December: 16, 1999: Sudanese President Omar Hassan el-Bashir appeared to be consolidating his grip on power after striking out against his former ally, parliament speaker and Islamist ideologue Hassan al-Turabi. Bashir dissolved parliament and declared a three-month state of emergency to pre-empt moves by Turabi, who dominates the ruling National Congress.
17: A minister in Bashir's government said that Sudan was stable but that emergency measures taken after a challenge to presidential authority were "irrevocable". Meanwhile, Bashir and Turabi have agreed to discuss reconciliation within the National Congress, a Turabi supporter said.
17: Sudanese defence minister Abdel Rahman al-Khitim, on a visit to Cairo, said he had reassured Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak about Sudan's stability following the emergency measures. "I assured president Mubarak about the stability of the situation in Sudan and told him that General Bashir's decisions are irrevocable," Mr. Khitim said after talks with Mubarak and Egyptian defence minister Hussein Tantawi.
17: President Bashir has accepted resignations tendered by a minister and a state governor who acted on instructions from Mr. Turabi, a newspaper said. President Bashir accepted the resignations of cabinet affairs minister Mohammed al-Amin Khalifa, a retired colonel who helped Bashir seize power in 1989, and Sennar State governor Yagub Abu Shura, Al-Rai Al-Aam daily said.
19: Representatives from Caritas Italiana have completed an extensive fact-finding tour of southern Sudan aimed at helping the Italian aid agency make appropriate decisions regarding its operations in the region. The delegation comprised the organisation's manager in charge of international affairs, Mr. Paolo Cereda and Mr. Davide Invernizzi, who is the organisation's programme manager in the Great Lakes region.
19: An independent daily suspended by president Bashir last September is to resume operation immediately, according to a report by state-owned Radio Omdurman. Quoting presidential press advisor, Mr. Sadik Bakheit, the report said the directive to allow al-Rai al-Akhar (The other Viewpoint) daily to resume operation was given by the president.
19: Turabi warned his rival Bashir of civil unrest just hours before the two sides were to meet to try to end their feud. Mr. Turabi said, "certain parties," which he did not identify, "could benefit from the unrest, which could break out in the streets of Khartoum".
20: Proposed reconciliation talks between president Bashir and Turabi have been postponed indefinitely. Information Minister Ghazi Salah Eddine Atabani said the talks had not taken place, as scheduled, and that no new date had been set for them, news organisations reported. Atabani said Bashir would accept mediation but that the state of emergency and dissolution of parliament were irrevocable, and there was "no question of compromise on the fundamental principle, which is that there will be no return to interference by the (National Congress) party in the affairs of state".
20: Turabi, who denounced what he called "an assault on the people's constitution" and said "Sudan is now led by an autocratic regime", has called for an emergency meeting of the consultative council of the National Congress for December 27. It would have the party "examine the exclusion of Bashir and his supporters if mediation has failed to make the head of state go back on his decision to dissolve parliament", AFP reported.
20: There has been strong support for Bashir from Arab leaders, with Saudi Arabia saying it was "an internal affair" and both Libyan and Egyptian presidents Mubarak and Gaddafi declaring their support for their Sudanese counterpart. A spokesman for the US State Department, which has led the effort to isolate Sudan internationally, said it was more a battle of personalities than policies.
20: Regional observers believe Bashir to be less bound by ideology than Turabi, pointing to improved relations with Ethiopia and recent peace deals with opposition leader Sadiq al-Mahdi and with Uganda as evidence of his political pragmatism. Senior lecturer and research analyst at the University of Nairobi, Professor Moustafa el Said Hassouna, told IRIN that although Bashir's declaration of a state of emergency was "ill-timed" and had caused "fear and apprehension" in Khartoum, his pact with Uganda's Museveni had given him a new dose of legitimacy in the region.
21: SPLA leader John Garang has welcomed what he called "the Bashir coup" as a crisis that marked "the beginning of the end of the NIF (the National Islamic Front - renamed the National Congress) and its regime". The relative power balance in the Sudanese army between three factions; the Bashir and Turabi factions of the NIF, and "a non-NIF faction, by far the largest group in the army" would be critical in the resolution of the crisis in Khartoum, Garang said in a press release.
21: There has been limited response from the leadership of the opposition umbrella National Democratic Alliance, perhaps because it has been highly divided internally in recent months over whether the NDA should negotiate with Khartoum or continue its armed struggle until the regime collapses. The NDA recently agreed in Uganda to support the Inter-Governmental Authority for Development (IGAD) peace talks, but with greater involvement by northern, Islamic elements of the NDA rather than leaving the southern-oriented SPLM/A to negotiate alone.
21: An IGAD delegation arrived in Khartoum for preliminary negotiations on the possibility of holding peace talks in January between the government and the SPLA.The delegation, led by Kenyan presidential envoy to the peace process Daniel Mboya and including diplomats from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Uganda and Djibouti, is exploring the possibility of a new round of talks in Nairobi on January 15 and discussing how to make this work where previous negotiations have failed to make progress, news media reported.
21: The Sudanese government, SPLM/A and humanitarian agencies - under the auspices of Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS) - agreed in Switzerland on a set of 'Principles Governing the Protection and Provision of Humanitarian Assistance to War-Affected Civilian Populations' in Sudan. They agreed that agencies accredited by the UN should have "free and unimpeded access" to vulnerable populations, with the UN to decide on routes and logistics for humanitarian assessments and deliveries.
21: Both the government and rebels "reaffirmed their strong commitment to the opening of the Lokichokkio-Kapoeta cross-line corridor" through both the direct route (via Narus, Lolin and Buno) and the detour route (via Narus, Napotpot, Nakachori). It was agreed that arrangements should be made immediately to de-mine the direct route and that an assessment of the detour route should also be completed by February 2000. The UN is also to establish an office in Kapoeta for the receipt and distribution of humanitarian goods.
21: Water and sanitation have become major health problems in Khartoum's camps for displaced people, with some 90 percent of water samples taken from households in Elsalam and Wad El Bashir camps found to be "highly contaminated", according to the International Federation of the Red Cross. While water sources were found to be clean and fit for human consumption, improper handling of water, poor hygiene and sanitation practices - in addition to stagnant water near distribution points - meant that water-borne diseases were a big threat in the camps, which cater for 100,000 and 26,000 people respectively, IFRC reported.
22: A 'worsening political and economic crisis" grips Kenya, while "restrictive" rule in Uganda threatens to grow more dictatorial, an international human rights group warns in a year-end global survey. The group's generally negative assessment of East Africa encompasses Sudan as well, although Human Rights Watch does point to some abuses on the SPLA.
23: President Bashir came relatively late to politics after an army career, but has now turned against his mentor Turabi, who has long been regarded as the power behind the throne. Opponents of president Bashir often saw him as being merely a front-man for the now dissolved parliament, whom they believed was using the military to ensure his own hidden hold on power.
23: Turabi has vowed to challenge a decision by Bashir to dissolve parliament and impose a three-month state of emergency. Turabi, secretary-general of the ruling National Congress, told a news conference Bashir had violated the constitution and betrayed the Sudanese people.
23: Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni held talks in Kampala with former Sudan prime minister Sadeq al-Mahdi, Ugandan radio reported. An official statement said they discussed the Sudanese peace process, a reference to the long-running civil war in southern Sudan- and initiatives to resolve the conflict.
23: Reconciliation talks between representatives of president Bashir and Turabi have been postponed, information minister Ghazi Salah Eddine Atabani said. A new date for the talks has not been set, he said.
23: President Bashir has offered the northern opposition in exile a chance to take part in power after its integration in a "broad national front". "We're calling for the formation of a broad national front which would group most political forces in Sudan on the basis of a precise political agenda," president Bashir said in an interview with journalists in Khartoum.
24: President Bashir was to meet African leaders in Libya in a bid to patch-up strained relations with neighbouring countries after sidelining Turabi. The daily al-Anbaa said Bashir was scheduled to hold talks with Muammar Gaddafi in Tripoli, ahead of talks with Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo.
24: President Bashir left Khartoum for state visits to Libya and Egypt during which he will discuss the political crisis in his country, the Sudan news agency reported. President Bashir was to have participated in a meeting between Gaddafi and Mubarak in Tripoli but was unable to attend because of the crisis at home.
24: Gaddafi urged African leaders to put aside their differences, saying they should not waste time squabbling over "backward ideologies," the Middle East News Agency reported. Gaddaffi spoke at an African mini-summit hosted in the Libyan capital of Tripoli grouping the presidents of Sudan, Eritrea, Uganda and Congo according to MENA. The Libyan leader eager to project himself as the continent "peacemaker," has been pursuing peace efforts in several African disputes.
28: A high level meeting of Ugandan and Sudanese officials is scheduled to take place in Nairobi next January with a view to exchanging diplomats, Ugandan officials have said. The meeting is a follow up of the recently signed peace deal between Uganda and Sudan.
29: About a dozen members of Sudan's parliament petitioned the constitutional court to annul a presidential decree that brought into force a state of emergency and dissolved parliament. The deputies told reporters that their petition said president Bashir had violated the constitution by declaring the state of emergency, dissolving parliament and suspending some articles in the constitution.
30: Sudan and Ethiopia have agreed to boost trade and communication links, state-run Ethiopia News Agency reported. Sudan's minister for roads and communication Al-Hadi Bushra and Ethiopia's deputy minister for transport and communication Ayenew Bitewlgne held a two-day meeting at the border town of Metema where they agreed to enhance trade and build roads.
January 4, 2000: Bilateral talks between Sudan's internal affairs minister Gen. Abdel-ahim Mohammed Hassan and Ethiopian prime minister Meles Zenawi focused on regional issues, officials said. The talks centered on a meeting on Sudan later by the IGAD, Sudan's ambassador to Ethiopia Osman al-Sayed said.
5: The National Congress reported a breakthrough in reconciling the political feud between President Bashir and Turabi that led to Bashir declaring a state of emergency and the dissolution of parliament last December12 - just before a parliamentary vote was due on whether or not to curb his presidential powers. The party's national consultative council decided that Bashir should stay on as party chairman and Turabi, as secretary-general, recommended that the dissolution of parliament should be referred to the constitutional court, and called for the state of emergency to be lifted "as soon as possible", Associated Press reported.
5: The SPLA promised Sudanese deputy president and Southern States Co-ordination Council chairman Riek Machar at a recent meeting in Uganda to study the current political situation in the light of recent decisions by President Bashir that have "resulted in openness in Sudan's political relations with the opposition and neighbouring countries," the Sudanese newspaper 'Al-Ra'y al-Amm' reported. Machar, who has also met Kenyan government and members of the IGAD mediating peace talks between Khartoum and the SPLA/M, said the recent political developments in Sudan raised hopes for the success of the next round of IGAD talks proposed for January 15 in Nairobi, the paper added.
5: Col. Garang says his movement supports a peaceful solution to the over 40 years' conflict between Khartoum and southern Sudan. In an interview with the Kenya Television Network (KTN) in Nairobi Garang said: "Khartoum insists on its vision for the Sudan - an Islamic state, an Arab state". "On the issue of religion and the state, it is clear that we cannot agree on this issue," he said. "They are not going to abandon shariah, and we are not going to accept to be governed by shariah," he said.
5: A coalition of government, opposition politicians, and political activists in Sudan have called for a referendum on self-determination for southern Sudan, the Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA) reported. The group urged all Sudanese, foreign governments, regional and international institutions to support a ballot for self-determination.
7: Turabi has said he had agreed to a Qatari mediator's proposal that he step down as secretary-general of the National Congress, but not that he be replaced by president Bashir. "Qatar's foreign minister proposed that I resign as secretary-general of the NC party," AFP quoted him as saying.
7: Sudan's acting minister for culture and information Ghazi Salah al-Din has said the Qatari initiative had not achieved its objectives, Sudanese Television reported. He told journalists that Sudan was grateful to the Qatari government for its "constant" and "ardent" determination to effect the resolution of Sudan's problems.
7: Talks between Egyptian foreign minister Amr Musa, the secretary of the Libyan General People's Committee for External Liaison Umar al-Muntasir and the Sudan foreign minister Mustafa Uthman Isma'il ended with the three ministers signing a joint communiqué in which they stressed the strategic relations linking the three countries. The communiqué stated that the Libyan-Egyptian initiative derives its special importance from the fact that it pursues the path of a comprehensive solution toward realising peace and national accord in the Sudan, affirming the importance of uniting their efforts to support this initiative, the Sudanese News Agency (SUNA) said.
7: USAID's Famine Early Warning System (FEWS) has said that crop conditions are "generally good" and favourable harvests are anticipated in most of southern Sudan due to abundant rainfall. In its latest report, FEWS said many farmers have received crop seeds and have managed to plant them, "easing fears of another devastating famine in southern Sudan this year".
10: Two Sudanese working for the charity Care International were killed in an attack in southern Sudan and two others were missing, a government body and Care official said. The Sudanese government's humanitarian aid commission blamed the SPLA for the attack on January 2 between Bentiu and Mayon in Al-Wihda state. The dead were identified as Bentiu Care office director Ibrahim Ishaq and his driver Mekki al-Khair.
10: The SPLA has denied involvement in the recent attack of aid workers. SPLA spokesman Samsom Kwaje said in Nairobi that his group had no forces operating in Western Upper Nile where the incident occurred, noting that most of the rebel forces there are pro-government.
10: Five years after their relations soured, Eritrea and Sudan have resumed diplomatic ties and are working to reopen embassies and restore air traffic between their capitals, an Eritrean official said. Relations were restored at the conclusion of a visit by a five-man Sudanese delegation to Eritrean capital Asmara, and the installation of a Sudanese charge d'affaires in the newly restored embassy, said Eritrean ambassador to Kenya Ghirmai Ghebremariam.
12: Uganda has released 72 Sudanese prisoners of war captured in battles in northern Uganda in 1997. The Sudanese prisoners of war have been kept under tight security at the Makindye military barracks near Kampala. The move is seen as a gesture of reconciliation between Uganda and Sudan who last December signed a peace deal in Nairobi.
13: Col. Garang has denied that his forces were responsible for the killing of two relief workers in southern Sudan on January 2. "The Sudan's People's Liberation Movement was not involved because it (was) not on their territory," he told reporters.
13: Colonel Garang has said he had lobbied South Africa's government to take a role in mediating an end to his country's civil war, in which nearly 2 million people have died since 1983. Garang briefed South Africa president Thabo Mbeki on a plan to involve south Africa, Nigeria and Egypt in efforts to end the war.
14: Sudan and Uganda are set to exchange ambassadors and resume air links as part of a process to normalise relations and end rebel activity along their border, a senior Sudanese official said. Mr. Ali al-Nimeiri, minister at the Sudanese foreign ministry told state-run Omdurman radio the issue would be discussed at a meeting in Khartoum with Mr. Amama Mbabazi, minister in charge or regional cooperation.
Slavery issue continues to stir debate
Whether or not slavery exists in Sudan is a thorny issue that continues to generate much debate the world over. As far as Khartoum is concerned, allegations of existence of slavery are the works of its foes hell bent on tarnishing the name of the Islamic state. Yet more and more independent sources continue to give evidence to the contrary.
According to the Collins Concise Dictionary, slavery is the subjection of a person to another person, especially in being forced into work. Going by this definition, many analysts agree, the practice is rampant in Sudan especially in the context of an internecine civil war now in its 17th year.
A principle characteristic of the war that pits the predominantly Arab and Islamic north against the Christian and traditionalist south, has been sustained raids on the latter by either the government or government militias. On such occasions, thousands of captives, mostly women and children are taken away as part of the war booty.
Fr. Mario Riva, 72, is among the latest people to come up with evidence that slavery, a dehumanising phenomenon synonymous with the days of the yore, is still a reality in Africa's most expansive state.
The elderly Italian clergy spent about four weeks at Nyamllel and Marial Bai in December last year and was able to meet and listen to accounts by some 234 former slaves. The two places are some of the northern-most points of the territory controlled by the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), hence there being more prone to raids The former captives, majority of them now elderly women, recounted harrowing experiences about their capture, life in bondage and how they eventually secured their freedom.
The Catholic priest who has done most of his missionary work in Sudan, was on a mission to conduct a service of reconciliation for the former captives, soldiers and the rest of the population. He says he felt the need for his kind of initiative because those in freedom had either due to inability, unwillingness or both, failed to do much to secure the freedom for their enslaved brothers. Some of them, he added, were even reluctant to welcome the former slaves and help them fit in a free society.
Fr. Riva states emphatically that the 234 were a small fraction of this category of people now a commonplace in the SPLA/government border areas. “A lot more did not come to me because of time and/or distance or due to lack of information,” he says.
Slavery as it exists in Sudan today, he observes, is essentially part of a strategy to destabilise and bring the south under the control of the north. However, the practice is a colonial legacy that has survived many generations.
It dates back to the 16th century when Arabs first conquered the Nuba of Central Sudan. Having been subjugated, the Nuba were required to supply their masters with slaves, forcing the former to turn to their Black brothers down south. Against this background, the Arabs came to believe that Blacks in Sudan were only suitable as slaves. The practice was to be perpetuated by subsequent regimes in the region, - the Turks and the Mahadiya, reputed for establishing Sudan as a nation state as we know it today.
“Whereas the government does not openly support the practice, it gives the Muraheleen (Arab militia men) a free hand to capture the southerners and their property as their (Muraheleens') pay for the raids on the enemies.
In its 1999 report on Sudan, the Human Rights Watch talked of the government's complicity in the slave raids: “The government also armed tribal militias to use as proxy fighting forces. It claimed that it did not violate the cease-fire when on
January 28, 1999 60 Arab Baggara militia members (Muraheleen)
attacked Bararud in Bahr El Ghazal on horseback, killing 10 people
and looting the medical compound and feeding centre. Deniability wore
thin when the Muraheleen and government army jointly attacked the
village of Akoch Payam in Bahr El Ghazal, killing 30 persons at an
airstrip food distribution centre and abducting 75 persons to use
“The resurgence of slavery was an outgrowth of the war and the arming
of the Muraheleen, who were incorporated into the army in 1989. They
were allowed to keep all cattle and people they captured as war booty
while guarding the military's supply train to the south or on
freelance raids,'' says the report.
“The government,” adds the human rights watchdog report, “denied all slavery allegations until May 1999, when it acknowledged the problem of "abduction and forced labour of women and children and set up a committee to address it, including a Dinka non-governmental activist experienced in locating and retrieving Dinka children from slavery.''
Last year, the Sudan Catholic Bishops' Regional Conference also talked of the existence of slavery in the African state. Their report says in part; “…We also noted with regret certain practices which undermine the dignity and worth of human person. In particular, we deplore extrajudicial puinishment, disappearance, slavery and slave-related practice, tortures restrictions on freedom of worship, lack of freedom of espression..."
Once captured, the former slaves told Fr. Riva, the southerners are used as labourers on farms, others become herdsmen while some do domestic chores. Many women and young girls are taken in by Arab men as concubines.
Food, according to the accounts, is provided on strict ratios and a slightest provocation to the master could cost one a day's meal.
One generally surrenders all his liberties and in some extreme circumstances, a slave may be branded to make him/her easily recognisable should he attempt to escape according to Santino Madut, 18, whose younger brother was a slave for three years.
How then do the slaves secure their freedom?
Fr. Riva says Khartoum now seems to have a policy on freeing of slaves, most probably due to increasing pressure from the international community. “A lot of the people told of how they were set free after they secretly managed to report their cases to the police,” he said.
Some regained their liberty through escape, a risky venture that can result in death should one be caught in the act.
A good number were set free after their former masters were paid in cash, amounts of which are dependent on numerous considerations.
Asked how the last mode of emancipation differed from the contentious one used by the Swiss-based Christian Solidarity International (CSI), Fr Riva said the latter was more prone to abuse: “For one,'' he observed, “all the CSI operations are brokered by local middlemen and one cannot rule out a possibility of some of them cashing in on the arrangement to make a quick buck. When it is local people paying to secure freedom for their relatives, then you can trust that the people they are paying for are genuine slaves''
CSI, which makes claims of buying freedom for thousands of slaves with dollars, has come under heavy criticism for encouraging the trade in human cargo, and for using the predicament of the Sudanese to raise funds.
The whole idea of buying human beings is hated by many and there is a realistic fear that it could be counter-productive by encouraging raiders to capture more whose freedom would then be bought with dollars.
In a rare happening, one slave, Malek Kuoc of Akeuic village was released due to his diligence and unwavering loyalty to his master.
Time to speak openly about slavery
The world has closed its eyes to contemporary slavery in Sudan.
Sudan is the largest country in Africa and a land traversed by one of the world's longest rivers, the Nile. Despite these geographic distinctiveness, its people continue to suffer under an oppressive regime whose rule is based on religious fundamentalism. I wonder which genuine religion advocates enslavement, abduction and all manner of human rights abuse.
Muraheleen (Arab militias) and government forces have embarked on a scheme to annihilate the Dinka people in particular. They raid the people's settlements kill many adult males and carry with them women and children. Women and even underage girls are sexually molested.
My question is; who will speak for these women? Where is the voice that cries for women's emancipation? Nobody seems to be fully aware of this gross violation of a woman's dignity. I get the feeling that our land has been totally isolated as we are viewed as a burden to the rest of the world.
Aren't these diabolic acts of Islamic fundamentalism more than the genocide in Rwanda and Kosovo or even what Hitler's Germany did to the Jews?
Why are human rights organisations so insensitive to the plight of the Sudanese? Are they not supposed to address the rights of all irrespective of their race and social standing?
Truth is supposed to be bitter but should not be let to escape through the safe corridor when social injustice and massacres are the order of the day.
I feel enough is enough and time has come to talk openly about slavery in Sudan.
Members of our families and friends are being raided and chained up in their native country and driven away as slaves. Energetic boys and girls are even sold outside the country.
Has the world exhausted all the other resources to justify trade in human beings? This practice is most rampant in the Dinka Malual region of northern Bahr el-Ghazal. This is where the Muraheleen and government troops are most active.
Among the thousands of victims is my own cousin Garang Adhok, who was captured
from his parents at the age of nine. He was later spotted in Khartoum prompting his mother to rush there in the hope of getting him. This was never to be. Young Garang may be among the thousands who have been “exported”and only God knows whether he is alive or not.
Indiscriminate application of sharia cannot bring peace as the cases of Nigeria, Somalia and Algeria have demonstrated. Religion is supposed to be upright and dignified and should not in any way lead to human suffering.
Churches and other religious institutions in Sudan have indiscriminately been confiscated for no good reason. Food has been used as bait to lure people to the government side.
Please the rest of the world, stop proclaiming the killings in Sudan on radios and other media organs and seek a solution to the war. It has gone far beyond a civil conflict.
James Yach Stephen
The writer is a seminarian at the Blessed Josephine Bakhita Formation Centre, in Kitale Kenya.
SUDAN CATHOLIC INFORMATION OFFICE
Bethany House, P. O. Box 21102, Nairobi, Kenya
tel. +254.2.577595 or 577949, fax 577327
For further information, please contact:
Fr. Kizito, SCIO, tel +254.2.577595 - fax +254.2.577327 - e-mail: SCIO@MAF.Org