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France and Kenya, November 2004

Sudan’s Spiderweb Conflict: A Never-ending Story?

Analyzing beyond apparent contradictions.

Keywords: New technologies for peace | Internet and peace | | To analyse conflicts from a politic point of view | Development of methods and resources for peace | | | | | | | | | | | | | Sudan

A Conflict beyond Ethnic or cultural Differences

Sudan has a big diversity of ethnic groups/cultures, and climatic conditions. The country may be tentatively divided into an Arabized and Islamicized population inhabiting the north and a south of the country respectively. Such division became more evident after the establishment of the Sharia Law in the entire country creating more tensions between the different ethnic groups that live in the country.

The popular assumption that the conflicts in Africa come from either ethnic, tribal, religious or cultural differences is erroneous. In Sudan as in many other countries the conflict was reduced to this dialectic, nurturing more violence in the country than bringing peace.

The conflict in Sudan is often presented as a clash between Muslims and Christians. However, in reality the conflict has been fuelled by the persistent underdevelopment of marginalized areas of Sudan and the competition for access to political and economic power in a country that is politically dominated by the northern, Arab speaking Moslim elite.

The violence in Sudan exploded in the early 1980s, shortly after the Sudanese government re-divided the country’s southern provinces and instituted Islamic Sharia law. Together with this political move the country was also going through a serious drought and the distribution of food relief was stymied by insecurity.

Throughout the successive regimes in the country, there has been an attempt by the leaders in the government with Islamic religious orientation to enforce islamization and arabisation underpinned by the use of Sharia laws through the entire country. Such policies have gone against the background of ethno-religious diversity of the population in Sudan.

The politics of exclusion fuelled by repressive policies have been the main feature of governance since the inception of the state of Sudan. The victims of this practice have predominantly been Southern Sudanese who are denied participation in governance and decision making. The practice is coached within a constricted democratic space enmeshed in the constitution; hence the southerners felt unable to determine their own future and thus forged rebel groups that would seek to oust the government with its concomitant repressive tendencies.

Simultaneously to the political and social marginalization and exclusion of the population, the economical insecurity in which a big amount of the people lives, nurtures the violent expressions in the country. According to the SPLA’s geographical definition, the south of Sudan is endowed with economic resources unlike the North, resources that have been exploded by strictly controlled by the government in detriment of the population of the south. For instance the main driving force for displacing and killing of civilian populations in Abyei and the Southern Blue Nile was the discovery of oil and set up of agricultural schemes next to River Nile respectively by the government.

A slippery Peace, Attempts for Negotiation

In spite of all the violence in the country, there have been several attempts to bring the actors together for a negotiation. The most recent effort came after two years of intensive negotiations, the result was the signature in January 2005 of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between the Khartoum government and the SPLM/A. The agreement provided power sharing, the distribution of oil earnings, and a referendum on national unity to be held in 2011.

From the outset, however, for most of the population it was clear that the CPA was a fragile agreement that left many issues unresolved and would require strong international stewardship and guarantors for its complete implementation and success. There is still a lot of resentment between the population and the delicate peace that the country is living, hangs on a threat.

It is clear that in Sudan; the ethnic and ideological identities have been deliberately encouraged and instrumentalized, changing the attention of other stronger causes that have fired the conflict. As it was mentioned before, the existence of different ethnic groups within a country does not mean that mutual coexistence is not possible. The clash of such ethnic groups appears to be more a consequence than a cause of the conflicts. Nevertheless, after they are shaken, they play an important role in determining perceptions in the conflict. The longer the confrontation last, the more these factors become a principle for political solidarity, cohesion and mobilization.

For this reason is that beyond the signature of an agreement, the work needs to be focused on bringing the community together to the point where tribal ethnic differences stop playing a role in the friend-enemy dichotomy and start building a new sense of communal understanding. Such initiatives need to involve the government as well as the community, so a possible political answer to the diversity and pluralism characteristic of the country can be created.


The conflict in Sudan is one of the oldest and most complex in Africa. Since its independence in 1956, the confrontation has been a constant situation in the country. The causes of the conflict are interconnected: economic, resource-based, ethnic, cultural, religious and international dimensions all play an important role in the development of it. And the numerous peace accords do not seems to bring a lasting peace due to the fact that there has not been developed an effective political answer to the multiple causes of the conflict.


  • The authors of the file are Judith Schorscher and Robert Nachieri Gerenge. Judith Schorscher, is working as an independent consultant in France. She had worked in Guinea on a livelihoods baseline study for Synergy. Robert Nachieri Gerenge, have a honors in Political Science and is pursuing an online course in Intractable conflict; conflict management and constructive confrontation from University of Colorado, U.S.A