Situation in West Kordofan remains tense, ACJPS fears consequences for the region

The situation in Abu Zabad in West Kordofan remains tense following tribal clashes between Hamar and Misseriya over the weekend. Leaders of both tribes in Khartoum have formed a committee to reconcile the warring sides. The African Center for Justice and Peace Studies has warned of the effects of the hostilities on the region.

Herders guide their cattle to a water point in the Khor Abeche camp, South Darfur (Albert González Farran / UNAMID)

The situation in Abu Zabad in West Kordofan remains tense following tribal clashes between Hamar and Misseriya over the weekend. Leaders of both tribes in Khartoum have formed a committee to reconcile the warring sides. The African Center for Justice and Peace Studies has warned of the effects of the hostilities on the region.

Following a conflict concerning the demarcation of the border between the Hamar and Misseriya nomad tribes in the area, fighting broke out in Abu Zabad town on Saturday. The clashes that lasted until Monday morning, left at least five people dead. More than 20 others were injured.

Activist El Manna Mohamed told Radio Dabanga from Abu Zabad yesterday that the security situation is still tense, in particular in the northern part of the town where most of the fighting took place, heavy artillery was used, and houses were plundered.

The curfew from 17:00 until 6:00, imposed on Monday, and the deployment of government forces in the town have calmed the situation a little bit, he said. Some shops and government institutions reopened their doors again. Native administration* leaders from both parties to the conflict are working hard to contain the situation.

“Yet, there are large groups of tribesmen from both sides lingering in the town, in particular in the Sangaa neigbourhood in the north of Abu Zabad,” Mohamed added. “It is still quite a chaos.”

He said that the residents of Abu Zabad are terrified, as many were attacked inside their homes, and most of the joint forces are stationed in the outskirts of the town. A large number of people fled to El Sunut in the south or to El Obeid, capital of North Kordofan, in the east.

Mohamed further criticised the government and native administration leaders for their delayed responses and not taking sufficient measures to prevent the bloodshed.

Hamar and Misseriya leaders in Khartoum on Tuesday set up a joint reconciliation committee for the settlement of the conflict “through procedural steps”. In a meeting with young members of both tribes in Khartoum on Tuesday evening, they said that the process of demarcation of the border “should not trigger war between the two tribes and should be resolved by wisdom, the law, and the native administration in the area”.

The committee will develop proposals for the demarcation, in cooperation with Hamar and Misseriya leaders, representatives of the federal government, and the authorities in West Kordofan. It also plans to launch programmes that support peaceful coexistence.

Unilateral decisions

The problems between the two Arab nomad tribes started in July, when the West Kordofan Security Committee and Misseriya leaders formed an unilateral committee to demarcate the borders between El Sunut, dominated by Misseriya, and En Nehoud, mostly populated by Hamar, without notifying the latter.

Hamar Nazir Abdelgader Mansour told Radio Dabanga in August that the demarcation would almost certianly lead to expropriation of large areas of land belonging to the Hamar, in favour of the Misseriya.

Despite Hamar requests to discuss the issue, the unilateral committee proceeded to redefine the borders. The Hamar then launched a number of protests in the state, including the closure of the En Nehoud-El Obeid road and sent a delegation to Khartoum to bring the matter before the Sovereignty Council.

Sovereignty Council member Shamseldin El Kabbashi responded on August 31 by suspending the demarcation process.

Consequences of the conflict

In a report published on Tuesday, the New York-based African Center for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS) expressed its concern about the consequences of the conflict for the southern parts of Kordofan.  

The ACJPS refers to earlier clashes between the Hamar and Misseriya over land disputes, and mentions that demarcation of the area of El Deweika at the border between En Nehoud and El Sunut began in July, with the aim to prevent renewed fighting between the two tribes. The demarcation committee stated  that the Sudanese government remains the owner of the lands in the contested area. Both parties can use the land without conflict pertaining to ownership.

Yet, the unilateral demarcation committee by the West Kordofan Security Committee and Misseriya leaders and the suspension of the process on the request of the Hamar led to more tensions. On Saturday, when Hamar wanted to remove a signboard placed by Misseriya tribesmen in Abu Zabad that said the town belongs to them, fierce fighting erupted that continued to Monday morning.

If the conflict is not contained, it may have serious repercussions in the region, in particular on the Arab nomads in West and South Kordofan, the Center states. “The damage on both people and livestock will be severe as the people in West Kordofan are nomads and depend on pasture tracks to feed their animals.”

Any negative developments in West Kordofan will affect neighbouring South Kordofan in the same way, because the pasture tracks go through South Kordofan. This may cause the Hawazma herders in South Kordofan to form an alliance with the Misseriya to violently solve land conflicts in the western parts of the state.

The problems may also increase when Misseriya want to graze their livestock at the border in Abyei, where the Dinka Ngog will probably ban them from accessing the pasture tracks through their lands.

The ACJPS further explains that the current tensions in West Kordofan are as well caused by conflicting affiliations as the Arab tribes in the areas are affiliated to different militias such as the officially dissolved Popular Defence Forces and the Rapid Support Forces.


En Nehoud, Abu Zabad, and El Sunut localities (UN OCHA map of West Kordofan)


Misseriya complaints

Since 1997, land used by Misseriya in West Kordofan is affected by the discovery of oil. The land around oil fields became inaccessible for the cattle herders, and the Misseriya were hardly compensated for the loss.

Last Thursday, members of the Misseriya Native Administration Coordination Committee held a press conference in Khartoum, in which they threatened to close oil fields and the roads in West Kordofan and block pipelines transporting petrol from South Sudan, in case the federal government would not respond to their demands for more security and development in the region.

In addition, the committee called on Gen Abdelfattah El Burhan, head of the Sovereignty Council, to remove “the Kordofan political and security files” from Gen El Kabbashi. They accused El Kabbashi of siding with “certain parties”.

As for the insecurity in the region, the committee reported that 130 Misseriya oil workers have been killed since the beginning of this year due to conflicts in Kordofan oil fields.

A number of Misseriya herders were abducted by Nuba and Hawazma tribesmen across the border with South Kordofan. Misseriya leaders themselves have taken up contact with their counterparts among the Nuba tribes and the Hawazma for their release, to no avail. The committee criticised the Sudanese government's “lack of interest in the file of the abductees” and called on the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to intervene and help release the abductees.

Separately, the Misseriya accused South Sudanese army soldiers of attacking a number of their tribesmen at the border earlier this year. They said that the soldiers lured 11 Misseriya herdsmen tracking down stolen cows to areas under their control, killed two of the herders and abducted nine others.

* The Native Administration was instituted by British colonial authorities seeking a pragmatic system of governance that allowed for effective control with limited investment and oversight by the state. The new native system also took on new responsibilities for executing policies, collecting taxes, and mobilising labour on behalf of the central government. According to the Darfur Bar Association (DBA), the Native Administration during the 30-year rule of dictator Omar Al Bashir did not represent the real local leaders: “It was only a tool used by ousted President Omar Al Bashir until his last days in power to prevent the escalation of the uprising.”