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This year, Sunday 21st March to Saturday 27th March is observed, by the United Nations, as the Week of Solidarity with the Peoples Struggling against Racism and Racial Discrimination. Though the effects of racism and racial discrimination are not constrained to any one race or ethnic group, the Black Lives Matter movement, which swept through cities across the globe in 2020, mobilised sympathisers of the cause, in support of racial equality. However, as the world rallied together to condemn police brutality and other forms of racially motivated violence against black people, Sudan, it appeared, was not yet ready to shed the racism and discrimination that have become so deeply entrenched in the fabric of the country.
In order to make sense of the racial tension that exists in Sudan between the Arab and black populations, it is necessary to explain, in short, the origins of prejudiced attitudes within the country.
642 marked the year in which Sudan was first invaded by Arabs and even though their initial quest to conquer Sudan proved unsuccessful, they persevered. Successive incursions drove a desire to stake claim to land. Islam and Arabic culture were also imposed on the black African ethnic groups that were already living there. Those who decided against subscribing to the culture and religion of their oppressors were maltreated; slavery was rampant.
Tensions between black and Arab Sudanese were further strained centuries later when the British colonial administration favoured the, “predominantly Muslim-Arab North, while sidelining the largely Christian and animist African South,” the effects of which were profound. When the country gained independence in 1956, the Muslim-Arab North attempted to, “assimilate the rest of the country by force.” The black African south revolted and this led to the civil wars of 1955-1972 and 1983-2005, in which victims of mass killings and rape were often targeted, “solely on the basis of their non-Arab ethnicity.” While the civil wars that blighted the county for close to 40 years have since ceased, it is clear that the discrimination that has, for centuries, been inflicted upon the country’s black ethnic groups, is far from a thing of the past.
Take, for example, the racist sentiment voiced by Dr. Ihsan Fagiri, an Arab-Sudanese woman who, in 2019, was awarded the prestigious Weimar Human Rights Award for her services to women’s freedom and equality. In addition to this accolade, she holds a position of prominence as President of The No To Women’s Oppression Initiative. The Initiative, a human rights group, has been commended internationally for its defence of women’s rights in Sudan. In the summer of 2020, however, the organisation was thrust into the spotlight for all the wrong reasons when word began to circulate that Dr. Fagiri had left a bigoted comment on a photograph of a mixed-race married couple. Commenting on the photograph, Dr. Fagiri said, “…in choosing her [black] husband…”, the white wife “may have been looking for the creature missing on the evolutionary ladder between humans and monkeys.” The great irony being that the significance of racial equality clearly failed to resonate with her, a so-called proponent of human rights. What is more, the essence of the Weimar Human Rights Award, which promotes freedom, equality and justice contrasts, so sharply, with Dr. Fagiri’s own use of racist language. So damming were her comments that there were immediate calls for her to resign from her role as President of the initiative. Although she did take heed of calls to step down, the No To Women’s Oppression Initiative took the disappointing decision to refuse Dr. Fagiri’s resignation, claiming that she did not mean her comments. By refusing to accept the resignation, the initiative failed to acknowledge the role that such comments play in perpetuating discrimination.
Taken together, the comments made by Ihsan Fagiri and the subsequent decision taken by her organisation to downplay the seriousness of what was said speaks volumes about the lack of importance shown towards racial equality in Sudan today. Sudan, it seems, still has a long way to go until its black population are respected and treated as equals in their own land.
To join in with the social media campaign to eliminate racism and racial discrimination tweet #FightRacism.
By Adjoa Osafo-Binfoh
Adjoa is a graduate and postgraduate of Law and International Relations, respectively. She has previously engaged in human rights and international development placements in Ghana, Ethiopia and the U.K.
Although all blog posts are reviewed by an editorial team, our blog authors all write in a personal capacity and the views expressed are not necessarily those of HART.