While the peace process is moving steadily in Machakos to end the North/South conflict, the issue of the "marginalised areas"- the Nuba Mountains and southern Blue Nile - still constitutes a major problem which posses a serious dilemma for IGAD. If the issue of these contested areas is not resolved it could jeopardise the entire peace process.

The centrality of the Nuba to the conflict and the fighting in all fronts is apparent and cannot be ignored or separated from the whole peace settlement. Therefore, their political rights should not be compromised in order to reach peace settlement.

Towards the end of November and the beginning of December 2002, two Nuba conferences were held at two different locations. One conference was held in Kampala, Uganda between 21-24 November 2002 and the other held in Kauda in the Nuba Mountains between 2-5 December 2002 ( for details see page 6 and 11 of this issue).

The seminar in Kampala, the Nuba Mountains and Southern Blue Nile Forum was organised by Justice Africa and hosted by the Pan Africa Movement, under the theme of "working together for a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in Sudan". The seminar was attended by some forty participants representing a very wide section of civil society organisations, political parties and civil society leaders from Nuba Mountains and Southern Blue Nile regions, in addition to representatives from the Government controlled areas. There were also representatives from IGAD, Joint Military Commission (JMC) and other observers. The civil society organisations from the SPLA controlled areas in Nuba Mountains and Southern Blue Nile were invited to the seminar but unfortunately they declined to participate, which was a major disappointment.

In our view the Kampala seminar was a mile stone as it was the first time that the two regions met under one roof to debate their future in Sudan. The participants from these two regions were people of high calibre and committed to peace.

The seminar covered a wide range of issues, including discussion on IGAD Forum, power sharing, constitutional principles, religion and state, the right of self-determination, the boundaries of the two regions, the security arrangements and the role of civil society in the peace process. It is important to mention that there were some differences of opinion on some of the issues. However, unanimous agreements were reached in many of these issues and constructive resolutions were produced (see page 6). The two most important resolutions made were:

1. Participants unanimously recognised IGAD as the most suitable forum for discussing the issues of the Nuba Mountains and Southern Blue Nile regions.

2. Participants expressed their will to safeguard the unity of Sudan as the priority, and therefore they should work for the preservation of unity based on new principles including equality, justice and respect for basic human rights.

The All Nuba Conference was held at Kauda and organised by the SPLM. The conference was attended by 390 Nuba participants. 160 delegates including the three leaders of the Nuba Mountains Alliance Party came from the Government controlled areas, 15 delegates came from Diaspora and the rest of 185 delegates came from the SPLA - Nuba controlled areas.

In addition, the SPLM/A Chairman, Dr. John Garang de Mabior and other SPLA leading figures also attended the conference as well as some international observers, donors and NGO representatives and journalists. The participants discussed several issues and (see details on page 11) the most important resolutions made were:

1. The clear mandate given by the conference to the SPLM/A to negotiate on behalf of the Nuba people in the IGAD peace process, and for the new United Sudan National Party (USNP) also to play an active role in all such negotiations.

2. A strong recommendation for the unambiguous alignment of the Nuba people with the SPLM/A during the interim period as the only means to create the opportunity for a democratic and unimpeded process of self-determination.

Both the Kampala and the Kauda conference had one main objective, which is to address the political future of the Nuba people in the light of the current peace talks in Machakos. But they seem to have different approach for achieving this. The two conferences agreed that Machakos is the most suitable forum for discussing the Nuba issue and they both demand the self-ruling for the people of the Nuba Mountains.

Sharp differences on some of the issues were observed in the two Final Communiqués. The Kampala seminar was wide open to Nuba and to the Baggara Arab neighbours who participated, whereas Kauda conference did not include them and it is a problem. Another sharp difference noted is in the issue of representation of Nuba in Machakos.

The Kampala Declaration’s call for fuller representation of Nuba political forces and civil society organisations at Machakos peace talks whereas Kauda Declaration gave a fuller mandate to the SPLM/A Chairman, Dr. John Garang, to represent the Nuba people at the peace talks.

The Kampala Declaration calls for unity of Sudan as priority and self-determination is the right for all people in accordance with international conventions whereas Kauda strongly recommends that Nuba should be part of the South during the six years interim period and have the right to self-determination.

It is important to emphasis that the right of self-determination has only been recognised for the people of Southern Sudan by the international community, the Government of Sudan and the National Democratic Alliance, yet this fundamental right has to be recognised for the Nuba.

Nuba should not rush at this stage, to make a hasty decision to join the South or the North. First of all, they need to secure their right to self-determination. Securing self-determination for Nuba is extremely vital, because it is a guarantee that Nuba will exercise their right of self-determination at a referendum after the people of the Southern Sudan had, had their referendum.

If the people of the South decided to opt for independent state, then the Nuba should immediately exercise their right to self-determination. Therefore they should not give a ‘blank cheque’ to the leader of the SPLA or to any body else to decide their future for them. Such historical decision should to be made by the Nuba themselves.

The Nuba stand a better chance to achieve their civil rights, including ‘self-governing’ if they articulate their political position properly. They should take this opportunity and demand to be administered independently from the Government and the SPLA during the interim period. Being independent will give the Nuba a chance to develop themselves, have a taste and experience of self-governing and it will give a chance for the dispersed Nuba in the South, the in Northern Sudan and in Diaspora to return to their homeland and take part in developing their region, building their capacity and be ready to take decision when the time comes.

The Nuba are sceptical about joining the South, often because they are not sure that the SPLA leadership will respect their rights and aspirations. Nuba experience with SPLM/A has often proven to be problematic, as their leadership failed to secure their basic right to self-determination at Chukudum Agreement 1994, IGAD Declaration of Principles 1994, and the Asmara Declaration 1995. Is this not enough to make Nuba sceptical?

They are sceptical about joining the South because they will be denied to exercise their right to self-determination once the South had voted to opt for independent South, because Nuba do not have the right to self-determination to exercise at the end of six years transitional period, unless it is guaranteed by the international community in Machakos.

Equally, the majority of Nuba people do not want to be left to the mercy of the Sudanese Arab rulers in the North. Because Nuba have suffered long experience of persistent human rights abuses and have long historical records of suppression, marginalisation and exploitation under the Sudanese Arab rulers. The Arab rulers in Khartoum always tend to undermined the Nuba and non-Arab Sudanese. They will continue to do so and denying them their civil rights. Their attitude towards Nuba will never change, which has been demonstrated in the decision made by the Government this week not to attend IGAD peace talks scheduled to resume in Kenya on 15th January 2003, to settle the issue of the three contested areas. This obviously explains that the Government does respect the rights of these people. It claims that 90 per cent of these areas are under its territory and it does not want to talk about them. IGAD and international community should exert pressure on the GoS to go back to the negotiation table to settle the political future of the these three regions in central Sudan once and for all. The claim made by both sides that each control these areas is not of significant importance to these people. What is important for Nuba and others is that they want a their right to be represented and a just peace settlement. So far the two sides have no clear solution to these contested areas.

The Nuba’s views on peace solution in Machakos made by various Nuba civil societies, political parties and Nuba leaders had been presented to IGAD . In addition the resolutions from Nuba Seminar in Kampala and the Kauda conference had also been submitted to them.

We believe it is now the duties and the responsibilities of IGAD and international mediators to examine these views and resolutions and to come up with a fair settlement for the Nuba and the others. Nuba are entitled to self-governing as they were before, in 1922 during the British rule in Sudan. They had their own Province with its capital at Talodi in 1992.

It is highly important that Nuba representatives from political forces and civil societies should be invited to the negotiations in Kenya because we do not trust either side to negotiate in good faith on our behalf. It is clear that each side wants to use our political rights as a bargaining card. This means our rights will be compromised to reach peace settlement. The Parties should understand that there can be no peace in Sudan if the issues of the Nuba and Southern Blue Nile are not resolved.

We believe that the Nuba Ceasefire Agreement needs to be translated to peace, since the USA peace initiative began with the Nuba Mountains as Senator Danforth chose Nuba Mountains to be a ‘test case’ for peace building confidence. Being in the geographical centre of the country and central to the conflict, the Nuba need to play an active role to hold the country together because it is for their best interest to do so.

The Nuba have serious challenges ahead to overcome. They need to stand up to these challenges as a united body. They need to be united at this crucial turning point in the history of Sudan. The political history of our country is now about to be rewritten in Machakos and we need to be there united and strong to argue our case of a long history of oppression, marginalisation, exploitation and neglect.

We are at the very centre to this conflict and we hold the vital key to the solution. We’ll be pivotal to any peace settlement. We believe that if there is to be a peace and just solution to Sudan’s perpetual conflicts, the Nuba must be among the key players, rather than sitting at the peripheral of the peace talks as observers, advisors or mandating others to speak on our behalf. Any comprehensive peace settlement to Sudan’s conflict needs to be accepted by all the Sudanese political forces otherwise its doom to failure.

Suleiman Musa Rahhal