The Relationship between Nomadic and Sedentary People in Sudan in the Context of State Policies and Internationalization

By Assal, Munzoul | Nomadic Peoples, June 2009 | Go to article overview

The Relationship between Nomadic and Sedentary People in Sudan in the Context of State Policies and Internationalization


Assal, Munzoul, Nomadic Peoples


Abstract

The literature on nomadism shows that nomadic and sedentary modes of production complement each other. The interaction between them is characterized by both complementarity and conflict, depending on the prevalent circumstances that vary according to the ecological conditions of the environment that supports their subsistence base. The movement of people between these two modes of production has also been documented, particularly in Western Sudan where circumstances are favourable. Using examples from Western Sudan, this article argues that external factors such as state policies and internationalization are the cause of conflicts between nomads and sedentary people that we see today. Due to external factors, the complementary linkage has become one of conflict. We need to shift our anthropological work to a more expeditious analysis in which the forms and outcomes of the interaction between farmers and nomads at any point in time are seen as the product of the total social system in which they live, rather than a particular aspect of it.

Keywords: Conflict, farming, internationalization, nomads, state

Introduction

Sedentary and nomadic peoples in Sudan have been interacting since time immemorial. Their interaction has been characterized by complementarity and conflict, depending on the prevalent circumstances that vary according to the differences in modes of livelihood, culture and ecological conditions of the environment that supports their subsistence base. Sedentary people and nomads practise agriculture and/or pastoralism, which are the two main systems of production in Sudan. However, in both academic and policy-making circles, the relationship between nomads and sedentary peoples is often depicted as existing in a state of perennial conflict, as if the two systems are mutually exclusive or as though one of them can only thrive by scavenging on the other. This crisis scenario, which permeates both anthropological and other academic disciplines, is rampant at the present time with some scholars declaring the end of pastoralism in East Africa by the end of the twentieth century (Dyson-Hudson 1982: 213). As Babiker (2002) stipulates, these types of assumptions present serious methodological problems for research on agro-pastoralism--to the extent that they are predicated on an untenable farmer/herder dichotomy, and gloss over the leverage that pastoralists can assert under particular circumstances. Many anthropologists have documented the relational and complementary exchanges between pastoralists and settled cultivators (cf. Haaland 1972, McGown et al. 1979), and there is also ample empirical evidence to suggest that external factors are the cause of many of the violent conflicts that exist in many parts of Sudan, where nomadism represents an important livelihood system (Harir 1994, Assal 2006, Takana 2008)

It should be mentioned that the dichotomy of nomads/sedentary people has been challenged as early as the 1970s in many contributions that address nomads in the wider system (cf. Nelson 1973, Ahmed 1974, 2002). Yet, this dichotomy tends to be enforced, particularly in the context of protracted conflicts that result from the competition over natural resources. The existence of competition in Western Sudan contributes to sharpening the dividing lines between the nomadic and farming communities, and leads to violent conflicts of the sort we see today in Darfur. Furthermore, violent conflicts also happen within groups, including among nomads and farmers as well. The persistence of this dichotomy is without a doubt the result of conflict conditions in which identity boundaries of different sorts are stressed and manipulated by various actors. In other words, conflict conditions that sharpen identification lead scholars to construct analytical tools based on false premises.

In this article, I will reflect on the problematic interaction between sedentary and nomadic peoples in Sudan in the context of state policies and internationalization.

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