May 25, 2023

“All the churches were destroyed by the Sudanese government”

The Nuba Mountains region of Sudan is home to a largely Christian population that suffered oppression under the former Islamist dictatorship in Khartoum. Franco Majok, CSI project manager for South Sudan, visited the Nuba Mountains in February 2023. In this interview, he explains the background to the conflict and describes the threat facing the people.

CSI's Franco Majok visited Christian villages in Sudan's Nuba Mountains. csi

CSI’s Franco Majok visited Christian communities in the Nuba Mountains. csi


CSI: The Nuba Mountains region in South Kordofan state borders South Sudan and has a sizeable Christian population. Why is this region part of Sudan and not South Sudan? 

Franco Majok: The Nuba Mountains have not historically been considered part of southern Sudan. The second Sudanese civil war (1983-2005), between the central Sudanese government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), spread to the Nuba Mountains, whose people largely sided with the SPLA. When a peace agreement was reached in 2005, southern Sudan was offered an independence referendum if the warring parties failed to agree on a model for a unified Sudan. Although a special protocol was negotiated for South Kordofan, the possibility of it joining the south in an independence referendum was ruled out. 

In 2011, war broke out in South Kordofan. Why? 

Partly, this is related to South Kordofan’s lack of self-determination. But also, the Sudanese government had issued an ultimatum to the SPLA, which had had a foothold in the Nuba region since the late 1980s, to withdraw its troops from the state by June 2011. When this didn’t happen, Sudanese government forces (SAF) attacked SPLA positions, initiating a brutal war, including indiscriminate airstrikes and the use of starvation as a weapon of war. In many ways, this conflict was a continuation of the civil war, with the difference that as of July 2011 the south of Sudan had become independent. 

In 2016, a cessation of hostilities agreement came into force between government forces and the SPLA. [The SPLA-North now controls much of the Nuba Mountains.] But the peace is shaky. I think the level of mistrust of the population in South Kordofan in general, and of Christians in particular, has deepened. The Sudanese government has always broken its agreements in the past. 

There are repeated attacks, most recently against the Nuba people in Kadugli, the capital of South Kordofan, which is under the control of Sudanese forces. In the latest attack, an American citizen of Nuba origin was shot dead. It is clear that the Christian and indigenous communities in the Nuba Mountains are still targeted by the SAF. What will happen next given the renewed instability in Sudan is uncertain. [On April 15, fierce fighting broke out in Sudan’s capital between the country’s army, led by Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and the government’s “Rapid Support Forces,” led by Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (Hemetti).] 

In February 2023, you were in South Kordofan for the first time. Which area did you visit? 

I visited the Tobo district of South Kordofan. It is an area where predominantly Christians live. 

I wanted to meet with the Christians whose lives are threatened. They need our solidarity. Nobody knows what will happen to them in the future. 

What was your general impression? 

The inhabitants are very poor and live extremely simply. They are desperate for help. There are few schools and access to medical care is limited. All the churches have been damaged by government forces. 

In addition, people are currently suffering from malnutrition due to the poor harvest during the last rainy season. If no aid is provided in the next few months, a humanitarian disaster could again occur in the Nuba Mountains. 

What help is CSI providing? 

The people need food, clean water, medical help and support for farming. CSI will provide this assistance. We are starting to provide support in Tobo district. Our goal is to reach about 2,000 people. We have trusted project partners on the ground through whom we have been able to provide food to those in need in previous years. 

What political solution do you see for the Christians of South Kordofan? 

Either a secular government will come to power in Sudan, bringing peace, or a referendum will be held, whereby South Kordofan and neighboring Blue Nile state would secede from Sudan. If the current situation continues, it is probably only a matter of time before war breaks out again. 

Interview: Reto Baliarda 

Map showing South Kordofan. Wikimedia Commons
Map showing South Kordofan. Wikimedia Commons

Comment by CSI International President John Eibner

Five years ago, the streets of Khartoum were full of jubilation. The military had overthrown Sudan’s brutal Islamist dictator, Omar al-Bashir. Fast forward to April 2023: Khartoum is the scene of bloody civil war, with bombs and bullets terrorizing civilians. No one is safe. Everyone fears for the future.

The fierce fighting in Sudan’s capital marks an escalation of a long running power struggle between the country transitional president and head of the army, Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and its transitional vice-president and head of the Rapid Support Forces Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (Hemetti). They represent two sides of the same military coin. No ideological or religious differences between them. Both speak the language of democracy and human rights but have grisly human rights records. But both are also driven to dominate Sudan’s government and economy.

So far, Sudan’s disadvantaged Christian minority has not been targeted for violence by either side. But their future remains uncertain in this volatile Muslim majority country with a long history of violent jihad. The longer the civil war continues and the more widespread it becomes, the more likely is the prospect of jihadist terrorists reestablishing an active presence in a country that once hosted Osama bin Laden. Foreign powers may also use the breakdown of the Sudanese state to extend their proxy wars there. A new imperial “Scramble for Africa”, involving the United States and NATO allies, Russia and China is well underway and has potential for exacerbating violence in mineral rich Sudan.

This conflict does not bode well for Sudan’s civilians, whatever their race, tribe or religion. But, as always, the weakest elements of society suffer most, and Sudan’s vulnerable Christians number among them.

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