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Tuesday, March 6, 2007

African Union Embarrassed by Sudan

Fellow Citizens, we cannot escape history…No personal significance or insignificance can spare one or another of us.”
Abraham Lincoln, Second Annual Message to Congress


BULLETIN: Sudan: The African Union, slated to appoint Sudanese President Al-Bashir as its chairman, finds itself embarrassed by his implication in the Janjaweed’s atrocities against the people of Darfur.

A SHOT FROM THE PAST: In the early 1880s, local Egyptian administrators attempting to abolish the Sudanese slave trade on behalf of the British, find themselves opposed by a new Sudanese leader known as ‘The Mahdi’.

THE ECHOS: As Sudan’s President Al Bashir supports the Janjaweed militia of cattle-herding Arab tribes, so the Mahdi supported the Baggara, cattle herding slave-traders of 19th century Sudan.

IN THE NEWS TODAY. At a meeting in Addis Ababba, the African Union broke a year-old promise to elect Sudanse president Al Bashir as the AU’s chairman. Fearing that al-Bashir may be on a list of suspects for war crimes committed in Darfur, they have shelved his name. His appointment, after all, could look like an endorsement by the AU of human rights abuses.

LOOKING BACK: Under British colonization, Egypt’s native administrators turned a blind eye to abuses such as the slave trade on the Upper Nile. In 1877, General Gordon was made governor of the Sudan, Darfur and Somali regions south of Egypt. In 1878, he broke up slave-hunting operations in Darfur, according to an imperial policy of local reform. By the time Gordon had left the Sudan, slaving had begun to return.

So it was that the Baggara, Sudanese cattle-owning slave-traders, resumed their operations. Attempts by the Egyptians in 1880-1882 to re-impose British reforms and administration were blocked by the rise of the charismatic Sudanese leader. Mohammed Ahmad (1848-1885)identified himself with the Islamic saviour of Shia Islam and so was known as “The Mahdi”. The Baggara slave traders appealed to the Mahdi’s Messianic promise, a Baggara became his right-hand man and the Baggara tribes became his followers and his army in a campaign to throw off rule by Egypt and its British sponsors. Between 1881 an 1884 the Mahdi won a string of victories in Sudan and Darfur against Egyptian and British forces. Gordon returned to the Sudan, arriving at Khartoum to surrender the Sudan to the Mahdi, evacuate Egyptian soldiers and civilians and draw the line at Khartoum itself. Nevertheless, the victorious Mahdists advanced on the city. Due to administrative bungling by the British, a relief force arrived too late, Khartoum fell to the Mahdi and Gordon was killed.

Soon, however, the people of Sudan begin to find the Mahdi’s rule even more oppressive than that of the Egyptians. After the Mahdi’s death in 1885, his Mahdist successors perpetuated his abuses.

CONCLUSION: Arab herding peoples in the Sudan, whether by trading black African slaves in 19th century Darfur, or by violently displacing black African farming people in 21st century Darfur, have managed, with some success, to defy western values and embarrass those who would intervene.
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