Blowing Horn Newsletter

By Alex Diang’a and Skye Wheeler
Nairobi, Kenia
August 26, 2005 (The East African Standard)

Starved of news for over two decades, southern Sudan was one of the few countries in the world without a newspaper until three years ago when the print media started developing. This semi-permanent structure in Southern Sudan houses the newsroom of one of the leading newspapers in the area, Blowing Horn Newsletter.

With no good roads, railways and electricity, the only way to communicate with the outside world was through visitors entering the south by planes or directly through radio transmission. But even those with transistor radios, the challenge remained affording batteries to power their radios. Southern Sudan is one of the poorest countries in the world with poverty rampant in all areas of the south.

But the few months preceding the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between Government of Sudan (GoS) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), access to information became even more important for updating southern Sudanese people. Southern Sudan’s first-ever independent newspaper, Sudan Mirror, was launched in 2003. The bi-weekly newspaper is edited in Kenya, printed in Uganda and distributed in villages, towns and refugee camps using planes used by relief agencies.

But as plans to start the Sudan Mirror were being mooted, a newsletter targeting people in the Nuba Mountains was already in the streets. The people in the Nuba Mountains felt they needed a channel for communication to inform them on what was happening in their region and beyond, the area being a unique case unlike other areas in the south.

It is against this background that a southern Sudanese youth decided that time was ripe for a media to inform and educate the people in Nuba Mountains on the long awaited peace treaty and as well as disseminating information on important events such as the development of the Interim National Constitution.

Nuba Mountains (South Kordofan State) is one of the three ‘special contested areas’ in Sudan. The other two are Abyei and Funj (Blue Nile State). These areas have experienced a long history of struggle for political, economic and social rights. Many of the underlying causes of conflict in Sudan intersect here—competition over resources such as land, oil, language, race, religion and power.

But the recent Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) further puts people of Nuba and Funj into a vulnerable position since one of the six protocols signed between the GoS and SPLM stipulates that the Nuba Mountains in South Kordofan State become part of the north.

Equipped with only a pen and a note book, Stephen Amin started the Blowing Horn newsletter in 2002. Today, the newsletter boasts two computers, a printing machine, a satellite phone, a digital camera, a motor bike and a rented office as well as three staff.

Access to information is vital for the people of Nuba Mountains because they need to be empowered to actively participate in decision-making. "We want to avail information to all people in Nuba Mountains because if they are informed, they will make informed decisions," says Amin.

As three Sudanese youths grapple with the herculean task of producing the bi-monthly newsletter in a cramped, brick office where day temperatures soar up to 40 degrees centigrade, nothing can dampen the hive of activity in the offices of the Blowing Horn, the only newsletter targeting the people of Nuba Mountains.

Other media available in the area target mostly the Nuba diaspora. "We are striving to keep the region informed of what is going on in the Nuba Mountains and around the world," says Kadia Aburaida, the managing editor of the newsletter.

In spite of the difficulties faced by the Blowing Horn staff, who include an administrator, managing editor and the Editor-in-Chief, the sixth issue of the Blowing Horn will soon hit the streets. This will be another milestone on a journey that began over three years ago with a circulation of 500 copies which has now increased to 2000 copies. The first issue had only two pages and was produced in Nairobi, amidst a myriad of problems.

"I wrestled with dilemmas that even the most ambitious would-be media moguls rarely confront. Imagine starting a newsletter in a war ravaged country. Further more, how do you collect, write and edit a newsletter and send it 2000 kilometres away for printing and back again for distribution, when it takes more than a month to get it back?" poses Amin, the Editor-in-Chief of Blowing Horn, who studied communication at Daystar University in Kenya.

"The people of Nuba are desperately cut-off. People here have no access to information. We try to carry as much international news as we can, to inform our readers about important events in the world," says Kadia. "Otherwise there is no way they will know about the new anti-malarial drugs being produced in Kenya and other international events," he adds.

"The Blowing Horn has benefited from the support of Pact’s Sudan Country Programme (SCP), a Non Governmental Organization, which supports access to quality independent information. But nothing has been forthcoming from other organizations we have spoken to so far. "They’ve been strong on nice chat, but seriously short on help, which is rather sad because I think we’re doing extraordinary work here providing information to the Nuba people. We are not a mouth peace of NGOs or political parties and we shall remain like that," says Amin.

The cover price for Blowing Horn is 500 Sudanese Pound (Ksh 20) which barely covers the cost of production. Advertising which brings in most revenue for newspapers has not yet benefited Blowing Horn so far. Says Amin: "There is no one to sign advertising contracts with us. We are in the village but we expect things to improve as business people move in to invest in southern Sudan from different corners of the world."

But undeterred, the trio are determined that Blowing Horn will grow and become like other newspapers in the world. "We are determined to grow and remain independent from any interference. No one will censor us and we will make sure we remain our own gate keepers," says Amin.

As they write stories, the cultural aspect is important to the editorial team like any other news item since the editors have recognized a great hunger in the community to maintain the culture. As the slogan for the newsletter states, "A Voice for the Nuba Empowerment," there is strong understanding among the communities that this is the call for the return of a culture that has been subsumed in the tides of power struggle.

The Nuba and the Arabs had lived peacefully together for a long time until the north-south war between the GoS and SPLM/A broke out and destroyed relations between them in the 1980’s. The conflict provoked and encouraged economic, cultural and religious discrimination, making it very difficult for the Nuba people to continue with their normal way of life. As a result, large numbers of Nuba people felt forced into internal displacement into northern towns, cities and into ‘peace camps’, where their traditional cultures and beliefs were either discouraged or at times even violently suppressed.

The newsletter has been able to inoculate the Nuba people against beliefs, social, cultural and political malpractices that contribute to conflicts between various communities. "Blowing Horn does not only provide information about what is happening here and around the world, but also plays an important role of disseminating information on understanding and transforming actual and potential conflicts in this area," says Amin.

With the majority of Nuba people more conversant in Arabic than English, the newsletter will soon be translated into Arabic beside the English version currently being produced to widen its reach.