By Ahmed elzobier
May 27, 2012 — Hisham Abbas wrote on a Sudanese website a compelling and horrific story about the wars in the south. He and many others were forcibly recruited at the young age of 17 before they had even finished high school. Without proper training and coerced with lies and deception, they found themselves in the war zone in the south. He estimated that over 600 young men died during his 10-month ordeal in the south in 1997, many of disease, others from bullets. Most of them had no idea what they were fighting for and some of them lost their sanity. After his experience he ended up developing an all-encompassing hatred for the regime in Khartoum and he wrote: "My hatred for this government, after my return from South Sudan, has increased. If you add up all the hatred in the entire universe, it is not enough; it will be a tiny part of how I feel towards this criminal government which did not observe any humanitarian, ethical or religious standards. They did anything just to save themselves."
I hope this translation helps many people for whom Arabic is not their first language, to be able to access this talented young man’s story about the wars of Sudan. In the novel "The Kindly Ones", the narrator, a former Nazi officer, describes his involvement in the war, stating that “atrocities were a function of being in the wrong place at the wrong time”. Meanwhile, the killing machine in Sudan continues. On 19 May 2012, the governor of Khartoum announced that 5,000 young men (martyrs, as he calls them) from the state of Khartoum alone, had died in the recent conflict in South Kordofan, Blue Nile, and with South Sudan in Haglig. By all accounts this very large number may only be half the actual figure, let alone those from the other side who also died. For how long should this killing machine continue?
The recent Haglig crisis with South Sudan, however, has exposed to the world the low moral standards of the ruling party in Sudan and shown its true character to be mean, bitter and vindictive. President Al Bashir outperformed the rest with his rhetoric and customary dance. One of his favorite songs is a traditional Sudanese one whose lyrics go something like this: “They entered [the battlefield] and the vultures fly [over the enemy’s dead bodies]”. The words try to describe the horrible death of the enemy and how their bodies are left for the vultures to rip to pieces. The song conjures up a disturbing image and seems suitable for someone indicted of genocide and war crimes for killing his own people. His victims are young people like Hisham Abass.
Below you will find his heartfelt story which started from a training in Camp in Northern State near Dongla and ended up in Equatoria state in South Sudan.
My memories of Southern Sudan – when killing becomes methodology.
By Hisham Abass
Every time I’ve thought of writing on this subject there was something that prevented me from doing so. I don’t know what it is, but it might be some of the painful memories that are still agonizing to write about. But I trust in the living God.
Mandatory military service, or as the regime people call it, the National Service. It is a duty which is imposed on every citizen because it is an obligation to the nation, as long as the person does not carry any legal obstacles that prevent him/her participating. But this is the question – is what we have done or what we have been forced to do, a service to the nation? Was it our duty to do these things? My answer is simply, “No, a thousand times no!”.
Fighting for the sake of a party cannot be said to be in defense of the country. Fighting for a specific ideology cannot be in the service of the nation. Especially if you’re opposed to this party and against its ideas. The biggest tragedy is, how can the killing of citizens of your own country and who hold the same nationality, be called defending the country. Do the ideas of Ingaz (the National Congress Party regime since 1989) about the South and religion, which they defame, deserve dying and killing for while in the process the finest young people from both sides perish? It does not matter to the people of Ingaz, they are deaf.
Most importantly they told us that doing the National Service was the only way to enter the universities. A group of bright young people left education to escape from the hell of National Service, others joined against their will and despite their beliefs, I am from the last group.
I will write about what I saw, all the things that are insulting to our humanity and repulsive, things that will turn young boys into old men. I will write about the God heaven on earth, the land of south Sudan which was, however, burned by the devil. But I will start from the beginning.
The training camp
It all began in the summer of 1997 in Dongola, the capital of Northern state. To be more specific, in the East of Dongola in area named Al Kasora. It seems that he who first inhabited the place and named it Kassora (break) did not do so haphazardly, but deliberately, maybe hoping to break our hopes towards a better nation of tomorrow – this is the least he has done.
The place is a large sandy area so that even the camel, called the ship of the desert, could sink in a heap of sand if it is walking on eight legs, let alone four. On its west side it surrounded by a farm whose owner has worked hard to resist nature, but the sand is determined to swallow all his plants. In desperation, many parts of the farm have been abandoned. From the south, if you have a clear view you can see the town of Karima, or you will only see a mirage. From the east it is surrounded by the unknown. My friend told me sarcastically; it seems that the end of the universe is in this direction. In the north side, you could travel for a long distance that will weaken your horses, you reach the first village, which appears to be neglected and abandoned. It is as if most of the people who once lived there have left, angered by the harsh nature of this place.
In that direction, to the north, they built wards (a training camp) from the trunks of palm trees. Those who built them did not care whether the roofs protected against the heat of the sun, cold or dust, because those who inhabit the wards are not princes, ministers, or managers. They are just students who do not deserve anything humane. The people in the area called it “The Kasora training camp”. Maybe someone will say this is a training camp for a real army, but we are not soldiers, we are only teenage students. No one should ask what we eat and how we wash ourselves. I will not tell you about how they treated us and the torture we received. Three months later the horrible period has passed and they claim that we have completed our training, the late Vice President Al Zobier Mohammed Saleh attended the ceremony. What happened after that was horrifying, but I will tell you anyway.
The Road to Hell
They say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions and although we were naive at the time, our destination, hell, was predictable. After graduation we stood for hours under the blazing sun listening to nonsense speeches from people whose voices made you feel sick, let alone theirs ideas. Then we went to the Kasora training camp to collect our belongings, with joy in our faces; finally the journey of insults and humiliation had ended. But it seems that we were very naive. We found more than fifty large trucks waiting for us. We looked at each other, bewildered, and each one of us had a thousand questions and the most important one was – WHY?
They told us that we were assigned to go to Khartoum to guard the Army General Command, the airport and other facilities, and they wanted us to leave for Khartoum now. At that time we had not seen our families for almost three months. We were exhausted and tired as we had been standing the whole day for the ceremony, but we were told to board the old battered trucks. All our questions went unanswered.
We were a group from Kerma, a small town in Northern state, and I am not telling you a secret but despite the anxiety and uncertainty of this trip, there was one thing that reduced our tension, the fact that we would see Khartoum! Yes, do not be surprised. Most of my group, including myself, had not seen what is called the National Capital. There was a desire inside each of us to visit the Capital one day. Our lucky friends, as we called them, the well-off ones who visited Khartoum, came back and told us stories stranger than fiction. Then, it was like dream for us. We did not believe that electricity was connected to all the houses without having to hear the roar and rumble of electric generators. More bizarrely, they were telling us that if you press a button on the wall it will turn lights on, push another and it will magically switch them off. It was magic we did not understood. But what attracted me personally were those tall buildings that did not fall, although they were put on top of each other. Also, the animal zoo and the Friendship Hall. One of my friends who visited Khartoum swore on his mother’s grave that girls were driving cars in Khartoum!! All these images caused us to dream of visiting this Khartoum and made us forget our worries.
Meanwhile, a group of officers and non-commissioned officers stood behind us, armed with sticks and whips. Because some people refused to board the trucks they started to whip us on our backs, which caused commotion and everyone hurried up out of fear, as one stroke may cause a disability for life. I boarded one big truck quickly to escape the beatings and threw myself inside, but I heard a voice cursing religion and cursing my mother. I am not worried about religion, there is God to protect it, but I responded to his insults to my mother. But then I realized I had made a mistake, so I fell on top of the people who were in there before me.
We took our places inside the empty truck. They did not care to even put down some blankets or sheets to protect us from the hot metal at the back of the truck, considering the long journey, some 500 kilometers between Dongala and Khartoum. Then they filled the truck as much as they could so we were forced to sit on top of each other. At the time there was no paved road and the road to Khartoum was like the road to hell.
The truck moved, starting the clock ticking on the worst time in my life. The driver, as if he was carrying a load of rubbish, never touched the brakes as he raced up and down the mountains of sand with maximum speed. Do not ask how we were doing at the back. Have you seen how sardines or tuna fish caught? We were just like that. We had moved from Dongola after sunset and during the night we were all just like sardines. You only heard the groans of pain around you. If you tried to fall asleep you shouldn’t do it, because someone would drop on you with his full weight. In the morning our suffering continued. Then the heat intensified and we sweated and stank, a stench was all over the place. They were determined that the vehicle should not stop for fear that some of us might escape. Then they said it was breakfast time. With the vehicle still moving, they threw us some Tahini halva and water from a truck beside us. Suffering from the heat of the sun, we started to eat and drink while beneath us, on the hot metal sheet, the water was boiling the Tahini halva as if it was grilled on embers. One hour had passed and the diarrhea started, which could not be controlled because of the violent movement of the vehicle. The truck became like a stinking toilet. Of course, they did not pay any attention to our screams.
To be continued,
The author is a Sudan Tribune journalist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org