Sudan Monthly Report

Current issue
January 15, 1998


  1. Chronology
  2. Inaugural Nuba Day Held
  3. Nuba: Education for Life
  4. Khartoum: Catholic Club Confiscated


December 16: The Canadian oil company, Arakis Energy Corporation, is pressing on with its multi-million dollar oil extraction projects in Southern Sudan, in spite of protests from the people in the area, the UK-based Sudan Democratic Gazette, has reported. Sudanese exiles in Britain, who publish the paper, describe the deal as "illegal".

16: Ugandan rebels, fighting in the West Nile region of Uganda, killed eight people in an ambush on a motor-vehicle along the Koboko-Moyo road, military officers said today. The rebels of the Uganda Rescue Front injured six other passengers during the attack. The rebels are part of a larger group that has recently come under pressure from the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA).

16: Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir said his country's relations with Egypt are on the mend after almost a decade of strained ties, in an interview published in Doha, Qatar, today. "Relations are improving with Egypt and we are now working to overcome the obstacles so we can get back to normal," Gen. Bashir told the Qatari newspaper Al-Raya.

19: Pro-government forces have captured an area in southern Sudan's East Equatoria province in fierce fighting with the SPLA, a senior regional official announced today. Mr Riek Machar, the chairman of the South Sudan Co-ordination Council, said in a statement that the South Sudan Defence Force (SSDF) on Tuesday captured the Solora mountain area near Torit, after a battle of several hours in which the rebels suffered heavy losses in men and materials.

19: The Sudanese government and a Russian company, Lukoil, have signed a US$30 million oil pipeline construction agreement to link the Hajlij oil field with Ubaid refinery, the Sudanese news agency reported. Energy and Mining Minister Dr. Awad Ahmad al-Jaz said investment in oil production was a vital strategic goal for Khartoum.

23: President El-Bashir has issued a decree naming Col. Ibrahim Shams-Eddin as state Minister for Defence. Col Shams-Eddin served on the 15-man military council that ruled the country after El-Bashir took power in a military coup in 1989.

30: Sudan will hold a referendum on a draft Constitution in April, the parliament speaker, Dr Hassan Abdallah al-Turabi, has said. "The Constitution will encompass all present and future issues in a way that it cannot be amended by governments as they wish," Dr Turabi told recently-elected governors of the south Sudanese states in a meeting.

31: Mr Turabi is willing to meet exiled foes, according to a reconciliation group spokesman. An envoy from the body lobbying for reconciliation between the government and the opposition in exile said that Dr Turabi had announced that: "I am ready to meet anybody, (including former premier) Sadek el-Mahdi, who is bound to me with intellectual and familial ties."

31: Egypt and Sudan will pursue efforts to eliminate obstacles hampering the normalisation of their relations as a high-ranking Egyptian delegation ended a visit in Khartoum, a Sudanese official said yesterday. The Sudanese junior minister for foreign affairs, Mr Mustafa Osman Ismail, was quoted by the official SUNA news agency as saying that the two sides had noted "the need to make a greater effort to remove obstacles hindering the normalisation of bilateral relation."

January 1: Sudanese jurists have called for enhanced freedoms under the new constitution being drafted, saying freedom "should be the focal point" of the document, a Khartoum daily reported today. Akhbar al Youm daily said a jurists' conference yesterday sought a presidential system with direct popular election and an independent judiciary under the new constitution.

1: Gen. El-Bashir has sacked a top defence official who headed an unpopular government drive to train students for war, a newspaper reported yesterday. Mr Omar Abdel-Maarouf, a State Minister for Defence, was in charge of the Defence Ministry department that oversaw compulsory military training for thousands of students. Some were sent to war fronts in the south, where government forces were battling rebels.

1: Police on Thursday dispersed a demonstration by about 200 Sudanese university students protesting over a student union election. The pro-government Alwan daily said about 200 students from El Nilein University had marched to United Nations Square in Khartoum, where police dispersed them peacefully.

1: Sudan's national security and defence council has made arrangements to defend territorial integrity against foreign troop movements and threats, press reports said in Khartoum today. Security, intelligence, political and diplomatic measures have all been taken in view of statements by the US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who toured Africa in mid-December and was said by the junta in Khartoum to have called for its overthrow.

1: Government troops have in the past few days recaptured the Solora mountains area south of Torit in southern Sudan from rebel forces which had been backed by "physical foreign support," according to Government spokesman Brigadier Al-Tayeb Ibrahim Mohammed Khair. He added that government troops had seized large quantities of military hardware, including three new tanks, field guns and machine guns of different calibres and ammunition.

1: Sudanese Member of Parliament Mousa Hussein Dirar said in a statement today that a member of Britain's House of Lords, Baroness Caroline Cox, last week paid a secret visit to sites which have been held by rebels since January, close to the border with Eritrea. Mr Dirar claimed that Ms Cox had entered Sudan from Eritrea, which is home to Sudanese political opponents of the Islamic fundamentalist-backed junta in Khartoum, for a tour of the rebel-held regions and held talks with opposition forces and civilians.

2: President El-Bashir, in an address to mark Thursday's independence day celebrations, denounced US sanctions against his country. State television quoted him as saying Sudan "rejects the behaviour of sanctions and isolation" practised by the US, which imposed economic sanctions on Sudan in November for its alleged support of terrorism and human rights abuses.

3: Egypt still suspects Sudan of harbouring Egyptian Muslim militants, a senior government official said in a newspaper interview published in Cairo today. "We think that some terrorist elements are still in Sudan and fundamentalist activities are present," Mr Ossama al-Baz, President Hosni Mubarak's political advisor, told the government weekly Al-Ahram Al-Arabi.

3: Sudan said today that 1,787 soldiers of the SPLA had given themselves up to government forces in the last two days. The official news agency SUNA quoted an unnamed source in the armed forces as saying that 687 SPLA soldiers, including seven officers, had surrendered with their weapons on Wednesday in the Mr Maryal Bay area of the southern region of Bahr al-Ghazal.

6: Pro-government south Sudanese officials said today the victory for incumbent Daniel arap Moi in Kenya's presidential elections is good news for the peace process in south Sudan. The Akhbar al-Youm daily today quoted officials of the South Sudanese United Democratic Salvation Front (UDSF) as saying Moi's re-election would guarantee continuing efforts to reach peace.

7: Dr Turabi has criticised the country's outlawed political parties, but at the same time predicted that parties will be re-established. Dr. Turabi, the religious power behind the military junta in Khartoum, launched a ferocious attack on "sectarian" parties in the maiden issue of a new paper, Al-Usbou (The Week), published today.

8: Factions in south Sudan which earlier made peace with the government have agreed to unify all troops under the South Sudan Defence Force (SSDF), an official statement said today. The statement from former rebel Riek Machar, now chairman of the South Sudan Co-ordination Council, came as press reports spoke of defections from the SPLA to government ranks.

8: The official al Anbaa daily reported today that 150 SPLA men had surrendered to government forces in the Abyei area of west Kordofan, on the administrative border with south Sudan. First Vice-President Al Zubair Mohammed Salih and Defence Minister Hassan Abdul Rahman Ali were said to be in Bahr el Ghazal supervising arrangements to accommodate more than 7,000 civilians and armed rebels who reportedly deserted from the SPLA last week.

10: Uganda and Sudan are entering a third year of strained diplomatic relations after severing diplomatic ties in April 1995. The rebellion in northern Uganda and the raging battles between Sudanese government soldiers and the SPLA have crystallised the sour relations.

11: The Sudanese opposition must lay down its arms before there can be true reconciliation, Dr. Turabi said in an interview published in Khartoum today. "The march towards national accord must begin with abstention from arms which aggravate discord," Dr Turabi told the Akhbar al Youm daily.

12: Dr Turabi will visit Egypt on Wednesday as the two neighbouring countries move closer to normalising ties, a pro-government and pro-Islamic daily said on Sunday. The visit by Dr Turabi will coincide with a meeting of the Arab Parliamentary Union on Wednesday in the southern resort of Luxor, Alwan newspaper said.

13: A Sudanese minister said today that Sudan's long-strained relations with Egypt were improving, but more had to be done before any visit to Cairo by President El-Bashir. "We feel that there is improvement in relations," State Minister for Foreign Affairs Mustafa Osman Ismail told reporters after meeting Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa.

13: Sudan plans to integrate thousands of reported defectors from a southern rebel militia into its armed forces, a Khartoum newspaper said today. The private al-Rai-Aam quoted Gen. Mohammed Salih as saying that those who had come over to the government from the SPLA would be absorbed into "organised forces to widen the circle of peace." Gen. Al-Zubeir.

Inaugural Nuba Day Held

Thumping their feet with the energy of an award-winning athlete, the Nuba men danced and danced. The women urged them on with their songs and shrill ululation. Time and again, one of the dignitaries jumped to the arena to take up the challenge and do the jig, much to the applause of the enthusiastic capacity crowd. But this was neither the end nor the beginning.

Yet to come, were many more different dances and the stick fights. Earlier, it was the famous Nuba wrestling, without which almost any celebration in Nuba country is considered incomplete.

For the hungry, there was a wide variety of Nuba traditional delicacies ranging from asida, something akin to Kenya's ugali, balila (boiled beans) and kisra, a close relative of Kenya's chapati. Beer and soft drinks were also available in abundance.

With the walls and the tables reeling under the weight of Nuba regalia - necklaces, wood carvings, gourds, mats, caps, name it, one could also purchase a rare gift for a loved one. All the proceeds would of course go to help champion the cause of these oppressed people. The message was all too clear: The Nuba culture is here to stay and it will take any external force a near-miracle to completely erase it.

Courtesy of the Norwegian Christian Aid and the Friends of the Nuba, the Sudanese, most of whom had never ventured beyond the boundaries of their homeland, had on January 10 traversed distances to come and celebrate the inaugural Nuba Day in Kenya's capital.

"Since it is virtually impossible for the world to go to the Nuba Mountains, we took this initiative in order to bring the Nuba to the world," remarked American Kevin Ashley, a Friend of the Nuba and one of the chief architectures of the fete.

"It is quite a significant day since there has never been a serious attempt to highlight the Nuba people's human situation through cultural activities," he said, adding that, "we chose Kenya because it is the epicentre of virtually all relief activities in the region." For the Nuba people, the ceremony that took place at Nairobi's St Mary's School was a rare chance for presenting their case on their own behalf to the international community. It was a day for them to appeal to rest of the world to exert pressure on Khartoum to stop atrocities against its own people.

Since Sudan's independence from the Anglo-Egyptian condominium in 1956, the country has been dominated by the Islamic and Arab north, much to the chagrin of the southerners, who in 1983 took up arms under the leadership of Colonel John Garang, in an attempt to redress the imbalance.

If the composition of the audience was anything to go by, then the Nuba, albeit temporarily, became part of the global village. Their message certainly went far and wide. Representatives of the Italian government, representatives of United Nations relief organisations in the Eastern African region, journalists affiliated to different media organisations, and of course, hosts Kenyans, were all there.

"With all these beautiful songs and dances, do you think we Nuba can be eager to die early?, posed Yousif Kuwa Mekki, who now heads the Sudanese People's Liberation Army in the Nuba Mountains.

"Nooo....," responded the bemused crowd in unison. "That is why we have taken up arms to fight the Khartoum regime that has embarked on a scheme to culturally re-orient the Nuba or eliminate them altogether," Kuwa expounded.

Kuwa, the governor of the Southern Kordofan region and the highest ranked SPLA personality at the celebration, went further afield to say that the Nuba are generally a peace loving community, but also very formidable fighters. "The Nuba will not lay down their arms until the Khartoum government recognises all our rights and privileges," he asserted.

Speaking on behalf of her husband, Rebecca Garang, the wife of the SPLA boss, urged the Operation Lifeline Sudan to expand its jurisdiction to the entire Southern Kordofan region, and the international community to pressurise the government to disband all peace camps (read concentration camps).

A collection of about 50 different language groups, the Nuba, whose homeland is in central Sudan, have chosen to be part of the south in the liberation struggle that has for decades dogged Africa's most expansive state. For this decision, they have had to pay dearly for Khartoum insists that their area is part of the north, which is supposed to be Arab in culture and Islamic in religion.

Consequently, the military regime has embarked on a systematic scheme to overhaul Nuba way of life.

"It is a campaign of abductions, crop-burning, cattle-rustling, religious indoctrination and murder that human rights agency Africa Rights, one of the few groups to reach the Nuba and study their plight first-hand, warns could lead to genocide," says Time Magazine's Peter Graff (Time November 3, 1997).

Similar sentiments had earlier been expressed by a Scottish Church report on the Nuba: "Most people are now Muslims and the Nuba traditions have been erased: No more bracelet and stick fights, no nudity, no body paintings and instead of a council of elders, there is a sheikh." For the Nuba, the situation is further compounded by the fact that where as Khartoum permits the delivery of relief aid to the rebel-held southern Sudan, it is illegal to go to the Nuba Mountains. Thus a man of good intention must break the law to reach the Nuba people.

While appealing for more involvement from the rest of the world, the Sudanese did not forget to express their gratitude's to all those who have contributed to their cause.

"We very much appreciate whatever assistance we have so far got from everywhere, but we believe that much more can be done for the oppressed people of the Nuba Mountains," said the opposition governor.

"Let nobody think that as an individual he cannot do anything for our cause," he went on and singled out Italian priest-journalist Father Renato Kizito, whose journalistic activities have led to a greater involvement of the Italian government in the Nuba Mountains.

In fact, according to Kuwa, Italy is the only government involved in humanitarian relief in the Nuba Mountains.

The priest, who is a columnist with Kenya's leading Sunday paper, Sunday Nation, has written numerous articles on the Nuba in both Europe and Africa. Fr. Kizito, who has visited the isolated region on many occasions, has also been responsible for the production of several video clips on the Sudanese. Last year, he presented papers in several Italian cities on what has now evolved into his pet subject, the Nuba.

Charles Omondi

Nuba: Education for Life

I had been walking for almost three hours, up and down on steep, rocky paths, aided by the light of the full moon. The sun was just coming up at the horizon, bringing back to life the mountain's top. The vast plain was barely visible in the distance, still covered with the morning mist. With my two companions, we started going down a ridge, and I suddenly saw, a few hundred metres ahead, the destination of our long walk. On a levelled ground as big as a football field, protected by an outcrop of huge rocks, there was the primary school of Kachama. It was already a bee hive of activities, with hundreds of children streaming in and getting ready for the roll call.

Further on, the ground was going down steeply for some few hundred metres and then slowly levelling off. In the distance, probably not more than four kilometres away, some iron sheet roofing was reflecting the sun rays.

"That is Heiban" one of my companions indicated, answering my questioning look. Heiban; the second town by size, after Kadugli, still under the control of the government forces in the Nuba Mountains. But the school is a "liberated area" under the control of the SPLA.

It was not long before the last Christmas, and on the only smooth wall - most of the school buildings were made with rocks, timber and thatched with dry grass - somebody had painted a Virgin Mary in an attitude of prayer, next to a stylised flower garden with Arabic letters proclaiming that "church unites all people, and all people are children of God". The students present that morning turned out to be 717. The school is free, the pupils come walking for an hour or so, and hungry, because the only daily meal they get is in the late afternoon. The teachers were 18, all volunteers, most of them catechists or responsible for communities of different Christian denominations in the surrounding villages, all of them without any training in teaching.

As I passed from class to class, questioned the teachers and the pupils and saw the poverty of their means, I was impressed by their enthusiasm for learning and their endurance in front of the difficulties. I found pupils of different Christian denominations, Muslims and Traditionalists. Once more, I realised how false was the standard explanation that the war in Sudan is due to religious differences, and I admired the wisdom and the tolerance of the teachers. They had no formal training, yet had attended with profit that difficult Teachers Training College that is life. In a world where conflict situations are so often given a distinctly religious dimension, with warring parties identified simply according to their faith (Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, Sikhs and Hindus in Punjab; Jews and Muslims in the Middle East; Christians and Muslims in Sudan), and where one might be forgiven for thinking that humankind would be better off without any religion, here religion was a motivation for harmony and unity.

I asked Zakaria Noh, the head-teacher, a tall and slim man in his 30s: " Who had the initiative of stating this school?" He answered: " We, the elders of the community, wanted our children to be educated. Traditionally, it is the responsibility of every adult in the community to educate the children. I can reprimand the son of another villager if I see him doing something wrong, and his father will stand by me. We are all interested in seeing our children progress. So we decided that anybody who could teach something should come forward and put his knowledge at the service of the community".

Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs or non-believers, no matter what flag we sail the sea of life under, it is important that we all learn some elementary rules of good seamanship - which is precisely what I felt it was taught in that school lost up in the Nuba Mountains. There were only a few textbooks the teachers had to share, no exercise books and pencils, no blackboard and chalk but a surface of smooth dry mud and a piece of charcoal, yet the atmosphere was of respect and understanding.

It has been said that: "The instructed pupil thinks what he is told to think. The socialised pupil thinks what others think. The evangelised pupil comes to think what the evangelist thinks. The indoctrinated pupil does not think at all. The educated pupil thinks for himself." I thought those Nuba pupils were lucky to have dedicated volunteer teachers who might not know much of the English language they were trying to teach, but could teach with their life, their love for freedom and justice, their determination to be respected as human beings and their commitment to the good of the community.

I suspect that in the expensive and exclusive Nairobi private schools, where students are trained to compete among themselves and achieve the highest possible marks, not many teachers are able to communicate to their pupils these values.

Ignorance has devastating consequences. Illiteracy is nowadays a condition of inferiority to which no person should be condemned. While every area of ignorance (mathematics, science, technology and so on) bears its own particular cost, the cost of a poor education in human (and religious as part of the human) values is horrendous. Would the intolerance, bigotry and hatred which has spawned murder, atrocity and destruction all across the world, from Belfast to Tehran, from Oklahoma to Jerusalem or from Algeria to Burma, have happened if education had adequately extended to human values?

At 11 am, the pupils left. "If the government Antonov bomber comes, it comes always at around midday - explained Zakaria - and we do not want to offer them an easy target. The pupils are safer in their homes, scattered all over the mountains." Those who for that morning were ready to take the risk - about 200 pupils, a handful of teachers and some 50 adults from the nearby homes - stayed behind for the celebration of Mass. I felt privileged to be "their father".

Only a few days before, I had heard a high-ranking civil servant of a foreign country say in Nairobi that; "Africans are easily attracted to Christianity because of their unsophisticated education". As an afterthought, to make sure he would be properly understood, he added that, "yes, they are easily duped with religious stories because they are ignorant". The gentlemen in question, in spite of the high self esteem, could hardly distinguish between scientific knowledge and education for human values.

Himself a victim of an education without values, he could have profited by attending a few days of school in the Nuba Mountains.

Renato Kizito Sesana

Khartoum: Catholic Club Confiscated

The Government of Sudan confiscated the Catholic Club of Khartoum. The order, signed on December 6th, 1997 and notified to the Catholic Church on December 22nd, was implemented on December 31st, 1997.

The Catholic Club, one of the many set up by various organisations and associations, was built in the early sixties at the outskirts of Khartoum on the area allotted to them by the town planners for social, sports and cultural activities. For decades the Catholic Club played host to various activities of the Catholic Community. Its basketball team was one of the best in Sudan and supplied the national team with many outstanding players. During the eighties the Club became the favourite study place for the many students who had no facilities at home.

In May 1992 some agents of the Security stormed into the club, arrested the young people studying in the premises and took them to detention, confiscated Ls 60,000 from the Club safe and the 22 type writers of the typist school. The youth were released a day later without being charged of any crime; the money and the typewriters were never returned. At various times the lawyer of the Catholic Church, Mr. Abel Alier, tried in vain to know the justification of the government action, including whether there were any criminal charges against the Church. Though no written notice to close the club was ever served, no use of it was permitted, not even on the occasion of the visit of H.H. Pope John Paul II to Khartoum (February 10th, 1993).

In January 1996, when an automatic renewal of the lease of the land was expected, as has been the normal practice with long term leases, the Catholic Church was told that the lease would not be renewed. The reason, verbally given, was "public need".

On April 2nd, 1996, a letter from a senior official of a government department requested the Church to let the department use the Club as a block of offices, promising to "cooperate to solve the problems ... for the benefit of both sides".

On 21st September 1996, engineers presenting themselves as representatives of the Ministry of Social Planning, entered the Catholic Club premises and told the keeper that the Club would be taken over in two days time. They did not produce any letter of authorisation but said the it had been sent to the authorities of the Catholic Church. Needless to say, the letter was never received.

On October 10th 1996, H.G. Gabriel Zubeir Wako, Archbishop of Khartoum, sent a memorandum on the subject of the Catholic Club to the Minister of Social Planning with the conditions to be considered before the agreement of the nationalisation of the Catholic Club could be reached. The Archbishop asked:

1) A judgement on the causes of the forced closure of the Club in 1992 and the reasons for preventing its operation during the last 4 years;

2) A written statement notifying of the public need which justifies the non renewal of the leases to the Catholic Club and to the other Clubs of the area;

3) Compensation for the buildings and other assets of the Club;

4) A new land of the same area to build a new club.

In December 1997 the answer came in the form of a letter of confiscation. The year 1997 started with the demolition of various "illegal" Catholic centres and schools; it ended with the destruction of a long standing and "legal" structure of the Catholic Church.

(Comboni Press, Rome)

Bethany House, P. O. Box 21202, Nairobi, Kenya
tel. +254.2.562247 or 569130, fax 566668

For further information, please contact:
Fr. Kizito, SCIO, tel +254.2.562247 - fax +254.2.566668 - e-mail:

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