While Sudan is almost uniformly associated with the genocide in Darfur in the Western consciousness, the developments, problems, and successes of the rest of the country are not as widely disseminated. Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban, an anthropology professor at Rhode Island College, recently gave a talk on the country as a whole - including demographic changes caused by the country's civil wars and the results of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of 2005. While the situation in Sudan remains bleak, Fluehr-Lobban said she sees some cause for optimism based on its people's hopes for economic opportunity and peace.
Fluehr-Lobban stressed the complexity of the situation, which she argued had been portrayed as too black and white by journalists and human rights agencies. For instance, the North-South civil war from 1983-2005 has caused irreparable damage to the country and millions of displaced persons, she said. At the same time, it has created opportunities for a more hopeful future by mixing ethnicities within the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps and the "new" city of Khartoum, whose population has ballooned to 8 million. This coming together of people is forging important new relationships and alliances, she said.
Fluehr-Lobban pinpointed the beginning of the conflict to the top-down installation of Islamic Sharia as national law in 1983 and large-scale repression, including amputation and stoning, of non-Muslims who did not follow it. Although this crackdown only lasted for about two years, the Islamic Civilization Project, which included a ban on alcohol and relied on "moral police" to ensure "moral order," was only relaxed in 1999. The exception is Darfur, where extremist applications of Sharia are still reported, Fluehr-Lobban said. But even in Darfur, "some of the worst abuses of the use of Sharia against southerners have stopped," except in the IDP camps where the Sudanese police are given a free hand.
Fluehr-Lobban pointed out areas of improvement and evidence of resistance in the midst of continuing repression in Sudan. While woman must be veiled, they also have flooded the universities, comprising 60 to 70 percent of the student body. Large numbers of students have also begun attending the Southern universities that provide instruction in English instead of Arabic as required in the North. As mandated by the CPA, there has been a proliferation of local NGOs. Still, repression is widespread, she said, as represented most recently by the highly publicized imprisonment of a British teacher in Khartoum whose students named a teddy bear Mohammed.
Following the CPA, Sudan has a one-state, two-systems rule, where the North can impose Sharia while the South is secular. Fluehr-Lobban said that this approach lacks long-term viability. She has some hopes for the 2009 elections mandated by the CPA. If the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), which is the main opposition to the government, is able to gain popularity in the North, "a new Sudan could be forged." However, there are many complications. The death of John Garang, the nationally popular leader of the SPLM in 2005, deprived the party of a national face. The census, which is needed before the election, requires that all those in the IDP camps return home to be counted, which is not feasible. Finally, there is the very real possibility that the government will rig the census and the elections.
The talk, "Sharia in Sudan, Islamism, Post-Islamism, and the Future of the Sudanese State," was part of the Africa Group Colloquium Series.