Nuba Mountains Democratic Forum
The Prospect for Peace and Sustainable Development in the Nuba Mountains.
A paper presented on 3rd March 2007 at the conference titled “Professional Young Sudanese Women and their Role in the Future of Their Country”, held at St. Anthony’s College, Oxford University.
By Shaza Suleiman Rahhal
Ladies and gentlemen
It gives me great pleasure to address this humble gathering on behalf of Nuba Mountains Democratic Forum.
I take the opportunity to thank Dr Ahmed Al-Shahi and the organizers for organizing this import conference on Sudan.
The title of the paper which I am going to present is called “The Prospect for Peace and Sustainable Development in the Nuba Mountains”.
As an introduction, the Nuba Mountains region is in the geographical centre of the Sudan, occupying an area approximately 30,000 square miles, roughly the size of Scotland. During the British rule in Sudan (1896-1956) the region was under “Close District Administration” which was a separate province known as “Nuba Mountains Province” with its capital in Talodi until 1929 when it was amalgamated to Kordufan to form a Greater Kordufan Province But in 1974 during President Neumeri the Greater Kordufan was divided into two states: Northern and Southern Kordufan, which is Nuba Mountains region.
The Nuba Mountains region is inhabited by population approximately over 2 millions and the indigenous Nuba people form the majority of the inhabitants and the rest are Baggara Arab tribes (cattle herders) and small minority of Jellaba and Fellata (people from west Africa.
The Nuba people possess extra ordinary rich and varied cultures and traditions. They have vibrant music and are famous in dancing, wrestling and body arts which have attracted many and body of ethnographers and cultural tourists. Their cultures have a tradition of tolerance and diversity which shows that they are truly African people, who are proud of their rich tradition and cultural heritage. The Late Professor Roland Stevenson, famous linguistic described them as “Vigorous hill people of good physique, independent of mind and strong in traditions and fighting quality”. These are the true characteristics of Nuba people. Stevenson in 1984 classified more than fifty Nuba languages and dialect clusters into ten separate groups, which means that there are more linguistic diversity within the Nuba Mountains.
The war how it started in the Nuba Mountains and root causes
For many generations the Nuba have shared their land with the nomadic Baggara Arab tribes who usually migrated through the area twice a year with their cattle. Although in the past the Nuba have suffered from the Arab raiding and slavery, however, during most of the early part of last century the two communities managed to resolve their dispute peacefully and they were able to live together side by side in relative peace, mutual trust and understanding. In the past disputes over land and water were resolved at annual conferences, which usually take place on a neutral ground.
However, the recent conflict in the Nuba Mountains cannot be separated from the long standing conflict in the wider Sudan. The Nuba throughout the history of Sudan have suffered from suppression, marginalisation, discrimination and exploitation from all governments that ruled Sudan since our independence in 1956. Under the present government and precedent scale of human rights violations mounted to ethnic cleansing a in absolute impunity. This is of course one of the reasons which has driven Nuba to take up armed struggle.
The underlying cause of the conflict in Nuba Mountains and in the other parts of the Sudan was the same. Many factors have contributed to fuel the long war of the Sudan. Among these factors are:
- Political and economic marginalisation (lack of power and wealth sharing)
- Ethnic and religious and cultural discrimination
- Dispossession of lands, traditions and customs
- Poor educational, political and economic opportunities since independence.
- Recent discover of oil in the region.
- The availability of modern weapons and the encouragement of the Arab tribes by state to invade Nuba Mountains and other areas.
The armed struggle:
The Nuba had to resort to armed struggle because of the above mentioned facts and imbalance. The area became central in the wider Sudan conflict when. Nuba fighters joined the SPLA in 1984, fighting with them side by side for more than eighteen years, liberating many areas in the South and in the Nuba Mountains. This means they are central to this conflict in many ways, as they hold the key to the vital question of land and resources, ethnic rights and religious tolerance. These are the core elements to the conflict in Sudan today which need to be redressed for the benefit of the whole country.
Nuba Mountains Cease-Fire Agreement
After the Nuba people became involved in the country’s civil conflict in 1985 on the side of the opposition, the present regime in Khartoum embarked on unprecedented scale of scorched earth policy against them. The area was sealed off and humanitarian agencies including the UN were denied access to the Nuba Mountains. During this period tenths of thousands of people were killed and many thousands were forcibly relocated and displaced. The upsurge human rights violations were reported by several international human rights organisations, including Amnesty international and also reports by Dr. Gaspar Biro, UN Special Rapporteur, on human rights in Sudan. These reports led to the intervention of international community which paid the way for the signing of Nuba Mountains Cease-Fire Agreement in Switzerland in 19th January 2002. The agreement was a milestone, as it stopped the aerial bombardments and the killing of innocent civilians. However, the Accord did not include a political solution for the Nuba Mountains. For the first time international observers were brought to Sudan to monitor this cease-fire agreement.
Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA)
On 9th January 2005 a bilateral Agreement was signed in Nairobi by two parties, namely National Congress Party which is the government and SPLA/M, which they call it a comprehensive peace agreement. This bilateral treaty cannot be called comprehensive peace settlement because many of the stakeholders in the Sudan have been excluded. One good positive aspect about Naivasha Agreement is that it stopped one of the longest war in Africa. However, there are many negative aspects in the agreement. Beside of exclusion of many of the oppositions, it has marginalized the regions which took up armed struggle such as Nuba Mountains, Southern Blue Nile, Beja and Darfur as well as the Northern and Southern political opposition parties. They were all alienated from the main provisions of power and wealth-sharing. This is one of the reasons that the implementation of the great is facing many problems not in the south alone but in the north as well. For the implementation to succeed, the two parties signed to the agreement should adopt a flexible approach and not to consolidate too much of power for themselves. They need to show commitment, sincerity and transparency to the people.
In this CPA the people of the Nuba Mountains have been marginalized politically, economically and socially. Their region has been denied substantive development for the past two years of the interim period. Furthermore, the people were denied their civil and political rights. Today the people of the Nuba Mountains are still undergoing their uphill struggle for survival. They are suffering from hunger, lack of water resources, widespread poverty, rampant diseases and lack of security in the region.
For the past two years the Nuba Mountains Democratic Forum has been assiduously and with great interest following the Naivasha Agreement since it was signed in Kenya. Its main focus was on the implementation of the agreement, particularly in the Nuba Mountains region. However, it appears that the implementation is undergoing serious problems there, despite the fact that the clauses in the agreement stipulated for Nuba Mountains were so few. This means that the CPA has failed to address the grievances, the aspirations and the demands of the people of Nuba Mountains and they continue to suffer like people of Darfur if they do not receive any support from the international community or the government. At the moment nothing as far as humanitarian assistance concerned is reaching the people.
The agreement is ambiguous as far the Nuba Mountains political settlement is concerned, despite the long struggle and great sacrifices and contribution made by the Nuba people. Nuba fought along side of SPLA in all fronts for more than 18 years and they gave the mandate to the SPLA leader to negotiate on their behalf at Naivasha peace talks. They demanded self-determination and full autonomy. However, the SPLA leadership compromised on the political rights of the Nuba people to get self-determination for Abyei. Ironically Abyei historically was part of the Nuba Mountains.
Currently, there is great competition between the National Congress Party and SPLM to gain the political support of the Nuba Mountains people. However, they are not keen to address the crucial issues affecting them. The two parties want to make the Nuba Mountains region a political battle ground as they did before the civil war. By so doing, they have weakened the people physically, morally, politically and socially, despite their immense contribution to bring about a comprehensive resolution to Sudan’s long lasting conflict.
Now it is two years since the Naivasha agreement was signed but there is no sustainable development taking place in the Nuba Mountains region and suffering of the people there is mounting. This has created frustration and burning resentment among the whole community. In fact, the appalling conditions and the general resentment had led to last week demonstrations by students of primary and secondary schools in Kadugli area, calling on the government to pay teachers their salaries, so that teachers can call-off their two-month strike and go back to teaching. The demonstrations started peacefully but later developed into violence and destruction of government properties, including ministry of finance, taxation department. Also many government cars were set on fire. Therefore, unless there is justice and sustainable development in the area there can be no lasting peace in the Nuba Mountains and in the entire country.
Peace and sustainable development in the Nuba Mountains
In my view the underling cause to the Sudan’s long conflict are complex factors which need to be addressed fully, particularly the issues of power and wealth-sharing and land which considered to be the core issues that led to this conflict. Unless these are resolved, the conflict in Sudan will continue here and there. Religion and ethnicity are not the main issues at the moment if we look at the Darfur and Beja conflict, which the demands are for power and wealth-sharing and land.
We must remember that a peaceful and democratic solution to Sudan’s conflict can only be achieved if there is a genuine and comprehensive settlement to the whole conflict in the country, which will recognise the rights of all the people of Sudan. Without a just and fair resolution to the Nuba Mountains and other marginalized areas in the Sudan there can be no peace in the Sudan, as peace cannot be built on injustice.
Therefore, firstly, you can never build peace in pieces. A workable peace can only be achieved if all the people of the Sudan (stakeholders) are to sit on the round table conference to hummer the issues that divide them in order to reach true comprehensive peace settlement for the country.
Secondly, the Naivasha agreement although it bought ceasefire and stopped the war, it has failed to bring about a solution to the other problems in Darfur and Western Sudan. This is because the government in order to consolidate on to power it gave itself 52%, whilst the SPLA received 28% and both parties do not form majority of the population in the Sudan. Therefore, in order to avoid the country sliding into more wars, it is important that Naivasha Agreement should be reopened to accommodate those who have been excluded.
Thirdly, the government should not use its inbuilt majority to pass bad legislations; particularly party legislations might affect the democratic process of the coming nation election which will determine the future of our country. Articles 18 and19 passed by Parliament few weeks ago should be re-examined, as it will deny many of the Sudanese politicians and parties to exercise their rights and participate in the coming elections.
Fourthly, Sudanese women should have bigger say in shaping the future of their country, as they form the majority. It is now high time that the Sudanese women should be given the chance to become involved and play a major role in any future peace process and the development of the country.
Lastly, any country’s greatest assets in a global economy need to invest in the education of its people. Therefore if the people of the Nuba Mountains are to position themselves in the rapidly changing demands of the global economy, they need to also focus on education to empower and build their capacity.
There are many Nuba people dispersed around the globe who can of great benefit to the Nuba Mountains. Many of them have acquired higher education in the west and can bring a great deal of knowledge and experience to help develop the region and the country. In order for this to happen, there should be special provisions to accommodate these of higher caliber.
Any peace for the Sudan will require that all the parties should be engaged in the peace process leading to a just and lasting peace for the Sudan.
The future of a peaceful and united Sudan will depend solely on the implementation of Naivasha peace agreement and finding a just settlement to Darfur issue. The two parties signed to the treaty need to commit to implementation of the agreement. There are still many difficult issues need to be resolved such as Abyei and demarcation and many more.
The political future of the Nuba remains at stake. At the moment the Nuba do not have the right to self-determination and they have what is so called “Popular Consultations” which is meaningless. It does not lead to self-determination or anywhere. If the people of the Southern Sudan opt for independence Southern State at the referendum, the future of the Nuba will become uncertain. There is fear that if the South separates, the Nuba Mountains region will undergo serious problems, as there are some Nuba in the SPLM who would like to go with the South. Therefore, the prospect of peace and sustainable development in the Nuba Mountains will only be achieve if there is genuine intervention to improve the situation under a real new democratic secular Sudan, which will embrace all its citizens without discrimination and marginalisation.