National Geographic : 1982 Mar
Nimeiri: "the glue BEYOND THE GLARE of the current political spotlight on Sudan stretches a vast, isolated, and ancient land largely unknown to the rest of the world. Last year, after I had completed a six-month journey that included all parts of the country, Sudan became a center of world attention following the assassination of President Anwar Sadat of Egypt, Sudan's neighbor to the north. PRESIDENTGAAFARNIMEIRI, RIGHT,TALKSWITHABDULRAHMANA KUWAIT'SFINANCEMINISTER,AT THE OPENINGOF A SUGAR FACT Sudan's capital, Khartoum, buzzed with members of the world press drawn by pre dictions that Libya's leader, Muammar Qaddafi, an avowed enemy of Sudan's President Gaafar Muhammed Nimeiri, would take advantage of the situation to invade Sudan from Chad, then occupied by Libyan troops. Examples of sabotage were displayed in Khartoum to back claims of subversion, and the bombing of villages by planes was reported from the border. I visited the border area and found few traces of impending conflict. Shortly there after, Libyan troops began a withdrawal from Chad, and the crisis dissipated. It was another in a long series of nervous events that have marked the emergence of Sudan from colonial status over the past 26 years. When Britain and Egypt gave up rule of the country in 1956, a bloody civil war erupted between Arab north and African south. It lasted 17 years. Many wounds and bitter feelings remain from that conflict, which left 500,000 dead, 750,000 homeless. The conflict invited intervention. Like Egypt at that time, Sudan became allied with the Soviet Union. In 1969 Nimeiri came to power in a military coup. Two years later a leftist attempt against him failed and he severed the Soviet alliance. In 1973 U. S. Ambassador Cleo A. Noel, his deputy, George Curtis Moore, and Bel gian Charge d'Affaires Guy Eid were slain by Palestinian terrorists in Khartoum. A later coup, in 1976, charged by the Sudanese against Libyans, also failed, and Sudan began to improve relations with the West. Recently, Nimeiri was one of the few Arab heads of state to support Sadat in the Camp Da vid peace process. Only days be fore he was assassinated, Sadat sent his vice president-now Egyptian president-Hosni Mu barak to talk with U. S. Presi dent Ronald Reagan about strengthening Sudan's defenses. I interviewed 51-year-old President Nimeiri in his spacious office overlooking the Blue Nile in Khartoum. L-ATEEQI, THEN "I was overwhelmed with ORYATKENANA.grief and sadness, as were the en tire Sudanese people, by the tragic and un timely death of our dear brother Anwar Sadat, who was a symbol of the unity of the Nile Valley," he told me. "Sadat used to lend me sincere and fraternal advice. His broth erhood was warm in good times and even warmer in difficult times." Nimeiri elaborated on what he regards as Sudan's peril. "Libya's occupation of Chad was but a new approach by Qaddafi to try to dominate all Africa, especially Sudan and Egypt. But note Qaddafi is working with Soviet arms and Soviet, East German, and Cuban experts. Sudan is facing not only Qaddafi but also the Soviet Union." Like Sadat in Egypt, Nimeiri has held a fractious country together by the force of his personality. "If something happens to Nimeiri, there may be more fighting," one southern politician told me. "He is the glue that holds us together."