Over the past ten days or so the government in Khartoum has taken a series of steps to translate its consequently racist nationalism into law. The National Assembly approved in principle a set of amendments to the Nationality Law that strip any South Sudanese in the North of the nationality of the rump Sudanese state. The legislators of the National Congress Party (NCP) more or less challenged each other in their demonstration of chauvinism. One of them demanded that the amendments clearly refer to the Referendum Law, the article of legislation that governed the referendum on the future of South Sudan in January 2011, as the basis to define who is a Southerner.
The Referendum Law, arguably the most reactionary piece of legislation that came out of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, defines an eligible voter in the referendum, i.e. a South Sudanese, as an individual “born to parents both or one of them belonging to one of the indigenous communities that settled in Southern Sudan on or before the 1st January 1956, or whose ancestry is traceable to one of the ethnic communities in Southern Sudan, or a permanent resident, without interruption, or whose any of the parents or grandparents are residing, permanently, without interruption, in Southern Sudan since 1st January 1956”. The open bias, to put it mildly, towards an ethnic basis for citizenship in the Referendum Law at the time was perceived as an asset since it allegedly empowered each and every South Sudanese, irrespective of her place of residence, with the right to cast the historical self-determination vote. The anchoring of citizenship in ancestry, celebrated as a virtue at the time, is now unfolding its lethality in full. Khartoum arguing with the same article of the Referendum Law is now in a position to disenfranchise all South Sudanese resident north of the 1956 border. The novelty is not the act of disenfranchise as such but the fact that it is now pursued with the support of legislation.
Significantly, the amendments under discussion include an article that grants the Ministry of Interior, the authority that issues nationality cards, with the capacity to revoke nationality once it establishes that it was unrightfully acquired, a capacity that was hitherto restricted to the Presidency. To understand the ramifications of this apparently benign amendment one has to consider the political gunpowder that it dispenses to the bureaus of the Ministry in Sudan’s hinterlands. In Darfur, for instance, the local authorities will potentially be in a position to tool with nationality in an inflamed context where many contenders and proto-contenders, entire communities for that matter, could be dismissed as ‘foreigners’. The same is true all over the rump North. The Fulani who have settled in various parts of the Sudan over centuries, largely as a docile workforce in the agricultural schemes of Gezira, Gedaref, and the White Nile, provide an illuminating example of these politics of nationality. With the outlook of beefing up its electoral support in insecure constituencies the Umma Party reportedly made it a habit to extend the Sudanese nationality to the perpetually disenfranchised Fulani whenever the occasion demanded. Likewise, the NCP sought to contain or fragment politically toxic areas in the Southern Blue Nile and in East Sudan through the conditioned entitlement of the Fulani to the Sudanese nationality as well as ‘tribal’ land and political representation. With these considerations in mind the Fulani do not feature in the inventory of the ‘marginalised’ in Sudan. They are either frowned upon as allies of the regime or excluded as outright foreigners.
The amendments to the Nationality Law supplant another novel administrative procedure, the Civil Registry, which one government official described as superior in significance to the Merowe Dam, the NCP’s great fairy tale. This registration procedure, and the identity card which a registrant acquires on its basis, is planned to replace the current Sudanese nationality and identity documents. Digital and supposedly immune to counterfeit this new ID will provide the basis for access to government services as well as the exercise of political and economic rights in the rump North. The Ministry of Interior repeatedly stressed the stringency of the procedure devised to establish eligibility for registration as a Sudanese citizen, and demanded from the public equal vigilance to protect the identity of the nation from subversion by unwelcome elements. One official actually stated that those who fail to register will be stripped of their nationality.
The mainstream opposition in Khartoum, true to its embarrassing mediocrity, reacted to the malevolent chauvinism of the NCP with the demand of extending the four freedoms between Sudan and South Sudan. Some meekly demanded dual nationality for South Sudanese resident in the North. None however opted for the categorical necessity: citizenship on a territorial basis.