Awad Sukkar, the first Nuba in The Netherlands

“He was really a sugar, his name fitted his personality”

Nanne op 't Ende
The Netherlands
September 23, 2008

The Nuba in The Netherlands gathered in The Hague last Sunday to commemorate Awad Sukkar. They were joined by many Sudanese friends from all parts of the country as well as some Dutch friends. All think of Awad dearly as a man with a big heart and an open mind who played a vital role in the Sudanese community in The Netherlands.

Awad Sukkar was born January 1, 1962, in Dilling, Sudan, as the first son of Harag Ali Sukkar and Kashafa Gadmun. Awad attended primary and intermediate school in Salara and went to Omdurman to continue his studies at technical high school.

In 1982, he left Sudan to study civil engineering in Ankara, Turkey. He moved on to The Netherlands in 1984, to continue his studies at the Technical University of Delft. "He was the first Nuba to come to The Netherlands, and he was the third Sudanese."

Awad graduated in 1987, but in stead of making a career as a civil engineer, he focused completely on politics and the Plight of the Nuba people, taking any odd job to pay the rent. He would be teaching Dutch to foreigners; he would work at the Rijksmuseum of Amsterdam; he would clean people’s houses.

He was an early member of SPLM and SPLA, and he was acutely aware of what was happening to the Nuba people in Sudan. He worked relentlessly to advocate for the plight of the Nuba people. He joined forces with London based Suleiman Rahhal, founding Nuba Mountains Solidarity Abroad, Benelux branche, together with Abdelbagi Hamdan Kabeir and Ismael Ali Saadeldin

A small branche at first, NMSA Benelux grew through the efforts and personal charisma of Awad Sukkar. By 1990, the war in the Nuba Mountains caused more and more Nuba to flee the country. Somehow many found their way to The Netherlands, where Awad Sukkar would welcome them at the airport and help them find their way in the complicated asylum procedures.

“You had to go and search for your relatives in The Netherlands, but Awad would know you were coming and he was there to meet you.” Many Nuba stayed at his home for weeks or months, as long as it would take them to find a place of their own.

As the United Nations were paying more attention to what was taking place in the Nuba Mountains, Awad Sukkar was asked to come to Geneva and address the Assembly on the hardship the Nuba people were facing.

“Politics were his second nature.” Awad Sukkar was known for his passion. “Sometimes a debate could become so heated that the only way to end it would be to shout ‘SPLA OYE’ and that would quiet him down and he would take his seat again.”

In the SPLM/A outside The Netherlands he was well known for his activism. He travelled to South Sudan, Uganda and other places to participate in conferences. Dr. John Garang once held a meeting in Awad’s house in The Hague.

“After Garang’s death we gathered as SPLM/A. Everyone was devastated, but Awad stood up and told us that we should not despair, because we were still alive: we should continue the struggle and Dr. John would remain alive through us. SPLA OYE! he shouted, lifting our moral.”

But his involvement did not stop with the Nuba or the SPLM. He would also co-operate with Sudan Human Rights Organisation, he would frequently walk in at the Institute of Social Studies to visit the Sudanese lecturers and researchers there and to discuss politics and life with them. “You can’t name a Sudanese organisation here in The Netherlands, or Awad was involved in some way or another.”

No wonder he was well known by all Sudanese in The Netherlands – if only because he would hardly ever skip a party. “You know, when I would not attend, no one would miss me but when Awad didn’t come, everyone would ask ‘where is Awad?’” “He used to dance in his own funny way and then he would come up to you and hug you really, really tight. I always felt it was his way to show how much he loved you.”

His close involvement would sometimes cause him great frustration. Especially so when in 1997, his friends from the very first hour, Abdelbagi and Ismael were enticed to sign a peace agreement with the Government of Sudan, together with Mohamed Haroun Kafi. “The embassy called Awad daily, trying to convince him to join them. But he refused. Awad was a man of principles and I respect him greatly for it.”

The betrayal of his friends was too much for Awad. He started drinking and no one who knew him will deny he drank too much. Nevertheless, he continued to be active in many ways.

With his intelligence and social character, Awad could relate to anyone. “He was a man of the world. I remember seeing him at a congress, joking with Jan Pronk, who said maybe he should have joined the Government after all.” He did not care if someone was from North Sudan or South Sudan. “He was close to us all. He was a brother to the brothers. With kids he was a kid.”

Awad put politics over personal life. He never had much money and he never made a career. Hardly any of his colleagues knew he had a degree in civil engineering. When he married Manal Abdallah, in 2001, however, he wanted to bring her to The Netherlands. He found a decent paying job with SHAM, an organisation that assisted unaccompanied minors in the asylum procedure.

Awad arranged a visa for his wife. And then he did not have the money to pay for her ticket. “He never asked us for money. I wish he would have allowed us to help him.” Later, Dutch immigration laws became even more rigorous and he saw no way to be united with his wife. “Together with the death of his mother, this, in a way, killed him.”

Awad’s death was tragic. He was found in a canal close to his home. There were no signs of a crime or a struggle and the police assume he somehow fell in the water. Awad could not swim. Although his death shocked everyone, it did not come as a surprise. “Awad lived every day as if it could be his last. It seemed he knew he would not grow old.”

Despite his many friends who considered him as one of the family, and despite the nearness of his brother Guma Sukkar, Awad harboured a fundamental loneliness that would never leave him. Being away from Sudan for so long was hard on him.

An Iraqi friend, Mushim asSaraj, declaimed a poem he wrote for Awad. It moved everyone, including those who did not understand Arabic. The few lines he translated in English might suffice to say goodbye to Awad... “My friend, you chose autumn as your favourite season. And you were the first leaf to fall.”

Awad Sukkar, Nuba activist: January 1, 1962 – September 12, 2008. He leaves behind his wife Manal Abdallah. He was buried in The Hague on September 23, 2008.


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