The disappearance of Sudan? Life in Khartoum for citizens without rights

Published: 1 May 2013

A new report by IRRI launched yesterday in Addis Ababa urges Sudan and the African Union (AU) to take a new approach to resolving Sudan’s multiple conflicts and ending the ongoing suffering of its people.

The disappearance of Sudan? Life in Khartoum for citizens without rights examines the experience of people living in Khartoum State who identify themselves as being from one of the conflict-affected areas of Sudan. Based on interviews with 117 individuals, the research concentrates on those from the newly independent state of South Sudan, the (now) five Darfur states, and Southern Kordofan state. For decades, marginalisation and neglect of these areas by the government of Sudan has led to conflicts which, in turn, have further exacerbated their economic, political and cultural marginalisation.

As a result, over the past decades millions of people have moved to the capital city in search of services and safety. There, however, the same logic of discrimination that forced them from their homes has been replicated in Khartoum: they have continued to be treated as second class citizens at best, and as non-citizens at worst.

Since the secession of the Republic of South Sudan in June 2011, spaces for belonging – as evidenced by the ability to access one’s rights – have further contracted, hardening the fault lines that separate insiders from outsiders. In the context of the loss of territory and resources, new conflict, and rising opposition, the state has continued to create a polity that is strongly exclusionary.

This exclusion was evidenced by the research in a number of ways: economically there is a lack of access to services in the areas where they live, with stories of deliberate diversion of services, of markets being closed down, of jobs being lost and of children being removed from schools; politically people talked of their fear of arbitrary arrest, of being refused proper identification and of their inability to express themselves; and culturally people talked of a metanarrative of exclusion through public media and statements from official sources that denied their right to stay in Khartoum on the basis of colour or creed or political opinion. These experiences call into question the very basis on which citizenship in Sudan is constructed and experienced.

The report therefore gives substance to the major crisis that exists in the relationship between the government of Sudan and the majority of its citizens and raises a number of tough questions. How do you address a problem where there is strong denial that a problem exists? How do you appeal to a state to protect all of its citizens when it refuses to recognise the legitimacy to belong of groups or individuals that fall outside of its ideological or tactical survival framework, and that has shown open hostility to so many? On what basis does one appeal to a government that is losing legitimacy and where an arrest warrant on a charge of genocide hangs over the head of its president? What space, if any, is there in Sudan to leverage opportunities for peaceful change?

Furthermore, what role can or should the international community play? Although it supported the creation of the CPA and the Interim Period which led to the exit of South Sudan, international engagement ultimately failed to protect the realisation of one the CPA’s central pillars: a genuine democratic transformation in Sudan, in part through its fragmented approach to tackling the spectrum of human rights challenges and cycles of conflict that have engulfed the country. There was great energy expended around the triggering of a referral of the situation in Darfur to the ICC. But the issuing of unenforced arrest warrants against senior officials, without tackling the depth of the fissures that exist in Sudanese society and state, arguably has done little more than corner and isolate an already smarting government. Efforts to deal with the country’s wars have also suffered from a piecemeal approach, with a series of separate failed and failing agreements cluttering the way towards a comprehensive all-Sudan negotiation.

With the eruption or intensification of war in Southern Kordofan, Blue Nile and Darfur, the need to provide answers to these questions is growing ever more urgent. In response, the paper, while not claiming to have all the answers, makes a number of specific recommendations. The recommendations revolve around two assertions: first, that there is an urgent need to transform practice, policy and law around the construction of a genuinely non-discriminatory and fully participatory Sudanese citizenship; and second, that there must be a commitment to create an all-Sudan political and constitutional process that allows grievances and programmes for change from the margins to be heard and heeded.

Regions: North and Horn of Africa, Sudan
Type: Library, Paper