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Minorities At Risk Project: Home    

Assessment for Nuba in Sudan

View Group Chronology

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 is 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 (RACE = 3). 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 = 1) 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 = -99). They are most bound by their common history of oppression, geographic location (GROUPCON = 3) and similar cultural traditions (CUSTOM = 1), including traditional religious beliefs (specifically, the observance of the Kujur faith and the traditional healer or tribal priest with magical powers), unique sowing and harvesting festivals and certain marriage rules that are syncretized with Christian and Muslim belief.

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 jihad 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 were 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 (POLDIS06 = 4; ECDIS06 = 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 and 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. Also in 2004, the Sudanese central Government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement extended a cease-fire agreement in the Nuba Mountain region, which allowed for six additional months of cease-fire. Humanitarian aid has been reaching the region on a somewhat consistent basis, with an increase in de-mining efforts, supported by the governments of Japan and Mozambique (STAMATSUP04-06 =1) and development projects. Thousands of Nuba have returned from other areas of Sudan since the ceasefire. The concern now is whether or not the Nuba who fled the area during the civil war will return home following said peace agreements and find their homes and land inhabited by other people (mainly Northern Kordafans) or confiscated by the Government. Necessarily, 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. There is a sense of betrayal regarding the Sudanese Peace Accord, and the fact that the Nuba who for 21 years fought side by side with the SPLM/A for the right to self-determination and religious and economic freedom will be denied the opportunity to vote for succession, defined unequivocally as "Northerners".

Given their history of oppression, most Nuba want autonomy with widespread powers, while some have sought the right to self-determination up to secession (POLGR06 = 4). 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). The death of Sudanese Vice President and ex-rebel leader Dr. John Garang on July 30, 2005, will pose a major obstacle to the efforts of Southern Sudan in realizing its right to national self-determination and democracy. Still, the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act of 2006 (DPAA) signed into law by President Bush on October 13, 2006, offers hope for the future of Sudan.



Africa News. 4/6/2005. "After 21 Years of Fighting, the Nuba Feel Betrayed."

Africa News. 8/17/2005. "Difficult Times Lie Ahead for Sudan Peace Accord After Death of Garang."

Lexis-Nexis. Various news reports. 1990-2006.

Nuba Survival. 12/2005. "Nuba Land Rights."

Pantuliano, Sara. 2005. "Changes and Potential Resiliencies of Food Systems in the Nuba Mountains Conflict.", accessed 4/21/2008.

U.S. Department of State. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Sudan. 2000-2006.


© 2004 - 2022 • Minorities At Risk Project

Information current as of December 31, 2006