Nuba people determined to fight isolation

Sudan Catholic Information Office
Issue june 15, 1999

A journalist with an Italian monthly publication was this year part of the foreign team that joined the Nuba people in celebrating the SPLA day. He gives his impression of the region that has, for over a decade, remained isolated from the rest of the world. He has requested for anonymity for security reasons.

Nuba Mountains remain isolated; but the Nuba people continue fighting not to be isolated. Last month (May) the troops of the Khartoum government launched several attacks in the area. Their military targets, according to the SPLA commander and governor of Southern Kordofan, Mr. Yusuf Kuwa, were the airstrips, the only link between the Nuba and the rest of the world.

Had their heinous dream been realised, Khartoum would have gone to the Nairobi Inter-governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) peace talks (supposed to have been held in Nairobi in mid May but postponed) in a stronger position.

The definition of the Nuba Mountains remains one of the most contentious issues in the IGAD talks. Though geographically not part of the south, the Nuba people have chosen to be part of southern Sudan in the protracted civil strife. Khartoum insists the Nuba must remain part of northern Sudan.

But Nuba soldiers are now used to the machinations of Khartoum and have so far kept the enemy in check.
Sometimes the Khartoum troops come close enough to bombing the airstrips forcing the Nuba to open alternative ones and igniting sustained hard fighting for a long period.

The war in the isolated region can be traced back to July 1985 but it intensified a little later with the official introduction of the SPLA.

In 1995, a human rights organisation, African Rights, published a report that identified the war in the Nuba Mountains as genocide and blamed it on the isolation of the region. Since then, not much has changed.
Nuba Mountains are still excluded from the Operation Lifeline Sudan's mandate, which is responsible for the provision of relief aid in the war-affected southern South Sudan.

Only a handful of Non-governmental organisations take relief to the Nuba, of course at their own risk.
The foreign NGOs work closely with a local one, the Nuba Relief and Rehabilitation Society. Not even journalists can access the Nuba Mountains easily to report about this forgotten war. Despite all the difficulties, the month of May is a period for celebration in the liberated areas of the Nuba Mountains. On the 16th of the month each year, thousands of people gather to commemorate the birth of the SPLA.

Official speeches, songs, dances and traditional Nuba wrestling usually mark such celebrations. Several meetings are also held to deliberate on peace, food security and general education of civil society.

It is the occasion when the Nuba express their culture that has made them famous the world over, courtesy of the daring cameramen who have worked in the region. While maintaining strong links with the SPLA, the Nuba are also determined to retain their identity.

As journalists and other guests walked to the airstrip from this year's celebration, they heard sounds of bombing and gunshots… Khartoum's ugly reminder that "we are aware that you sneaked in once again".