Revisiting the Nuba Mountains

by Julie Flint

August 4, 2008

After working on Darfur since 2002, it was sobering to revisit the Nuba Mountains in April. [...] Six years of peace have brought the Nuba virtually no development. There are still no roads, few schools or medical services. (The first friend I met from the old days lost two children last year; the second had buried his youngest on the morning I arrived.)

Under the CPA, the governorship rotates between SPLM and NCP, and last year the NCP’s Omar Suleiman took over from the SPLM’s Ismail Khamis Jallab. But Suleiman played a key role in the jihad against the Nuba and for this and other reasons relations between the state government in Kadugli and people in the former SPLA-controlled areas are deteriorating steadily.

Most recently, the withdrawal from the mountains of the SPLA’s ‘mother force’ to South Sudan, in line with the CPA’s redeployment provisions, has revived Nuba resentment over the CPA, increased feelings of insecurity and neglect, and deepened concern over evidence that regime hardliners are mobilizing ethnic militias in advance of elections scheduled for 2009.

Few believe the current peace is sustainable. ‘There is nothing from the CPA,’ one of the most senior Nuba commanders told me, ‘Not one borehole from the government. The only solution is elections. But the government wants to destroy the elections. There is a government policy to destroy the Nuba because no-one is talking about the Nuba.’


The Nuba have been betrayed: by their own leaders, including in the now-divided Nuba SPLA, and by ours. The first betrayal was the CPA. Kuwa died of bone cancer in 2001 and when the peace negotiations between the SPLA and the government began in earnest a year later, the Nuba were not on the agenda at all. It was hard to escape the feeling that the international community regarded them as an inconvenience in the effort to settle what was regarded as a north-south war.

The Nuba’s late and half-hearted protocol ruled out self-determination and provided only an ill-defined ‘popular consultation’ on whether South Kordofan State should have special autonomous status within the North.

The second betrayal began right after the CPA when the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) replaced the Joint Military Commission (JMC), a small ad hoc group set up to monitor the 2002 ceasefire. [The] JMC oversaw three years of steadily improving security in the Nuba Mountains. [...] During the handover ceremony to UNMIS, the UN’s special representative, Jan Pronk, pledged that UNMIS would protect the legacy of the JMC. ‘That’s what the people in Nuba Mountains expect and that’s what we promise to deliver,’ he said.

It is impossible to exaggerate how hollow those words sound today. Thousands of SPLA troops have moved to the South, as the CPA demands. But government troops and armed police are moving into—not out of—the mountains. The militia has been reorganized on an ethnic basis and expanded to include Arab nomadic groups.

The new Joint Integrated Units meant to provide security in the mountains are neither joint nor integrated, and will turn their guns on each other if war erupts (as they did in Abyei). UN observers on the ground are under-resourced, unsupported by their leadership locally, frustrated and pessimistic.

‘Civilians tell us everything,’ said one officer. ‘We document it. Nothing happens.’

As the CPA falters—most dramatically, in April, in Abyei to the west of the mountains—security in the Nuba region is deteriorating. When I was there, there was a growing consensus not only that peace would not last—but that the coming war would be ethnic war. The ICC’s attempt to indict President Bashir has opened a Pandora’s box of uncertainties in Sudan.

In May, many Nuba believed the government was seeking conflict in order to avoid elections. ‘They want to provoke us to go back to war again,’ an SPLA monitor with UNMIS said. ‘But we will not do this because we know their plan. The international community will do what is right. We are waiting for the international community like people who are waiting for God.’

That at least will not have changed.

This is a reduced version of Julie Flints article. For the full text:


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