Dr. Mohamed Suliman
Resource access, identity and armed conflict in the Nuba Mountains
Abstract: Since 1987, a violent conflict between the Nuba people of southern Kordofan and government forces supported by indigenous Arab Baggara has been raging in the Nuba Mountains. The armed conflict has brought great misery to the inhabitants of the mountains, especially the Nuba and has had a severe impact on relations between the Nuba and Baggara, who have shared the mountains in uneasy peace and guarded cooperation for the last 200 years. The government persuaded the Baggara to join its crusade against the Nuba by giving them arms and promising them Nuba lands after a quick victory. The Baggara, intoxicated by military power and greed, rejected all calls for peace with the Nuba. The war continued unabated for years. The Baggara lost some of their traditional lands, many men, and animals. Their trade with the Nuba collapsed. Losses forced the Baggara in several areas to negotiate peace with the Nuba. This chapter attempts to explain the complex web of cooperation and conflict that binds the Nuba and the Baggara. It also documents three peace agreements reached between the two warring groups.
The conventional assumption that violent conflict in Africa emanates from ethnic, religious, or cultural differences is limited and misleading. In the Sudan, scarcity, resulting from denying or limiting access to natural resources and from growing environmental degradation, stands out as probably the most important factor behind the conflicts raging in the country today. However, identity issues e.g. ethnic, religious, and cultural dichotomies, are strong in people’s minds. That is why the longer a conflict persists, the more these factors come into play. In a prolonged conflict, when the initial causes have diminished or faded away, abstract, ideological identity can become a material and social force in its own right. Perception becomes reality and what was a consequence inverts to become a true cause of enduring conflicts.
Ecological degradation can act as a cause or catalyst of violent conflict (Beachler 1993; Homer-Dixon 1994). However, focusing solely on the degradation of the natural resource base tends to limit conflict resolution to tackling the prevailing ecological degradation, whether it is land-use, human and animal population growth, soil erosion, climatic variations etc. Proposed resolution mechanisms are thus more technical than economic, political or cultural: better water management, soil conservation, reforestation, family planning, etc. The crucial issues of the economy, the state, politics and identity are inadvertently pushed aside. Persistent inequity in resource allocation, which is inherently political and economic, and the role of the beneficiaries and perpetrators of the status quo are thus taken out of the limelight. However, in all group conflicts we scrutinized in the Sudan, access to natural and social resources expressed in terms of justice, fairness, equitable sharing, and equal development was the primary concern of people in arms.