The indigenous people of the Nuba Mountains are extremely concerned that international concentration on South Sudan’s independence referendum has meant other crucial aspects of Sudan’s so-called Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) have been neglected.
The CPA stopped the brutal civil war in the South, Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile, and as such was initially greatly welcomed by people of the Nuba Mountains, despite failing to recognise their claims and their aspirations.
However, the CPA does not only apply to the South. Separate protocols call for a referendum in the disputed Abyei district and for “popular consultation” in the two contested areas, the states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile.
The Nuba had for long years been voicing their deep concern over their lack of collective rights, including the crucial right to self-determination. Despite repeated lobbying and advocacy with the key players in the international community, the Nuba’s claims were ignored by the negotiators who concentrated their efforts on resolving the south conflicts, leaving the Nuba and other related issues to be dealt with later.
The fact that Nuba were not present at the peace talks meant their claims were brushed away and compromised. For example, the historical name on the world maps ‘Nuba Mountains’ which has great meaning to the Nuba people. During the peace talks the name was replaced by Southern Kordofan, so as to accommodate the Messiriya Baggara tribe of the former state of West Kordofan, which was incorporated into the new state.
The right of self-determination is at the core of the Nuba’s claims. This claim for self-determination is based on their experience of struggle as part of the SPLA/M; long history of political and economic marginalisation; ethnic, religious and cultural discrimination; dispossession of land, tradition and customs and finally poor education, political and economic opportunities since independence 1956. These are the factors which led to the conflict in the Nuba Mountains.
The Nuba have the right to claim nationhood based on their cohesiveness, distinctiveness, discrimination and marginalization and the fact that they have been denied full rights as members of the Sudanese nation. The Nuba right to self-determination is an essential guarantee on their rights. Secession is a weapon of last resort, in case the government persists in its refusal to grant them their rights.
Of course had the Nuba been present at these negotiations such compromises would not have taken place. We believe that the Naivasha peace talks were not only to end the war but also to pave the way for democracy in the country, and resolution of the long standing issues of injustices, discrimination and marginalisation in the Sudan.
Nuba representatives should have been present at Naivasha negotiations to argue their case. The people of South Sudan articulated their claims and achieved their right to self-determination.
In the referendum on self-determination held between the 9-15th January, the people of the South Sudan clearly voted for separation and we are likely to witness the birth of a new nation on 9 July.
There are already fears among many Sudanese, diplomats and independent observers that the outcome of the referendum may trigger enormous violence and upheaval in the entire country. And wider political, social and economic unrest are likely to happen. The United Nations Mission in Sudan has predicted that hundreds of thousands of civilians may flee to neighbouring countries if fighting breaks out following the referendum.
The separation of the South will obviously create uncertainty and enormous problems across Northern Sudan, particularly in the areas of Darfur, Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile where the conflicts have not been resolved. Abyei is now a ‘time bomb’ ready to explode any time if South Sudan secedes.
The Separation of the South will have even greater implications for the people of the Nuba Mountains because they had taken up armed struggle alongside the SPLA, fighting together in the same trenches. And that many thousands of them died in the south in this long war of liberation and they found it hard to believe that after all their sacrifices the Nuba had achieved nothing, whereas their allies in the South had successfully achieved everything they had been fighting for all these long and hard years.
Now the Nuba ask themselves these hard questions. What had the Nuba achieved from their long and bitter struggle? Who is to blame for this great lost of lives and destruction? Why weren’t the people of the Nuba Mountains consulted in the first place? Why did the people of the Nuba Mountains join the armed struggle without a mandate or a clear Nuba agenda? The most serious question is what will happen to many thousands of Nuba SPLA fighters and their commanders who are in detentions in the South Sudan? What will be the future of the Nuba SPLA when the SPLM is gone from the North?
Finally, what will be the future of the Nuba people and their distinctive cultural identity in the new Sudan?
President Al-Bashir has publicly said, “If South Sudan secedes we will change the constitution and at that time there will be no free to speak diversity of culture and ethnicity. Sharia and Islam will be the main sources for the constitution, Islam is the official religion and Arabic is the official language”.
Should this happen the Nuba will become fourth class citizens, officially discriminated against in terms of race, language and religion.
The Protocol for Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile stipulated in the CPA clearly did not address the grievances or claims of the Nuba people or resolve the conflicts in the region. The implementation came too late with too little to solve the problems of massive poverty, widespread hunger, rampant diseases and the lack of development in education, healthcare, public services etc and most importantly the lack of equal power and wealth sharing for the Nuba people.
During the six years of the interim period the Unity Government did not pay any attention to the Nuba problems. It is clear that much of the efforts have solely gone to solve the problems of the South in a misguided attempt to make unity attractive to the people of the South Sudan. Other efforts went towards resolving the crisis in Darfur and in the Eastern Sudan problems. But no single effort was made to solve the Nuba Mountains problems.
Recently a Trust Fund was set up for the development of Eastern Sudan and $4 billions had been donated at the Kuwait Conference for this specific area which in fact was not affected by war like the Nuba Mountains and the Blue Nile. This clearly illustrates that the government has no interest in the Nuba people or the development of their region.
The people of Nuba Mountains have been suffering enormously from neglect, injustice, discrimination, marginalisation, suppression and exploitation from all central governments since independence in 1956. These factors had driven the Nuba people to take up the armed struggle, demanding to have an equal share of power and wealth with other Sudanese people. And above all they demand peace and tranquillity in the Nuba Mountains region.
The current presence of heavy military armed forces in the Nuba Mountains/ Southern Kordofan area is an imminent threat of war and if it breaks out again it will be a catastrophe. There will be more loss of human lives and greater destruction in the region.
This threat of war is one of the reasons that why Nuba are currently protesting world-wide to draw the attention of the international community, the key players and international human rights organisations to the dangerous and volatile situation in the Nuba Mountains which may erupt any time after the referendum. They are calling on IGAD, the signatories to CPA and the international community for the Nuba Mountains area to be a free military zone and that the UN peace forces to be deployed instead to safeguard the population. The UN Egyptian Peace Keeping Forces now present in the Nuba Mountains are biased and should be replaced by neutral Peace Keeping Forces
Now coming to the issue of so-called Popular Consultation for Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile. Popular Consultation is an ambiguous and a confusing term which does not lead to anything except a recipe for more conflicts. It has many interpretations and no option for self-determination or absolute self-rule for the people of Nuba Mountains. It is not clearly defined in the constitution as a grass-root democracy process similar to the one used in the East Timor.
In the case of Southern Kordofan, Popular Consultation has cumbersome processes and the final outcome of the deliberations by the Legislative Assembly representatives will go to the State Assembly which will make the final decision. It is therefore not grass-roots democracy. Furthermore, none of the representatives have yet been elected as Southern Kordofan’s state elections have been repeatedly postponed.
The question is if the Legislative Assembly representatives chose to reject the whole package of the protocol and instead demand the right of self-determination will the Government accept this? This illustrates how the Nuba were cheated in the CPA by offering them Popular Consultation instead of full right to self-determination.
Many Nuba are voicing their concerns over the issue of Popular Consultation, as they fear that they may not be given the chance to exercise it once the Southern referendum is over.
The people of the Nuba Mountains call on the international community not to turn their eyes away from Nuba claims, as they have a duty and responsibility towards the indigenous Nuba people and they demand the following:
. All the heavy weaponry and military forces currently present in the Southern Kordofan region and at the borders of Southern Kordofan with the South Sudan to be withdrawn and to be replaced by UN Peace Keeping Forces;
. The UN Egyptian Peace Keeping Forces in Southern Kordofan which are not neutral should be withdrawn from the region and replaced by neutral Peace Keeping Forces;
. Popular consultation must be carried out as soon as possible after the South Sudan Referendum in a free and peaceful environment under the supervision of the United Nations and international independent observers;
. The right of the indigenous Nuba people for self-determination must be recognised and accepted as well as their rights to their ethnic and cultural identity.
. The immediate release of Nuba commanders held in detentions in South Sudan and these are: Cdr.Telephone Kuku, Cdr. AbuBaker Kado, Cdr. Guma Al-Wakeil and Cdr.Tia Kafi Rahal.
. The immediate release of the thousands of Nuba fighters held in Southern Sudan.
Suleiman Musa Rahhal, FIBMS
Chairman of Nuba Mountains Democratic Forum