Academic journal article Journal of Third World Studies

The Politicization of Ethnic Sentiments in the Sudan: Implications for Nation-Building

Academic journal article Journal of Third World Studies

The Politicization of Ethnic Sentiments in the Sudan: Implications for Nation-Building

Article excerpt


It is hard to conceive of a more timely or more relevant study than the one we offer the reader in the following few pages. Our subject is one for which the reader can find illustrations from each day's newspapers and political discussions. We hope that this analysis will aid the reader in understanding the most acute domestic problem contemporary Sudan confronts. A few years ago many enlightened Sudanese mistakenly thought that ethnic politics would be relegated from political to historical discourse, as something of the past, when the Sudanese people, especially the country's intellectual elite, naively thought that all of the country's diverse population groups had successfully been integrated into a single "melting pot," producing a unified and highly cohesive Sudanese nation. (1)

However, as political developments unfold in the Sudan, the social and political base for ethnic politics displays surprising persistence. These points to the great unfinished task of nation building remaining before the peoples of the Sudan. (2)

The distinctions that human beings make may be drawn along regional, economic, occupational, and ideological lines; they may involve clearly defined material and psychological interests, which are readily identify as "political." Among the pervasive distinctions that have brought people together are those which can be designated as "ethnic," that is, those distinctions based on race, religion, language and other broadly defined cultural attributes. If one looks outside the "Sudanese box," the bonds of "blood, believer, and brother" in most of the world strongly define political interest and conflict thereby aggravating the fissures, and fortify the fusions, that obtain in the polity. Sometimes, on the other hand, they cut across such divisions and provide unity where none seemed possible.

Ethnic politics should not be viewed as a parochial phenomenon, for there are few places on earth, developed or underdeveloped, where ethnicity is not presently of political import. Even if we confine our attention to those distinctions that exist principally within national boundaries and say nothing of the usual animosity between nations, we are still left with an imposing list of ethnic-induced conflict (e.g., the struggle between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland; the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in the Middle East; the post-independence struggle between Arabs and various indigenous groups in the Sudan; and the Anglophone-Francophone problem in Cameroon).

The Sudan is composed of several cultural, linguistic and religious groups, a fact that has led this polity to experience some share of ethnic politics. This paper is an investigation of that kind of politics in the Sudan. It purports to be neither an exhaustive compendium of every study on the topic nor a historical account of every ethnic group that has ever expressed a political need or desire in this country. We are not motivated in this study by any intent to demonstrate the desirability or undesirability of ethnic politics. The primary questions guiding us are: what have been the impact, styles, and conditions of ethnic political behavior? In other words, how can we best describe and account for ethnic politics and locate the causes and consequences of such politics? What are the implications of the politicization of ethnic sentiments on nation-building in Sudan?

The key factors in the analysis of such questions seem to be: (1) The Sudanese socio-cultural system and how it orchestrates and provides a means for the inculcation and achievement of ethnic values, beliefs, cues and symbols. (2) The components of ethnic politics themselves. What basic patterns of ethnic politics dominate? (3) The Sudanese political system. What are the pervasive consequences of ethnic politics for its functioning? Guiding all these inquires is another major question: How do the values, predispositions, and social positions of ethnic members and groups influence the varieties of ethnic politics? …

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