The politics of language planning in the Sudan: the case of the Naivasha language policy
Abdelhay, Ashraf K
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The National Congress Party (NCP), representing the government of the Sudan, and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) signed key peace protocols on the 26th May 2004 in the Kenyan town of Naivasha. The Protocol on Power–sharing contains a significant section on language policy. Having a language policy interwoven within the very discoursal fabric of the Protocol on Power–sharing is an arena of intense power struggle between the south and the north. Indeed, it has been so since the emergence of the colonial Southern Policy. The historical social struggle between the south and the north of Sudan, which incorporates unequal power relations, is encoded in the linguistic signs of the language policy. The current Interim National Constitution has adopted the Naivasha Language Policy. The study has four main objectives. The first objective is to historicise the Naivasha Language Policy. The study aims to disinvent the ‘naturalised’ notions of ‘indigenous languages’, ‘north Sudan’, and ‘south Sudan’ by revealing their colonial constructedness. The social and semiotic processes involved in the colonial representation of the discursive differentiation of the ‘south’ from the ‘north’ are examined. The historical analysis of the colonial Southern Policy reveals the hidden agenda that lies behind what might be termed the ‘politics of linguistic indigenousness’. The analysis demonstrates that the technical phrase ‘indigenous languages’ is used as part of a metaphorical strategy of symbolic differentiation of the ‘African south’ from the ‘Arab north’. The fact that the south is to gain the right to external self–determination in four years’ time points to the political instrumentality of the notion of linguistic indigenousness in language planning. The second objective is to examine the language rights regime embodied in the Naivasha Language Policy. One of the central arguments is that the language rights embedded in the Naivasha Language Policy should not be conceptualised in essentialising and totalising terms as a set of abstract universal givens. Instead, the contention is that the notion of language rights should be treated as part of the ‘habitus’ of the concerned community of practice. The employment of the concept of habitus as an analytic tool can help us avoid the essentialist trap of the mainstream ‘language– rights’ paradigm by asserting the social constructedness of languages, identities, and rights. Thus, grounding the advocacy of language rights in the notion of habitus can provide a means of uncoupling language from religion and race in the Sudan. It is demonstrated that the colonial construction of identities in the Sudan involved, among other things, the invention of traditions, the construction of languages, the (re)creation of tribal boundaries, and the racial classification of people. The third objective of the study is a comparative analysis between the proposed structural political system and the discourse of the Naivasha Language Policy. The argument here is that a faithful implementation of the Naivasha Language Policy within a multinational democratic federation informed by the principle of active citizenship can act as both: 1) a strategic corrective to the divisive monolingual ideology of Arabicisation, and 2) a foundation for a new regime of language rights determined by a bottom–up approach. The fourth objective is to explore the relationship between the allocation of political power in the peace protocols and the language policy, and to investigate the ways in which power relations may influence the realisation of the language policy. The analysis shows that the proposed configuration of power relations would mainly affect the language situation in the south of Sudan. The thesis concludes with an assessment of the current status of the institutional implementation of the language policy text.