May 2011 - SOUTH KORDOFAN
South Kordofan straddles the border of north and south Sudan where political, military and cultural differences meet. At its centre are the Nuba Mountains, a former frontline region in Sudan’s civil war which saw some of the heaviest fighting. It is renowned for its ethnic mix of Islam, Christianity and traditional beliefs.
The population is mainly African Christian Nuba and Arab Muslim Misseriya and much of the land is green and fertile. The Nuba people have long been treated as second-class citizens by the north, with reduced access to education and jobs and little development in their own state.
During the north-south civil war, the Misseriya and Nuba were mobilised by the northern and southern governments respectively. Local militias were also armed which has created an excess of weapons in the region. Reportedly, the area suffered aerial bombardments, isolation, shortages, land expropriation and forced population movements. They remain deeply scarred by the conflict and inhabitants are polarised along tribal and political lines. Local people say they fought for autonomy and equality. Sympathies lie largely with the south and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) on whose side many civilians fought, although Misseriya look more to the north.
Through the 1980s, Ahmad Haroun was governor of the area and orchestrated massacres against the Nuba people. Over the decade, thousands were arrested, tortured and killed.
The civil war was finally brought to an end by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) which made provision for a referendum for the south to secede from the north and for Abyei to vote whether it stay with the north or the south. However, South Kordofan and Blue Nile states were offered only vague and ill-defined ‘popular consultations’, which did not include steps towards autonomy or joining the south.
Local people have bitter memories of the war. There are lingering difficulties over grazing and unresolved political issues. The CPA failed to address the internal political and cultural differences of the region and some members of the population still believe they will have the right to go with the south when it secedes in July.
For the first time since the CPA was signed in 2005, gubernatorial elections were held in South Kordofan. Candidates were Ahmad Haroun for the northern National Congress Party (NCP) – the man responsible for the atrocities of the 1980s, Abdelaziz Adam al-Hilu for the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and an independent candidate, Telephone Kuku.
On 13 April an attack was made on el-Feid, the hometown of Abelaziz. Satellite pictures show that 350 structures were burnt and reportedly 20 died in the attack, including women and children. It is widely believed that the attack was carried out by northern forces although the NCP has claimed it was a southern attack to provoke tensions.
The Carter Center has reported that the voting period was calm although when counting started, the NCP sent a representative to ask the Election Committee to declare Haroun a winner, despite Abdelaziz being in the lead. Accounts of SPLM voting irregularities can also be heard.
Results have now been released which claim Haroun as the winner. The Carter Centre was the main international observer for these elections and they have declared the vote peaceful and credible despite some voter irregularities.
Local people believe the CPA has not provided any peace dividends. Whilst feeling abandoned by their sponsors, they are armed and increasingly belligerent. Tens of thousands of Nuba have been in the southern army and are due to return soon. Ill-managed disputes over land and grazing rights have caused hundreds of deaths with no viable means of addressing these issues in the long-term.
The Nuba feel culturally and politically isolated and fear full sharia law being imposed upon them. Their voices have not been heard and their dreams of equality and autonomy are now shattered. As the truth dawns that this area has been overlooked by the CPA they are left with no reason to capitulate to further oppressive rule under the NCP.
The north is unlikely to surrender this fertile farmland without a fight, particularly not to their erstwhile southern enemies. Further they need to keep the Misseriya within the fold or they may strengthen their ties with opposition parties to which they have formerly been aligned.
South Kordofan is the military backyard for Abyei and adjoining states and therefore any tensions here will exacerbate the already volatile situation in Abyei which is likely to be the frontline of any future conflict. Geographically South Kordofan is well placed to arm proxy militias in both north and south.
Haroun has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur. By winning this election, democratically or otherwise, it lends legitimacy to his role within the NCP and thumbs a nose at the ICC’s indictment of President Al Bashir. His connections with elites in the north have extremist leanings.
If events spiral out of control, the area is ripe for exploitation by regional extremists who may use this opportunity to ferment international terrorism and destabilise the region.
That the international community work with Commander Abdelaziz, SPLM candidate in the gubernatorial race, who is not only a moderate but also represents the Nuba people. Without him, there is a likelihood that more reactionary types will take over the political space which could lead to a raft of issues including extremism, terrorism and instability.
That the international community reject any military build-up in the Nuba Mountains or Abyei as a threat to the successful completion of the CPA.