Sudanese: 'What Arab-African rift?'
In Sudan's Arab north, Arabs marry, go to school, and work side by side with Africans from Darfur. The divide portrayed in the West means little to people here.
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Mr. Adam comes from the Fur tribe, of Darfur – commonly understood to be an African tribe, under persecution by Sudan's Arab-dominated government.
Last month, the International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor indicted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for genocide and crimes against humanity in Darfur, saying "evidence shows that al-Bashir masterminded and implemented a plan to destroy in substantial part the Fur, Masalit, and Zaghawa groups, on account of their ethnicity."
But for Sudanese Arabs and Africans coexisting peacefully outside Darfur, these racial distinctions are not so clear.
Adam, for example, believes he has some Arab blood.
During the drought of the early 1980s, Adam left Darfur for the mostly-Arab north of Sudan, in search of work and a better life. He settled in Dongola, a city more than 300 miles north of the capital, Khartoum, and has lived among Arabs ever since. He even married one and now has four "mixed" children.
"We live here peacefully and there are no problems," he says. "We live as if we are natives here. We feel that this is our country and this is our town."
Around the corner, at a small Darfurian social club, the atmosphere is loud and buoyant. Young men gather around tables playing cards, slamming down dominoes excitedly, and watching television. They are mostly economic migrants who left Darfur years ago. Among them are members of various tribes that are killing each other back in Darfur and in neighboring Kordofan State.
"There is no such thing as Arab or African. We are all Sudanese," says Mohammed El-Cheikh an Arab from Western Kordofan. "Him over there," he says, pointing across the yard to a young man standing shyly in the corner, "that's my friend Abubakr. He's from the [African] Tama tribe.
"There are problems in Darfur, but they are not between people. They are related to the government and to politics."
In scores of markets, clubs, and homes in the Arab north, Arabs and Africans are working side by side, sending their children to the same schools and intermarrying. The Arab-African distinction that has played out so broadly in media coverage of Darfur means little to people here.
In fact, historians say the distinction has no factual basis. There is a long tradition of intermarrying between the Arab and African tribes that settled in what is now Sudan.
"No single tribe in Sudan can claim it is purely African or Arab," says history teacher and mayor of the greater Dongola locality Bushra Mohamed Saleh. "They are all mixed."
And while some tribes may be more Arab or more African, coexistence between them is nothing new. Even in Darfur, different tribal groups lived together for centuries. So-called Arab nomadic tribes and African farming communities shared the same land – the nomads using it for their cattle to graze; the farmers using it to grow their crops. Conflicts arose routinely but were solved through traditional leaders.