Sudan is a neighbor of Egypt to the north, the Red Sea to the northeast, Eritrea and Ethiopia to the east and South Sudan to the South. To the South west she shares borders with the Central African Republic and Chad to the west and Libya to the north west. The Nile flows through the middle of the country. Sudan shares ancient history with Egypt and other lands. In 1955 -1972, Sudan had war resulting from conflicts between the Muslim Arab and Arabized northern Sudanese and the people of the south most of whom are Christians. There was a second Sudanese war in 1983. The government of Sudan before the split had always been based in Khartoum. Sudan means land of the black people but it is the north that permanently oppressed the south. In 2010, Richard Dowden wrote in his book on Africa, "Today Sudan, Africa's biggest coutnry by area, is rulled as an empire as it was 100 years ago when the British ruled and the Ottomans before that... The word Sudan means 'land of black people', but it has always been ruled by and Arabic -speaking, Muslim elite." South Sudan became a country in 2011 because for a long time Sudan has been in tension and the South bore much repression. There are 142 languages in North and South Sudan. However, among the elite who rule only Arabic is used, and that means only high Arabic.
The British invaded Sudan and Winston Churchill boasted of having shot some "natives" there. It is as a result of the Scramble for Africa that Sudan and many other African countries remain akwardly divided among ethnic groups. Christian religion was spread to the South only and Islam remained mainly for the north. The missionaries did not go northwards. The Northerners however, wanted the south for Islam.
The history of freedom of expression in Sudan is poor. Sudan has not tolerated diverse opinions and the record of human rights protection is one of the worst in the world. Now that Sudan has split from North Sudan in the hope of the enjoyment of greater freedoms.
Freedom of Expression and Media in Sudan
The following paper was presented to PEN Kenya and is in the archives of the centre. It was written in 2006. On July 9 2011 South Sudan became a country splitting from North Sudan. It is interesting to read the basic facts on freedom of Expression in Sudan and to monitor what the split has meant to freedom of expression.
Jacob J Akol Chairman of the Board of Directors, AMDISS and director of the website www.gurtong.net and Discussion Board Moderator.
Basic facts about the Sudan
It is (was) broadly divided into North and South by religion, race, language and culture. The Northern two thirds of the territory and population is broadly speaking seen as Arab cultured, speak Arabic language and the religion is Islam.
The southern third of the territory and population is regarded as African with various African languages, cultures and religions.
War and Peace in Sudan
Sudan has been at war with itself for 40 years
Only 10 years, 1972 – 1982, were relatively peaceful.
Military and democratic rule
Much of the 50 years of independence have been under military rule. So Freedom of Expression cound not be rightly said to have existed. The fear years of elected governmets were in power, the war between the North and South made it easy to retrict freedom of expression.
Freedom of Expression?
The last 50 years of independence of the Sudan have been years of conflict and war largely betwen North and South. One of the main victims has been freedom of expression.
Media in Sudan
While independent print media has at various times existed and expanded in the North, there has been very limited or no print media at all in the South, precisely because much of the war was fought in the Southern territory.
The Northern print media was never fully free.
It was dictated to or banned under the military rule and it was censored by civilian governments “Because of war in the South”,
Electronic media, radio and television, have laways been monopolised by various governments-
The January 2005 Peace Agreement between North and South and the Interim National and Southern Region’s Constitutions proposed:
Democratic governance of the Sudan
Granting of freedoms of expression and of the press
Khartoum and Juba
Khartoum (north) has largely continued as if the agreement has changed nothing much.
Restrictions on freedom of expression and the press continued to be imposed.
There are serious considerations that broadcasting will be liberalised soon to permit independent broadcasting. The Agreement calls for this.
Juba (South) is more accomodating, and opportunities exist for freedom of expression for independent media.
Southern media organisations are grouped under the Association of Media Development in South Sudan, AMDISS.
There has been in continued dialogue for three years with those who are not in power in Juba.
With Assistance and support from the Norwegian Peoples Aid, Article 19, IMS and Open Society Foundation, AMDISS is being actively invited by the Government of Southern Sudan to contribute to the law governing freedom of expression and freedom of the press.
There is also willingness in the South to legislate for independent broadcasting in the region.
The President of the South has repeatedly spoken of wanting to see an independent media and freedom of expression in South Sudan.
Our hope is that the tendency by Khartoum to control the media and freedom of expression will not extend to the South.
We hope that the freedoms being promised by the Southern government, if they materialise, will influence developments in the North.
Members of the media and civil society organsisation, supported by Norwegian Peoples Aid; Article 19 and IMS, have been having regional and joint-national roundtable meetings in the South and int the North.
The next big roundtable will be in Khartoum in December this year.
The key objective is to create pressure points to bring about freedom of expression and freedom of the press throughout the Sudan.