A Black Book Explains a Revolution

by Austin Michael Bodetti. He is a student in the Gabelli Presidential Scholars Program at Boston College and a reporter for War Is Boring. He focuses on the relationship between Islam and conflict in Syria and Sudan.

black-bookThe authors of “The Black Book: Imbalance of Power and Wealth in Sudan” sought to expose the cynicism, nepotism, and racism of their government. Many of them would later join the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), a Sudanese revolutionary movement that has published “The Black Book” as “Part 1” and “Part 2” on its website. The first manuscripts appeared May 2000, three years before the international community tried to halt the War in Darfur, and the Sudanese government came to consider this publication one of its greatest setbacks since the outset of the Second Sudanese Civil War.

“The Black Book” existed to herald another revolution in Sudan. The authors, who referred to themselves as the “Seekers of Truth and Justice”, dedicated their writings “[t]o those who filled themselves of haughtiness, arrogance and feeling of superiority, wishing to silence our Black Book or elsewhere replace it with their White Book”, “[t]o the Sudanese people who have endured oppression, injustice and tyranny”, “[t]o the majority of the Sudanese people who still suffer marginalization of power and wealth”, “[t]o those, who work for justice and equality with extreme honesty and self-denial”. They spoke of Sudan’s ethnic minorities in the east, the south, and the west, who, according to “The Black Book”, never enjoyed the power that the Arabs of the north claimed for themselves. “This book is an exposé of the injustice that was visited on the Sudan by successive governments which ruled it since independence (1956)”, continued the authors. “The pattern of injustice remained almost the same throughout, irrespective of the political orientation of incumbent government: secular, theocratic, dictatorial or—presumed—democratic. […] The favoured part of the Sudan attracted disproportionate attention, care, services and developmental resources from those successive governments”. “The Black Book” was repeating what the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) and its famous leader, John Garang, had said decades earlier: Sudan’s peoples needed equality and rights as a multiethnic nation. The manuscript documented through anecdotal evidence and statistics the conspiracy whose existence it argued.

Vehicles and weapons of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) rebels are seen on display, after victory celebrations by the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), in Niyala Capital of South Darfur, May 4, 2015.

Vehicles and weapons of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) rebels are seen on display, after victory celebrations by the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), in Niyala Capital of South Darfur, May 4, 2015.

How supporters distributed “The Black Book” proved more audacious than its argument. “The mystery of the Black Book is compounded by its impeccable method of distribution that was executed with military precision”, wrote Abdullahi Osman El-Tom, Senior Lecturer of Anthropology at the National University of Ireland. “A once-off distribution of the book took place at Friday prayers in the Capital and in most major cities in the country, thus beating the government’s tight grip on information circulation”. It surprised leaders within the Sudanese government to discover “The Black Book” on their desks as they came to work. The SPLM/A had by the 2000s stalemated the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and their allied militias. It little interested the Sudanese government to fight campaigns elsewhere in the vast country. “The Black Book” threatened a national revolution.

The SPLM/A once championed “New Sudan“, a state that would unite all Sudanese whether Arab or black, Christian or Muslim. Though seeming to focus on the west of Sudan, home to several oppressed black tribes that would support the Darfuri rebels—much of JEM’s leadership still consists of one tribe’s subclan — “The Black Book” still presented a similar idea, offering all Sudan’s minorities a reason for mobilization. “Turning ethnic groups against each other has been a dominant feature of this current regime”, it rallied. “Examples here are the Hadandwa against the Beni Amir, the Ara’ar against the Bashshareen and the Halanga against the Rashida in the Eastern Region. The Southern Region has also been placed under the same destructive policy. Thus you witness the Dinka against the Nuer, the Nuer against the Shiluk, the Manari against the Zande and so forth.” The authors quoted the Quran and other Islamic primary sources in their writing, yet they included animist and Christian tribes from South Sudan, long called “infidels” by the Arab fighters of the SAF, in their proposed mobilization.

As much an example of propaganda as an example of effective argument, “The Black Book” erred in its goal. The authors challenged the Sudanese government, citing how it had wronged them and the rest of the population, but omitted how they would replace its dictatorship. This omission implied that the authors wanted the Sudanese government to include them, not reform itself. Ten years after “The Black Book’s” publication, Caity Bolton wrote for African Arguments: “With an issue such as institutionalized injustice, change does not mean placing a different figure at the top or putting another chair at the political table. If JEM’s goal is to push for power for themselves, they may likely succeed by pursuing the course that they’ve chosen. And while sitting at the table they may be in the position to make some changes. But if their goal is to create lasting change that challenges the structural injustice that has plagued Sudan since it has been an independent state, they will need to pursue an alternate course that starts with internal coherence”. If the authors wanted a revolution, they needed to know what would follow.

The revolution turned civil war continues in Darfur and has spread to other regions of Sudan while “The Black Book”, now dated, vanishes from relevance. The Sudanese revolutionary movements, however, continue to dispute what government should rule Sudan. The problem facing “The Black Book” foreshadowed the same problem in the Third Sudanese Civil War.

This entry was posted in Austin Michael Bodetti, English, Security Policy, Sudan.

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