Hofrat an Nahas: A Forgotten Case
When I lived in Darfur in the 1980s, I made a trip to the abandoned copper mines of Hofrat an Nahas, and stayed a few days in a nearby village called Songo. There I met an old man, who had long ago deserted from Ali Dinar’s army in 1913 and had been living as a refugee among the Binga people of this locality ever since. Clearly, he and they considered their village as a safe haven that was not historically part of Darfur. However, all the maps of Darfur available then and now identify Hofrat an Nahas, along with Radom and Kafia Kingi, as the southernmost part of Darfur. Administratively, this area has been under Darfur since 1972. It is about 200,000 square kilometers, mostly forest.
At independence in 1956, Hofrat an Nahas was part of Bahr al Ghazal, and hence southern Sudan. It became so as a result of the “cordon sanitaire” policy of the British, which tried to create a buffer zone between north and south, which involved relocating a number of tribes and limiting contacts across the border. The policy didn’t succeed but its legacy lives on.
The CPA states clearly that for the purposes of the exercise in self-determination for southern Sudan, the borders that count are those of independence day, 1 January 1956. This places Hofrat an Nahas in the south. During the Abuja negotiations for the DPA, the Armed Movements insisted that the borders of Darfur be an item for negotiation, and succeeded in obtaining an article that returns the borders to those existing as of 1 January 1956 (paragraph 12). (One motivation for this was that it would bring two customs posts on the Sudan-Libya road back within Darfur.)
The border was moved to its current location in 1972, bringing the copper mines and also reported reserves of gold and uranium within Darfur and hence northern Sudan. It is also an area of forest resources including timber and wildlife.
On paper, the Sudan Government is committed to returning the borders to their 1956 location. However, the border has not been demarcated, and considerable practical difficulties will arise in drawing the exact border. More significantly, the population in the area has not been consulted on its wishes.
There are other possible areas of contest along the Darfur-Bahr al Ghazal boundary. The middle part of the boundary, due south of Buram town, runs along the Bahr al Arab/Kiir river. A boundary along a watercourse is usually easy to demarcate, but there are places in which the river has shifted its course since 1956, and there are resources such as salt pans shared by the populations on both sides.
Further to the east, the boundary runs some thirteen miles south of the Bahr al Arab/Kiir river. This line as determined in the 1920s by the British, partly in order to reward the Rizeigat (who had supported the British during the 1921 Nyala uprising) and punish the Dinka (who had recently rebelled). But the river is a shared resource between the two communities, and any effort to turn the current administrative boundary (which is really no more than a line on a map) into a hard-and-fast border, would surely spark conflict.
With the focus on deciding the future of Abyei and demarcating that especially contentious section of the north-south border, the low profile but also significant challenges of identifying the north-south border between Darfur and Bahr al Ghazal should not be overlooked.