After years of neglect from the international community and being isolated from the outside world, the Nuba people have every right to express their joy at the cessation of hostilities and the arrival of humanitarian assistance. However, some Nuba, myself among them, are still cautious about the whole episode and argue that as long as there is no political settlement that leads to a permanent and lasting peace we shouldn’t be carried away by optimism over a temporary cease fire. Any breach of the agreement by either side might lead us back to square one. A single bullet from either side is quite enough to re-ignite the war.
To me, the Nuba issue has become more complicated than ever, especially after the signing of the Machakos Protocol in July’s negotiations. The Protocol totally ignored the Nuba Mountains or any of the other marginalized areas of the Sudan that have been fighting alongside the Movement. Here a legitimate question arises: How can the war be stopped and peace achieved while factions key to the conflict have been set aside from negotiations and are not even mentioned in the Protocol?’ This question is addressed to the mediators and the signatories to the Protocol - the Khartoum government and the SPLA.
This situation does not really serve our cause and has come at a time when we Nuba are in a total disarray and haven’t got a common vision towards our cause. This means that the door is now wide-open for others to decide our future on our behalf. Our main problem is that our politicians are not well prepared and lack vision. They only wait for events to occur and then react. Nuba politicians, intellectuals and members of civil society, regardless of their political differences, have a huge role to play. They should organize our people and unite them to prepare to face the crucial events unfolding. They also must be present at any forthcoming negotiations concerning the future of the region and the country as a whole.
The negotiations that led to the Machakos Protocol didn’t feature the issue of the Nuba, highlighting clearly that there is no agreed plan for the Nuba Mountains. While some mediators speak unofficially of a ‘special provision’ for the area, the Alliance of the Nuba Mountains Parties demanded that it should remain an independent entity during the interim period under the trusteeship of the United Nations.
In a letter addressed to Lazarus Sumbaeiywo, Kenya’s peace envoy, on 5 August, the Alliance was ‘extremely concerned about the Nuba Mountains’ future, because the issue of the Nuba Mountains as well as the marginalized areas in Northern Sudan was not mentioned in the agreement.’ The letter went on to say: ‘the Machakos protocol referred only to north and south with no reference at all to the Nuba Mountains as if Nuba Mountains is part and parcel of either south or north’. The Alliance also demanded that the Nuba people should have the same right as the southern Sudanese to determine their political future in a referendum.
Although the Alliance letter raises some concerns and speaks loudly about the worries that haunt the silent majority of the Nuba people, others might not take it seriously and see it as the view of a minority which doesn’t represent the voice of all the Nuba. Some might not have heard about this alliance before. But the reality is that Nuba do need a broad alliance that represents the whole spectrum of political opinion in the Mountains and no one should be excluded. This should have the consensus of the all communities and convene a conference to discuss the Nuba issue and decide the best options for all our people. By doing this the alliance will gain credibility and the green light to voice our concerns and safeguard our interests.
Another letter, from the Civil Society Organizations in the SPLA controlled areas in Nuba Mountains was sent to Sumbaeiywo demanding that the Nuba Mountains should be part of the Southern state. Claiming: ‘the Nuba cannot live in harmony with the people of the North, and that the political future of the Nuba is inextricably linked to that of the people of Southern Sudan, Southern Blue Nile and Abyei in one Southern state that is secular, democratic and federated. Any attempts to de-link the Nuba from that of the South would run the risk of jeopardizing the whole peace process in the Sudan.’ The letter went on to argue that this position had recently been unambiguously endorsed by the recent meeting of the Nuba Regional Congress in the Mountains last June where over 1000 people participated.
This letter might express the views of the Nuba in the SPLA controlled areas, but doesn’t represent the views of the majority of the Nuba who live outside those areas. It indicates clearly how different our views are when it comes to the political future of the Nuba Mountains, as each group sees the issue from their own angle and gives themselves the right to speak on behalf of the s in the region.
In addition to these two letters there many other statements issued from different Nuba communities and organizations in reaction to Machakos, including a statement from the Nuba community in the US and another from the Union of Nuba Students in Sudan. All these statements reflect a genuine Nuba view, but don’t represent the majority of the Nuba and, above all, they are not united under one demand, which makes it difficult for the mediators to know what we Nuba exactly want.
The issues of the Nuba and the boundaries of the South were the real reasons that the government delegation withdrew from the second phase of the peace negotiations, not the seizure of Torit by the SPLA as it was claimed. The fact of the matter is that each party wants to claim the Nuba Mountains as its own. We should ask: Have we been consulted about our future, and which part of the divided Sudan do we want to join? Why are we not allowed to decide our future and why do we allow outsiders to act like our guardians? So many questions but still no answer, because simply we are not united and we haven’t got a common vision towards our cause.
The views of the Nuba are varied when it comes to the choice between the Northern and Southern states if the South chooses to secede after the interim period. While the majority of Nuba totally reject being part of Northern state (which they see as a replica of the old Sudan, where the Nuba experienced all forms of injustice, intolerance and authoritarianism) many don’t want to be part of the Southern State either. Their argument is that the South has its own factional and tribal problems and that the warring factions in the South have been fighting each other more vigorously than fighting the common enemy, the Sudan government.
So, on what terms are we the Nuba, with all our diversity, going to join the South? Is it as an independent entity or as a part and parcel of a South already dominated by tribalism and antagonism? Other, more pessimistic voices, believe that even being independent from both North and South will not bring peace to the region, as the two would-be states will never leave us alone and that the Nuba Mountains is going to be another Kashmir, sandwiched between two giants continuously meddling to promote their own interests.
Each argument has an element of truth to it, and we must admit that the Nuba have every right to voice their concerns and worries when it comes to their future. Because if we don’t discuss these issues openly now we will not be able to find proper solutions in the future. That’s why a conference for all the Nuba to discuss these issues and come out with a united voice is essential now, before it’s too late.
I personally believe that the best choice for the Nuba is a united secular and democratic Sudan that acknowledges our diversity and tolerates our differences, as the Nuba are unionist by nature and can play a huge role in unifying the country. But if things go beyond my preferred choice, we Nuba will have to face other, harder choices. We will need a referendum to decide our future – and our decision will have to be respected.