Interview with Suleiman Musa Rahhal
By Nanne op ‘t Ende
Hayes, United Kingdom
October 29, 2006
Since 1991 Suleiman Musa Rahhal has worked relentlessly to bring the Nuba cause to the attention of the international community. He calls upon the Nuba to look beyond party affiliations and to unite themselves as Nuba first, to decide together what the future of the Nuba Mountains should be like. Here's his story.
Suleiman Musa Rahhal
My name is Suleiman Musa Rahhal Andu Kadugli. Like many Sudanese I don’t know my actual birthday, but my parents told me I was born in 1942. Kadugli is my home town; it is named after my great-great-grandfather. I went to primary and intermediate school at the Christian Mission Society in Katcha, where late professor Roland Stevenson was our headmaster. From there I went to Al-Fasher Secondary School; after completing it in 1963, I joined the Veterinary Research Laboratory in Khartoum.
In 1965 I was sent to the American University of Beirut to qualify in Medical Laboratory Technology. I stayed with Veterinary Research until 1969, when I took a job at Mobile Oil in Port Sudan. Two years later I returned to Khartoum, to join the Pathology Department of the Medical School, University of Khartoum. In 1973 I took the chance to return to the Veterinary Research Laboratory, at the Virology Department.
After one year they sent me to the United Kingdom to specialise in Virology. My scholarship was terminated in 1976, but political turmoil made it difficult to return to Sudan. So I stayed in the UK and continued my study, obtaining the Fellowship of the Institute of BioMedical Laboratory Scientists in Medical Virology. From 1991 onwards I have devoted much of my time and energy to bring the plight of the Nuba people to the attention of the international community.
My great-great-grandfather established Kadugli as it is today. The town is named after him.It was a time when there was a lot of fighting between the tribes, there was a lot of movement: every leader tried to enlarge his authority by conquering other tribes. After Kadugli came Andu, and after him came Rahhal. At the time when the British came, Rahhal was ruling as Mek of Kadugli over a large area: to Korongo, Katcha, Tasae, Fama, Belinga, Shatt, Buram and many more places. The British native administration: put the meks, sheighs and umdas in power over the places where they were, so it recognised Rahhal’s authority. His son and successor, Mek Mohamed Rahhal, even received the title Sir from the British.
During the Mahdiya some of the Nuba, specially the Tegali people, fought with the Mahdi when he captured Khartoum from General Gordon. After Khalifa Abdudallah Al-Taishi, who succeeded the Mahdi, had been defeated by the Anglo-Egyptian army, some of the Arabs started to migrate to the Nuba Mountains to settle there. Although the Khalifa was a notorious man who had killing and enslaved many Nuba, Mek Rahhal welcomed them. He trusted the Arabs to such extend that he chose two of them as members of his court and they were living with him. One was Shariff from the Missiryia tribe and the other one was Hagar al-Shouk from the Hawazma. Hagar al-Shouk was a blind man; he was short and blind. But he had a computer mind: if you spoke to him once and you came back after twenty years, he would recognize your voice. And he would know everyone by what he had done and what he had said.
The Mek gave the Arabs land close to his home, in a place called Hilat al Fuqara: ‘the area of those who write the Qur’an’. The fuqara wrote verses of Qur’an to help the people and treat them from illnesses. Sharif later brought his people and Mek Mohamed gave them a very nice piece of land near the entrance to the city, called Sha’ir. They are still there. Mek Mohamed would take Hagar al-Shouk to sit next to him, listening to what was going on in court. In the afternoon, coming home from the court to have tea and coffee, Mohamed would ask Hagar of his opinion. Sometimes this blind man would say: “Mek, you were harsh on this person.” So he considered the two Arabs Sharif and Hagar as wise men and he trusted them.
My uncle married thirty-two wives. He wasn’t a sex maniac, but he married them to bring all the tribes together: Nuba and Arabs alike. He married women from different tribes. If you go now to Hajr al Mek, you’ll see bait al Mek [‘the house of the Mek’] and you will see all the buildings for each wife. Every wife had her own place at the hosh, meaning yard. My cousins were 56, from him alone, and the girls – you can’t count them. He had over a hundred boys and girls. He actually succeeded in letting the Nuba and Arabs tribes live together in peace and harmony. There were hardly any problems. Disputes were resolved amicably in small courts and sometimes in the annual conference attended by all Nuba Meks and Chiefs and Arab Nazir and Sheikhs.
The conflict in the Nuba Mountains has a long history. You have to go back to 1924, when there was a revolt against the British-Egyptian army by the White Flag League. The leader was a Nuba. [Ali ‘Abd al-Latif, had a Dinka mother and a Nuba father, and his colleague Abd al-Fadeil al-Maz was a Nuba from Miri, NotE] From that day the British considered the Nuba as a dangerous group of agitators and treated them accordingly.
Sudan took its independence in 1956, but the National Government took over the Brittish attitude towards the Nuba: they didn’t want to give us education. While there were schools already in northern Sudan, secondary education and universities, in the whole Nuba Mountains there were hardly any schools. The only school we had was the CMS Katcha. And there was the Dilling Institute for Teacher Training. But because we had no Nuba students to fill it, they brought students from the north to fill the school. Here, we only had sub-grade: it wasn’t even full elementary or primary school: just three years of sub-grade, and then you were sent home.
So the Nuba didn’t have any education. It took more than ten years after independence before the government set up the first secondary school in the whole Nuba Mountains: Kadugli Secundary School in Tilo. The educational gap is so wide! While I remember that in 1962, during the General Abud regime, Tala’at- Fried, the Minister of Education, established sixty-two secondary schools across the country – but none for the Nuba… So it was deliberate. All Central Governments knew that the Nuba are great fighters. They proved their courage in the Middle East war and in Ethiopia. And all these Governments have been afraid: they believe that if the Nuba get more education, combined with the courage they already have, it could be a great problem for them. For this reason they have marginalized the Nuba in all aspects, up to today.
Nuba have experienced racial discrimination while living and working in Khartoum. It is low profile but it is there, particularly when it comes to employment. In the past Nuba were doing the dirty jobs in Khartoum as servants and in the Health Service. The only other job open to them was being a soldier. The Government used the Nuba very successfully in their war in the South and other places, in a policy of divide and rule. They could go to the army college to become officers but they would not be promoted to higher ranks. Any other field would be very difficult.
That’s why the Nuba people became conscious and concerned about education: to get better jobs, to share in what others in the north were enjoying. When the first Nuba MPs were elected, they began to raise the issue in the Parliament. They demanded services for their areas: schools, hospitals, roads… these basic things. Unfortunately, the parties in power were not responding to their demands. I saw the frustration with my uncle, Yagoub Rahhal, who was the first Nuba MP. He represented the Kadugli constituency in the first Parliament after independence. I remember I used to do the neat handwriting of what he was going to say in Parliament. Both my uncle and my father were members of DUP.
Shortly before the elections of 1965, a new generation of Nuba became involved in politics. They just came out from secondary schools, some were students at Khartoum University, and they started to see things clearly. While we were in elementary and intermediate schools we wouldn’t know about discrimination, but once we got in contact with the people and moved around the country, we saw how the Nuba were being treated and how people looked at us. Then we realised how limited our chances were to get those posts that other people were getting. We saw that we were not involved in the running our country, so we became politically orientated. Personally, I didn’t have much taste for politics. In 1965 I went to Lebanon, to study at the American University in Beirut. That way I missed a crucial period of the development of the Nuba political consciousness.
GUN and Komolo
In 1964 Nuba leaders like Mahmoud Hasseib, Fr. Philip Abbas Ghaboush, and Attroun Attia began debating the political future of the Nuba Mountains. They came out with a political agenda that reached its momentum in 1965. I attended a few of the early meetings before leaving to Lebanon.
Many people think that Father Philip started the General Union of Nuba (GUN) but in 1965 he was still preaching, when the leaders of GUN approached him. It was shortly before election that year and the students running the campaign in Dilling originally backed an NIF candidate. When they felt that this man wouldn’t work in line with the Nuba Union agenda, they dropped him and approached Father Philip to contest the seat against him. That was how he was brought into it. GUN succeeded to have eight members elected to the Parliament in the 1965 national parliamentary elections. Before, those constituencies were controlled by the Umma Party and the DUP, but at that moment the Nuba were able to turn the tables.
The Komolo movement wasn’t formed until the early seventies. I was in Khartoum at the time and soon moved to the UK, so I don’t know much about it. Izzeldein Kuku, secretary of Komolo, wrote an article which I published in Nafir newsletter (Vol.3 no. 4 January 1998). According to him Komolo was established in 1972 by Nuba students at the Kadugli Higher Secondary School of Tilo. Late Commander Yousif Kuwa wasn’t even involved from the beginning: he was brought in later. There was another group, called Nahnu Kaduqli: ‘We Kadugli’. Did Father Philip say that he started the Komolo? It wasn’t him at all.
Chances and disappointments
Only a few people were selected to go to Lebanon and when I came back, I was working at the United Nations Research Unit. Our head unit was an English man, called Lindley. When the research work was finished he winded up the project and some members of staff employment were transferred to the Veterinary Research Department. My name was among them. Unfortunately, when it came to the promotion, the job was given to the person who had qualified after me. Simply because he was a northerner. I was furious and I wrote a very long letter of protest, but no explanation given to me. So I resigned and went to work with Mobil Oil Company in Port-Sudan. I wasn’t interested in oil really; it wasn’t my cup of tea. But there was money there and it was better than working for the government. I didn’t know anything about oil, but I got the job. They sent me back to Beirut where they had their Head Office for the Middle East region. I was trained on oil production and became in charge of Mobil oil analytical laboratory in Port-Sudan.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t stand the harshness of Port-Sudan; it’s too damp and humid. I couldn’t sleep inside and one morning I couldn’t stand up. When the driver came to pick me up for work, he had to jump the fence and carry me in his arms to the car because my legs were totally numb. I was really scared. While I was in that state, Professor Ahmed Mohammed al-Hassan offered me a job at the Pathology Department of the Medical School at the University of Khartoum. I immediately resigned from Mobile Oil and went to take my new job at the University. Then I got into a conflict with another northerner. He was our head, and I knew this man was going to damage my career.
Now the head of the department of Veterinary Research Laboratory used to come over to discuss things. He told me: “we are sending some of your colleagues to the UK to get further education there”. He was an Arab but he was Coptic and he liked me very much. I asked him: “if I were to come back to you, could you offer me a chance to go abroad?” He said he could, so I went back to my old place, and a year later I received a scholarship to go abroad to qualify. As soon as I put my feet on the plane and I sat down, I said: “forget it: I’m not going back again to Sudan.” I was determined not to go back because of the racial exercise I had been through. What happened to me has happened to many Nuba of course. Another example of racial discrimination happened to one of my very closed friends. He was employed at the University, and was supposed to be sent abroad to qualify in gynaecology. But someone else was sent before him, because he was related to the dean of the faculty.
To the UK
I came to the UK in September 1974. My relatives were living in Kadugli. At that time, contact was difficult. You couldn’t reach each other by telephone; it was only in the mid nineties that the telephone line reached Kadugli, so you had to write letters. And when you received a letter you were so happy.
After completing my study I couldn’t go back to Sudan. My scholarship was terminated in 1976 and I was asked to go back to Sudan immediately. There had been an attempted coup of Hassan Hussein and Shambi to overthrow President Numeiri, and Abdel Rahman Shambi was my good friend. I have been outspoken about Numeiri’s regime and many of his security agents were operating in London at that time. So I decided to stay in the UK and concentrated on my scientific study. I obtained a Higher National Diploma in Medical Microbiology in 1979. At the same time I did an Immunology course MSc level and in 1983 I obtained The Fellowship of Institute of Bio-Medical Scientists in Virology. I worked in a number of hospitals in London, like Queen Mary’s Hospital, The Royal London Hospital and Queen Charlottes. St. Mary’s Hospital Medical School, was the last one, where I was holding the position of Senior Medical Scientific Officer at the Virology Department.
Things started to go bad during Sadiq al Mahdi’s government. When I went to Kadugli for the last time, in December 1985, I knew problems were ahead. It was after the Gardud incident: the Murahilin came to al Gardud and stole the Dinka cattle. Then the Dinka of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) followed them to al Gardud [and killed at least sixty of the Arabs, NotE]. That was the first incident in 1985 when the war came to the Nuba Mountains. While I was with my relatives there in Kadugli, sitting outside in the evening, we heard noises of guns in the air. I asked who was having a party today, and they said: “it isn’t a party, it’s the Murahilin; they are doing this every night to scare people.” “Where are the authorities then?” It seemed that the authorities were doing nothing. Actually Fadlalla Burma Nasir, the Minister of Defence, was the one who armed the Arabs. He was from the Misseriya.
By then, some of the Nuba started to move to join the SPLA. I heard that some Nuba people I knew were taken away, and no one knew where they were. I began to worry. The next day I met Mohamed Zaki, the Mek of Miri. He was driving through the market and he had some policemen with him. When he saw me he stopped the car and asked me when I had come. I said I had arrived two days ago and he said: “I would like to come and see you but I’m just going to Miri now, to Kanjah. I received a report that the Arabs came there and they past through one of the farms and let their cattle destroy this man’s properties. When he confronted them they killed him; his son who was running away also got shot, but he managed to reach the village. Now I’m going to look into the matter.”
I didn’t stay long, only five weeks, and when I returned I wasn’t happy about what I had seen. The Kadugli I left twelve years ago was the same of 1985. People’s lives hadn’t improved, and I no longer expected that any Government would help the Nuba. My plan had been to go and see if I might return to Sudan with my children. I thought maybe things had improved, but they hadn’t – so I decided to wait a bit longer.
In the 1986 elections the Sudan National Party led by Fr. Philip Ghaboush won eight seats in Parliament. A few years later this present Government came to power, after the coup of 1989. They already found a plan, laid down by Sadiq al Mahdi. The Government of the National Islamic Front went on to recruit more of the Arabs, militias, arming them and setting them against the Nuba. The militias were officially recognised, and they were given the green light to do whatever they wanted in the area. Then the war escalated.
For a long time it was very difficult to know what was happening in the Nuba Mountains, but in 1990 one of my relatives came to the UK and gave us a clear picture of what was happening to the people. Father Philip Ghaboush also came and described the situation. Then a very close friend came from Sudan towards the end of 1990. He was carrying some important documents with him, about the massacres and the upsurge in violence that was taking place in the area.
One of my nephews called me and told me he was lucky to be alive. He was one of the educated Nuba and security agents had taken him with a group of people in big trucks from Kadugli to Dilling. They put them in a camp and every day they took five or ten, and shot them. My nephew was made to watch the killing. He was very lucky to survive: he was transferred to Darfur and told not to come to the Nuba Mountains again. After a long silence he said: “I think if you don’t say something to the world about what is going on, we will all be finished.”
I said to myself: what can I do now? I have no idea about human rights; I don’t know where to start. Then I happened to get a newsletter from Peter Verney, the editor of Sudan Update. I called him and he immediately made time to meet me. He put me in touch with Alex the Waal of African Watch. And Alex, the moment he saw the documentation he took an interest and he began to work with me. We began collecting all the information about the situation in the Nuba Mountains. African Watch put out a first report on December 1991: destroying ethnic identity: the secret war against the Nuba. A second report came out in September 1992.
These reports made people aware of what was happing in the Nuba Mountains. At the same time, we were working on the media here. The case of the Nuba was made by African Rights of Alex; by Amnesty International, Andy Moston; Survival International with Virginia Luling and then Peter Morzinsky. We set up an exhibition in Covent Garden, the Ecology Centre, showing the cultures, the human rights issue, everything. Everybody passing saw the photos. That campaign took us to the House of Lords and the House of Commons. Oxford Professor Wendy James chaired one of the meetings in the House of Commons for us, and we made the case for the Nuba with the British government. In fact the very next day a Khartoum newspaper wrote that I was a traitor and the Sudanese Government wanted me to be extradited to Sudan.
The two British parties decided to send two members to the Nuba Mountains in 1993: Tony Worthington from Labour and Robert Bank from the Conservatives. They went to Kadugli, together with July Flint, who was reporting for the Guardian. Even though they knew where the peace camps were, they weren’t allowed to go there. The authorities said it was too dangerous; they only showed the parliamentarians around in camps near the city. Tony Worthington noticed that the labels on the food packages were not genuine; they had been made locally. And Julie picked up some remarks in Arabic: “why aren’t they showing them the real camps?” So the parliamentarians reported that something was definitely wrong in the Nuba Mountains and it needed serious investigation.
I met Yousif for the first time when he came to London in May 1993, after the Abuja conference. We had put a lot of pressure on the SPLA Leadership to assure Nuba representation in the negotiations. Yousif was virtually trapped in the Nuba Mountains, but just around the time Hugo D'aybaury, a French anthropologist, came to the Nuba Mountains by airplane. So the SPLA asked Yousif to come out of the Nuba Mountains with Hugo, to attend the conference. Yousif didn’t have any documents so they made him a Nigerian passport. He was taken straight to the airport and on to Abuja. I got Yousif’s telephone number from Hugo and I encouraged him to come to London. He could meet people here; present his case and solicit help for the Nuba. He came after the Abuja talks had failed.
NMSA, Nafir and NRRDO
By that time I had written a draft constitution of the Nuba Mountains Solidarity Abroad. At the exhibition we staged at the Ecology Centre in the cerntre of London, I met some Nuba people for the first time who wanted to get involved. They were Omer Mustafa Shurkian and Ahmed Abdel Rahman Saeed. Later I met Tabita Butros Shokaya, the present Minister of Health, and her sister Sara. In September 1993 I invited them to a meeting to finalise the draft of NMSA and form an office. Dr Mustafa Kleida and Ahmed Zubeir also attended. The constitution was approved and the office was formed. I was elected to be the Chairman, Ahmed A. Saeed became Deputy Chairman; Omer Shurkian was Secretary General and Tabita Shokaya was Treasurer.
We started Nafir, a magazine that reflected the Nuba cause. Here’s the first issue: A Call for Relief, from 1995. In the beginning I was co-editor with Mohamed Haroun Kafi. Actually he only participated in the first issue; after a few months he got into a conflict with Yousif, who asked him to go to the Nuba Mountains to review the set up of Nuba Relief, Rehabilitation and Development Organisation (NRRDO). Mohamed refused to go, and Neroun Philip was chosen in his place as Chairman of NRRDO. Mohamed Haroun defected to the Government and I became Editor-in-Chief of Nafir.
1993 was the year of the Indigenous People. In July I was invited to the UN, to the eleventh session of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations. It was a chance for me to put the Nuba case; my intervention during the session was very good. While I was there a lady came calling for me, she said Gáspár Bíró wanted to see me. I asked her: “Who is Gáspár Bíró?” “He’s a new official, appointed by the High Commission to go and investigate the human rights situation in Sudan.” So I went to see him in his office. We talked for two and a half hours and I put him in touch with Cdr. Yousif in Nairobi, so he could talk to him directly. Gáspár Bíró made a promise: “I will go to Sudan and I will turn every stone in the Nuba Mountains to find the truth.” He wrote very critically in every report he presented to the United Nations Assembly, condemning the Sudan Government policy in the Nuba Mountains and elsewhere. But no action was ever taken.
Nuba caught in the middle
I met Gáspár Bíró again in 1994, at a CSI conference in Bonn. He greeted me and he said he was just coming from an OLS meeting (Operation Lifeline Sudan) in Nairobi, with representatives from the Sudan Government, the SPLA and the Nuba. Nuba was part of the South as far as the war and the humanitarian situation were concerned. But the Government representatives said: “as soon as anyone mentions the word Nuba our delegation walks out”. So I asked Bíró: “what did you do?” He said: “in order to save at least a few lives, they agreed that we would only discuss the issue of the South.”
They sacrificed the Nuba. And so it seems that there are two camps playing a major role in marginalizing the Nuba. The main party was the Government, but the South definitely had its own agenda. Why, if we were fighting this war together, did the SPLM accept to discuss only humanitarian assistance to the South? And it was not only in OLS: if you look at the Chukudom Agreement 1994, the Asmara Declaration of Principle of 1995, and the IGAD Declaration of Principles, it is clear that the SPLM was not supporting the Nuba cause: they were just using the alliance with the Nuba to strengthen their case internationally.
I believe the Southerners wanted to have revenge on us because we had been used by the North to fight them. Some of them told us openly: “you Nuba, you fought us in the past with the Northerners“. Through their political cleverness, particularly of Dr. John [Garang], they used the Nuba to fight their war. And in the end we have been dumped for nothing. Many Nuba like me are bitter about the whole thing. I have to say this, because I cannot understand how some Nuba still believe that the SPLM is fighting for the Nuba cause. Now people are divided into two camps and neither camp supports the Nuba issue.
I have never been a member of SPLA/M myself, but I supported the Nuba who took up arms for a just cause: the right to be Nuba. I dedicated my book “The Right to Be Nuba” to them. Some people accused me of being anti SPLA/M, but I do not have anything against SPLA/M. There is only a big difference of opinion between us. In my view the Nuba have a different set of problems that should have been addressed separately from the South issue. It should have been addressed by the whole people of the Nuba Mountains and not by the Nuba in the SPLA alone. The Nuba contribution to the struggle was immense, and they deserve a better settlement than what they got. I believe the voice of the Nuba has been silenced during the peace process. This is not only painful: it has serious implications for the relation between the Nuba and the Southerners.
Early in 1999 I tried to set up a conference to bring all the Nuba parties together in Kampala, including political parties, civil society organisations, and community leaders. It was long before Mashakos and Naivasha peace process started, so that they could debate and articulate their position to be ready for any peace talks. The proposal was immediately backed by several NGO’s, but unfortunately, Nuba in the SPLM first accept the idea but later decided that they wouldn’t attend any conference that was held outside the Nuba Mountains.
As the chairman of NMSA and editor-in-chief of Nafir I did most of the work; the other members hardly committed themselves to any issue. It was only in the last year when Cdr. Yousif came to London for his treatment, that a group of Nuba calling themselves SPLA/M established a relation with him. Some of them saw a chance to get a position for themselves; so they tried to destroy the relationship between Yousif and me.
Despite some warnings I wasn’t actually aware of what they were doing. I used to pick up Yousif at the airport when he came for treatment, and I would put him up some time in a hotel or with relatives or friends. Then at one point I received these two letters from the Leadership Council; they are signed by Yousif himself.
[Interviewer:]You’re relieved as editor of Nafir and requested to hand everything over to Omar Shurkian… And this one… the board of trustees of NRRDO has been dissolved… you’re thanked for you services as Chairmanof the Board… And all in a very impersonal style… But who or what is the Leadership Council?
Yousif was the Governor of the Nuba Mountains, but when he became too ill, the SPLA decided to form a Leadership Council while he was in treatment. The members were Ismael Khamis Jelab, Yousif Karra, Mohamed Juma’a; Simon Kalo and I think Musa Abdo-Elbagi. They had a workshop about NRRDO and the Nafir and this was the outcome: they got rid of me. I replied in a long letter that NRRDO was not a military institution and that their decision to dissolve the board of trusteeswas taken in an undemocratic way. I also pointed out to them that I edited and published Nafir mainly from my own means, my own time and efforts… I never received an answer.
I didn’t even know Yousif was in London again until his wife called me, because she thought he was staying with me. I found out where he was and I called him. His illness had progressed. He couldn’t even stand and he said: “they brought me here in a wheel chair”. And then before I knew it he had been taken to Manchester and leeds, and from there he went to Norwhich. At that time my book came out, which also had an interview I did with Yousif. I wanted to go and see him, so I calleld him: “Commander, I am sorry that the group that surrounds you tried to create a problem between us, but I am still here to care for you and I’m coming to see you.” He seemed to have some sort of relief, because the lady who was with him told me that when he put down the phone he said alhamdulallah [‘thank God’].
I set out to Norwhich, taking the book with me, but before I reached there, I received a phone call from his brother Kamil that he had passed away. We took the body to London. Kamil came with me and we made the reception here at my house. The body was prepared and taken to Nairobi and the Nuba Mountains. I wanted to go with the body, but the way the Nuba Leadership Council had treated me, I knew I wouldn’t be welcome over there – so I didn’t go.
What could I do? I set up my own organization, Nuba Survival, which is working successfully. I have problems with funding, but we are here to help people who want to have more information. After the Leadership Council took Nafir, I started Nuba Vision to continue to reflect the Nuba Issue. Here in my office is the archive: all the books about the Nuba, all the conferences where the Nuba issue was discussed, all the issues of Nafir and all the documentations I collected. Let me just show you some photos: this is the President of Slovenia. Here is Tomo Kriznar; when he launched his book ‘Nuba, the pure people’, he invited me to join in the occasion. The Slovenian people have done a lot for the Nuba people.
This is me at the Reagan Centre. Here’s the adviser to the American president. I was at the White House, at the State Department, at the Congress, at the Senate, at USAID and I met a lot of interest groups all across the country. Look, this is the issue of Nuba Vision that relates the tour. After the US, I went to Canada. I went to Germany three times, to Italy three times, to Italy, to Holland of course so many times and to several conferences in the Horn of Africa.
We Nuba have let ourselves down. We haven’t been able to articulate our cause and establish our rights. If more people had been working the way some of us have, we couldn’t have been left out from the peace process. From the beginning I have argued that we should have our independence. I didn’t mean to call for an independent Nuba State, not at this stage anyway. I only mean to say that the Nuba should not be lock and key with the South. The South is using the Nuba for its own cause so is the National Congress Party. Together they have succeeded to water down the Nuba Mountains issue. That’s why I said: “while the negotiations are going on, let us be independent of both parties, and concentrate solely on our own issue. The mediators will be forced later to find us a platform to discuss it. And we have three options: to be with the North with a grantee of full autonomy; the same for the Southern state or, if all else fails, to have a separate state.”
In my paper on self-determination for the Nuba, which I presented at the International Kampala Conference 1999, I put it very clear that our best interest lies in a united Sudan. Being in the centre we can play a vital role, and we have to fight for a united Sudan which is based on equal rights. However, separation should be our last resort if the government does not accept our demands. A few years ago, I wrote this interim period proposal for the Southrn Kordofan state. It set up principles and guides on how to govern ourselves. I gave it to Cdr. Yousif and to the Sudan National Party to go through it and give me their input. That way, if we had peace tomorrow, we would have a governing document to help us run our state. It didn’t work out. And look at Ismael Khamis Jelab now, the Governor of Southern Kordofan: he doesn’t know what to do. If he had followed a guiding document like I have proposed here, he couldn’t have gone wrong.
I believe that to resolve the problems of Sudan, the country should be divided into five confederate states. Much like Switzerland really, but with five states rather than three. And we would have a central body of course. If we divide the country in north and south, the people in the north will still not be freed from the dominant elite in Khartoum. When the south goes tomorrow – and I have no doubt they will opt for independence – the issue of Sudan becomes so complicated. If this government is wise, they should try to solve the root causes of the conflict rather than to cling to power. Because the country is leaning towards breaking up: that is my analyses.
Implementation of the CPA
The CPA is not working in the Nuba Mountains; in fact it’s not working anywhere in the country. The Nuba were marginalised from the start in the peace talks and even the historical name of Nuba Mountains was taken from us. The future looks very bleak. It makes people frustrated, and there is a burning resentment. When I was in Sudan I could see that the people were very angry. That was in March. I spent some time in Kadugli and I had a lot of discussions with Ismael Khamis, trying to draw his attention to certain things. For example: there are a number of international organisations, including the United Nations running around in Kadugli, but very little tangible is being done.
So many people complain about it and I decided to go and visit the organisations myself. I went to the head of the UN in Kadugli, Mr.Andrew Cox. I asked him: “a lot of people have criticism of your presence: they see your cars running up and down but they can’t see what you’re doing – could you respond to this?” He said: “we are here to work with the government, but unfortunately there is no government in this region. Secondly the money that is supposed to be made available for development is not coming: not from Khartoum or from the donors who pledged help for war affected areas. So we are limited. The only thing we are positively involved in is looking after the returnees. Recently 20.000 people have returned to the area of Kadugli. Here they are accommodated until we can help them to return to their home.”
I have seen their camp; it is very near to my father’s lands. There was no school, there was no health centre. The people of MIO told me: “we keep the people here for three days until we can help them go back to their farms. We give them tools and seeds and food for three months and we provide transport to their area.” When they get there, they face many problems and most of them are living poor lives. But when you compare it with their situation in the big cities in the north, the hardship was even worse than where they are now. They have no alternatives, though some go back again.
And if you look at security: the UN is doing very little to address the conflicts between the Nuba people and the Arabs. The war has stopped; the Government has quickly dismissed the Joint Military Commission, that was effective in handling the tensions, and now we’re back to zero: Arabs are bullying people and nothing is being done about it. You know, the UN troops are Egyptians. The Egyptians are going to bed with the Government!
In the past we used to live with the Arabs; there was mutual respect and we even intermarried – I told you the story of my uncle who was Mek of Kadugli. But today things have changed and it has become difficult to solve problems in the way he did. The authorities are now appointed by political affiliation. The Government appoints an Emir, who doesn’t fit in the traditional strata of authority. In the Native Administration you had the Mek, the Umda and the Sheikh; with the Arabs you had the Nasir, the Sheikhs and so forth. In those days they were solving problems peacefully, because there were wise men among them. And they had power. Now their authority has been undermined because the Government appointed people over them who don’t know how things are running; they are ignorant about the area.
Recently there have been a number of conferences for the different tribes; all of these conferences have one thing in common: the people are calling for a strong Native Administration and to go back to the roots. I think that is the best way: you can’t bring just anybody from the north and put him over the local people as an Emir, without any knowledge of the area. You need people who are familiar with customary laws and with the set up of the area.
The Nuba Mountains Democratic Forum
When the Peace Agreement was signed and we came to know what the Nuba got out of it, we, as Nuba in the Diaspora felt very disappointed. We thought we should do something, so we formed a political body called the Nuba Mountains Democratic Forum. We had our first conference in The Hague in July 2005. Our starting point was: where can we go from here in regard of the political future of the Nuba? The Forum is active in several countries: the UK of course; in the Netherlands, Germany; Switzerland; in the USA and Canada, and in the Middle East. The unification of the Nuba is our first concern: we believe that without unity we cannot achieve anything.
Five years ago I published an article in Nuba Vision, written by Dr. Hunud Abia Kadouf, about the need for Nuba unity. And I believe it is still the main issue. When I went to Sudan I spoke to many people of different political shades. I told all the leaders of different political parties that unity must come first, and then we have to set our strategy: what do we want to achieve? We surely are facing a very big challenge. The first challenge is whether there will be a united Sudan or not. And the second challenge is what happens if the South opts for independence: this will cause a new, difficult situation for the Nuba… and what will we do?
I told the people in Sudan: “every one of you: before you go to sleep, you must think, and think again, about the future of the Nuba Mountains. We are heading towards a very critical phase in our history. Please don’t take it for granted that tomorrow, if the south goes, you will be left in peace.” The way I see it: the two sides, playing their games, will turn the Nuba Mountains into another Kashmir. In the south some people are already putting a lot of emphasis on the Christian identity of the Nuba in the Southern part of the Mountains, and of course from the North Islamic project is in progress. All in all the issue of religion is likely to play a major role in the Nuba Mountains, particularly when the South secedes. If the country is divided, the Nuba will be the first to suffer. So I tell the people: “We should do anything to hold the country together: think and look and prepare yourself. Work towards the unity of the Nuba!”
Interviewed in Hayes, UK, on October 29, 2006
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