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Inequality and Democracy in Sudanese History William Y. Adams Professor Emeritus, University of Kentucky There are obvious problems in talking about democracy in the Sudan— not for historical or political reasons but for epistemological ones. What does Democracy mean? It is surely one of the slipperiest words in the English or any other language. There is hardly a nation in the world today—Christian, Islamic, or Communist—that does not call itself democratic . Moreover, just about every kind of political faction, from far left to far right, seems able to define the word in such a way as to serve its own self-interest. In the United States, when political liberals talk about democracy, they usually mean social justice, or equality of opportunity —something that, as we have learned, cannot be accomplished without massive government intervention in the form of affirmative action and anti-discrimination programs. When conservatives talk about democracy they usually mean freedom of the individual from government restraints, including the freedom of employers to hire or not hire whom they choose. For better or worse, both of these are legitimate interpretations of the meaning of democracy. If we are to avoid the confusions of rhetoric and ideology, it can be done only by stating, in quite specific terms, what we mean by democracy . As the concept has evolved in the Western world over the last 300 years, it has come to include at least eight ideals, or aspirations: First, self-determination: the right of every nation, people, or tribe to govern itself, free from the domination of any other nation, people, or tribe.©Northeast African Studies (ISSN 0740-9133) Vol. 1, Nos. 2-3 (New Series) 1994, pp. 7-17 8 William Y. Adams Second, citizen participation: the right of every citizen of the nation, people, or tribe to have a voice in the making of collective decisions, including the naming of officials. Third, majority rule: the idea that decisions reached by 51 percent or more of the citizenry, or their representatives, are binding upon the nation as a whole, whether or not individuals agree with them. Fourth, the rule of law: the idea that the citizenry are subject only to laws made by their designated representatives, and not to the arbitrary and extra-legal decrees of officials. Fifth, equality of opportunity: the right of every adult citizen to have equal access to resources and opportunities, wealth and power, regardless of any circumstances ofbirth. Sixth, separation of church and state, with the concomitant, implied principle of freedom of worship. Seventh, personal liberty: the freedom of the citizen to express his or her own opinion, to practice his or her own faith, and to exercise his or her own judgment in a wide variety of situations, free from government coercion. Finally, the ideal of a nation and a world at peace, maintained not by armed enforcement but by the agreement of the citizenry and the nations to keep the peace. Without pushing the point further for the moment, it will be apparent that not all of these ideals are mutually consistent. Therein lies a dilemma that has confronted every would-be democratic nation since the beginning ofhistory. A brief review of Sudanese prehistory and history will suggest that one or another of the criteria of democracy have been present at nearly all periods, but they have never been present in a sufficient combination so that the state as a whole could be called democratic. The most democratic society that ever existed in the Sudan may well have been that of the stone age, before the emergence ofpharaonic-style civilization. We really know very little about it in any direct way, but we can infer a good deal from our general knowledge of the nature of tribal societies. They are nearly always self-governing, and there is a high degree of citizen participation, in that collective decisions are reached by councils of elders, of lineage heads, or sometimes of the entire community. Majority rule is always insisted upon: indeed, it is a Inequality and Democracy in Sudanese History 9 rule in many tribal societies that decisions do not become effective until there is unanimous agreement on them. There is...


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