SPLM Nuba in a tight corner - yet again

by Nanne op 't Ende

The Netherlands
29 December 2008

Finance Minister

SPLM Nuba has taken the ongoing dispute with the NCP over the position of South Kordofan Finance Minister Dr. Ahmed Saeed to the next diplomatic level: the ultimatum. If Dr. Ahmed is not reinstalled in his function in one month from now, the SPLM will suspend its participation in the Government of South Kordofan.

Surely there is more to it than the position of Dr. Ahmed Saeed. Looking more closely at the situation in South Kordofan, it seems that the Nuba who joined the SPLM/A in the struggle against the Government of Sudan are in a tight corner - once again.

They were in a tight corner in 2002, when the Nuba Mountains cease fire agreement was signed. They were in a tight corner in 2005, when the NCP drew the line at Nuba self-determination during the CPA negotiations and made it the stumbling block for any deal. And now they are facing a political dilemma from which there seems to be no way out.


The SPLM needs the large Nuba IDP population in Khartoum and other cities in the North to return to South Kordofan to secure support during the national elections that are supposed to take place in 2009. (I can think of no other reason why the SPLM Nuba would continue to stress the issue of the IDPs.) So far many IDPs are hesitant to return to South Kordofan for two reasons: lack of development and continuous insecurity.

The Comprehensive Peace Agreement gave the SPLM and the NCP a respective 45% - 55% share in power in South Kordofan, so the only way the SPLM can address the problems of progress and security in the state is through cooperation with the NCP. But that means putting up with the continuous power games of a former enemy who is not particularly keen on helping the SPLM bring its electorat back into the state.

So here is the dilemma for the SPLM Nuba: when they look for cooperation with the NCP they risk being tricked into making too many concessions and being perceived by the population as collaborators rather than the liberators they had set out to be; when they refuse to make concessions there will be no development or security in the state and people will not return.

This dilemma makes it more understandable why Deputy Governor Daniel Kodi boycotted the census in South Kordofan. It makes it more understandable why the SPLM Nuba are often blaming the NGOs for not doing enough to help the Nuba people. Or why they are acusing the UN force in South Kordofan of not being impartial.

Little help from Juba

The only way out seems through external pressure. The first place to look for support is Juba. Unfortunately Salva Kiir is not very responsive to the Nuba requests for help. He did not help them in their first dispute with the NCP - over the position of the State Assembly speaker - and the SPLM Nuba were forced to drop their claim to the post.

Salva Kiir did not put in much weight on behalf of the Nuba to speed up the formation of integrated forces or to make sure federal funds for development of South Kordofan were released according to the CPA. Governor Ismael Khamis found no way out of the dillema all alone: there was no cooperation with the NCP; the population complained about the lack of improvement in their situation and the IDPs did not return.

Yet at the rotation of the Governor Salva Kiir nominated Ismael Khamis to stay on as Deputy Governor, in spite of widespread perception among the Nuba that Khamis had failed during his time in office. Only when the SPLA Nuba publicly voiced their rejection of Ismael Khamis' nomination did Salva Kiir change his nomination in favor of Daniel Kodi.

Tentatively looking for cooperation

Being a more experienced politician than Ismael Khamis, Daniel Kodi was expected to deal efficiently with the NCP and to persuade Salva Kiir to become more closely involved in the developments in South Kordofan. Kiir did assist Deputy Governor Daniel Kodi financially to enable him to make a grand entree in Kadugli in September 2007, but gave him little public support in the following period.

The optimism surrounding Daniel Kodi's arrival in Kadugli did not last very long. It soon became clear that he would not suddenly change things around and in December 2007, tensions in Abyei were rising, bringing back distrust and fear of escalation. In April 2008, Daniel Kodi called for a boycot of the national census, citing insecurity and the slow return of IDPs as the main reasons.

It took untill August 2008, for the first signs to appear that something had changed in South Kordofan after all. SPLM and NCP announced the start of administrative integration and progress was made on the integration of the police forces in the state. In the State Assembly laws were being discussed and passed, and for a little while it looked as if the Nuba SPLM had chosen for cooperation.

Then the Governor Omer Suleiman dismissed the SPLM Minister of Finance, and the momentum was lost again. (The ongoing dispute over the finance ministry is another example that Salva Kiir does not rush in to help his allies in South Kordofan. The SPLM committee of investigation he announced two months ago has yet to be formed.)

Renewed attention from the international community

A number of governments and organisations had been sympathetic to the case of the SPLM Nuba during the war and it was largely due to their joint effort that the 2002 cease fire came about. Since 2005, however, most of them have been focusing on the conflict in Darfur, paying less attention to developments in South Kordofan.

Rising tensions in Abyei made everyone aware that proper implementation of the CPA is essential to reach a more lasting solution in Sudan. And the SPLM and SPLA Nuba had a chance to voice their frustrations and concerns in the Small Arms Survey and the International Crisis Group reports released in August and October 2008.

Both reports were very critical of the political leadership of NCP and SPLM and of the lack of involvement from Khartoum and Juba. They also shared a sense of urgency that something had to be done to prevent the situation in South Kordofan from escalating into all out war. In response, many governments and organisations renewed their interest in South Kordofan.

The dilemma remains

Although international attention seems positive, it does little to change the dilemma facing the SPLM Nuba: the SAS and ICG reports portrayed the situation in South Kordofan as explosive, making it very unlikely that many IDPs would consider a return any time soon. In the mean time the SPLM leaders received their share of criticism for the lack of progress while both reports mention that many Nuba consider them collaborators.

Originally the conflicts surrounding the dismissal of Dr. Ahmed Saeed were mainly about control over budgets and about possibly misappropriated Government funds. But because of the dilemma the Nuba SPLM leaders are in, it has also become a matter of prestige. To accept the dismissal would be seen as a humilitation. It would undermine their credibility and harm their aspirations for the elections.

The other problem the SPLM Nuba want to see resolved is the presence of six SAF battalions that were stationed in the state to prevent Darfuri rebels to take the war to South Kordofan. Although the SPLM and the SPLA are not at all keen on an incursion of JEM or any other group into South Kordofan, to have a large number of SAF troops in the state outside the CPA provisions is a serious threat to their position.


Seeing no way to solve these problems through dialogue, the SPLM Nuba have put forward an ultimatum: Dr. Ahmed Saeed must be restored in function and SAF has to withdraw its troops within a month.

The ultimatum is not only directed at the NCP in South Kordofan. It is also directed at the Government of National Unity; at the SPLM in Juba; and at the international comminity. The SPLM Nuba leaders are in a tight corner and according to the SPLM secretary in South Kordofan Arno Angelo 'all options are open' if the NCP does not comply.

Whether this is reason to be alarmed? Yes of course. Any ultimatum opens the door to undesirable consequences. At the same time I doubt that the ultimate option - a return to war - is very attractve to anyone, so some form of compromise is more likely. The Presidency could form a joint committee to investigate the problems at the finance ministry, for example. And SAF troops could be replaced by men from the Joint Integrated Units.


Whatever the outcome of the dispute will be, it will consume a lot of time that the parties in Sudan cannot afford to lose if they want to hold national elections in 2009. But with several issues including border demarcation still outstanding it is becoming increasingly unlikely that elections will be held on schedule.

Meanwhile it may come as no surprise that Arno Angelo emphasises the need for a serious effort to bring the Nuba IDPs back home and for repeating the census in South Kordofan before the elections.


The Nuba Mountains Homepage was made by Nanne op 't Ende.
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