THE NUBA AND THEIR HOMELANDTrinicenter Special
Abstract of Article
The Nuba Mountains are located in Southern Kordofan, covering about 30,000 square miles, about the size of Scotland at the geographical center of the Sudan. Perhaps a third of the area consists of the mountains or hills themselves, with most of the rest being fertile, clay-heavy plains with great stretches of the "black-cotton" soil that makes walking exceedingly difficult when wet. The hills jut up from the flatlands in rocky beauty, some to almost 1,500 meters. Well-watered and quite green in the rainy season, the territory contains few significant roads or towns. With Kadugli the principal reference-point, the area stretches to Dilling in the north, below Talodi and Buram in the south, Lagowa to the west, and past Heiban in the east.
The Nuba people are not, in the recent cultural sense, related to the Nubians farther north near Egypt. They represent a "bewildering complexity" of cultures and more than 50 languages, with some of the latter apparently related to tongues of peoples as distant as the Shona and Ndebele.4 The numbers of Nuba are unclear. Some Nuba sources suggest there are up to two million, but the numbers of migrants, displaced people, and refugees cloud the issue. In 1993, the Government asserted there were 1.1 million Nuba. In August 1995, Yusuf Kuwwa estimated the total at 1.2 million, with perhaps 350,000 in SPLA-controlled areas, a percentage that roughly comports with a 1992 SPLM census figure for areas under its control.
The Nuba people, despite their historical attempts to participate in the greater Sudan, have largely been a disenfranchised population in Sudanese society. Confronted by the government's pursuit of an Arabized society, the diverse Nuba developed an identity out of their persistent adversity. Faced with economic encroachment and little viable access to justice in government actions, in a context where powerful elites manipulated local hostilities in pursuit of control of Nuba lands and the substantial resources they represent, the Nuba have largely been the losers. Their tolerant religious diversity bought them no respite. Politically isolated and culturally an obstacle to the government's persistent larger design for Sudanese society, the Nuba identity emerged. Thus, African Rights contends, "The central theme of Nuba history is the tension between political Incorporation into the state of Sudan and the maintenance of local identity," a theme that also characterizes the war in the South and elsewhere in the Sudan.
THE WAR AGAINST THE NUBA
The Government of the Sudan has pursued a strategy of liquidation since the 1980s. It was not originated by the National Islamic Front (NIF) government that came to power on June 30, 1989, but rather by the political forces that preceded it. The actual war in Nuba began in July 1985.5 After the NIF coup, a virtual cordon sanitaire was imposed on the area. Few outsiders were able to visit, and no one could do so freely. NGO personnel and others such as those of the UN's Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS) were authorized at times to conduct relief operations to fulfill government policy objectives (e.g. to assist "peace camps" in government-controlled areas); they have never been authorized to observe the conflict or assist civilians in SPLA-controlled sectors as is grudgingly allowed in parts of the South.
The strategy of cultural cleansing pursued by the government entails harsh attempts to depopulate vast areas, killing potential combatants as well as many, many others, and herding survivors into tightly controlled Peace camps." Once jihad was declared by the Government in 1992, it was clear that even Nuba Muslims were targeted, with the rationale that Muslims in SPLA areas were not true Muslims. Rape of Nuba women has been a "central component" of the government's strategy, aimed at destroying "the social fabric of Nuba society." Every woman who has been in a peace camp has either been raped or threatened with rape, even those as young as nine years of age. Taken together with other violent strategies including the targeting of educated Nuba, African Rights asserts with great justification that the Government of the Sudan's policy is legally and morally genocide.
The agents of this policy of genocide are both the official forces of the government as well as surrogates, including neighboring Sudanese Arabs such as the cattle-herding Missiriyya and Hawazma and camel-herding Humr and Shanabla. In Laying Waste to the Nuba Mountains, Amnesty International reports thousands of civilians dead, tens of thousands in peace villages, total destruction of scores of villages, and the prevention of relief efforts to respond to devastated civilians. Because of the cordon sanitaire, and without a land link to other SPLA-controlled areas, many Nuba consider themselves the Africans most exposed to the political and cultural domination of the Arab north. The Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance and the British NGO Christian Solidarity International reported the continuation of this Sudanese Government approach as this was being written in the summer of 1996.