The Sudanese War and the Nuba People
Following a video presentation cataloguing the extent to which the Nuba people of Sudan have been marginalized and treated inhumanely by the Khartoum government, Suleiman Musa Rahhal, Director of Nuba Survival, argued that the fighting in Sudan, contrary to popular belief, is not due solely to religious differences. He identified several factors that underpinned the current conflict: the centralization of power with the elite Northern Sudanese; ethnic, religious, and cultural discrimination; unequal educational, economic, and political opportunities; oil; and the potency of modern weapons.
Rahhal noted that since independence the Nuba have been marginalized, used, and mistreated by the Sudanese government. He contended that the bombings of civilian populations and the forced separation of Nuba families have been part of a systematic effort of the Sudanese regime to eradicate the Nuba culture and people.
For the past eighteen years, the Nuba, according to Rahhal, have been engaged in armed struggle alongside the SPLA (Sudan People’s Liberation Army). The Nuba are playing and have played a major part in the struggle for peace in Sudan. Now, however, the Nuba are concerned that they have not been fully integrated into the ongoing IGAD-sponsored Sudanese peace negotiations. The recent cease-fire agreement brokered by Senator Danforth represented a positive, and much appreciated, first step towards peace in the Nuba mountains. But it was critical that the Nuba now be fully at the negotiating table to insure that their concerns are taken into account in any final political settlement. Rahhal said that the Nuba were suspicious about the Government’s continued resistance to IGAD sponsorship of talks between the Government and Nuba representatives. Moreover, the Nuba feared that their SPLA ally in the military struggle might be willing to sacrifice Nuba interests in their effort to secure a negotiated agreement with Khartoum. The Nuba, Rahhal said, should be able to pursue self-determination after the independence of the south and self-governance in the transitional interim period.
Ambassador Michael Rannenberger, the US State Department’s Special Advisor on Sudan agreed that the Nuba are central to any sustainable resolution of the Sudanese conflict. The State Department, he said, believes that the Nuba must and will be a part of any comprehensive negotiated settlement. While the upcoming talks on the “contested areas” outside of the south will be structured in terms of a negotiation between the Khartoum Government and the SPLA, both delegations will include significant numbers of Nuba. Moreover, all issues will be on the table, including mechanisms of self-determination for the Nuba. The goal of all parties, the Ambassador urged, should be to find a way to unity through the appropriate sharing of wealth and power. However, under the best of conditions, the restoration of trust and normalcy will take time.
John Prendergast, of the International Crisis Group, noted that Khartoum’s position has been that the problems of the Nuba region are fundamentally problems of economic neglect and under-development; consequently, Khartoum contends that the issue of the Nuba (and of other contested areas) should not be viewed as a North/South problem, but rather as an unique problem that the national Khartoum government can resolve on its own, by measures to correct the historic inequities. As for the Nuba concern that the SPLA may not be sufficiently vigorous advocates of Nuba interests, Prendergast observed that the SPLA leadership does not want to betray the Nuba partnership during the negotiations; however, he acknowledged, there were some voices in the south that would not want the Nuba issue to get in the way of an over-all political settlement that would satisfy fundamental Southern aspirations. In the end, Prendergast said, if there is to be a durable peace agreement, the government, the SPLA and the international community will all have to take Nuba concerns seriously.
In the question and answer session that followed, an official of the Sudanese Embassy stated that his government agreed that the concerns of the Nuba and of other contested areas were important to a lasting and just peace in the Sudan. Khartoum, he said, was fully committed to negotiating a lasting political settlement.
Howard Wolpe, Consulting Director, the Africa Project, (202) 691-4046
Nicole Talmadge, Program Assistant, the Africa Project, (202) 691-4097