The Northern Question and the Way Forward for Change

Presentation at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, Harvard Kennedy School
by Yasir Arman, Secretary General, Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N)
Secretary of External Affairs, Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) April 20-21, 2012

What is the Northern Question?  What is the Sudan Question?

  • Sudan is often perceived in terms of dichotomies of North-South, Muslim-Christian, Arabs-Africans; these are oversimplification of the Sudanese question. After the independence of the Republic of South Sudan, the North could now be seen as an entity of its own.  It should be seen as the Sudan question.  
  •  The Northern question is a crisis emanating from the lack of an inclusive national project of nation-building and a correct national formation process based on the objective realities of Sudan and on the historical and contemporary diversities; building a society for all regardless of ethnic, religious and gender background; and based on democracy, social justice and a balanced relation between the centre and the peripheries.  That is what we define as the New Sudan.
  • The present national project is based on limited parameters that marginalize and exclude the majority of the Sudanese people on cultural, religious, economic, political and gender basis.
  • Marginalization and dictatorship produces continuous wars and instability.
  • The mis-management, non-recognition of diversities, lack of democracy and social justice lead the people of South Sudan to choose an independence state.
  • A new political and geographical South has emerged in the North: it is obvious that Sudan will not remain without a new geographical South after the old traditional South has gone.
  • It is equally obvious that the old South was not a geography- it has a human dimension in the first place, it was the long struggle for recognition of diversity, democracy and social justice, that continues in the new South of the Northern Sudan.
  • It is worth mentioning that the new South of the North politically includes women, Arab tribes and non-Arab tribes all over Sudan (Rizeigat, Messeriya and Rashaida in Eastern Sudan, and many others are part of the new South), again it includes the marginalized of the rural areas and the urban poor who are the majority.
  • The policies and decisions of the ruling National Congress Party created a full-scale war in the new geographical South of Northern Sudan, from Darfur to Blue Nile.  In addition, the relationship between Sudan and the newly-independent Republic of South Sudan is a sour one loaded with a lot of unfinished business.
  • You can only have two viable states and strategic relations between Sudan and the Republic of South Sudan when Khartoum is transformed and the two states share the same values.  Democratic states rarely fight against each other.  Having good relations between Juba and Khartoum under the rule of war criminals is like having good relations between France and Germany under the rule of Hitler.
  • As a result of intransigence of the National Congress leadership to maintain the old policies that led to the split of the South, as they were based on hegemony, limited parameters and a bankrupt ideology- that does not recognize the diversity of Sudan as stated in General Bashir’s speeches – like the famous Gaddaref speech and many others that followed the independence of the South.  General Bashir laid the foundation in order for him to start the war in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states.
  • Based on the above policies the National Congress targeted the SPLM-N, which is viewed by them as a formidable immanent political and military threat. As a consequence, they started the war in South Kordofan, Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile that resulted in the displacement of more than 400,000 civilians and others who crossed the borders as refugees in the Republic of South Sudan and Ethiopia.
  • All this came at the time when the Darfur crisis has not been resolved and the partial solutions in Abuja and Doha did not address the root causes of the problem.  The same perpetrators are the ones in charge and the piecemeal solution was based on impunity.  This situation necessitated that the SPLM-N and the Sudanese liberation movements, emanating from Darfur, came together as the Sudan Revolutionary Front, forming a democratic coalition that is starting to attract and mobilize the Sudanese opposition forces all over Sudan for regime change.
  • Given the historical experience of past popular uprisings and armed struggles, the fundamental change in Sudan can only be achieved when Khartoum is transformed.  It is Khartoum’s policies that excluded and marginalized the majority of Sudanese people and it is Khartoum too that fought Southern Sudan, Nuba Mountains, Blue Nile, Eastern Sudan and Darfur.  The permanent solution can only be achieved by transforming the center where wrong policies emanate, not the periphery.   The present Sudan society, its history goes to six to eight thousand years ago and that carries a continuing historical diversity and the contemporary, present Republic of Sudan, after the independence of the South, it consists of more than four hundred different tribes and more than sixty different languages.  To address the historical and contemporary diversity, Sudan needs a new social, political, economic and cultural dispensation that is based on citizenship, democracy and social justice and separation of religion from state.
  • Any fundamental change and a just and permanent peace would require a holistic approach that will be a departure from a piecemeal approach.  As of now, General Bashir signed around 43 peace agreements and dishonored all of them totally or partially and denied any opportunity to transform the center.
  •  The interesting situation is that Bashir and some of his colleagues are wanted by the international justice and that practically means that the international community is for regime change.  But at the same time, the practice by the international community has been to denounce any call for a regime change.
  • The other paradox is that while President Bashir has been indicted as a war criminal, the international community continues to recognize and deal with him and his regime; and at the same time, they shy away from dealing with the representatives of the victims as in the case of the Sudan Revolutionary Front.  It is high time for the international bodies to recognize and to deal with those who have been victimized and their legitimate representatives.
  • It is evidently clear that any approach in a peaceful solution for it to achieve a permanent peace, it would require a popular process that would involve the people, not compromises between job seekers and a settlement that would only address the interests of the elites.  Whether it is a constitutional process or peace agreement, it must include all political parties.
  • The SPLM-N suggests an interim or transitional period that would be tasked to hold a constitutional conference for all political forces and civil societies in Sudan to answer the historical question which remains unanswered since the independence of Sudan in 1956, “how Sudan is going to be ruled?” before “who is going to rule Sudan.”

The Characteristics of the Present Situation in Sudan

  • As a result of the policies of the NCP government of scorched earth, massive starvation and denying access for humanitarian intervention, hundreds of thousands are internally displaced and refugees particularly from the Nuba Mountains, Blue Nile and Darfur and many of them are in danger of immediate death
  • The economy is in a deep crisis and the scope is wide and complex especially after the decision taken by the Republic of South Sudan to shut down the oil.  It will produce more marginalization that will definitely lead to social unrest and more wars.
  • There is a full-scale war from Darfur to Blue Nile in the new South of the North.
  • Last month, the war started between the Republic of Sudan and the Republic of South Sudan, which added a huge complexity to the political and economic situation.  Serious issues between the two countries remain unresolved.
  • There are intense rivalries and power struggles within the different groups in the National Congress and within the Army.
  • A sea of revolutions (Egypt, Libya, Tunisia… etc.) around Sudan that delegitimized the rule of the one-party system and witnessed the rise of the Islamic movement especially in Egypt.
  • There is a growing social discontent by demonstrations and strikes by student, women and youth, famers and workers, and the victims of the dams projects.

The Way Forward for Change

  • The SPLM-N and the Sudan Revolutionary Front, taking into consideration the rich experience of the struggle of the Sudanese people against the genocidal regime and the dictatorship of the National Congress, are adopting four means to change and overthrow the regime.  The means are inter-related and inter-connected and they converge in the daily life and day-to-day struggle, and they have mutual impact on each other.
  •       (1) Popular uprising as it has been the case in October 1964 and in April     1985.
  •       (2) The popular armed struggle that has been waged by the Sudan Revolutionary Front.
  •       (3) Diplomatic pressures and solidarity with the Sudanese people from the continent and the international community.  As an example, when the Sudan Peace, Security and Accountability Act initiated by Representatives Jim McGovern and Frank Wolf in the US Congress is passed, it will have a clear positive impact in favor of peace, democratization and the respect of human rights in Sudan.
  •      (4) The comprehensive peaceful settlement, which can only be achieved as a result of the continuous pressures on the regime, emanating from the popular uprising forces and the armed struggle and the diplomatic pressures and solidarity with the Sudanese people that will lead to the overthrow of the regime or it is acceptance for a holistic, just, peaceful settlement.
  • To realize the change of the regime, there is a need to build a credible platform for the opposition forces. Indeed, it is the main task of the Sudan Revolutionary Front that has been engaging itself seriously working it out in the last six months.  It was a huge step to bring the four organizations together on a political platform and on the basis of a political declaration, “Kauda Declaration.”  Furthermore, the involvement of the Umma Party and the DUP in the Sudan Revolutionary Front is another great step in the same direction and we are engaging the rest of the political forces and soon we will reach an agreement between all opposition forces who subscribe to the peaceful civil struggle and the armed struggle reaching a roadmap toward a permanent just peace and democracy and effecting the regime change.

•    Out of our historical experience to transform the center that would require an alliance between the forces of armed struggle from the rural Sudan and the democratic forces in the urban Sudan.  In other words, the unity of purpose and action of the popular uprising forces and the armed struggle.  And it is equally true to mention that the armed struggle forces has audience and supporters too in urban Sudan.

  • It is worth mentioning that addressing the economic problems can only be achieved by ending the wars and addressing the governance crisis.  That will require the involvement of the Sudan Revolutionary Front.
  • Sudan Revolutionary Front is the political mechanism that will definitely help in realizing a comprehensive settlement and in avoiding a piecemeal solution.  Armed struggle is not an end by itself.  It is only one of the means to achieve the objectives of democracy and just peace as mentioned above; therefore, the Sudan Revolutionary Front cannot be judged by only one of its means.  It is a misjudgment as judging the whole book by only its cover.

Humanitarian Aid Before Politics: The Priority is to Save Lives Now

  •  The complexity of the present situation should not shift focus from the need for humanitarian intervention, otherwise thousands of people, and in particular the internal displaced in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile, are facing imminent starvation and death.  The need for humanitarian aid should be in the main agenda in dealing with Sudan government.
  • Humanitarian aid is a right for those in need.  It should not be based on political conditions.  Humanitarian aid for needy people comes before politics.
  • The SPLM-N leadership is on record with the international community that whenever the modalities of delivering humanitarian aid require a cessation of hostilities on humanitarian grounds, the SPLM-N will fully cooperate.
  • The ongoing consultations between Khartoum and the international community on humanitarian aid, which has taken 10 months since war started, is part of the policy to buy time by the National Congress especially since the rainy season is imminent and will make access for humanitarian assistance impossible.


  • Change in Sudan shall come as the result of the conversion of the four means of struggle under a credible umbrella that unites all opposition forces.  In this regard, the Sudan Revolutionary Front is the cornerstone aiming to bring all forces of change together.
  • Ending wars and the government crisis in Sudan and establishing two viable states in the Sudans are inter-related issues.  Lessons drawn from the experience that led to the present crisis and the secession of South Sudan suggests strongly that realizing a permanent peace and preserving the unity of Sudan cannot be achieved unless there is a paradigm shift and a fundamental change from the old Sudan to a new Sudan that is based on democracy, recognition of diversities, and on social justice.
  • Peaceful settlement will not come in isolation from all internal and external forms of pressure.  The National Congress and the political force and a dictatorship respond to force and pressure.  They do not respond to niceties.
  • Earlier on when the SPLM was negotiating with the Sudan government under the auspices of the AUHIP and the facilitations of the Ethiopian Prime Minister and the American Special Envoy, the SPLM-N, despite Khartoum has dishonored the framework agreement of June 2011, the SPLM-N submitted a roadmap to peace that was based on the holistic approach and an interim period that would lead to a national constitutional conference.  As of now and after the formation of the Sudan Revolutionary Front, the SRF did discuss a roadmap for a peaceful settlement and a committee is working it out, and it shall be approved in the next first meeting as well as efforts being made with other opposition forces to arrive at a joint agenda for peace and democracy.
  • The Sudan Revolutionary Front and other political forces and civil societies are working to ensure that change will not lead to anarchy, but it can only lead to democracy and a stable Sudan.  We do not want to replace victims with victims or to reproduce the present crisis.
  • Being an advocate of the unity of the African continent in this stormy world of today, it goes without saying that we still believe in the unity of the Sudans, the unity of two independent states.  Who would have thought yesterday that after the Second World War that France and Germany would be strong allies in Europe today?