/ 22 April 2005

Nuba faction feels betrayed by peace deal

Dadu Abdi Mohamed wasn’t jumping up and down with the rest of the cheering, flag-waving mass when the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) and the Sudanese government signed a “comprehensive peace deal” to end Africa’s longest conflict.

The former SPLM/A guerrilla, living in exile in Kenya, believes: “We have fought for nothing. [SPLM/A leader Colonel John] Garang has sold us out.”

Mohamed was born, raised and taught how to launch rocket grenades in the Nuba mountains, an isolated, arid wasteland in central Sudan where only scorpions, hardy brush and tough nomadic inhabitants survive.

During the long war, the minority tribes of the Nuba mountains were anomalies: Muslim camel keepers who fought side by side with the black, largely Christian, cattle herders of southern Sudan against the repressive Islamic rulers in Khartoum.

President Omar al-Bashir’s government branded the Nuba “traitors to Islam” for allying themselves with the SPLM/A. Yet they refused to abandon the African peoples of the south, who Mohamed insisted “will always be our brothers and sisters”.

For their “betrayal”, government Antonov airplanes and helicopter gun ships showered the Nuba with bombs and bullets. Schools were razed and water supplies destroyed. “Many, many killed in explosions; many died of hunger and thirst,” said Saeed Anwar, an SPLM/A official in the Nuba mountains.

Vast oil and diamond deposits under the desert sands were responsible for both the southern forces and the northern government claiming the area.

Deadlock over who would rule the Nuba mountains in peacetime had for years prevented agreement being reached.

But, under immense international pressure, Garang signed the deal that won important concessions for the south: provision for wealth from a share in oil resources; the withdrawal of government troops from the south; and the right of southerners to vote, following a six-year interim period, for unity with, or secession from, the north.

But the agreement is also clear that the Nuba mountains will form part of the north and its people will continue to be subject to the government and its harsh Sharia law.

And although Al-Bashir has committed Khartoum to “popular consultation” in the area, this would probably prove “meaningless … because government delegates will dominate local government”, said John Ashworth, a human rights monitor who has worked in Sudan since 1983.

“This is a very bad agreement for the Nuba mountains; they’ve really got very, very little out of it. When I challenged some senior SPLM people there about what they would do about the situation, they said ‘Well, then we’ll go back to war.'”

But Ashworth feels that should the Nuba return to arms “they’ll be wiped out”, because they can no longer count on Garang’s guerrillas, and sympathy from the world at large for this tiny ethnic minority will also be “thin” as they’ll be seen as “rebelling against peace”.

Garang, observers say, has always acted primarily in the interests of his Dinka people, the largest ethnic group in Sudan.

Tribal animosities, which had festered under the SPLM/A’s apparently united surface since the war began, boiled over in 1991 when Garang’s deputy, Riek Machar — a Nuer — and senior official Lam Akol — a Shilluk — rebelled against Garang. The insurrection resulted in a bloody war-within-a-war that almost destroyed the liberation movement.

The biggest losers with the signing of the peace agreement have been minority groups, like the Nuba.

“We are alone,” said Mohamed. “We don’t expect anyone to help us. We wanted to be part of the south; we wanted to feel the joy of voting for independence. But now we are back to being slaves.”

And he returned to his spanners and drums of old oil in his sparse auto spares shop on the outskirts of Nairobi.