Ecological sources of the North-South Divide
Analyzing Sudan from a comparative perspective subsumes critical geographical differentials distinguishing the southern Saharan fringe from the lush regions below. North Africa and Arabia form an environmental and cultural continuum separated by the Red Sea. The camel and the Mediterranean coastline made lateral communication in the north relatively easy compared to crossing the vast, waterless desert to the south. But the fact that, with proper preparation and organization, traders could cross the sands enhanced the strategic position of communities in the Sahel, the zone of semi-arid and sub-humid savanna stretching from Senegal to the Horn of Africa. Long-distance commerce and trade with forest communities to the south contributed to the emergence of several medieval states located along the arc of the River Niger. States like Timbuktu, Dje~e, and Ghana came and went, and conflict remained a localized phenomenon.
This inversion of the modernized Christian agriculturalist domination of the traditional agro-pastoralist and marginalized nomad theme in Sudan is also at variance with the general pattern for the greater Sahel. When we use the optic of environmentally conditioned dynamics to analyze the greater region, the Nile River emerges as the chief feature distinguishing the region that became modern Sudan from the rest of the original Bilad es Sudan. Eastern and the western Sahel share a common set of historical attributes: a tradition of long-distance trade dating back to the proto-history era; the rise of regional states since the early period of the last millennium; the spread of Islam via mystical sects; ethnolinguistic units that decrease in size as humidity increases; consistently unpredictable nature of rainfall across irregular cycles of dry and wet climate over the last 2000 years, and a relatively stable configuration of ethnic communities – at least for the past several hundred years. The pilgrimage to Mecca long provided the only traditional albeit tenuous link to the outside for the otherwise spatially isolated region.
The drainage basin below the junction of the Blue Nile and White Nile, in contrast to the gradual succession of ecological gradients in West Africa, provided a formidable barrier to interaction for the southern Sudanese. One set of forces spawned by the isolation below, and another driven by the external influences accruing above began to reach a critical threshold during the early 1800s. The result was a struggle between centralizing institutional interests concentrated at the junction of the White and Blue Niles and centrifugal forces embedded in the wider environment.
Governance issues are central to explaining the role of ecology in the conflict in Sudan. Important governance-related issues are the following:
The exploitation of natural resources remains skewed towards primary resources such as land, minerals, and water resources. The conflict has emerged between the exploitation of natural resources in the south to benefit a northern dictated ‘national’ development policy and the livelihood needs of southern peoples. Competition over primary resources caused by the converging trends of rising population and rising resource exploitation, often without the participation of local communities in decision making, has created a structural state of resource scarcity for many. Unsustainable patterns of resource utilization compounded by increasing pressure for the same resources have fostered localized degradation of land and some natural resources. The consequence is rising competition and conflict over increasingly scarce resources. Position of centralized administrative systems dating from the TurkishEgyptian rule in the 191h century onto customary systems for land ownership and control.
The limited development of other non-primary natural resources to drive the Sudan economy, coupled with unsustainable exploitation patterns, has created a pseudo-state of scarcity within an abundant resource base. It’s not that there is not enough – it’s that people do not have enough.’3 Inappropriate development policies, largely carried over from the colonial era, have exacerbated resource scarcity, resulting in weak economic performance that is worsened by the application of inappropriate technologies and underdeveloped human resources. Financial resources that could stimulate the development of non-traditional resources and diversify the economy have not done so. Instead, owing to the north-south divide, the emphasis of national resources remains focused on security, and not much-needed development of both north and south Soda