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The Oils of War: Conflict in the Sudan. (Global Notebook)

By Dupraz, Emily | Harvard International Review, Spring 2002 | Go to article overview

The Oils of War: Conflict in the Sudan. (Global Notebook)


Dupraz, Emily, Harvard International Review


Civil conflict in Sudan has raged for 34 out of the past 45 years.

It has been responsible for over two million casualties and has displaced over four million people in the last 17 years alone. With no attention from major news organizations, the conflict continues to worsen, largely due to Western actions.

The seeds of the civil conflict were planted when Sudan was first colonized in 1898. The southern part of what is currently Sudan, then controlled jointly by Britain and Egypt, was arbitrarily added to the northern portion by the British. Culturally very different from the north, the peoples of the south are mostly black African--Christian and animist by religion--while the north is predominantly Muslim. The conflict is not, however, solely between these two culturally diverse populations; in central Sudan, another group of people, the Nubans, are involved. Organized religion is unimportant to the Nubans, and within one family, one may commonly find Muslims, Christians, and animists who follow traditional African religions. Because the Sudanese government is led by Islamic fundamentalists who feel threatened by cultures that do not follow their strict rules, the racial diversity in Sudan is the primary cause of conflict.

Since gaining its independence in 1956, Sudan has been controlled by several military governments. Omar al-Bashir has held power in the capital city of Khartoum since 1989. Although al-Bashir enforces Islamic law, or Shari'a, the enforcement is not as strict as in other nations. Sudanese women must wear headscarves, for example, but many of them are brightly colored, unlike the traditional blue or black veils. Opposing alBashir's regime is the southern rebel army led by John Garang. His group, officially the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), is an eclectic mix of ethnic groups continuously in conflict with one another.

Conflict among these groups has waged continuously for the past 17 years after a short lull in the late 1970s, and it has been prolonged by the strategies of alBashir's military. Pitting ethnic groups against one another, alBashir fights the war by ordering government-sponsored militias to torch houses, commit rape, and murder followers of Christianity, indigenous cultures, and Muslims who reject the governments extreme form of Islam. Over three million people are at risk of famine after continual looting of foodstuffs by the militias, while the government continues to condone slavery.

In general, Sudan's troubled relations with its neighbors exacerbate the problem. Sudan and Egypt have historically had tense dealings with each other. Egypt accuses Sudan of providing a safe haven for Egyptian Islamic militants who are responsible for various attacks in Egypt. Although the Sudanese government funded an assassination attempt on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 1995, Egypt continues to give aid to Khartoum. Relations between these two nations remain unclear, although a plausible explanation for Egypt's support is the similar Islamic ideologies of the two governments.

Despite the financial backing from Egypt, by early 1998 the war seemed to be nearing an end.

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