homelands. This was the colonialists’ justification for administering every colony as a patchwork of tribal homelands


In actual fact, colonial administrations created homelands and Native Authorities. My research suggests that colonialism began with a program of ethnic cleansing. Take the case of Buganda, Uganda’s south-central region, where the national capital Kampala is located. All the Catholics were moved from Buganda to Masaka. Meanwhile, Mengo, located within Kampala, was considered a Protestant homeland. Administrative counties were designated as Protestant or Catholic or, in a few cases, Muslim. The tribe or region of the chief designated the nature of the homeland he administered. The ethnic cleansing in Buganda was religious, it was tribal elsewhere.

The Native Authority made an administrative distinction between those who were born or lived in the administrative area and those who were descended from its so-called original inhabitants. The distinction, in today’s political language, was between natives and bafuruki (immigrants). The system privileged natives over all others.

The colonial tribe was not the same as a pre-colonial ethnic group. The pre-colonial ethnic group was not an administrative but a cultural group. You could become a Muganda or a Munyankole or a Langi or a Dinka in the pre-colonial period. But you could not change your tribe officially in the colonial administration. Colonialism transformed tribe from a cultural identity to an administrative identity that claims to be based on descent, not just culture. It became a blood identity. Tribe became a sub-set of race.

Wherever the colonial notion of Native Authority has remained, authorities there define the population on the basis of descent, not residence.


Colonialism was based on two sets of discriminations: one based on race, the other on tribe. Race divided natives from non-natives in urban areas. Tribe divided natives from bafuruki in the rural areas, inside each tribal homeland. The difference was that whereas natives in urban areas were discriminated against racially, natives in the tribal homelands were privileged.

This administrative structure inevitably generated inter-tribal conflicts. To begin with, every administrative area is multi-ethnic, yet, in every multi-ethnic area official administration discriminated against ethnic minorities, especially when it came to access to land and appointment of chiefs, that is, participation in local governance.

As the market system developed, more and more people migrated, either in search of jobs or land, and every administrative area became more and more multi-ethnic. In a situation where the population was multi-ethnic and power mono-ethnic, the result was that more and more people were disenfranchised as not being native to the area, even if they were born in the area. Ethnic conflict was the inevitable outcome.

Africa is littered with examples of this kind of conflict. It is the dynamic that drives ongoing civil wars around the continent such as in Darfur.

Will South Sudan be an exception? Will South Sudan create a new kind of state, or will it reproduce a reformed colonial state?

One indication can be found in the period before CPA was signed in 2005. Before the signing, there were liberated areas, while afterwards the whole of South Sudan became a liberated area. The fact is South Sudan became independent six years ago, in 2005.

Compare liberated SPLA-held areas in Sudan with Sudanese government-held areas, also in South Sudan before 2005. The initial trends are not encouraging. Structures of power in both areas are the same. Both areas are ruled by administrative chiefs who implement customary law as defined in the colonial period, which systematically privileges natives over bafuruki, men over women, and old over young. From this point of view, there is no difference between how local power is organized in the North and in the South. Because the local power discriminates actively and legally between different kinds of citizens of South Sudan, it is bound to generate tensions and conflict over time.

The second type of violence, that between states, is specific to cases like Ethiopia and Eritrea, and Uganda and
Rwanda. Will South and North Sudan be an exception?

This depends on the sources of North-South tensions. First, there are the border states that lie within the North or the South but which have populations that historically came from both. This is the case in Blue Nile, Nuba Mountains and Southern Kordofan. The border states were politically the most receptive to Garang’s call for a New Sudan. The border states also felt betrayed by the decision to create an independent South Sudan. At the same time, the political class in the border states is exposed to retaliation from the Northern political elite, one reason why it may turn to the SPLA for protection.

The second source of tension is the population of internally displaced persons (IDPs): the population of refugees from the southern war who lived in the North. How many still continue to live in the North? We do not know, but at the low end it is estimated at hundreds of thousands of people. Are they citizens of where they live, Sudan, or of the new state in which they historically resided, South Sudan? Like Eritreans in Ethiopia, they will most likely be the victims of a failure to think through the citizenship question.

The third source of tension is in the area of Abyei, along the North-South border, where the Misseriya of Darfur and the Ngok Dinka have shared livelihoods and political struggles for more than a thousand years. Historically, African societies had no fixed borders; the borders were porous, flexible and mobile. But the new borders are fixed and hard; you either belong or you do not. You cannot belong to both sides of the border. Will the new political arrangement with fixed borders pit the Misseriya and the Ngok Dinka against one another?

Should the populations of border regions, pastoralists who cross the North-South border annually in search of water in the dry season, the IDPs who have settled in their new homes — should they have dual citizenship?

In sum, then, there are two major sources of political violence after independence. First, there is possible violence between North and South, which has three likely origins: populations with roots on both sides of the new border, IDPs, and peasants and pastoralists with shared livelihoods.

The second possible source of violence is within the South. It arises from the persistence of the Native Authority as the form of local power that turns cultural difference into a source of political and legal discrimination.

The solution for the first problem is dual nationality for border and migrant populations in the near future, which could possibly lead to a confederation in the distant future.

The solution for the second problem is to reform the Native Authority. If South Sudan is organized as a federation, how will citizenship be defined in each state in the federation: as ethnic or territorial? A territorial federation gives equal rights to all citizens who live within a state, whereas an ethnic federation distinguishes legally and politically between different kinds of residents, depending on their ethnic origin.

The basic question that faces South Sudan is not very different from the one that faces most African countries. Will South Sudan learn from the African experience — of ongoing civil war and ethnic conflict — and rethink political citizenship and the political state in order to create a new political order?

The future of South Sudan and its people rides on the answer to this question.

Mahmood Mamdani is the director of the Makerere Institute of Social Research in Kampala, Uganda, and Herbert Lehman Professor of Government at Columbia University. He is the author of
Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics and the War on Terror.

Reference Guide

Chris Hani
– A charismatic leader of the African National Congress, Hani was also commander of its military wing and took over as head of the South African Communist Party in 1991 from Joe Slovo. He was popular among youth in the townships, building a large base for the SACP, and was considered the leading candidate to succeed a Nelson Mandela presidency, but was assassinated by an extremist close to the neo-Nazi Afrikaner Resistance Movement in April 1993.

Comprehensive Peace Agreement
– A series of agreements reached from 2002 to 2005 between the government of Sudan and the SPLM/A, which established accords for a cease-fire, power- and wealth-sharing, resolutions of various conflicts and the right of the people of South Sudan for self-determination.

Derg – A committee of security services that was founded in 1974, deposing Emperor Haile Selassie the same year. It assumed control of Ethiopia by 1977 with Mengistu Haile Mariam as the undisputed leader.

Dinka and the Spirit of the Deng
– The Dinka are a Nilotic people who traverse the North-South divide. Their traditional economy is based on cattle herding and millet farming. The Deng is an important entity in the Dinka religion, responsible for rain and fertility.

Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF)
– Founded in 1989 as an umbrella group for various national fronts, it is currently the ruling coalition in Ethiopia.

Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF)
– Founded in the early 1970s, the EPLF was by the 1980s the main guerrilla organization fighting the Soviet-backed Ethiopian state. It was allied with similar movements such as the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), formed in 1975, which overthrew the Ethiopian state in May 1991. Under U.N. supervision, a referendum was held in 1993, creating the state of Eritrea. The next year the EPLF became a political party, the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice, which has been Eritrea’s sole party since then.

John Garang
– As a Sudanese military officer, Garang was sent to quell a mutiny by hundreds of soldiers in Southern Sudan and instead encouraged the uprising, founding in the process the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in 1983. In the 1960s Garang had been involved in the Southern Anya Nya insurgency. He earned a Ph.D. in agricultural economics at Iowa State University and received officer’s training at Fort Benning, Georgia. He signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement with the Sudanese government in January 2005. Garang returned to Khartoum in July as a vice president, and died three weeks later in a helicopter crash.

Josiah Tongogara
– Known as Zimbabwe’s Che Guevara for his magnetic presence, Tongogara led the main guerilla army in the liberation struggle. He was also a central figure at the Lancaster House Conference that led to Zimbabwean independence. He died in a car accident in Mozambique days after the peace deal was signed in December 1979.

Koka Dam Speech
– John Garang delivered a speech at the Koka Dam peace talks in Ethiopia in 1986, saying the SPLM/A view is that “both Arabism and Islam, among others, are components inextricably woven into the fabric of Sudan’s unique and singular identity.” He offers a broad definition of African as a non-racial political identity and that Arab is a cultural assertion and is present all over Sudan.

Mahdiyya/Mohamed Abdulla – In Shi‘ism the Mahdi is an important figure, akin to the Christian Messiah. In 1881, Mohammed Ahmed-Ibn-Seyyid-Abdulla declared himself the Mahdi and led a successful uprising against the British-Ottoman rule over Sudan, briefly establishing the first modern African state.

Robert Mugabe
– Secretary general of the Zimbabwe African National Union since the 1960s, Mugabe has headed the government in one position or another since being elected Prime Minister in 1980. He returned to the capital of Harare in December 1979 to huge, supportive crowds following the Lancaster House Agreement.

SPLM/A – The Sudan People’s Liberation Army was founded in 1983 and quickly established the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, the political wing. John Garang was elected to head both in 1983.

– Arun Gupta

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