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Sudan Refugees: “The Signals were There” for A Return to War

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Sudan Refugees: “The Signals were There” for A Return to War

Posted by Amanda Hsiao on November 23, 2011

Sudan Refugees: “The Signals were There” for A Return to War

SHERKOLE Refugee Camp, Ethiopia — “The signals were there” for war to return to his home state of Blue Nile, said Aziz. He sat on a wooden bench among a group of men, mostly refugees who also fled from fighting in the state. Yusaf spoke to Enough alongside Ibrahim, Ali, and Osman, all of whom came from the town of Baw. Given their statements, all are likely active SPLM-North party members. 

After the Sudanese government reneged on the agreement signed in June, Yusaf said, “We knew [war] was going to happen.” If implemented, the agreement would have ended fighting in South Kordofan and set up a path to resolve the tensions in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. The agreement was signed before fighting had spread into Blue Nile.

Signs that all was not well appeared in some of the major towns in the state. During his visit to the state capital of Damazine for the Eid holiday, Yusaf said he noticed an “abnormal build-up of [Sudan Armed Forces], or SAF troops.” He said that the soldiers were controlling the entrances of the town and would sometimes stop and search cars at checkpoints. There were no detentions, though, he said.

Moses, who had been in Roseires for the holidays, said the same controlled environment was in place.

On the third day of Eid, Yusaf began his journey back to Baw. But before even entering the town, he heard intensive fighting. “We started fleeing that night,” he said.

As the men spoke, they began airing their frustrations about individual political decisions that the government made during the Comprehensive Peace Agreement period. It was clear that these anecdotes had taken on new meaning against the backdrop of conflict. In retrospect, it looked as if the signals that war would return had been there all along, found in the long list of evidence that the government was unwilling to implement the agreement specific to Blue Nile and South Kordofan.

“More or less, the popular consultations were completed in Blue Nile,” Ibrahim explained. “They were at the stage of tabulating the data and statistics. These results were supposed to be given to the parliament” and then sent to the national government. He believed the Sudanese government interfered in the popular consultations, a political exercise intended to give residents of the state a say in the economic and political relationship Blue Nile would have with the federal government.

“The results were leaning toward more autonomy in the region,” Ibrahim insisted. “The government feared this result. They invented something called the consultation of the elite. We don’t know who these elite are. It was not part of the popular consultations, as we understood it. The name of the ‘popular’ consultations is because of the people, not the elite.”

The people of Blue Nile wanted two things out of the exercise, Ibrahim said. Autonomy, “so that we can govern ourselves,” and for state resources to be used for their own population, for the development of the state.

When asked about the level of development in the state, the men eagerly listed examples mounting to what they perceived to be a Khartoum policy to politically and economically marginalize the Blue Nile government and the leadership of governor Malik Agar, the chairman of the SPLM/A-North. “He is our son and we elected him,” as one of the men put it.

Neither the road between the major cities of Damazine and Kurmuk, nor the road from Damazine to Geissan had been completed, Osman said. “Even inside the city of Damazine, the few roads that were built were a result of the governor using resources that did not come from Khartoum.” When asked who provided the resources, the men said that it was likely the southern government.

Parts of Blue Nile do not have power, though “the electricity that goes to the rest of Sudan is from Roseires,” Ali said, referring to the dam in the northern part of the state. Even when Agar intervened, he said, the governor only managed to deliver electricity to two out of the six localities in Blue Nile. “We don’t get a penny of” the electricity sold to the rest of the country, he said.

“This is all part of the marginalization,” Osman said. “[The governor] was not given enough support from the center.”

The men agreed that while they all wanted a peaceful resolution previously, the government’s rejection of the agreement and continuation of attacks have compelled them to assume harder positions. 

“The choice of the government was to bomb us with the Antonov,” said Ibrahim. “We reject this kind of government—a government who will attack a woman who carries her children on her back.”

“I wish that the government would be reasonable and will handle the situation better than this,” said Yusaf. “But the government is insisting on a military solution.” As such, Yusaf explained, his demand has become “to change the regime in Khartoum, and if we fail, we will opt for separation.”

This post is part of a series based on Enough interviews with Blue Nile refugees in Sherkole refugee camp and Kurmuk, Ethiopia. Details of these testimonies are impossible to verify, but accounts Enough heard have been generally consistent. Some names have been changed to protect the identity of the speaker. For background details about the conflict in Blue Nile, read our overview dispatch.

Omer Ismail contributed to this post.

Photo: A woman sits among belongings at Sherkole refugee camp (Enough)