Interview with Colonel Ahmed Belga

By Nanne op 't Ende
April 7, 2006

Ahmed Belga is 43 years old, he joined the SPLA in 1994 and has been fighting since. Now he is the SPLM Police Director for South Korodfan. He talks about his youth, about the process of becoming aware of the problems in Sudan, and of his current work.

Colonel Ahmed Belga

My father's tribe is Kalak, from Katla. He migrated from here to Adbara, I think in 1950, before he got married to my mother. After the marriage she joined him there, so we grew up in Adbara. All our neighbors were from the North and when anyone of those families got sick or had anything, we saw the relatives coming from nearby. But we were alone, so we asked our father: "from where are we? Do you have a family or are you alone with our mother? Do you have any brothers? Why do our relatives never come to see us?

He answered: "No, we have our family, we have our tribes and we have our language, we have our culture." From that time on, when we were on leave, he brought us here, in the Nuba Mountains, to see our relatives, my father's family, my mother's family, our uncles' families, our grandfathers. We would stay for two, three months and when the school started again we would be brought back. So when we sat with our colleagues over there, when they talked about the families, we also talked about our families, because we had a place where we belonged.

When my grandmother or grandfather got sick my father took them to live with us in Adbara. They didn't speak Arabic, only our [tribal] language. This way we learned the language from them. When we came here we got to know more about our culture, our people, our relatives. I didn't grow up in the traditional age grade groups, didn't enjoying that kind of life, but I was observing it, sensing it.

I am number four in my family, I have my big brothers; my uncles, some who migrated earlier and studied in the North. They knew how to convince us to be keen of our culture. Like when we came to [our uncle], he would talk to us in our language: "how are you; how do you feel?" And if we replied in Arabic or in another language, he would say: "no, that is not our language! You are alone here, so speak our language so I can understand you!"

In our area in Adbara, all the people were workers: my father and the others. They received the same salaries, they had the same houses and they lived the same type of life. So we [as children] felt no difference between us and the children of the North. We never saw any slaves. But for my father it was different. He didn't like them, those of the North. When he came there, he didn't know Arabic; he faced many, many problems because he went deep in the North.

At that time slaves still existed in the North. My father was black; maybe he was facing problems of those who were considering themselves as master of everybody. One day he said to me: "don't listen to much to what I have told you. I have faced some problems that might have influenced my mentality, but you grew up with your colleagues here; you don't know what I've been facing. You and your colleagues; this is your life. Don't try to be like me."

So I never had a feeling of misunderstanding with my friends in school; I never had the feeling I would be less than them. But I did get to understand that the Nuba Mountains were a marginalized area. I found out that [the Northerners] didn't like us; they didn't like the language; they didn't like our cultures, because they are Arabs and Muslims. I am a Muslim too, but not like them. I can drink marissa (sorghum beer), I can do anything. I am proud to be a Nuba; I am not an Arab, but I respect them. It's not my concern that they are Arabs.

From Adbara I came to Khartoum to study history at the Cairo University. But it's a long time ago and I haven't read a book since I graduated. I went straight to the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA)

What made you join the SPLA?

We came here from the North to visit our relatives and we saw the differences. When we were little, it was difficult for us to understand what was happening. Why are things like this? Why would you get the feeling that things are well organized in any area in the North: towns, hospitals, schools, while here in your home land you won't find anything? When we grew up, we came to understand what was going on.

We would talk to our elders - some of whom were intellectuals - and they would draw the picture for us: "they want us to emigrate from here to there, and when you go there you will be like them. You will behave like an Arab. After emigration you will be absorbed in that way of life and you will no longer like your own people. Once you adopt that mentality, you can't even accept your own mother."

We now ask [those who adopted the Arab way of life] what led them to dislike their mothers. What is the problem? These are your relatives. This is your language: if you dig deep into the history you will see that it began many thousands of years ago - why would you refuse it now? Everybody has a culture; every tribe, but you are trying to avoid it. It's a culture; it's a civilization - why?

Then we heard that there was a movement talking about equality, about justice, about freedom. We were facing this type of problems in our country. Some considered themselves better than others. So we chose to join the Movement. I think we did the right thing and we're proud of it, because now when we meet our families, our relatives, we feel that we've been accepted. Even those who were refusing us before, are now accepting us. That means we were right.

You graduated from Cairo University. That makes you one of the very few Nuba in the SPLM with a degree. Late commander Yousif Kuwa had a degree, Neroun Philip - and you.

We are more now, especially after the cease fire agreement. More people are coming. But in general there is a lack of educated people in the SPLM area of South Kordofan. Most of our people are poor. When they went to the towns, the life needed more resources, needed more money, so most of our families were not able to pay the school fees for their children.

Those who went to school were often forced to leave early to work. They had to assist their family or their younger brothers. We have this type of extended family: you're responsible for your brothers and your uncles. Like us: we went to work since we were fourteen. We were eleven children and our father had married a far city. If you are near, you are among your relatives, so someone can help you. But we were far away.

You are now the SPLM police director in South Kordofan; what can you tell me about the problems of the police?

According to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) there must be a State Police Force in South Kordofan. Now we, as SPLM police, no longer belong to the South - they have their own State [affairs] - but the police here in Kadugli, that always served the Government of Sudan (GoS), do not recognize us as a police force in the Nuba Mountains.

In the same time the people here in the Nuba Mountains do not recognize the State Police as theirs. The police that used to serve the GoS was taking part in the war: they were fighting our people for fifteen years. They were fighting within the Popular Defense Forces (PDF), they were fighting within the army of the GoS; they are no longer a police force.

In this situation our people are suffering. In the past two months, we've had more than twelve cases of murder, and nothing has been done until now. It is a problem of the PDF: the Popular Defense Forces still exist in South Kordofan. Everybody has a gun; they think that if SPLM comes to power, maybe they will chase the Arabs out of the Nuba Mountains. They are afraid of that.

Those of the GoS are providing them with guns and ammunition. They are not acting in the way a police force must act. There is a political influence in them. So we need to put political pressure on those in Khartoum, to integrate the police force and to make it more professional.

As Nuba Mountains Police we are facing problems of communication; of transportation; even of logistics. But we are supposed to be [part of the] State Police. After the approval of the constitution maybe we will be a State Police, and maybe if they recognize us, we will be an integrated force, so we can move all around our own state, and solve any cases.

As it is, we can do very little about the violence, because it is taking place outside the SPLM controlled areas. If it took place in our area, we could act: investigate; bring the case to court. The violence is random, but all cases took place in areas that recently joined the SPLM after the CPA.

People in GoS controlled areas would declare their politically support for the SPLM, and in response you would see more violence…

than in other areas, yes. We, as SPLM, are fighting for peace, but the other side now is preparing for war. They are providing the nomads with ammunition and with new guns. If you go around, you will see them carrying GIM3 rifles. When they were PDF they had Kalashnikovs; now they have new rifles distributed to them: GIM3, APG7. This is really a threat to peace.

What I think: I think they are waiting for the rain season to come. After that maybe the war will take place again. First they will guarantee water for their animals, then they will plan to go to war again in our areas. That is what I fear.

The only thing to prevent this to happen is pressure on the GoS to integrate the Armed Forces and the Police Forces. Until now they didn't bring the Sudan Armed Forces to be integrated with our forces here. If this integrated force would be established, nobody will be allowed to take a gun or rifle. No PDF, no militia: no guns allowed here. But they are playing: they are already distributing the guns.

There is a UN Police Force - are they not supposed to handle this kind of violent conflict?

Those of the UN are very restricted; they are more and more directed from Khartoum, or from somewhere else. If you come to report something, as SPLM Police, or if you want to use UN facilities, it needs time to fill out forms, to wait for approval to come - and then you can go. Right now all the UN Police is doing, is to observe and to write reports.

We had an incident in the Debkershol area, in Abu Gibeha. The nomads attacked some of the Nuba there. The nomads came to the village and attacked a civilian who was herding his cows. They hunt him, they shot him and then they ran away. The man was killed. It happened two days ago, but the UN police are first going to Werni.

Werni? The incident of Werni happened one week ago. Will it take the UN Police another week before they go…

to Debkershol. Like I said: they are very restricted. If they want to move from one area to another, they need to send a report to their head quarters, maybe here in Kadugli or in Juba, and then the approval has to come from there - and then they move.

You have fought a long time…

I joined the SPLA in 1994, after the Chukudum Convention. Now I am 43 years old. Most of the time, I fought at the eastern front together with Abdelaziz Adam [al Hilo]. We fought for a new Sudan, and we are still trying to achieve it, but I feel very sad.

According to the CPA the Southerners will get their independent state while according to our borders, we belong to the North. And the North is our enemy. They will not accept any political progress in the Nuba Mountains, unless it is under their control. We built Khartoum with our blood and with resources from all over the Nuba Mountains. Why don't they want to pay us to rebuild our destroyed areas?

Maybe we will fight again, but maybe things will not go as before. I feel that those of the SPLM in the South are busy settling their state while we suffer. We want to be recognized and [if we have to] we will fight again with those of Khartoum to achieve our goals.

Do you still believe those goals can be achieved peacefully?

It is still near, but it needs more and more work. Before, we were just fighting. Maybe we could defeat or repulse our enemy in the field, but now we are coming to build on the ground our visions, our thinking, our goals: justice, equality, freedom. In the past we told our people that we were going to achieve this, and now is the time to show them how we can actually do it. The challenge is very big… very big. Still the enemy is there, putting obstacles in our way, trying to delay us, trying to stop us from achieving what we want. Because if we achieve it, things will change in Sudan.

But we are confident: we will do it. It just needs time. When our fathers were young, when they went to Khartoum, anybody in the street could insult them: slaves! And now the time has come. Our fathers are still alive; we are here and nobody can talk to them like that anymore. This is why we are proud: we will achieve it.


Interviewed in Kadugli on April 7, 2006

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