International Nuba Conference:What Peace For The Nuba?
Held at SOAS, London on 20 April 1996
An International conference on the endangered Nuba people of the Sudan, held at London University's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) on 20 April 1996, warned that genuine peace in Sudan will need more than a settlement between the major parties in the civil war.
Two million Nuba people have been bombed and burned out of their homes in a campaign by the NIF government in Sudan to eliminate their cultural identity and seize their land. Now they fear that they will be sidelined in deals between the largely southern-based SPLA and the predominately northern NDA, the opposition coalition of banned political parties which hopes to topple the increasing beleaguered NIF regime.
Although the NDA announced at its January conference in Asmara, Eritrea, that it is ready to contemplate the SPLA's call for self-determination for Southern Sudan, it has been unwilling to acknowledge the need for similar measures for the non-Arab minorities in northern Sudan such as the Nuba. The Khartoum government is also seeking to limit constitutional change by making deals with southern rebel splinter groups.
Nuba Mountains Solidarity Abroad organised the London conference, which featured speakers from NMSA, professors of African history and politics from SOAS and Reading University, a former agricultural advisor to the European Union, Amnesty International and African Rights. It examined the role of religion, land and politics, as well as the vibrant culture of people whose image was first made famous around the world by the photographers George Rodger and Leni Riefenstahl, but who now face destruction at the hands of Islamic Fundamentalism.
The State of Sudan Today
By Peter Woodward
The of Sudan today is one which places the peoples of the Nuba Mountains in a particular position of conflict within a wider picture. Conflict has been taking place in Sudan for most of the years since independence, and has been both dynamic and complex. It is generally viewed as primarily ‘national’ conflict, especially between governmental forces and those of opposition movements in Southern Sudan (Anyanya in the first civil war, Sudan peoples Liberation Army –SPLA in the second war). In this regard, the Nuba Mountains has often been seen as in a borderland between two sides. But conflict in Sudan has also long had very local dimensions as well. A number of forces have divided into competing factions- not only the SPLA in 1991, but some of the units associated with governmental forces, as in Bahr al- Ghazal in 1998. Such conflicts within a wider conflict can reflect local and ethnic tensions. The experience of the Nuba is related to such developments, with military as well as social and economic pressures affecting the region contributing to conflict which links the local to the national situation. There are also international dimensions to conflict in Sudan. Neighbouring states; regional actors from outside the immediate region; and super power(s) have also been involved at different times and with different sides and groups. However this dimension has effected the Nuba Mountains only indirectly through the ‘national’ combatants rather than directly because of the region’s geographical location at the centre of Sudan. Communities nearer to borders have often been affected by cross-border support for opposition movements, and government attempts to counter them.
The Nuba Mountains’ involvement in the complex experiences of conflict in Sudan raises the important question of why conflict has been so prevalent, and stability has been so difficult for the country to achieve? In my 1990 book, Sudan 1898-1989: the Unstable state I argued that the state was in danger of collapsing because it failed to develop government institutions and available and peaceful political system in three main areas. The first was the rivalry between political parties which had been built around existing religious communities with regional basis, which were incapable both individually of dominating electoral politics in Sudan but also of creating stable coalitions between them. Secondly Sudan’s neo-colonial economic system had widened the gap between rich and poor nationality, and regionally. Much of Sudan’s political rivalry was concerned with access to economic opportunity which was effectively controlled by the state. Finally the areas most discriminated by political and economical exclusion from the unstable and exploitative state were growing in regional and ethnic discontent. This applied not only to the South, but areas of the east and west as well, including the Nuba Mountains. It had long been reflected in growing political assertiveness, as in the Nuba Mountains, as well as armed resistance in the South.
The coup of 1989 brought a new government which took a firmer grip on the state than any since Sudan‘s independence. It penetrated the state, purging areas such as the military, the bureaucracy and the judiciary. It reorganised the state introducing federalism, a no-party political system, and a Popular Defense Force to augment the armed forces. In its policies it re-introduced sharia; it sought to Arabise and Islamise society; it tried to win the war in the South; it repressed opposition in the North; it pursued economic liberalization; and sought an active Islamic international role.
The question by 1998 was whether in its nine years in power it had reversed the signs of a collapsing state? There have now been a number of partial or total collapses of states over the last decade or so, especially in Africa, and the symptoms are well known and can be examined in Sudanese case. Clearly conflict continues in Sudan, and probably no government has effectively controlled less of Sudan’s territory since independence. Signs of continuing repression of northern opposition are still apparent, as the reports of the UN Special Rapporteur indicate. The gap between rich and poor has not been narrowed, and state services are very decayed. The population’s commitment to and identity with the political system appears weak, with not only violent opposition but millions living the country to live abroad. Sudan stand internationally isolated when recognition and support from abroad are needed to assist with its internal problems.
There are signs that the government is trying to change direction. The internal peace settlement concluded with some Southern factions in 1997 continues to be herald as the route to the conflict; including the recognition of a right to self-determination for the South. A new constitution has been written and a referendum held; though it contains ambiguities which only operation may clarify. Peace talks have been opened with the SPLA, though progress has been limited. There have been consultations with the international Monetary Fund, and there are hopes of developing oil reserves. Moves have been made to improve relations internationally.
Yet it remains far from clear whether the crucial objective of peace can attained. Will it be one side or other gaining victory in the civil war? Will it be by negotiated peace? Will it be a de facto division between areas under government control and those of the SPLA? Or will the present conflict, already over fifteen years old, continue? The answer to these questions remains far from clear, and in consequence the national context which is an important part of the situation of the Nuba continues to be extremely uncertain. Peace will need to come both nationally and locally before the sufferings of so many areas of Sudan can be ended.
Nuba Agriculture - Poverty or Plenty
by Ian Mackie
The future of Agriculure in the Nuba Mountains, like everything else in the Sudan, will depend on the end of hostilities, and decisions taken by politicians. Productive agriculure sustainable in the long term will come only when the Nuba rights to their ancestral home lands are assured—by this I mean not only the rugged mountains and valleys, but areas of the fertile plains which surround them.
It is many years since I first got to know the Nuba Mountains, and today, it saddens me that that land always recognised as Nuba land is now taken over for purposes of large scale mechanised agriculture by government policy: a policy where the only role, if any, for the Nuba, is as poorly paid labour. This basic issue, the fundamental rights of the Nuba to their lands, is one which must be taken up and examined by international arbiters, so that the present cruel injustice may be revealed to the world, and rectified.
My purpose, however, is to speak on the theme of Nuba Agriculture: Poverty or Plenty. I speak with the expectation that better times lie ahead, so that positive and sustainable husbandries may be established for the good of the indigenous people, the enviromennt, and indeed, the entire country. I know the land in question very well, albeit there is a gap of years since I was there! In my early trek days I was given the task of examining and mapping this land, to discover its development potential. Furthermore, since then my work has involved land use and systems of production. Incidentally, I was also a witness to the progressive encroachment of the outside tribes (such as the Baggara); an invasion which has reached its ultimate in recent years with dispossession of the Nuba themselves.
There was a saying in the old days that "The Sudan can become the bread-basket of Africa". The origin of this saying was the knowledge of the great areas of virgin rain-land, such as in the Nuba Mountains. As I trekked the region I had a golden opportunity to witness the way the Nuba lived in harmony with their environment. They grew cotton, sorghum, sesame, some times on terraced hillsides, and even on the rough mountains tops there were vegetable plots, while in surrounding territory other peoples used destructive "slash and burn" methods.
Experiments in cultivation methods (which I was involved in) on the virgin lands of the Nuba, pointed the way for the best use of this land.
I have experienced plantation type agriculture on the Gezira where I was able to draw a conclusion which has constantly been reinforced by later experience, that there is only one way of opening up virgin Nuba land in a durable and self-sustainable way, and that is by using the work and efforts of individual farmers, on land they can call thir own. Furthermore, with my remit to study soil erosion at that time, I witnessed the wide areas of eroded land, and I became certain (like most people today who know this region of Africa) that the land has to be treated with care and sensitivity; something that does not happen when heavy machinery carves up wide estates, as with the present government’s policy.
In fragile Africa, machinery, which answers important needs in Europe and the USA has less application, and can be highly destructive as well as unprofitable in the long term.
The following points have shaped my views with regard to Nuba and the use of machinery on large scale.
1. From a husbandry view point: Huge machinery-pulled ploughs (tractors??) threaten the soil mass, which inturn is subjected to violent rain-storms, followed by months of total drought and wind. The organic value of the soil is lessened, and in time it is "milked" of its fertility. In this remote African setting, with mechanisation, soil tends to treated as a medium to be exploited, rather than husbanded for years to come.
2. From an economic viewpont : mechanised agriculture has a high cost per unit of output (particularly when high maintenance costs are considered). It becomes "extensive" (not intensive) agriculture, namely, large area/ low yield! There are relatively few operations that machines can do, and inevitably output depends on labour in the long term. This type of agriculture produces short term gains, which progressively diminish. It attacks the kind of investor who expects quick returns for his money, but who has no time for the long view. It represents only an interest in profits, and not in the land ( or the people)! Unfortunately, it can attract financial support from outsiders who have little knowledge of African conditions and probably judge on their experience of softer European agriculture.
3. From a social (and moral) point of view : it can only be described as exploitative. It is enough to say that the landlord/manager system, on large plantations has only too often stained history by its cruelty, and very often, slavery. It is difficult to imagine any justice at all for the Nuba in this system, on what is really their own land.
Mechanised farming schemes have a bad track record in the Sudan - most have failed today.
The Alternative Way
There is another way to open up Nuba land as I previously indicated, one that is durable and also productive. It carries with it the potential to fill that African bread-basket, and increase the county’s wealth: namely by encouraging the Nuba to farm their own land according to a well thought-out policy; agreed by all parties.
I am not speaking of random farming by miscellaneous groups, but rather, a unified strategy of developing new land with self-sustaining communities—on the grand scale! It is long-term: perhaps initially it is more difficult, but it is the intelligent way, and is "just" to the people most involved. Let me explain my reasons for advocating this form of agriculture! At the end of the 1939-45 war, the Sudan government of the day was faced with two major problems:
1. Thousands of returning Nuba soldiers needed new land on which to settle.
2. Soil erosion was shifting whole communities from their homelands. Both of these groups required the interest and the care of government.
In brief, I was asked to establish a village-farming community on virgin forest land, then to assemble all data of costs, production, social factors, in fact every item of interest, to find out if this was a valid answer to the two problems. All the data from this work is still available.
With minimal financial help and provision of new basic resources, the new cultivators set about building their own village (which became a model of its type). They started working their allotted holdings, the whole family taking part, and at the end of the season produced handsome crops, with a surplus which quickly attracted trade. A communal hut was built and the village people settled comfortably into their new community.
Instead of the heavy fist of government, it was the gentle touch which worked, and nearly always works when there is fair government.
Some technicalities are:
I. The government dug the "well" (or Hair), and gave basic support items of materials, medical service etc.
II. Small grants and long-term loans (for seed,tools, livestock etc.) were given to get the work under way,
III. The cultivators were left to run their own affairs and elect their own leaders,
IV. Advice was always at hand to make sure optimum output was achieved.
There were snags of course, but nothing that was incapable of a ready solution! This, as I visualise it, is the right future for Nuba Agriculture. It was right years ago, it is equally valid today!
Poverty or Plenty?
I have outlined, as I see it, after my years of experience, opposing agricultural strategies. One of these can only prepetuate the current poverty, the other one is worthy of deep consideration by every interested party. This alternative could, in time, yield the plenty that will transform the Nuba Mountains and the Sudan.
Finally, I believed a well-conceived plan of Nuba settlement on the good land of the Nuba Mountains can attract financial support from inside and outside the country when the hoped-for time arrives, because it involves the essential perogative of justice, as well as the likelihood of economic success.
Unity in Diversity - is that possible in the Sudan?
ByAhmed Ibrahim Draig
Sudan is the largest country in Africa and Middle East. It is the ninth largest country in the world and from North to south extends from latitude 22N to 4N. It has a diversity of climates. As you go from north to South you move from desert environment through semi-desert, savannah to sub-tropical and tropical climate. This kind of enviroment has created diverse pattern of economic and social ways of life.
The population of Sudan is made up of over 500 tribes. But these tribes are divided into two distinct ethnicities - Arab and non-Arab. From the religious point of view there are Moslems, Christians and those who follow native religions.The country was originally made up of ancient indigenous and tribal homelands which have subsequently been brought together by various colonial forces into the present Sudanese state.
Thus we can see that Sudan is a country of several diversities, ethnic religious, cultural and regional. During colonial rule, peace and stability were maintainted throught out Sudan.
But since independennce, 1956 these ethnic and regional diversities began to emerge again, resulting in a civil war in the South and dissatisfaction in the perpheries of the North. The war in the South has continued intermitently up to this day, while the regional discontent in the North has developed today into arrmed resistance against the state.
These facts have led many people to ask the question, is unity in the Sudan possible in the midst of such diversities?
In my view unity of the Sudan is not only possible but it is imperative.Even before the colonial advent the various indigenous kingdoms and tribal homelands have been associated with each other in different ways.The colonial period which brought together these regions under one adminstration and the subsequent national governments after independence have cemented the loose relations that previously existed among the component parts of Sudan.
The economic and political conditions of the world today favour bigger association of nations rather than the disintegration of component parts of a living state. Therefore the possibility of the Sudan remaining as one country in spite of the present problems is possible.
What is needed to maintain this unity is a clear understanding that Sudan is a country of diverse religious, cultural, ethnic and regional people, and that these diversities should be mutually respected by all the Sudanese groups.
What happened after the independence is that those who inherited the political power from the colonial forces refused to recognise and respect existing diversities in the Sudan.Instead they only recognised the Arab and Moslem culture and refused to recognise the non-Moslem and non-Arab cultures as part of national heritage. They also refused to accept a decentralised system of government which would have been better placed to accommodate the regional diversity of the country.
Today we are on the verge of making a constitution for the Sudan after the fall of the present government.
If we can incorporate what has been accepted by all the Sudanese opposition forces in 1995 during the Asmara Conference, as parameters for the New Sudanese constitution, peace will prevail and the unity of the Sudan will be realised despite of all the diversities that exist
Sharia-legislation in the Sudan: A new System of Apartheid on African Soil
By Peter Von Arnum
When dealing with Islamic topics in a European country, we have to deal also with the prejudices and the confusion which prevail in this part of the world about Islam. We have to break through the wall of ignorance which has been erected between us and the reality which people in predominantly Islamic countries are living in, because this ignorance can sometimes engender disastrous consequences.
In order to illustrate this point, I would like to mention two recent events in Germany, before going into the subject of my talk, Sharia in the Sudan. The main confusion arises from the identification of Islam as a religion with Islamism as a political ideology, a confusion which is used by some of our politicians to cover up for their diplomatic and commercial dealings with the Islamists, while at the same time they deny basic human rights such as the right of political asylum to refugees coming from a Moslem country to Germany, without raising any noteworthy reason.
The tendency to identify abusively people who feel sympathies for Islam with fundamentalism was aggressively demonstrated by German intellectuals in the case of professor Annemarie Schimmel, an outstanding orientalist who has dedicated her life to the task of making Islamic culture known to the German public. When it was decided last year that, for her merits in the field of intercultural relations, she should be awarded the peace-prize of the German booksellers’ association, a wave of protest ran through Germany. For three months not a day went by without an attack on Mrs. Schimmel in the German media or at least a comment questioning the reasons for awarding her the peace-prize. What was her crime? Professor Schimmel, who had no experience in giving interviews, when asked about the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, had not condemned it strongly enough and had even expressed some compassion with Moslems who felt offended by the "Satanic Verses"! Surely this was no principled stand and open to misunderstandings, which she was able to dissipate later, but was she therefore to be equalled with the fundamentalists? Was the prize awarded to her a question of life or death for anybody? Had she in at least one single instance helped to deliver opponents of Islamic fundamentalism into the hands of their torturers and murderers? Nothing of the sort. But when in those very days this kind of crime was repeatedly committed in Germany, the German intellectuals kept a cowardly silence, and the churches remained conspicuously inactive.
Seven young Sudanese who had asked for asylum at Frankfurt airport, some of them still bearing the marks of torture by the NIF thugs, were, in a dramatic action, sent back to the Sudan. The Minister of the Interior, Mr. Kanther, knowing full well that if he did not want to have the seven here in Germany, he would still have had the option of sending them to Eritrea or Ethiopia, got a special charter-flight organized costing hundreds of thousands of deutschmarks, in order to deport them back to the butchers in Khartoum. Before that, the German Foreign ministry had negotiated with the rogue regime of Turabi-Beshir asking them to give an assurance to the German public that the seven political refugees would be well received upon their arrival at Khartoum airport, never mind what would happen to them afterwards. A few weeks after that, when a German court had rejected the demand for asylum to a Nuba refugee and given the order to deport him back to the Lebanon, i.e. the country which he had come from before entering Germany, the police forces acting under the orders of the minister of interior, Mr. Kanther, had him deported to Khartoum.
How the ideological cover-up for such a revolting collaboration between the German authorities and the thugs of the NIF regime in Khartoum is worked out by people who are considered to be experts on the Sudan, can be seen in the following piece of journalism:
In the latest issue of "Entwicklungspolitik" ("Development Policy") of March 1996, a magazine published by the Evangelical Press Service (EPD) in Germany, there is an interview about the actual situation in the Sudan with the representative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Khartoum, Christoph Jaeger. The questions were asked by Manfred Drewes, the Head of the Information Service of the Evangelical Churches in Germany for the Horn of Africa.
On the subject of Sharia, the interview went as follows:
Drewes: (You talk about) capacity building in the South—would the decision-makers in the North be prepared to participate in the development of such projects?
Jaeger: I am optimistic about that. But that has to be agreed upon in the form of dialogue, in a series of dialogues. Those in the North have to understand that this is not directed against them.
Drewes: What about the introduction of Sharia and concepts of federalism?
Jaeger: The question of Sharia is the most difficult problem. 70 percent of the Sudanese are Moslems, for whom the application of Sharia has a different character from that for the non-Moslems. Officially, Sharia is supposed to be applied only on Moslems and only in those provinces, in which the Moslems represent the majority. But then there should be structures that still have to be elaborated, which don't create the impression for non-Moslems of only being tolerated, but ensuring that the non-application of Sharia is a natural right of the non-Moslems and not something which is gracefully granted to them on one occasion and can be withdrawn on another. The other question of decentralization and of federalism is not a basic problem for me or for the North, because the Sudan today is already federalised in 26 states, which is probably a kind of bureaucratic overkill. But the principle of a federal state is being accepted today in the North as well as in the South.
Reading this kind of talk, one can only be horrified about the frivolity in which the two interview partners gloss over the basic conditions under which the inhabitants of the country they pretend to be discussing are suffering in their daily lives. How many Sebrenicas does Mr. Jaeger and Mr. Drewes still want to happen in the Sudan until they recognise that in Turabi Beshir we are dealing with criminals like Karadzic and Mladic?
What makes their talk so infamous is that they put the people in the North, who have no chance to protest against this identification, in one sack with the tiny minority of the ruling party, the Islamo-fascists of the NIF, those whom Mr. Drewes so nicely calls "the decision-makers in the North". Never mind the innumerable violations of human rights, the widespread practice of torture, the mass-massacres not only in the South, but in the Ingessana and the Nuba Mountains, the systematic rape of women and enslavement of children, the acts of terrorism perpetrated in the name of Islam, for which the NIF regime has been publicly condemned by the UN, that is, the very organization whose agency Mr. Jaeger is working for! Apparently all this counts for nothing in the eyes of Mr. Jaeger and Mr. Drewes. All that matters to them is the fact that the NIF criminals are today the decision-makers in the Sudan, and maybe they take it for granted that they will remain in power from here to eternity!
But even worse. They both take for granted that the Sharia legislation promoted by the NIF is something essentially Islamic, that it can be restricted in its application to the Moslems, that Moslems are bound to accept its application, and that, like the regime itself, it is there to stay forever. That is why their only concern is how to come to agreements with the NIF leaders, so as to help them make their regime more palatable to the Sudanese people. Or what else does Mr. Jaeger mean if he is talking about "capacity building" with the blessings of Turabi?
Consequently they distort the facts with regard to the basic conflict in the Sudan and what it is really about, namely the question wether the Sudanese have the right to live in a democratic secular state with equal rights for all, Moslems and non-Moslems, male and female, of Arab or African origins, or if they must submit themselves to a so-called Islamic state with its totalitarian one-party system, in which only the male Moslems of Arab origin enjoy full civil rights, provided the government and the party accepts them as Moslems. For as in Nazi Germany where it was in the hands of the government and the party-leaders to determine who was to be considered as rightful German citizen and who was not, in the Sudan it is the NIF leaders with their security forces who in the name of Sharia decide if somebody is to be considered as a Moslem or not. We all know how in the case of the Nuba people in particular that this had and still has murderous consequences, and I will come back to this problem.
In an interview it is usually the answers on which the reader concentrates his attention. But in this case also the way in which the questions are posed is revealing. Mr. Drewes does not ask the question whether Sharia is compatible with human rights or whether it is acceptable to the Sudanese people (they overthrew Nimeiri one and a half years after he proclaimed Sharia in 1983, and the present regime was only able to take power in 1989 through a military coup), he asks the question: "What about the introduction of Sharia and the concepts of federalism?"
What has the one to do with the other, one may ask? The defunct Soviet Union was surely a federal state. Did its ethnic minorities or those who were in disagreement with the party-line suffer for that less under Stalin's boots and the suffocating rule of his Bolshevik party? Of course not. As long as you have a totalitarian dictatorship with its one-party system, all that is given the semblance of democratic institutions and procedures, be it a parliament, local government, elections or whatever, serves no other purpose than that of window-dressing. Unwillingly, Mr. Jaeger admits this himself in his answer when he says that by dividing the Sudan into 26 federal states, the NIF regime has created a bureaucratic overkill, in other words a chimera of a federal state. And when Mr. Jaeger introduces into the world-wide accepted catalogue of human rights a new one of his own invention, "the non-application of Sharia as a natural right for non-Moslems", an invention the ingeniousness of which one really has to envy him, he has for the Sudan obviously the same kind of state in mind as Mr. Drewes when he links the problem of federalism to that of Sharia, namely an apartheid state based on Sharia with a few Bantustans for non-Moslems depending on the mercy of the central government.
For let me state it clearly: Sharia, not the one of the Koran, but that of the NIF Islamists, is apartheid and nothing else. The access of Nelson Mandela to power in South Africa and the introduction of a democratic system in that country has been celebrated all over the world as the opening of a new age for the continent. People thought that now one of the most vicious forms of rule, apartheid, had definitely disappeared from African soil once for all. Unfortunately the world has closed its eyes to the fact that in the largest country of that same continent, in the Sudan, a new system of apartheid has been established under the guise of Sharia. Maybe people who are ignorant about Islam are blinded to this truth by the fact that the new masters of the Sudan dress themselves in Islamic clothes. But what difference does it make if an apartheid-system like the one of the Herrenvolk-ideologists in South Africa was established with the help of a Christian church, the "Vereinigde Gereformiert Kerk", basing itself on the myth of God's chosen people who had revealed himself in the Old Testament, whereas those who enforce their kind of apartheid on the Sudanese people claim to be chosen for doing that by God the Compassionate, the Merciful, who has revealed Himself in the Koran?
Apartheid means that within a state or nation the discrimination of one part of the population is given a legal basis. We all know of the horrors which such a legal system entails. But if we compare the vanished apartheid-system of South Africa with that of Sudan, the comparison comes out even worse for the latter in two points: 1) In addition to the legal discrimination of minorities such as the non-Moslems there is the legal discrimination of women. 2) When the Herrenvolk rulers of South Africa established apartheid as a legal system, they did this for the purpose of expropriating people from their lands in order to submit them to extreme exploitation in the cities. But they did not exterminate them, precisely because they still wanted to exploit them. In Sudan that part of ruling class which is represented by the NIF does not only want to submit people to extreme exploitation, it has in some parts of the country assigned to the army and the popular defence forces the task of physically exterminating them, because it wants the land, not the people living on it. That is what determines in particular the tragedy of the Nuba.
But what has all this to do with Sharia? How does genocide, oppression, torture, rape of women and abduction of children into slavery enter into the framework of Islamic religion? Or, putting the question in another way: what is the exact meaning of Sharia, and how can it be used as a cover-up for all these crimes?
As happens with any concept in any of our human languages, Sharia is a concept whose meaning is not something fixed once for all, but is continuously evolving alongside the evolution of human society, in this case the evolution of society in the Arab countries. But because people are used to thinking in fixed categories, and because there is a widespread ignorance about the contents of the Koran, the Islamists are able to spread their lies in the name of Islam with impunity.
The word Sharia in the form in which it is commonly used (i.e. in the Arabic spelling with the letters shin, ra, ain, ya, ta marbuta) appears only once in the Koran, in derived forms only three times, i.e. all in all Sharia and its semantic derivations figure in the Koran only four times. But, what is more important still, never is it used there in the restricted sense of a legal system. In ancient Arabic, Sharia meant the path to the source of water. So in the figurative sense in which it is used in the Koran, it means the path of the right faith, or a guidance on the path to paradise. One of those Koranic verses, in which the form shara'a is used (that is a noun of the same meaning as Sharia with only the letter ya missing), states clearly that there is not just one single path to God, and it reasserts a basic doctrine of Islam, namely that God alone looks into the hearts of men and that He alone is able to pass a definite judgement on them. This is in blatant contrast with the totalitarian practice of the Islamists who pretend to be in the possession of the monopoly over all religious truths and judge people according to these convictions, even passing death-sentences on them in the name of God the Compassionate, the Merciful. The verse in question runs as follows:
"We have given a guidance and a direction to all of you. If God had wished so, he would have made of you one single community. But he wants to put you to the test. Therefore you shall emulate each other in good works. To God you will all return; then he will inform you on what you have been in disagreement about." (Sura 5, 'Al-mâ-ida', <the table>, verse 48).
But what about the legal matters which in fact are contained in the Koran? There are those widely known punishments like the cutting of the right hand for theft, cross-limb amputation for robbery, flogging for the drinking of alcohol. (When we come to the punishment for adultery we are already confronted with a puzzling problem of Sharia as a legal system, because stoning does not figure in the Koran). Then there are also those regulations which say that a man is allowed to marry four wives, that he is allowed to have sexual intercourse with as many enslaved women as are in his possession, that a slaveowner should treat his slaves decently, and that prisoners of war shall be killed under certain conditions. By the standards of human rights of the twentieth century most of these regulations are of course unacceptable. But if we look at the legislation of the European countries in the Middle Ages, we will find regulations by which we will horrify us even more than those quoted above. The Koran contains other regulations which for their times can be considered as progressive or have even set an example for all mankind, one of which I will quote later on. Whatever one thinks about these matters, however, one thing can be stated clearly: the Koran does not qualify such regulations as Sharia, that is as inalterable preconditions for finding the way to God.
But the Islamists claim that the legal prescriptions in the Koran are valid at all places of the globe and at any time or historical period, that is, even today. And a Moslem ruler who does not apply them has to be treated according to them as a kâfir, an infidel, and should be executed. They make that claim in particular with regard to the duty of applying the punishment of amputation for theft, but also with regard to jihad, in the framework of which enslaving people and even slaughtering them is considered to be justified by God the Compassionate, the Merciful. This is the most burning issue today in the Sudan for the Nuba, because although sixty percent of them are Moslems, on the 7th of January 1992 the NIF regime, represented by the governor of the province of Kordofan and the leader of the so-called popular defence forces declared a jihad against them, after a jihad had already been declared by Omar el Beshir against the Southern Sudanese. So if the above mentioned Mr. Drewes really cared about what happens to the Sudanese people, the right question for him to ask was not: "What about Sharia and the concepts of federalism?", but the question: "What about Sharia and jihad?"
The claim of the Islamists according to which the legal prescriptions of the Koran are valid for all instances and all parts of the globe, and a Moslem ruler who does not apply them under all possible circumstances has to be considered as a kâfir, has no support in the practice of the Prophet himself nor in that of his first successors. For instance, the Prophet did not order the right hand to be cut off in case one of his soldiers was found guilty of theft. More significant even than that is the practice of Khalif Omar, who the Sunni Moslems consider to be the model of a just ruler. When a famine broke out in the Islamic empire over which he governed, namely in the year called the year of the ashes, he ordered the punishment of amputation to be suspended, because in his eyes an administration which is not in a position to satisfy the basic needs of the people has no right to punish them with so severe a punishment. Would any Moslem dare to consider him therefore as a kâfir? What is so significant about this is the fact, that the Islamists under the leadership of Hassan el Turabi did exactly the opposite in the Sudan. It was when a huge famine started to devastate the country in 1983 that they encouraged the dictator Nimeiri to introduce the punishment of amputation and, after he had done that, hailed him as the Imam of the Moslems and the Mahdi of the twentieth century!
Another example of how the NIF regime in Khartoum uses the Koran to suit its purposes is to be seen in the above-mentioned problem of jihad. The government troops of the Turabi-Beshir regime, in their fight against the Southern Sudanese and other parts of the population like the Nuba (whom the NIF regime has declared to be infidels), do not take prisoners, as is well known. They massacre the men, sytematically rape the women and abduct the children into slavery. For this practice they claim to find their justification in the so-called verse of the sword, i.e. the fifth verse of the ninth Koranic sura ("at-touba", "the repentence"), which runs as follows:
"But when the holy months have ended, kill the infidels (idolators) where ever you find them, and lay hold on them and lie in wait for them in any ambush. But if they repent or perform the prayer and pay the zakat, then let them go their ways, for God is forgiving and merciful."
Throughout Islamic history these verses have rarely been applied in the same ruthless and barbaric way in which they are applied today in the Sudan. The Islamic rulers of the past found in the course of time their mode of peaceful coexistence with their non-Moslem neighbouring countries, and if they subjugated a people in a war, they did not kill them, never mind whether they had converted to Islam or not, but only forced them to pay the poll-tax.
I said that Sharia as a legal system cannot be found in the Koran. It did not exist as such in the first period after the death of the prophet. The early Moslems were confronted with the problem that the Koran contains no regulations whatsoever about the ways in which a government should be formed and about how the head of a state should be designated. But since such regulations are the cornerstone of any constitution, when the Islamists claim that the Koran is their constitution, they are guilty of deceit, they are when they say that Islam is not only a religion, but also a form of government. The last of the four so-called rightly guided Khalifs, the cousin of the Prophet, Khalif Ali Ibn Abi Talib was assassinated by a religious fanatic, who, in order to vindicate his deed, used the same slogan as the one which the Islamists of today are using: "No power to anyone but God alone". It was over the question of who should be Khalif, i.e. successor to the prophet, that the first great split occured within the Islamic community. The founder of the Omayad dynasty, a man called Mu'awiya, took power in the Islamic empire and proclaimed himself Khalif by the simple virtue of the superiority of his armed forces, that is, by sheer brute force. The majority of Moslems were resigned to the rule of the Omayads as a matter of course. They were later called "ahl as-sunna" or sunnis. The minority of Moslems who insisted that only someone from the offspring of Ali, the cousin of the Prophet, had the right to take the office of a Khalif, was called the party of Ali, "Shi'at Ali", or Shiites.
Ali had been the last one of the Prophet's companions who had figured as the leader of the Moslim community. After his death no ruler could claim a religious legitimation for holding power. But since the source of divine revelations had ceased to exist with the death of the Prophet, nobody could pretend to hold the only possible truth. In the early times of Islam the interpretation of the holy text, the Koran, was open to every Moslem. As in early Christian times there was no such institution known as the one today as the church; in Islam at the beginning there was no institutionalised monopoly over the interpretation of the text. It was only in the third century after the hidjra, that the Abbasid Khalif al-Ma'mun and then al-Mutawakil forced the Ulama', the erudites of the text, to work out their interpretations in line with the interests of the power in place. From then on, the rulers in the Islamic countries intervened more and more strongly in questions of religion, and those who opposed the official doctrines were tortured or put to death. So, if in Islam you have no church, as it has been stressed so often, you have instead this conservative layer of ulama (erudites of the texts) who have been assigned the task of providing the theological and juridical legitimation for those who hold the power.
It is true, however, that already in the times before the Khalif al-Ma'mun, attempts were made by Islamic rulers to give a religious legitimation to their political power. It was by order and under the control of the Abbasid Khalif al-Mansour, who ruled in the years 136-158 of the Hijra, i.e. in the 8th century, that the ulama started to collect the Hadith (the sayings and deeds of the Prophet), and to fix in written form al-Fiqh, the religious doctrines, and at-Tafsir, the interpretation of the Koran. This can be seen as the first step of establishing Sharia as a legal system. Conjointly, Tafsir, Fiqh and Hadith were assigned the rating of divine law, and to object to them was considered to be apostasy, rebellion against God's will, an offence to be punished by death. No worldly punishment for apostasy is to be found in the Koran, but it has been attributed to the Prophet. In the process, the Prophet himself was assigned the virtue of infallibility, that is a godlike quality, although this is in sharp contrast with his own convictions and with what is said about him in the Koran itself.
And here we are confronted with one of the basic problems of Sharia. The first officially-recognized collection of Hadith is "as-Sahih" (the authentic one) by Bukhari. He died in the year 256 after the hijra, that is, ages after the era of the Prophet. Bukhari had carefully tried to establish for every single Hadith which he collected the chain by which it has been transmitted over two centuries from one generation to the next. Other collections of Hadith followed. But it is obvious that over the centuries it is not so much the authentic sayings of the prophet which are to be encountered in the collections of Hadith, but a reflection of the rules and customs by which the Arab-Moslem society was governed in the age of the Abbasid dynasty. Since Sharia is to a great extent based on these Hadith, and the Moslem scholars have busied themselves to find norms and regulations in the life of the Prophet for almost every single movement of daily life, not excluding those of solving even such burning problems as to how people should brush their teeth or how to behave on the toilet, Sharia has a very definite medieval and Arabic character. This is clear when we look at regulations like those for women's dresses for example.
The most striking proof that Sharia is not derived from Koran, but from the laws which prevailed in the Abbasid period of the Islamic empire can be seen in the punishment for adultery. If the authenticity of Hadith is open to dispute, it is universally agreed however, by Moslems and non-Moslems alike, that the authenticity of the Koranic text is not. Generally it is accepted that not a single word of the message which has been revealed to the Prophet is missing in the Koran. But if you look for the punishment prescribed for adultery in the Koran, you will find that it is flogging or reclusion of the woman who has been found guilty. Nevertheless the punishment for adultery prescribed by Sharia is stoning. It is because this practice was so deeply rooted in the minds of people living in the Abbasid empire, that they were not able to imagine that in Medina in the time of the Prophet matters had been handled otherwise. Therefore not only was the practice of stoning adulterers attributed to the Prophet himself, but in order to justify this practice, a special verse was invented with the name of "ayat er-rijm", "the verse of stoning." So in Sharia you have the paradox that there exists a Koranic verse which is not to be found in the Koran itself!
From all this it can be seen that Sharia has two particular features: it is basically a medieval system of law, and in contrast to the Koranic message it is not universal, but specifically Arabic in nature. The intention to impose it on a country like the Sudan must provoke a two-fold conflict: a conflict with the basic requirements of modern society, and a conflict with the non-Arabic, basically African nature of the Sudanese people. For both reasons the outcome of the imposition of Sharia in the Sudan is apartheid.
To characterise a medieval society as an apartheid-system would of course be an absurd anachronism. But it is an undeniable fact that all medieval societies were organised in a strictly hierarchical way, with special legal provisions for ethnic and religious minorities and for women. It is when the attempt is made to enforce such a legal system on conditions of modern life, where people do not live in restricted circles any more as they did in the Middle-Ages, that what comes out is a system according to which people are divided into first, second and third class citizens and into outlaws, in other words apartheid.
In medieval society you could find the spirit of tribal superiority, which is bad enough, but in the Sudan it is replaced by the poison of modern racialism, an ideology which, as we know, is a hundred times more vicious than medieval tribalism. The name of the ruling party of the Sudan is usually rendered in English as "National Islamic Front", in short "NIF". But this translation is misleading. For in Arabic the name is "al-Jebhat al-islamiya al-qaumiya", in which you find the concept of "Qaumiya". However, the concepts of "Qaumiya" and "qaumî", as Bassam Tibi has shown, are nothing else than the Arabic equivalents by which the founders and ideologists of the Baath party in Syria and Iraq have tried to render in Arabic two racialist concepts which they had taken from the nazi-ideology in Germany, namely the concepts of "Volkstum" and "völkisch", for which, to my knowledge, no English equivalent has been found as yet. So if the Sudanese ruling class is proclaiming the "'uruba" of the Sudan, i.e. its basically Arabic nature, then it is obvious that the war of extermination which the NIF regime is waging against the African elements of the Sudanese population is a war of a deeply racialist nature.
And, as already mentioned above, a particular problem is posed in the Sudan for people of African origins like the Nuba with the practice of slavery. If you look closely at the Koranic text and the practice of the Prophet, you will discover a clear tendency to abolish the institution of slavery once for all. But obviously Arab society of his time was not yet prepared for such a step. The abolition of slavery remains in the Koran on the level of recommendations for the emancipation of one's slaves as a good deed. But medieval jurisprudence established Sharia on the basis of the principle: "What has been permissible (halal) in the times of the prophet, will remain so forever, and what has been illicit (haram) in the times of the prophet, will remain so forever as well". According to this principle Sharia would not allow people to be punished for the obvious crime of enslaving others. So it is in the two so-called Islamic states on the African continent where slavery is still practiced today: in the Sudan and in Mauritania. Just how widespread and cruel the practice of slavery is in the Sudan has been reported several times, including the report of the commissioner on human rights of the United Nations, Gaspar Biro. I would say again that the question to be asked regarding the way to a lasting peace in the Sudan is not: "What about Sharia and the concepts of federalism", but: "What about Sharia and slavery?"
We have seen that Sharia has been worked out in the early Middle Ages by the Islamic scholars under the control of the political authorities as an extremely conservative system of social and legal rules fixing the customs and legal traditions of Arab society of that time as eternal laws decreed by God. Now there are cases where the Koranic text contains open contradictions, i.e. opposite options for the solution of a social or legal problem, for example when on the one hand in a number of verses the equality of men and women and the equality of people of different origins is proclaimed, and on the other hand slavery and the beating of women by their husbands is admitted as legal. In such cases the scholars infallibly used to decide for the most backward option and declared it to be the only valid one. A whole branch of Islamic scholarship was even set up for the purpose of deciding in those cases where contradictory verses are to be found in the Koran, which one of these should be considered as abrogated and which one as valid (the school of al-nâsikh wa 'l-mansûkh). The interpretation of the Koran followed gradually narrower and narrower rules, until in the third century of the hijra it was decreed that the door to new interpretations of the Koran (bâb el itjtihâd) was closed. Any new effort for understanding the Koranic text was denounced as bid'a, innovation, and ranked as a crime alongside the crime of heresy, for which in extreme cases stood the death penalty. This was the beginning of the end of the then flourishing arab civilization.
It is obvious that such positions could not be maintained for an indefinite period of time. And since Sharia and the privileged position which the Islamic scholars occupied in Moslem society was intimately linked to the institution of the Khalifate as nominally the highest political and religious authority, which in its last period was embodied in the Turkish sultans of the Osmanic empire, a shockwave ran through the Arab and Moslem world when at the beginning of the twentieth century Kemal Atatürk abolished the institution of the Khalifate with a stroke of the pen. The old order had vanished without hope of return.
Confronted with this new situation, two options seemed to be open for the Islamic community: Either a renewal of religious thought in order to reinstate Islam as a religion in its own right instead of playing the role of a hand maiden in the service of those holding power, and in order to establish a society of justice, which is held to be the central idea in the message of Islam. Or the transformation of Islam into a political ideology with the aim of establishing a political system which would bring back power and glory to the Moslem world.
There is no room here for me to talk about the many efforts made by sincere Moslems in their struggle for a renewal of Islamic thought on a religious and philosophical basis, looking for answers to the burning issues of our time within the framework of a democratic and free society. The numbers of those who have been assassinated as martyrs of this endeavour are countless in Turkey, Algeria, Egypt and elsewhere. But as we are talking here of the Sudan, there is for me no need to mention more than one name, the name Mahmud Mohammed Taha, the spiritual guide of the Republican Brotherhood, in order to indicate what I am talking about.
What I want to stress here is that in contrast to the Republican Brothers, the Sudanese NIF headed by Dr. Turabi is not a movement of religious renewal, as some people in the West seem to believe, (including Professor Tetzlaff, a German academic specialising in the problems of the Sudan who should know better), but a rigidly organised political party, which uses religion as a cover. If I have continuously spoken about the members of Turabi's party as "Islamists" and have not labeled them, as is commonly done, as "fundamentalists", it is because they themselves insist on the use of the name "Islamists" and leave no doubt that "Islamism" for them is in fact a political ideology.
Of course the Islamists are no dreamers and have realised no less than the religious reformers that with the abolition of the politico-religious institution of the Khalifate and the rise of the nation states, a point of no return has been reached for the Moslem community. The old medieval structures of jurisprudence which the traditional scholars still try to uphold seem as obsolete to them as they are for the religious and social reformers. What they are heading for, however, is a political revolution, not a social one. The Islamists of the Sudan have made that clear in a policy paper with the title "al-jihad al-akbar" written in 1980, in which they studied the experience of the Communist Party of the Sudan, its strengths and its failures, with the aim of doing better, and they worked out a strategy as to how to infiltrate the power-structures of the Sudanese state, i.e. the economy and its financial institutions, in particular the Islamic banks, the army and the educational system. It is this programme for the seizure of power which with intermediate set-backs, they have continuously striven to put into practice, until they finally succeeded with the coup d'état of June 1989.
One of the most fervent supporters of Turabi and a propagandist of his brand of Islamism, has written a book called "Turabi's Revolution", in which he expounds the history and ideology of the Islamist movement in the Sudan. Central to Turabi's ideology are, according to El Affendi, two basic concepts: Tawhid and Tajdid.
Tajdid means in English ‘renewal’ and figures in the ideology of the Islamists as the most outspoken break with the traditions of Islamic scholarship. We have seen that traditional Sharia was an extremely conservative legal system. Any idea of a renewal was excluded and was denounced by the Islamic scholars as "bid'a", "innovation", which for them was equal to the mortal sin of heresy. Turabi does of course not use the expression "bid'a", but the one he uses instead, "tajdid", "renewal", is still more evidently a declaration of war against the ancient traditions. Now, if traditional Sharia with all its backward features had one virtue, it was its relative reliabilty. The regulations it contained were usually strictly observed. To give just one example: the punishment for theft, amputation, is of course extremely brutal. But the scholars had worked out a whole set of rules in order to prevent a sentence for amputation to be passed in an arbitrary manner.
But when Nimeiri proclaimed Sharia as the law for the Sudan in September 1983 and appointed Turabi's comrades as judges for his so-called "courts of prompt justice", these judges brushed away all such traditional rules of Sharia. Their duty was to get as many hands and feet cut off as possible, in order to terrorise and intimidate the Sudanese people who were about to overthrow Nimeiri's regime. There was even a case where Nimeiri had publicly declared what the sentence should be, and the court followed suit. A special law called "qanûn usûl al-ahkâm", the law on the sources of jurisdiction, was introduced into the penal code of Sudan or Sharia legislation, which like the infamous Nazi paragraph in Germany about "das gesunde Volksempfinden" ("the sound feelings of the people") gave the judges the right to inflict a penalty where they felt that the crime was against Sharia, even if there was no law by which such an act was declared an offence, in clear violation of the principle which was still valid in traditional Sharia "nulla poena sine lege", no penalty without a law.
It was according to this paragraph that Mahmud Mohammed Taha was sentenced to death and hanged on 18 January 1985 for the crime of apostasy, although at the time there was no law making apostasy a criminal offence. (Such a law has been added to the penal code in the meantime by the NIF regime). In any case, the fascistic law on the sources of jurisdiction is still in force today in the Sudan.
As we can see from this, with the idea of "tajdid" ("renewal") Turabi has in view not the elimination of the most backward medieval elements of Islamic juridiction, but quite the opposite, to use these elements and increase their brutality in the service of sheer naked despotism. The man in power might be as despotic and brutal as he wants, if he serves the political purposes of Turabi, he will get his blessings and will even be allowed to mock the word of God as revealed in the Koran. I have mentioned above that the Koran contains directions which even in our modern times are exemplary and seem today of greater importance than ever before. One of these is the verse 12 of the 49th Sura ("Al-Hujurât"—"the appartments"), which reads:
"Oh believers! Keep yourself far away from suspicions, for some suspicions are a sin. And don't spy. And don't defame each other. Would anybody like to eat from the flesh of his dead brother? You would abhor it. And fear God, for God is indulgent, merciful."
This verse embodies a directive for the respect of privacy and the legal principle that the use of torture to obtain evidence is illegal.
Nimeiri however, who as a modern dictator depended on terror as the basis of his power, preaching one Friday in the military mosque of Khartoum North, brushed this text aside and said: "But we have the state of emergency, so we do jump over the walls and we do penetrate into the houses." That is when people started to talk about Turabi's brand of Islam as an "Islam of emergency". In fact there was no outcry to be heard from Turabi's Moslem Brotherhood, calling for Nimeiri to be accountable for the crime of blasphemy. Just the opposite happened: it was Mahmud Mohammed Taha, the man who of all Sudanese held the Koran in the highest respect, whom they demanded to be executed for heresy, and it was one of their judges who on the instructions of Nimeiri passed the death-sentence against him.
From all this it can be seen: The political purpose of the introduction of Sharia in the Sudan was to abolish the judiciary as an institution independent from the state and to replace it by a fellowship of yes-men who would pass their sentences under the instruction of whoever holds the power and consequently has the right to decide what should be considered as Sharia and what not. In this way the basis was created for the establishment of the absolute and arbitrary regime which is in power today in the Sudan. Turabi's "tajdid" ("renewal") means in this connection to free the party-Islamists from any scruples they still might have about violating the regulations of traditional Sharia and give them the green light to act according to the political strategy of the party.
Of course in such a state there is no place for democratic pluralism. That is where Turabi's concept of "tawhid" comes in. I quote what the above-mentioned Abdelwahab El Affendi says about it in his book "Turabi's Revolution" (page 169):
"The term originally referred in classical Islamic literature to the affirmation of the unity of God, but is used by Turabi in its ambiguous sense, which means also unification. A corollary of accepting the unity of God is the realization that everything in life must heed His commands. This is the classical Islamic demand for ordering life according to Sharia, and this dimension of it was amply emphasized by Maududi and Qutb. Tawhid thus requires the subsuming of the whole of the believer's life under the rule of God."
There is not much to be added. The NIF has abolished democracy and conquered power in the Sudan with the help of a military coup with the declared aim of establishing the rule of God. With other words, since they are the ones who decide what God's will is and what is not, they pretend to be God's chosen people, the Arabic Herrenvolk of the Sudan. There is no place for ethnic or religious minorities, nor for political dissent: tawhid for Turabi means one creed, one people, one party. We have heard of similar political systems in history before: they bore the names of Stalin and Hitler.
The Nuba's Political Dilemma
By Suleiman Musa Rahhal
Ladies and Gentlemen
Throughout the long history of Sudan the Nuba people have never been at peace with the hostile world around them. In the 1870s the Turkish and Egyptian forces invaded the Nuba Mountains for slaves and gold. Later, in 1885 the Mahdi took refuge in the Nuba Mountains in search of protection and support, and the Nuba played a significant role in the Mahdist revolution and helped to bring the Mahdi to power. But after the Mahdi's death his successor, the Khalifa Abdullahi Taishi, subjected the Nuba to extremely cruel treatment. Their villages were raided, tens of thousands of Nuba were massacred and large numbers were taken as slaves to Omdurman.
Under Anglo-Egyptian condominium rule (from 1898-1955), the imposition of the "closed districts policy" on the Nuba Mountains—ostensibly to protect these areas from the slave trade conducted by the "Arab" north—actually led to more suffering as a result of neglect and isolation. The Sudanese in the north benefited from the access to education, development and modern administration. The policy widened the gap between the people of the north and the non-Arab groups in the rest of the country. Even after independence in 1956, that gap remained, and in fact grew as a result of uneven development policies and the political dominance of people from the Nile Valley area around Khartoum.
For the past forty years since Sudan's independence, all central governments which have ruled Sudan, whether military or civilian, have embarked on a similar policy with the same agendas for the Nuba Mountains and other marginalised areas. These policies were based on repression, assimilation, discrimination, Islamisation and Arabisation regardless of any other culture, religion, language or ethnic origin.
In addition to this, the Nuba people in South Kordofan during these years have been faced with political, cultural and economical suppression. This unfair policy undoubtedly has been the direct cause of the political struggle of the Nuba people. In fact the Nuba political struggle in Sudan goes back as far as 1938, at the time when the Nuba political consciousness started to emerge. This commenced with the formation of what was known as "al Kutla al-Sawda"—the Black Bloc—the people from Nuba Mountains, Darfur and West Africa were the members. This was the first black political movement formed by Dr. Adam Adham, who come from Darfur and he suggested that all the blacks should unite. He also argued: why should the economic, social and political power be in the hands of the northern Arab elites alone? One of the main objectives of the Black Bloc was to strive for the rights of the true Sudanese to be recognised and that power should never be handed over to the Arabs, who had within living memory, been their slave masters.
It was a daunting and frustrating task for the Black Bloc to succeed as a political organisation. This was due to the fact that both the Umma and Democratic Unionist Parties stood strongly against the registration of the Black Bloc, accusing the organisation of being racist. The two main parties put pressure on the British Administration not to register it, and they succeeded, as the British gave in and refused to register the Black Bloc as a political organisation.
This was a frustrating moment for the Nuba as well as other non-Arab groups in the Sudan as they had been denied their political rights. In fact this turned into a political dilemma for the Nuba. The suppression and restriction imposed on the Nuba and other non-Arab political movements was shown to have profound and far-reaching consequences on the political future of the people of Nuba Mountains. One of the implications was that Nuba were not given the right of representation in the House of Representatives of 1953-1955. However, the people of the south were in a better situation relatively than the Nuba, as they were represented in the House of Representatives by 15 MPs. The Southerners were promised a federation for the South if they voted for a united Sudan, but later they came to realise that they had been cheated, as they were not included in the delegations who went to Egypt to participate in the crucial Cairo Conference for determining the future of the Sudan.
This undoubtedly led to the frustration and deep resentment among the people of Southern Sudan as well as the people of the Nuba Mountains. This frustration later developed into an armed struggle in the South even before the independence day. As for the Nuba people their political movement went underground but at the same time it was working openly under the umbrella of social organisations in the Nuba Mountains area as well as in Khartoum. This continued until the overthrow of the regime of Gen.Ibrahim Aboud in October 1964 by popular revolt. Following the overthrow of Abboud, the General Union of Nuba Mountains (GUNM) and the Beja Congress emerged as strong political resistance to the traditional forces dominating the central government. Father Philip Abbas Ghaboush, a former Anglican clergyman was chosen as first leader of the GUNM. The main objectives of the organisation were:
to call for the unity of the Nuba,
the revival of the Nuba Mountains Province,
the abolition of poll tax,
establishing a programme of education for the region,
parliamentary representation of Nuba people,
implementation of an acceptable solution to the Southern question,
a policy of Africanising Sudan rather than Arabising it and eventually black rule over the whole country.
The Nuba people in South Kordofan found these objectives appealing and they rallied behind their leader. The leader was about to make the dream of Nuba people as well as other non-Arab groups come true, when he and his alliance in the United Sudanese African Liberation Front organised a coup against Mohammed Ahmed Mahgoup, due to take place on 29 May 1969 but he was forestalled by Numieri acting on the 25th.
During the spells of democratic government, the people of the Nuba Mountains, the Beja Hills and Darfur were politically undermined and marginalised by the two main parties, despite the strong showing of the regional parties in the election of 1965. The regional parties entered Parliament with great hopes that they could gain better conditions for their regions but unfortunately those hopes died away. In fact the democratic periods of governement in Sudan turned to be the worst and most disastrous for the people of the regions, when compared with the earlier periods of military dictatorship. These governments appeared to have no direction for the country, no management of any kind and senior ministers were heavily involved in corruption. As a result, the regions were neglected while an increasing development was taking place in the Northern Sudan and at the same time more exploitation of young Nuba migrants was taking place. In addition Nuba who migrated to the north were to face racial discrimination.
For these concrete grievances, the Nuba people had to fight to establish their co-existence, their political rights and their cultural identity. It was only a matter of time before the Nuba would turn to armed struggle to defend these collective rights. When the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement (SPLM) produced a manifesto declaring a revolutionary struggle for the sake of creating a "New Sudan", in which equality, power sharing and justice would be exercised, a significant number of Nuba people who were convinced of these objectives joined the SPLA movement. Yousif Kuwa Mekki, a graduate of Khartoum University, was among the first Nuba to join the movement and he became commander of the New Kush Battalion. He is now a senior SPLA Commander and Governor of South Kordofan.
The Nuba people's relations with the south only started to develop in recent years, as in the past the people of Nuba Mountains and Darfur form the bulk of the rank and file of the Sudanese armed forces used to prosecute the civil war in the south. This was a central policy of all governments based on 'divide and rule'. Today the relationship between the people of Nuba Mountains and the South is strong and has been moulded into an alliance and they are fighting side by side. The simple reason for this is that they share similar grievances and injustices which were inflicted on them for generations by the tyranny in Khartoum. And both are marginalised in Sudanese society.
For many years, all governments who ruled Sudan, including those in opposition today who were previously in power, have abused the Nuba, including other non-Arab ethnic groups. The Nuba have been subjected to great degree of discrimination in all aspects of life in Sudan: in education, economic development and power sharing. It is clear that the ambition of all successive governments in Sudan has been to pursue a political and economic agenda that reflects the narrow interest of a small group of so called Sudanese Arabs with close ties to the Arabian peninsular and little concern for their fellow countrymen.
The Nuba culture, one of the most distinctive cultures in Africa, has always been under constant attack by the Northerners and more recently, the present Islamist regime in Khartoum declared a jihad in the Nuba Mountains to wipe out the cultural identity of the Nuba, to pave the way for Arab-Islamic culture to spread through and beyond the Nuba Mountains. It is clear to us that it is not only this present Islamist government in Khartoum but also all Northern political forces are united on this issue and have a common agenda, as far as Arabization and Islamization is concerned. And for this reason they are not prepared to compromise on the question of separating the religion from the state, which is one of the core issue in today's conflict.
The political suppression and annihilation of the Nuba people goes on, as the opposition forces as well as the present regime in Khartoum are united in preventing the people of the Nuba Mountains from entering any international negotiations for peace talks or even for humanitarian discussions. Historically, the two main traditional sectarian parties have been an obstacle for the Nuba in their political movement and they continue to be so up to now. We know, without the slightest shadow of doubt, that these two main parties are behind the blocking of Nuba from taking part in many of the recent international conferences which have been discussing a solution for a just and lasting peace in Sudan.
The Nuba were prevented from attending the meeting of Atlanta, Georgia, on the 8th January 1992, the Nairobi Declaration (religion and state) 17th April 1993, the Washington Declaration, October 1993, the IGADD Peace Talks 1994, the Cairo Agreement June 1994, the Chukudum Agreement, December,1994, Asmara Declaration of June 1995 and the Barcelona Conference October 1995. In all of these conferences the Nuba were not represented, reminiscent of what has always happened in the past.
In the most recent and crucial agreements which have been declared in both Chukudum and Asmara, the Nuba people have been denied the right of self-determination. Nuba would like to ask why they have been denied the right of self-determination which is their basic right, while that right has been given to the people of the south and Abyei in the southern part of Nuba Mountains? What about the rights of the other minorties in the Northern Sudan? I believe that members of the NDA have not learned any thing at all from their past experience whether in government or in opposition.
It is important to understand the meaning of the word "self-determination" in its context before discussing what it means to the Nuba. D.B. Levin in 1962 defined the word Self-determination as "the rights of people of a nation to freely, without outside pressure, determine their state affiliation, including the rights to form an independent state and also to determine the forms their internal political, economic, social and cultural life, which is guaranteed by international organisations and bodies".
The term "self-determination" which is widely used today by many Sudanese politicians has different interpretations. To some people it means a recognition of an individual basic right while to others it means "self-rule or government". However, its interpretation to some of the Southern people as well as Northerners simply means the opt out of the South with its capital at Juba.
Some aspects of the social and cultural life of the South we can easily predict: there will be no Sharia, for example. But self-determination also means the right of the people to establish their own political system from top to bottom. This cannot happen overnight; it needs far more than a referendum.
I suggest that the true meaning of "self-determination" is to be found in the people themselves taking control of political decisions. If Sudan is to be truly democratic, then the opposition forces must first have internal democracy. A good model for this is in the non-government held areas of the Nuba Mountains, where there is a democratically-elected assembly—the only one existing anywhere in Sudan. If there is to be self-determination, it must arise from a process whereby people acquire political education and experience, so that they can freely exercise their basic democratic rights. Only in the Nuba Mountains can people debate these matters freely and openly.
We cannot pre-judge the outcome. We all have our personal views: some of us prefer unity, some would like confederation with Darfur, some want an independent state, etc. The important thing is not the outcome: it is the process. It must be democratic and participatory. In the Nuba context, self-determination means, first and foremost, the right to be able to sit together and discuss all the options with peace and openness, and to know that whatever we decide, our democratic wishes will be respected.
In conclusion, I would like to repeat that there can be no peace without justice. If the political leaders of Sudan, north-east Africa and the international community as a whole believe that they can make peace in Sudan at the expense of the Nuba, I am afraid they are mistaken. The Nuba will not settle for an agreement that does not guarantee their rights in full. It is not only a question of justice, it is a question of redistributing power. The Nuba have resisted the most ferocious onslaught of the Sudanese army, and can do so again. But if we, the Nuba, are granted our rights, we will play our role in making sure that our region, Sudan and the whole of Africa is free, peaceful and democratic.
Human Rights And Human Needs
By Alex de waal
It is a year ago this week that I flew for the first time into the Nuba Mountains, from the South. My colleague Yoanes had been there a couple of months earlier and what we found was very much what he had described, which was people who were execptionally isolated and, it has to be said, demoralized. The military forces of the SPLA were at a very low ebb, struggling to hold on to even the mountains themselves. They were going into battle at that stage with just three bullets in their ammunition clips and in some places they were throwing rocks because they had no bullets at all.
They were losing the war of resources. I t was a struggle less of bullets than of material resources, including aid resources. What was draining the rural areas of people and support to the SPLA was the fact that people were hungry, they had no medicine, they had no schools and had no clothes, etc. And the people were going to the government garrisons simply because they were so tired of being constantly harrassed, constantly without clothes, without medicine, without schools, without prospects. And there was a real despair among military commanders, and many of the civilians, many of the civilians, many of the farmers, about whether resistance to the near- genocidal onslaught by the government was possible. There was real despair as the government as to whether they would survive. It was really touch –and –go.
Alex de Waal
Human right and human needs
It is a year ago this week that I flew for the first time into the Nuba Mountains, from the South. My colleague Yoanes had been there a couple of months earlier and what we found was very much what he had described, which was people who were exceptionally isolated and, it had to be said, demoralized. The military forces of the SPLA were at very low ebb, struggling to hold on to even the mountains themselves. They were going into battle at that stage with just three bullets in their ammunition clips and in some places they were throwing rocks because they had no bullets at all.
They were losing the war of resources. It was a struggle less of bullets than material resources, including aid resources. What was draining the rural areas of people and support to the SPLA was the fact that people were hungry, they had no medicine, they had no schools and no clothes etc. And the people were going to the government garrisons simply because they were so tired of being constantly harassed, constantly without clothes, without medicine, without school, without prospects. And there was a real despair among military commanders, and many of the civilians, many of the farmers, about whether resistance to the near-genocidal onslaught by the government was possible. There was real despair as to whether they would survive. It was really touch-and-go.
Symbolic of this despair or near-despair was the fact that Yousif Kuwa, SPLA Government of the Nuba Mountains, had left the area two years before and no one was sure when he was coming back. He had been announcing for well over a year that he was coming back at any time, but he had never turned up. Shortly after my arrival with Yoanes, Yousif Kuwa did come back. We learned the same way morning over the two-way radio that he would be arriving at about 10 o'clock. Along with a group of about a thousand people we congregated at the small airstrip in the expectation that perhaps this time he would arrive. There was drumming and a vibrancy in the air.
And then this tiny little speck appeared just above the horizon, which was his plane. An electric atmosphere of expectation passed through the crowd, almost enough to lift one off one’s feet. It was something I had never experienced before. And the plane landed and for two minutes or more Yousif did not emerge because he too was overwhelmed by emotion. He was in tears. An then he got off the plane and started greeting his people.
I think the retune of Yousif at the beginning of May 1995 was in many ways rather a critical turning point in the struggle in the Nuba Mountains. Yousif brought with him a very small quantity of ammunition, but just enough militarily to turn the tide. It also marked the beginning of the Nuba Relief, Rehabilitation and Development Society. This was the beginning of NRRDS applying some assistance. I think that more critical than the ammunition that Yousif was able to bring on that occasion was the fact that NRRDS was able to bring a bit of money, some clothes and medicines and so on, and began to reinvigorate some of the social services, the administrative structure etc. So that the struggle, the material struggle over the basic necessities of life was then not wholly in the government’s favor. In fact there was a marked reduction in the number of people deserting to garrison towns. Now people are much more eager to evade the government’s punitive patrols when they come out, and people have actually begun flooding back from the towns.
Just a few months ago Yoanes was in the Nuba Mountains again and the situation by then was completely different. Yoanes said he would not recognize the markets: they were full. There were virtually no markets when we were there, but now there is a whole string of very large markets that include exchange between the Nuba and the Baggara. There is a reinvigoration of institution. Many schools are reopening, there is a network of three health centers and 18 clinics in operation, and there is a tremendous sense of confidence among the people that theirs is not a lost cause.
Two years ago when we began to plan to get access to the Nuba Mountains, we talked to a large number of people including the SPLA chairman, and their universal attitude was that the Nuba were a lost cause. In fact we got carte blanche from the top of the SPLA on the grounds that ‘we, the SPLA/M can do nothing for the Nuba any longer. If you can do something, try it, as SPLA we frankly don’t consider anything within our capacity to do. ‘Similarly, when we went around lobbying on behalf of the Nuba, it was constantly a case of people being extremely sympathetic but saying universally that there is nothing they could do.
I just came back a few weeks ago form travelling around the Horn, and the situation is now completely different. The Nuba are really on the political map in a way that I don’t think they have been before. I was extremely cheered. Nowhere where we went was it even necessary to spell out that details of the history of the Nuba case, as one had to do a year ago. Everyone now knows about the Nuba. Many many people have seen the film made by the BBC, and many people have heard the Nuba case on the BBC World Service. So the Nuba are now politically on the map and I don’t think anything can now push the Nuba off that Map.
In the last year the mountains have been militarily quieter than at any time in the previous ten years. There was one small offensive in the central Nuba Mountains last month that burned four villages, but that atrocity did not lead to a single fatality among the people, who evacuated, and it was a smaller affair than what has happened beforehand.
The international factor in the reinvigoration of the Nuba prospects is important but I think that even more important is the internal factor. I spoke about the despair in the Nuba Mountains a year ago, and this is what we expected. We expected to find people completely subject to gross and persistent abuses. But the degree of internal mobilization in the Nuba Mountains is something quite remarkable and something unexpected.
There are many reasons why the Nuba have mobilized internally. One is the character of leadership. Yousif Kuwa came first as a civilian: he is someone with a strong political following already. The Nuba have quite a long experience of parliamentary and electoral politics, to an extent that does not exist in Southern Sudan, and so they are determined to keep the leadership of the SPLA under some sort of accountability and some sort of check. Also the fact that the Nuba are isolated is important: they have been forced to become self-reliant. The Nuba have been driven off very large areas of the plains by attacks by the government forces, and in response they have retreated to the mountains. Huge areas of the mountainsides that have not been cultivated before have been terraced in the last five or six years. All sorts of crops are grown on the mountaintops.
Without external aid, no one is coming from outside to impose institutions, impose priorities, divert the energies of the people towards getting aid from the outside. The Nuba have begun to develop their own vibrant political culture. The key event in that development was in September 1992, which was at the height of the very worst of the government offensives, the jihad of 1992, which involved massive conventional military assaults, massive forced relocation, etc. It really looked in the middle of the year that the resistance in the Nuba Mountains was going to be completely eradicated. In September, Yousif Kuwa convened what he called the Advisory Council. 200 representatives, most of them civilians, from all parts of the Nuba Mountains, came together in the small town of Debi, and for six days they debated one question, which was, do we continue the struggle or do we surrender?
Yousif opened the meeting with a long discussion of the struggle of the Nuba. He said that up to now he would take personal responsibility for the sufferings of the Nuba, but the point has been reached where he cannot guarantee anything.. ‘Now,’ he said , ‘I hand over to you the assembled elders of the Nuba to decide whether to vote for peace or for war.’ And there was a very vigorous discussion with people taking different sides and in the end, the vote was to continue the war. But, even more significant for the Advisory Council was its decision to continue in existence and meet again, and to set up institutions such as civil administration and schools.
What happened in the two and a half years since the first meeting of the Advisory Council and our visit of last year was that an enormous effort has been made to put in place democratic structures throughout the Nuba Mountains. A lot of the schools have been started on the basis of self-help. Although there was a fear that all this was going to be crushed, the extent of the political mobilisation of the Nuba in the villages in something without precedent, without parallel in Sudan. In fact areas of the Nuba Mountains there is the only functioning democracy in Sudan today.
So the primary action is coming from inside the Nuba Mountains. I think that that is something that needs to be recognised.
One of the things I took with me when I went was, copies of the first edition of NAFIR the Nuba Mountains newsletter. This has been started by a number of Nuba in Nairobi and the made the initials NAFIR to stand for ‘Nuba Action for an International Rescue.’ But the people inside were rather offended by the idea that they need an international rescue. They want to rescue themselves. And so the name was changed, keeping NAFIR but subtitling it simply the newsletter of the Nuba Mountains. Sudan.
The NRRDS has become a much stronger institution over the last year. It has been very impressive to see the extent to which it has changed, from being a handful of people trying to find some resources to a fully- fledged humanitarian agency with its office in Nairobi and regular access—very difficult access but nonetheless regular access—to the Nuba Mountains. It has begun programmes in the health field and started agricultural and education programmes.
We, African Rights, have two programmes parallel to the NRRDS. One is our monitoring programme. The book facing Genocide was largely gathered through the cooperation of a team of seven human rights monitors whom Yoanes had recruited and trained. Before they joined us these people had been working as community leaders, sending petitions to the government, complaining about massacres, confiscation of land, arrests and so on. After a while they found there was no point complaining to the government so they just shut up. When we went and started talkingabout these issues then they found new ways of channelling their complaints, channelling their information. We have found that this human rights monitoring system is working extremely well.
The other aspect of our programme is support to the judiciary. In 1991, already the beginning of a civil judicial system was being set up in the non-government held areas. This was the initiative of some of the local chiefs and Governor Yousif Kuwa. We have been supporting that and expanding it. At the end of 1995, in December, Yoanes helped to convene a conference of all the people involved in the judiciary, including the six judicial officers themselves, the chiefs, the court clerks and some of the civil administrators and commanders. It was a very vigorous discussion, including a lot of very storng statements by the judicial officers and civil administrators to the military commanders, saying, ‘The administration of justice is our work and not yours, you keep out of it. You can have your separate military courts but do not interfer with ours.’ I think the commanders were taken slightly aback at the strength with which these views were expressed, but they have so far abided by the outcome of the conference. We continue to assist the judicial structures and with any luck we will be able to assist the SPLM in Southern Sudan with something similar.
So I think there is a very strong impetus from within. There is a lot of organisation there in the Nuba mountains, a lot of capacity, a lot of will to succeed, which means that should there be peace, should this government go, should the government reform itself dramatically, however unlikely it might be, the new rulers of Sudan will find in the Nuba Mountains they are faced with a very well organised , very well politicised, very politically aware community there, that will not be trampled upon as it has been in previous generations.
Internationally, what can be done? I think that the main thing that can be done internationally is simply provide a channel for the views of Nuba people, mainly inside, and the people of the Nuba diaspora and those in Khartoum, etc, to provide a channel for these views to be heard, for these realities to come out. Because what is happening in terms of development of local democracy in the Nuba Mountains is important not just for the Nuba but is a model for the whole of Sudan. The reconngnition of this is important. The nuba are being put on the agenda, especially for the regional countries, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya. They can be put more firmly on the agenda of the Sudanese opposition.
Some of the parties that are leading the opposition are living in a time wrap, in which they belive that the Nuba can be politically bought and sold, and are not people who are going to speak for themselves. This is no longer the case.
One final comment, on the issue of self-determination, which is an issue that is very central to Nuba concerns. A lot of Nuba worry what self-determination for the south will mean, whether it will leave them isolated and vulnerable in northern Sudan. But there is also a recognition among Nuba on the ground that self-determination is not simply a referendum. It is not simply a referendum that leads to one constitutional solution or another. It is a sort of social contract, an enforceable commitment. It is political proccess that the Nuba have been going through in South Kordofan in the SPLA-held areas for the last few years is self-determination. If that process can be allowed to continue, then the Nuba will get their self-determination and then I believe that the humanitarian and human rights problems we are currently concerned with will be hopefully less actue.
The conference issued the following call to the international community and the people of Sudan.
"The plight of the Nuba illustrates many dimensions of the conflict in Sudan, and if we are seeking a long-lasting solution to the problems of the country as a whole, we cannot afford to ignore the Nuba.
"The opposition groups such as the NDA and SPLA must recognise that they cannot take Nuba support for granted in their struggle against the destructive totalitarianism of the National Islamic Front regime. They cannot regard the Nuba as mere pawns in the civil war.
"Instead, they must recognise that the questions raised by the treatment of the Nuba in the past must now be addressed, for the sake of the entire country. Other "marginalised" peoples in Sudan face the same fate.
"The principal Issues are:
"1) Self-determination: The need for genuinely democratic political representation for all communities, and an end to the centralised and exploitative methods of governments, past and present, in Sudan. The seeds of this democracy are already evident in the Nuba areas under the control of local people in SPLA- held territory.
"The Nuba as well as other non-Arab peoples of northern Sudan such as the Beja and the people of Darfur, must be fully involved in the political process as equals. This is the true meaning of self-determination.
"2) Land rights: It is clear that the best custodians of the land are the indigenous people themselves, and not the elite groups who have gained control of the large areas of land through political favouritism. The Nuba farmers are forced to become dispossessed labourers on massive mechanised agricultural schemes, which is an abuse not only of human and economic rights, but also of the fertile land on which the country depends.
"The abuse of mechanised agriculture has only brought destruction to the fragile soils of South Kordofan. This has gone on too long, with international bodies working as accomplices with absentee landlords to the maximise profits while accelerating ecological devastation. The process is only adding fuel to the conflict, and must be halted. Instead, there must be respect for the knowledge of local farmers, whose techniques are most likely to maintain sustainable agricultural development .
"This is absolutely crucial element which the government and opposition have shown no sign of understanding.
"3) Religion: In a society as diverse and complex as Sudan, state and religion must be separated to avoid discrimination and corruption. The Nuba have been victimised regardless of their religious adherence, and have discovered at painful cost, that conversion to Islam has not protected them from racial discrimination, gross human exploitation, and from being robbed of their land.
"On the contrary, because the Nuba community has shown that Muslims, Christians and followers of traditional religion can co-exist peacefully, they have aroused the anger of those who practice division and intolerance in the name of Islam.
"Since the majority of Sudanese, from North and South, do not accept the National Islamic Front's claims to represent Islam, they instead look to the Nuba for an example of more positive, compassionate approach to religious belief and its role in society.
"It is the Nuba, two million African people in the heart of the country, who carry the flame for a brighter future in Sudan. If that flame is extinguished, we all pay the price."