Home | Comment & Analysis    Saturday 7 July 2012

The Nuba Crisis in South Kordofan State of Sudan


By Dr. Omer M Shurkian


It has been hypothesised that the Nuba people in South Kordofan State, the Sudan, besides other population of what used to be referred to as ‘Closed Districts’ in 1922, have been subjected to both ‘historical and contemporary injustices’. The epoch of this ‘historic marginalisation and injustices’ has so long a range, covering both pre- and post-independence Sudan. The ‘contemporary injustices’, on the other hand, started with the ushering in of nationalist regimes; it is still continuing inescapably to this very day, and generating open expressions of dissent. Against this backdrop, various attempts were made by the Nuba activists to change the situation, but these efforts have gone unheeded due to the stubbornness of the authorities. It is worth noting that race has been a determining factor in politics and policies of Sudan, as elsewhere, when ethnicity plays a great role in political conflicts. In the Sudan, politics can be a highly sensitive or emotive issue; and the peculiar problem of it is that it gives people a warped image of themselves as being sorted by race. This is a compellingly starting point for the study of some of events accumulated – and defined by race - to force the Nuba to take to armed struggle after exhausting all peaceful means, including political campaigning by their own pressure groups.

The Land and the People

The Nuba tribes are scattered all over what is known today as the Nuba Mountains in Southern Kordofan, the Sudan. Barbour presented a detailed physical description of the Nuba Mountains. Although the main concentration of Nuba communities is in Southern Kordofan, there are colonies of people of related and cognate origin inhabiting rocky hills in Northern Kordofan – namely, Jebel Haraza, Katul and Kaja hills, Um Durraq and Abu Hadid. But these are aborigines with a difference. They had assimilated the surrounding Arab culture; had long been Islamised and clothed; and to the casual eye were not very markedly different from communities of sedentary Arabs. Midob and Birgid in Dar Fur are also linked to Nuba ethnicity. Given the affinities between the riparian Nubians in Northern Sudan, Nubian elements in Dar Fur and the hill people of Nuba Mountains, this linkage forms Robin Thelwall Nubian Triangle with corners at Wadi Halfa, the Nuba Mountains and Dar Fur within the Sudan.

The name Kordofan itself has a Nuba origin. It is believed to have evolved from the name of a certain Nuba king whose name was Kalad; when he was increasingly irritated, his subjects would say: ‘Kalad far,’ meaning in Arabic Kalad was boiling or fuming with anger. The phrase was corrupted through years to become Kordofan. South Kordofan State used to be called the Nuba Mountains Province during the Anglo-Egyptian Rule in the Sudan (1898-1956) with its capital at Talodi. But due to a number of reasons, it was merged with Kordofan Province in 1927. During the tenure of ex-President Ja’afar Mohamed Nimeiri (1969-1985), it was restored under the name of South Kordofan Province with its capital at Kadugli, but when the current Bashir’s regime increased the number of states in the Sudan to 26, West Kordofan State was created out of South Kordofan State. In the ever-changing process of demarcation, South Kordofan lost a number of territories to North Kordofan – such as, Jebel al-Da’ir and Hugeirat, as it was made to cede Kaka trading outpost on the White Nile. These territories were at the centre of peace talks between the SPLM and Sudan Government in Kenya in 2004, and were settled by restoring West Kordofan State to South Kordofan as a compromise. These issues, among other things, would have been raised by the Nuba during the never-happened ‘Popular Consultation’.

The Root Causes of Conflict

As it has been widely publicised, land tenure has been recognised as a major source of conflict in the Nuba Mountains. This had all started in the 1960s when the Mechanised Farming was introduced in the area, infringing on the tentative relations of the population structure – economically as well as socially. In 1968, the Mechanised Farming was established as a result of funding by the International Monetary Fund to oversee this scheme in the different parts of the Nuba Mountains. Numbering nearly 650 schemes and with the average area of 422 hectares, these plots were licensed to absentee landlords after forcibly confiscating them from their local owners. Established in 1970, the Nuba Mountains Development Corporation was meant to modernise the traditional methods of cultivation in the Nuba Mountains. This policy had earmarked 37% of agrarian land to the Nuba, 45% to Arab tribes and 18 % to Fellata Housa and Bergo. At Habila alone, there are 200 projects which were distributed as follows: 191 for individuals outside the Nuba Mountains region, including traders, civil servants, retired army officers from Northern Sudan and Gezira; 4 co-operative projects for native residents. Some of the provocations generated by the policies of the authorities included the imprisonment of Mak Hussein al-Iheimer of Dallami Rural District in 1978, because he refused to surrender the natives’ lands to the Mechanised Farming Schemes, which belonged to Jellaba (petty Arab merchant) traders. In 1981, the village of Fayo in Dallami Rural District was encircled by Mechanised Farming Schemes, which were owned by a certain, Jellaba trader, who never bothered himself to visit the area. By 1984, all the villagers’ lands became his dominion, but when the natives protested, law and force were used to chase them away from the zone of agricultural schemes. The Nuba were outraged to see their kith and kin being flogged in controversial courts favouring Arabs, the authorities and bureaucrats.

In the early 1992, the authorities in South Kordofan State announced that they had laid their hands on serious corruption regarding land leases in the state, and, consequently, 712 agricultural schemes were confiscated at Kurtala, Habila, Rashad and Abu Jibeiha. These confiscations were carried out on allegations that the lands were leased to under-age owners, and others were either illegally sold or rented. But, in fact, these lands were redistributed to militia leaders and Arab chiefs as a reward for their participation in military operations against the rebel SPLA. Perhaps the most hopeful aspect of all that in the South Kordofan State Protocol of 2004 is the creation of Land Commission to arbitrate in disputes, with power to reverse illegal acquisitions.

The conflict was also exacerbated by the farmers-cum-herders dispute. This was seen as another major root cause of conflict in the Nuba Mountains. The dwindling of rainfall in Western Sudan since 1967 to less than the annual average, and the movement of nomadic Arab herdsmen into the rich pastures of the Nuba Mountains all added to the crisis. Later on, these Arabs formed the backbone of Government-aided militia – namely, Murahaleen – which were transformed into Popular Defence Forces (PDF). They were trained, armed and supported by successive governments in Khartoum since the outbreak of civil strife in the Sudan in 1983, leaving the Nuba extremely victimised. All these policies gave the Arabs in the area both political and military leverage at the expense of the Nuba, thus tilting the balance of power.

As the main beneficiaries from oil production appear to be the Sudanese Government and the Chinese investors, the oil industry in the Sudan is not a sustainable development project, since it has not created the much-needed jobs for the local inhabitants. No investments are made in social programmes, healthcare, education, basic services and the enhancement of cultural heritage, among others. The consequences and the socio-environmental impacts of oil investment has never been identified nor carefully evaluated, as the consultation of indigenous peoples on issues that affect them, as a result of oil production, should have been faithfully conducted. A proposal to include a set of mitigating and compensatory measures deemed necessary, especially for those whose lands or houses were destroyed in the process of constructing oil pipeline, was not materialised.

Chief among these root causes of bloody dispute in the Nuba Mountains lie the questions of power- and wealth-sharing in which the Nuba perceive themselves as being marginalised in key Government positions, denied access to economic development, deprived of opportunities to promote their indigenous culture and nurture their vernacular languages, and forced to adopt the de facto Arabo-Islamic identity. These volatile issues led to intense civil war, grave human rights violations by central regimes and recurring famines until the Nuba Mountains Ceasefire Agreement was signed between the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) and the Sudan Government in Switzerland in January 2002. It was a humanitarian agreement to allow relief supplies to reach the war-stricken Nuba people, who had been denied access to humanitarian relief since the start of civil war in the area in mid-1980s. However, the agreement paved the way for serious peace talks between the two warring parties – that is, the SPLM/A and the Sudan Government. Based on the Declaration of Principles, which was signed in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, in May 1994, the Naivasha Protocol was signed in Kenya in July 2002, giving hope for peace and stability in a county shattered by over two decades of a protracted conflict.

On January 9, 2005, the SPLM/A signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) with the Sudan Government in Nairobi, Kenya, ending the 22-year-old hostilities between the two parties. The CPA included, as part and parcel, South Kordofan and Blue Nile Protocol to solve the conflict in these two areas. Among its articles, there existed what was called the ‘Popular Consultation’, which was, in fact, a diluted form of ‘self-determination’, whereby the political, administrative and constitutional future of these two states could be determined. From the outset, the Khartoum Government, worked very hard to derail the protocol, judging by creating insecure situation in South Kordofan State in order to impede the return of internally displaced persons, failed to remove landmines from fields, including agrarian lands, scuttled Land Commission, refused to return the confiscated fertile lands to its Nuba owners, armed Arab militia, rigged the gubernatorial elections and finally attempted to disarm the SPLA soldiers by force in an infringement of the CPA modalities, which stated that the disarmament of ex-fighters should be carried out after 90 days from the end of the Transitional Period.

As a war-affected region, South Kordofan State has hardly seen any development project in terms of healthcare, education, infrastructure, rehabilitation and training of former SPLA fighters. For electioneering purposes, the Khartoum Government embarked on building some roads, but the Nuba were not fooled by this too little too late an effort. Thus, the Khartoum Government used all recourses in its disposal – that is, human and economic – to sabotage the protocol, rendering it functionless at the end of the day. More importantly, South Kordofan State contains ¼ of Sudan’s oil production, and the Sudanese authorities, under the ruling NCP, are unwilling to let it be administered by its rival, the SPLM, especially after the secession of the South in July 2011. This was the real cause of forging the state elections in May 2011 in favour of the NCP candidate as a state Governor – that is, Ahmed Mohamed Haroun, who is indicted by the International Criminal Court.

The Current Crisis

On June 6, 2011, heavy fighting broke out between the SPLA and Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) in Kadugli, the state capital of South Kordofan, as well as in some outlying towns and villages. Since then the area has seen a worrying escalation of violence where the civilian population are currently subjected to a systematic campaign of aerial bombardment, artillery shelling, extra-judicial executions, arbitrary detention and forcible expulsion from their homeland. The Sudan Government is openly planning, implementing and sustaining this campaign, resulting in immense human suffering, wide displacement, large-scale looting and the destruction of lives and material properties. On June 11, 2011, Southern Kordofan Conflict and Displaced Persons Map showed that 40,000 people were estimated to have fled Kadugli, 6,000 were internally displaced in and near Kadugli, 3,000 in Dallami, 2,500 in Abu Kershola, 10,000 in Abu Jibeiha, 3,000 in Kurchi and 5,000 in Talodi.

The population of Um Dorein, Dilling town and a number of villages in areas surrounding Kadugli have also fled their homes. Many people are forced to leave their homes so rapidly that they have little in the way of food, shelter or basic provisions. Access to food, water and medical treatment even for those injured in the clashes is impossible. The internally displaced persons who have taken shelter at the UN compound in the vicinity of Kadugli Airport are not safe either. Some of them have been snatched by security personnel and killed. The UN should be able to protect civilians and provide humanitarian support. The same security forces are spreading rumours that some of the displaced may be carrying weapons. Under such a pretext, the security forces in Darfur launched an attack against Kalma refugee camp in August 2010, killing innocent civilians and wreaking havoc on survivors. In fact, a Nuba wielding a weapon cannot run away; they will stand their ground and fight, be they a man or woman. An eyewitness is quoted as saying:

We are still in the UN compound at Kadugli. Be informed that the situation is worse here. That everyone has no access to water or food. My contacts with our brothers in the battlefield are zero due to lack of power in their cell phones, maybe. Several of our comrades are killed randomly, particularly those who are civilians. The PDF [Popular Defence Forces] are controlling the road from the front of [Kadugli] Airport along the way to Dilling. All Nuba are wanted, no investigation, only kill[ing] on the roadside; you can see several dead bodies along the roadside only of Nuba people. The PDF are given [a free] hand on this matter. Please, forward [it] to as many as possible; let them know about this situation.

There is a litany of events which has driven both parties – that is, the SPLM and the National Congress Party (NCP) – to the current crisis, including fiddling with population census in 2008, gerrymandering and the irregularities of electoral register books. On April 13, 2011, between 300 and 500 houses in the town of al-Feid Um Abdalla – the hometown of ‘Abd al-‘Aziz Adam al-Hilu, Deputy Governor of South Kordofan State – was razed to the ground by the PDF, killing more than 20 people, including women and children. Some of the victims were gruesomely burnt. The state elections for electing a gubernatorial Legislative Council and a governor of South Kordofan State have been rigged by the National Elections Commission in order to deprive the Nuba people of their right to exercise the Popular Consultation, which is an inextricable part of South Kordofan/Blue Nile State Protocol, signed in May 2004. On June 1, 2011, the Sudan Government took a unilateral decision to increase the number of troops in South Kordofan State, replenished their logistics and attempted to disarm the SPLA without co-ordination with the Joint Defence Board: a move which was an infringement on the Security Arrangements Agreement, as signed in September 2003 between the two parties. This sounded the death-knell of the fragile relations, which existed between the two parties. Against this backdrop, fighting started in Um Dorein and spread to include Kadugli and other parts of the Nuba Mountains.

What is Required Now?

Like a number of human rights campaigners, the author of this tract has written to the US Ambassador to the UN, Honourable Susan E Rice, requesting her to call upon the UN Security Council to:
salvage the humanitarian situation in the Nuba Mountains by forcing the Sudan Government to halt all military operations, including aerial bombardment, artillery shelling, combat missions and the reinforcement of troops in the state;

force the Sudan Government to grant an unhindered access to the state to both local and international NGOs to deliver relief supplies to the needy;
form an investigation committee to probe into the summary executions, disappearances and other forms of gross violations of human rights in order to uphold the international law and the pursuance of justice;

embark on a concerted effort to reach a durable, political solution to this renewed conflict in the state through looking into the post-secession future of Sudan whereby new modalities for the co-existence of all marginalised people of Sudan could participate fully and equally in power- and wealth-sharing.

In the name of humanity, justice, dignity, morality and human rights, the author has appealed to the US Government and the UN Security Council members to rescue the Nuba people and, now, the people of Blue Nile State from these appalling situations and imminent extermination in South Kordofan State by the Sudan Government. They are looking for the ‘international community’ for survival and justice. They were failed before by the UN in the past civil war (1983-2005). Will they be failed again?

Omer M Shurkian, BSc (Hons), MPhil, PhD is a Sudanese scholar and researcher from the Nuba Mountains. He can be reached at: shurkiano@yahoo.co.uk

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  • 7 July 2012 07:07, by zulu

    I applaud you for this impressive article. It has made a good read politically and morally. I agree with you as I might add that Sudanese political leaders have not netted out exactly how good governance can be an enduring political asset for Sudan’s longivity. The insistance on military basis as the only political response to sudan’s unity has proven the contrast and is absur.

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    • 7 July 2012 07:18, by zulu

      South Sudan as it was part of the Sudan felt the exact attitude of neglect and imposition of political idealogy which was not consensual but a sanctimonious attitude which is just a demise in itself. The transition must occur at a high price because half a centuary of a narrow political discourse is not easy to overcome.

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  • 7 July 2012 08:58, by Ayman fadul

    The question that poses itself is that why these whole lot of silence and ignorance by the international community towards the recurrent upheaval in southern Kordofan ? i could only think that dim Media coverage for such atrocities there may diluted the impact and makes it of no match for the Syrian strife, yet that is not an excuse! this had exceeded it what we could call a conspiracy of silence

    repondre message

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