In many ways Nigeria share some similarities with the Republic of Sudan. Sudan has the largest landmass in Africa, even with the separation of South Sudan, it has over 1.8 million square kilometers, roughly twice the size of Nigeria. Nigeria has the largest population in Africa. Sudan has been grappling with its north – south divide since independence in 1956; Nigeria has the north – south issue since the amalgamation of northern and southern protectorates that gave birth to Nigeria in 1914. Of course, there is the issue of oil and substantial number of Muslims in both countries. Thus, the challenges, anxieties and ambitions of both countries are virtually the same.
Sudan is at the center of Africa: culturally, historically, politically, economically, socially and even geographically. It has always had a dual identity being the most Arab African country and the most African Arab country. There is virtually no African country or ethno- linguistic group that does not have some Sudanese connections, directly or indirectly. Many Sudanese citizens have Nigerian roots – Yoruba, Kanuri, Hausa, Fulani etc. even the first prime minister of Sudan at independence, Ismail Al Azari traced his origin to Azare in Bauchi state! Thus, Nigerian and Sudanese destiny and by extension the rest of Africa, are inextricably intertwined in the past, at present and will extend to the foreseeable future.
People drinking Tea beside River Nile
The Republic of Sudan has been in the news in recent years. The impression about the country based on the projections of the global mainstream media is mostly negative – the South Sudan division, the Darfur crisis, the internally displaced persons and the economic sanctions etc. But the reality is totally different. Sudan is a democratic, free and functioning society. I have traveled widely to many parts of the world but I have never felt more secured, more at home and more at peace than when I recently visited Sudan. There are no intimidating soldiers anywhere and no police checkpoints, yet there is adequate security; even the presidential palace has very few guards.
Many analysts believe Sudan is mainly interested in Arab politics. That is far from the truth. As far back as 1962, Mr. Nelson Mandela was granted asylum by Sudan at the beginning of the turning point of the anti-apartheid struggle. In 1994, Sudan was the first African nation to establish diplomatic mission in South Africa at the end of the apartheid era. And, for all the negative war mongering picture being painted of the Sudan, it was only last April that Sudan had its first battle with another country over the Heiglig crisis that led Sudan to defend its territorial integrity against the aggression of the south Sudan regime. All the other conflicts that involved Sudan were internal like the Nigerian civil war and the other internal conflicts we have been having here.
President Omar Hassan Al Bashir moves freely in Khartoum without any convoy or retinue of security guards. He personally goes to town to listen to people’s complaints and address them promptly. There are ministers, parliamentarians (by law, 25 percent of the entire membership of the National Assembly seats are reserved for women), intellectuals and key decisions makers who are women in the country which goes to show the gender sensitivity of the Sudan government. Infact, Sudanese women are some of the most liberated, most educated, most enlightened and freest in the world. There is real freedom of expression as I personally witnessed comments by citizens against the Al Bashir government openly. One of the opposition leaders, Dr. Sadiq Al Mahdi, freely expresses his opinion at conferences and in the full glare of the media.
Bridge on river Nile
Before the advent of the Al-Bashir regime, Sudan hardly gets one hundred medical graduates per annum, today over 2,000 new medical doctors graduate out of the excellent medical colleges annually. Sudan set up the International University of Africa which has a total student population of over 45,000 from 75 countries around the world, including all over Africa. Electricity supply is stable as I have not witnessed any power outage; food, of different variety, is available and affordable; infrastructure is getting well developed; there is high literary rate and great political awareness; hospitals are well equipped. In short, there is the other side of Sudan different from the negative image being painted by the international media daily.