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Sudan’s ‘kanabi’ call for better housing, services

October 28 - 2020 KHARTOUM
The village of Kombo Aftas in El Gezira demolished by the authorities, April 25 2018 (RD)
The village of Kombo Aftas in El Gezira demolished by the authorities, April 25 2018 (RD)

About nine million Sudanese seasonal workers, united in the Kanabi Congress, want better housing and services.

In a press conference on Tuesday, Mustafa Deifallah, the Secretary of Civil Administration Affairs of the Kanabi Congress, called for transforming the settlements of the kanabi people* -traditionally seasonal ‘camp’ workers- in El Gezira and eastern Sudan into model towns and villages on state-owned lands.

About nine million kanabi are living in the states of Khartoum, El Gezira, Sennar, Blue Nile state, and Kassala, he said. Most of them are working in agriculture.

Deifallah referred to the reluctance of the former regime headed by ousted Omar Al Bashir to officially convert agricultural lands bought by kanabi residents of El Gezira and eastern Sudan into housing sites. “There are at least 300 new settlements the government did not agree to,” he said.

Jaafar Abdein, Secretary General of the Kanabi Congress, said that there are about 2.5 million kanabi living in El Gezira, in 2,095 ‘camps’.

He called for an investigation into the violence used against kanabi people in El Gezira in the past years, including the destruction of Kombo Aftas village by the authorities in 2018.

Abdein threatened to appeal to the United Nations to intervene and pressure the Sudanese government to arrange for retribution, if their demands are not met.

* Kanabi

Since 1925, when the El Gezira agricultural project was initiated by the British colonial powers, people moved from western parts of the country, including many from Darfur, to El Gezira as seasonal workers. They settled on the outskirts of villages and near irrigation channels and water banks. The settlements were called camps (kanabi).

As the successive El Gezira governments considered them temporary workers, they did not provide many services. Their lives can be characterised by poverty and isolation, due to government policies and to discrimination they face based on ethnicity and culture by the surrounding population.

According to figures presented in 2018 by Jaafar Abdein, Secretary General of the Kanabi Congress, the 2,495,000 kanabi living in El Gezira make up 39 per cent of the total population of the state.

Kanabi and other people from the western parts of the country also moved to eastern Sudan, in particular Sennar and El Gedaref, to work at the many farms there.

The Sudan Liberation Movement headed by Minni Minawi (SLM-MM) has adopted the case. In November 2019, a meeting in Khartoum attended by leaders of the Sudan Liberation Movement led by Minni Minawi (SLM-MM) and Sovereign Council member Mohamed El Taayshi, the head of the Kanabi Congress stressed the need to document the kanabi case, and to provide better housing for the workers and their families.

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