Peace and development in Dar Misseriyya: perceptions and perspectives
From the March 2009 Overseas Development Institute report
Put out to pasture War, oil and the decline of Misseriyya pastoralism in Sudan
5.1 Evolving tensions in the Western Sector: current dynamics
The crisis experienced by the Misseriyya livelihood system is driving new political developments which are increasing tensions in the area. It is essential that any programming aimed at supporting Misseriyya and other groups is informed by a nuanced understanding of the political environment.
The area is currently in political turmoil. The Misseriyya perceive themselves as the victims of both war and peace. Their recruitment into the PDF during the war, as the backbone of the force, is widely seen to have eroded their historical relationship with the Dinka, while increasing militarisation among their youth. The CPA is said to have increased insecurity and unemployment by depriving people of access to key resources in the South (pasture, water and the war economy) without any concomitant political gain. Among youth, the government’s dismantling of the PDF without any compensation is seen as an act of betrayal, leaving former members unable to provide for their families. People see access to employment in the oil sector as a right, and are angered by the lack of labour and economic opportunities in the sector.
The Misseriyya are also suffering a leadership crisis. There is palpable mistrust both of traditional leaders and Misseriyya political leaders. Misseriyya society appears to be highly fragmented and people are uncertain about their future. There is an overwhelming feeling of helplessness across most sectors of society, and a widespread perception that only a return to armed confrontation will improve their lot. A common refrain is: ‘Without the gun, we will not be taken seriously’.
Signs of insecurity and instability are apparent across the region. If the Misseriyya predicament is not seriously and energetically addressed, the possibility of another ‘Darfur-like’ descent into violence cannot be discounted.
5.2 Main actors
5.2.1 The Shahama
The Shahama movement – Shahama means ‘valiant’ in Arabic – emerged in 2004. It is largely comprised of young people, including from nomadic communities. The Islamist-oriented group appears to have a substantial following, despite claims by former West Kordofan Governor Salman Suleiman Safi in October 2005 that it was ‘isolated and has no support in the population of Kordofan’, with bases initially only in Bahr el Ghazal.
Shahama was founded by Musa Ali Mohamedain, a Misseriyya and a member of the Popular Congress Party (PCP) of Hassan al-Turabi. The government claims that Shahama is part of a
strategy of destabilisation, and has from the outset accused the Darfur rebels of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) of being behind it. After Musa Ali’s death in November 2004, his younger brother, Mohammed Bahr Ali Hamadain, took over the leadership, and soon after was named head of JEM’s Kordofan ‘sector’ and deputy to JEM Chairman Dr. Khalil Ibrahim. Hamadain was arrested and sentenced to death in May 2008, following the JEM’s attack on Omdurman, although it is thought that the government will not carry out the
sentence to avoid a backlash in Dar Misseriyya. Most Shahama activists followed Hamadain in joining the JEM.
Many, reportedly including Hamadain himself, were however soon disappointed by what they saw as a lack of genuine concern by the JEM for the Misseriyya. There are no clear boundaries between Shahama and other militarised groups. Most of its adherents are said to belong to the Awlad Kamil Darin Sheba Zarqa wa Hamra, also known as Abid bila Syad (‘Slaves without Masters’), one of the most militant groups in Dar Misseriyya. During the civil war they were the backbone of the PDF. Almost all are said to be illiterate. A number of Misseriyya leaders are thought to want to isolate Shahama for fear of seeing Dar Misseriyya become a ‘second Darfur’. At the local level, however, Shahama remains both strong and popular.
5.2.2 The Justice and Equality Movement (JEM)
From its inception JEM has had a presence outside Darfur, in Kordofan, East Sudan, Gezira and Blue Nile. The JEM has been active in Dar Misseriyya since 2005, with a strong presence in the weekly markets along the border with South Darfur. In December 2006, the group (under the name National Redemption Front) attacked the Abu Jabra oilfield on the Darfur–Kordofan border, assisted by local Misseriyya with knowledge of the area. The following August, the group attacked a police barracks in Wad Banda, killing 41 people. In September 2007, armed men attacked three Ministry of Agriculture vehicles south of Muglad, instructing their passengers to convey the message that their group was affiliated to the JEM. In October 2007, the Chinese-run Hajlil oilfield in the Defra concession was targeted in what Hamadain
called ‘a message to the Chinese companies in particular’.
Another Chinese-run oilfield was attacked in December 2007. Although recruitment among Misseriyya has been significant, the JEM’s presence in Kordofan has divided the Misseriyya.
Following the attack on the police barracks in August 2007, the Misseriyya Union condemned the action as ‘barbaric’, demanded that JEM confine its war to Darfur and called on all Misseriyya to oppose it. In November 2007, a new group calling itself the ‘Army of the Revolutionary Movement for the Restoration of Justice in South Kordofan’, headed by a Misseriyya government supporter, Abdu Adam Al Ansari, said that rebellion in Darfur had caused huge destruction, and warned the JEM against conducting military activities in Kordofan. The group said that it was ready to confront any aggression against Kordofan ‘in
collaboration with other national forces’.
5.2.3 Non-aligned ex-PDF fighters
An unquantifiable (but reportedly high) number of former PDF fighters are becoming increasingly organised. This group is armed and fiercely critical of the government for ‘exploiting Misseriyya youth during the war’ and leaving them without compensation or alternative livelihoods in its aftermath. They have a number of key grievances, chief among them the government’s refusal to acknowledge membership of the PDF as meeting the requirement for military service. Without a military service certificate it is impossible to access jobs, and oil companies exploit this loophole to justify their refusal to employ local youth in any significant numbers. PDF veterans were promised involvement in the disarmament and demobilisation programme in March 2007, but so far have not been included. A well-trained group, veterans have claimed responsibility for attacks on roads
from Muglad and El Meiram to Debab. In September 2008 they gave an ultimatum to the government to start acting on their requests by 15 October 2008, after which they would resume attacks on the road, with a special focus on oil companies. In an incident on 17 October 2008 nine oil workers were kidnapped, five of whom died in a botched rescue attempt. Although the government blamed the JEM for the attack, locals believe that
the operation was carried out by ex-PDF fighters based in Debab.
5.2.4 The Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA)
Attracted by the prospect of regular salaries, a number of ex-PDF fighters have joined the SPLA, including several young officers, some of them from wealthy backgrounds, as well as
the impoverished rank and file. According to some reports, around 13,000 Misseriyya fighters joined the SPLA in 2006, with a further 10,000 joining from the Debab camp. It is believed that the SPLA sought to recruit Misseriyya and Rizeigat militia as a fifth column or advance guard in the event of a resumption of hostilities with the National Congress Party (NCP). The SPLA used Debab as a recruiting station, aiming for one battalion (600–800 men). Thousands turned up, chiefly because of the $150 a month pay on offer. The NCP argued that the recruitment was a violation of the CPA and sent an army unit to confront the SPLA, which eventually backed down. In September 2007, around 1,500 prospective recruits were
accepted and moved to the Pariang area, just south of the North–South border. Led by a former PDF commander from the Misseriyya Humr, Hassan Hamid, they were told that they
would be trained and integrated into the SPLA.
Some observers explain the movement towards the SPLA as a tactic by the Misseriyya to strengthen their position, rather than as a principled commitment to the group. The prime interest of the Misseriyya is to preserve their cattle wealth and access to critical resources, and to this end alliances are reportedly being used strategically.
The Shamam movement originated in El Fula, the former capital of West Kordofan before it was merged with South Kordofan. It largely comprises opposition party members (Umma, PPC, Baath, Communists, etc.) and intellectuals and seeks a peaceful resolution of the issues at stake. The movement is seen as elitist, and is thought to have links with Turabi’s PCP.
5.2.6 The Native Administration
The Native Administration is criticised by all parties for being excessively politicised and no longer reflecting tribal structures and interests. Native administrators are today seen as government officials who are more accountable to the government than the people. Mostly based in towns, including Khartoum, they are criticised for ‘not being with their people’ and failing to represent their interests – in particular the interests of nomads. Youth representatives in Muglad accused the Native Administration of looking down on them and referring to them in disparaging terms. They believed that the Native Administration did not
represent the views of the tribe, but felt that it could have an important role to play if it were neutral and apolitical. Young people felt that the role of the Native Administration should be
enhanced and administrators given a greater say in social and tribal matters. To ensure impartiality, all interviewees felt that administrators should be selected by communities
democratically, rather than, as at present, being appointed by the government.
Local youth are also angry with educated Misseriyya, whom they accuse of failing to respond to the plight of their people. Misseriyya intellectuals have benefited from education, usually in boarding schools, but have not reinvested in their communities, even to the extent of lobbying for their interests in Khartoum.
‘Youth Mechanism for Development and Follow Up’ (‘Youth’) emerged in 2008. It claims to comprise educated Misseriyya youth, including lawyers, government officials and businesspeople.
In late 2007 its leaders presented a list of 52 demands to President Bashir, focusing on the lack of services and employment opportunities. Bashir pledged support and reportedly set up a body to follow up requests, chaired by the head of the Humanitarian Aid Commission (HAC) in Khartoum. With very few of their demands met, however, the rank and file of ‘Youth’ felt that their leaders had capitulated to the government and were rethinking their stance. Mistrust of the government, described by one supporter as a ‘vulture which comes to you only when it sees carcasses’, is widespread, and most believe that ‘the gun is the only choice’. Many are ready to take up arms, arguing that they have tried to solve their problems peacefully and now have no option but to seek a ‘Darfur-like solution’.
‘Youth’ militants are seeking alliances both with the SPLA and the JEM. There is a widespread feeling that ‘Youth’ would win the backing of PDF veterans and nomads if its members turned to armed confrontation. The perception is that political parties and tribal leaders could not afford to oppose a popular groundswell and would be compelled to support the actions of a group that enjoys more legitimacy than the illiterate militiamen of the old PDF.
5.2.8 The government/National Congress Party
Resentment against the government is so widespread that it is common to hear even children chanting anti-government slogans. There is a general collapse of governance, with the government unable or unwilling to ensure security. In protest, the Misseriyya have refused to pay livestock taxes since 2005 and the government has been unable to force them to do so. In October 2008, the civil service went on strike because their salaries were not being paid.
There is a widespread perception that corruption is rife. People believe that the state Minister of Finance, who was dismissed in September 2008, lost his job because he was trying to bring some transparency to state accounts. Allegations of corruption have also undermined the Western Kordofan Development Authority. This body, created in the wake of the CPA, is based in Khartoum and has no presence or impact on the ground. There is no clarity about its annual budget, income or expenditure.
The failure to honour the wealth-sharing stipulations in the CPA has become a major source of discontent and frustration, and Misseriyya communities are demanding the 2% share in oil revenues that should be allocated to Southern Kordofan State. According to the 2007 wealth-sharing report, Southern Kordofan State’s share for January–April 2007 was $5.39 million. Very little of this appears to have been spent on initiatives to improve the livelihoods of the Misseriyya (or other groups in the state, for that matter). The Misseriyya also hold the government responsible for the Abyei Protocol and the Abyei Border Commission (ABC) report, which they see as threatening their way of life.
5.3 The CPA, the ABC and the Road Map
Thanks to the CPA and the Abyei Protocol the Misseriyya feel strongly that resources south of Bahr al-Arab have become inaccessible. The Abyei Road Map, negotiated and agreed by the SPLM and the NCP after the fighting in Abyei in May 2008, is seen as unsatisfactory, although it is recognised as a step forward compared to the Protocol. There is a widespread perception amongst Misseriyya communities that war will come, though they are not sure whether it will be against the NCP or against the South. There were complaints that the Road Map was only agreed by the SPLM to appease the internal tribal tensions with the Dinka Malwal and Twic that flared up after the Abyei Border Commission (ABC) identified areas like Meiram, Heglig and Keilak as Dinka Ngok areas. As part of the Road Map, the parties have referred the dispute on the Abyei boundaries to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.
There is concern among the Misseriyya that the court may uphold the findings of the ABC and rule in favour of the Dinka Ngok. The Road Map also envisaged the establishment of an administration in Abyei, which was finally appointed in September 2008. The agreement reached is seen as favouring the Dinka, and is described by Misseriyya leaders in the area as ‘mara wahda’ (‘only one wife’, considered inadequate in a polygamous society).
As the Misseriyya see it, the CPA strengthened the Dinka and the Road Map gave them a government which speaks on their behalf. Although the CPA guarantees the right of the Misseriyya to access pastureland south of the Bahr al-Arab, in the last two years they have had to pay heavy taxes to access the South. In 2008, most Misseriyya cattle stayed north of the Bahr al-Arab, where they suffered from a shortage of water and grazing. The extension of the Dinka Ngok area as determined by the ABC has meant that it is not just transhumance to Abyei along the Central murhal which is threatened, but also access to natural resources along the murals south of Meiram and Keilak.
Although large livestock owners have managed to access the river in recent years by paying taxes to SPLA troops, having to pay taxes to the SPLA (or GOSS, the boundary between the two being unclear in the fields of Abyei) is an issue of contention among the Misseriyya. Misseriyya pay SPLA soldiers one to two calves per herd, depending on negotiation and acceptance of the offer by the soldiers. In 2007, Misseriyya crossing Bahr al-Arab through Unity state reported paying the SPLA SDG 15,000. The Fallaita already pay taxes to the government of Southern Kordofan State in El Fula. The Ajayra have been refusing to pay taxes because of the lack of services. Neither group wants to incur double taxation by paying taxes to GOSS, but livestock owners are resigned to offering some payment in the interim in order to be able to access the river while a more acceptable solution is found.
Traditional mechanisms for conflict resolution can no longer be relied upon in negotiating with the Dinka for access to the South. With the Native Administration so politicised, the old
ways would now require the involvement of senior NCP and GOSS representatives. The Native Administration would not be accepted as a credible mediator.
5.4 Relations with neighbours
Relations appear to be strained between the Fayarin Awlad Jibril sub-tribe and the Rizeygat on the Southern Kordofan/South Darfur border. Fighting in August 2008 over access to water resources resulted in casualties on both sides. Despite agreeing the payment of diya (blood money) at a reconciliation conference (with the Fayarin paying SDG 1,348,500 and the Rizeygat SDG 772,450), it was reported that ‘the Hakkamat are still walking barefoot in the markets’.
There is a feeling of deep insecurity throughout the area. The Fayarin cannot move south until they have paid all four instalments of the diya, but they are finding this difficult: traditionally, the whole tribe would contribute, but hardship has eroded tribal solidarity. Relations with the Nuba to the east are equally strained, with sporadic clashes between the Misseriyya Zuruq and the Abu Junuk Nuba in the Lagawa area. To the south, relations are difficult with most of the neighbouring tribes, though interaction with the Nuer and the Dinka Malwal is said to be less confrontational than with the Dinka Ngok. There is deep concern about the easy availability of weapons (beyond those carried to protect livestock). The study team found weapons on wide display among communities in the Siteib Administrative Unit, especially in areas bordering Darfur and in market towns like Sammoa. In one location near Meiram, the team was advised by the Amir not to return to the area because of security risks. Tellingly, the Amir is an NCP official who is sponsoring what appears to be a local rebellion.
Links with the rebellion in Darfur are increasingly evident, and in several quarters considered desirable. One traditional leader (officially affiliated to the NCP) went as far as to criticise Darfur rebels for failing to seek an alliance with Kordofani opposition movements from the outset. Given this background, together with the JEM’s activism and the deep and widespread grievances among the Misseriyya, it is critical that all possible efforts are made to prevent another escalation of violence, which could deal a death blow to the CPA.
Read the full report here
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