CITIZENSHIP AND DISPLACEMENT IN THE GREAT LAKES REGION WORKING PAPER 7
Published: 7 May 2012
CITIZENSHIP AND DISPLACEMENT IN THE GREAT LAKES REGION
WORKING PAPER 7
Darfurians in South Sudan: Negotiating belonging in two Sudans
Background to the Paper
This paper was drafted by Dr. Lucy Hovil of the
International Refugee Rights Initiative (IRRI), with
additional drafting by Deirdre Clancy of IRRI. The field
research team was led by a senior researcher who is not
identified in order to maintain security and safety.
Other members of the team included Joseph Okumu,
Dismas Nkunda and David Kigozi of IRRI; Maimona
Abdalla Fator, Yagoub Adam Abdelrasoul, Mohammed
Issa Ibrahim Shata and Mohamed Ishaq Quscondy and
members of the Darfur Refugee Association in Uganda.
Deirdre Clancy and Olivia Bueno of IRRI reviewed and
edited the text. Dr. Albaqir Aafif Mukhtar and Dr.
Munzoul Assal kindly reviewed an earlier draft of the
paper. However, the content of the paper remains the
responsibility of IRRI. The team would like to express its
gratitude to all those in Uganda and South Sudan who
participated in the study.
The International Refugee Rights Initiative would like to thank the Open Society Institute
for its generous support of this research.
Cover photo: Darfur, 2005, anonymous
Citizenship and Displacement in the
Great Lakes Region, Working Paper Series
This paper is the seventh in a series of working papers
that forms part of a collaborative project between the
International Refugee Rights Initiative, the Social
Science Research Council, and civil society and
academic partners in the Great Lakes region. The
project seeks to gain a deeper understanding of the
linkages between conflicts over citizenship and
belonging in the Great Lakes region, and forced
displacement. It employs social science research
under a human rights framework in order to
illuminate how identity affects the experience of the
displaced before, during and after their displacement.
The findings are intended to facilitate the
development of regional policies that promote social
and political re-integration of forced migrants by
reconciling differences between socio-cultural
identities and national citizenship rights that
perpetuate conflict and social exclusion.
Previous works in this series (available at www.refugee-rights.org):
“Going Home or Staying Home:
Ending Displacement for Burundian
Refugees in Tanzania,” 2008.
“Two People Can’t Wear the Same
Pair of Shoes: Exploring the
Challenges of Access to Land and
Reintegration in Burundi,” 2009.
“Who Belongs Where? Conflict,
Displacement, Land and Identity in
North Kivu, Democratic Republic of
“A Dangerous Impasse: Rwandan
Refugees in Uganda,” 2010.
Lucy Hovil, “Hoping for peace, afraid
of war: the dilemmas of repatriation
and belonging on the borders of
Uganda and South Sudan,”2010. (A
UNHCR Working paper)
“Shadows of Return: the dilemma of
Congolese Refugees in Rwanda,” July
This paper is about the construction of citizenship, identities and belonging at a
moment of huge political change: the secession of South Sudan from the Republic of
Sudan (Sudan or North Sudan) that took place on 9 July 2011. At the heart of this
seismic political shift lay decades of abuse by a centralised source of power that was,
and still is, profoundly unjust. Since independence from colonialism, the majority of
people who were legally defined as “Sudanese” have had little, if any, ability to
influence political processes in their country. This political exclusion lay at the root of
decades of conflict across many parts of Sudan. All of the conflicts have reflected, at
some level, the reality of people living on the peripheries, experiencing a second
class form of citizenship, unable to participate meaningfully in the political
governance of their country.
The creation of the new state of South Sudan offers both threats and opportunities
for the peoples of both Sudans. On the one hand there is considerable optimism that
independence has heralded in a new era of equal citizenship for those in the South
that will override the tensions and divisions of the old Sudan – and reflect a
microcosm of the vision for Sudan that was embedded in the Comprehensive Peace
Agreement (CPA). On the other hand, there is a real possibility that this new
configuration may simply reinforce the history of exclusion and partisanship that lies
at the root of Sudan’s fragmentation.
The division of Sudan, therefore, has had a profound impact on all Sudanese people,
whether those perceived as “southern” who now find themselves stranded and
rejected as foreigners in the North, “northerners” who do not identify with a
repressive Sudanese government, new South Sudanese citizens returning to a newly
configured South Sudan, or those displaced by the multiple and growing conflicts
across Darfur and the border regions of South Kordofan and Blue Nile states.
Beneath the surface of political change are multiple narratives and stories of
individuals and groups who do not necessarily conform to tidy political categories,
who find themselves in circumstances in which state-centric articulations of
citizenship do not adequately reflect their circumstances, and who simply do not
This paper explores one such narrative: the way in which Darfurians living in the
South perceive, and are negotiating, their position within the new political
configuration of South Sudan – whether temporarily or permanently. While
ascertaining the status of Darfurians in South Sudan might not currently seem a
priority in the broader scheme of what is taking place – not least the looming threat
of an escalation in the conflict between Sudan and South Sudan – the paper argues,
based on 104 interviews with Darfurians displaced from Darfur, that the inclusion of
apparently peripheral or marginalised groups lies at the heart of building a new state
in the South. By creating an environment that enables people to secure their safety,
South Sudan is more likely to encourage an era of peace and reduce the likelihood of
a return to conflict both within the country and on its borders. The treatment of the
relatively small number of Darfurians in South Sudan, therefore, represents
something significant: by emphasising a state built on inclusion rather than
exclusion, the fledgling South will enhance its ability to develop into a robust and
sustainable political, economic and social community in which diversity is recognised
as an asset rather than a threat, and core principles such as protection and the
granting of asylum are upheld.
At the same time, developments in South Sudan can not be disconnected from those
in Sudan, where the strong arm of the state is only becoming increasingly
oppressive, and where the space for negotiating belonging continues to contract.
The need for an inclusive approach to citizenship and residence in South Sudan,
therefore, is particularly important in a context in which access to the rights that are
supposed to accompany citizenship are being denied to all but a small minority in
(North) Sudan. Indeed, with the recent attacks on civilians in Southern Kordofan and
Blue Nile, South Sudan’s role as a place of respite is only going to become more
acute. Consequently, this paper is also about the exclusion that continues to define
citizenship in Sudan, not least for Darfurians whose homeland is a zone of increasing
For millions of Sudanese, the creation of the new state of South Sudan offers
enormous opportunity to break with a violent and repressive past – the opportunity
to finally attain citizenship that has both substance and meaning. Yet for millions of
others, this dramatic political change – and the fundamental re-alignment of the
meaning of citizenship in the two states that has gone with it – has meant an
increasingly uncertain future.
One group that is emblematic of the effort to find belonging in both a conflict-ridden
Sudan and the nascent and fragile state of South Sudan are displaced people from
Darfur. Darfur is a region in western Sudan that since 2003 has been the site of a
conflict between rebel groups and the government of Sudan, leading to the
displacement of millions of Darfurians across the region, including into South Sudan.
While previously this movement of Darfurian forced migrants to the south allowed
them to stay within the state of their citizenship, secession of that part of the
territory has put them across an international border, complicating not only their
stay in South Sudan but also their potential to return to Sudan where their access to
citizenship may be contracting.
It is this specific group of exiles that forms the focus of the paper, which explores the
way in which Darfurians living in South Sudan perceive, and are negotiating, their
position within the new two-state political configuration – whether temporarily or
permanently. Their stories are one small part of a highly complex process in which
issues of belonging and citizenship are being re-negotiated and re-imagined
throughout a territory that, until recently, constituted one country. The current and
future treatment of this group provides a lens through which to view many of the
challenges, threats and opportunities currently facing the construction of the new
South Sudan and the emergence of a reconfigured state in the north.
At the heart of this discussion are questions over the kind of polity that will emerge
in South Sudan. As Jok Madut Jok emphasises, the future of South Sudan as a
cohesive state can only be built on an inclusive form of citizenship in which all are
Indeed, the many challenges facing South Sudan cannot be over stated, not
least the danger that South Sudan may replicate the exclusionary and partisan
policies out of which it was born. Within this context will Darfurians be excluded as
foreigners, or welcomed as ideological, political or ethnic compatriots? Should
Darfurians be entitled to the protection of refugee status, viewed as migrants or
welcomed as citizens? What role will – or should – refugee protection play in
creating a bridge to the reestablishment of effective citizenship in one or other
polity? How will citizenship be imagined for Darfurian exiles who wish to settle long
term in the South? Will South Sudan continue to emphasise political and social
divisions that have created so much violence and destruction, or will it break with
the past and build its future on something more robust?
The study considers the extent to which the current political and legal transition in
the two Sudans is reflected in Darfurian understandings of belonging, and seeks to
understand some of the ways in which Darfurians see themselves within the broader
process of political change. How have Darfurian identities been affected by the war
in Darfur and the secession of the South? How are identities shifting in the emerging
configuration of a South-less Sudan (or a north-less South Sudan)? Where, or to
whom, are Darfurians looking for their future security and access to their rights – to
the South, to the North, regionally, or potentially to their own eventual secession?
And what does their future hold – a future that is being formed in a context of
marginalisation, conflict and exile?
These are not easy questions to answer, and reflect the highly complex situation that
many Darfurians find themselves in. On the one hand, despite a history of economic
and political exclusion, Darfurian communities have traditionally been seen by those
in the South as aligned with the political centres of northern Sudan and the ruling
elites, enforced by the fact that since independence, the majority of the lower ranks
of the Sudanese army were recruited from Darfur. Darfurians as a group, therefore,
have been strongly involved in and associated with the Khartoum government in the
two decade long war between what became the “North” and “the South”. Whether
or not this presumed allegiance will ultimately inhibit the possibility of Darfurians
forming new allegiances with South Sudan remains to be seen. Although the Sudan
People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M) was involved in seeding the birth of
the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A – the main opposition movement in
Darfur) the SPLM has not been actively involved in efforts for promoting peace in
Jok Madut Jok, “Which way South Sudan? Cultural Diversity and the Fundamentals of Nation-Building.” African
Arguments blog, Royal African Studies and Social Science Research Council, 28 March 2011. (found at
Darfur: this is not to suggest that it is not concerned about the conflict, but implies
an ambivalence, or restraint, in its relationship to Darfur.
At the same time, Darfurians have been profoundly alienated from the central
Khartoum government structures – structures that have waged a war against them
for the past decade. Their homeland is under the control of a government whose
president is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for serious international
crimes including genocide against groups within Darfur. The situation of Darfurians in
South Sudan, therefore, cannot be divorced from the way in which they have been
rejected (at best) by the government that is supposed to be responsible for their
protection. Therefore it is not surprising that many Darfurians have aligned
themselves ideologically (and increasingly militarily) with the “freedom fighters” of
South Sudan, united against a common enemy.
This paper, therefore, is about the construction of the new state of South Sudan
from the specific perspective of a group of people who, at a legal and geographical
level, are not automatically and intuitively part of that process. But it also about the
wider prospects for this group beyond the immediate question of their current
status in South Sudan.
Background to secession: a state built on exclusion
Since seizing power in 1989, the current government in Khartoum has built on a long
history of exclusion, and sought to subjugate the country under a narrowly defined
Sudanese identity, against which numerous groups have reacted with violence.2
multiple levels, Sudan has been, and continues to be, a deeply divided territory in
which the majority of people have been alienated from a minority central power
source that has fought for control not only political and economic resources, but also
deeper social and cultural forms of belonging – the very basis of Sudanese-ness.
Alongside this process of marginalisation between the centre and the peripheries
has been the creation of a number of simplistic, and often falsely constructed, binary
social categories: geographically (between the “North” and South); ethnically (often
described as being between “Arabs” and “Africans”), and along religious lines
(Muslims and Christian/non-Muslim).3
The construction of these binaries has been
both the cause and consequence of the numerous configurations of conflict across a
country that, as Prunier states, “has never been a nation state.”4
The way in which
identities have been constructed, manipulated, and designated either as superior or
inferior, has led to chronic instability and heartbreaking violence. As Albaqir Alafif
Mukhtar says, “[i]n all these conflicts, perception of identity lies at the heart of the
See Rogaia M. Abusharaf, 1997. “Sudanese migration to the New World: socio-economic characteristics.”
International Migration, 35(4): 513-536.
Gérard Prunier, “A Comprehensive Assessment of U.S. Policy Toward Sudan.” Statement before the United
States House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and
Human Rights. 4 October 2011.
problem. Glossing over the diversity of identities in Sudan constitutes the
fundamental problem and defines all the Sudanese conflicts.”
These injustices were further catalysed in the secession of South Sudan from the
north, a development that cemented, at a political level, some of these differences.
Secession was the end result of the longest standing conflict in the country, spanning
two civil wars, between the geographical south of the country and the central
government in which millions of lives and livelihoods were decimated. The war
officially ended with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) by
the Government of Sudan and the SPLM/A on 9 January 2005. The CPA provided that
after an ‘interim period’, in which the parties would attempt to make ‘unity
attractive’, ‘Southerners’ would be given an opportunity to opt for secession. This
effort to transform the state as an alternative to schism reflected the vision of Dr
John Garang, the then leader of the SPLM/A, who dreamed of a united and
democratic “New Sudan”. As he said at the signing of the CPA, the deal paved the
way for a united and pluralistic Sudan “in which all Sudanese are equally
stakeholders”. He pledged that his movement would work to preserve Sudan as “a
great nation that is voluntarily united in diversity”:
From here on Sudan for the first time will be a country voluntarily united in justice,
honour and dignity for all its citizens regardless of their race, regardless of their
religion, regardless of their gender or else if the country fails to rise to this challenge
of moving away from the old Sudan to the new Sudan of free and equal citizens,
then the union shall be dissolved amicably and peacefully through the right of self
determination at the end the six years of the interim period.6
Ultimately, however, the CPA state failed to deliver on the expectations of its
marginalised citizens and one group of them, “southerners” (as defined by the
parties who agreed the CPA), voted overwhelmingly at 98.83% to leave. South Sudan
declared independence on 9 July 2011.
Unfortunately, the independence of South Sudan has neither resolved conflicts in
other parts of Sudan nor ensured inclusive governance in either state. This was due –
at least in part – to the fact that the negotiations that led to the CPA were essentially
bilateral, between the SPLM (the strongest opposition force with its roots in the
South) and the National Congress Party (the ruling party). Other political parties,
including those representing marginalised groups in the East and far North, as well as
civil society organisations, were for the most part excluded. Although the vision of
the peace agreement was one that recognised the need to transform the state as a
whole, in practice – and as a result also of the polarising violence and rhetoric of the
war – its fulcrum was a narrative of north/south grievance. Ultimately, therefore, it
failed to resolve other conflicts in the country. As a result, while independence might
have brought about greater political representation for those in the South, and its
Albaqir Alafif Mukhtar, “Beyond Darfur: Identity and Conflict in Sudan.” In Sudan’s Killing Fields: Perspectives on
Genocide. Laura N. Beny, Sondra Hale, and Lako Tongun, (eds). University of Michigan Press, forthcoming. Found
Speech by John Garang at the signing of the CPA, 9 January 2005, as recorded by the Sudan Tribune
(http://www.sudantribune.com/TEXT-Garang-s-speech-at-the,7476, accessed 3 May 2012)
benefits should by no means be belittled, numerous groups and communities from
other parts of Sudan, particularly those that remain in the geographical north of the
country (or whose territory is currently being disputed) continue to be marginalised.
In addition, numerous tensions between communities, ethnicities and political
groupings within South Sudan itself remained unresolved.
Complicating the possibility of real transformation of the state, the signing of the
CPA in 2005 was overshadowed by the outbreak of war in Darfur. Massive
displacement has been caused since then by the ongoing conflict: millions of
Darfurians have had their homes decimated and have become scattered across the
region – some internally displaced within Darfur, and others living in exile in
neighbouring states. Ultimately, the government that was supposed to protect them
has not only failed to do so, but has been responsible for much of their suffering,
thus creating a fundamental crisis in their status as citizens in Sudan. Therefore the
bond of citizenship – or lack thereof – and the rights and values attached to it,
provides a trope for analysing the situation of the group of Darfurians that forms the
focus of this study.7
Background to the Conflict in Darfur
In order to explore the history of Darfur and its place within the political
configuration of Sudan (both pre- and post-secession), it is important to first clarify
the language that is used in constructing that history. As mentioned above, binaries
have become a tool for describing conflict, as well as a source of manipulation by
power elites. At the heart of the conflict in Darfur lies the particularly pernicious and
over-exposed “African”/“Arab” binary, creating a dichotomy that is “historically
bogus, but disturbingly powerful.”8
This Arab/African binary needs to be treated with
extreme caution, and should be understood to reflect a person or group’s
perception of their own – or someone else’s – identity rather than as a fixed form of
race or ethnicity. In particular, and as will be explored through the paper, they
reflect people’s political positioning within the wider national and multi-national
context of the two Sudans. Most importantly, these descriptors need to be seen as
fluid and constantly shifting.
By way of a caveat, it is worth stressing that although this paper tries to tease apart
some of the dynamics surrounding these descriptors, it cannot pretend to do justice
to the highly complex reality of identity among Darfurians specifically and Sudanese
more generally. At the same time it is also somewhat impossible to avoid using these
categoric terminologies, not least as they were commonly deployed by those who
It is also important to note that, while acknowledging the significance of national citizenship, the analysis
retains a broader perspective: the findings are analysed within a framework that also recognises the importance
for individuals and groups to forge appropriate linkages at a local level (though being recognised and accepted
within the specific locality in which they are living). Both forms of belonging – and the spectrum between –
provide the basis on which people are able not only to access their basic rights, but to also feel a legitimate sense
of belonging. Local and national inclusion, we argue, is vital for people’s ability to live in freedom from fear and
Alex De Waal, “Who are the Darfurians? Arab and African identities, violence and external engagement.”
African Affairs, 104 (415), 181 – 205, p. 197.
were interviewed for the study. Suffice to say, where identity labels are used, they
are used as a description rather than an explanation.
The concept of an exclusive “Darfurian” identity also needs to be treated with
caution. Fixed and rigid interpretations of identity are rarely accurate or helpful.
Indeed, Darfurians have formed multiple allegiances and experienced a range of
understandings of belonging: they also reflect a wide range of ethnic, racial,
livelihood, language and political identities. While war and exile often reinforce or
create strong perceptions of a group identity, therefore, the existence of a fixed and
monolithic Darfurian identity must not be presumed. The brief historical overview of
Darfur, as well as the analysis that follows, uses these terms in the context of this
Darfur, which is comprised of multiple ethnic and cultural groups, functioned as an
independent Fur Sultanate for centuries. Its existence as a succinct political unit lies
at the heart of the strong sense of Darfurian-ness that has endured to this day. It lost
its autonomy when it was incorporated into Sudan (then under British colonial rule)
Sudan gained independence in 1956, but the next decades were marked by
internal and external conflicts with groups throughout the country feeling
marginalised from the newly independent central state. Geopolitical dynamics
included the founding in 1966 of the Chadian opposition Front de Libération
Nationale du Tchad (FROLINAT)10 in Darfur, and the smuggling of weapons to
Chadian opposition groups by Colonel Qadhafi as part of his quest to create an Arab
belt into central Africa. In the 1970s, Qadhafi sought to establish a base of
operations in Darfur and arm Chadian opposition groups and the Islamic Legion – a
“pan-Arab” army – there. As a result, armed arabised supremacist groups numbering
in the thousands came to exist in Darfur. After President Nimeiri of Sudan was
overthrown in 1985, Qadhafi convinced the successor government to ignore this
incursion and use of Darfur in exchange for weapons from Libya11
– thus enhancing
notions of Arab supremacy in this period.
Militarisation of Darfur increased in 1986 when the government adopted a “militia
strategy” in relation to the civil war with the SPLA whereby it armed and supported
Baggara (arabised) groups in South Darfur for the purpose of raiding, pillaging, and
massacring populations of Dinka and Nuba (ethnic groups from the front line areas)
suspected of sympathising with the SPLA. This was the first arming of the alMuraheleen,
12 which later led to the arming of the Janjawiid.
13 Numerous massacres
occurred in this period, the most notable of which was the Al-Du’ayn massacre of
Darfur’s then ruler, Sultan Ali Dinar had sided with the Ottoman Empire during WWI and, as a result, the British
deposed the Sultan and conquered Darfur, absorbing it into the British Empire by 1917. (Flint and de Waal, p. 11-
10 FROLINAT was an insurgent rebel group that was active in Chad between 1966 and 1993.
11 Flint and de Waal, pp. 23; 50 – 51
12 Al-Muraheleen was the militia operating in South Darfur and South Kordofan, drawn primarily from Baggara
cattle breeders. They are the ones believed to have committed the al-Du’ayn massacre in 1987.
13 The Janjawiid is the name of the militia who operated in North and West Darfur, drawn primarily from camel
breeders of North Darfur.
April 1987 when a government-sponsored militia shot and burned over one
thousand displaced Dinka in a village in southern Darfur.14
This arming of “Arab”
15 groups in Darfur sparked an Arab-Fur conflict in 1987. The
Arabs, supported by the Sudanese and Libyan governments, fought against the Fur –
the largest “indigenous” ethnic group within Darfur – who received some support
from the pro-African (or anti-Arab) Chadian government of President Hissene Habre.
Thousands were killed in the conflict, and hundreds of villages were burned. In 1989,
a peace agreement was reached, calling for restitution, mutual disarmament,
deportation of Chadians, and many other measures regarding pasture, water, land
rights, and the return of displaced persons. However, the agreement was never
In 1989, Al Bashir, the current President of Sudan, took power in Khartoum in a coup
that displaced the democratically elected government of Saddiq Al Mahadi. His
regime exacerbated tensions in Darfur by strengthening ties with Libya.17 Meanwhile
the war between the central government and South Sudan began to spill over into
Darfur: in 1991, a small group of SPLA troops entered Darfur with the intent of
sparking a rebellion there. Their presence was reported to the Sudanese
government, and they were captured.
In 1994, Darfur was divided into three states as part of the colonial administration’s
policy of using “Native Administration” or indirect rule as a means of control. This
division substantially diminished the influence of the Fur who went from being the
largest population in Darfur to a minority in all three new Darfurian states.
Furthermore, the Native Administration system was reintroduced in such a way as to
ensure that “Arab” groups dominated the regional governments of Darfur. The
granting of political power formerly held by “African” groups to those who were
seen as “Arabs” created significant tensions within Darfur,
18 and conflict proliferated.
It was against this background that the current phase of conflict in Darfur started in
2003, when the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) and the Justice and
Equality Movement (JEM) took up arms against the government leading to a vicious
counteroffensive by the Janjawiid, the militia drawn primarily from camel breeders
of North Darfur who operated in North and West Darfur. Formed into a full
paramilitary wing with communications equipment, arms, artillery, military advisors,
and air support from the Sudanese government, joint operations of the Janjawiid
with the government’s Popular Defence Forces (PDF) made it difficult to distinguish
between the two organisations. With the government strategy based on destroying
local support for the rebels Janjawiid focused less on engaging its enemy militarily
14 See Mansour Khalid, War and Peace in Sudan: A tale of two countries, Dar el-Turath, Cairo, 2003, p. 412.
15 As discussed above, the use of the word Arab – as well as “African” – is used with extreme caution.
16 Flint and de Waal, p. 56
18 See, for example, Amir Idris, “Understanding the Genocide Politically: the case of Darfur.” Sudan Tribune,
Comment and Analysis, 10 September 2005, found at http://www.sudantribune.com/Understanding-theGenocide,11564
than attacking and pillaging villages and killing civilians; typically, the Janjawiid
enjoyed air support from the government during such raids.19
A number of strategies have been undertaken locally, nationally and internationally
to end the war in Darfur.20 The most recent attempt to broker a negotiated political
resolution to the war was the Doha peace process, which concluded in July 2011.
None of these agreements have really offered a solution to the conflict, marred by a
lack of genuine commitment to peace on the part of the government of Sudan, the
lack of inclusive representation of different factions within Darfur – and indeed its
citizens – and a general delinking from the wider process of reform which is so
desperately needed in Sudan as a whole.
21 As the African Union High Level Panel on
Darfur (Mbeki Report) determined in 2009, “the current grave situation in Darfur is a
manifestation of the broader political challenges facing Sudan as a whole.” Indeed,
during the research many of the Sudanese interlocutors spoke of “the Sudan crisis in
Darfur,” arguing against the formulation “the Darfur crisis in Sudan.”
In September 2004, US Secretary of State Colin Powell declared the government’s
actions in Darfur to be genocide and the UN Security Council set up an Independent
Commission of Inquiry into Darfur (ICID).23 The ICID, which published its report in
January 2005 detailing the patterns of abuse in Darfur and, found that the
“Government of the Sudan and the Janjawiid are responsible for serious violations of
international human rights and humanitarian law amounting to crimes under
international law.”24 Following the ICID’s recommendations, the UN Security Council
referred the Darfur situation to the ICC in March 2005 and, two years later, the ICC
issued arrest warrants against Ahmad Haroun and Ali Kushayb;
25 and against Sudan’s
president al-Bashir in March 2009 on counts of crimes against humanity and war
crimes. The crime of genocide was later added to the charge sheet.
Charges were also laid against three rebel leaders for attacks on a peacekeeping
base at Haskanita: they voluntarily surrendered to the Court and one trial (involving
19 See “Report of the International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur to the United Nations Secretary-General
Pursuant to Security Council Resolution 1564”, 18 September 2004, Geneva, 25 January 2005, p. 31.
20 In April 2004 talks between the government, the SLA and JEM agreed on a ceasefire and disarmament of the
Janjawiid. The Darfur Peace Agreement between Khartoum and SLA leader, Minni Arko Minnawi, was signed in
Abuja in 2006. Other parties later came on board. However, lack of commitment, particularly on the side of
government, meant that the Janjawiid were not disarmed and, instead, continued their assaults against civilians,
and new waves of violence and displacement subsequently occurred as rebel groups splintered into different
21 The Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD) was effectively a bilateral agreement between the GoS and the
Liberation and Justice Movement, a loose coalition of Darfur insurgent movements with minimal military and
political presence in the region. (Darfur Relief and Documentation Centre, “Analysis of the Doha Peace Process.”
Geneva, September 2011.)
22 See “Recommendations of the AU Panel on Darfur”, African Union Panel on Darfur chaired by Thabo Mbeki,
23 “Report of the International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur to the United Nations Secretary-General
pursuant to Security Council resolution 1564 of 18 September 2004.” 25 January 2005, at para. 573; UNSC
Resolution 1593 (31 March 2005)
25 See The Prosecutor v. Ahmad Muhammad Harun (“Ahmad Harun”) and Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman (“Ali
Kushayb”), Warrant of Arrest for Ahmad Harun, ICC-02/05-01/07-2, 27 April 2007 and Warrant of Arrest for Ali
Kushayb, ICC-02/05-01/07-3, 27 April 2007.
two leaders) is now ongoing. In 2012 the Minister for Defence Abdelrahmeen
Muhamed Hussein was charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity.
date, the government of has refused to cooperate with the ICC on the enforcement
of the arrest warrants. Other governments in the region and the African Union have
also objected to, and refused to comply with, the arrest warrant against President Al
The international response to the situation in Darfur was also complicated by efforts
to bring an end to the north-south axis of the conflict and implement the CPA. As
Prunier states, “The CPA was designed as if the only violent contradiction existing in
the Sudan was that between a supposedly homogenous Muslim North and a
similarly homogenous Christian South.”27 Of course, this was not entirely true:
although the CPA certainly focused on addressing North/South animosity, it did
integrate a democratic reform programme that reflected a holistic and national
understanding of conflict in Sudan. The frailty of this wider agenda for change,
however, was demonstrated just six months later when the SPLM leader, John
Garang was killed and power within the SPLM shifted to those inclined to secession.
Although now nominally part of the central government, the SPLM was unable to
prevent the havoc that continued to be wrecked in Darfur,
28 with their focus intent
on ensuring a smooth transition to a new southern state. Just as independence was
declared however attacks by the central government on what is now being termed
“the new south” commenced, with the outbreak of conflict in Abeyi, Southern
Kordofan and Blue Nile. It is clear that the compartmentalised approach to peace is
not working: the same disease of exclusion is replicating itself in new sites just as the
old locus has been calmed. In April 2012, as this report was being finalised, the two
Sudans were on the brink of war.
The Situation for Darfurians in South Sudan: IDPs, refugees,
migrants or citizens?
The migration of people between South Sudan and Darfur, which share a border to
the north west of South Sudan and the south of Darfur, has taken place for centuries,
notably during the 1880s when the Sultan of Darfur, Ali Dinnar, attempted to spread
Islam further south in competition with the Catholic missionaries in South Sudan.
Darfurians who moved to the South at this time were mostly either Islamic teachers,
mainly from Fur and Masalit groups, or merchants who were predominantly
Zaghawa involved in ivory trade between South Sudan and Europe via Libya. By the
time of Sudan’s independence, thousands of Darfurians (along with other
26 For more information on status of proceedings in these cases see http://www.icccpi.int/Menus/ICC/Situations+and+Cases/Situations/Situation+ICC+0205/.
27 Prunier, 2011.
28 2010 saw a threefold increase in fatalities from 2009. OCHA, Key facts and figures for Sudan with a focus on
Darfur, June 2011. As the Sudan Democracy First group recently stated, “Despite statements that there is a
decline in the scale of violence, civilians are still shot inside their homes and randomly in the streets and markets,
and robbery and rape of women are becoming an everyday reality. Darfur is moving towards a Somalia
scenario…” Sudan Democracy First Group, Weekly Briefing 3, 31 October 2011.
Northerners more generally) were found in South Sudan, mainly involved in petty
Third generation families originally from Darfur are now living in the Southern towns
of Raja, Wau, Awil and have more recently also settled in Juba. They earn their
livelihoods mainly from working as small merchants in the markets and shops in
urban areas. Some are religious leaders in mosques, others are technical workers in
the building sector or mechanics in the industrial areas and a few are employees of
In addition to these patterns of migration, since fighting broke out in Darfur in 2003
an estimated 3 million Darfurians – almost half the population of Darfur – have been
forcibly displaced from their homes, many more than once.29 Between 1.9 million
and 2.7 million Darfurians have been internally displaced – the majority within Darfur
– and an additional estimated 250,000 refugees living in camps in Chad.30 A relatively
small, but unknown, number of Darfurians fled to Uganda. Uganda, which hosted up
to 200,000 Sudanese registered refugees during the height of the North-South war,
continued to host approximately 16,500 Sudanese refugees as of January 2011.
However, it is unclear how many of these refugees are from Darfur as opposed to
South Sudan or elsewhere.31 It is likewise unknown how many Darfurians have fled
to South Sudan itself, where internally displaced persons (IDP) numbers as a whole
peaked in 2008.
Massive displacement, often of particular ethnic groups, has been a deliberate
strategy of the war. The result has been a tremendous shift in the life and livelihoods
of a large segment of Darfur’s population, including from a predominately rural to an
urban base. The prospects of sustainable return, however, continue to be hampered
by continued insecurity.32
The question of return is politically fraught in the context of Darfur, with both the
government of Sudan and armed militias having a strong agenda in influencing the
decision-making process. The government of Sudan, with support from the United
Nations/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) and bilateral donors, are
encouraging the dismantling of internally displaced persons (IDP) camps: the policy
document released by the government of Sudan in September 2010 focused on this
highly controversial strategy with allegations of use of violence and destruction of
settlements as a tactic of implementation. In January 2011, for example, it was
reported that an attack on Zam Zam camp by Government armed forces resulted in
29 Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, 2009. “Sudan: 4.9 million IDPs across Sudan face ongoing turmoil.”
30 Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, 2010, Sudan. http://www.internaldisplacement.org/countries/sudan.
31 UNHCR, 2011. “UNHCR country operations profile – Uganda.” http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49e483c06.html.
32 IDMC, 2009.
the deaths and torture of IDPs and massive looting and destruction of property.
the other hand, return is actively discouraged by a number of rebel groups: in
addition to a highly precarious security situation, these groups appear to be
interested in maintaining visible evidence of the suffering in Darfur, as well as
working to ensure that return occurs only in the context of a peace agreement which
Return is also hampered by the lack of resolution of root causes of conflict and the
deep underlying tensions that have been both cause and consequence of the war. In
particular, conflict and subsequent displacement in Darfur have inevitably altered
the relationship between the state and many of Darfur’s populations. The
destruction of villages, coupled with resettlement by other groups – including
allegedly by some from outside Sudan – are contributing to the construction and
radicalisation of “Arab”/”African”/“outsider” identities and deeply complicating the
prospects for future stability.
Even Khartoum-based Darfur communities, assimilated in many ways to life at the
centre, have been forced to re-examine their identity in the light of the impact of a
massive programme of repression and detentions aimed at their community since
the start of the conflict, exacerbated during the government’s response to the 10
May 2008 attack by the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) on Omdurman.
conflict has deepened a profound sense of exclusion.
Not only has Darfur as a whole been marginalised, therefore, but Darfurian identities
have become highly fragmented as a result of ongoing conflict and political
marginalisation. As Assal says, while the scenario of the crisis in Darfur is not
unfamiliar in a post-colonial African context, the scale of the crisis is huge,
due to protracted instability, endemic proclivity for destructive power struggles
among politicians, and lethargic Darfurian political elite that has historically allied
with Khartoum. The manner in which Khartoum has reacted to the problem has
indeed been one of the aggravating factors. Inaccurate characterisation of the crisis,
tampering with the complex ethnic makeup of Darfur, and the use of excessive force
are the main features of Khartoum’s reaction.36
At the same time, armed groups within Darfur have also been accused of committing
atrocities and exacerbating violence amongst civilians, including through
manipulating ethnic allegiances.37
33 IDMC, 2009. See also “Message from Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in North Darfur to the international
humanitarian bodies”, Women’s Initiative for Gender Justice (http://www.iccwomen.org/documents/Messagefrom-the-IDPs-of-North-Darfur_FINAL.pdf).
34 ODI, 2008.
35 See Human Rights Watch, “Crackdown in Khartoum.” June 17 2008.
(http://www.hrw.org/reports/2008/06/16/crackdown-khartoum, accessed 7 May 2012).
36 Manzoul A. M. Assal, “Preface,” Darfur: An Annotated Bibliography of Social Research on Darfur. University of
Bergen, Norway, 2005.
37 See, for example, Munzoul Assal, “Locating responsibilities: National and International Responses to the Crisis
in Darfur.” In Salah Hassan and Carina Ray (eds), Darfur and the Crisis of Governance: A Critical Reader. Cornell
University Press, 2009. See also David Black and Paul Williams (eds), The politics of international mass atrocities:
the case of Darfur. London: Routledge, 2010.
The South Sudan context
Meanwhile, South Sudan is, itself, recovering from decades of civil war. Given the
chronic and intractable situation in Darfur which continues to force many to remain
in exile, what are the prospects for Darfurians in South Sudan post-independence? Is
South Sudan a place of sanctuary where they can feel entitled to remain either
indefinitely or until such time as they can return to Darfur? Are they entitled to
South Sudanese citizenship on the basis of their Sudanese nationality, their period of
residence, their racial/ethnic background, their political history and allegiances or
are they foreigners? Are they now refugees rather than IDPs? And if so, what are the
implications for their protection?
The context in which these questions need to be asked is one in which the multiple
demands on the South Sudan government to provide for those who find themselves
within its borders cannot be exaggerated. In addition to setting up a new state and
implementing a process of recovery from decades of conflict and neglect, the
country is also in the midst of a massive returns process, with extraordinary resource
requirements, most of which are not being met.38 Furthermore, the outbreak of a
new (or reignited) conflict in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states (in Sudan) has
created a new wave of displacement to South Sudan. Renewed interstate aggression
between the two states has also resulted in additional internal displacement in Unity
state in South Sudan due to aerial bombardments by Sudan.
39 In light of these new
crises, which threaten the very integrity of the state as a whole, it is understandable
that questions surrounding the status of Darfurians in the South are not viewed as a
The paper is based primarily on field research that took place in two locations and in
two phases. The first phase took place in May and June 2011, a few weeks prior to
independence, and was conducted in South Sudan and Kampala, Uganda. In South
Sudan, the intention was to conduct research in two locations, Juba and Wau,
chosen for their significant Darfurian populations. Interviews in Kampala were
intended to supplement these interviews by providing additional perspectives on the
prospects for Darfurians post-secession.
The research team that travelled to South Sudan consisted of two men and a
woman, from different ethnic groups within Darfur. The team began their fieldwork
in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, a city that has grown rapidly over the past few
years, with significant numbers of migrants from all over the region. The research in
Juba proceeded relatively smoothly, although the considerable presence of army and
police on the streets meant that interviews generally took place indoors. Only
38 Interview with SSRRC, Juba, 6 October 2011.
39 See UNOCHA, “South Sudan Humanitarian Update, Jan- April 2012.”
40 Interview with UNHCR protection officer, Juba, 4 October 2011.
individual interviews were conducted: although the team had intended to conduct
some focus group discussions, they were advised by Darfurians living in the area that
it would be unwise to do so as it might attract attention and be misunderstood as a
The team then travelled from Juba to Wau. However, they were only able to
complete two interviews before being stopped by the South Sudan security forces.
They had their laptops and passports taken away from them and were required to
stay at their hotel pending investigations. At the time of the research, the moment
for secession on 1 July was approaching and South Sudanese security was on
considerable alert, concerned that something might occur to prevent a smooth
transition. There seemed to be a suspicion that the researchers may have been sent
by the government in Khartoum to spy on activities in Wau. After six days, the team
was allowed to go on their way freely and they immediately returned to Juba to
complete the research. Although this prevented interviews taking place in Wau,
which would have allowed for a greater geographical spread in the research, the
experience itself is revealing: it points to the suspicion that surrounds Darfurians in
general and shows the potential vulnerability of their status in the South.
Meanwhile interviews were carried out in Kampala with Darfurians who had either
been living in South Sudan, or who had relatives living there. The research in
Kampala took place throughout the city between 18 May and 24 June, and was
conducted by a team comprised of a Ugandan lead researcher, two Darfurian
refugees based in Kampala, and IRRI staff members. As the Darfurian community in
Kampala is relatively small, care was taken to ensure that a cross-section of
individuals was interviewed, including both men and women, those with different
ethnic identities and those who lived in different areas within the city.
Although the Kampala phase of the research was intended primarily to augment the
findings in South Sudan, the problems the team encountered in Wau meant that the
balance of interviews shifted: out of a total of 71 interviews conducted during this
phase of the research with 78 Darfurians living in both locations, 34 interviews took
place in South Sudan and 37 in Kampala. Although it would have been preferable to
have a greater number of interviews with those currently living in South Sudan, it is
important to bear in mind that Darfurians living in Kampala tend to be a highly
mobile population, and all had experience of and/or informed views on the situation
in South Sudan.
The second phase of research took place in Juba in October 2011, after South
Sudan’s independence, and was conducted by the lead researcher who had
previously gone to Juba, and a senior IRRI staff member. During this second phase,
follow-up interviews were conducted with 16 Darfurians living in Juba, five of whom
had been interviewed during the first phase of the research. In addition, ten
interviews were conducted with government, UN and NGO officials based in Juba.
In total, therefore, 104 interviews were conducted throughout the research. With
the exception of the official interviews, the vast majority of those interviewed were
young men between the ages of 25 and 30, reflecting the demographic of the
Darfurian refugee population in Kampala as a whole and, to a lesser extent, South
Sudan. The pattern of displacement has been such that many women and children
have remained in IDP camps in Darfur or across the border in Chad, unable to make
the journey further afield, while men have fled on their own. Most of those
interviewed were from South Darfur, and almost all spoke Arabic and either Fur or
Zaghawa. Of the 78 people interviewed in the first phase of the research, eight were
senior leaders of Darfurian rebel groups in exile: four in Kampala and four in Juba.
Interviews took place in Arabic and were translated at the point of transcription.
Our findings are by no means exhaustive of the multiple perceptions and
permutations that no doubt exist among different groups of Darfurians, whether
living in Darfur, South Sudan or further afield. However, the interviews point to some
of the salient issues facing those who are confronting a future that is profoundly
precarious, and allow us to make a number of recommendations regarding the need
for greater clarity over the legal and policy framework governing citizenship in the
The following presentation of the research findings explores Darfurian exiles’
understandings of the conflict in Darfur; their views on the political changes marked
by secession of South Sudan; their ideas regarding their own position in the new
political configuration; and the way in which they are expressing notions of
belonging within this context, in particular through changing political alignments at
this time of transition.
A war rooted in marginalisation
Not surprisingly, the ongoing conflict in Darfur was – and continues to be – the
defining feature of people’s lives, creating a situation of protracted displacement
and uncertainty for millions. The impact on the civilian population is hard to
exaggerate, and every person interviewed told excruciatingly sad stories of exile,
brutality, families being separated, and of a war that has seen a bewildering
spectrum of abuse from the aerial bombardment and burning of entire villages to
One woman described how she was chased from her village in Darfur by the
Janjawiid, then the IDP camp to which she had fled was bombed as well. Her
husband was killed in the first attack and she fled with her six children, one of whom
is chronically sick as a result of being tortured by government forces.
traumatised, she described the war as being like “losing your soul”.42 Another
interviewee recounted how her village was attacked by Janjawiid, forcing her to flee:
41 Interview with Darfurian refugee woman, Kampala, 24 May 2011.
42 Interview with Darfurian refugee woman, Kampala, 24 May 2011.
as we ran away, soldiers killed my brothers and my father-in-law was shot in the
legs. From there we had no means to move far and as we continued we got near
another barracks where my mother-in-law was shot at and killed. By then I was
alone and fled to another village. The village had been completely destroyed but I
met some women and we fled together climbing over the hills.
She eventually made it to Wau in what is now South Sudan.
The war remains unresolved. One man, who was forced to flee on his own, talked of
how he worries every day about his family’s safety in the IDP camps in Darfur.44
Indeed, the trend of young men fleeing further afield and leaving the rest of their
family behind in Darfur was common throughout the interviews, as demonstrated by
the fact that a disproportionate number of those in exile in both Kampala and South
Sudan are young men. As we were told, many women and girls are not able to join
them because they are unable to make the journey.
All of those interviewed stressed the extent to which the war is deeply rooted in the
imbalance of power relations between central power-holders and Darfurians. The
many injustices associated with political marginalisation have led to – or been
exacerbated by – economic, social and cultural marginalisation. As one man in Juba
The reason for war in Darfur is because of greedy people in the government since
the British left. This led to an absence of development and marginalising certain
places like Darfur. Therefore the people in those places started asking for
improvement, but the central government did not respond to their requests from
the beginning and instead they declared war.
Specifically, many saw the war as having a strong ethnic, or in some cases racial,
profile – a war that is deliberately against Sudan’s “African” population. As a refugee
in Kampala said, the war started because “the constitution does not favour black
people. It is not democratic, hence marginalisation of black people resulting in lack
of education… So when people from Darfur sent representatives to government to
demand for services, government responded by calling them rebels and then Darfur
was attacked.”46 Divisions along ethnic lines were seen to be exacerbated by the way
in which the government used proxies to attack those in Darfur: “They imported
Janjawiid from neighbouring countries like Niger and Mali, and also those local
Arabs. The war in Darfur is not simply a tribal conflict, but it’s clearly ethnic cleansing
against blacks and they started saying that we got rid of Southerners, now it’s your
The war, therefore, has reinforced one of Sudan’s many binaries, drawing upon
tensions between “Arab” and “African” Darfurians. In this particular narrative, rebels
43 Interview with Darfurian refugee woman, Kampala, 25 May 2011.
44 Interview with Darfurian refugee man, Kampala, 18 May 2011.
45 Interview with Darfurian man, Juba, DATE? M2
46 Interview with Darfurian refugee man, Kampala, 18 May 2011.
47 Interview with Darfurian refugee man, Kampala, 21 May 2011
are “black people like SLA, JEM”,48 while the Janjawiid “are also Darfurians, but they
are fighting for the Khartoum government. They are a constituted by members of
nomadic or arabised tribes, especially Reizigat and the Maharia.”49 The war has
reinforced a particular logic regarding who does and does not legitimately belong in
Darfur, as explored in greater depth below.
Specifically, from the perspective of those interviewed, the invasion of these
“outsiders” was interpreted as a ploy for them to gain land in Darfur: “The Janjawiid
were not even Darfurians but were looking for properties and land so when the
Darfurians started to make their demands, they then got an ally in government and
began fighting the Darfurians.”50 “Everyone knows this land [in Darfur] is ours.”51 As
another man said, the war happened because “the Arabs want to take over the land
of the black people.”52 These comments should be understood in a context in which
many arabised groups in Darfur were traditionally nomadic and therefore most did
not own land. However, as desertification and pressure on the land has increased,
struggles over land use have inevitably increased and becoming highly potent. The
addition of government forces into the mix, therefore, was interpreted as a form of
colonisation by an external Arab minority to eradicate or subjugate the population of
Darfur. It has also solidified some highly problematic binaries that are not only
inaccurate, but dangerous in their potential divisiveness, as explored in greater detail
As a result of these deeply embedded divisions and injustices, there was little
optimism about a possible peaceful resolution to the war due to the fact that “the
government is not serious about stopping the war in Darfur.”53 As a rebel leader in
Kampala said, “We have participated in Libya. Also in Doha with the idea to unify
movements for peace. But we found it was useless to talk about peace. These peace
negotiations will not work because the government is not serious.”54 There was a
strong view, therefore, that the government remains fundamentally uncommitted to
resolving the war which, in turn, was translated into a realisation that sustainable
return to Darfur was currently not seen as an option.
An additional factor that was seen to be preventing resolution of the conflict in
Darfur was the fragmentation of Darfurian resistance. As one rebel leader described
it, “there are three types of Darfur movements. The first is the cartoon movement
that has no existence in the field, the second one is only fiddling on the internet, and
the third one is the real revolutionary movement with concrete principles. But they
do not work together.”55 Although the biases in this statement hardly merit
comment, it shows the extent to which a solution to the war continues to be
hampered by a lack of unity. As another man said, “To stop the war, firstly the Darfur
48 Interview with Darfurian refugee man, Kampala, 19 May 2011.
49 Interview with Darfurian refugee man, Kampala, 18 May 2011.
50 Interview with Darfurian refugee man, Kampala, 18 May 2011.
51 Interview with Darfurian refugee woman, Kampala, 24 May 2011.
52 Interview with Darfurian refugee man, Kampala, 19 May 2011.
53 Interview with Darfurian man, Juba, October 2011.
54 Group interview with three rebel leaders, Kampala, 23 June 2011.
55 Interview with Darfurian man, Juba, October 2011
rebel groups should unify regardless of tribe and ethnicity, because the government
policy was to split the Darfurians. We must sit together as Darfurians to resolve the
root causes of our disputes, and we should give concessions from our side to end the
split based on our values.”56
In the second phase of the research, the bleak prospects for resolving the war in
Darfur were further reinforced by the outbreak of war in the Nuba mountains and
Blue Nile region, which were seen to be “for the same reasons as the war in
Darfur.”57 As interviewees said, “The government is the creator of the wars in Darfur,
Abyei, Nuba mountains and Blue Nile. The characteristics of all these wars as the
same – even the one in the South before. The Arabs in central government want to
control the resources and power in the country.”58 “The wars in South Kordofan and
South Blue Nile are the same symptom as the war in the South and Darfur. We are all
from the marginalised areas of Sudan.”59 Others distinguished various sources of
conflict: “In Abyei the fighting is over petroleum resources; in the Nuba mountains it
is about gaining power and securing the border with the South; and in Blue Nile it
was about eliminating the SPLA from the North.”60 However, as the same
interviewee then went on to say, “But all of these wars have resulted in the same:
the killing of innocent people and displacement. If the [Khartoum] government was
wise it would stop these wars, but they are fearful of change.”61 Therefore the
pattern of aerial bombardment and eradication that characterise the latest attacks,
particularly in the Nuba mountains, was seen as reinforcing the extent to which the
Khartoum government is prepared to use violence against its own people. Prospects
for resolution, therefore, remain as bleak as ever.
The referendum and independence: Darfurian perspectives
Given the protracted nature of this conflict, and the reality that return to Darfur is
not seen as viable for the foreseeable future, where does this leave Darfurians who
fled to the south of their country, and now find themselves in a new state?
There was widespread support among Darfurians for the South’s independence,
acknowledging that the people of the South had achieved a great victory in ridding
themselves of the Khartoum government. They strongly identified with the abuses
suffered at the hands of the northern government and saw themselves as fellow
freedom-fighters: “I am very proud of them for getting their independence.”62 As
one woman said prior to independence: “When South Sudan becomes independent
it means our brothers have land and it means that Darfurians will join them because
they are our brothers, they are black like us.”63 Although many talked of how they
would have preferred a solution that kept Sudan intact, there was a strong
56 Interview with Darfurian man, Juba, October 2011.
57 Interview with Darfurian man, Juba, October 2011.
58 Interview with Darfurian man, Juba, October 2011.
59 Interview with Darfurian man, Juba, October 2011.
60 Interview with Darfurian man, Juba, October 2011.
62 Interview with Darfurian man, Juba, 29 May 2011.
63 Interview with Darfurian refugee woman, Kampala, 24 May 2011.
realisation that this had been untenable. One man talked of how it was because
“Bashir’s government is so bad” that South Sudan had to separate: “there is no way
to trust Khartoum which only favours Arabs.”64 For some, the South’s independence
was also seen positively as something of a prelude to Darfur’s liberation, or even
future independence: As one of the rebel leaders said, “we believe that the new
South Sudan government … will help us and might give us, as Darfurian people, a
chance to stay there until we solve all our problems in Darfur.”65 A refugee man in
Kampala went further: “I think the independence of South Sudan will encourage us
Darfurians to seriously look for our independence.”66
At the same time, some retained hope that Sudan would one day re-unite. As one
man said, “Now the rebels in Darfur are starting to unify, which is what Garang did
successfully in South Sudan that led to their independence. We can learn from South
Sudan and then together [Darfur and South Sudan] we can fight Khartoum. And if we
win, South Sudan and North Sudan can reunify as a ‘new Sudan’”67 This sentiment
expresses the hope that the government of South Sudan may somehow unite with
the Darfurian opposition against the government in Khartoum. For the most part,
however, the hope that southern leadership could create national change has
dwindled as the new state has come into being. As one of the rebel leaders said, “It
was very harmful for us as political leaders for South Sudan to secede. We were
calling for a united Sudan. The Southern Sudanese were forced into secession, but it
is not what they want. We carry the common values among all Sudanese, and we
would have loved to have maintained that. South Sudan was forced to act because of
the [Khartoum] government.”68
Therefore, while seen as positive for the people of the South, there was
acknowledgement by some that secession not only failed to benefit Darfur, but has
made their situation worse – or at least more uncertain: “After the referendum
people in the Northern part will be made to suffer a lot especially the groups that
have been fighting the government. All the weapons that were being used on the
Southerners will now be turned to fight other groups within the North. It will make
those in Khartoum even more difficult because they will not want to lose another
part. But it is also going to make other rebel groups demand for independence.”69
“As a Darfurian [the outcome of the referendum] does not make any sense to me. It
will benefit the Southern Sudanese only.”70
Not only has the hope for a unified and liberated Sudan disappeared, but some
Darfurians now feel they have been casualties of the South’s independence.
Independence for the South removed the most effective alternative power source –
the SPLM – from the Sudanese political scene: their opposition went some way to
constraining NCP behaviour. Thus, just as many Southerners looked with suspicion to
64 Interview with Darfurian refugee man, Kampala, 18 May 2011.
65 Group interview with three rebel leaders, Kampala, 24 June 2011.
66 Interview with Darfurian refugee man, Kampala, 18 May 2011.
67 Interview with Darfurian refugee man, Kampala, 19 May 2011.
68 Group interview with three rebel leaders, Kampala, 23 June 2011.
69 Interview with Darfurian refugee man, Kampala, 18 May 2011.
70 Interview with Darfurian refugee man, Kampala, 19 May 2011.
Darfurians during the South/North civil war, many Darfurians now look at
southerners with disappointment to the extent that they feel the secession of South
Sudan has made them more vulnerable to the tyranny of the Khartoum government.
What future in South Sudan?
So where does that leave those living in the South? Pre-independence, living in
South Sudan made a lot of sense, and growing numbers of Darfurians based
themselves there: they were able to remain in their country, but live in safety – away
from the war in Darfur, and further from the reach of the Khartoum government
(although by no means completely out of it). Post-independence, the interviews
suggest that little has changed so far. As one man living in Juba said, “The number of
Darfurians in the South is increasing because they found themselves secure in the
South.”71 Another man, currently living in Kampala, said “I would move to South
Sudan because these people understand the situation of Darfurians and they have
also experienced the same situation.”72 Since independence, this trend has
apparently continued, with numerous interviewees stating that increasing numbers
of Darfurians were moving to the South in search of safety and employment
Some, albeit a minority of those interviewed, had had negative experiences. One
woman talked of how she had done domestic work in South Sudan, but her
employer started mistreating her: “They were saying that black Darfurians have been
killing Southern Sudanese so what do they [Darfurians] want from the Southern
Sudanese?”73 As this quote demonstrates, the association of Darfurians with the
North, and specifically with foot soldiers in the government of Sudan’s war against
the South, has left its mark: “they think we are not very different from the Arabs –
maybe because most of the Darfurians are Muslims.”74 As another man living in
Kampala said, “[In Juba] it was bad because there was discrimination – the
Southerners were seeing anyone from Northern Sudan in the same perspective like
Arabs. That is what made me to seek asylum in Uganda where I would be under
UNHCR.”75 The construction of Arab identity in this quote points to the problematic
of Arab/African binaries and the way in which they are highly changeable. One man
talked of life in Juba as being “half-half”: “the negative I observed is the attitude of
the people of South Sudan who think that we Darfurians are not different from
The majority, however, talked of how they had found a degree of acceptance in the
South. People have set up businesses, are living in compounds with Southern
Sudanese, and talked of strong levels of acceptance within Juba. As one man said,
71 Interview with Darfurian man, Juba, 18 May 2011.
72 Interview with Darfurian refugee man, Kampala, 18 May 2011.
73 Interview with Darfurian refugee woman, Kampala, 25 May 2011.
74 Interview with Darfurian refugee man, Kampala, 19 May 2011.
75 Interview with Darfurian refugee man, Kampala, 19 May 2011.
76 Interview with Darfurian refugee man, Kampala, 19 May 2011. Jallaba is a derogatory term used by southern
Sudanese to refer to northerners.
“we all enjoy working freely in the South.”77 Another man, a successful car mechanic
who owned his own garage, described his life in Juba: “Since 2000, I have never
experienced racial discrimination related to my Darfurian roots. On the contrary,
they respect me as a professional – as a good mechanic. I have trained almost ten
mechanics from South Sudan who now have their own workshops and they come
and consult me from time to time. As you can see here, I have several cars belonging
to the government that are under repair.”78
Whatever their assessment of life in Juba, there was a strong recognition that postindependence,
their status was going to fundamentally change. They would no
longer be living in their own country, but would be in a foreign land. Darfurians
realised that independence would alter their status: “[after independence] things
will change for the worse because the Darfurians in Juba will now be considered
foreigners.”79 “After independence, the South will be like any other foreign country
for us.”80 As Darfurians, whose territory remains in the geographical north of the
country, they are not automatically included in the newly liberated South Sudan.
In practice, this was translated into a realisation that they might be seen as
foreigners and need documentation to travel. One man said he was unsure whether
or not Darfurians would be chased from South Sudan after independence, but that it
would “no longer be [their] land” and that they might be required to present a
passport in order to be allowed to stay.81 Of greatest concern was the idea that the
South might decide to copy the exclusionary tactics that have been deployed by the
Khartoum government: “Bashir has announced that the one from the North is from
the North, South from South. If the Southerners say the same thing then no
Darfurian will be able to stay.”82 There was concern that the North was going to
continue destabilising the South, thus keeping alive anti-Northerner feelings.
In particular, there was a concern that the change in their legal status was going to
make them far more vulnerable as they will no longer legitimately belong as citizens:
“Up to present I have not decided where I should be after independence of the
South. I will stay where I find my freedom and where people accept me.”83 “The
people in the South know us as Darfurians from our features even if they don’t ask
any questions about where we’re from. We introduce ourselves as Darfurians.”84 A
refugee in Kampala expressed his concerns: “[after independence] the Darfurians
will suffer in South Sudan because they will discriminate against Darfurians.”85 In
particular, there was a fear that if they become recognised as refugees, that they
would be forced to move into camps with all the restrictions associated with forced
77 Interview with Darfurian man, Juba, October 2011.
78 Interview with Darfurian man, Juba, October 2011.
79 Interview with Darfurian refugee man, Kampala, 18 May 2011.
80 Interview with Darfurian refugee woman, Kampala, 25 May 2011.
81 Interview with Darfurian refugee man, Kampala, 18 May 2011.
82 Interview with Darfurian refugee man, Kampala, 22 May 2011.
83 Interview with Darfurian man, Juba, 19 May 2011.
84 Interview with Darfurian man, Juba, 18 May 2011.
85 Interview with Darfurian man, Kampala, 19 May 2011.
Despite these concerns, however, people were generally positive about their ability
to stay in a newly independent South Sudan, albeit with an altered legal status:
“[after independence] I would love to stay in the South by any means whether I am a
refugee or if I have to apply for citizenship, because there is no peace and security in
Darfur… Up to now there has been no misconduct towards us as Darfurians. The
Southerners are considering us as part of them. I will be the first person to ask for
citizenship in the South.”86 “Up to now all the indicators point to us being allowed to
stay in this house [after independence]. The question of citizenship request is too
early to say, or even the refugee status.”87 Furthermore, several interviewees talked
of how the South would become safer for them post-independence because the
northern government would no longer have any legitimate access to them. There
was also optimism that new opportunities would open up in the South. As a refugee
in Kampala said, “it will provide job opportunities for the marginalised youth of
Darfur who are intentionally deprived of work because of racial reasons in the North.
There are already many Darfurians in South Sudan now.”88
A number of the rebel leaders echoed this sentiment. Although they did not believe
that they would automatically be offered citizenship, they did not think that
Darfurians would have a problem staying in South Sudan: “I think that giving
citizenship will be difficult because South Sudan has its own problems. But I think
Darfurians can live in freedom in South Sudan.”89
The second phase of research endorsed many of these views – on the one hand,
there was no indication that people were feeling less welcome post-independence,
yet on the other hand the lack of clear guidelines regarding their status was of
concern. As one rebel leader based in Juba told us, “The Southern government and
the citizens here have shown no change in behaviour towards Sudanese from the
North. The president even invited us for Ramadan breakfast in his house and
expressed his welcoming and personal protection to all Northerners who live in the
South.”90 Yet, as another interviewee said, “yes, we have very good relationship with
the Southerners and we have never felt like foreigners … but the reality at the end of
the day is that we are from Darfur so we are refugees in the South.”91 There was a
strong awareness that their presence might be accepted in the euphoria surrounding
the aftermath of independence, but their freedom to remain with legitimacy in the
South into the future was less certain.
Not surprisingly, therefore, realities on the ground are rife with contradiction. For
instance we discovered that there had been a local directive in Juba town that
forbade the driving of public transport by foreigners, primarily directed at the
growing number of Ugandan and Kenyan taxi drivers in the town. A number of
Darfurians had replaced these “foreign” drivers, the latter of which were now
86 Interview with Darfurian man, Juba, 18 May 2011.
87 Interview with Darfurian man, Juba, 19 May 2011.
88 Interview with Darfurian man, Kampala, 18 May 2011.
89 Group interview with three rebel leaders, Kampala, 24 June 2011.
90 Interview with Darfurian man, Juba, October 2011.
91 Interview with Darfurian man, Juba, October 2011.
working as cash collectors within the taxis. However, we were also told that another
directive had been issued stating that all advocates who are not from the South had
to stop practicing law. As a result, a number of Darfurian advocates have apparently
These apparent contradictions or different perspectives point to the uncertainty that
people are living with: on the one hand in practice their presence is generally
accepted in the South – whether specifically as Darfurians or, more generally as
Northerners who have left the North – and most believe that this is likely to
continue. Yet at the same time there was a strong awareness that without the
security and legitimacy to belong that goes with legal citizenship, their position in
the South was going to become far more vulnerable. They are accepted locally as
non-foreigners when it comes to driving taxis, but they cannot practice law. Juba
offers abundant economic opportunities at the moment, but what will happen when
these opportunities begin to dwindle and competition increases? How do you
prevent xenophobia against Darfurians as “outsiders” from developing? What would
be the impact of increased open conflict between the two Sudans?
Evolving forms of identification
War and exile inevitably shape and alter the way in which people identify themselves
not only in relation to the state, but also in relation to localised forms of belonging.
The war has literally torn apart communities, and millions of Darfurians have been
physically prised away from the land and the people they have lived with all their
lives. In this context, people have had to constantly re-negotiate and re-invent their
allegiances in order to best ensure access to safety and physical survival. This process
of re-negotiation is simultaneously an intensely localised process – one in which
people strive to be accepted within the specific locality in which they are living – and
a more national, political process, whereby people recognise the need for a new
form of legitimacy in their relationship with the state.
Therefore beneath the pragmatics of choosing where to live – of making wise
choices that enable people to best find safety and meet their daily needs – is a more
hidden narrative that points to how people perceive themselves within the changing
political and territorial contours of Sudan (both old and new). How has Darfurian
sense of belonging as a group being shaped, destroyed or reinforced as a result of
war? What are the implications for finding places in which they can be accepted,
where they can legitimately belong, either as migrants passing through or as people
trying to create new roots of belonging? And to whom do they express their
allegiance both politically and socially? In other words, how do people’s ideological
or political notions of belonging match with deeper understandings of “home” and
territorial belonging? It is these more hidden narratives of allegiance and belonging
that are explored, albeit tentatively, in the following section.
Not surprisingly, the findings show a fundamental disjuncture between the way in
which interviewees expressed understandings of belonging, and their current
circumstances. It was striking throughout the interviews that people have retained –
or created – a strong sense of their identity as Darfurians, which has only been
exacerbated by their exile and uprootedness. All of those interviewed saw South
Sudan (or Kampala) as a temporary dwelling place until they could return home to
Darfur. South Sudan might offer possibilities in the present, but they did not see this
as permanent: “I find myself only in Darfur in the future.”92 “For me personally as
Darfurian and carrying the problem of Darfur with me, staying in the South is just a
temporary stage until we resolve the Darfur problem.”93
Not surprisingly, most of the rebel leaders interviewed had particularly strong views
on this, stating unequivocally that staying in South Sudan was temporary. As one
rebel leader said, “we are just temporarily in South Sudan for different reasons.
When the situation changes, we will go back to Darfur. We will stay in South Sudan
as refugees for a while until the situation is better in Darfur.”94 As another said, “our
message to the Darfurian community in South Sudan is that we need to be
Darfurians and not stay in South Sudan.”95 Another rebel leader said, “The problem
is that Darfurians don’t want to withdraw from their country. If you give up the
country of the North, then you leave it for the newcomers. This cannot happen. It is
our country. We are North. This is our land. We cannot leave it for other groups. I
cannot leave my home place in the North to live in the South. Darfur is my
homeland. And I cannot talk just of Darfur: it is all of Sudan. I will fight for all the
North now that the South has gone.”96
Yet their Darfurian identity has created a dilemma in as much as the potential for
them to re-connect with their homeland was seen to present huge problems – many
of which currently seem insurmountable. As stated above, there was a realisation
that the possibility of a united, democratic Sudan in which Darfur has an equal place
– a sentiment articulated most notably by rebel leaders, whose raison d’être is
strongly linked to this possible outcome – was now impossible. For most of those
interviewed, there was a strong feeling of hopelessness regarding this ideal.
Therefore, given the impossibility of a united Sudan once secession had taken place
and of the bleak prospects of a genuine resolution to the conflict in Darfur whereby
Darfurians are able to exercise their political rights, Sudan as a political construct was
seen to offer little traction.
As a result, striking throughout all the interviews was the incredibly strong sense of a
Darfurian identity set apart from a broader notion of being Sudanese: people had
disconnected their Darfurian identity from a broader Sudanese identity. As one man
said, “I am a citizen of Darfur.”97 When asked where he sees his home, one man
replied: “My home as I see it is Darfur because it is the country of my great
grandfathers and is the place where I was born, grew, and where I was until I
became a complete man. That is why it is my ultimate home.”98 “Darfur is my home
92 Interview with Darfurian man, Juba, 18 May 2011.
93 Interview with Darfurian man, Juba, 120 May 2011.
94 Group interview with three rebel leaders, Kampala, 23 June 2011.
95 Group interview with two rebel leaders, Kampala, 24 June 2011.
96 Group interview with three rebel leaders, 23 June 2011.
97 Interview with Darfurian man, Juba, 19 May 2011.
98 Interview with Darfurian refugee man, Kampala, 18 May 2011.
and one day I will go back.”99 It is where his ancestors are and where he hopes future
generations will be. “I describe home as somewhere for my great grandfathers and I
remember them when I mention home.”100
Unequivocally, therefore, many people wanted to reject a broader Sudanese identity
that linked them in any way to the Khartoum government and identified themselves
as Darfurian as a way of distancing themselves from it. “I describe myself as a
Darfurian but not a Sudanese. I am a Darfurian who has fled the war in Darfur. If I say
I am Sudanese, they will think we are the ones who are committing the wrongs in
Darfur.”101 Another man, when asked what it means to be Sudanese, responded: “It
does not make any sense to me because Sudanese are known to be Arabs and Sudan
is a name symbolic of the suffering we have gone through.”102 But as he then went
on to say, “I feel happy being a Darfurian because that is where I originated from.”103
As another man said, “Sudanese people are without pride about the place because
there is no unity in our feelings towards the land… There has never been unity
between the centre and other parts of Sudan.”104
Of course, it is likely that the experience of exile has strongly influenced this selfperception
in as much as they recognise the need to distance themselves from the
Khartoum government in order to find acceptance in Juba or Kampala: this selfperception,
therefore, is likely to have a strongly tactical element to it. However, the
notion of “Sudan” in this context, represents a repressive central regime in
Khartoum. The fact that the territory of Darfur is within the borders of Sudan is
somewhat meaningless as a result.
Total alienation from the state was further enforced by stories of harassment and
torture by security agents and of nepotism/discrimination by those who had tried
living in Khartoum. These stories tell of the marginalisation of Darfurians in the
current political configuration. They are not just second-class citizens, they are
almost non-citizens. One young man now living in Juba talked of how he was
arrested, jailed and tortured as a university student in Khartoum.105 This is the basis
on which people are rejecting their Sudanese identity: the rejection of an oppressive
When asked what it meant to be Sudanese, therefore, one man replied: “it doesn’t
make sense at all because it means that I am part of the Khartoum regime which is
bad.”106 Likewise another man said, “If I identify as a Sudanese, some people end up
mistaking me for those who are committing atrocities. If I say I am Darfurian, they
know about our problem and that gives me the right to seek asylum.”107 Within this
99 Interview with Darfurian refugee man, Kampala, 19 May 2011.
100 Interview with Darfurian refugee man, Kampala, 19 May 2011.
101 Interview with Darfurian refugee man, Kampala, 18 May 2011.
102 Interview with Darfurian refugee man, Kampala, 19 May 2011.
103 Interview with Darfurian refugee man, Kampala, 19 May 2011.
104 Interview with Darfurian man, Juba, 22 May 2011.
105 Interview with Darfurian man, Juba, 19 May 2011.
106 Interview with Darfurian refugee man, Kampala, 18 May 2011.
107 Interview with Darfurian refugee woman, Kampala, 25 May 2011.
political configuration, Darfurians see themselves as having been utterly rejected by
the government that is supposed to represent them: “Being a Darfurian means the
person the Sudan government doesn’t want. And that is why they are killing us.”108
The war has proved to them that they do not belong and that they are not wanted.
Yet there was also an interesting parallel narrative in many of the interviews. While
people at times rejected a Sudanese identity when it was linked to notions of
political belonging and citizenship, there was also a realisation that it was a positive
identity marker outside of Sudan. One man talked of how Sudanese outside Sudan
are “good Sudanese”: “if you meet a Sudanese outside the country you assume that
person is running and doesn’t like Sudan.”109 In other words, strong sentiments
against the central government should not be equated with a more general rejection
of Sudanese identity, especially as embodied in those who are struggling for change,
whether in exile or inside the country.
The manipulation of an “A rab”/“African” binary
As the previous quote demonstrates, the way in which people identify themselves
and others is both context-specific and changeable. And in this context, the war has
irrevocably changed (or reinforced) the way in which people talk about themselves
in relation to the state. It has also created huge divisions within Darfur as the very
notion of Darfurian identity has become imbued with contradictions. The alienation
and marginalisation represented by a war that has been characterised by the
obliteration of their homes, families and communities, therefore, has left people
with the need to (re)create new forms of belonging. In particular, the need to be
accepted and identified with the South was a strong concern.
Within this context, a dominant theme that came out of many of the interviews was
the extent to which people identify themselves as specifically African as opposed to
Arab. When asked what it means to be Darfurian, these were some of the responses:
“It is more meaningful to say I am Darfurian because it identifies me with my place of
birth and it shows that I am an African and not an Arab.”110 “It means I am a
Darfurian African.”111 “It means I am not an Arab but an African with a mother
tongue.”112 “My home is Africa and Darfur.”113 Being “African” allows them to align
themselves with the newly emancipated South and distance themselves from the
government in Khartoum.
While it would be naive to think that divisions and tensions did not exist prior to
2003, what is clear is that the “Arab” profile of the Khartoum government, coupled
with the way in which it has used local arabised militias as proxies in its war against
Darfur, has massively exacerbated African/Arab divisions within Darfur. “The
government came to other Darfurians who were with us living together long time
108 Interview with Darfurian refugee woman, Kampala, 24 May 2011.
109 Interview with Darfurian refugee man, Kampala, 18 May 2011.
110 Interview with Darfurian refugee man, Kampala, 18 May 2011.
111 Interview with Darfurian refugee man, Kampala, 19 May 2011.
112 Interview with Darfurian refugee woman, Kampala, 25 May 2011.
113 Interview with Darfurian refugee man, Kampala, 19 May 2011.
ago, even we were married among each other, and they deceived them and gave
them guns, telling them these are Zurga,
114 they are inferior to you, so you genocide
them. Then they started killing innocent villagers and burned houses and displaced
them all.”115 As another man said, “This dichotomy of Arab/African started in the
1990s. Even when we were young we were not conscious of them. It is just
politics.”116 “It came from the Sudanese government who have always been the
minority Arabs. These came as Islamic missions to spread Islam and settled in Sudan.
But for me, my grandfather was African, a black.”117 “These Arab/African categories
came from existence early in Sudan, but mostly started since 1989 when this
government came into power.”118
As a result, many of those interviewed emphasised their African identity, with only
approximately five interviewees identifying themselves as “Arab”, and 10% saying
that they did not care whether their origins were African or Arab. As one man said in
response to the question of how he sees himself, “First, I am an African.” What
makes you an African? “I was born in Africa and my great grandparents are Africans
and I see Africa as my home, particularly Darfur because it is where I was born.”119
By contrast, as he went on to say, “[Arabs] are people who have unique colour… and
like oppressing others.”120 Or as another man said, “The term Arab is related to
discrimination and thinking they are better than others. So I am truly African.”121
But there was also a recognition that African/Arab distinctions were not primarily
about race; that Darfurians who might be classified as “Arab” had also been victims
of the war, and that there was no single Arab identity. One man distinguished
between two types of Arabs: the Arabs in Khartoum and northern Sudan who have
controlled the country since independence, and the Arabs in Darfur who are
“second-class” compared to other Arabs.122 Another man explained how the Arab
tribes in Darfur are not considered African, but equally they are also not considered
as real Arabs, so they have no identity. As he said, “they are neglected by Khartoum”
and rejected by Africans: “When you don’t have inner peace you can’t exist.” He sees
those Janjawiid who have come from within Darfur as fighting for somewhere to
belong within Sudan.123 These quotes show just how successful the Sudanese
government has been in fomenting division within Darfur: “The government
succeeded in having militias to fight for them by proxy and managed to let the
Darfurians fight against each other.”124
Yet these divide and rule tactics have built on decades of marginalisation and abuse
not only in Darfur, but also in the peripheries throughout Sudan. With power vested
114 Derogatory term used as a racial slur to refer to ‘black’ people.
115 Interview with Darfurian refugee man, Kampala, 19 May 2011.
116 Interview with Darfurian refugee man, Kampala, 19 May 2011.
117 Interview with Darfurian refugee man, Kampala, 18 May 2011.
118 Interview with Darfurian refugee man, Kampala, 18 May 2011.
119 Interview with Darfurian refugee man, Kampala, 19 May 2011.
120 Interview with Darfurian refugee man, Kampala, 19 May 2011.
121 Interview with Darfurian refugee man, Kampala, 18 May 2011.
122 Interview with Darfurian refugee man, Kampala, 19 May 2011.
123 Interview with Darfurian refugee man, Kampala, 19 May 2011.
124 Interview with Darfurian man, Juba, 20 May 2011.
in a small minority at the centre, the majority of Sudanese have felt like second class
citizens. A centralised, oppressive dictatorship, therefore, lies at the heart of this
narrative, and the extent to which African/Arab distinctives were discussed reflects a
political context in which Darfurians have felt like outsiders within Sudan on account
of not being like those in power. As one man said, “One of our main problems in
Sudan is citizenship – like whether you are from Darfur, North Sudan, South Sudan. It
affects everything… Let me tell you a story. I am from Darfur. When I graduated I got
‘excellent’ and I applied for a job with other groups. But people were just taken for
interviews on the basis of their features without considering their results. I never got
any job. Tribalism and nepotism is playing a vital role in the employment.”125 He then
went on to talk about equal citizenship for all Sudanese as being the answer to
conflict: “I wish for there to be a peace settlement for all marginalised people of
Sudan. For there to be no separate treatment between the one people of Sudan
based on ethnicity.”
At the end of the day, therefore, the fundamental distinction is between those who
fall within the inner circle of the government – regardless of whether they would be
described as Arab, African, Darfurian or any other category that might be used – and
those who are outside of it. And this is precisely the dilemma facing Darfurians: they
do not belong politically in the current Sudan political configuration, and yet their
territorial home remains under its control. Not surprisingly, therefore, South Sudan –
with its strongly African profile – offers a powerful alternative for those who need to
belong, whether temporarily or permanently. Renegotiating their position in the
South, therefore, is seen as vital not only to their day to day survival, but also to their
ability to form a base from which to one day return to a liberated Darfur.
Who belongs where now? A legal and policy reflection
If tensions and contradictions of self-perception are rife within the Darfurian
community, they are even more so in the constantly shifting legal, political and
policy framework with which the communities and groups have to grapple in the two
Sudans. Indeed, the secession of a part of a territory of a state will always create
challenges with regards to constituting the initial body of the citizenry. In the
Sudanese context, the question of citizenship, residence and access to rights for
citizens of both states is highly fraught and is one of the most critical issues still not
agreed almost a year after formal separation of the two territories. Finding a solution
has been made even more difficult by the escalating conflict between the two
countries during the first months of 2012.
Although driven primarily from the south, the war that led to the creation of South
Sudan drew many “northerners” to the cause, including into senior leadership of the
SPLM. Seeded in the experience of exclusion in the south, the vision of a “new
Sudan”, which was embraced by many within the SPLM, was one that sought to
erode the divisions of ethnicity, tribe and territorial allegiance within Sudan as a
whole. As Yasir Arman explained during a speech in early 2012 at Harvard University,
125 Interview with Darfurian man, Juba, 18 May 2011.
126 Interview with Darfurian man, Juba, 20 May 2011.
“the old South was not a geography – it was a human dimension in the first place, it
was the long struggle for recognition of diversity, democracy and social justice.”
While the foundation of South Sudan heralded a new beginning, therefore, for those
who could claim belonging in its territory, it also meant abject failure: the failure to
transform Sudan into a Sudan “for all” in line with the CPA, a failure that particularly
rebounded on the over 30 million Sudanese, including Darfurians, who remained
primarily associated with the “North”. As soon as the separation of the South
became inevitable, official government of Sudan statements increasingly reflected a
rigid conception of what a reconfigured Sudan and its citizenry was going to look like.
President Bashir vividly encapsulated the redrawing of the battle lines in a speech in
If South Sudan secedes, we will change the constitution and at that time there will
be no time to speak of diversity of culture and ethnicity [..] Sharia and Islam will be
the main source for the constitution, Islam the official religion and Arabic the official
For citizens who had suffered marginalisation and exclusion, such as many in Darfur,
these unitary descriptions of the state represented a traumatic disappointment.
Intensifying the exclusionary impact of this rhetoric, the increasing use of force by
the state against restive populations in Darfur, Nuba Mountains, Blue Nile, the far
north and the East – precisely those groups less likely to fit such narrow prescriptions
– seemed to embody this ideological remodeling of the state.
Meanwhile, the South Sudan Nationality Act 2011, adopted just prior to secession,
described the category of persons who were to be considered as citizens by birth in
South Sudan. Constructed around identification of the individual’s antecedents place
of birth, tribal heritage or continuous domicile the text of the law potentially
encompassed a wider range of persons than had been eligible to vote on the
question of secession.
129 The law, however, still strained to find a way to
acknowledge both the reality that the experience of violent ethnic discrimination
had been central to the foundation of the state, while at the same time recognising
that it had been secured by the struggle of so many Sudanese of all heritages
inspired by the values of equality and diversity.
Ironically, the ambiguities within South Sudan’s definition of its citizenry provided
further ammunition for the government of Sudan to question the nationality of
increasing numbers of those still in Sudan who could be perceived as “southern”. In
August 2011, an amendment to the Sudan Nationality Act of 1994 introduced, inter
alia, a prohibition on dual nationality with respect to South Sudan. With no appeal
127 See Yasir Arman, Secretary General, Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N), Secretary of
External Affairs, Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) The Northern Question and the Way Forward for Change,
Presentation at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, Harvard Kennedy School, April 20-21, 2012.
128 Quoted in Omar al-Bashir: northern Sudan will adopt sharia law if country splits, The Guardian (web edition)
Sunday 19 December 2010 http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/dec/19/omar-bashir-sharia-sudanreferendum
accessed 16 May 2012.
129 See South Sudan Referendum Act 2009
permitted and no caveat for involuntary acquisition, automatic loss of nationality
was the result: the law potentially denationalised millions in a stroke.
As the battle lines became more violently drawn in the field, the ethnic origin and
religious exclusion that had focused on “southerners” began to be expanded to
encompass a more overt political and military dimension. With the banning of what
was left of the SPLM in the North (known as the SPLM-North), an increase in arrests,
detention and restriction in freedom of expression of those perceived to support the
opposition, a “new south” began to converge. The outbreak of conflict in Southern
Kordofan in June 2011 and Blue Nile in September was followed by the declaration
of the formation of the Sudan Revolutionary Front in November, a coalition of armed
opposition groups from Darfur and elsewhere, particularly the forces of the SPLM-N
in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile. This development seemed only to confirm the
replication of a new “south” and “north” binary within the truncated state.
Citizenship law and the status of Darfurians
Against this background, how has South Sudan responded to the shrinking official
conception of who can be considered rightfully a Sudanese citizen? And where do
Darfurians who have fled to the South find themselves welcomed or otherwise
within the framework of law and policy?
As noted above, at its creation, South Sudan’s laws provided for a relatively flexible
approach to its citizenry, while retaining the boundaries of blood and connection to
territory which were central to its initial claim for self-determination. On a generous
reading, therefore, a number of Darfurians may have an entitlement to South
Sudanese citizenship by birth. Among the categories of persons described by the
South Sudan Nationality Act as South Sudan nationals are individuals with “any”
parent, grandparent or great-grandparent born in South Sudan.
132 Some Darfurians,
especially those from communities from the border areas and pastoralists, may fall
into this category. There are a number of cross border communities such as, for
example, the Kresh, Kara, and Yulu from South Darfur/Western Bahr el Ghazal who
are present on both sides of the border. There are also pastoralist communities who
move regularly from Darfur in to the south for grazing such as the Bagara pastoralists
(Habania, Rizegaat and South Darfur resident Missereya). Members of these groups
may have ancestors who were born in what is now the territory of South Sudan.
The other category into which some Darfurians may arguably fall is within that of
“indigenous tribal communities of South Sudan”. The Act does not provide a list of
such communities, and it is unclear how the phrase will be interpreted by either
South Sudan in considering applications for a passport or indeed by the Sudanese in
terms of its automatic denationalisation provisions. Another category set out in the
130 Precisely in order to avoid such an outcome, international law provides that persons should not be stripped of
their original citizenship if they do not wish to avail of the new citizenship which may be available.
131 The Sudan Revolutionary Front, an alliance of forces opposed to the government in Khartoum, was declared
on 12 November 2011.
132 Section 8 (1) (a) South Sudan Nationality Act 2011.
Act, viz those who have “acquired and maintained the status of a South Sudanese
national by an uninterrupted domicile” may also apply to Darfurian migrants. It
should also be noted that in addition to those sections governing recognition of
nationality, the Act also provides for a naturalisation process through voluntary
acquisition. The threshold for making an application for naturalisation is relatively
straightforward, requiring ten years of continuous domicile, demonstration of an
intention to reside permanently and an absence of conviction for serious offices or
those “related to honesty and moral turpitude.”
133 Five years’ domicile is the primary
condition for the issue of a certificate of naturalisation in case of a non national
married to a citizen.
However, the relative room for manoeuvre in these provisions for Darfurians may
not amount to much. As reflected in the research, the reality is that perceptions of
belonging in practice tend to be emotionally constructed, founded on the notion that
there is an inner truth to belonging that can be discovered and known, whether in
terms of association with a particular territory, livelihood practice, or more simply,
skin colour. The Yulu, for example, are a cross border community straddling South
Darfur and Western Bahr el Ghzal in South Sudan. During the research, for instance,
when asked about their potential to be recognised as citizens of one state or the
other, one key informant immediately responded that they are “of course African”
and “really southerners”, whatever the law may provide for in theory.
Therefore, although as a matter of law it may be possible to argue that some
Darfurians have a right to claim Southern Sudanese citizenship, not only will the
burden of proof be difficult to discharge as a matter of practice, but it will be hard to
challenge ingrained notions of who is and is not South Sudanese at a more empirical
level. The categories of northerner/southerner/Arab/African/black were deeply
embedded in the way the war was fought and experienced on the ground. Yet at the
same time, the ideologies around equality and diversity espoused and developed in
the political discourse which drove the conflict and drew in many “northerners” also
challenged these exclusivities. The resulting paradox is reflected in the way
Darfurians are being treated in the South.
Darfurians and the right to reside
Since secession, Sudanese people have generally been permitted to reside and
operate freely in South Sudan, and, in many respects are regarded as potential
citizens. However, the research found that there was confusion on the ground about
the official status of Darfurians, and an apparent lack of consistency in the extent to
which civil society, government and UN agencies had absorbed and understood the
ambiguities of the law and the exigencies of the political history of the war. As a
representative of the South Sudan Human Rights Commission (SSHRC) put it,
Darfurians were free to stay in South Sudan and go about their business as they
wish, but the longer term issue of their status within South Sudan was not high on
133 Section 10 South Sudan Nationality Act 2011.
134 Section 13 South Sudan Nationality Act 2011.
the Commission’s (or the government’s) agenda.
135 It is not surprising, therefore,
that to date there has been no in-depth assessment or registration of Darfurians in
Meanwhile, the question of whether or not Darfurians should be treated as asylum
seekers was also somewhat confused. The granting of refugee status is, by definition,
recognition that a person is both a non-citizen and an individual in respect of whom
the state of asylum is willing to exercise protection on behalf of the international
community where the protection of their own state has failed in a significant way.
Despite the fact that African refugee law explicitly provides that the grant of asylum
“is a peaceful and humanitarian act, and shall not be regarded as an unfriendly act
by any member State” it remains a delicate question.
137 In particular, the SSHRC
representative noted that Sudanese people who were part of the struggle that had
resulted in the new South Sudan – such as those from the Nuba Mountains and
Southern Blue Nile – are not, and cannot be, regarded as refugees unless they
choose to be: “The South Sudan government is to adopt the best practice that is
internationally known – the option of choice,” he said. “Politically, they are regarded
as citizens but legally they are not until this is formalised.”138 Government officials
interviewed at the time of the research echoed this approach, explaining that they
were not using the term “refugee” to refer to those who were displaced from the
North, including Darfurians. We were told, “we are all one with Sudanese people”.139
Although South Sudan has ratified neither the 1951 UN Relating to the Status of
Refugees nor the 1989 AU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee
Problems in Africa, it has to date been relatively generous to refugees. The
government of South Sudan has a relatively open door policy towards that in flight
and seeking protection, not only towards Sudanese from Darfur, Blue Nile and South
Kordofan, but also from other countries including the Democratic Republic of Congo,
Ethiopia and Eritrea. Indeed, officials indicated in 2010 as they were preparing for
the creation of the new state that because of the people of South Sudan’s own
history of exile and displacement, they intended to create the “best” refugee laws
and practices in the world.
140 In September 2011, a committee was established by
the South Sudan Ministry of Interior to create a South Sudan law on refugees and it
had its first meeting during the last week of September 2011. The inspiration for the
projected law is from similar laws in the region, which seem to be preferred over
those of Sudan, and the expectation is that there will be something in draft form by
the end of this year.141
135 Interview with South Sudan Human Rights Commission representative, Juba, 5 October 2011.
136 Interview with representative of the Centre for Peace and Development Studies, University of Juba,3 October
137 See Article II(2) of the 1969 African Union Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in
138 Interview with South Sudan Human Rights Commission representative, Juba, 5 October 2011.
139 Interview with government official, Juba, 5 October 2011.
140 Interview with, senior official.
141 Interview with UNHCR protection officer, Juba, 4 October 2011.
Since the research was conducted, however, the picture has become more complex.
During the research, the SSHRC pointed out that although Southerners had been
mistreated in the North, the government of South Sudan had decided not to
retaliate.142 With escalating tensions along the border, however, and continued
bombing of South Sudanese territory, changes were bound to occur. On 10 April
2012, the South Sudanese Minister of the Interior issued a statement declaring that
“in response” to procedures taken in Sudan with respect to those viewed as South
Sudanese nationals, a series of new measures would be put in place with respect to
Sudanese nationals in the South. The first provision of the statement is stark: “all
nationals of the Republic of Sudan are declared foreigners as to 9 April 2012.” The
statement goes on to clarify that all Sudanese will, from that point on, require entry
visas at any point of entry but that those “who are currently in the Republic of South
Sudan shall be registered and provided with temporary stay documents free.”
statement also makes clear that “Sudanese nationals shall be accorded fair
treatment and full respect in regard to their human rights.”
It is not clear to what extent this declaration has been implemented. And, although
the statement conforms to international law, the trajectory towards increasing
exclusion and control of Sudanese citizens, although understandable, is worrying –
not least as it entrenches the position of the two states, while the issue of special
arrangements and favourable treatment of each others’ nationals is still on the table
in theory in the faltering inter-state negotiations. The 9
th April declaration by the
authorities in Juba was certainly triggered by the fact that in the days just prior to
the statement the army of South Sudan was marching into Heglig, a major oil
producing area considered by Sudan to be firmly within their territory. If the
escalation in the conflict between the two countries continues, the status of
Darfurian nationals in South Sudan may become even more precarious. In particular,
the classification and control of mutual “enemy aliens” in the new state is going to
create new issues for exiles to grapple with. Inevitably, new wars will bring new
alignments. Furthermore, inter-state conflict between the two Sudans will inevitably
be intertwined with the internal conflicts still raging in Sudan and the smaller
conflicts and violence which continue to create insecurity in the South. The question,
therefore, remains: as Sudan’s “new south” consolidates militarily and ideologically
to encompass Darfur, how will Darfurians be viewed by the old South, and how will
Darfurians position themselves with respect to these faultlines?
142 Interview with SSRRC, 5 October 2011.
143 See also the Section 7 South Sudan Passports and Immigration Act 2011 which provides that the Directorate of
Passports, Nationality and Immigration is charged with, inter alia, registering aliens upon their arrival.
The independence of South Sudan symbolises a moment of extraordinary
achievement and hope. It represents the potential end of decades of conflict,
enabling the South to rid itself of subjugation to a discredited and dictatorial regime.
However, it is important that the implications for those who are impacted by this
change, and yet who do not immediately appear to benefit from it, are not
overlooked. In particular, the reality of ongoing and escalating conflict in Darfur,
South Kordofan and Blue Nile continues to cast a sinister shadow over the whole
transition, and if these issues are not resolved it could bring this fragile process
crashing down. Indeed, as we go to press, the threat of war between South Sudan
and Sudan has never been greater.
The status of Darfurians in South Sudan, while important, might not currently seem
to be a priority in this context. However, this paper argues that the inclusion of
apparently peripheral groups lies at the heart of building a new state; it is vital that
the processes inherent in the creation of a viable state are not overwhelmed by
logistics – and initial signs are encouraging. As Jok Madut Jok says, in the run up to
independence, “the main preoccupation of political debate in Juba was not just the
anticipated independent statehood, but how to turn South Sudan into a viable
nation: that is, how to turn its ethnic and cultural diversity into a useful asset,
forming the colourful and unified country that everyone had yearned for since the
1940s, long before Sudan’s independence from British colonialism.”145
Building not only the structures of state, but also an inclusive nation, is going to be a
huge challenge in a country that is characterised more by its diversity than its
homogeneity. Yet it is a task that cannot be overlooked: by creating an enabling
environment for people to best secure their safety in their current circumstances,
the creation of South Sudan is more likely to herald in an era of peace and reduce
the likelihood of a return to conflict both within the country and on its borders.
The presence of a relatively small number of Darfurians in South Sudan is a small
part of this wider story. Yet somehow their presence represents something of
profound significance: their ability to remain in South Sudan, to be part of this new
state, and for the South to be part of the solution to their longer-term desire to one
day return to Darfur in freedom, provides a significant opportunity for the new South
to live out some of the ideals it has been fighting for. It has the potential to offer
Darfurians a place to belong and become part of the process of building a new South
Sudan state as they negotiate the terrain of shifting forms of identification. And it
can provide a secure base from which they can re-negotiate their return to Darfur.
Ultimately, therefore, by creating the political and social space within which this can
happen – by emphasising a state built on inclusion rather than exclusion – the
fledgling South will enhance its ability to develop into a robust and sustainable
political, economic and social community in which diversity is an asset rather than a
145 Jok Madut Jok, “Diversity, Unity and Nation Building in South Sudan.” United States Institute for Peace, Special
Report 287, October 2011.