Interview with Kamil Kuwa Mekki and Zaineb elAhmer - from 2002 but interesting as a reference to the present situation in the Nuba Mountains.

By Nanne op 't Ende
Boxtel, the Netherlands
May 9, 2002

From April 30 to May 2, 2002 the Nuba commemorated the death of Yousif Kuwa Mekki. Among the special guests were Yousif's brother Kamil Kuwa and his wife Zaineb elAhmer [who died in 2005]. With Nuba music in the background we talked about the commemoration, about Yousif and about the effects of the cease fire in the Nuba Mountains.

Tomb of Yousif Kuwa Mekki

Interviewer: when did you arrive in the Mountains?
Kamil Kuwa: We arrived on the 30th. An Antonov flew us from Loki to Kowda in only two hours. There were cars at the airstrip to bring us to Lueri -

I.: Cars in the Nuba Mountains?
K.: Oh yes! Two Land Cruisers, VWs, and two jeeps. They took us to Lueri, where Yousif is buried. They have started building a memorial around the tomb: five huts that will house his personal belongings, a library and a collection of items that are part of our cultural heritage. As soon as we arrived, the women started crying. For me it was emotional too; I hadn't been there since his burial one year ago.

I.: Did the commemoration start right away?
K.: Only early next morning. One of the elders from Miri [where Yousif Kuwa was born], performed a ritual for the tranquillity of Yousif's spirit. He told the spirit that he went the way of all men, and that he should not be sad or jealous, because we will join him sooner or later.
Zaineb: He also asked God to grant his soul peace.
K.: We sprinkled water over the tomb, then we left.

I.: This ceremony was attended by many people?
K.: No, only by his closest relatives, like his wife Ummassar, his brothers Sharif and Musa, and some men from the Miri tribe. Later in the morning the public commemoration started with a number of speeches for all the people. Abdel Aziz [Adam alHilu] spoke, Musa Abdelbagi, Miriam Johana and Neroun Philip.
Z.: You also spoke…
K.: That was the second day. Daniel Kodi spoke, and Abdel Aziz told some funny stories Yousif used to come up with when he wanted to demonstrate his point. I didn't say too much, just that I learned so much from my brother. For example? That it is important to be a leader, not a boss.

I.: In general, what was Yousif s most important influence?
K.: Just before he died, you asked him what the Nuba had gained with all the years of fighting - he said that at least the Nuba could be proud of their culture, their identity and their heritage. To me, that is Yousif s biggest achievement. He gave the people pride and confidence. He taught them to depend upon themselves.
Z.: Don't forget that he introduced English as the new language, in stead of Arabic. I think that is very important. And he did much for the emancipation of Nuba women. During the commemoration we also held a women's conference. It was scheduled to last a few hours in the morning. Imagine what happened: we had so many issues to discuss and the debates were so long that we went on all day, through the hot hours of noon until the evening.
K.: And the men respected it. The program for that afternoon was put aside, because it was clear that the women needed more time.

I.: Besides the mourning, the speeches and conferences - weren't there any festivities? No dancing, no wrestling?
K.: Of course we danced! The whole night! Ismaël Konje sang - you know how he continues singing…
Z.: And the different tribes demonstrated their traditional dances, like Kambala and Kerang.
K.: The wrestling wasn't much though - no people from Kululu or Kurungu.

I.: The festivities took two days?
K.: They were supposed to last for two days, but one of the guests of honour, Malik Agar Ayar [at the time commander of the Blue Nile region, now Sudan's Minister of Investment] couldn't make it in time, so they prolonged it with another day.

I.: And how about people that live under Government control: did they take the opportunity of the cease fire to come?
K.: Well, there were two: the brother of Izidin Kuku, and the Meq of Atoro. Actually they didn't only come for the commemoration. They also discussed the cease fire with Abdel Aziz.

I.: How do they feel about the cease fire - did you personally discuss it with them?
K.: Well, they were very surprised when Abdel Aziz gave them the full 18 pages of the agreement, the Government had reduced the text to just one page - that was all they had seen. They were amazed that everything had been arranged in such detail. They do have the same hesitation like we have though, whether this peace will last.

I.: Is that the general feeling among the Nuba in the SPLA area?
K.: Of course they are happy, in the first place. Finally there is peace, relief is coming in, the planes can land safely -
Z.: No rape, no abductions…
K.: But most people are afraid that the government may want to come back again. There's a lot of tension.

I.: What kind of relief does the UN fly in? Food?
K.: No, no need; the harvest was good because there were no military campaigns to destroy the crops. There is enough food at the moment. Also, the authorities are reluctant to accept food relief, because they fear that the population might become dependant on it. The people should be self-reliant. Most of the relief consists of agricultural equipment, tools and seeds - even tractors!

I.: Tractors?
K.: From the Americans. They flew them in as gifts to the different counties. Now they are training local farmers how to operate the machines, how to repair them, and how to plough without destroying the soil in the plains.
Z.: They are also rebuilding some of the roads, so the cars can go anywhere.

I.: And how about traffic between the Government area and SPLA area? Do the people cross the lines frequently?
K.: Well, according to Mohamed Tutu [at the time Minister of Agriculture for the SPLM administrated area; killed by a landmine in 2004], the people are returning in the west. They fled Tabanya, Fama and Kurungu, but now fifty to sixty people return to their homes every day.
Z.: The sister of Miriam Johana came from Khartoum to attend the women's conference. She told the women to keep their sons and daughters from going to Khartoum. The Nuba Mountains are a better place to be now. In the capital there is nothing for them. No schools, no food, no work. Nuba children spend their days at refuse dumps

I.: Do you think Yousif would have been happy to see this cease fire come into effect?
K.: Of course he is happy! To many people in the Mountains, this relief is the result of the long years of fighting under Yousif's leadership. On his dying bed he was writing a letter to Kofi Anan asking him to save the Nuba people. He never finished it, but Julie Flint and Yohanis [from African Rights] did, and in a way this cease fire is Kofi Anans response.

I.: Do you mean to say that the agreement was reached mainly by the exertions of the UN?
K.: The UN, and the Americans of course, the Danforth initiative. Without them there would never have been a cease fire in the first place.

I.: But if this is so, what are the chances that it will last?
Z.: Abdel Aziz and Malik Agar are confident that the cease fire will be prolonged with another six months. At least that is what they said to me.
K.: The oil area is more important now: the Government has redeployed most of its forces over there.

I.: And the SPLA has done the same?
K.: Naturally - what else can they do?

I.: Something else: what is your part in the Nuba struggle?
K.: Well, first of all: I have no political ambitions what so ever for myself. I would like to keep the memory of Yousif alive and I was just very happy to be in the Mountains, to see that things are getting better. Of course, when people ask me, I will be ready to help, but I think this would be in the area of contacting relief organisations or creating some more awareness of the situation the Nuba people are facing. Beside such activities I will always try to bring the Nuba people together, to co-operate, to share ideas and execute them together. That is the most important thing.

Interviewed in Boxtel, the Netherlands, May 9 2002.

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