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Wednesday, 23 May 2018
 

Did the Darfur Problem Start in 1650? (3)

The Fur Sultanate, 1650–1916:
The Background of the Struggle over Power and Natural Resources

Many have accused the National Salivation government which came to power in June, 1989 as the creator of Darfur crises. But now a book by the prominent academic and reputable politician Dr. Yousif Yousif Takana   (Darfur :  Struggle for Power and Resources; 1650-2002), tell a different story. The book was originally a thesis on which Dr. Takana has a PhD from the University of Khartoum.

It is important to point at the end of this overview the doctoral thesis presented to the university of Sussex, England, in 1985 by Abdel Rahman Abbakar Ibrahim under the title “Regional  Inequality and Under-development in Western Sudan.” Although this thesis was not formally published and despite the early death of its author, it had a huge influence on later academic writings, especially those by political activists from Darfur. In his book Sudan: The Wars of Resources and Identity, Mohammed Suleiman Mohammed stated that he could see the fingerprints of the Black Book’s authors from among the Darfur elite (388 n.52). He added that the intellectual basis of the Black Book was Abbakar Ibrahim’s doctoral thesis, especially the meticulous records it contained on the racial classification of political leaders, the army top brass, and civil service leaders (Mohammed 2000).The Black book is a petition from Darfur political activists against the central government's negligence of Darfur since Sudan's independence in 1956. The gist of the study of Abdel Rahman Abbakar was that colonial education favored the region of northern Sudan, generating an elite group that took over from colonial authorities.
After independence these elites allied with the merchant class to perpetuate development imbalances by concentrating development in the central region, while ignoring the western regions, including Darfur. Abbakar Ibrahim supported his contention with statistics compiled by the bureaucratic agencies of the post-independence regimes.
The importance of that study does not reside in the theory of power center formation in the various Sudanese kingdoms discussed in this overview, but rather in the role of elites in building the modern national state and the difficulties surrounding that process—difficulties that may have led to the failure and disintegration of that state as is witnessed today by the separation of South Sudan and the civil wars in Darfur, Kordofan, and Blue Nile. It is worth mentioning that those regions were home to the sultanates of Darfur, Tagali, Musaba’at, and Funj, which is a coincidence worthy of contemplation within the theory of building the national state.
I also should draw the attention of researchers to a bibliography compiled by Munzoul Abdalla M. Assal under the title “An Annotated Bibliography of Social Research on Darfur,” published by the Centre for Development Studies at the University of Bergen, in which he has compiled the available studies of Darfur, along with summaries of those studies..
The importance of that study does not reside in the theory of power center formation in the various Sudanese kingdoms discussed in this overview, but rather in the role of elites in building the modern national state and the difficulties surrounding that process—difficulties that may have led to the failure and disintegration of that state as is witnessed today by the separation of South Sudan and the civil wars in Darfur, Kordofan, and Blue Nile. It is worth mentioning that those regions were home to the sultanates of Darfur, Tagali, Musaba’at, and Funj, which is a coincidence worthy of contemplation within the theory of building the national state.
I also should draw the attention of researchers to a bibliography compiled by Munzoul Abdalla M. Assal under the title “An Annotated Bibliography of Social Research on Darfur,” published by the Centre for Development Studies at the University of Bergen, in which he has compiled the available studies of Darfur, along with summaries of those studies.
Finally, several schools of thought deal with various aspects of the developments in Darfur that started with the phenomenon of state formation in the region in the 17th century and continued until the beginnings of armed conflct early in the 21st century in 2002. Those
theoretical approaches vary based on the methods used to evaluate the phenomena that attract researchers. I was initially strongly attracted to two schools of thought that I found particularly important for analyzing and understanding certain aspects of the struggle over authority and resources in Darfur.
First, a number of schools of thought are concerned with modes of production as an explanation of phenomena. Here we have to point to the writings of Nachtigal (1971), O’Fahey (1973, 1977, 1980, and 1996), Spaulding (2007), and O’Fahey and Spaulding (1974), who emphasize
thorough their social and historical analyses the instinct of human social competition over authority and resources (land in particular but also long distance trade). The present study benefited a lot from this approach as well as from other theories that stress the relationship between land resources, changes in these land resources due to the environment and ecology, and competition over the acquisition of such land resources. The best examples of such writings in the Darfur context are those of Fouad Ibrahim and Mohamed Suleiman (2000).
The chapters of this book that deal with the struggle over land in the last two decades of the 20th century draw upon these works. While benefiting from the tools of analysis of those theoretical approaches, the approach I chose for this study stresses the economic, social, and political history of the constituent components of Darfur society and the accumulation of economic, social, and political institutions by the elites, as well as the ways in which those institutions helped regulate the means and mechanisms of competition over material and spiritual resources all along the historical development of Darfur..
By way of final result, this book concludes that the rules and tools of power developed by Darfur societies to regulate competition over resources largely disintegrated on account of discontinuity caused by the external colonial encroachments, in particular, Turkish and British colonization and, later on, the centralizing national policies during the era when Darfur became part of the Sudanese national state. As a result, the traditional tools and institutions of power lost efficiency as well as legitimacy. Society was shaken to its roots, shedding away the conventional rules and resorting instead to violent conflct and infighting. Peaceful competition over power and resources came to an end, and the region moved to the new stage of its contemporary history.

Power and Natural Resources

This chapter introduces the early history of Darfur that contributed to the eventual collapse of its governance institutions. A struggle for power and resources characterized the Fur Keira sultanate from the time of its establishment in the 17th century until its collapse in 1916.
This has special importance as a background against which the current violent tribal conflcts in Darfur can be interpreted, especially in view of the fact that history in many respects is an anthropology of the past that reflects its shadows on present events (see Arkon 2001).
The history of the Keira ruling family’s origin is somewhat obscure due to a scarcity of national sources; most of what has been traced about the Fur kingdom is based on recordings of oral traditions collected by Browne , Mohamed bin Omar al-Tunisi, and Rudolf C. Slatin, in addition
to information collected by Na’om Shugair from Sheikh al-Tayib, imam of Sultan Ibrahim’s mosque (who researched in the area in 1902), the writings of McMichael and Arkell based on those oral traditions, and additional independent research (Hassan 2003a, 93).
Al-Tunisi mentioned that the borders of the Fur sultanate extended from al-Tuwaisha in the east to the last point in Dar Masalit in the west, that is, from the Masalit kingdom, Dar Gimir, and the first part of Dar Tama (the empty land between Dar Sulaih and the Fur sultanate). The southern border was the empty land between the Fur sultanate and Dar Firteet and from the northern part of al-Mazroob (the first water well that meets those coming from the Egyptian border). A number of small kingdoms were affiliated with the Fur Keira kingdom. To the north was the Zaghawa kingdom, an immense kingdom with a vast (uncountable) population and a sultan of its own who was considered one of the Fur sultanate’s commanders. Also to the north were the kingdoms of Midob and Barti. They were two large kingdoms: the latter’s populations was larger than the former’s yet it was more submissive to the Fur sultan than the Midob kingdom. Small kingdoms were also scattered throughout the Fur sultanate, including the kingdoms of Birgid and Tunjur in the middle, Bargo and Mima in the east, and Dajo and Bigo in the south, in addition to the kingdom of Froujayh, in South Darfur. According to al-Tunisi, “Each of these kingdoms had a ruler called a sultan appointed by the Fur sultan,
and all of them wore the same dress, except for the king of Tunjur who wore a black turban.
When I asked him about the reason behind wearing a black turban he told me that the original Fur kingdom belonged to his ancestors, who were defeated by the Fur sultan; he wore the black turban as expression of his sorrow for the loss of the kingdom” (al-Tunisi 1985).
The Fur kingdom was surrounded from the east and south by numerous Bedouin Arabs, including the Messiriya, Hamar, Rizaigat, and Fulani tribes. The populations of each of these tribes were uncountable. They owned cattle, horses, and other animals, and most of them were concerned with their animal wealth and not inclined to like urban life. Rather, they followed pasture whenever they found it. Along with them was a tribe called Bani Halba, which was also comprised in part of cattle owners; however, this tribe also went deep into Darfur to till land. Camel owners included the Fazara who were part of the Mahameed, Majaneen, Banu Omran, Banu Jarrar, and Black Messiriya tribes, among others. All these tribes were required to pay yearly taxes to the sultan from their wealth (al-Tunisi 1965).
This was the political and demographic map of Darfur as outlined by Mohamed bin Omar al-Tunisi at the beginning of the 19th century when he visited it in 1803, that is, about two centuries after its establishment.
This picture is completed by accounts by Na’om Shugair, who mentioned Sultan Sulayman Solonga the First (who ruled from 1445 to 1476) as the head of the Fur sultans. When Sultan Sulayman Solonga took power there was not a single mosque in Jebel Marra. He built mosques, and Friday prayers spread all over the place. He then started to unite Muslims with the help of Bedouin Arabs who were spread all over the kingdom. He subdued kings of the semiblacks around Jebel Marra and taught them the Islamic religion. He also subdued some of the distant kings of the blacks who remained atheists. The whole of Darfur became one sultanate under the descendants of Sultan Sulayman and included 27 subject sultans by the time of the sultanate’s collapse in 1916, seven from the black atheists and the rest from the semi-black Muslims. As stated by al-Tunisi,
The atheist sultans were Karah, Dango, Fangaro, Binah, Bayah, Frwagi, and Shala; all of them were from the Fratit lands in the southwestern part of Darfur. The Muslim sultans were from the Birgid, Tunjur, Kabagiya, Mima, and Musaba’at to the east of Jebel Marra; Mararit, Furah, Simyar, Masalit, Gimir, Tama, Jabalowin, Abdarag, Jojah, and Asmor tribes in the west and northwest; and the Dajo and Ringa tribes in the south and southwest.
(al-Tunisi 1965).
This was apart from the Arab tribes, which Sultan Sulayman united and compelled to support his efforts. These tribes included the Habbaniyya, Rizaigat, Messiriya, Ta’aisha, Banu Halba, and Ma’alia in the south; the Hamar in the east; the Ziyadiyya in the north; and the Mahriyya, Mahameed, and Bani Hassan in the west (Shugair 1967).