The Nairobi peace agreements this January brought to an end — in theory, at least, 21 years of civil war in Sudan, which have killed at least 400,000 people and forced nearly five million to flee their homes.
Unfortunately, the underlying causes of the war remain largely unaddressed, as does the persistent big-power interference in Sudanese politics. What is more, there is still a war going on in Darfur, a conflict inextricably linked to that between the Islamist dictatorship and the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA). A conflict which has been driven by a vicious government-backed militia, killing and driving the people of the area off their land. The peace agreement ignored Darfur.
When British occupiers withdrew from Sudan in the 1950s they sought to put the Arab bourgeoisie of Khartoum in charge, giving them command of the army. This did not please the people of the mainly Christian south, who had a history of oppression at the hands of the Arab ruling class (the Arabic word for a south Sudanese person means literally “slave”).
It took until 1972 for a workable compromise to be reached. When oil was discovered in south Sudan in 1980, the Sudanese government unilaterally repudiated this compromise and took away the autonomy of the south. In May 1983 the rebellion began, led by Colonel John Garang.
It would be wrong to characterise the war in Sudan as an exclusively ethnic conflict. Rather, the political cause is the monopoly of power held by the Arab bourgeoisie of the Nile Valley area. This was demonstrated in 2003 when the entirely Muslim province of Darfur rose against the government, followed by parts of the Arabic-speaking province of Kordofan.
These areas are being ignored because they are not controlled either by the dictatorship or by the SPLA — or, to put it crudely, because they have nothing to do with the oil issue. What the G8 governments want is a stable climate in the oil-producing areas for international exploitation, after the usual IMF free-market pattern.
The war in Darfur, and the gross inequality between the northern rulers, who have been plundering Sudan's wealth for decades, and the war-ravaged south, are perceived as side-issues. As we have seen, though, it is impossible to achieve a lasting peace in Sudan without resolving them.
The G8 have no solutions for Sudan.
Eritrea is asmall country in the Horn of Africa. Multi-ethnic and multi-religious, it consists of an arid coastal plain inhabited mainly by Muslim Arabs and vertiginous highlands populated by Black Christians. In 1991 it achieved its independence from Ethiopia after over 20 years of war.
In recent years the single-party regime has tightened its grip on the country, repressing the opposition and the labour movement. At the end of March the worst attack yet on the unions took place.
Three important union leaders, Tewelde Ghebremedhin, Minase Andezion and Habtom Weldemicael, were arrested and detained in high-security prisons, where they remain. They are being illegally held incommunicado and without charges. They are not the only ones.
According to Amnesty International, “Thousands of government critics and political opponents...are detained in secret. Some have been held for several years. None has been taken to court, charged or tried. In some cases, panels of military and police officers have reportedly handed down prison sentences in secret proceedings.”
Such an attack on prominent union leaders has not, however, been reported before. It is easy to see why the regime has stepped up its repression of the labour movement. Workers’ living standards have declined catastrophically under the impact of IMF-imposed neo-liberal policies, set of course by the G8 governments. One of the detained union leaders — Habtom Weldemicael, leader of the Coca-Cola Workers' Union — had reportedly called for strikes for higher wages.
Eritrean workers must have the right to organise to defend their living conditions. Support for the struggle to free the detained trade unionists and other political prisoners is a matter of elementary international working-class solidarity.
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