Nobody wants to go back to war, but...

Nanne op 't Ende
Tilburg, Netherlands
April 20, 2006

Khartoum is buzzing with the sound of bricks being laid on bricks and trucks carrying construction materials to every corner of the city. As oil money and foreign investment change the sight of this city at a rapid pace, 20 million people try to keep up with the new tempo. They are hurrying accross town in buses, taxis, amjads and rikshas, mobile phone in hand.

LG and Ariba are omnipresent; the Sudanese happily embrase consumerism and spend their new earned money on dvd players and refrigerators, televisions and microwave ovens... . Mingled with exhaust fumes and dust there is a sense in the air that this is just the beginning. Meanwhile who would have thought, say two years ago, that today at Suq al-Arabi you can walk into Southerners and Nuba wearing T-shirts that read: I love SPLM/A? Truely, the capital now belongs to everyone.

And is everybody happy? Of course not. The Sudanese like to complain and they have plenty of opportunity. A large part of the population is still waiting for the economic resurrection to affect them. For millions and millions of people the way out of poverty will be a long one and there is no guarantee that it is actually leeding away from the sidewalk marketstalls.

Despite oil revenues, the quality of public services remains a shame to the country. Education and health care are either unaffordable or unexcusably low standard; electricity, communication and other infrastructure keep letting you down. Sorry, no network. And we're still in Khartoum, where all the money passes through like the water of the river Nile.

So let's travel some place with a different perspective on the effects of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). No, we are not going to Darfur. Our lives are dear: we will go to Southern Kordofan instead. Sharing a special protocol with Blue Nile, the state is a testcase for the implimentation of the CPA and the durability of Sudan as an undivided country.

The National Congres Party (NCP) and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) share the power in Southern Kordofan at a 55%-45% devision of seats in the state Parliament. The inhabitants of the state - a vast majority of whom are Nuba - have much to lose and little to gain from Southern secession, so we would expect the parties to work together. But do they? That's what I wanted to find out.

To the Nuba Mountains

For most of the way to Kadugli the car glides along at a hundred kilometers an hour, untill twenty kilometers south of Dilling, where the asphalt abruptly ends and the driver has to adjust his speed to the numerous potholes, bumbs and worn down tracks. Construction is in progress, but noone expects the top layer to be finished before the rainy season: all efforts to broaden, level and pave the remaining hundred kilometers of road between Dilling and Kadugli will probably wash away. Malish.

A touch of Khartoums optimism has reached Kadugli too. The market seems to flourish and for the first time in 20 years the process of destruction and decay eating away at the town's buildings and infrastructure is being countered with restauration and reconstruction. Every day more busses arrive from the north carrying Nuba people home to their mountains after long years of displacement.

Yes, something positive is definitely happening here and yet I can't seem to find a single representative of the SPLM who is not frustrated. While improved security and freedom of movement allow the Nuba people to start rebuilding their lives, the political struggle continues as if there never was a peace agreement.

The CPA basically says: during three years following the signing of the agreement the NCP and the SPLM will share power in Southern Kordofan; they will pass an interim state constitution in Parliament, form a state Government to take care of bussiness and prepare for state and national elections in 2009. The elections will be followed by a popular consultation in which representatives of the people will decide what happens next with Southern Kordofan. I'll get back to this Popular Consultation that will determine the future of the Nuba people, but not before describing the present situation, which is all about implimenting the CPA..

Ismael Khamis Jelab (SPLM) was appointed state Governor for 18 months, after which the postion will be taken over by someone from the NCP. When I arrived in Kadugli in March, Ismael Khamis had just presented a care taker Government. He was still waiting for the state Parliament to pass a constitution that would allow him to appoint a normal cabinet. Without a constitution Parliament can't determine budgets, it can't pass legislation and it can't control the Government.

Parliamentary work was suspended because of a conflict between the SPLM and the NCP regarding the position of speaker of the parliament. While the CPA says Governorship shall rotate, the matter of which party would provide the speaker wasn't specified - he was simply to be chosen by the Legislature. Given the fact that the Governorship started with 18 month for the SPLM, the parties agreed that the NCP would provide the speaker, in the person of Ibrahim Mohamed Bellendia.

Agreement turned into disagreement when the NCP said it would not give up the position of speaker at the rotation of the governorship. The parties took the issue to the National Government, asking the Presedency for mediation. By mid April the Presedency sent the parties back to Kadugli to sort it out themselves... To be continued and over to the next issue: tenmiya or development.

Since the people have no money to pay taxes, most of the state's revenues will come from the central Government in Khartoum. Given the underdevelopment of the region and the urgency to bring at least the most basic of public services to the people - like clean water, accessible roads, health care and education - Southern Kordofan is supposed to receive quite a lot of money from Khartoum. But it doesn't.

A considerable share of the total budget for development is reserved for Southern Kordofan and the state is also entitled to 2% of national oil revenues. (See the Protocol on Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile States.) As the budgets were never specified, noone knows how much money should be spent on what by whom. The result: nobody gets to spent any money on anything. Well, that's not entirely true, I heard the Government offices will receive new desks, chairs and cabinets.

The population of Southern Kordofan and even many politicians tend to blame the lack of development on the Governor. Personally I don't see how he should build schools, bridges or hospitals without money but maybe that's because I'm blond. Point is: Sudan's ministries of oil and of finance both went to the NCP Malish! Next issue: the integration of armed forces, police forces and civil administration.

For 15 years, Southern Kordofan has been devided into an area under Government control and an area under SPLM/A control. Now that the parties have agreed to share power, it is time to merge these seperate systems into one administration. It makes sense... so it doesn't happen. Of course it is dificult to integrate the civil administration when the Parliament hasn't yet passed an Interim Constitution, but the formation of a joined/integrated military unit is detailed in the security arrangements of the CPA so that should be a matter of following the time tables. Right?

According to SPLA commanders three SPLA bataillons have been waiting for six months now to be integrated with soldiers of the Sudan Armed Forces. The SPLA says SAF has not even begun selecting soldiers and officers, SAF commanders say the formation of the joined/integrated units is right on schedule... I don't know who is right or wrong here but there is no sign of any joined/integrated military unit yet.

And what about the police? Well, according to the head of the SPLA police force Ahmed Belga, the state police force operating in the areas that used to be under government administration plainly refuses to recognise the SPLA police force as a legitimate partner so it makes no effort whatsoever to form an integrated police force. The head of the state police thinks he can do so because the CPA doesn't say what should happen to the SPLA police force. As a consequence Ahmed Belga has no means to maintain law and order in the area under SPLM administration, which brings me to the next point of concern: continuing violence.

Since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, things haven't been particularly peaceful in Southern Kordofan. Every week brings new reports of violent incidents in which people are harrassed, injured or killed. In most cases Arab nomads clash with SPLM supporters, as happened in Warni on April 13, where one man was killed and several others were wounded. A similar attack occured in March. Noone in the SPLM/A believes that these incidents are random.

Oh what a cliché: it takes 2 to tango. Here's the catch to the title of this article: after travelling around the Nuba Mountains for 5 weeks, I am convinced nobody in the SPLM/A wants to go back to war, but...

Governor Ismael Khamis Jelab squarely blames NCP politicians for arming and directing the nomads. He sees the attacks on civilians as a strategy of provocation on behalf of the NCP. In general the idea is that the small elite in Khartoum that has been lining it's pockets for the past decades doesn't really want to share power with anyone, so it would be all too happy if the SPLA would let itself be tricked into taking up arms again.

As many Nuba consider the state police force to be on the side of the nomads and the SPLM police can't act, the most logical thing for them to do is to turn to the commanders of the SPLA and say: why don't you protect us? They have to reply that they are not supposed to interfere with law enforcement and that the people should report any incidents to the UN Police.

How come I didn't mention the UN Peace keeping force before? You could see their cars anywhere in the state, usually in a cloud of dust, and they are supposed to make sure the two armies won't fight or do other things they're not supposed to do. Unfortunately they don't seem to consider the current level of violent confrontation as the serious threat to stability in Sudan that it is. In stead of jumping in a helicopter and rush to the site of the incident, the UN Police usually needs several days to get all the paperwork done that will allow them to investigate the matter.

Few if any of the investigations lead to arrests or solutions and all the SPLA commanders can do is to keep telling their men that they have to remain calm, that the only way for the Nuba to benefit from the CPA is to be patient and make sure the SPLM wins the elections in 2009.

Elections and popular consultation

Let's take the most optimistic approach possible: the CPA is just a workplan and the current phase of the peace process should be used to shape the social, political and economic landscape in Southern Kordofan. The two parties can cover the areas they agree upon, they can clearly define the points they disagree upon and after the elections in 2009, the winning party gets to impliment most of its program.

The elections will be followed by popular consultation. Everyone agrees that this is not quite the same thing as self-determination - but what IS this popular consultation? Here's what the CPA says:

3. Popular Consultation:

The Government of Sudan and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (the Parties), committed to reaching a just, fair and comprehensive peace agreement to end the war in Southern Kordofan/Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile States, agree on the following:-

3.1. Popular consultation is a democratic right and mechanism to ascertain the views of the people of Southern Kordofan/Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile States on the comprehensive agreement reached by the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement.

3.2. That this comprehensive agreement shall be subjected to the will of the people of the two States through their respective democratically elected legislatures.

3.3. That the legislatures of the two States shall each establish a Parliamentary Assessment and Evaluation Commission to assess and evaluate the implementation of the agreement in each State. The two Commissions shall submit their reports to the legislatures of the two States by the fourth year of the signing of the comprehensive Peace Agreement.

3.4. An independent Commission shall be established by the Presidency to assess and evaluate the implementation of the comprehensive Peace Agreement in each of the two States. The Commission shall submit its reports to the National Government and the Governments of the two States who shall use the reports to rectify any procedure that needs to be rectified to ensure faithful implementation of the Agreement.

3.5. Once this agreement is endorsed by the people through the legislature of any of the two States as meeting their aspirations, then the agreement becomes the final settlement of the political conflict in that State.

3.6. Should any of the legislatures of the two States, after reviewing the Agreement, decide to rectify, within the framework of the Agreement, any shortcomings in the constitutional, political and administrative arrangements of the Agreement, then such legislature shall engage in negotiations with the National Government with the view of rectifying these shortcomings.

Free translation: in order to make new constitutional, political or administrative arrangements for Southern Kordofan, the SPLM will have to win the elections both regionally and nationally. When the NCP wins the elections in Southern Kordofan, the long years of fighting and all the sacrifices made by the people in the SPLA area seem to have been in vain. When the SPLM wins locally but loses nationally, it will face endless negotiations that will not result in the kind of goverment system the SPLM aspires.

What seems to happen right now is that the SPLM Governor can't do anything because he has no money and by the time the NCP get's the Governorship, it will make sure the ministers of oil and finance will finally release those budgets so the party can take credit for getting the job done where the SPLM failed. So all the SPLM politicians can do is trying to explain this scheme to the Nuba people. I wish them good luck on their campaign tour.

The main issue during the SPLM election campaign will probably be Sharia law. In the CPA, Sharia law 'and the concensus of the people' is agreed to be the basis for national law as applicable to the North. Since Southern Kordofan is part of the North, the SPLM can give the Nuba a very clear message: vote for us or live under Sharia law.

Had Southern Kordofan been really just Southern Kordofan, I don't think the SPLM would have too much trouble winning the elections. But the NCP politicians in Khartoum, well aware that neither NCP nor Sharia are very popular among the Nuba, managed to dissolve Western Kordofan state and add the territory AND the considerable Arab Nomad population to Southern Kordofan, just before signing the CPA.

Positive impressions

How do you like the story so far? Personally, after one week of talking with SPLM MP's, ministers, commanders and the Governor of Southern Kordofan, I was ready to go home with a major depression. Fortunately I started touring the area in stead, to look for friends from previous visits (I was in the Nuba Mountains in 1997, 1998 and in 2000) and to see how things had changed since the signing of the cease fire agreement 5 years ago.

One of the first changes; nobody wants to walk anymore. The roads are terrible but there are cars for people in high places and there are buses and lorries that will go from town to town, picking up anyone on the way. So nobody walks - even if it could be much faster to walk because there's a short cut across a mountain pass, or because the lorries stops in every little town to drop off sacks of sugar or rice, goats, household commodities, people with their luggage...

People move freely throughout the Nuba Mountains, despite the violent incidents most people feel secure. There are checkpoints at the borders between government and SPLM administrated areas, but noone is trying to stop the Nuba from visiting their relatives in the village, noone is going to stop them from buying basic commodities in town, noone is going to prevent them from returning to their home areas after having lived in El Obeid, Port Sudan or Khartoum for 10, 14, 16 years.

The houses on the hill slopes are abandoned, all the people have come down to the plains. Every community has one or more handpumps and the drilling continues; the school model implimented in the SPLM areas, with an English curriculum, is such a succes that it is being exported to the areas under government administration. Most villages have some basic health care fascilities and the Dioces of El Obeid is currently constructing a very large hospital in Gadeil that promises to be completely up to date.

Various details: there's a socker competion for the Yousif Kuwa Cup; you can mix aragi - local booze - with ice cold coca cola and have a great party; I went to the SPLM Youth Centre for Information in Kauda and sent an email to my wife and kids; as I was walking around on the market in Kadugli with my camera noone bothered to ask me for ID or permits; A fourteen year old girl might invite you in to drink a glass of water and her English will be perfect.

No, the situation certainly isn't perfect. Some people are very pessimistic, some people are very frustrated, some are very confused, some are dissapointed and many are all of the before at the same time... but they all agree on one thing: nobody wants to go back to war.

The Nuba Mountains Homepage was made by Nanne op 't Ende.
You can contact me here.