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Assessment for Nuba in Sudan

Publisher Minorities at Risk Project
Publication Date 31 December 2003
Cite as Minorities at Risk Project, Assessment for Nuba in Sudan, 31 December 2003, available at: [accessed 19 April 2015]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Sudan Facts
Area:    2,505,810 sq. km.
Capital:    Khartoum
Total Population:    28,900,000 (source: unknown, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

Although a ceasefire held from 2002 until the signing of a final peace agreement in 2004, the future of the Nuba remains uncertain. Unlike the provinces of Southern Sudan, the Nuba mountain region will not have the option of self-determination and will be viewed as an integral part of northern Sudan. The Nuba occupy a precarious position as a buffer zone between North and South Sudan. While politically aligned with Southern Sudanese, they are geographically located in an area considered part of Northern Sudan. The agreement with the South has considerably weakened the position of the Nuba. Although high intensity rebellion in unlikely in the near future, the Nuba do still exhibit several risk indicators for rebellion, including a high level of territorial concentration, strong group cohesion and a relatively high level of group organization. It is still too early to determine if the Nuba will be effectively integrated politically under the final peace agreement and if they will be allowed to maintain their cultural identity, a primary concern of the group.

Analytic Summary

The Nuba are a conglomeration of around 50 ethnic groups who are among the oldest inhabitants of Sudan (TRADITN = 1). Arab conquest pushed those Nuba not wishing to conform to Arabicized lifestyles to the region of South Kordofan, into the Nuba Mountains. The Nuba, who can be as linguistically distinct from each other as from other groups in Sudan (LANG = 2) began to coalesce around a Nuba identity in response to pressures to Islamicize and Arabicize from the north. The Nuba are also religiously diverse, with group members who follow Islam, Christianity and traditional religions (BELIEF = 2). They are most bound by their common history of oppression, geographic location (GROUPCON = 3) and similar cultural traditions (CUSTOM = 1).

Arab farmers and traders began to encroach on Nuba lands in South Kordofan in the early 1970s. Increased cultural control was also instituted in the 1970s, as Nuba were coerced into abandoning cultural traditions (in particular, nudity) and into adapting Islam and Islamic/Arab cultural values. Nuba resistance was low-key in the early and mid 1980s, but by 1989, many Nuba had allied themselves with the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement/Army, a Southern Sudanese group pushing for widespread autonomy or outright independence. While the SPLA is not an indigenous Nuba movement, it has garnered widespread support among the Nuba, who fight alongside Southern Sudanese not only in their home region but also in other contested areas.

In 1992, the governor of Southern Sudan declared jiihad on the Nuba (despite the fact that some Nuba are Muslims), a policy that has resulted in genocidal attacks on Nuba villages and especially SPLM/A strongholds in the mountains. Those Nuba who were not killed, were rounded up into "peace camps" where they are reportedly subjected to cultural pressures to Islamicize. Women have also reported rape, allegedly as part of a program of ethnic cleansing. By the end of 1998, the government had forcibly moved about half the population of the Nuba Mountains into these camps, while about a quarter of a million people continued to live in areas under SPLA control (POLDIS03 = 4; ECDIS03 = 4). The Sudanese government has also routinely denied international humanitarian aid organizations access to the SPLA-held areas in the Nuba Mountains, although it did allow a UN assessment team to conduct a survey in 1999 and allowed a polio vaccination campaign in the same year. The government's policy of only allowing humanitarian access to government-run "peace camps" has effectively starved some Nuba into leaving SPLA-held areas. Between 100,000-200,000 Nuba have lost their lives or disappeared from the Nuba Mountains since 1989.

The situation of the Nuba has improved marginally since the implementation of a ceasefire in 2002 and the signing of a final peace agreement in 2004. Humanitarian aid has been reaching the region on a somewhat consistent basis, with an increase in demining efforts and development projects. Thousands of Nuba have returned from other areas of Sudan since the ceasefire. However, the future of the Nuba remains somewhat precarious. Many of the protections – including the right to vote on secession in 2010 – given to Southern Sudanese were not extended to the Nuba, whose region was construed as an integral part of northern Sudan in the final peace agreement.

Given their history of oppression, most Nuba want autonomy with widespread powers. Perhaps their most significant grievances center on cultural oppression, as most Nuba want to maintain their cultural traditions (which are somewhat separate from religious practice). They also want to maintain the territorial integrity of their traditional homeland, the Nuba Mountains, from encroachment by Northern settlers and commercial interests. Nuba alignment with the SPLA/M has also resulted in preferences for outright secession, especially should Southern Sudan secede (SEPX = 3).



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