• Friday, 22 September 2023
The conflict in south Sudan has left deep scars.

The conflict in south Sudan has left deep scars.

Sudanese farmer Ayoub Haroun sought refuge in a school after his family was massacred and his home was set on fire, joining the tens of thousands fleeing recent bitter ethnic conflict.

Last month, rival groups fought in a complex conflict involving deep-seated grievances, land control, and battles for power in Sudan's Blue Nile state, killing at least 105 people and injuring scores more.

"The gunfire was constant, all day long every day," said Haroun, who is now taking refuge in a former school in Blue Nile's Damazin city, about 450 kilometers (280 miles) south of Khartoum.

While the violence was the culmination of long-simmering ethnic tensions – between the Hausa and other rival groups such as the Barta – it also highlighted a wider security breakdown since a military coup led by army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan last year.

 Since the October coup, regular pro-democracy demonstrations across the country have been met with a security crackdown that has resulted in the deaths of at least 116 people.

Before the unrest in Blue Nile, months of ethnic clashes in Darfur's western region had killed hundreds of people.

"We had no choice but to defend our lands," Al-Jaily Abdalla of the Hamaj people said. "Our homes were burned to the ground, destruction spread everywhere, and multiple people died."


Haroun, a Hausa, was one of 31,000 people forced to flee their homes on both sides, according to the United Nations.

"My brother and nephew were killed, and my home, as well as the homes of the rest of my family," he explained.

Each side accuses the other of starting the violence and accuses the government of supporting the other.


The clashes sparked outrage across Sudan, with Hausas demanding justice for those killed.


Other protests in the impoverished northeast African nation called for "unity" and an end to tribalism.


Senior leaders from rival groups agreed to a cease-fire in late July, but a more permanent peace agreement and reconciliation are required.


Blue Nile, which borders South Sudan and Ethiopia, is still struggling to rebuild after decades of civil war.

Conflict raged there from the mid-1990s to 2005, then erupted again in 2011 when ethnic minority rebels clashed with hardline president Omar al-Bashir.

Following Bashir's ouster in 2019, rebels including Blue Nile signed a peace deal, the latest in a series of agreements aimed at bringing the conflict to an end.


Tensions between ethnic groups

Sudanese pro-democracy demonstrators have accused Sudan's military leadership and ex-rebel leaders who signed the 2020 peace treaty of exacerbating ethnic tensions in Blue Nile for personal gain. Such accusations have been refuted by authorities.


Since the clashes, there has been an increase in calls to suspend the agreement.


"It didn't bring any peace," said Obeid Abu Shotal, a Barta leader who regards the Hausa as a non-indigenous group.

However, today's conflict is less about fighting the government and more about who has the right to the land.

According to the International Crisis Group think tank, the Hausa people, who are prominent in West Africa, began arriving in Blue Nile over a century ago "in search of grazing lands for their cattle."


Today, approximately three million Sudanese are Hausa, a people known for their farming prowess.


However, tensions remain among groups who claim ownership of the land, and violence erupted when Hausa elders asked civil authorities to manage their affairs, according to Hausa leader Abdelaziz al-Nour.

Some saw it as a way to seize the land.

"Blue Nile land is a red line for us," said senior Barta leader Abu Shotal, insisting that it "only belongs to the original people" of the region.


A heavy deployment of troops was sent to Damazin, the state capital, to restore calm, and an overnight curfew remains in effect.


Some shops in the market are still closed, while others show signs of damage from the fighting.


"The market used to be busy," said Mohamed Adam, the owner of a grocery store. "Now there is much less work, and everyone has left."


Haroun, who is living in a school and mourning the loss of his family members, simply wants to rebuild his life.


"All we want is for things to return to normal,"he said