South Kordofan and the Nuba Mountains: An analysis of the recent conflict

Despite the alarming prospects generated by the recent developments in South Kordofan and the Nuba Mountains, very little about the matter is been said on this or on other similar forums.

I had the chance to visit both Kadougli and El-Delang during the last week and, hence eye witnessed some of these developments while they were unfolding.

There had been a lot of local media coverage to the bigger event, its possible causes and potential political impacts, without very much focus on the details of the events; and lot of political writers took the responsibility to analyze the situation and to reflect various views and stand-points depending on their affiliations, interests, or understanding of the situation.

What I am very much concerned about, and what drives me to write this piece, are some of the reflections of the conflict on the ground, and how they are affecting normal civilians. My personal observations are as follows:

1. Apparently the government was quite aware of, and very prepared for the potential moves by the SPLA, but nevertheless did not take any proactive steps to disarm the situation and reach a settlement before the eruption of the fighting and the start of the violent confrontations in Kadougli. Instead, the government massed up troops and forces in South Kordofan before, and immediately after, the start of the armed conflict. The choice of the government was a military settlement to the political problems in the region.

2. Immediately following the eruption of the conflict within the towns, both sides initiated what seemed to be systematic and well planned targeted arrests and assassinations to key figures. This took place rapidly during the first two days, after which the SPLA forces almost completely evacuated Kadougli and El-Delang and took cover in the surrounding mountains. This resulted in a continued process by the government forces to arrest and to assassinate the remaining individuals who are suspected to be members of the SPLA. Kadugli civilians were given an ultimatum to evacuate the city by 9:00 pm – after which time many civilian locations were heavily bombarded and destroyed by the government forces.

3. As of the second day of the conflict, the government started an indiscriminate large scale bombardment and shelling on the mountains surrounding Kadougli and El-Delang. Salara Mountain is a case to the point, where huge casualties were reported among the civilians due to the use of excessive and indiscriminate force (tanks, artillery, and fighter planes). This scenario is repeated in several locations in what suggests a systematic policy of scorched earth and ethnic cleansing. I do not want anyone to take my words literally, but I would advise independent investigation and fact finding into these events. Already thousands of the civilians had left the region and are displaced now in North Kordofan or in Khartoum as a result of these violent events, and in anticipation for more to come.

4. In my view, the most serious implications of these events could be their possible effects on the implementation of the CPA and the relations between the North and the South, not to mention the terrifying ethnic profiling and polarization that is threatening a very deep and more serious conflict in unfolding and destabilizing the whole Sudan and the region. This is especially in view of the potential alliance between South Kordofan, Darfur and the Blue Nile against the military and aggressive tendencies of the central government and its impatience and lack of will for any negotiated political settlement for the flaming issues of the margin.

I hope this will generate some discussions regarding this serious matter.

By Ahmed Hassan

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5 thoughts on “South Kordofan and the Nuba Mountains: An analysis of the recent conflict

  1. Pingback: John Campbell: Africa in Transition » Blog Archive » Sudan: “Ethnic Cleansing” in South Kordofan?

  2. Dear Ahmed Hassan,
    This is a well written and most needed article at this time; when wild killing campaigns are running unnoticed, paradoxically in a region where all concerned parties have been well aware that it is sitting on the barrel of gun. Whether in Abyei or South Kordofan there exist enough signs, indeed there were clearly stated warnings that the region is approaching a deadly war.
    Your insights are very helpful in understanding the situation in Southern Kordofan given the absence of any credible information from the region. I agree with you that ethnic profiling, targeted assassinations and the mobilization of different groups on ethnic basis, to take sides with the warring parties, is a recipe for ethnic cleansing. Such a proxy war will definitely reproduce Darfur II and will eventually lead to destabilization of the whole region.
    It is therefore imperative for the international community to intervene to stop the killings, and allow for independent media, and human rights organization, to investigate the atrocities. This also shows lack of serious and on the ground studies that could inform both policy makers and related organizations for early warnings to take preventive measures.

    Hamdan Goumaa

  3. Peace exists in South Kordofan. Whilst the violence has certainly escalated, the communities on the ground are refusing to become involved and in several places the Misseriyah and Nuba in South Kordofan have made agreements with each other to reject violence – something that is also happening in Unity State.

    For the first time in decades, divided communities who have been responsible for much of the conflict are resisting violence. My fear is that as the international community continues its policy of focusing on government level negotiations, the existing peace that is preventing civil war from occurring will be ignored. It is imperative that any efforts recognise that there is a significant movement for peace at a local level. The influence of the international community will be limited against the governments and any political peace agreement is likely to be short-lived unless adequate support and recognition is given to what is happening at a local level.

    There is peace in South Kordofan and Unity but currently it is overshadowed by aggression at a government level. The foundations for peace that exist need to be nurtured to fill any opportunities that arise in the future. The international community needs to be sensitive to the historic value of the local level initiatives for peace that are occurring in the midst of this violence.

  4. Dear Tom,

    Certainly, locally initiated peace processes at the local communities’ level do have great value and implications, however, without the overall umbrella to endorse and protect these agreements there is a great risk that the local initiatives are just going to be undermined.

    Two examples from the current conflict in SK. “Salara Mountain” was made victim by virtue of accepting to host injured tribes-people from the clashing forces who sought refuge with their kinsmen. The area was subjected to indiscriminate shelling and bombardments that did not differentiate between the civilian and the combatant. Other mountains just as “Julud Mountain”, raised a white flag and indicated that they do not want to be part in any further conflict and fighting, and they relatively survived the first round of the shelling, but no one can definitely guarantee what will happen next when the conflict heats up.

    Conflicts like the one in SK tend to have complex nature, that goes beyond the interests of the local affected communities and the processes that they agree among themselves, they tend to have other crucial stakeholders and interests that have the power to undermine the local processes and interests in this fighting of the elephants, and it is for this factor that some emphasis need to be put, equally, on the overall peace agreement that involves the Government and the SPLA in this specific case.

    Nevertheless, I do totally agree with you, but that the two processes are complementary and the international community should base its efforts in bringing lasting and comprehensive peace on such local level and community-based peace building processes.

    The type of the peace that exists in SK is apparently an unstable one which by all means passed the crisis stage into a low-intensity armed confrontation with areas being totally controlled and/ or retaken by the competing organized armies/ forces.

    The complexity of the situation stems from the fact that the warring parties have their organized military outfits and which claim to represent differing groups and people of South Kordofan, more or less, on ethnic grounds. The tensions that were created during the implementation of the CPA only managed to further the differences and to consolidate the ethnic and ideological polarization. Now, these people were not openly involved in the decisions regarding the start of the conflict, but as a result of the ethnic profiling, are getting all the consequences and the heat of the conflict regardless of their local initiatives and domestic positions.

    The types of the peace processes you described are crucial and important within the peace building efforts as well as the post-conflict stabilization processes, however, they tend to have very little effect when it comes to peace making in open armed conflicts like the one in SK, whereby only negotiations with the two major parties, the GoS and the SPLA could lead to disarming the situation and to the initiation of a settlement that could lead to peace.

  5. Hi Ahmed,

    I agree there is not so much locals can do to stop the violence but there is a huge amount they can do to prevent it escalating, simply by continuing to not get involved. However, as the violence that is out of their control continues, so it is more likely that they will feeel their hands are forced and they will join the violence. Then there will not only be a much greater and intractable problem but you will also have lost the only positive capacity.

    It is folly to ignore the only existing capacity for peace. As you point out these are complex circumstances with multiple layers of conflict and interest. Unfortunately, international responses typically can not respond to such complexities. Only local initiatives (of which there are many) have the number, variety and contextual awareness to match the scale of the problem.

    As macro-level negotiations occur, it is essential that parallel support is provided to existing foundations. To not do so will mean opportunities for peace are not realised and any ceasefire undermined by detioration of security at the local level.

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