Sudan’s floods and political discord

Haitham Nouri , Friday 26 Aug 2022

As if political challenges and conflicts weren’t enough for Sudan, the rainy season ­— from June to September — has wreaked havoc in one of Africa’s richest-poorest countries.

Sudan s floods  and political discord
photo: AFP


With thousands of victims and damages of hundreds of millions of dollars every year, the losses in central Sudan are looking less and less reparable.

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), more than 38,000 people have been affected by the floods caused by rising Nile levels due to what is popularly called in Sudan “autumn rain”. Some 11,000 families lost their homes in the central regions (notably Al-Manaqil in Al-Jazeera state, south of Khartoum), the Nile River state, north of the capital, and the Gash River areas in Kassala state, in the east, and more than 20,000 other houses were partially damaged.

Until the end of last week, nearly 80 people had lost their lives to the floods, while hundreds of acres of agricultural land were inundated and 33 health and educational facilities ceased operations.

Residents of Al-Jazeera, the Nile, and Kassala states complain of the lack of any aid to help them face the annual disaster. According to OCHA estimates, last year more than 314,000 people were affected by the floods.

The government and the Sovereignty Council were widely criticised for their inability to help millions of Sudanese people in the affected areas.

According to Moussa Abdel-Mahmoud, a journalist in Khartoum, “when we went to report from Al-Manaqil, we found it difficult to reach the affected areas because the water isolated them from the main roads.”

Sudan suffers from poor infrastructure, with entire regions lacking any paved roads.

“It is much worse in the Nile state. Entire villages have been completely destroyed, some 14 or 16 of them,” Abdel-Mahmoud added.

“When it rains it pours, so they say, and in Sudan the floods were preceded weeks earlier by conflicts in the Blue Nile state between the Hausa on one side and the Berta and the Funj on the other,” he continued. More than 100 people died in the skirmishes.

The fight erupted when the Hausa demanded their own, independent land tenure system, angering their opponents. With the first disagreement over the ownership of a plot of land, the fights broke out.

The land tenure system is a tribal scheme for the ownership of land in Sudan. The system was abolished in areas overlooking the Nile in north and central Sudan but remained effective in the west, east, and south, explained Fayez Al-Salik, who served as a media adviser to former prime minister Abdallah Hamdok.

“The problem with the Hausa’s demand is that they came to the area long after the Berta and Funj who had been the owners of the land there for centuries,” added Al-Salik, who estimates the number of Hausa people at around two-three million across Sudan. Many Hausa came from west Africa on their way to the pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia but settled in Sudan before or after performing Hajj due to lucrative irrigation projects, he pointed out.

Normally, the hosting tribe would deny their guests the right to land ownership. The latter pay money for usufruct to cultivate lands, as is the case with the Hausa and with herding tribes in east and west Sudan.

The government’s agreement to the Hausa’s demand means that the Berta and Funj will not receive money in return for leasing the land. “Complicating the matter even further is the fact that many Berta and Funj members have joined the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, which could add a political dimension to the conflict,” Al-Salik said.

The Blue Nile state was not the only party in what the Sudanese media dub “tribal conflict”, but the fight saw the participation of the Darfur region to the west as well.

Last week the West Darfur state saw conflicts between the non-Arab farmers of the Qomr tribe and others from the Rozayqat, an Arab herding tribe to whom belongs leader of the Rapid Support Forces and Vice President of the Sovereignty Council in Khartoum Mohamed Dagalo, aka Hemedti.

According to international reports, non-Arab groups are often not on a par with the Arab pastoral tribes armed by the government of ousted president Omar Al-Bashir to help him suppress the demands of the people of Darfur.

Although the fights between Arab tribesmen against their neighbours of non-Arab farmers go back to the government of late prime minister Al-Sadiq Al-Mahdi (1986-1989), the era of Al-Bashir witnessed a significant expansion in their number and organisation.

Many people accuse the Rapid Support Forces of being the same Janjaweed troops who have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur since the bloody conflict began in 2003. The conflict killed 300,000 people and forced millions to leave their homes, according to UN estimates.

The region is suffering from a security vacuum, especially after the end of the mission of the United Nations peacekeeping force following the signing of a peace agreement between the armed factions and the central government in 2020.

The UN estimates that 20 million out of a total of 45 million Sudanese will suffer from food insecurity by the end of the year, including 3.3 million displaced people, most of whom reside in Darfur.

Since early August, Khartoum has been preoccupied with Hemedti’s statements about “the failure to correct the course of the revolution” and that the army “wants to withdraw from the political scene and devote itself to national tasks”.

The controversy began with Hemedti saying in late July that the Sovereignty Council decided to “leave the rule to civilians and devote the army to national tasks,” calling on political forces to form a government of “independent technocrats representing all forces in the country to emerge out of the crisis.”

A few days later Hemedti said: “Unfortunately, we were not successful at change for reasons I will not discuss now. When you think about change, you have a goal and a vision. But, alas, what was planned has failed and now we are heading towards worse conditions.”

Hemedti did not respond directly to the question of whether he was planning to run in the elections which many people considered “a manoeuvre no one will buy.”

“It appears that Hemedti’s statements were the result of disagreements with the army leaders,” according to Al-Salik. “Hemedti has been settling for weeks at Geneina city, west Darfur, due to his discord with head of the Sovereignty Council and leader of the Armed Forces Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan.”

Hemedti’s office said he headed to Darfur to take part in tribal reconciliation talks and would remain there for three months, Al-Salik pointed out.

“There are many issues that require Hemedti to stay in Darfur, including tensions at the borders with Ethiopia, the complicated economic conditions, and the ongoing protests against the military takeover since 2021,” he added.

“I don’t know the extent of the disagreements between Hemedti and the army,” he said, “but they could be heading towards perpetual discord.”

The speed at which these two Sudanese parties are falling out is alarming, particularly because they are both armed.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 25 August, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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