Social and Political Dynamics in Sudan prior to and after the 2011 Separation: Conflict, Activism, and the Diaspora

Conveners: Prof. Sondra Hale (University of California, Los Angeles, USA);
e-mail:, Gada Kadoda (Independent Researcher, Khartoum, Sudan); e-mail:, Dr. Alexander E. Zhukov (Institute for African Studies, Moscow, Russia); e-mail:

In this panel we explore a complex political paradigm of modern Sudan that has existed over six decades of independence and continues to shape the political landscape of the country, both its external relations, and internally, as related to its ethnic group conflicts, oppositional parties and movements, rural and grassroots activism, the growth of civil society, women and youth movements, and the growing salience of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), etc. Although a priority will be given to the problems of ‘northern’ Sudan, we also welcome contributions dealing with socio-political dynamics in southern Sudan before its secession in July 2011. As background, we take into consideration a number of factors that have characterized the political life in modern Sudan before and after its separation into two states. These include, to name just a few, the colonial legacy, the leading role of the military in the national politics, the role of rebel groups at the regional level, fragmentation of the society and the rise of marginalized groups throughout the country, the displacement of populations, the dominance of sectarian (based on competing Sufi orders) politics, and the more recent rise of salafi Islam, the general failure of

political parties, the economic and environmental factors such as the discovery of oil and desertification, the strong influence from the diaspora and its returnees, and eventually political and economic consequences of the secession of South Sudan. The panel will then look into the divisions in Sudan which did not end with the country’s separation but, instead, took up new forms of armed struggle in the Nuba mountains and Blue Nile (the so called Sudan’s “new South”). A backbone to our discussion will be a very complex issue of political activism in Sudan and its global diaspora. In our analyses, we will deal with both the present-day politics in and around Sudan and its recent history. One of our key research propositions is that many political actors (our most neutral term), have moved away from self-identifying as members of a particular political party and/or espousing an established political ideology (e.g., socialist) and have begun to refer to themselves as “activists,” a relatively new term in Sudan. We have also seen activism emerge among rural women previously aligned with other political forces. We will argue that this has happened for a range of reasons to be discussed. The panel will also argue that many of these Sudanese phenomena have coalesced with and/or are reactions to similar processes in other countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and reflect some global trends. Having discussed these and other empirical observations, the panelists will raise theoretical issues of transnationalism and diasporic engagements for home-state politics, of new means of political mobilization (e.g., via social media), and of the shifting emphases on NGO’s, “grassroots”, and direct action politics in the political life of MENA and Sub-Saharan African states in general.