Sudan: The Missing Academic Generation
In my dealings with American universities, I am often struck how there is a missing generation of scholars on Sudan. There is an older generation of academics who studied, taught and worked in Sudan in the 1960s, ’70s and early ’80s, many of them now either in retirement or approaching that age. And there is a cadre of younger scholars, in doctoral or post-doctoral programmes, who are producing a new English-language literature on Sudan. But there are very few of us in-between.
One reason for the scarcity of foreign scholarship on Sudan is the combination of war and the self-imposed isolation of the country in the 1990s, when visas of any kind were hard to get and the Arabicization of higher education discouraged Anglophone academics from joining Sudanese universities as faculty. For many would-be scholars of Sudan, the point of entry was the NGO sector, especially those working in southern Sudan.
Another reason is the U.S. policy of sanctions, which extends to educational cooperation. America has placed enormous obstacles in the way of its own students and academics learning about Sudan, and in the process has created an impoverished intellectual environment that has lowered the bar on who can be considered an “expert” or “authority” on the country in the media and among policymakers. Of all the self-inflicted wounds of the U.S. policy of sanctions and isolation, this is the most remarkable. A doctoral student looking for a supervisor will have a better chance in the Norwegian town of Bergen than in New York, Massachusetts or California.
Sudanese scholarship has suffered too. Sudanese academics have suffered from isolation, from scarcity of resources, from lack of scholarships and fellowships, and because their expertise is too infrequently recognized abroad. Southern Sudanese have suffered as much as their northern counterparts; the peace studies departments of Darfur’s young universities have been shortchanged.
This will surely change. A good start would be for the U.S. to reverse its sanctions policy.