It is said that Dr. John Garang DeMebior called it, “the most comprehensive treatise of its kind.”
In my previous article I mentioned the CUSH Manifesto briefly, and said that it would be called for to return to it with a bigger summary, within the topic of “the political role of culture”.
“The paper homework of this alliance has been done in what has come to be known as the Congress of United Sudan Homeland (CUSH). In the mid 1990s a group of Sudanese intellectuals representing almost all marginalized areas began in Khartoum, under very difficult security situations, to formulate a manifesto that can serve as a political platform of wide alliance for the marginalized groups. The draft – initially written by a young man from the Nuba Mountains – was revised and revised many times. The process of revision was in fact governed by successive consultations with representatives of marginalized groups. Still, no one claims that it has taken its final shape.”
The document introduces itself, as above, in a way uncommon in the political history of Sudan. This is the first time a number of Sudanese citizens from different marginalized groups decide to put their collective human right of self-determination to action. The significance of this initiative, however, is not just that; rather it is the authentic approach to political analysis that came to light through it. “CUSH views the conflict in the Sudan as to be cultural in essence, with political, economical, and social manifestations,” says the manifesto. Before this statement, rarely has anybody spoke in Sudan about the political role of culture. Perhaps very few and isolated Sudanese voices spoke of this matter before CUSH, but still not in the same unique way.
The main thesis presented in the manifesto is based on three concepts: the centre, the margins, and marginalization. Each one of these three is clearly defined:- The centre: refers to the social stratum that is in control of the state’s central authority, and with it acquires an unfair share of power and wealth in the nation. This centre social stratum legitimizes its existence, and reproduces itself, through claiming to represent certain cultural symbols; namely Islam and Arabism. By doing so, the centre does not really perform the job of the ‘noble custodian’ and ‘protector’ of Islam and Arabism in Sudan, but rather empties and exploits these two symbols – which are otherwise genuine members of Sudan’s cultural mosaic, among other members – as vehicles of legitimizing its unfair distribution of power and wealth, and its repressive measures taken to keep the status quo. The centre, therefore, creates an oppressive “Islamo-Arab ideology,” very different from the genuine cultural expressions of both Islam and Arabism in the general Sudanese society. Thus, agents of the centre do not necessarily have to belong to certain ethnic groups in Sudan, pertaining to Islam and Arabism, but they have to be consistently portraying themselves as custodians of these two.- The margins: refer to the social strata that do not subscribe to the cultural ‘Frankenstein’ created by the centre. They either do not subscribe to it by conscious choice or by being ethnically associated with cultural symbols different from Islam and Arabism.- Marginalization: refers to the process of activating and maintaining the monopoly over power and wealth by the centre and denying the rightful demands of the margins (i.e. fair distribution of power and wealth). Marginalization materializes in two forms: developmental and cultural. Power facilitates both.Developmental marginalization is manifested in allocating more economic resources to improve the standards of living of the centre social stratum and those who complicit with it (for one reason or another). Cultural marginalization is added on top of developmental marginalization, and those who suffer this double marginalization are the most oppressed – the ones who do not associate, by their ethnic identities, to either Islam or Arabism (or both). Cultural marginalization deems those targeted as almost invisible. They don’t deserve development or deserve to have access to expressing themselves as equal contributors to the Sudanese cultural mosaic (which is portrayed as a mono-culture by the centre).
While developmental marginalization is easily quantified through economic, education and health indicators, cultural marginalization is less quantifiable and more insulting. It kills the marginalized slowly most of the time (but not always, as sometimes direct violent measures are taken to keep them quiet). More importantly, it is this cultural marginalization that kills the viable resources of resistance to the status quo, and therefore reassures the centre continuous domination. Oppression, in the final analysis, begins with culture and ends with culture.
Therefore, CUSH concludes, culture itself should be the main weapon of countering marginalization. The manifesto says that “this situation should be changed through cultural democracy. Hereby, we, in the Movement of CUSH, proclaim the reign of the outburst of Sudanese creativity in all its cultural and linguistic spectra. The reign of centricity eradication has come: no ‘national’ broadcast, no ‘national’ TV, no ‘national’ newspapers! It is high time we call things with their real names; these Medias have never been national, but central all the time. We proclaim the reign of real National Creativity in its Cultural Pluralistic nature which begin by dismantling the cultural taboos enveloped with silence so as to expose them.”
Of course, there are proposals included in the manifesto for political and economic reform, based generally on acknowledging historical injustices and working to redress them through strategic development plans and political restructuring schemes. Such proposals are not generally in conflict with declaring that the cultural front is the most important front.
The manifesto then ends with clear remarks: “WE are not against the Islamic and Arab Middle of the Sudan; it belongs to us and we belong to it. We are against the Centre and its Islamo-Arab ideology of hegemony and persecution. The Centre would accuse us of being against the Arabs and Islam, and history shall prove that we are not so. We are against a socio-cultural consciousness – i.e. ideological – posited in time and place. It is a consciousness that would neither be Arabic, if we measure it with the standard of Arabism, nor would it be Islamic, if we measure it with the standard of Islam. We are against this ideological consciousness which masks its face with Arabism and Islamism so as to justify cultural and racial oppression and intimidation. It is the right of any group of Sudanese people to identify with the Islamic and Arabic culture as far as it finds itself in that; likewise, it is the right of any group of the Sudanese people to identify with its pre-Arab and pre-Islamic African culture, without this being an excuse for breaching its fundamental rights. In this, the institution of the State should not take sides in favour of a certain culture at the expense of other cultures. This is what we are up to!”
(published in the Citizen Newspaper, Sudan, May 19, 2013)