The Nuba Vision

Volume 1, Issue 1, June 2001

By Julie Flint

On 10 April, Commander Yousif Kuwa Mekke, the man who led the Nuba's struggle for survival for 16 years, was buried in a secret location in the Nuba mountains with a 21-gun salute and a pledge to uphold the principles of fairness and justice that informed his life. He was dressed as he liked to be dressed in the mountains - in unadorned military uniform, with nothing to set him apart from the men under his command.

An honour guard of 120 soldiers stood with their heads bowed as the coffin was lowered into a deep grave, constructed so as to enable the coffin to be moved should government forces ever threaten its safety. Many of Yousif's friends and colleagues as well as thousands of ordinary Nuba stood in silence as his chosen successor, Cdr. Abdel Aziz Adam el-Hilo, paid a final tribute.

"We know the weight of the responsibility you have left on our shoulders," he said. "We pledge our word to you and in front of the people of the Nuba mountains that we shall continue your role and always be loyal to you and the ideals you have left to us."

The respect which Yousif enjoyed outside the ranks of the SPLA was summed up by Gordon Wagner, a veteran American air worker. "He was the embodiment of what I understand by the New Sudan," Wagner said: "Kind, charitable, forgiving, honest."

The ceremony in the Nuba mountains was the culmination of a long journey that began in the English cathedral town of Norwich, where Yousif died on 31 March aged only 55. Prayers and a short interdenominational memorial at Regent's Park Mosque in London were followed by a commemoration in Nairobi organised by the SPLA. Then the coffin was flown to southern Sudan - first for a private meeting between Yousif's family and SPLA Chairman John Garang, and then for a brief ceremony in Yei presided over by Cdr. Salva Kiir.

The six-mile road between the airstrip and Yei town was lined by thousands of villagers, many of them holding tiny bunches of flowers - sometimes even a single flower. SPLA Cdr. Pagan Amoum said it was "the biggest display of flowers I have seen in my life... the biggest demonstration ever in the SPLA/M area... a statement by the ordinary people." Yousif was well-loved by southerners for his work as chairman of the Chukudum conference. This conference gave southerners the hope of a civil administration similar to that already established by the Nuba - beginning in 1992 with the formation of an Advisory Council or parliament.

Within days of Yousif's death, Cdr. El-Hilo called the Advisory Council into session. "People managed to come in two days, even from the Western jebels," he said. "Two of the women present said: 'Yousif is the one who brought us out from the caves. He opened the door for us to express ourselves. He freed us.' People wept. There was a proposal to continue the struggle and it was voted unanimously. People are determined. They are still committed."