Yousif Kuwa speaks: Meanings and manifestations

By Dr Omer M Shurkian*

Feb 3, 2006 — On Wednesday, May 5, 1999, Commander (Cdr) Yousif Kuwa Makki was hosted by the Sudanese Cultural Society (SCS) in Greater Manchester in Britain to deliver a talk on the political situation in the Sudan. The society was a relatively small but effective group of Sudanese intellectuals who had gathered together in the late 1994 and formed a body that was aimed at deliberating issues of paramount interest to them as Sudanese intellectuals in self-imposed exile. Such issues included matters of political, cultural, religious, ethnic, academic and poetic nature. In the evening of the aforementioned day and date, Kuwa talked about three main themes: the affiliation of the Nuba people with the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), the peace negotiations between the SPLM/A and the Sudan Government, and the role played by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in opposing the Khartoum regime diplomatically, politically and militarily. The significance of Kuwa’s lecture emanated from the fact that he was the actual Governor of Southern Kordofan, and his duties and responsibilities were believed to have a direct impact on a large territory in which civilian population and the SPLA forces were living side by side and intermingling with one another in what was then known as the liberated areas, or the New Sudan that the SPLM/A was striving to achieve after the destruction of the old one. More importantly, Kuwa was a pronounced non-conformist and avowedly free-thinker who sacrificed everything to campaign for Nuba’s social welfare, justice and political rights.

The Nuba and the SPLM/A

First and foremost, Cdr Kuwa commenced his speech with a frequently asked question of why did the Nuba people join the SPLM/A? Kuwa emphatically stated that whoever in this hall who believed that there was no problem in the Sudan would be utterly mistaken. He told the audience that a country that had, and still has, been wallowing in the quagmire of civil war since its independence in 1956 must have a very serious problem. The Sudan witnessed its first internecine, civil war in 1955 until 1972; and, after a lull of ten years, it restarted in 1983 until 2005 when the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was concluded in January 2005. This indicates that there is something terribly rotten in the state of Sudan. Much to our dismay, these Sudanese ailments are superficially dealt with without indulging ourselves deeper into the root causes of these political crises to correctly diagnose their symptoms in order to prescribe the right cure or drug if we will. The failure to tackle these disasters has been rocketing as a consequence of party bickering, factional squabbles, sectarian interests, elitists approach and deep-rooted superiority complex. For the inferiority complex, on the other hand, the marginalised people would disappointedly and enthusiastically resort to separatism. Thus, people from Southern Sudan would vociferously argue that separation would be a solution against the perpetual yoke of oppression and exploitation. But Kuwa affirmed that the country belongs to all Sudanese, including these new settlers - that is, the Arabs, and if they did not want to live in peace and harmony with the indigenous population of the land of blacks, then it was them who were to leave. He put it remarkably convincing that if the house was not congenial to the guest, then it was him (the guest) who were to leave and not the host. Kuwa explicitly disqualified ‘Ali ‘Abd al-Rahman’s, the former Minister of Interior in the 1960s, statement that: ‘The Sudan is an Arab country, and whoever is not happy to live in such a country can quit.’ Such bigotry in political dispensation, extremism in ethnic belonging and obsession in the exclusion of others are the fundamental elements of schism, which is tearing the country asunder.

Recognizing the crisis of governance, social, economical and political prejudice in a mulit-religious, multi-cultural and multi-ethnic country like the Sudan, Kuwa asserted that it was logical and rational enough a reason for the Nuba (people of distinct cultural attributes as well a unique tolerance to religious diversity) to embrace the SPLM/A and affiliate to its doctrine and the political philosophy of creating the New Sudan. A New Sudan that would accommodate in it all aspects of life and all the hues of the population and transcend all the differences in order to form a rainbow nation. This inclusiveness is imperative because the country, so to speak, has been ruled and dominated by an Arabo-Islamic oligarchy clique since its independence from the Condominium Rule in 1956; this minority faction has then modelled the country to represent the Arab, Islamic outlook that could only serve the vested interests of so few a people, while depicting everything that is antithesis to this notion as contrary to the ‘consensus of the nation’ which is a forced Arabism and Islamism. Such a fait accompli in which the unfortunate Sudanese citizens have found themselves has been a major factor in the ongoing national disputes in the Sudan. Kuwa then effectively demonstrated the grave invalidity of institutionalising a such imposed ‘national consensus’ by mentioning that if the Nuba were to wield power by force of arms and compel the entire population to become Nuba in their languages, culture, customs and traditions, then the people would say these Nuba must have gone completely mad, at very least, if a fiercely bitter resistance is not waged against them. If that was the case, then why they (the Arabs) were forcibly assimilating us into embracing their culture and their way of life against our own wills, Kuwa exclaimed in protested. This deliberate assimilation, Kuwa continued, has gone deep into our personality that a large number of us could no longer speak our mother tongue, and we get embarrassed for being non-Arabs. In the history annals, Kuwa recalled: ‘We were never taught anything good about the Nuba; we were taught the history of the Arabs and, when we were taught about ourselves, it was as slaves. Now, there is a [deliberate] policy to assimilate us into their Arab, Islamic culture to the extent that a lot of us do not know our mother tongue and despise our own culture.’ At the University of Khartoum, Kuwa read everything related to the Nuba, including the theories about the origins of the Nuba; he discovered that before the Arabs came, they had a great kingdom and fascinating civilisations that were destroyed by these encroaching and marauding Arabs.

The national identity that is tailored to represent one section of the population is an invitation to a clash of nationalities and cultures. Worse still, if such a group of community believe that their religious convictions give them the possession of the absolute agenda and, therefore, believe their opponents are somehow almost less than human because they don’t share that argumentative truth, then that leads to demonisation and polarisation in politics, and it is inconsistent with a fundamental right to pursue life, happiness and prosperity, and freedom of expression (speech) and worshipping. In adhering to one’s own faith and values, other people’s faith should be respected, and there needs to be enough humility to know that you are not in possession of absolute truth. In order to move from this narrowly restricted definition of identity, disparate population groups have to be convinced that despite their obvious differences they do share an identity that is the basis for a ‘collective interest of political collectivity’. This intrinsic theme of identity, if tackled positively, could lead to a bright future. Unlike Ethiopia, the Sudan, so Kuwa believed, has unique characteristics. The Ethiopians of differing religious beliefs cannot eat with one another, nor can they buy commodities and consumptive items from the shops of one another; this is uncommon in the Sudan. There is no single state in the world that is exclusively mono-ethnic, monolingual nor mono-religious. Take for instance the USA citizens; they are composed of Anglo-Americans, Afro-Americans, German-Americans, Franco-Americans, Italian-Americans, Irish-Americans, Scottish-Americans, Japanese-Americans, Sino-Americans and so forth, but they are all proud to be Americans and they pledge their loyalty to the USA as the only homeland they have. If the American model is adopted in the Sudan, then the questions of ethnic, religious and cultural identity will be solved once and for all.

The SPLM/A has, therefore, addressed the crises of governance, economic development, social marginalisation, ethnic, religious and cultural diversity, equality in the court of law and so forth: these themes have been widely publicised as power- and wealth-sharing, multi-party democracy, religion and state, national identity, equality and justice. Having been convinced that the movement was calling for the realisation and achievement of these objectives, the Nuba embraced the SPLM/A, not allied with it, as some people may have conceived. Usually, an alliance involves two or more disparate bodies with differing goals, but converging at somewhat minimally or maximally agreed agenda. Those who saw the matter in a different way kept barking on the Nuba as to whether their alliance with the SPLM/A was a temporary or a strategic one. Our response, Kuwa averred, was that it was neither an alliance nor a strategic coalition. The Nuba’s role in the movement was, and is, efficaciously crucial, particularly after Dr Riek Machar’s breakaway faction of the SPLM/A had caused so much damage and despondency to the mother movement and the masses, while allegedly insisting that they left the movement because it was not upholding human rights. Despite all the proclamations and confirmations of national unity, the mainstream SPLM/A stood accused of having to be replete with hidden agenda for the secession of Southern Sudan. Ironically, politicians from the peripheries of the country are caught up in a split dilemma: if, on the one hand, they dare to speak on behalf of their marginalised fellow countrymen, they risk themselves being accused of harbouring deep-rooted proclivities towards separation; and if, on the other hand, they opt to address national issues, they will be denigrated as ‘lacking national credentials’ to represent the whole Sudan in the political arena and national stage. The latter is always racially motivated since the marginalised citizens, who belong to the indigenous African population, have earned the credentials necessary to dismiss the exclusive justifications of lacking credentials as proclaimed by the Northern elites.

The peace talks between the SPM/A and the Sudan Government

Since its inception in 1983, the SPLM/A had categorically stated that although it resorted to armed struggle - that is, using the impact of military force to attain strategic doctrine - to redress the imbalance of power and rectify the inherent injustice in national wealth distribution and lack of power-sharing, peaceful dialogue was another window of opportunity that could lead to a durable, political settlement of the Sudanese problems; thus it left the door of peaceful negotiations agar. This the movement did; it had, therefore, engaged concerned individuals, regional groups, trade unions, political parties and the Government of the day in Khartoum in its long endeavour to grasp the elusive peace that had evaded the Sudanese leaders for so long a time. Consequently, the SPLM/A signed the Koka Dam Declaration in 1986 with the National Alliance for the Salvation of the Country which was adopted as a seminal protocol for the following agreements, including the Sudanese Peace Initiative - signed in 1988 between the SPLM/A and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), and a number of political declarations with the National Islamic Front (NIF) Government since it seized power in a coup d’état in June 1989, despite the fact the NIF Government was, and is, an extremely indoctrinated regime that could not succumb to issues which fell outside the belief of their opinionated leaders.

Kuwa gave a full account on the Abuja peace talks between the SPLM/A and the Sudan Government on April 26, 1993 under the auspices of the Nigerian President, Gen Ibrahim Babangida. It was the first peace talks Kuwa ever attended with the NIF regime, the de facto Government of Sudan. The talks, which were held in the newly established Nigerian capital - namely, Abuja - was, to say the least, a dogfight: there was a great deal of exchanges of acrimonious accusations and counter-accusations between the two delegations. Had the sessions been allowed to proceed like that, there would have been no palpable outcomes. The Nigerian mediators then intervened to rescue the proceedings by proposing the formation of the Council of Elders from the members of the two delegations. The council, however, comprised Cdr Salva Kiir Mayardit, Cdr Yousif Kuwa Makki and Cdr Deng Alor from the SPLM/A side, and Dr ‘Ali al-Haj Mohamed and Brig (retired) Mohamed al-Amin Khalifa from the Sudan Government side. As a matter of compromise, the SPLM/A realised that as a movement they could not compel the Khartoum regime to endorse a secular constitution against their will; and, equally, the regime had no moral right to coerce the SPLM/A into accepting the Islamic Sharia’a. So after much of deliberations, the two sides agreed on the con-federal system as a bid to solve the crisis of governance in the Sudan whereby all the SPLM/A-administered territories could implement a secular constitution whereas the regime-controlled areas may continue to practise the Islamic laws. The SPLM/A-dominated areas, or the war zones, were composed of Southern Sudan, Southern Kordofan, Southern Blue Nile and Abyei, while the rest of the country was under the influence of the regime. If decentralisation, regionalisation and federalisation are all forms of unity, then confederacy, after all, is yet another arrangement whereby two governmental systems may co-exist side by side, while sharing some key issues that may affect sovereignty, security, defence, foreign affairs, currency and monetary policy. It is, therefore, another form of unity with specified roles and responsibilities in which the greediness of insatiable politicians in the centre and their lust for power could be curbed. The Con-federal Arrangements, as the Nigerian brokers contemplated, could be implemented during an interim period without further ado.

These Transitional Arrangements will involve the establishment of two systems of government: one in the North and another in the South, with a rotatory presidency. It is worth noting that the South was recognised, at least by the SPLM/A, as the war zones as alluded to earlier. Such Transitional Arrangements, as brokered by the Nigerian facilitators, aimed at creating a conducive atmosphere to building trust, devolving special powers to the different regions of the country, the cessation of hostilities, the prevalence of security and stability and concerting efforts to bring about reconstruction and rehabilitation. It was perceived that, at the end of this kind of modus vivendi, the Sudanese people would have reached a solution to their chronic problems, including the creation of a united, safer Sudan in which all the regions will have their equitable rights, and an agreed constitution to govern the relationship between the peripheries and the centre. But if, for one reason or another, they cannot reach an acceptable deal, then they can opt to live in this way while continuing dialogue amongst themselves until an agreeable formula is found. These arrangements - albeit within a confederal, united Sudan - will be guided by the principles set out by the Nigerian brokers. After provisional acquiescence, the Sudan Government delegation then sent the results to Khartoum for comments and possible approval. While the SPLM/A delegation was waiting for the regime’s response, Dr John Garang arrived in Abuja from his tour to the USA and Britain; the SPLM/A delegation went to greet him and brief him about the progress of peace talks with their counterpart. When the SPLM/A negotiating team returned to the venue of the talks, there was a furore that the SPLM/A leader - that is, Dr Garang - had come to Abuja not only to sabotage the peace talks, but also to order the SPLM/A delegation to leave Nigeria prematurely. This was widely publicised in the NIF smut media; such a cause célèbre was egged out by the regime’s mischievous interpretation of the agreed draft. The Khartoum regime mistakenly concluded that the SPLM/A could not have agreed on this document had it been militarily strong: their endorsement must have been a sign of weakness. Consequently, the regime announced that the SPLM/A was teetering towards the edge of decay and destruction, and that they were only the remnant of bandits on the Sudanese-Ugandan border. These illusions were what prompted the regime’s forces to attack the SPLA positions on Yei-Nimule road in the rainy season - namely, in June 1993: a similar offensive had never been launched before by the Khartoum authorities in the history of rebellion since 1983. Had the Khartoum regime been really serious about reaching peace with the SPLM/A, it could have done so during the Abuja talks.

The Sudan Government then approached the Inter-Governmental Authority on Drought and Development (IGADD) to intervene as brokers to salvage the peace process in the Sudan. The IGADD’s Declaration of Principle (DOP), according to Cdr Kuwa, was the best formula that had hitherto addressed the Sudanese problems. The only reservation, Kuwa added, the SPLM/A had against it was the definition of the South. To the SPLM/A, in contrast to the regime’s objection, the South meant the traditionally Southern Sudanese provinces plus Southern Kordofan, Southern Blue Nile and Abyei region. As soon as the IGADD came out with the DOP in which it categorically stated that the Sudanese ailments could only be solved if there was, inter alia, a distinct separation between religion and politics. But if this were to prove too hard for the Khartoum regime to digest, then the people of the South should exercise their ‘right to self-determination’. At the beginning, the Khartoum rejected the DOP and launched a diatribe against the members of IGADD and even accused them of being the SPLM/A financers, but it later accepted the DOP in 1997 - that is, after squandering three years on wobbling and dithering. Dr Garang once said that such a ‘right to self-determination’ was a two-way process: it could lead to either unity or secession. In the IGADD-sponsored peace talks that were held in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, in 1998, Cdr Kuwa and Cdr Malik Agar were amongst the SPLM/A delegation. Their presence was vital as the regime kept saying to the SPLM/A in the previous rounds of peace talks that they should not speak on behalf of the Nuba and the Funj people. This ‘divide-and-rule’ policy of the regime provoked the SPLM/A leadership to send in their governors from Southern Kordofan and Southern Blue Nile - namely, Cdr Yousif Kuwa and Cdr Malik Agar, respectively. As soon as the SPLM/A delegation arrived at the venue, Cdr Kuwa and Cdr Agar informed the IGADD mediators that they were here as part and parcel of the SPLM/A delegation, but if the talks were to deal with the issue of the so-called ‘Southern Sudan Problem’, then they would like to know so that they could quit the talks. The IGADD facilitators assured them that that was not the case. The talks commenced with the issue of separating religion from state on which the Government delegation said that there “there is no discussion on this. After moving to the second theme in the agenda - that is, the ‘right to self-determination’, the regime insisted that such a right could only be exercised by the people of Southern Sudan according to the borderlines, which were demarcated by the colonial powers in 1956. This meant that Southern Kordofan, Southern Blue and Abyei territories were not part of this Government-granted concession. It is worth mentioning that the boundaries of Southern Sudan were not defined in 1956 as the regime had made people to believe; in fact, they were identified by the Addis Ababa Accord in 1972. Nonetheless, the SPLM/A discovered a road map of the 1957 parliamentary elections in which Southern Kordofan and Southern Blue Nile were identified as parts of Southern Sudan constituencies. The SPLM/A avidly waited to surprise the regime delegation in the next round of talks, which was set to be in February 1999, but the Khartoum side elected not to show up.

As it has been popularly known, Southern Sudan may have been presented as the three traditional provinces of Upper Nile, Bahr al-Ghazal and Equatoria, but the peoples of the Nuba Mountains, Southern Blue Nile and Abyei have been fighting alongside with their fellow countrymen - namely, the Southerners - since the eruption of hostilities in the Sudan in 1983; their demands and objectives were as the same in logic and conviction as of the Southerners, and under no circumstances should their rights be reduced in quantity and quality. Historically speaking, the Nuba, the Funj people and the indigenous inhabitants of Abyei - together with the Southerners - were those natives of Sudan that were designated by the colonial powers as the dwellers of the ‘Closed Districts’ in the 1920s. Ethnically, they are the indigenous population that they populated the entire country from the North to the South since time immemorial, but they have been increasingly pushed further towards the South through natural desiccation, raids of enslavement and wars of attrition. Besides these reasons, their areas are characterised by under-development, dilapidated infrastructure, malnutrition, high infant mortality rate, recurring epidemics and stagnant endemics, socio-political marginalisation and lack of education and healthcare, to mention but a few and so forth.

Astonishingly enough, the regime, which was said to have been fighting a holy war to preserve the national unity of the country, was pampering to the Southern separatists. It signed so numerous an agreement and charter with the breakaway factions of the SPLM/A since 1991, gave them key jobs and held them in high esteem, while continued to fight the real callers of Sudanese unity on a new basis - viz., the SPLM/A mainstream. The regime’s comportment was obnoxious, to say the least. In one of the IGADD-sponsored peace talks in Nairobi, Dr Ghazi Salah al-Din al-‘Atabani, then Sudan Foreign Minister, told the IGADD mediators that the Khartoum regime had a heavenly mission to spread Islam not only in Southern Sudan, but throughout the entire African continent. The IGADD members, whose leaders were Christians, were stunned by such an uncouth statement of the Sudanese Foreign Minister that lacked the least diplomatic etiquette. If anything, the 1998 Addis Ababa peace talks yielded nothing of any political significance; it even failed to make headway nor did it produce a joint communiqué. The only achieved outcome was the signing of a humanitarian protocol to allow the safe flow of relief supplies to the needy.

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA)

Since its inception in October 1989, the NDA had increasingly represented a conglomeration of political parties, trade unions, independent figures and army officers who gathered together - firstly, inside the Sudan (in Kober penitentiary prison) and, secondly, in exile - and formed a politico-military umbrella to oppose the NIF military regime in Khartoum. The SPLM/A joined the NDA in 1990 after tendering some changes to the founding charter. From the outset, the SPLM/A had adopted the ‘policy of containment’ in which it championed the notion of attracting the opposition forces lest they were to fall prey to the regime’s allurements. This was why the SPLM/A sought an active participation in the NDA, and the fruits of this policy were reaped in 1997 when the SPLA forces liberated Kurmuk and Gissan: the two borderline outposts in Southern Blue Nile. The regime attempted to exploit the incident to drum up Arabs’ and Muslims’ support against the SPLM/A, but Sayyid Mohamed Osman al-Mirghani’s DUP, which was part and parcel of the NDA, soothed the incensed Arab and Muslim voices, assuring them that the military operations in these areas were conducted by the NDA of which we were an active partner and partisan. Were we not Arabs and Muslims? Sayyid Mirghani exclaimed to the furious Arabs and Muslims world. Since then the DUP lived up to its pledges in its alliance with the SPLM/A, as dependability is an invaluable quality in an ally. Unlike in 1987, when the SPLA forces entered the same two towns, Sayyid Mirghani, whose party was then a member of the Coalition Government with Sayyid Sadiq al-Mahdi’s Umma Party, flew to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, and returned with Iraqi bombers and pilots who then bombed the two towns to the withdrawal of the SPLA combatants, and restoring them to the shaken Sadiq’s administration. This is another face of Sudan’s multi-faceted politics and identity crises that plagued the country as eluded to earlier. The NDA’s political components, including the Umma Party without (or with?) Sadiq in person, had been carrying out their obligations in opposing the NIF regime diplomatically, politically and militarily.

But Sadiq’s apparition in the Eritrean capital, Asmara, had somewhat taken everybody by surprise. Questions were raised: how did he manage to evade capture by the watchful Sudanese security members. Ironically, Sadiq’s allegation that he invoked the prophetic exorcism to stave off the security personnel did not convince anyone: certainly, Sadiq’s demeanour was by no means angelic. Despite all these reservations, the NDA welcomed him heartedly to its fold. Sadiq then proposed the reconstruction of the NDA to reflect the composition of the defunct Constituent Assembly of 1986-1989 in which the Umma Party, Sadiq’s own political party, was wielding a sizeable majority, but not enough to form a government on its own without coalescing with another political body. The NDA opposed this preposition, and Sadiq was not impressed. In fact he was swollen and sufficiently inundated with anger to his capacity. The next venture he embarked on was to call upon the Sudanese army officers to topple the regime. This statement from a presumed democrat befuddled everyone and created a furore in the political arena: how on earth could a staunch democrat in the posture of Sadiq, who had been actively opposed to the military seizure of power, instigate the very military to launch a putsch. As if that was not enough, Sadiq trekked to al-Azhar University in Cairo, the Egyptian capital, to entreat the Islamic ulama (scholars) to issue a fatwa (religious edict) denouncing the military takeover of power in Khartoum against his authority in June 1989 as an un-Islamic act. It is this foisting of religious affairs into the earthly politics of the day that has been the cause of bloody conflict in the Sudan.

Furthermore, Sadiq rallied his stalwarts to migrate and join him in Eritrea to form an army that was capable of divesting the NIF regime of power. Upon hearing this entreaty, only a bevy of his loyalists responded to his call, thus a seed of Umm Army was sown, but the seed failed to grow in size and quantity as well as quality. In a typical example of naked nepotism, Sadiq brought in his son - namely, Lieut ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Mahdi, a junior officer who graduated from a military school in Jordan - and made him Commander-in-Chief of the Umma Army: a move which infuriated his seniors into leaving the struggle altogether, causing some of them even to immigrate to Australia. Sadiq had always dreamt of mustering an army that could not only supersede the SPLA, but also the one that could defeat the Khartoum regime quite easily and restore his usurped authority. Having failed to attain these grandiose ambitions, Sadiq unleashed his self-made frustration on the NDA, and reserved a vitriolic tirade against the SPLM/A. This errant assault against the NDA, claiming that it was dominated by the SPLM/A, was obviously provoked by envy rather than a genuine cause of concern. To go a step further, Sadiq engaged the SPLM/A leader - that is, Dr John Garang - in an epistolary war; his crude letters to Dr Garang were apparently motivated by a character of deeply disturbed grandeur: neither were these messages objective nor subjective. Thence Sadiq travelled to Geneva in May 1999 to meet his brother-in-law who was also the Speaker of NIF-appointed National Council (Parliament), Dr Hassan ‘Abd Allah al-Turabi. Together they signed a memorandum of understanding in which they pledged to work intimately to undermine President Bashir’s authority in order to inherit the throne. Sadiq kept a copy of the document, and Turabi retained another one. By and large, Sadiq’s methods and motives were questionable: because he was privy to such a conclave with the ideologue of the discredited regime without sharing its contents with his colleagues in the NDA. Nevertheless, President Omer al-Bashir, whose agents were not asleep, was lurching and waiting for an opportune moment to pounce on Turabi: it was a case of a revolution that devoured its godfather, as Dr Garang later remarked jokingly that he heard of a revolution consuming its offspring, but he never heard of the one that extirpated its spiritual guru. Anyhow, Bashir made his move in late 1999: he ousted Turabi as the Speaker of rubber-stamp Parliament, put him under house arrest and later incarcerated him without charges. This classic assault of éminence grise by his protégé was not uncommon in the Sudanese body politics, and the infamous player in this game after all was none other than Turabi himself; he tasted it once from the former incumbent President, Ga’afer Mohamed Nimeiri, and here yet again from President Bashir.

In October 1999, Sadiq, the peripatetic leader, then flew to Djibouti where he signed the so-called the ‘Call of the Nation’ with President Bashir as a new initiative to tackle the Sudanese problems. While the NIF leaders were competing to cajole Sadiq into joining their regime, Sadiq was, on the other hand, lamenting the SPLM/A for talking to the very regime. The SPLM/A was not engaging the regime in any surreptitious collusion. In fact, theirs was transparently conducted in broad daylight, under the publicised world media and an alert international community.

Having failed abjectly to achieve any of his illusions, Sadiq decided to return to Khartoum, allegedly to lead an impending popular uprising against the regime ‘from within’ by employing the ‘civil jihad’ (civic holy war), on the one hand, and prevent the SPLM/A from signing the Abel Alier’s peace overture with the Khartoum regime, on the other hand. For Sadiq, any political deal that he is not party to it is capitulation by the Sudan Government and dictating the terms of victor - namely, the SPLM/A: he continues to argue that the two sides have ‘internationalised the Sudanese conflict’ through involving foreign powers; this is a weird logic. Sadiq did not bother to ask his scruples about what was wrong in reaching a peaceful settlement to put an end to so protracted a conflict that had caused the loss of some two million lives and sent millions more to become either internally displaced persons within their own country or refugees in foreign lands. This is the very atavistic Sadiq who was quoted in the Arab press as saying he was returning to Khartoum to stop the torrential flow of the tears of wailing mothers as a result of the sanguine Sudanese dispute. These were Sadiq’ deportments that he employed as a casus belli to quit the NDA; his Umma Party’s divorce from the NDA then became irreversible.

After studying Sadiq’s character, searching his soul, perusing his political history, listening to his arguments and witnessing the profound consequences of his politicking, it is really perplexing whether Sadiq believes in what he says or he only utters these statements for political consumption. Research into pseudologia fantastica (pathological lying) has recently shown that chronic lying is seen mostly as manipulative - to bring about personal gain - or as part of mental illness. Now, there is a tendency even among every successful people to weave fact and fiction for no obvious benefit and without mental illness, either. This epidemic of casual lying, in which a significant minority of people turn daydreams into supposed reality, either to combat inner emptiness or to seem more interesting: it seems that better educated a person is, the higher their level of deceit; and people most likely to lie are those who care deeply about what others think of them. The lie has become a gratification in itself, told purely for pleasure. Philosophers are divided over whether small fictions are allowable. Most are opposed: Plato says yes, but Aristotle, St Augustine and Kant say no. Professor Leo Strauss, who saw nothing wrong in lying to conceal a strategic position, or for diplomatic ends. No wonder that Strauss was the godfather of neo-Conservatives in the USA who are now harbouring proclivities to dominate world politics. The moral case for lies is built on avoiding conflict. If a degree of lying is a survival mechanism, then a degree in lying is not. But just as there are good, evolutionary reasons for lying, there are good, social reasons for a moral disapproval of dishonesty. A lie that causes injury is a mortal offence, but ‘harmless’ lies are still venial sins. The problem with lying beyond a certain level is that you lose the right to lie in the way that everybody else does. Once you have crossed the line that is judged acceptable, you cannot employ the manipulations and evasions that are part of ordinary, social intercourse. Normally, truth is thriftily applied, and for someone who is as talkative as Sadiq when he runs out of facts, then fibs will certainly follow.

Kuwa remembered the time he spent as the Chairman of the SPLM/A Provisional Committee for the First SPLM/A Convention in 1994. It was an educating experience in which he learned so much about the Southerners. He particularly singled out the paramount chiefs in Southern Sudan for his praise. They, Kuwa reiterated, bear the hallmarks of wisdom; although they are not educated, they can express their point of view in their own vernacular languages, and no sooner are their speeches translated to you than you get imbued with ever-lasting aphorism and indelible lessons. Kuwa went on to relate an episode in which he was a key witness. While he was conducting his duties and responsibilities in the run-up to the SPLM/A Convention, he was approached by a messenger who informed him that the women of Bahr al-Ghazal wanted to meet with him. Kuwa self-contemplated the proposal for a while, and then agreed to meet them. When they arrived and seated down, they uttered that they could not speak Arabic nor English language; Kuwa then told them through an interlocutor that he had no objection to hear what they had to say provided that their views were translated and conveyed to him in order to respond. The women then complained about the in-flight amongst the SPLM/A rank and file, relating to the SPLM/A breakaway faction of Dr Riek Machar and his co-conspirators in 1991. In a heartbreaking tone, they castigated the SPLM/A leaders for this fratricidal war, claiming that they were the ones who bore the full brunt of its consequences as every victim could be either their son, husband or/and brother who would then leave for them a family behind to cater for. These gnawing questions ranged from bitter remarks to painstaking queries: ‘You told us that there was a problem and you were setting out to fight in order to rectify it, then for God’s sake what has gone wrong with you all that you are fighting amongst yourselves?’ They kept asking: ‘Have you acquired what you had set out to achieve?’ They passionately concluded: ‘If you have got tired of fighting, then we are ready to carry up arms and continue the struggle.’ Another woman said that she was blessed with four sons, and she was willing to give up one of them for the SPLM/A in order to sell him and use the money to buy arms for the liberation of Southern Sudan. As painful as they were, these questions and statements went through my heart, Kuwa narrated, like a dagger, and I began to cry profusely.

Having talked about women in Southern Sudan, Kuwa then moved on to mention women’s rights in the Nuba Mountains and within the SPLM/A rank and file. He related that after the split in the movement in 1991, a handful of Nuba comrades in Southern Kordofan attempted to follow in Riek Machar’s footsteps, but they were interned and banished to the South. He consulted the Nuba people and agreed to convene a conference in the Nuba Mountains region, which was attended by around 300 representatives from the different localities of the region. He explained to them what they gained as a Nuba people from armed struggle, including self-respect, dignity and the acquirement of marginally ministerial posts in Khartoum as was the situation with the Southerners in the 1955s. He also confessed to them that the decision to bear arms was his own in the first instance; now, if the Nuba wanted to continue armed resistance, then it had to be democratically agreed upon. After days of deliberations, some men remonstrated against lack of clothes, rampant diseases and waves of death as a result of war. The Nuba women hit back that as a Nuba people when did they learn about dress code if not quite recently; as for death, they replied that even in peacetime death could reach them in their beds: they reproached the men that if they had got tired of struggle, they were ready to take up arms and carry on strife. After hearing this unflinching response from women, the wavering men came to their senses and the conferees voted unanimously to proceed with fighting for liberation, having the women’s votes as a force that tilted the balance. In the Tullushi campaign against the SPLM/A by the Khartoum regime in 1991, the Nuba women demonstrated once again unprecedented gallantry: fearing no death, they were crossing the fire lines only to fetch water for their sons and husbands in the fighting SPLA. In an extraordinary example of human sacrifice for Nuba posterity to remember, one woman insisted on drinking water from a well that was suspected to have been poisoned by the Government troops. She was determined to drink it; and, if she died, then the lives of the SPLA soldiers could be spared to continue the struggle; and if, on the other hand, the water was proved to be harmless and she survived, then the SPLA combatants could drink and live for another day or so to score victory against an implacable enemy. As a matrilineal society in their ancient history before the arrival of Arab invaders, the Nuba cherished the notion of equal rights to all sexes - that is, it was (and is) a problem-free community as far as gender is concerned, their respect to the elders and magnanimity towards all were unmatched in their heyday. The majority of the population of schools in the Nuba Mountains, Kuwa informed the audience, were girls: this was a proof that women’s rights were not suppressed in the Nuba Mountains nor in the SPLM/A.

Finally, Kuwa told his listeners that the NDA should contribute effectively to the struggle, including the media, especially since the SPLM/A had lost its radio broadcasting. It was a great loss as the SPLM/A used to utilise this radio to dispel the Government’s propaganda and lies; and, it was above all a creditable mouthpiece of the movement that the Sudanese people used to flock around it to hear the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The SPLM/A wanted to sell timber from the liberated Eastern Equatoria region, but the potential buyers, who happened to be from the countries of south-east Asia, were badly hit by an economic disaster. The SPLM/A had wanted to use the money to buy a radio station. The SPLM/A, Kuwa stated, hoped that the NDA could materialise their slogan of al-intifada al-mahmiyya (protected uprising) by actions and results.


The Sudanese people reflect an epitome of what Benedict Anderson called ‘imagined communities’ - that is, a state in its embryonic stages of formation, but without an agreement on its symbolic and material items which any real nation needs to possess: a common history, a set of heroes embodying its national values, a shared language, a cultural monument, folklore that will not impinge on others, benevolently specific mentality and a number of picturesque labels such as national costume, traditional dishes or animal insignia with deep-rooted history of the ancient myths and legends. National identity after all is defined by the historical events you feel badly about it. The Sudanese compatriots have not yet agreed on these symbols as national emblems, which could have - if successfully achieved - formed a ‘collective identity’ to supplant the pseudo-nationalist sloganeering of Arabism and Islam. If they can manage to tackle the issue of identity, the Sudanese people could then concentrate their country’s resources on power-sharing and the socio-economic marginalisation of the indigenous people who suffer disproportionately.

By way of conclusion, Kuwa’s lecture touched upon a number of contentious issues that have been the root causes of civil wars in the Sudan: the war that has characterised the bitter divide between the Arab-descended haves and the majority indigenous have-nots in the most racially polarised country in Africa since independence. It is against this backdrop that Kuwa’s talk drew its importance. The issues in question include the national identity, power- and wealth-sharing, individual freedoms, the crisis of governance, sustainable and economic development, health needs, social marginalisation, racism, prejudices and discrimination, ‘endemic’ poverty, gender inequality, isonomy - or equality before the law, and so forth. No sooner has one war ended than another one commences in a different part of the country. This is because the formulae implemented to tackle these Sudanese-made problems lack two important factors: firstly, they were not adopted and adapted to accommodate the other disputes; and, secondly, very serious root causes of these conflicts are usually bypassed. In truth, all Sudan’s regional problems are interconnected. Until a government emerges in Khartoum that is prepared to concede a share of power and wealth to the impoverished peripheries of the country, a peaceful and prosperous new Sudan is unlikely to take shape.

* The writer is the ex-Chairman of the UK-based Nuba Mountains Solidarity Abroad, a human rights activist and a scholar who contributed prolifically to the politics of Sudan. Some of his academic and political contributions can be read through searching Shurkian in:; and he can be reached at:


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