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The World's 20 Worst Living Dictators
By David Wallechinsky
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.
Copyright © 2006
All right reserved.
The Nation--Sudan, by size, is the largest nation in Africa and the tenth-largest nation in the world. It shares borders with nine different nations; only China, Russia, and Brazil have more neighbors than Sudan. Since achieving independence from the British in 1956, the nation has experienced only ten years of peace. The rest of the time it has been plagued by a series of overlapping civil wars. Since 1983, an estimated two million Sudanese have died of war-related causes, while five million have been forced from their homes. Since 1993, Sudan has been the world's leading debtor to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Sudan's population of about 38 million is deeply divided ethnically and religiously. Although 52 percent of the population is black, the nation has always been ruled by the minority, who are Arabs. Seventy percent of Sudanese are Sunni Muslims, 25 percent follow traditional religions--referred to as animism or primitive religion by Westerners--and 5 percent are Christians, mostly Catholic. A census taken at the time of independence identified 50 ethnic groups, 570 distinct peoples, and the use of 114 languages, although more than half the population speaks Arabic.
Slavery--In recent years, the media have devoted a gooddeal of attention to the killings in Darfur in western Sudan. One of the most disturbing aspects of this tragedy is that the exploitation of black people by Arabs in the Sudan has been going on for more than 1,400 years. The word "Sudani" in Arabic means "black." This term, along with the words "Nuba" and "Nubia," which relate to one of the areas in southern Sudan populated by black Africans, have all entered colloquial Arabic with the meaning of "slave."
Christian missionaries arrived in the region in the 6th century from Constantinople and Islamic missionaries in the seventh century. As early as 652 a treaty was signed in which Muslim Egypt would provide goods to Christian Nubia in exchange for Nubian slaves. Slave raids in southern Sudan continued almost without a break for the next 1,300 years, no matter who ruled the region--Egyptians, Turks, or local sultans. Muhammad Ali, the Albanian-born ruler of Egypt, invaded Sudan in 1821, leading to sixty years of Turco-Egyptian rule. During this period, which saw the introduction of domestic slavery and the development of slave soldiers, an average of 30,000 southerners a year were seized in slave raids.
Muhammad Ali also founded the city of Khartoum at the confluence of the White Nile and the Blue Nile. In 1885, the forces of Mohammad Ahmed al-Mahdi (Mohammad the Messiah) captured Khartoum and overthrew the Turco-Egyptian regime. Al-Mahdi died the same year and was replaced by Abdullahi ibn Muhammad, known as the Khalifa. The Mahdists expanded the practice of slavery, driving millions from their homes. They also set an unfortunate precedent by demanding that citizens take a personal, religious oath of loyalty to Mahdi and the Khalifa and condemning nonfollowers, even fellow Muslims, as "unbelievers." When British and Egyptian troops invaded Sudan, these rejected Muslims were glad to help overthrow the Mahdists.
The Anglo-Egyptian forces, led by General Horatio Herbert Kitchener, defeated the Mahdist army at the Battle of Omdurman on September 2, 1898, and the Sudan became a possession of the king of England. The British abolished slavery, outraging the Arabs in northern Sudan, who considered the practice not a question of human rights, but a cultural tradition that was being disrupted by foreign invaders. The British also halted the spread of Islam to new areas and assigned separate zones to Catholic and Protestant missionaries, most of whom arrived from Austria, Italy, and the United States. The Americans distinguished themselves by their obsession with clothing the natives.
The Mahdists had never established control over southern Sudan, and it took the British a long time to deal with it themselves. As part of their pacification campaign, the British-led army occasionally burned down villages in the south, just as the Egyptians and Mahdists had done, and they were even known to seize cattle just to prove they had the power to do so. In 1930, the British declared a Southern Policy that stated that the region was African rather than Arab, but because there were few hereditary rulers in the south, it remained difficult for the British to establish consistent authority. In the north, meanwhile, tensions developed between the British and their junior partners, the Egyptians. In the 1920s, the British expelled Egyptian soldiers and administrators and, to counter the growing influence of Egypt in Sudan, they brought back the posthumously born son of the anti-Egyptian Mahdi. The grand qadi (judge) of the religious courts was always an Egyptian, but the British ended this monopoly in 1947. After World War II, the British came up with a novel tactic for stemming the threat of Egyptian power in Sudan: they proposed that the Sudan be granted independence, even though few Sudanese themselves had demanded it. When formal negotiations for independence began in 1952, Egypt was included, but the black Sudanese in the south were not.
Sudan's first election, held in 1953, was generally fair, although women were not allowed to vote. (Women's suffrage finally occurred in 1967.) The National Unionist Party, which advocated political union with Egypt, emerged as the largest single party, but it failed to gain a majority of the votes, and a coalition of anti-unionist parties turned union into a dead issue. The new, pre-independence government also showed no interest in sharing power with the black Sudanese and appointed northerners to all leadership positions in the south. This continuation of the Arab view that the southern tribes were not fit to be partners led to a shocking incident in the summer of 1955. When the northern government ordered southern soldiers in the state of Equatoria to transfer north, they refused. In what became known as the Torit Mutiny, the soldiers went on a rampage against the administrators from the north, killing 450 people, including women and children. The northern authorities were outraged, but not enough to ask themselves what could be done to mitigate southern anger.
Excerpted from Tyrants
by David Wallechinsky
Copyright © 2006 by David Wallechinsky.
Excerpted by permission.
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