Sudan Monthly Report

Current issue
March 15, 2000


  1. Chronology
  2. In solidarity with a forgotten people
  3. Sudanese count losses as NGOs pull out


March 16: The SPLA has urged the international community to declare the south a no-fly zone for Sudan's government planes, which they say have continued to bomb civilian targets there. "As a concrete move to discourage Khartoum in its policies of depopulating southern Sudan and other marginalised areas of the country, we urge the international community to declare New Sudan (rebel-held south) a no-fly zone for government of Sudan planes," the SPLA said in a statement.

16: The Sudanese authorities have closed a Ugandan-owned trading company suspected of links with the rebel group, the Lord's Resistance Army, and arrested two of its staff. One has been deported to Kenya, the second remains in detention, while a third Ugandan working for the company, apparently fearing arrest, has disappeared. All three had their passports confiscated last December, when Sudan and Uganda signed an agreement to improve relations.

16: Egypt, which has resumed ties with Sudan at the ambassadorial level, will maintain its policy of backing the integrity and unity of Sudan, the Sudanese daily Alwan reported. The newspaper quoted Egypt's new ambassador in Khartoum, Mohammed Asem Ibrahim, as saying that Egypt objects to the calls for self-determination of southern Sudan, which may lead to Sudan's disintegration.

17: The leadership structure of Sudan's political and armed opposition was thrown into disarray when the influential Umma Party of ex-prime minister Sadek al-Mahdi walked out of coalition talks to protest at a decision to re-organise the alliance's leadership.

20: Sudanese government forces have launched a big counter-offensive against rebels in eastern Sudan near the border with Eritrea, the two sides said. The Sudanese army said in a statement that the rebels attacked border areas and that fighting was continuing.

20: The pullout of 11 major NGOs from Sudan has seriously affected relief operations in the Bahr el-Ghazal and Upper Nile regions and may lead to serious food shortage. The NGOs working under Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS), have refused to sign an agreement that sets out the conditions given by the Sudanese Relief and Rehabilitation Association (SRRA) they have opted to leave.

21: After attacks by opposition forces based along the border with Eritrea, the eastern Sudanese state of Kassala has declared a state of maximum war preparedness, a newspaper reported. The governor of Kassala, Ibrahim Hamid Mahmoud, was quoted by al-Rai al-Aam, an Arabic daily, as saying that there was no cause for alarm as the government forces assisted by militiamen were in full control on the war fronts.

22: The SPLA has accused a pro-Khartoum militia of attacking opposition forces in the southern Bahr al Ghazal region. "In the last three days a huge militia has attacked the town of Aweil from two directions," SPLA spokesman Yassir Arman said.

22: Sudan's army said it had repulsed rebel attacks in the eastern region of the country, inflicting heavy losses and capturing foreigners-reportedly Eritreans-in five days of fighting. The rebels said they have regained two border positions lost to the government in the early days of the fighting, and claimed government planes had bombed a school in the region, killing several teachers and students.

23: A foreign ministry spokesman said Asmara still hosts Sudanese opposition political parties and armed forces which Khartoum believes launched the attack from Eritrea, despite last January's establishment of full diplomatic relations between Sudan and Eritrea and border security accords. He did not directly accuse the Eritrea authorities of involvement in the offensive.

23: Sudan, one of Africa's poorest countries, has sent 36 tonnes of relief aid to flood-hit Mozambique, a newspaper reported. The independent al-Sahafi al-Douli said several groups, including Daawa Islamiya and the Sudanese Red Crescent had contributed supplies of sacks, tents, clothes and drugs.

23: The European Union has said it had allocated 11 million Euros (US$11.3 million) of humanitarian aid to Sudan for the rest of this year, but that no funds would go to rebel-held areas until conditions were right. The 15-nation bloc suspended aid deliveries to rebel-held areas in southern Sudan on March 1, saying the rebel movements were preventing NGOs from carrying out relief work.

24: Meningitis has killed 50 people mainly children and old people, in Juba, in the last two weeks, a newspaper reported. The privately owned Alwan daily said Juba, which has a population of a quarter of a million people, is short of drugs to combat the epidemic.

24: Umma Party, which broke away from the National Democratic Alliance, an umbrella organisation comprising exiled opposition parties, is moving its forces from Eritrea to Ethiopia, the Sudanese daily al-Anbaa reported.

28: The SPLA has accused the government of violating its own cease-fire by launching a four-pronged military offensive on Heiban, Buram, Western Jabal and Dalami in the Southern Kordofan area of the Nuba Mountains. SPLM spokesman Samson Kwaje said 8,000 people had been displaced in Buram alone, and needed urgent humanitarian assistance having had their crops and granaries looted or burned.

29: The government intended to pursue a peaceful resolution to the war in Sudan, even if it meant the secession of the south, the ambassador to Kenya, Farouq Ali, said in Nairobi. However, he warned against international pressure on Khartoum which, he said, "translates to direct support to the rebel movement with its intransigence". Farouq also deflected criticism of recent government bombings in the Nuba Mountains, saying the region was not designated as a cease-fire zone.

29: Sudan's foreign minister Mustafa Osman Ismail has commended the UN's role in providing humanitarian assistance to war victims in the south, and looked forward to improving performance "in line with directives set out for humanitarian work, and respect for the state's sovereignty and national security".

30: SPLM commander John Garang said his fighters had been responsible for attack on the airport at Kassala in which, he claimed, an Antonov bomber, the airport's fuel depot and main ammunition stores had been destroyed. The Sudanese army admitted that the airport tower had been attacked but made no mention of any damage, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) reported.

30: The Arab League has re-affirmed its support for the sovereignty, unity and integrity of Sudan, and voiced its opposition to any attempt to boost "separatist trends" through extending material and military aid, or imposing 'no-fly zones' within Sudan, SUNA reported. The League was responding to the SPLM's call for a no-fly zone to be declared for government aircraft in south Sudan because of indiscriminate bombing of civilian populations.

30: The office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, has agreed with the government to field an international expert on human rights in Sudan, initially for one year, in order to build the country's capacity to promote and protect human rights. The expert would help formulate technical cooperation projects in the field of human rights, bearing in mind the report of a UN expert mission to Sudan in September 1999.

31: The government has returned to the Umma Party its headquarters in Omdurman, which were confiscated when President Omar al-Bashir seized power in a coup in 1989. Siddiq al-Mahdi, the son of party leader Sadeq al-Mahdi, said the party would "immediately resume political activities" from the offices.

31: The leading opposition activist Ghazi Suleiman, leader of the National Alliance for the Return of Democracy, was arrested in his home, the Associated Press agency quoted the Sudanese Association for Human Rights as saying. The human rights group had noted that Suleiman's arrest followed a press conference earlier in which he accused Bashir's government of curbing political freedoms and systematically abusing human rights, the report added.

31: The ministry of health has issued a warning to Sudanese civilians to avoid crowded places and direct sunlight in a bid to curb the spread of meningitis, which claimed over 2,000 lives in 1999. "We expect more meningitis to occur with the increasing summer heat," the PanAfrican News Agency quoted a ministry statement as saying.

April 1: Security at Kassala airport was boosted following a rebel attack on the airport, the governor of Kassala state, Ibrahim Mahmoud, said in a statement. He said despite the rebel attack, Kassala was calm.

2: President Bashir has vowed that his troops would soon win back parts of eastern Sudan that were invaded by opposition forces last month. "There will never be negotiations with the rebels and agents before Hamoshkorib area is liberated," said Bashir in a fiery speech at a rally of tens of thousands of people bussed from different parts of the Sudanese capital and suburbs.

3: Kenyan president Daniel arap Moi has expressed his hope that peace negotiations aimed at ending the 17-year-old civil war in Sudan would go ahead and reach an acceptable conclusion. Moi made the remarks when he had a lengthy discussion with Sudanese president Hassan el-Bashir in Cairo, Egypt, where they were attending the Afro-Euorpean Summit.

3: Sudan's government began a new round of peace talks with rebels to end 17-year-old war, which has recently forced thousands to flee the country. A Sudanese government delegation met representatives of the SPLA in Nairobi, Kenya, for the last round of talks, which have so far been largely fruitless.

4: The Sudanese army said it had driven rebels from the Red Sea town of Garora, the official Sudan News Agency reported. "The armed forces have cleaned the border area of Garora in eastern Sudan of attackers after inflicting on them huge losses in lives and equipment," said armed forces spokesman Mohammed Osman Yassin in a statement.

5: The World Food Programme has earmarked US$15 million in food aid for Eritrean and Ethiopian refugees living in Sudan, according to a memorandum of understanding signed between Sudan and the Programme. Sudan' commissioner for refugees, Mohammed el Aghbash, said in a statement reported by the local media that the amount will be used to provide various food items for about 132,000 Eritrean and Ethiopian refugees in the eastern parts of Sudan for 18 months from May 1.

6: Leading members of Umma Party were given a rousing welcome when they returned to Khartoum after more than a decade in exile. Speaking to reporters at the airport, Omar Nur al-Daim, the party's secretary general, said the leadership was returning to work for peace and democracy.

6: More than 25 Sudanese government opponents, including at least three senior Umma Party officials, returned home from more than 10 years of leading anti-government activities abroad. Sudan's former prime minister and Umma Party chief Sadeq al-Mahdi, who has also been living in self-imposed exile since he was ousted by president Omar el-Bashir in a 1989 coup, was absent from the homecoming.

11: Meningitis has claimed 206 lives across Sudan over the last four months, press reports said. The Al Ayam daily quoted a health ministry official as stating that they were among 2,647 people infected with the disease.

In solidarity with a forgotten people

The Arch-Bishop of Durban and President of Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference (SACBC), Wilfred F. Napier, from March 20-29 led a delegation from his conference on an extensive tour of both northern and southern Sudan. Charles Omondi of Sudan Catholic Information Office (SCIO) later interviewed him. Excerpts

1. What is your impression of Sudan as a nation state?
My first impression of Sudan is a greatly divided nation. The second impression is that there is a system of legalised discrimination and injustice, certainly in the north and I suppose wherever the government holds positions in the south the same would be the case. The third impression is of a country and a people devastated by the conflict. Not that their spirit is broken except in the camps for the displaced in Khartoum where we picked up that there are people with really broken spirits who do not see very much hope for the future. In the south, even though their buildings and structures have been destroyed, the spirit of the people seems to be very optimistic and hopeful.

2. Are there any similarities between Sudan today and South Africa during the apartheid era?
Yes, I think there are similarities and differences. The major similarity is that Sudan, like the then South Africa, is a divided society and there are people who hold the view that the best way to deal with a divided society is to divide the country. In South Africa that was tried out by setting up independent homelands or areas where the blacks would be all concentrated together according to their tribes or origin. The whites would be in their own exclusive areas and so would be the coloured. In Sudan, there are certainly people who would seem to be saying that the only way out is to have the south decide for itself where it goes, whether it goes completely independent or it remains an autonomous unit within a confederate or federal system. There seems to be a very strong feeling among some people that you have to separate Christians and the others from the Muslims otherwise there would never ever be any lasting peace. On the other hand one picks up from the government and others who insist; keep it as a unit but change the constitution so that every one has equal rights. There were people who were saying split South Africa up into different Bantustans whereas others insisted; keep it as a unit but change the constitution so that everyone has equal rights.

One of the major differences, I would say, is that in South Africa it was quite clear that a minority was holding power over the majority. In the Sudan, the forces at work are not as distinct. You may say that the Muslims are over 50 per cent or maybe more so it isn't a case of minority holding power over the majority.

3. Is the South African society doing enough to end the civil strife in Sudan considering the enormous influence South Africa wields on the world's political scene?
I think there is an assumption that South Africa is doing more on the world stage than I believe it actually is. South Africa is involved in trying to bring solutions to a few troubled countries in Africa. Former president Nelson Mandela had quite a high profile as a peacemaker and mediator but I think most of that was because of the way he had handled the whole question of reconciliation within South Africa. That is why he got a reputation on the world stage as a great reconciler. Certainly he has gone out of his way to use that influence in order to bring parties who have been at each other's throat together. The most recent one, I suppose, is what he has done in Burundi where he has come in as the official mediator. I am not so sure whether one can say the same about President Thabo Mbeki's government and Mbeki's standing on the world stage. Just before he took over, the media, both local and international, were full of stories asking the question who is Thabo Mbeki, what kind of a person is he, what kind of president is he going to be. The main concern was where is this man going to fit in. If he is following Mandela, is he going to be able to do the same things Mandela used to do? I am not conscious that South Africa is doing very much about the Sudan. If it is, it is certainly not making enough publicity about it so that the people of South Africa, for a start, are conscious of what is happening in the Sudan. Just before we came to Sudan, there was the story of the bombing of Holy Cross Primary School in the Nuba Mountains, and it got somewhere on page five, just a few lines, in our leading paper. That is indicative, I think, of how conscious South African media is of highlighting the Sudan problem and perhaps in urging the government to play a more active role in resolving the problem

4. The separation of powers between religion and the state is central in resolving the Sudanese crisis. What is your stand?
I think that the way in which the South African constitution has helped to resolve some of the problems may be one of the models that Sudan could look at. What the South African constitution did was to take human rights bill of rights as the foundation of the constitution and I think that that bill of rights was generally accepted during the negotiation stages. All the parties involved in the deliberations accepted a common basis for the new constitution so the interim constitution set out the processes for both running the country in the meantime but also for drafting the final constitution. I would say therefore, because of the difficult dilemma of reconciling religion; Islam and a state that allows everyone equal rights, the idea would be to develop a system that is based on commonly accepted democratic principles which will enable the co-existence to be equal for everyone. The holding of the referendum on self determination could be a good start for such an exercise but it cannot be allowed to stop there, it must go forward beyond that point and address issues such as the basic constitution, the basic bill of rights and from here onwards we are going to decide where to go.

5. What is your vision for Christianity in Sudan in the face of the challenge from Islam and traditional faiths?
What I saw about Christianity in the Sudan was that people have suffered a great deal for their faith. People in the camps are all suffering greatly making it clear that the Sudanese war is being fought on the basis of religion although they say that it is political. Religion certainly plays a big part according to the information we were given. For instance, only those NGOs that have been registered and approved by the government can render relief services. And even though the government has approved them, they have to use certain conduits to get the relief to the people who need it in the camps. From what we gathered from the people, conditions for receiving the relief are largely dependent on whether one accepts certain faith or not. Christianity is ver y challenged when it comes to a situation like that. It is also challenged when the government says that the church must register as an NGO, and not a body with a divine mission, not a church that has to follow orders that come from a higher office than itself. The future of Christianity does really depend on how everyone from the top to the bottom is prepared to stand up for his demand for dispensation that will allow everyone their basic rights including the right to worship.

6. What about the traditional faiths?
In all honesty, I was not aware at any stage that we were in the company of traditionalists especially in the camps and therefore the question of what has Christianity done for you or why have you not become a Christian was never raised. But from what we saw in different places, church-run institutions like schools and hospitals, offer service to all irrespective of their faith. The services are offered on the basis that the beneficiaries are fellow human beings in need. From information given to us by Bishop Joseph Gasi of Tambura-Yambio Catholic Diocese, there is a wholesale conversion to Christianity in the south. He said his Diocese had experienced a population increase from 17,000 to 250, 000 in a very short time since 1983. All these people have to be coming from somewhere. If they were not coming from other churches they would be coming from among the traditionalists. So it would seem that in some places there is a great drive or urge on the part of the people to come together as Christians. I can imagine that for people suffering, having a priest or a bishop to share with them their tribulations would be a great attraction.

7. Are there significant indications on the ground that the numerous NGOs and churches working in Southern Sudan are engaged in empowering the people as opposed to mere provision of relief?
I think here you are talking specifically about the south but I imagine that there are some situations in the south where the same would hold as in Khartoum. The Catholic Arch-bishop of Khartoum (Gabriel Zubeir Wako) pointed out to us that while the core now is on development rather than relief, you cannot develop someone who is half dead. For him relief is a priority. Before you can start talking about development and development schemes like rehabilitation. One must address the question of getting the people to do certain things for themselves. Empowerment can only be done when people have started having confidence in themselves. Empowerment includes restoring the people's self esteem and sense of dignity. I don't believe people who are hungry can easily have that kind of dignity or self-esteem. So the aspect of relief is a necessity, but it must be a part of a wider vision. The biggest problem is the general poverty of the population. Even when people are empowered to produce goods and services, they would have difficulties making gains from them as people lack the purchasing power. From what we have seen in the South, many organisations are working towards empowering the people

8. How do you hope to utilise the experience from your recent visit to make Sudan a better society?
I think the very first thing is to carry the message to our bishops' conference in South Africa and to the wider community in our country. We intend to take up the role of advocacy with our government. There are a number of issues that have been brought to our notice about the needs of the people in Sudan. We also hope to take up the role of advocacy at international for a; the OAU, the UNO and so on and so forth.

Sudanese count losses as NGOs pull out

One month since the withdrawal of some 12 international NGOs from southern Sudan due to a disagreement with the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA), the local civilians are counting their losses in many ways.

In the agriculturally endowed Western Equatorial region, at least 300 local people have been rendered jobless following the withdrawal of World Vision International, Care International and Oxfam alone. With the loss of jobs has gone a combined massive purchasing power for all kind of goods and services available in the region. The local money economy is gradually grinding to a halt as the US dollars and the Uganda currencies that the NGOs used to pump into this area bordering Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo have disappeared with the exit of the donor-funded organisations.

“The situation has been compounded by the fact that the few local Sudanese pounds in circulation, are physically worn out,” says Brother Declan Power, a teacher at Yambio (about 1,600 kilometres southwest of Khartoum.

The supply of Sudanese pounds cannot be replenished because of the current lack of links between the central government in Khartoum and the SPLA territory. In any case, the old Sudanese pound has long been replaced by the Dinar in the government-controlled areas.

The situations of the loss of jobs for the local people coupled with the resultant loss of purchasing power translate for practically every area where the NGOs have withdrawn. In addition to providing a handful of skilled manpower, all the NGOs employ several local people as support staff. Many are the Sudanese who have made positive gains towards self reliance as result of being engaged by NGOs as clerks, drivers, cooks, groundsmen and cleaners.

In Western Equatoria, grain stores are choking with excess stock as a grain-purchasing project that World Vision had put in place has all but collapsed. Brother Power laments that amidst the thriving trade, the local people were never taught how to effectively market their produce, hence in the absence of the NGOs, a lot of people simply do not know what to do with their surplus produce. Yet the climatic varieties as well as the people's cultural diversity in the vast area provide a huge potential for inter-regional trade.

Brother Power says that marketing skills for the civilians is one area, which the SPLA must address with a lot of seriousness to demonstrate the movement's commitment to empowering the local populations. “Whenever there is adequate security and the weather conditions are favourable, it would be much cheaper to ferry relief food into Bahr el Ghazal from Western Equatoria,” he says.

Other NGOs which refused to sign the controversial Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) and opted to pull out after the March 1 deadline were Carter Centre, German Agro Action (GAA), MSF-Holland, MDM, Healthnet International, VSF-Germany, VSF-Belgium and Save the Children Fund (UK). The standoff over the document also saw the European Union suspend aid to the SPLA territory, meaning that even the NGOs which have opted to remain but depend on the EU in one way or another, have had their operations adversely affected.

The Union, through ECHO, provides 20-25 million Euros in funds to Sudan each year, of which about 2/3 is for southern Sudan. ECHO estimates that about 50 per cent of its programmes to southern Sudan have been lost as a result of the standoff. On the other hand, the withdrawal of the 12 international NGOs is said to have deprived southern Sudan of programmes worth US$ 32 million serving 1.6 million people.

Practically, every region and all communities in the SPLA territory are bearing the brunt of the disagreement, a culmination of nine months of negotiations between the NGOs and the SPLA.

It is feared that the worst could yet be on the way. In the health sector, for instance, with the termination of preventive health activities like provision of sanitation and clean drinking water, it is expected that there will be an upsurge on preventable diseases which will put additional pressure on the already over-stretched medical facilities.

The failure to distribute viable seeds and agricultural tools to the people at the onset of the rains is likely to result into poor yields at the end of the year and hence a recurrence of famine, probably akin to what was experienced in the Bahr el Ghazal region two years ago. Lack of or inadequate technical services to the farmers will not make the situation any better. In 1998, Sudan suffered the worst famine in a decade, which prompted the largest relief operation in the history of the United Nations Organisation. The human disaster claimed an estimated 200, 000 people. Observers believe that the current famine in the Horn of Africa will not affect Sudan as badly as some other countries, but there will be pockets of serious famine in Upper Nile, Bahr el-Ghazal and Eastern Equatoria, exacerbated by displacement of people from Upper Nile due to the conflict around the oilfields.

Livestock sector, the mainstay of the economy in the vast Bahr el Ghazal and Eastern Equatoria regions will suffer the consequences of lack of veterinary services. Lack of adequate watering points is expected to aggravate the situation.

Not even education sector will be spared. In the famine-prone areas, most of the schools are only able to run effectively alongside effective feeding programmes. The moment the feeding programme is disrupted education also suffers.

To some people, the disagreement could mark the new chapter of independence on the part of the southern Sudanese and an end to the dependency syndrome---just what the SPLA reckons is one of the principle objectives of the MOU. However, there can be no denying that whereas such a state should be the ultimate goal of all international agencies interested in helping the Sudanese, it cannot be attained overnight. It is a process that can only be realised gradually.

Already, there is immense pressure on the 49 NGOs remaining in Sudan, along with UN agencies and ICRC to cover the shortfall. Some programmes belonging to the NGOs which withdrew are already being implemented by the remaining NGOs, thus reducing the impact of the withdrawal. Whether this is sustainable or not, only time will tell. Equally under pressure are the churches, which now have to invest additional energy and resources in the provision of humanitarian services.

It is against the above background that the Christian communities have taken the initiative to appeal to ECHO to resume funding to the NGOs still offering humanitarian services in the SPLA territory.

The Christians, through the New Sudan Council of Churches and the Sudan Catholic Bishops' Regional Conference, have also appealed to the SPLA and the NGOs to expedite their search for a mutually acceptable settlement on the MOU.

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:

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