Travelling southward from the Nuba Mountains towards the border with South Sudan, from time to time we see a group of two of three dozen children and a few women. They walk under an implacable sun, with day temperatures constantly over forty degrees, and sometime in the middle of the day they stop and gather in the shade of rare trees. They are all poorly dressed, covered in dust, the women carrying a basket with little food and few cooking utensils, a plastic jerrycan with some water. There are an average of 400 such children and women arriving every day at Yida, the camp for Nuba refugees about 20 km inside South Sudan. Most of them suffer from severe malnutrition and dehydration. The registration process is done in a shack.
They are running from war and starvation. There is a war looming between Sudan and South Sudan, fed by daily belligerent declaration from both sides and a history of failed negotiations and deeply rooted reciprocal mistrust. But the Nuba are caught up also in another more localized war. Since June last year, the president of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, has been fighting an undeclared war against the Nuba and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-Northern Sector (SPLM-N), guilty of not accepting his centralizing and Islamic policy that have made of the Nuba the most marginalized people of the Sudan. Estimates of the Nuba population resident in the Southern Kordofan state, also called Nuba Mountains and part of the Sudan, varies from 800 thousand to one million people. In this latest, war thriving centres and small villages have been bombed indiscriminately. Schools, churches, markets are the primary targets. The Nuba say this is not a war, it is attempted genocide.
Buram – last year a flourishing centre to the south a Kadugli, the capital of Southern Kordofan – is now a ghost town, half of it razed to the ground by constant shelling. The new school, completed only a few months before, has been deserted since bombs missed it by a whisker. I meet one of its former pupils, Daniel, 15, and he recount how he was scared when he heard the bombs hit. In a desperate attempt to seek protection, he embraced a tree. A bomb shred hit the tree, and his arms have been cut just below the elbow. There were six secondary schools in the area, now they are all closed; only a few courageous teachers still operate primary schools in improvised structures and without books, stationery and blackboards. The two teachers training institutes are also closed down.
War generates starvation. The present conflict started just when last year rainy season was about to begin. People fled to look for security up to the rocky mountain, some went back living in the caves, and the fertile land of the plains was abandoned. Last December there was no harvest to be gathered. There are reports that in some areas people have started dying of starvation. Yida is the last hope for survival.
A strongly worded Presidential Statement from the UN Security Council dated 14 February 2012 emphasized that “the members of the Security Council expressed their deep and growing alarm with the rising levels of malnutrition and food insecurity in some areas of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile States in Sudan”, and asked the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-Northern Sector (SPLM N) to cooperate fully with the United Nations and other humanitarian agencies to allow the delivery of assistance in line with international humanitarian principles and standards. There was also a tripartite proposal (UN, African Union and League of Arab States) for the delivery of humanitarian assistance to all conflict-affected population. Nothing has happened. The Khartoum Government has consistently denied access to any humanitarian help.
Yet a large scale internationally-led relief operation accepted by both sides is the only possibility to meet the need of the estimated 420,000 Nuba that are internally and externally displaced by the war.
How can then change come to Sudan? The rigid positions that Omar al-Bashir has kept since he took power in 1989 make people think a change through peaceful political means is not possible. That is why the people of the areas that are contesting al-Bashir’s policy – Darfur, Southern Kordofan and Southern Blue Nile – have formed an alliance, the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) and have wowed to push al-Bashir out of power. “Bashir has superiority only in the sky. On the ground we are much stronger and we are ready to march on to Khartoum to make sure this regime will finish” states Adbel Aziz al Hilu, the military leader of the Nuba and also the head of the military head of the SRF.
Violence generates violence. A catechist in Yida, after Sunday Mass, looks around at the hundreds of children and says: “There is a growing hatred in them. Whatever we will try to teach to these children they will grow up determined to drive the foreigners out of their land”.