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Make this loud noise

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When I visited Sudan a few months ago, one of the highlights of my trip was attending a block party thrown by and for members of Khartoum’s community of Nuba people. For those unfamiliar, the Nuba region is a very remote and mountainous land in Southern Kordofan.

The party featured a band composed mostly of percussive instruments, and featured a guitar-like instrument that resembled more of an electric tennis racket than the traditional Stratocaster or Les Paul models that I’m used to seeing. The music itself was a hypnotic and throbbing kind of polyrhythmic dance-rock—the type of sound that inspired albums like the Talking Heads’ Remain in Light. A dance troupe outfitted in wonderfully colorful and ornate clothing performed several dances, some imitating fight-battles, and others with obvious courtship overtones. Perhaps the most joyous dance of the night was the line dance, which turned out to be the Nuba version of a conga-line, and ended up involving a few hundred locals all snaking and dancing their way around the large, dusty block.

One of the party’s organizers who invited me and my Oxfam colleagues to the celebration explained, “It’s important for us to create events like this to make sure the Nuba culture is remembered, and relearned, and passed down to the next generation. The Nuba people are from a hidden place, and it’s easy to forget they are there. That’s why we like to make this loud noise. To let you know we exist and are important.”

It is those words I keep reflecting on as I read of the current situation in the Nuba Mountains, where violence against the Nuba people continues seemingly unchecked. Long-suffering as a result of Sudan’s 22 year-long civil war, the Nuba people will remain tied to Khartoum government as the regions adjacent secede to the new Southern Sudan state. I keep reading how the situation in South Kordofan might turn into “the next Darfur.” Having recently seen Darfur with my own eyes, I pray that this is not the case.

Here’s a video clip from that night at the block party in Khartoum…the night I learned without a shadow of a doubt that the Nuba people “exist and are important.”

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  1. Anna Kramer

    Thanks for reading, Corrine! If you (or anyone else) are looking for a way to help, we’ve added a link above where you can donate to Oxfam’s relief programs in Sudan.

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  2.  avatarIAdam

    Right.

    So there you have it.

    A lovely account of Nuba culture, sullied unfortunately by its end remarks on a view – won’t call it ‘analysis’ because it’s not worthy of the name – by Bob Ferguson about the ongoing troubles in South Kordofan.

    As a ‘music artist relations coordinator’ for Oxfam America, Mr Ferguson has clearly strayed into the realm of politics and, in turn, not unsurprisingly, is clearly out of his depth in his activist-style portrayal of events in South Kordofan.

    He does not provide ANY real contextualisation (just brickbats aimed at ‘Khartoum’) for the outbreak of violence in the Nuba Mtns region; that’s if you exclude the standard bogus activist touchstone of the “next “Darfur”, with the (unintended?) consequence of clouding the issues at hand.

    Mr. Ferguson’s uninformed sentiments present the turbulence in S K as just typical, leftfield brutish behaviour by a racist and Arab supremacist Sudan Armed Forces (SAF), bearing down again on a completely innocent and whiter-than-white non-Arab group; this time the Nuba people. It isn’t anything of that kind: just look at how Abdul-Aziz Al-Hilu, a veteran Nuba SPLA commander-turned deputy governor, and other boneheads in the SPLM in South Kordofan have acted recently and judge for yourselves, Oxfam America website followers.

    It provides the crucial that Mr. Ferguson has excluded:

    S K held elections in May 2011 – a full thirteen months after the rest of the country had voted.

    Why so late??

    Al-Hilu and his ‘Hiluites’ in the SPLM had demanded a re-casting of the 2009 census in South Kordofan, claiming the NCP had rigged it (but didn’t offer up any convincing proof) Without a consensus on the census, the elections and, in turn, the popular consultation process for SK enshrined in the CPA, could not be rolled out.

    So, the NCP had little choice, other than to assent to Al Hilu’s demand for a new census in spite of the considerable financial expense that it would entail.

    Indeed, US taxpayers (quelle une surprise) footed a lot of that bill for the new census, as noted by USAID’s Rajakumari Jandhyala in her testimony to the House of Representatives on 6th June, 2011:

    “In Southern Kordofan, USAID provided comprehensive support for the state elections last month and processes leading up to the elections, including the 2010 Southern Kordofan census, electoral administration, voter education, political party participation, and election observation by international [e.g. the Carter Center – the world’s most respected poll watcher] and domestic observers.”

    American taxpayer-funded voter education missed out Al Hilu, however:

    “I win or I attack!” was a key election motto of his camp.

    Nice.

    Faced with imminent defeat by the NCP in both the state legislative and gubernatorial elections, Al-Hilu announced that he and the SPLM were pulling out immediately of the polls (now at the counting stage), claiming, quelle une surprise again, they had been rigged, too (but again offering no concrete evidence that would even have a serious material impact on the outturn).

    The Carter Center issued its unequivocal verdict on the S K polls:

    “Credible”.

    Al-Hilu then proceeded to thumb his nose at NCP incumbent and poll victor S K Governor, Ahmed Haroun, who, magnanimously, offered the conciliatory gesture of forming a broad-based government and, in turn, entrench the popular consultation process, with Al Hilu and the rest of the SPLM in S K; an arrangement that had worked so well in the run up the polls.

    Al-Hilu also pooh-poohed the Carter Center’s plea for ALL candidates to eschew violence as a means of challenging the outturn and, instead, take a legal route for raising claims of foul play; in other words, the destructive culture of victimhood in Sudan, cultivated so assiduously by US-based activists and, sadly, most INGOs, too, climbed another notch.

    Again.

    Hiluites subsequently raided a police station near Kadugli, the state capital, seized its weapons and began a wild shooting spree in Kadugli (including an assassination attempt on Governor Haroun’s convoy and the murder of a prominent local NCP official in cold blood). It spread quickly to Kauda and other areas in the Nuba Mountains, creating further mayhem for ordinary civilians and humanitarians alike, before Al-Hilu and his Hiluites dispersed to villages around the Mountains where they remained holed-up still.

    Concurrently, SAF had demanded in May 2011 the disarmament of all historically pro-southern forces in Southern Kordofan before southern independence on 9th July 2011; elements of the SPLA in S K responded by opening fire on disarmers from SAF.

    The demand to disarm and demobilise, however, wasn’t SAF rough-housing of the SPLA.

    It’s actually a REQUIREMENT of the CPA (both SAF and the SPLA withdrawing to the 1/1/1956 border between Sudan and South Sudan) that US journo-activists, INGOs, and the US and other Western governments have all wailed, fretted, and gnashed their teeth about in wondering (pessimistically) whether the NCP would uphold as separation of southern Sudan approaches.

    De-mobilised fully and disarmed they indeed MUST be (SPLA soldiers in South Kordofan and, indeed, Blue Nile state, too), ‘civilianised’, or incorporated into the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF). No government in the world, including the USA’s, would tolerate a non (domestic) state militia roaming freely around parts of a country, let alone one from a soon-to-be new neighbour.

    Indeed, the Assessment and Evaluation Commission (AEC), a watchdog body staffed by international stakeholders of the CPA, has confirmed repeatedly that SPLA has continued dragging its feet in redeploying to the 1/1/56 border, while SAF has completed it.

    Yet, be clear: nobody, including the NCP, has EVER said that SPLA soldiers in S K (or Blue Nile State) must leave; they are ‘northerners’ after all.

    Instead, the violence in S K and its sad impact on ordinary civilians there are the ‘north’ Sudan residue of the SPLM-intended consequences of separation of southern Sudan.
    They, the Government of South Sudan (GOSS) leadership in Juba, could clearly send the right message to “their fighters” like Al-Hilu in South Kordofan; i.e.:

    “De-commission immediately! We don’t want to jeopardise independence of South Sudan, and want peaceful relations between us and the north.”

    But they haven’t.

    Al-Hilu’s recent quote about his willingness to accept a ceasefire “I have to consult with [SPLM] Chairman Salva [Kirr – President of GOSS]” gave that game away somewhat.

    Put starkly, the recent violence in S K is the corollary of political posturing in extremis by GOSS; an attempt, if you like, to up the ante to the max in the ongoing post-secession negotiations with the NCP.

    In any case, the nub of the Hilluites’s grievance lies not with Haroun, President Al-Bashir or anybody else in the NCP:

    it lies with the SPLM leadership in Juba instead.

    The SPLM in South Kordofan and the rest of (non-south) Sudan has been left as a body without a head following the southern referendum: southern Sudanese members of the SPLM performed a right-angled turn away from the ‘New Sudan’ philosophy of the late Dr. John Garang in favour of the hasty rush to separation of South Sudan, leaving Abdul-Aziz Hilu and other leading lights of its ‘northern wing’ rudderless, demoralised, and fearful for their own political survival, going forward.

    That ‘betrayal’, no question, is what rankles most with Abdul-Aziz Hilu and his Hiluites in the Nuba Mountains. Southern Sudanese evidently didn’t care enough about the Nuba (or the Ingesanna of Blue Nile State), in spite of their many sacrifices that made the very option of a self-determination referendum for southern Sudan possible; see Malik Agar’s recent description in the NYT of a “cornered cat” as illustrative. (A kitten cast out from the rest of its litter would be a more appropriate analogy of the crisis of direction facing the SPLM’s Northern sector ahead of the south’s separation).

    So, there you have it:

    the context for SAF’s actions in S K that Mr. Ferguson excluded in his overly-emotional sop to the Nuba people.

    No “’cos I’m black that’s why they are after me”.

    No “ethnic cleansing”; odd how, for example, when the US tries (rightly) to flush out violent Islamist extremists from the Af-Pak border, nobody accuses Washington of trying to, e.g., ethnically cleanse the area of ALL Pashtuns; so where’s the difference with SAF in S K??

    Simple.

    There isn’t one.

    That’s the plain vanilla truth – in spite of the wholly predictable effort of many American journalists, NGOs, and activists to try to whitewash it and create something else.

    Like most ordinary Sudanese, I don’t want to see another single drop of blood of my countrymen and women spilt by war and wasted.

    So, do remember that the fundamental premise of the CPA (and the basis for sustainable peace, development and security for ALL Sudanese going forward ) was/is the rejection of violence in favour of airing perceived grievances and, in turn, resolving them through the political process and accompanying institutions of the state; that’s, unless, we all want Sudan to become like Palestine, where the views of regional and international actors have a bigger sway on how to resolve Palestinian grievances than, for example, the elected legislature of the Palestinian Authority, or, alternatively, with those Palestinian grievances against Israel being settled with the gun as a route of the first and preferred choice of local actors???

    No, Sudan cannot and will not become a warden of the international community like the issue of Palestine.

    To stop that from happening by stealth, however, the maxim of Von Clausewitz, war as a continuation of politics by other means, must be exorcised from the Sudanese landscape in its entirety; the time must end when NGOs and activists in USA and other Western countries re-shape the narrative, rally round and mollycoddle reflexively GOSS or any other group that picks up a stone and throws it at President Al-Bashir and the rest of the NCP as Mr. Ferguson has seemingly done.

    No ifs.

    No buts.

    In fact, no qualifiers at all, Oxfam America.

    No more violence.

    Period.

    Yes, period!

    If ordinary Americans and other westerners can, for example, accept that it’s wrong for Palestinians to resort to violence to challenge the Israeli status quo (hands up, Mr. Ferguson, do you support Hamas??? Exactly), then why should it be so difficult to extend that reasoning to Sudan???

    Please do share.

    Sudan cannot and will not become the world’s sole country where violent challenges to the state’s authority are acceptable or even commendable, Oxfam America; just look at the adverse impact on, and ask, ordinary Sudanese civilians caught up in the violence in S K.

    They certainly don’t think it is.

    Indeed, local (non-state) armed actors throughout Sudan have long recognised that legitimising internationally the launch of armed challenges against Khartoum requires, in tandem, the support of an always sympathetic ‘big brother’ standing by on call (read the USA, UK – ideally wearing blue helmets, too) ready to, at the very least, blackball reflexively any action by Khartoum to respond to such armed threats to its authority – as any state is entitled, nay required, for the safety of its citizens to do.

    Anarchy doesn’t rule OK in Sudan or anywhere else, Oxfam America.

    Be in no doubt Mr. Ferguson and others at Oxfam America:

    us ordinary Sudanese all want to see Sudan get to the finishing line (9th July 2011) in peace and usher in a new, lasting era of prosperity, security, cooperation, and stability for Sudan and ROSS going forward.

    Rallying round the maxim of Clausewitz for Sudan serves nobody here in the REAL Sudan apart from the warlords that raise their arms against ‘Khartoum’ (note Al-Hilu didn’t pause once to consider carefully the adverse impact on his fellow Nuba people of launching violence, and see, too, the ongoing refusal of Abdel Wahid Al-Nur to come to the international negotiating table eight years on after he launched war in Darfur).

    It – reflexive American cheerleading of Clausewitz here in Sudan but, not I note, South Sudan – has, instead, just bred, and institutionalised, a culture of victimhood in Sudan that’s inimical completely to social reconciliation (go figure – site of Africa’s longest ever civil war) sustained peace and nation-state building in ‘rump’ Sudan or ROSS.

    Violence begets violence, don’t you know, Ox Am??

    It (Sudan) is a country with real people.

    Challenging a state violently always has real-time consequences, on real people, and on real lives: you should know that more than most, Oxfam America.

    Sincerely,

    I Adam

    El Fasher

    Sudan

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  3.  avatarBob Ferguson

    My thanks to IAdam for his engagement. I am grateful to him for reading my blog with interest and responding with such passion.

    Whether my blog about Nuba culture “strayed into the realm of politics,” I will leave for other readers to decide. What I want to emphasize is that the omissions that IAdam cites were deliberate (although not intended to mislead as IAdam has inferred). My blog was not an exhaustive exploration of the geopolitics of Sudan. It was about a very small human moment. My interest in writing a blog (against the backdrop of growing violence in Sudan) was precisely to elevate the idea that politics and wars and governments can dwarf the very thing that fuels Oxfam’s work: our desire to see all people—in this case all Sudanese—have access to their rights and live lives free from violence. Like IAdam, “I don’t want to see another single drop of blood…spilt by war and wasted.” I do not want to “re-shape the narrative” of Sudan. Recounting what I had witnessed in Sudan reflected my belief in the Sudanese capacity to speak for themselves. It is the responsibility—indeed, the right—of the Sudanese people to author their collective narrative. IAdam’s opinions are one part of that larger story waiting to be told.

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