“It is not just a matter of a tribal conflict, it is something deeper inside.”
This conversation took place over a series of days between 1 and 12 June 2023 by Isameldin Agieb, a son, and a gentleman named Asmail Malik (name changed), a father. It was conducted via telephone, though the connection kept getting lost. Isam and Asmail are both from the Blue Nile state where violence has often historically been under-reported, but which has nonetheless been subject to the same brutal tactics of repression and atrocity as other regions of Sudan. Isam said of speaking with Asmail, in an interview between a son and a father from Blue Nile timed for Father’s Day on Sunday 18 June 2023, “I feel sometimes that is another me. As a father, he found himself responsible for his younger sisters and their children as well as his own children. So he is a great father.” The interview has been edited and shortened for readability, but the words themselves remain unchanged and paint a powerful picture of the responsibilities and challenges many Sudanese fathers face.
Isam: My name is Isam I am from the UK. My friend gave me your number to talk to you as a father from the Blue Nile state in Sudan.
Asmail: Welcome and I hope I will be of a help. Thank you for taking care of me. I appreciate that you call and ask about me.
Isam: Tell me about you.
Asmail: My age is more than fifty. I was born in [a village which sits at the foot of the Roseires Dam downstream nearby to Damazine]. I don’t know any other place other than this village. I was born in this village, my brother was born in this village, another elder brother also was born in this village … my father died ages ago. My mum is alive.
In my childhood I used to go with my father and brothers to the farms and for fishing. I was not allowed to go on my own to the river as it is very dangerous. I used get beaten up by my dad or my elder brother for sneaking out to have fun with my friend in the river.
We were living a very good life from old time in the Blue Nile. My village is composed of multiple tribes: the Hausa, the people of ‘Sa-eed’ [from the nearby Angsana mountains south of Damazine]. All of the tribes we have being living together peacefully. We were living in a good way, going to the market to work and returned to the homes. I was a trader. I had good income.
We used to live a sweet life, we don’t know discrimination between the people. We had a peaceful life. We participated in social events whether is good or bad [wedding or funeral], we share together all the social moments. I used to have a football team in the 2nd league about to be promoted to the 1st league. The players of the team are all the children of those people we later had conflict with. I raised them, I coached them, I spend on them with my own money. This is just to let you know how we were harmonised together, but they created all of these troubles and ruined the situation.
Isam: Did you have your own shop?
Asmail: No, I am renting, I bought things [goods] and took them to store in my house and when the price is suitable I sell them. For example, my 60 or 70 sacks of durra [sorghum] I stored them until I got a nice deal with decent profit then I sell them, and the seller load them from the store.
Isam: Can you tell us about what caused you to leave your village?
Asmail: There were incidents of violence in my village. I don’t recall exactly the date, but it was during Eid Al-Adha, 2 or 3 days [9-12 July 2022]. It happened at night. We evacuated at 12pm or 1am because the police came in a vehicle and told us to evacuate the houses immediately because these people are attacking and for fear for your lives. We even didn’t finish our meat for the Eid [the slaughtered sheep which cannot be eaten at one sitting], we left it behind in the fridges and evacuated. Our fridge was full and we left it behind. Also the cupboards in the rooms. I had 5 rooms, in one of the rooms I had more than 60 sacks of sorghum, and one of them was full of furniture – as you know, our people love getting too much furniture in their houses. Each room was dense with furniture, cloth, closets, utensils, beds…we lost all of these eventually. We just evacuated with only the clothes on our backs.
Isam: Was anyone injured or hurt from your family?
Asmail: One of my sisters died during labour and left a twin. The babies are with us, and they survive on the milk. It was a tragedy and great sorrow. It needs very strong ability of patience and strong resilience. Also for one of my nephews, his wife died in the same incidents. He was taking her in a motorbike, and she was holding her child at the back as they are trying to flee. They got them with rocks, the child and the wife. She was injured and we took her to Khartoum, but she died because of her injuries. The child died immediately at the scene. There were also some from my village slaughtered while they were in a minibus – I know them all very well. That is what happened to us. This thing is… we can only say that is our God’s will.
Isam: I hope [your mum] is safe?
Asmail: She is safe, we evacuated her we. We carry her literally [Asmail giggled as he said this]. She is safe in Wad Madani, but she can’t return to Damazine in the near future.
We tried to transport the family. Thanks for the artillery brigade in Damazine, they received us and let us enter into the camp. Those who have relatives sent them money to move away because it was not suitable place. We moved out and I sent my family to Wad Madani, where they were hosted by relatives not the government. Those who doesn’t have relatives they made camps in Kosti and other places and are still there, that is the situation. My family are a lot, more than 14 people. I also have two sisters, both are widows. The house is full.
Isam: How are the people affected?
Asmail: I am one of the people affected – I lost everything my house, my rights. I don’t have anything in my hands. Now I am working here and there with my brothers [friends] in Sennar, doing what I know like storekeeping. We are living, just collecting to cover the expenses and send them to the family. I try to send 100 or something frankly 100 to 150 thousand. [My family] are working as well pushing a [wheelbarrow] in the market.
Isam: Has it happened to return back to your village since the incidents?
Asmail: Yes, I borrowed a motorbike from a friend. My house is completely destroyed, vanished…
Isam: Do you mean they took even the bricks?
Asmail: They took the building down, brick by brick. Even the WC. I built the best WC in the area! They took down any metallic structure or reinforcing bars and sold them out in kilos. The house returned to be an empty lot in the nature. I had thousands of cement bricks I bought for further extension in the house – they took it. I had construction materials, 2 heaps of sand and rubble, 10 sacks of cement, 42 pipe pieces and 33 corrugated zinc sheets, all gone. Not to forget the women’s valuable belongings and our clothes. We lived this sorrow, suffering was huge. It is not just a matter of a tribal conflict, it is something deeper inside. If you had a conflict with someone and you force them to leave and they left, then it is over. Why do you destroy their house and their equipment? They destroy everything, and took anything.
Isam: Do you know these people in person, are they well known to you?
Asmail: Yes, they live with us in the same village…
Isam: What!? That is impossible! You were living together and then they turned against you all of a sudden? I thought they were coming from another place not from the same village.
Asmail: We are living together, but they stir up discord between us. May God protect us from the evilness of all discords. They made a ‘nafeer’ [a call for help]. Those who are in the village call their people from other villages. This is why they outnumbered us. We heard rumours that they collected 25 persons from each village named by the chieftains. It was a nafeer that surprised us.
Isam: After what has happened, do they feel sorry for that?
Asmail: We don’t live in the village, but we knew that they feel sorry for that, and they said they were misled by the politicians. I meet them regularly in the market [in Damazine]. We still have that social connections, we sit together chatting over a coffee as if there was nothing happened. In Damazine when you met someone from my village, we greet each other with hugging. Eventually you don’t tell them anything or show that there is troubles between you. You sit together, taking a coffee or tea, chatting and laughing and leaving. Some individuals misled the people. It is still very early to go back to my village.
Isam: What did you expect to have in terms of help from others?
Asmail: We lost our homes. We expected the government or organisations to help us with building one room only. And the food from is God: as you know, this state has very heavy rains and if you don’t have a proper building you will suffer a lot during rainy season.