Interview with Mohanna Bashir Kalo

By Nanne op 't Ende
March 24, 2006

Mohanna Bashir is a kind and modest man. I met him in 1997 in Changaru, where he invited me for dinner, and took me up to a hill top to show me the beauty of the Nuba Mountains. His present work is crucial to the future of the Nuba people. As head of the Customary Land Security Office, he has to make sure the tribes have their land ownership claims in order by the time the national Land Council starts its job.

Mohanna Bashir Kalo

My name is Mohana Bashir Kalo. In 1997, when we met in Changaru, I was running the communication office. The late commander Yousif Kuwa selected me and some others to go to Nairobi for advanced courses. He was a man of vision; at a time most of us didn't even dream of this peace, he wanted to avail some people for better management of the struggle. So we went there. I studied at the Kenya Institute of Management. In the middle of the courses we lost commander Yousif.

Immediately after receiving my diploma, when I came back from Nairobi, I was asked to join a land survey team in the Nuba Mountains. I was automatically taken from one field to another, so I came to participate in this research about the land and the usage of land. That was when Abdelaziz [Adam el Hilo] was commander in the Mountains. Then US AID asked me to continue to work with them. Now I am the head of the Customary Land Security Office in Kauda. The office is sponsored by US AID.

The land issue is the main factor that brought Nuba into war. To solve the land issue means to sustain peace within the people, here in the Nuba Mountains and the whole of South Kordofan. This is why the office was set up as an initiative from the communities themselves; they need to control and manage their land in a proper manner, better than ever before. This takes us to land ownership and land usage.

In land ownership we may go back to successive regimes that came to power in Khartoum. They enacted laws which we think are unfair to our communities here in the Nuba Mountains or Southern Kordofan; in Blue Nile and in Abyei. And the same goes for Darfur.

Wasn't there a law that gave people only two days to register their ownership claims?

This law was enacted in 1970. The law says that all unregistered land in Sudan belongs to the government. To us, this law was just meant to legitimize the theft of Nuba land. The Nuba people paid a lot; they have been victimized by the law. Large parts of their land in the plain areas have been taken from them. The big scheme of Habila is the best example, and there are several other schemes all over the Nuba Mountains.

The law enabled the government to take the land without asking, without respecting even the communities. They deprived them from enjoying their own land. This is one of the factors that took the Nuba to the war.

Now there is peace; there is a peace agreement; a national constitution. The Nuba people and the rest of the communities in South Kordofan expect to enjoy the right to the land equally with the other communities in the North and everywhere in Sudan. But still the law exists. [The government] made some amendments in 1984 which reflect the spirit of Islamic Shari'a: it says the land belongs to God and the government acts as trustee. This is no amendment: it's just playing with words to confuse people.

Does the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) not address the land issue?

The CPA does address it. If you go to article 186, paragraph three is recognizing the customs and traditions. But the statement in the CPA is very week; it should be developed and gradually be incorporated into law. But for us: we need it now, not tomorrow! This is why we are assisting the all the communities here to identify their land areas and to help them to manage the land and its resources.

There are several steps we have to take. In each community we did a survey and we came to learn from them that the land should be managed by the tribal communities. Moro should have their land area; Otoro should have their land area; they should manage the land as communities. Here, we are now helping them by forming boundary committees. The committees used to meet to agree upon the boundaries between their communities.

After that, a Land Council is established in each community, with the members being elected from the community itself. One of the duties of the Land Councils is to provide information and to register their land areas as soon as the Land Commission will be established. [The CPA provides for a national Land Commission that will deal with land ownership claims. NotE] This way we have reduced the power from the centre to the communities.

Land management in the area of the Nuba people is very difficult and confused. One of the resaons is that Nuba land is also of interest to the nomads. At the moment the nomads are causing a lot of problems; there are laws and regulations at the central level, but these are not respected by the nomads down here.

You mean laws where the nomads can pass with their herds, where they can graze their cows, where they can take water?

Yes, the corridors. During the war, the government declared a holy war against the Nuba. It didn't matter that most of the Nuba are actually Muslims. The government backed the nomads, because most of them are originated from Arab tribes. It gave them weapons, it gave them ammunition. Now that we have peace, the government hasn't gone to the nomads to reorient them. The whole Nuba area has become one big corridor.

The nomads are not respecting settlement; are not respecting farms; are not respecting even people themselves. They still have the culture of war in their minds. So this culture has to be reduced, or defused, by any means. Otherwise it may raise the tension.

Is there a dialogue with the nomad people about land usage?

We had to wait for the government to be installed, because we wanted to establish contact with the nomads through the government channels. It took a long time for the government to be formed, but now we are trying to contact the nomads. We plan to sit together with them to make the regulations. I think it is more effective when the Nuba and the nomads sit together and put down regulation, than when they are set somewhere in Khartoum.

I met some representatives from one of the nomad tribes at the office of Governor Ismael Khamis. They want to stop migrating up and down; they want to settle in South Kordofan.

It may be a good way to control them; if you control them, you can enforce the law on them. But it also needs planning from the authorities, how this livestock will be grazed. They need to develop a system of farms or something like that, for grazing and controlling the cattle. If it was controlled like this it could be okay, but if they are settling without any system, it means they are just creating a new problem.

Your office also deals with land usage - in what ways? Do you stimulate more productive techniques of cultivation; do you stimulate the forming of cooperations…

Up to now we are far from that high stage of dealing with land usage. Now we are still securing the land, and we're dealing with primary management of the land, to preserve the environment. Take forestry for example: we have to keep some trees, not to clear everything completely. If you look at the map, you will find the desert moving south. The sand has already reached some parts of Southern Korodofan. Why? Because of random cutting of trees; random, irresponsible usage of the natural resources.

We are orienting the communities to preserve the natural resources, not to be just custodians or key keepers, but to regulate the usage. Because they need to construct their houses, they need some items for commerce and for foreign investment. But it should be regulated.

How do you do that? Do you go out to the communities to discuss land usage with them?

We are moving every time. We have tentative plans with all the communities here in Rachad County. We divided the area into two: There's the western area and the eastern area, so we have an office operating from Julud and an office operating here from Kauda. And we're expecting to be there in Kadugli soon. As you know I am heading the office here.

You mentioned desertification: isn't climate change the main reason that the ground water levels are dropping?

Yes, but one of the main reasons for climate change is human activity; this random cutting of trees. If you travel from Kadugli to Kauda you will find that people are just cutting Taleib trees for charcoal and for other businesses. Nobody is asking anything, even though there are laws and rules to control the forestry. Nobody is watching this forest; there is nobody to enforce the law.

The laws are nicely kept in books you know, in offices in Kadugli and in Khartoum. And sometimes the offices are locked: there is nobody there after twenty years of war. And even before the war [those who should enforce the law] were keeping silent. They were not enforcing them, for their own interest. They would take land and distribute it randomly to get political support.

During the war the army commanders became the Alpha and Omega in everything. They became landlords, not army commanders. Talking about cutting Taleib trees: the army commanders have cleared Khor at-Taleib. The name Khor at-Taleib means 'the river of the Taleib trees', but if you go there you won't find a single Taleib tree: they cut them all. There are several places like this. At Um Durafi they cut around 700 Taleib trees, just before the signing of the peace. And this practice is still continuing.

Mango trees were also cut during the war. In Debbi, or in Eri and Abri and many other places; just to make these military shelters, or for military defense purposes. But now there is peace: we need to regulate all this, and make necessary amendments for laws regarding the land; the management of land and usage of the land. If we succeed in this, I think everything will be okay.

Something completely different: there are many Nuba in Khartoum, in Port Sudan, in El Obeid, in Medani etc. They still own land in the Nuba Mountains. How are their rights being protected?

This is very simple. Here in the Nuba Mountains, once the land is identified and registered by community, the rights will be secure within the community. The community and traditional leaders know which clan has settled where. There isn't any problem really. The people outside should not worry about their land being taken just like that.

Only some areas can cause confusion, like the urban towns. Kadugli, for example, is now expanding and this expansion could encroach on the land area of other communities than that of Kadugli. The settlers will probably not be from the community that owns the land. We need a dialogue among the communities at the outskirts of these urban areas, so they can understand each other and reach agreement on fair compensation for the loss of land.

People can't behave like before the war: just to take the land without asking the natives and the settlers who came her long ago. I'm talking about 500 or even 1000 years ago. For the Nuba: they have been here since God created Sudan. So without consulting them, without giving them their right before the law, I think this peace will not work.

To you, what is the main difference between the war time and now?

During the war there was a gap between the communities and within the communities themselves. You would find half the community living in the so-called government controlled area, and the other half in the area controlled by the Sudan People's Liberation Movement. They were cut off from communication, families were split up, and many people were forced by the situation to leave the area all together.

The Nuba people really suffered during the war, because of their geographical location. They are far from the South, they are far from the Northern urban centers and they are surrounded by an unfavorable environment. This is why they were living in very hard conditions. Sometimes a tea cup full of salt was better than a tea cup full of gold. Now that the markets are flourishing again, people start to forget the hard times when they struggled to get a cup of salt.

Now people are moving again. Communication has been restored; families are reunited. You will find clothing and any other commercial items availanle again. Now people are expecting improved access: roads, bridges… If you go deep ito the political environment, people are expecting a lot of things. Land is one: we keep coming back to land. The Nuba still need to have laws that [protect them against discrimination]. They also need to have an equal share in the government institutions. This is what people expect.

And help for the ordinary people: they need development. They need hand pumps, they need water to be available. They need services like schools, clinics, hospitals. By those services we will attract even the Nuba who left the area to come back. we have a huge number of Nuba in the Northern states. They are planning to return but they are asking a lot of questions.

Where do I take my children to school? Where do I take water…

Where is the health centre; where, where… So if these services are available, we can attract people to come back and I think everything will work just fine.


Interviewed on March 24, 2006, in Kauda.

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