Leader of struggle to free the Nuba dies

by Julie Flint
The Guardian (UK)
April 3, 2001

Yousif Kuwa, the teacher who turned to armed struggle to get recognition for the Nuba people of central Sudan, has died at the age of 56 after a year-long battle with bone cancer. His death strips the Sudan People's Liberation Army of a man who was the very embodiment of the 'New Sudan" it is pledged to create.

Kuwa died on Saturday in a Norwich hospital, while writing an open letter to the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, deploring the UN's failure to deliver relief to the Nuba mountains three years after Khartoum promised to end its 12-year blockade.

The 1.5m Nuba, a black African people in a country dominated by the Arab north, are the model of the political and cultural diversity which threatens the fundamentalist generals who rule Sudan, and have been at the sharp end of their increasingly violent drive to impose an extreme form of Islam.

In the past year, as Kuwa's illness removed him from effective leadership, Khartoum redoubled its efforts to defeat the rebellion he led by attacking the most fertile parts of the mountains and driving the in habitants into 'peace villages". About 15.000 Nuba have been displaced already this year. Many more are threatened by famine.

'It is sad that in the middle of this tragedy the UN is wasting time trying to persuade the government to permit access to the Nuba mountains," Yoanes Ajawin, director of programmes for the human rights organisation Justice Africa, said. 'The UN should comply with international humanitarian law which allows assistance to the needy without the permission of rogue governments like [the Sudanese]."

Kuwa was elected to a regional assembly but joined the SPLA in 1984, despairing of political change. As commander-governor of the Nuba mountains he oversaw the establishment of a civil administration unique in SPLA areas, and encouraged a renaissance of Nuba culture. He was the first SPLA commander to allow a human rights monitoring organisation in his territory.

'He was a thoughtful man, curious and intellectual," Jemera Rone of Human Rights Watch said yesterday. 'He took liberation seriously, understanding that it included respect for the rights of all. Such a man cannot live too long."