The woes of the displaced Nuba people
Elmulfa Mirra is not exactly sure of his age. However, he recalls
vividly the events of the fateful Wednesday morning last year that saw
him and all his village-mates reduced to either captives or refugees
in their own country.
"A helicopter arrived and bombarded our village at Nocta, Nuba
Mountains, Southern Kordofan (about 600 kilometres south of Khartoum),
sending people scampering in every direction for dear life,'' he
recalls. "We ran to the hills from where some of us watched helplessly
as the government soldiers fired shots indiscriminately, ransacked the
entire village, looting and setting ablaze whatever they could not
carry with them.
"After about two hours, they were through with their operations and
our village was no more," remembers the Muslim father of 12, who
believes he is in his sixties. "We returned to the village hoping to
salvage a few things to keep us going but all we found were corpses
Mirra now lives on the hills of Merewi as a displaced person. Also
exiled at Merawi is former chief of Nocta Hussain Amdaballa.
Those not lucky enough were captured or killed. One of the captives,
James Karama, 57, has since found his way out of the infamous peace
camps. Though the torture he underwent cost him his left arm, Karama
is full of determination to fight on.
"Though life is difficult here because of poverty, I am happier than
my days in the peace camps where I was denied all basic rights,"
"The exact number of the displaced people here is not known as there
are no designated locations for refugees," says Amar Amoun, the Nuba
Relief Rehabilitation and Development Society (NRRDS) programme
manager. "However," he adds, "they are quite many since the raids in
the villages in the valleys and the areas close to the government's
strongholds are commonplace."
For the Nuba, like their counterparts in southern Sudan, raids by
government soldiers is the norm rather than the exception. During the
raids, those not killed are captured and sent to the
government-controlled peace camps.
For displaced people, movement is made harder by fighting. Distances
are huge and by the time a displaced person manages to walk to a
relief centre, if any, he is well on the way to becoming one of the
stick people now a common feature on television screens the world
"When we arrived here, we were welcomed and shown where to
cultivate," says the former chief, who adds that life has never been
the same again. "Our main problem is that having come from the
valleys, we are not used to cultivating the hilly terrain here, thus
we are now victims of famine."
"Soon after we were displaced, we would sneak into our former village
at night to harvest wild fruits. However, word soon reached the enemy
forces who have now laid all manner of traps including mining the
In April, recalls the chief, at least five people were killed when
they attempted to get food from Nocta.
According to a recent Southern Kordofan Emergency Assessment report,
conducted by members of USAID and Concern (an Irish NGO), at least
20,000 Nuba people were considered under the threat of a 70-80 per
cent food deficit between the months of April and August this year.
The report appealed for urgent external intervention to keep the
people alive and productive in their present homes.
Ever since the Nuba took up arms to fight against the Khartoum
government alongside the southerners, the government has used the
tactic of cultural re-orientation as a means to denying the Sudanese
People's Liberation Army their (Nuba) contribution.
To this end, thousands of the Nuba have been rounded up and re-located
to peace camps (read concentration camps), where Arabic has become
their lingua franca and Islam their religion. They are a pool of
cheap/free labour, women and young girls are turned into sex slaves
and young men forcibly conscripted into the government army.
Alternatively, near impossible conditions for their survival have been
created in several parts of their homeland, claiming the lives of
thousands and forcing many more to surrender themselves to the peace
camps in desperation. These have included mining villages, raiding and
setting ablaze houses, farms and food stores and driving away
In the face of all these, the Khartoum government has for the last one
decade authorised no flights to the Nuba Mountain areas under the
control of the rebels. Reason...Nuba mountains is geographically not
part of southern Sudan which is bearing the brunt of the internecine
civil strife, now in its 15th year.
However, observers have dismissed the argument as hollow insisting
that since the combatants in the south are the same ones in the Nuba
Mountains, the UN should seek to gain access to the war-affected
people of the Nuba Mountains on both sides in order to meet urgent
Early last May, the Khartoum government announced its intentions to
allow relief operations in the Nuba Mountains but most Nuba were
sceptical about this change of heart. They feared that the government
could easily frustrate attempts to bring them aid.
Three months down the line and it is like the fears have become a
reality. A UN team that was supposed to move into the Nuba Mountains
to assess the situation on the ground, is yet to make the trip.
"The rural people of Southern Kordofan (Nuba Mountains) have suffered
greatly over the past 10 years as a result of the combined effects of
war, drought, dwindling trade opportunities and lack of access to
humanitarian assistance,'' points out the assessment report.
"Ten years of continuous insecurity, causing migration and death,
reduced the rural population from an estimated 1 million to between
350,00-400,00 people," it adds.
The Nuba are a collection of about 50 tribes with over 10 distinct
language groups. Their home is geographically in central part of
Africa's most expansive state.
They are both crop and livestock farmers. However, much of the
livestock in Nuba Mountains is not kept as a food source but for trade
option for grain, for marriage or as a status symbol. There is a great
tradition of generosity among the Nuba, which takes many forms. It is
common, for instance, for people to share up to 10 per cent of their
harvest with needy relatives and friends.
In all parts of Nuba Mountains, dura (sorghum) is the backbone of the
food economy. It is invaluable as an assortment of meals, madida,
asida, kisira and marissa, and it is preferred to all other cereal
Kerubino defends SPLA soldiers
Southern Sudanese war lord Kerubino Kwanyin Bol has denied claims that
much of the relief food was going to the Sudanese People's Liberation
Army (SPLA) soldiers as opposed to the starving civilians.
Speaking in Nairobi on July 24, the former Khartoum government ally
said that the main problem was the inadequacy of the relief supplies.
"It is not true that the soldiers are taking food meant for
civilians," he said.
"The soldiers are fighting for the people and it is therefore their
interest to safeguard the welfare of these civilians. The main problem
is that the food reaching the famine-stricken region is not enough.
If. it was enough there would be no such claims," Kerubino said.
"I am a soldier and commander myself and I am 100 per cent sure that
the soldiers are not taking food meant for civilians."
He said that he had recently toured the affected region in the company
of a number of NGO personnel and was well versed with the situation on
Aid workers have reported that much of the relief food was ending in
the hands of the SPLA while government troops and splinter groups were
also seizing huge amounts of the same.
Kerubino described the current famine in Sudan as a natural misfortune
which has been aggravated by the military regime's intransigence. "Now
people are dying in their thousands though relief agencies and the
Christians are trying their best to improve the situation. The Sudan
government continues bombarding the safe havens, making the relief
efforts completely difficult."
He urged the international community to exert more pressure on the
General Omar el-Bashir-led regime to abide by the ceasefire that has
been declared to ease relief operations.
The Sudan government and the SPLA have declared a ceasefire to assist
relief operations. Following the declaration, the World Food Programme
immediately launched a major air drop food aid to Wau, the largest
town in the famine-hit Bahr al-Ghazal region.
Kerubino, who had risen to the rank of `Lieutenant Colonel in the
Sudanese army, claims to have fired the first bullet that triggered
off the current phase of the Sudanese civil war in 1983. Together with
other disenchanted southern Sudanese soldiers, they formed the SPLA.
He later fell out with the SPLA leader, Colonel John Garang, and was
thrown into detention. He broke out of jail in September 1992 to form
his SPLA Bahr el Ghazal faction that collaborated with military
He is reputed to have unleashed unmatched terror on fellow southerners
during his four-year collaboration with the government. However, he
dismisses all these terming them "one sided claims".
He said: "Such accusations have been completely one-sided. When I led
my faction, I lost my men just like all those who fought against us.
We are all to blame but now we have realised the folly of our
divisions and resolved to work as one people with a common destiny
South Sudan is facing its most severe crisis in 10 years. Needs in
Bahr el-Ghazal became acute following massive displacement in early
February due to outbreak of fighting in the region. Flight suspension
throughout February and March prevented the delivery of urgently
needed assistance. Total flight clearance to the area was finally
given on March 31.
It is now estimated that 2.6 million people are threatened by famine.
Earlier reports had put the figure at 380, 000 people.
SUDAN CATHOLIC INFORMATION OFFICE
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: SCIO@MAF.Org