Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa
Conseil pour le développement de la recherche en sciences sociales en Afrique
Conselho para o Desenvolvimento da Pesquisa em Ciências Sociais em África
مجلس تنمية البحوث الإجتماعية في أفريقيا

Follow up of the CODESRIA visit to universities and non-university research centers in Khartoum, August 29-31, 2009

Number of visits: 2235

Sudan is in the throes of a political crisis, with national elections due in April 2010 and the referendum in the South in January 2011. If current developments run their course, then the most likely outcome of the referendum will be independence of the South. Dire expectations abound. Most expect Africa’s first NGO-run state in the South and the continuation of the North-South war, except that now it will be between two sovereign states, and thus have the potential of drawing in other states on either side.

This situation has been widely anticipated by, among others, International NGOs, the African Union, regional and foreign states, even Africanist intellectuals in the West. The only constituency that has yet to provide any input, let alone leadership, is that of African intellectuals.

CODESRIA hopes to fill this intellectual void starting with a planning trip to Khartoum. A three-person CODESRIA team visited Khartoum from August 29-31 and held informal meetings with Sudanese researchers based in key universities and research institutions. The team comprised Sam Moyo (President), Ebrima Sall (Executive Secretary) and Mahmood Mamdani (Past President). The objective of the visit was to explore a possible agenda for a program of activities that would help broaden and deepen an African academic engagement with the ongoing political process in Sudan. Such an engagement should also help strengthen the presence of Sudanese academics in the African research community and the engagement of the African research community with the realities of Sudan.


The CODESRIA visit was undertaken with two objectives in mind.

The strategic objective was to strengthen ties with the Sudanese social science community. CODESRIA recently organized a conference on higher education at University of Juba. On their part, individual Sudanese academics have been active in CODESRIA from its founding in the early 70s. In the main, however, Sudan has been a peripheral country in the development of CODESRIA’s activities on the African continent.

Non-African foundations and universities, which have in the past set up several regional networks involving leading Sudanese universities, have been far more active than CODESRIA in shaping the direction of social science research in Sudan. An initiative by the Volkswagen Foundation has networked researchers from three Sudanese universities [Ahfad, Juba and Khartoum], and those from universities of Addis Ababa, Nairobi and Moi with researchers at the University of Breiman in Germany. Christian Michelson Institute has organized the Macro-Micro Project, which aims to monitor the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that was signed in 2005, which marked the end of a decade old war between the Sudanese state and the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Movement (SPLM), led by the late John Garang. Other initiatives include the University for Peace, based in Costa Rica, and its Addis Ababa affiliate, and the North-South Institute, Ottawa.

The immediate aim of the visit flowed from our understanding of the ongoing political process in Sudan. This was clearly stated in the team’s preparatory memo, circulated to those we hoped to meet during the visit.

The CODESRIA team held meetings with Sudanese researchers at Khartoum University, Ahfad University for Women, Juba University, as well as meetings with non-university intellectuals. The idea was to keep the numbers at each meeting small enough to all present an opportunity to participate fully in the discussion.


There was a remarkable identity of views among those we met on the main features of the present situation. Everyone seemed to agree that the situation is highly polarized and polarizing. Most obviously, there seem to be two governments, rather than a single government of national unity: there is the central government [GoS] which functions as more of a government of North Sudan, and then there is the Government of South Sudan. Both ruling parties, the National Congress Party (NCP) in the North and the SPLM in the South, seem to be driven by worst case scenarios. Both seem to be preparing for cessation as the most likely outcome if present trends continue. There is a widespread fear that cessation may not be organized and smooth, but a violent divorce.

The politics of identity is highly polarized. One side feels that Africa has been appropriated by some and fears exclusion as ‘Arabs’. The other side fears that the demand for unity conceals the ambitions of a thinly disguised ‘civilizing mission’ of a largely unreformed Northern establishment. The SPLM leadership we met, most often asked: true, cessation will bring disaster, but can any disaster be worse than all the disasters resulting from one single Sudan? The few who were hopeful in this context argued that it is time to re-imagine the nation. The unity game, they said, is almost over and there is need to think of creative alternatives, such as a loose confederation.

Most admitted that the fears linked to cessation are not being discussed openly. Many intellectuals, whether academics or politicians, expressed the view that in the absence of any win-win scenario, with the middle ground rapidly shrinking, there is urgent need for the participation of a third party that is African and is seen to have an impartial, academic, point of view.


A consensus emerged over the two days that the discussion should begin in the South (Juba) and then be extended to the North (Khartoum). The impact of meetings in the South would be high even if the logistics may be more difficult. The SPLM leadership promised to help out with organizing logistics in the South.

On 17-18 May 2010, CODESRIA, in collaboration with the Universities of Juba and Khartoum, and Ahfad University for Women, Sudan, will be holding an international symposium on the Political Process in Sudan with a particular focus on the 2011 Referandum over the future of South Sudan.

Sam Moyo, Mahmood Mandani & Ebrima Sall.

May 17 2010