Why the Nuba are part of Southern Sudan
Yousif Kuwa, the SPLA governor of Sudan's Southern Kordofan region, explains in an interview with Charles Omondi the plight of the Nuba and why they have allied themselves with the south in the Sudanese crisis.
What is your background?
I was born in the Nuba Mountains in 1944. My father was a soldier. I had my elementary education in the same area before proceeding to eastern Sudan's Beja area for intermediate studies, then higher education in Khartoum. I then worked as a teacher for several years before joining Khartoum University's College of Economics in 1977. I graduated in 1980 then taught in higher secondary school in Kadguli in the Nuba Mountains. I was elected to the regional assembly in 1981 to represent Kadugli and the surrounding rural areas. I joined the SPLA in 1984.
The Nuba Mountains is geographically not part of southern Sudan, yet the Nuba have chosen to be part of the south in the Sudanese crisis. Why?
Let me clarify this issues of north, south, west and the rest. These are mere geographical expressions. I think I can divide the room where we are seated right now into similar divisions. But unfortunately, these geographical tags are being used to divided the people of Sudan. Earlier, the terms were used to refer to Sudan's three provinces. Demographically, however, there are all kinds of people in different parts of Sudan. What I know is that Sudan is an African country with the majority of the population being Africans. According to the census conducted by the British in 1955, the so-called Arabs form only 30 per cent of Sudan's population.
What really made the Nuba ally with what people call the southern Sudan is what the SPLA stands for... a united Sudan. The SPLA is championing the cause of all the marginalised areas of Sudan. During the colonial era, development was concentrated in Khartoum and central Sudan. The rest of the country, even further north, was neglected and they remain backward to date. The people who have joined the SPLA are from different parts of Sudan. Our aim is to change the policy structure created for the old Sudan to one that is acceptable to all. In fact, in 1965, the government declared Sudan an Arabic and Islamic country, essentially shutting out all other cultures and religions. I think we should all be Sudanese while maintaining our diversity. Let their be no forced Arabisation or Islamisation for that matter, for it is this that is causing conflicts among Sudanese.
There have been conflicting reports about landmines in the Nuba Mountains. Can you explain what the situation is like on the ground.
The use of landmines is a recent development on the government side. During the last dry season offensive, government forces occupied some villages, believing that by so doing, all civilians from the surrounding areas would be forced to join them. But instead the people went higher up the mountains, from where they ventured out in search of food and other necessities.
The government then resorted to mining the region to restrict the movements hence the increase in the number of casualties in the recent past. Today, there are several amputees as a result. Several others are being attended to at the International Committee of the Red Cross hospital in Lokichoggio in northern Kenya.
The Nuba are actually a collection of different language groups. Has this undermined their position in the liberation struggle in any way.
It is true that the Nuba are a combination of different tribes. In fact, one can never know that he is a Nuba unless he goes out of the Nuba Mountains. In the Nubaland, everybody knows his tribe. It is to the rest that we are just Nuba. We started to come together in 1969 after the revolution that brought to power a military government in Khartoum. The Nuba consciousness was realised as a result of their uniformity in backwardness. With increased enlightenment, this consciousness has been cemented over the years. Today, there are a lot of inter-tribal marriages, the Nuba confidence has risen and so has their pride. Joining the liberation struggle has made the Nuba nationalism even stronger.
Huge Nuba populations have been uprooted from their homes and relocated to what the government calls peace camps. Why peace camps and what is life like in such settlements.
Since we resorted to an armed struggle in 1989, the government thought that they could dislodge us easily. But by 1992, the government realised that we were quite a formidable force. As a result of the split in the SPLA in 1992, which cut us off the mainstream body, the government moved in expeditiously to finish us once and for all. This failed to work, prompting the new scheme of rounding villagers and taking them to Kadugli. At first, they were taken to other regions in southern Kordofan, where the environment proved almost unbearable, prompting international outcry. The aim is to culturally re-orient the people and keep them off the liberation activities.
In the peace camps, children are taken to schools where they are brainwashed, taught Arabic and so on. Women are used as servants in homes, young men are used as militia, while some work as labourers in government agricultural schemes. Rape of women is commonplace and there is generally a lot of atrocities committed to the people. All this information is readily available from the many people who have managed to flee the camps.
What is your assessment of the international community's involvement in the plight of the Nuba people
Unfortunately, we have been talking a lot about the Nuba and their plight without attracting much attention. At the beginning, we were very optimistic that international intervention would be forthcoming. Our major concern to date is that the Sudan government allows relief to go to the south but not to the Nuba Mountains and of course they have their reasons for that. Only a handful of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and lately a few governments are beginning to grasp the Nuba problem. On the battlefield, you can easily find a gun, ammunition or even a tank, but not relief aid, making calamities such as famine among our main enemies. By Khartoum government denying relief entry to the Nuba Mountains, it is committing genocide. We hope that there will be more pressure on the government to let relief aid reach the Nuba.
What do you regard to be the significance of the latest US stand on Sudan in as far as the war is concerned
Well, any efforts geared towards getting rid of the government is highly commendable since it is a fundamentalist government that believes that not only Sudan, but the entire world should be governed by the sharia law. I think the world has seen in Algeria what fundamentalism can do. I wonder whether God really can allow this kind of thing to be done in his name.
I think what the US government is doing is quite in order. Though it is a bit late, it is better late than never. The latest stand is definitely a good step forward.
Do you regard as viable the peace deal signed last year between the government and a host of rebel factions
Not quite. It was signed in April and yet we have continued to score a series of impressive victories. However, such developments are characteristics of liberation struggles the world over. When we came up as a movement, we had certain set objectives. Now, for anybody to cross over to join the enemy before these are realised can only be an act of opportunism. The end of this year will show the world just how faulty that deal was.
What is your position on the government's recent proposal that the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) peace forum be expanded.
I was one of the members of the SPLA delegation at the last round of talks in October in Nairobi. We support fully IGAD because of the Declaration Of Principles (DOP) and we believe that the initiative is the best way to solving the Sudanese crisis. The question should never be whether or not to expand the forum. It should be whether the participants believe in the DOP or not. Mere expansion or contraction of the forum cannot make any difference.
Will you be around for the next round of talks
I would not know at this stage.
What is your stand on the division of Sudan into two separate states as a lasting solution to the civil strife
I joined the SPLA because in its manifesto, it calls for a united Sudan, devoid of discrimination on whatever grounds, where their is power sharing and all diversities accommodated. I am strongly for unity of Sudan. If division is the solution, then we may have to divide the country into several states.
Comment on the defection of key personalities from the SPLA.
As I said earlier, a movement usually has certain set objectives. However, not all its members can have similar level of patience and commitment. So if people defect, that is a natural thing. Besides, there have been defections from both sides. I am not aware of any movement that remained intact from day one to the day it accomplished its mission.
Do you have any other comment on the Nuba in particular and Sudan in general.
Most media organisations always talk of the war between the south and the north. That is not the truth as we in the Nuba Mountains are part of the north but we have joined the south. There are the Beja people, the Blue Nile communities, all fighting against the government. Even in the north, there is a lot of dissent and there is need for relief aid which unfortunately the government does not allow.
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