The Invisible War New Yorker Jan 25th 1999 50
THEY are raiders." That was the first description I heard of the armed Toposa tribesmen stand ing in the thorn scrub, silently watch ing our truck pass. "They come to raid goats and cattle from the Turkana," said Samuel Siwiyu. "If they are unsuccess ful, then they want to hijack us." The raiders - two ragged, barefoot figures with greased long hair and with Kalashnikovs on their backs-did not move as we slowly ground past them. I had caught a ride earlier that morning from northern Kenya-where the semi-nomadic Turkana into southern Sudan with two down-country Kenyans, Siwiyu and Peter Walmalwa. They were modem guys, working for a freight firm that hauls food for international relief groups into Sudan. Walmalwa, thirty-nine and muscular, was the driver; Siwiyu, twenty-three, was his "turn boy," or assistant. Today they were carrying sorghum for Catholic Relief Services to a village called New Cush, in the Didinga Hills. I'd been interested in seeing New Cush, because I had heard that it was an odd place. Now, though, I was suddenly interested in the Toposa, the gun-toting nomads whose arid, impressively deserted country we were driving through. We saw one or two of them every few miles, and my companions' descriptions were casually contradictory. "They are warriors.'7 "They are collaborators with the Arabs." "They are hunters." These were all educated guesses, each perhaps partly true, but together they managed to suggest, I thought, the endlessly unstable quality of identity, cultural, political, military-in southern Sudan. "The Arabs" meant the Sudanese government, whose capital was in far< away Khartoum. Since Sudan gained its independence, in 1956, "the Arabs"- that is, a long series of Mushm-led governments, civilian and military, elected and otherwise-have been fighting a civil war against non-Mushm black rebels in the South. (The only significant break in the fighting lasted from 1972 to 1983.) At present, the government controls fittle territory in the southern third of the country mainly just a string of garrison towns-and the rebels of the Sudanese People's Liberation Army largely hold sway there. But my Kenyan exegetes were right: Khartoum had armed some of the Toposa and encouraged them to attack anybody sympathetic to the S.P.L.A. There are said to be six hundred ethnic groups in Sudan, speaking some four hundred languages, and it suits the government to have a maximum number of armed bands roaming around, raiding their neighbors and generally preventing the South from forming a united front against the North. Obscure, chaotic, and low-tech as it is, the civil war in Sudan is a disaster of historic proportions. Altogether, it has killed more than two million people, according to the latest figures-by some estimates, more than any other conflict since the Second World War. The great majority of the dead have been civilians in the South. Partly because southem Sudan is one of the world's poorest, least accessible regions, news coverage of the war has been light. I recently made four trips into the South, hitching lifts from a different group each time, and I usually felt as if I were just catching glimpses, from behind thick glass, of an immense panorama of struggle and suffering which defied neat interpretation. Certainly this truck ride to New Cush was like that. We had been travelling since we crossed the border with an S.PL.A. "escort": a single soldier, riding on top of the trucles cab. Seen from up close, the soldier wasn't much-a scrawny kid with the facial scars (horizontal lines on his forehead) of a Nuer tribesman, fifteen years old at the most, dressed in rags. But he kept his assault rifle on display and seemed to have the desired deterrent effect on the Toposa gunmen. Some basic things shift when you enter southern Sudan. Back at the border, for instance, I had seen a crowd standing around a rough hut. The people wore rags, and I assumed that they were displaced peasants, fleeing the war or recent floods on the Nile or perhaps the famine in Bahr al-Ghazal, hundreds of miles to the northwest. Siwiyu had chuckled at my speculations. "No, they are businesspeople," he said. The privations of Efe in southem Sudan can make even businesspeople look like homeless waifs. An antelope darted off the road. Shrikes with big, cruel-looking beaks perched in the infrequent trees. Then our young military escort lowered his head into the cab and informed me that I would be arrested at Natinga, the next village. I hoped I had misunderstood him. I asked him to repeat his announcement. He explained, in mangled but unambiguous English, that the papers I had shown at the border-which I had obtained from an S.P L.A. office in Nairobi, and which gave me, I thought, permission to travel in 'New Sudan' re in fact not in order. So I would be arrested when we reached Natinga. He returned to his perch on the roof S.PL.A. jails are notorious, even in southern Sudan, for their discomfort. Many are just pits in the ground. I had used my permit from Nairobi to travel in other parts of S.P.L.A.-controlled New Sudan. Why was it suddenly not in order? At Natinga, we crawled up a rough track between rows of thatched huts, past staring, phlegmatic @rs. This, I noted listlessly, was no longer Toposa country. These people were Diding farmers as well as herders. Apparently not hijackers. Boulder-covered hills rose around us. Finally, we came to an S.P L.A. roadblockOur escort climbed off the truck and began to confer with the soldiers at the roadblock. People turned and studied me, the kbawadja smiling strangely in the cab. Voices rose. Then, to my astonishment, our escort was abruptly cuffed across the side of the head by a bigger, older soldier and was roughly relieved of his rifle. My companions, the Kenyans, laughed. Eventually, the log blocking our way was moved and we proceeded into the hills-with our young escort back on the roof, although now he had no gun. Nobody had even spoken to me. I asked Walmalwa and Siwiyu what had happened at Natinga. "That boy deserted twice already," Siwiyu said. "When the Arabs drop their bombs, he runs away. He goes to Kenya and sells his gun. Each time, they catch him. Now he cannot be trusted with a weapon." The road became ridiculous. Our truck, which had many extra-low gears and extra-high clearance, was a monster German-built for NATO use, Walmalwa said-but even it struggled on the steep, rocky track. Walmalwa grappled expertly with the wheel, his bare chest streaming with sweat. The landscape, meanwhile, got steadily more verdant. Pale butterflies swarmed in the creek beds. Acacias sprouted dark bushy leaves, and red-dirt anthills grew so tall that they looked at first glance Eke giraffes grazing on the treetops. But except for a lone troop of baboons scampering along a ridge we saw no wild animals in the Didinga Hills. Most of the big game that roamed southem Sudan a generation ago has vanished-another casualty of the wartime glut of automatic weapons. Siwiyu cheerfiiuy pointed out the corpses of trucks rusfing in the ravines. Those were vehicles that had been captured from the Arabs, he said. The S.P L.A. had trouble getting spare parts, so the rebels just used the vehicles until they crashed or died. New Cush was only twelve @es from Natinga, but the drive took us three hours. We descended from the hills, grinding through a haze of dust and early-afternoon heat, the violet mountains of northern Uganda now visible to the south. We had not met a single oncoming vehicle all day. New Cush is indeed an odd place. It's a new village, established in 1994 by the S.P.L.A. with the help of international relief organizations, and the odd thing about it is that it has no tribal identity. Nearly nine thousand people, from all over southers Sudan, live there. Most are peasants displaced by the war; many are the families of S.P L.A. fighters. Though the land is well watered and fertile, the area had been uninhabited five years before. "It was a no man's land," Philip Chol Biowei explained. Mr. Biowei is the area secretary of the S.P L.A.'s humanitarian wing. An older man, wefl spoken, sad-looking, he was sitting at an empty desk in a dusty office. "The Toposa, the Turkana, the Didinga, the Dodoth from [email protected] all fought over this place. It was nobody's homeland, it was never secure. But since we came there have been no incidents." The S.PL.A., from its founding, in 1983, has had to contend with the idea, common among other Sudanese, that it is primarily a Dinka movement. The Dinka, whose homeland includes some of the vast White Nile swampland known as the Sudd, are the largest ethnic group in the South. Colonel John Garang, the S.PL.A.'s leader, is Dinka. So, for that matter, is Philip Chol Biowei. Indeed, the two men come from the same Dinka tribe-and there are, by one common classificafion, sixty-five Dinkaspeaking tribes. A social experiment such as New Cush, in which members of many ethnic groups live together peacefully, under S.R L.A. auspices, is therefore important symbolically, if nothing else, to the rebel cause. As in many places in southern Sudan, serious food shortages were being avoided-according to a rather worldly schoolteacher I met there-only by a steady stream of international aid. Food production and local welfare systems have been disrupted everywhere by the war. The United Nations'World Food Program reported in August that it was feeding more than a milhon and a half people in rebel-held zones alone. The teacher, who spoke good English, asked to see a copy of the magazine I worked for. I happened to have one in my bag. He took it eagerly, but then seemed to be stopped cold by an automobile ad on the back cover. He studied it for several minutes. I thought I saw what mesmerized him. The sheer weight of material wealth conveyed by every detail of the ad stunned even me, as I squatted there in the shade beside a hut in New Cush. While shirtless men heaved the bags of sorghum off our truck, I started chatting with our no longer armed military escort. His name, he said, was Simon Ater. He turned out to be a sweet kid. I z asked how he had got a terrible, applesize scar on one side of his face. He mumbled that his father had hit him. I guessed that the scar might actually be from a punishment for his desertions. It might also have been that Simon called one of his commanders his father. When I asked how old he was, Simon shyly admitted he had no idea. We headed back to Natinga vn'th several dozen paying passengers now riding in the cleared truck bed. (Most of southem Sudan has no cash economy, but Kenyan shiffings occasionally circulate in the southernmost part of the country.) MisceHaneous cargo-goats, firewood, sacks of grain-began to find its way aboard, and our progress, never swift, was further slowed by much multilingual haggling between Walmalwa, who was now running a brisk transport business, and the Sudanese who wanted to make use of his truck The S.PL.A. checkpoints became increasingly complicated propositions, too, as the soldiers insisted on digging through passengers' bags, in search of weapons or ammunition being smuggled to Kenya. Walmalwa, who had already been driving for more than twelve hours, started to lose his sense of humor. He showed the soldiers less respect than they were accustomed to-brusquely demanding, for instance, that they speak intelligible English, as a Kenyan would.
A Lopit farmer and sentry who escorted villagers from a battle zone.
This went over badly, particularly with those soldiers who had started drinking sorghum beer much earlier in the day it was now dusk. Walmalwa's defiance led to a couple of frightening scenes, during which we were afl ordered off the truck with a great deal of shouting and waving of guns. "I refiise to be terrorized," Walmalwa calmly remarked to me, and he told the soldiers, "You do your job, I do mine." One officer became hysterical, sticking the barrel of his rifle in Walmalwa's face and screaming repeatedly, in English, "I am not a traitor!" This seemed a strange claim under the circumstances. Maybe, I thought, he was acruauy shouting "I am not a trader!" and was objecting to our unlicensed commerce. In any event, to my amazement, an old Didinga woman who was riding with us intervened: she fiercely rebuked the S.R L.A. officer with ' ing tirade in Didinga until he, pera spitt haps equally amazed, backed down, and we were allowed to proceed. We were now travelling with a serious S.P.L.A. escort of half a dozen wellarmed men. We were also travelling in convoy with another truck, which we had overtaken; it was a sister vehicle, from the same Kenyan freight firm. Somewhere in Toposa country, the other truck broke down. I voted to take its crew with us and leave the truck there, but I was ignored. And so we sat, several dozen of us, on the dusty roadside in the moordight while the Kenyans worked on a dribbling fuel pump by a faltering flashlight. I was hun [email protected] had eaten nothing all day but a packet of biscuits-and found that 1, too, was losing my sense of humor when a lanky figure in civil ian clothes introduced himself as an S.P L.A. officer and asked, insinuatingly, if I happened to work for the C.I.A. or the Mossad. The soldiers in our escort had fanned out around the trucks, forming a professional looking perimeter. They seemed to be taking seriously the threat of To posa bandits (or hunters, or war riors, or collaborators). I wanted to suggest that my interrogator make himself useful and join them, but instead I made some mild remark and sidled away into the gloom. Simon Ater sidled with me. He now seemed concerned about my welfare, advising me to stay clear of the insinuating officer, and I did so. Then, when we got back on the road, @th the fuel pump repaired, and, around midnight, finally reached the border with Kenya, Simon did me (and the Kenyan truckers) a great favor. The border officials bluntly forbade us to pass. They said that the road was closed for the night. But Simon, who was stationed nearby and knew the officials, remonstrated with them until they let us go. On the Kenyan side of the border, the road, though still a dirt track, was far better maintained than anything we had seen in Sudan. I found myself marvelEng at every sign of basic grading and filling. We crossed a dry riverbed where a tin culvert was being installed by, according to a battered sign, the Ministry of Public Works. This idea-a ministry of public works!-was strangely thrilling. I kept thinking about Simon Ater. When I'd asked him how I could show my gratitude for his help at the border, he'd said I could bring him a pair of rubber sandals the next time I came this way.
SUDAN is not the only country in Africa whose borders seem to have been perversely drawn, sealing enough ethnic and historical enmity within them to insure a future of civil war. It is, however, the largest country in Africa, covering more than a milhon square mues, and the fact that it stretches from the Nubian and Libyan Deserts, where it shares borders with Egypt and Libya, to the rain forests of central Africa, where it borders on Congo and Uganda, has helped condemn its people to unusually harsh and intractable strife since independence. Before this century, the main basis of the relationship between the Muslim North and the non-MusEm South of today's Sudan was, moreover, a busy slave trade: some two milhon southerners are thought to have been taken north as slaves during the nineteenth century alone. This profoundly bitter connection might even be described as the underlying reason that the two regions find themselves in the same modern nation. In the latter half of the nineteenth century, the Ottoman Empire, responding to British pressure and employing British administrators, tried to stamp out the slave trade in the Sudan, provoking, in 1881, a rebellion among the local MusEms, who also objected to the corruption of Ottoman rule. These rebels were the Mahdists, who took Khartoum, beheading General Charles Gordon in 1885. Mahdist rule, at its peak, apparently extended up the White NUe as far south as the present-day border with Uganda, and included all of Dinka country. After the British reconquered the region, in 1898, the colonial boundaries hardened largely where centuries of slavers had established them. The British administration, to be sure, treated northern and southem Sudan as if they were separate countries. Infrastructure development was directed almost exclusively to the North, while the South was administered under a closeddoor poecy that included expulsion of Arab traders and discouragement of the spread of Islam. Christian missionaries were allowed to work in the South, and graduates of the mission schools tended to go farther south, to Kenya and Uganda7-rather than to Khartoum-for college. The fiiture of southern Sudan was seen, both by the British and by the emerging mission-educated southern elite, to lie with black East Africa rather than with the Arab North. Things did not turn out that way, mainly because of the great determination of northern nationalists to take the South with them when they charted their course for independence. The northern leadership faded almost entirely to consult with the southern leadership about the terms of independence, and the first round of civil war started four months before the Union Jack was even lowered. That round of warfare lasted seventeen years and took half a milbon lives. It finally ended, in 1972, with an agreement that gave the South a large degree of selfgovernment and control over its natural resources, which were soon discovered to include oil. In 1983, Khartoum tore up the agreement. General JoCfar Nimeiri, an erratic leader who had come to power in a 1969 military coup, stripped the southern le 'slature of its powers and decreed that 91 the southern oil would be refined in a northern city. What was more, Nimein', who had become a fanatic Mushm, ordered that Islamic shariah law be applied throughout the country, which meant that even non-Muslims would be subjected to the often ghastly punishments of budud (which include amputation of limbs and stoning to death) for such crimes as adiatery and drinking alcohol. By then, southern soldiers had mutinied, and the S.P L.A. was launched. Nearly two million southerners have died in the current round of the civil war, either directly from the fighting or from war-related famine and disease. Four million others have been driven from their homes-some into neighboring countries, many into the North. Although there are no reliable figuresSudan's population is estimated to be around thirty million, but the country's last accurate census took place in 1956the South's population has probably declined since 1983, when it was beeeved to be around five million.
Many observers have used the word "genocide" to describe Khartoum's conduct of the war. The government's destruction of villages, targeting of civilians, and obstruction of international relief supplies to desperate (sometimes starving) populations in the South have been widely documented. Perhaps the strongest case for a charge of genocide, however, exists in the Nuba Mountains, which until recently were the only theatre of the war not in the South. The Nuba people are a congeries of black African tribes who inhabit a fertile range of hills in central Sudan, surrounded by plainsdwelling Arabs. The S.P L.A. opened a front in the area in 1986, and the government's response has been notably brutal: of an estimated total of a million Nuba, more than half have been displaced, and more than a hundred thousand are believed to have perished. Living conditions in the South, always difficult, have deteriorated drastically. Very few people now have access to clean water, and diseases-cholera, malaria, hepatitis, measles, kala-azar, leprosy, sleeping sickness-kill many thousands each year. Few schools, few hospitals, and few roads remain open. Land mines are ubiquitous. Famine, a constant threat in subsistence economies during wartime, strikes quickly when crops fail or must be abandoned or when people's cattle or goats are stolen. In 1988, a devastating famine following a drought killed a quarter of a million people, and in 1989 an international relief consortium called Operation Lifeline Sudan was established to deal with the country's seemingly permanent humanitarian emergency. 0. L. S., which today consists of two U.N. agencies (UNICEF and the World Food Program) and forty nongovernmental organizations, operates on both sides of the civil war, having access agreements with the S.P.L.A. and the Sudanese government. Neither side in the conflict seems able to strike a decisive blow. The leadership of the Sudanese government has changed hands twice since the S.PL.A!s war against it began7-Nimeiri was deposed in 1985, and the civilian government that followed was in turn overthrown by a 1989 military coup backed by radical Islamists. Colonel (later Lieutenant General) Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir led the 1989 coup and became President, but the maximum leader of the revolutionary regime he installed was and remains a former law-school dean named Hassan al-Turabi. The Turabi regime banned most "nonrehgious institutions," such as labor unions and political parries, and ruthlessly repressed dissent. Some fon-ner Sudanese [email protected] Islamists purged nearly eighty thousand members of the Army, the police, and the state bureaucracy-joined the rebels, and a number of neighboring countries, among them Uganda, Eritrea, and postMengistu Ethiopia, noting that Sudan had begun aiding armed opposition groups from their countries, began to lend support to the S.PL.A. Some not so neighboring countries, such as Israel and the United States, nofing that Sudan had become an important haven for internafional terrorists, including the now famous Saudi fighter Osama bin Laden, also grew better disposed toward the rebels. In late 1997, Madeleine Albright even met with John Garang, the S.PL.A. commander, in Uganda. The United States, having added Sudan, in 1993, to the list of countries that it believes sponsor internafional terrorism, imposed comprehensive economic sanctions in 1997. Nevertheless, the Turabi regime has managed a vast arms buildup, obtaining weapons from, among other countries, China, Russia, Iran, and Iraq. This buildup has come on top of a large pre-existing base of military hardware provided, ironically, by the United States during the Cold War, when Sudan was seen as an anti-Soviet bulwark against Ethiopia. Although local ceasefires are called to allow for famine relief, and the government has rewarded defecfing S.P.L.A. senior commanders with comfortable jobs, even Cabinet-level posts, few serious negotiations to end the war have taken place in the nine years since the Turabi regime seized power. The Islamists' determination to win the civil war militarily, the leadership constantly refers to the conflict in the absolutist terms of jihad-has devastated not oray the South but also the northern Sudanese economy.
The government, while trying to run one of the world's poorest countries, spends more than a million dollars a day on the war. Its Army now has seventy-five thousand regular troops, eighty-five thousand reserves, and fifteen thousand active irregulars. These irregular d they do not include many tribal militias armed by the government, or thousands of troops still under former S.P.L.A. commanders, who retain their independence-fight, for the most part, in Iranian-trained mihtias called People's Defense Forces, which are among the most feared units in the war. The P.D.E militias specialize in bloody raids against southern civirans, and in some areas they have helped reintroduce that old staple of North-South relations in Sudan: slavery.
The lives of several million Dinka people are centered on their cattle herds, which have been devastated by the civil war and government-sponsored raids. "They try to destroy everything now that we will not come back".
THE Rizeigat, cattle-herding Arabs in western Sudan, live just north of Dinka country. They sing, "Shih abu sofeet abu naar barraag al kubuudIDar li rassaal min al abiid al suud " ("Carry the jim gun whose fire chars the Ever and the heart/ For I need an errand boy from the black slaves"). And they sing, "Ya rizeigi minawir al kayl,addaar bala siid siibu ley" ("Hey, Rizeigi man, you are the burning iron rod/ Give me the land without a people"). And 'Dear askun buhuur al satid " ("I long to go and live by the rivers of the South'). The Rizeigat, like their Arab neighbors to the east, the Misseriya, covet the Dinka pasturelands, which are lusher than their own (increasingly so, as the Saharan sands creep south). Historically, the Rizeigat were also energetic slavers, preying on their black southern neighbors until the British finally stamped out the practice in the nineteen-thirties. In the late colonial period, there was peace-trade, grazing agreements, even some [email protected] the Rizeigat and the Dinka. But now the Rizeigat, like Arab tribes throughout the North, have been armed and organized by Khartoum into P.D.E units and tribal militias known as murabaliin. And each year, during the dry season, the Rizeigat are sent southward on jihad. I flew to northern Dinka country in late September, during the wet season. A.U the western tributaries of the White Nile were in flood, making land traveland, more to the point, troop movements and militia raids virtually impossible. The plane was an old British Hawker Siddeley, which was carrying fishhooks and Australian maize to a village called NyamleU, six hundred air miles northwest of the Kenyan border. Nyamlell sits on a peninsula in the Lol River, fifty miles south of the Bahr al-Arab River, which is the boundary between North and South in western Sudan. The air there was unnervingly thick and moist. The Nilotic plain, half submerged, seemed endless, like an ocean being sailed by a scattered armada of ethereal trees. Nyamlell has been suffering seasonal raids by the Rizeigat and the Misseriya for fifteen years, and the S.RL.A.'s defense of the area has been mostly ineffectual, but the local Dinka have refused to abandon their lands. This year, however, they got hit harder than ever. "The Arabs attacked four times," Marlin Mawiens Dut, a village magistrate, told.me. "It was in May. The last fime they came, I was out clearing land. It was in the morning. They came on horses, on camels, on donkeys, on foot, in Toyota pickup trucks with machine guns. It was the Army and the ED.E and the murabaliin, all together." This combined force, in particular the Army's leading role, represented an escalation from previous raids, people told me. Some villagers even recalled tanks rumbling into Nyamiell this time. "They conquered the town, burning it down, taking slaves for six or seven days," Mr. Dut said. "They collected all the cattle and goats and people from the area, then drove them all to the North. Those of us who were not caught came creeping back from the bush. We found many corpses, mostly men. The women and children, they took. They took my wife, Adhal Akoom, and my daughter, Amin, and my son, Kon. He is five years old." I asked Mr. Dut if he had heard anything since from his family. "No. I have no information about them." He looked away. Mr. Dut was a thin, distinguished-looking man in his late sixties. He wore a faded, meticulously patched safari suit and rubber sandals. It had been four months since the catastrophic raid. The dead had been buried, and the people of Nyamlell were busy rebuilding their village. But the raiders had taken pains to burn all the nearby papyrus fields, which normally provide the thatch for roofs, and the result was that many families were still living in rough shelter fire-cracked mud walls with sheets of plastic thrown across them. (The plastic came from Concem Worldwide, an Irish rehef group that has a program to feed and immunize mothers and children in the area. Concern had also brought in the fishhooks.) "The Djellabah even chopped down the mango trees," Mr. Dut went on. "Djellabah " the hooded cloak wom by Arab men--is a common southern Sudanese term for Arabs. "They broke the clay pots we use to carry water. 'They try to destroy everything now, so that we will not come back-" Mr. Dut, like other educated Sudanese of his generation, spoke good English-it had been the language of instruction in his day. Another, much younger magistrate who was sitting with us spoke more haltingly. He had been educated in Arabic, he explained. Mr. Dut, who owned a little battery-operated radio, was also a devoted listener to the BBC World Service, and had a great many opinions about American politics. He was incensed about the Monica Lewinsky scandal. How could a great country like America waste its time, he asked, on such a silly business? [email protected] the United States concern itself instead with something serious-such as bringing about an all-parties peace conference for Sudan? "Only the Americans can do it," Mr. Dut said. The three of us were sitting on rough stools near the riverbank in the market at Nyamlell. The market was really just a couple of dozen haphazard lean-tos made from burlap and branches, under which people traded for fish or bloody slabs of goat or tiny bags of salt or tobacco. A crowd of flyblown children collected around us, but whenever the kids crept too close Mr. Dut would shout and lay about him with a carved walking stick, and they would retreat, giggling. Some of the children were very thin, but the Dinka tend to be tall-often extraordinarily tall-and thin. People in Nyamlell, having lost their herds, were obviously hungry, but there was reportedly no starvation in the district. The sorghum plots around the village were, after the rains, a dreamy dark green, with yellow-topped stalks seven feet high. Fishermen were out on the gray river in dugout canoes at dawn, throwing nets. Except for the occasional S.P L.A. fighter with his Kalashnikov, though, there were few young men to be seen around NyamleU. 'Oh, very few," Mr. Dut said. "So many young men have been killed in the war, leaving many unmarried young women. And now the Arabs have taken our women, too. And we've lost our cattle for bride wealth, so people cannot marry anyway. But when everyone is so hungry and gloomy they [email protected] feel like getting married." Marriage being the great preoccupation of Dinka [email protected] up there with cattle, to which it is closely tied by the custom of paying cattle to a bride's family-the magistrate's lament was a profound one. The next morning, I watched some men slaughter a cow. This was not a good sign. The Dinka don't usually slaughter cows. They drink their milk and, through small incisions, their blood, but they normally eat beef only on ceremonial occasions or when an animal dies of natural causes. This cow, perfectly healthy, would have ordinarily been in a herd that was preparing to leave for the toi'c-the grasslands that would soon emerge on the floodplain. It was being butchered because food was short. A nimble old man caught in a pot at least a gallon of blood as it spurted from the jugular, and an hour later I saw him sitting under assorted joints of fresh beef hanging from a tree in the Nyamlell market.
John Garang, rebel leader says he is fighting for a secular Sudan
CAMPED on the tip of the Nyandell peninsula, out beyond the ruins of the old district commissioner's house. I had brought along a flimsy tent, and a young Dinka, noting that my tent was not really rainworthy, suggested I pitch it inside an empty tukul, or beehiveshaped hut, on the point. He helped me chase a herd of indignant frogs from the tukul, then inspected the rotten roof thatch for snakes. I found a piece of U.N. plywood to jam in the doorway. The tukul was decrepiv-maybe that was why the Rizeigat hadn't bothered to burn it. It appeared to have been abandoned for some time, and I found myself wondering if its last occupants might have been taken north as slaves. There was so much to try to imagine in Nyan-deU. I had seen one or two Dinka bulls at a distance from the village, their tremendous, lyre-shaped horns gliding above the tall grass. They were a reminder that everything one saw on a visit to a Dinka village was incidental, basically, to the real business, the main event, of Dinka life-the wut, or cattle camp, which moves with the seasons. There are Dinka groups who primarily fish or farm, but cattle-herding is the unrivalled center of Dinka social, economic, and religious life. Nyarnlell might be the baai, the homestead, where grain is grown, but the wut is where a clan's wealth lives. "The wut is my nation," some Dinkas say, when asked about their political loyalties, and one wut may in fact wage war against another. On the other hand, the idea of a "Dinld' nation is thoroughly mis leading. The name derives by most accounts from a European explor er's poor transcription of one local chief's name. When I asked people around Nyan-Aell about their ethnic ity, most said "Malual," which is a large tribal group, encompassing a great many wut. Nobody said "Dinka." There is a Dinka language, shared, in many versions, by every one conventionally described as Dinka, and its speakers have in common many cultural values and practices. But there is not and never has been a Dinka paramount chief The Dinka are a widely scattered, surprisingly diverse group of three or four miffion people. They have little apparent interest in anyone else's land (they are known for believing that they already live in paradise) or in converting anyone to their religion. Attempts by outsiders and modernizers, including the would-be nation-builders, many of them educated Dinkas, of the S.P.L.A., to impose their own social ideas and political hopes on the emphatically local and premodern reality of Nilotic pastoral life are, by definition, always imprecise and unwieldy. But the war has disrupted every aspect of Dinka hfe. Millions of cattle have been stolen, draining the life from the wut. In some parts of Bahr al-Ghazal, which is the southwestem province that contains Nyan-dell, there have reportedly been no coming-of-age ceremonies for twenty years. Marriages have been prevented or postponed on a disastrous scale. Displacement by fighting has [email protected] countless communities and countless ancient intercommunal relationships. It has also caused starvation and, in the process, fostered a confiising, degrading dependence on international relief Earlier this year, a pocket of famine developed around Wau, a government-held town, after a former S.P.L.A. commander who had defected to the government re-defected and attacked a government garrison. The fighting that followed drove tens of thousands of people into the bush on treks that many did not survive. The international response was slow, and the government, in its genocidal mode, imposed a ban for two months on rehef flights, so for a while the death rate, even in feeding camps around Wau, rose as high as sixty-three per ten thousand per day. Anything higher than two per ten thousand per day is considered by refief experts to be an emergency. And it is not only Arabs who have laid waste to Dinka country. The double defector from Wau, a Dinka warlord named Kwanyin Kerubino Bol, previously ravaged, while working for the government, a large area north of Wau. (Shortly after Christmas, Kerubino defected yet again, back to Khartoum.) And, farther south, after the 1991 defection of some of John Garang's top commanders, dissident troops went on a rampage through Bor County that left thousands of civilians dead. These troops were mostly Nuer fighters massacring Garang's Dinka clansmen, and the experience was so traumatic that large numbers of the Dinka survivors in Bor later converted to Christianity. Their world had simply ceased to make sense: the old clan divinities had failed them; perhaps the missionaries' God would be a better protector. The war has been stampeding people into a desperate, defensive modernitygiving them new, frightened connections to the world beyond the Sudd-by destroying the ancient, supple, and proud world they had made over the centuries for themselves. The Dinka love to compose songs, and a pastor from Bor gave voice to some of his people's anguish: 1 am in the sinfiil land of Sudan. The birds in the sky are surprised by the way I have 6een orphaned. The animals of the forest' are startled by my skeleton.
Sufis at prayer.
IT was midafternoon, and while I was hiding from the heat in my tukul a young man came to fetch me. An Arab had brought more than a hundred villagers back from captivity in the North, he said-local people who had been taken as slaves in May. He was waiting with them near the airstrip. I hurried to the airstrip, and was directed past a stand of thorn trees. There I found a large group of haggard-looking women, children, and old people sitting on the ground, and a tall, middle-aged Arab in a white djenabah and turban standing over them. Tle Arab was watching me carefully. An S.PL.A. official named Gregory Garank Akok was on hand, and he told me that the Arab did not speak English, so he himself, Mr. Akok, would translate for me. The Arab said he came from El Docein, a Rizeigat town some two hundred miles north of Nyamlell, in Darfur Province. He said his name was lbrahim Muhammad Hamdan-gthough when I asked if that was his real name he admitred it wasdt. What he was doing, he said, was extremely dangerous. The government had been coming to El Da'ein to recruit for the RD.F. "They take normal people and train them to come and loot in the South," he said. "They arm them and tell them,'KiU the young men, but bn'ng back the cattle and the women.' I even have P.D.F. looters in my own family. But many people in El Da'ein [email protected] agree with the government. They don't want the war. They say, 'If the South must secede for us to have peace, then let them secede.'But you cannot say that publicly, or you will be killed." I asked about the slaves in El Da'ein. "Some of the slaves look after the cattle. Some work in the fields, or build houses for their owners. Small children are taken to the mosque to become Muslims. Some slaves dig they refiise to work, they are beaten. Many are taken to El Obeid, or to Khartoum State, where they may work on big farms." The Arab said that he was a grain farmer, and that he sometimes employed Malual Dinka in his fields but he paid them. There were different types of Muslims, he said, and his type believed that slavery was wrong, and so he and some associates tried to help kidnapped Dinkas escape. They had managed to collect a hundred and thirtyeight escaped slaves from the Nyan-dell area, and had spent ten days wakng south with them through the marshes. He knew the way from previous trips, he said. Four people had died en route, and many had caught pneumonia. (A background mutter of hacking coughs and sighs from the people on the ground confirmed his part of the story.) His team of accomplices, the Arab said, was now waiting on the north bank of the Lol. What were they waiting for? "We are waiting to be paid," the Arab said. It seemed that in previous years the Arab and his team had transported escaped slaves back to Twic County, in Dinka country, about a hundred mues east of Nyan-defl, and that they had been paid for their trouble by a group called Christian Solidarity Worldwide. The president of Christian Solidarity Worldwide is Baroness Caroline Cox, of Queensbury. Did I, by any chance, know Lady Cox? Her organization had paid fifty U.S. dollars for each returned slave. Gathering that I did not know, did not know even how to contact Lady Cox, the Arab grimaced with disappointment. In the end, he said in a resigned tone, he and his team might have to accept whatever the families of the escaped slaves could pay. I later managed to interview separately, with a different translator, two young women who had escaped from El Da'ein and trudged home to Nyamlell through the marshes, led by the Arab and his team. One of them, Ayok Kuac Dut, was eighteen. She had narrow features and Eght-brown eyes. She had first run east when the murabalitn came, she sal 'd, but she had been caught, along with her two young children. The Arabs had killed her husband, a civilian, by slitting his throat. They had locked her and her children in one of the storerooms in the old district commissioner's house. Ms. Dut nodded at the storeroom she meant, which was just a few yards behind me. Her level gaze made me shiver in the tropical heat. She and her children had been taken north by truck. She remembered crossing the Bahr alArab-though she caged the river by its Dinka name, the Kiir. In El Da'ein, she had been separated from her children and sent to work in the fields. There was an Arab who wanted her for his wife, but there was another who said she should be killed, for she was too cunning. Before either plan could be carried out, she had used her cunning and escaped-leaving her children behind. The other young woman, Abuk Deng Garang, was twenty and very pregnant vnth her fourth child. She, too, had been widowed in the final raid in May. Her husband had been an S.RL.A. fighter, trained in Ethiopia. She had been separated from her three young children on the trip north, and had been beaten. She believed she wooud have been killed, she said quietly, if she hadn't been pregnant.
Training men to wage jihad against the people of the South many of which follow traditional African religions.
Ibrahim, as she called the Arab who brought the group back to Nyamlell, had helped her to escape. Both she and Ms. Dut said that he and his team had also brought escaped slaves back to Nyamlen in previous years. In fact, they said, lbrahim actually lived here in NyamleU, not in El Da'ein. His mother had been a Malual Dinka; only his father had been a Rizeigat. He still had family here in Nyan-dell. lbrahim himself had been kidnapped by the murabalizn, and would surely not return to the North, as I seemed to think he would. As I listened to these startling new twists in the story of the slaves' rescuer, I half expected the young women to burst out laughing at my expression, which was undoubtedly dumbfounded. But they remained serious, even grave. I thanked them for their time, then continued to ask around Nyamlell about lbrahim, hoping to stitch together some approximation of the facts. Oddly, the most passionate and detailed theory I got came weeks later, in Khartoum, in the air-conditioned office of anAmen'can-educated linguist and researcher named Ushari Mahmud. "I reafly think I know who that is," Mahmud said eagerly. "That's almost surely Doka Avvut. His mother was Dinka. He's had dealings @th Baroness Cox. He also goes by the nam6 Adam AE." Mahmud has been researching the resurgence of slavery in Sudan for more than a decade. His research has not made him popular with the government, and he was thrown in jail after publishing a booklet, in 1987, about a massacre of more than a thousand Dinka at El Da'ein. When the Turabi regime took power, in 1989, Mahmud was jailed again, without charges, for two years. He was excited to hear that I had recently been in northern Bahr al-Ghazal. "That's one of the main centers of the slave trade," he said. "That is where the Army is afraid the war may break into the North, so they've been trying to depopulate the area-to get the Dinka off the land any way they can. The hub of the slave trade for southern Darfiir is [email protected] Abu Mataariq, a town between Nyamlefl and El Da'ein. That's where Doka, Awut actually lives. And he partlci',Pates in the slave raids and then tries to offer himself as a peacemaker with the Dinka, and he sells some of the slaves back to their families." I was not completely convinced that we were takng about the same man, but I was curious about Mahmud's description of other facets of Sudanese slavery. "Army officers, when they return from the South, often bring black children with them," he said. "They hand them out to relatives, for work around the house. People dor;t even see it as slavery. But that's what it is. President Bashir himself has two or three children he found in the South. And, of course, the' clAdren are raised as MusEms. It's part of the government's campaign to Arabize the country. But then the word itself we use for a black person, abd, means 'slave.'
Saviour or slaver? An entrepeneur from Sudan's Underground Railroad. An international organization once paid him fifty dollars for each person freed.
So slavery is very, very deep in Sudanese Arab culture. Sometimes a southem family will come to the North and find their children and bring a court case to get them baclc But that is rare. Otherwise, all this goes on invisibly." In times of famine, it must be said, parents in the South have also been known to sell their children to outsiders to save them from starvation. In Wau last year, hundreds of desperate widows gave up their children for adoption. To me, perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the mystery surrounding NyamleU's slave rescuer was his relationship with the S.PL.A. lf he was in fact a double-dealer, running a nefarious business, could the local rebels possibly be in league with his operation? They certainly seemed to endorse his work.
THE S.P.L.A. is a descendant of the South's guerrilla army from the first civil war, a force known as AnyaNya One. John Garang, for instance, fought for Anya-Nya One. He later served, during the peace interim, in the government Army. A man of many talents, he also earned a Ph.D. in agricultural economics from Iowa State University, where he wrote his thesis on an immense government construction project caned the jonglel Canal, a twohundred-mile ditch across the Nile floodplain of southern Sudan. The canal's purpose was to redirect the White NUe away from the Sudd-the world's largest swamp-so that its water could be used for irrigation or possibly sold to Egypt. Many southern Sudanese feared that the canal would turn the Sudd into a desert, destroying the world of millions of [email protected] tribesmen. In 1983, when the South mutinied, Garang turned against the government and helped create the S.P.L.A.-and ordered a halt to work on the canal. It is said that a Briton was operating the main piece of digging equipment when the S.P.L.A.'s guerriUas showed up, and that he declined to shut it down. The rebels shot him through the head. At that time, the S.P.L.A. was basicatly a Dinka-led guerrilla group. But its troops received extensive training from Ethiopia and, in the early years, Cuba, and it eventually became a conventional, though unusually impoverished, African army. Today, it fields somewhere between twenty and [email protected] thousand fighters. Internationally, the S.P L.A.'s status as a national-liberation movement has never solidified, in part because its goals are unclear: Garang says he is fighting for a secular, united Sudan, but many of his commanders and followers are clearly fighting for an independent South. Christian churches and Christian evangelical groups in the West are conL cerned about the persecution by Khar toum of their brethren in southern Su dan but are somewhat stymied by the fact that few southerners are actually Christians. (The majority follow tradis tional African religions.) Finally, while I the Cold War was still on, the S.P.L.A. found itself shunned in the West because of its dependence on a Soviet client state, Mengistu's Ethiopia, not to mention its own Marxist pretensions. Shortly before Mengistu's fall, in 1991, the S.PL.A. lost its rear bases and its major sponsor. The amount of territory that the rebels controlled shrank, particularly after some of Garang's top commanders defected, taking thousands of troops with them. These commanders ioined the government, and their forces were deployed against the S.P L. A. The rebels survived these travails, barely, and then, after 1994, came storming back with new, social-democratic rhetoric and a new set of alees, and captured a string of important southern towns and vast tracts of ever more immiserated land. More important, in 1995 the S.PL.A. formed its first lasting alliance with northern opposition groups-the traditional Muslim political parties that have been driven underground or into exile by the Islamists. Calling itself the National Democratic Alliance, and naming Garang its commander-in-chief, this fragile, unlikely [email protected] all, some of its northern principals had fought ferociously against the S.P L.A. during the post-Nimeiri period, when they were in power in Khartoum--has opened at least two new fronts in the war. Operating from Eritrea, the northern armed groups have attacked Sudan from the east, threatening strategic assets such as the highway from Khartoum to Port Sudan, on the Red Sea, and a major Blue Nile dam that supplies eighty per cent of Khartoum's electric power. And yet the S.P.L.A.'s political wing-the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement-remains poorly developed, failing to rally much support among the broad mass of peasants in the South. Indeed, the rebels often alienate, through abuses and depredations, the southerners (usually non-Dinka) whose lands they control. Having to rely on local resources for food, as the S.PL.A.'s troops do, is a recipe for friction. The movement, moreover, being fundamentally military, is highly authoritarian, and deals harshly with dissent. Its recruitment methods are harsh as well. While school-educated young southerners, especially Dinkas, have often flocked to its training camps, eager to serve, many other young people have joined on the basis of S.P L.A. promises that they would receive schooling, and have instead found themselves trained and sent to the battlefront, still uneducated and often woefully underage, like little Simon Ater.
"To Whom It May Concern," people said when one of the government's bombs came spinning out of the sky. You could hear them, people said, as they approached the ground: there was a little tail rotor that hummed.
I was in Lokutok, a village in Torit County, in Eastern Equatoria, which is a sprawling province in Sudan's far south. I was camping under a tree in a yard that belonged to Catholic Relief Services. Lokutok sits in a beautiful spot, at the edge of an immense plain and the foot of a jagged range of peaks. The mountains, known as the Lopit, snag enough rain to turn their slopes a deep, waterfall-traced, tropical green. The village earth is red, its sorghum tall and lush. The people, also known as Lopit, are farmers and cattle-keepers. They have coal-black skin and play little highpitched flutes, night and day. Like most southern Sudanese, they have had the war wash cruelly back and forth across their land for as long as most of them can recall. At the time I visited, there was a three-month ceasefire up in Bahr al-Ghazal, ostensibly to allow the delivery of relief supplies there. (The rainy season always stopped the fighting anyway.) But here the war was still on, with a vengeance. A couple of weeks ear her, the S.P.L.A. had launched a major offensive, seizing a number of small towns and garrisons along the road running east from Juba, the [email protected] capital city (juba, which is on the White Nile, is the command headquarters for the government's war effort), to Torit, a town of twelve thousand that is just twenty-five miles west of Lokutok The rebels had reportedly taken large hauls of government armor. Now they were shelling-and predicting the imminent fall of-Tout. Peasants were flee ing in this direction, and the [email protected] plane the gov ernment uses for most of its bombings-had become a regular visitor. On my second morning in Lokutok, an Antonov came inching over the mountains. A deep silence fell instantly over the vil lage. Even the flutes, which never stopped twittering, went quiet. I listened, not breathing, for the hum ming of a bomb's tail rotor. But all I could hear was the faraway drone of the Antonov's engine. The Antonov is a cargo plane, and the Sudanese Army's pilots, wary of the S.P.L.A.'s anti-aircraft guns, fly it only at high altitude more than ten thousand feet-if they are anywhere near the front. And so their bombs, which are simply rolled out the back of the plane, are famously inaccurate. They are addressed, in effect, to whomever they find. Still, when the Antonovs bomb, you don't want to be standing out in the open. You want to be close to the ground or, better yet, under the ground. I had been told this more than once, but my instincts were poor and my reactions slow, and so I found myself peering at the Antonov, a white speck in a soft-blue sky, and was only dimly aware that the great silence had fallen. It even took me a minute to notice that the men I had been talking with a moment [email protected] Sudanese relief [email protected] now suddenly standing forty yards away, halfcrouched at the sandbagged mouth of a rude bomb shelter, seemingly listening with their entire bodies. Why the government's Antonovs, which were flying out of Juba, were bombing little Lokutok, where there were virtually no rebel soldiers, instead of the massed S.PL.A. forces besieging their comrades inside Torit, seemed to me a fair quesfion. The Lopit mountains, between Lokutok and Torit, are narrow and dramatic, making the two places presumably impossible to confuse. Indeed, the Antonovs had to fly past Torit to get here. The lack of air defenses in Lokutok might have had something to do with it. So, probably, did the grain being stockpiled there by the U.N. World Food Program in anticipation of the arrival of thousands of hungry people if Torit did fafl. Neither of these was a legifimate reason to target Lokutok. But the Sudanese government has never bothered with the laws of war when it comes to aerial bombing. (Nor when it comes to prisoners of war. After decades of fighting, the re 'me has no enemies in custody.) In re91 cent years, hundreds of civilian targetsincluding hospitals, churches, and refiigee camps-have been bombed deliberately. If such atrocities were perpetrated elsewhere-if Milosevic were to unleash ' 'lar air attacks on Kosovo, say-the simi outsi 'de world would probably be outraged to the point of action. In southern Sudan, it might as weu be happening on the dark side of the moon. Stin, I stood there in the C.R-S. yard, embarrassed to sprint for the bomb shelter when I could see villagers standing outside their tukuls, carefully watching the sky but not yet taking cover. And then I saw the two men poised at the shelter entrance start to relax, and rise from their crouches, and I, too, began to breathe again. The Antonov continued a slow crawl across the sky, its crew apparently having decided to terrorize some other village, or maybe just to fly reconnaissance. Although the warplanes had been coming over the mountains each morning, it had been a couple of weeks, people said, since any bombs had landed on Lokutok. The last bomb had made a big hole in the earth, and a tree beside the hole looked as if a sadistic 'ant had attacked it, tearing 91 off its branches and ripping huge red gashes in its trunk. A farmer who was nearby that day had done the right thing, pressing himself into the earth and surviving with just a shrapnel wound in the buttock. That bomb had actually landed a fair distance-perhaps two hundred yards-from the C.R.S. yard, but another piece of shrapnel had torn through the tent of a Kenyan rehef worker who was camping, I was told, under the same tree that I was. The Kenyan had been down in the shelter, where he belonged. The shrapnel had punctured a can of mosquito repellent in his tent, then melted a hole in the floor. It is easy to say, with the weight of international law behind one, that U.N. grain stores are not a legitimate military target. But in truth the role of international relief in a civil war such as Sudan's is always problematic. Fooddistribution sites draw hungry people. One army may be pleased, for its own reasons, to see certain people move in a certain direction; its opponent may want to see something entirely different happen. Rarely is either side thinking disinterestedly about civilian welfare; each is always intent on strategic advantage. In Sudan, both sides have used scorchedearth tactics when local civilians were thought Ekely to help the enemy. And intervention by outside agencies nearly always has a political, if not a military, impact on the ground. Moreover, the international rebef effort has arguably prolonged the war in Sudan, if only by keeping enough people alive to fight it. "Diversion" of relief supplies away from the civilians they are meant for-whether to warlords and their fighters or to pure profiteers-is a problem in every war. These diversions can be clear-cut cases, in which a hundred sacks of any shipment are simply delivered, by agreement with local officials, to the local barracks (I heard of such cases in Sudan), or they can be murkier-situations, say, in which distribution through local clan networks (by far the most efficient method) inevitably includes fighters who are local men. And when people are hungry, anywhere, there is no chance, ever, that armed men 1, wifl be among the first to starve. Clothes, medicine, tools, seeds, clean water-each of these can, at times, be as important as food. Each also, unfortunately, can be seen (and used) as a weapon of war. Even a hospital-the most basic humanitarian institution-has obvious strategic siznificance. Soldiers who know that they can be evacuated to a hospital if they are wounded wig simply fight harder than soldiers who know that if they are wounded they wig most Ekely lie for days in the bush, learning more about gangrene than they want to know. The wounded fighter who can get to a hospital is far more likely, for that matter, to Eve to fight another day. The Sudanese Army, heeding this battlefield reality and flouting the rules of war, regularly bombs a hospital run by a Norwegian aid organization in Yel, an S.PL.A. stronghold in Western Equatoria, on the safe assumption that it treats a lot of rebel wounded. But international rebef does not flow only to rebel-held areas in Sudan. In some months, there are just as many civilians under government nde being fed by Operation Lifeline Sudan. And this is another way in which humanitarian rehef may be said to prolong the war. Sudan, while ostensibly unable to feed its own people, and relying on the international community to do so, today exports hundreds of thousands of tons of sorghum, which it produces on modem, irrigated farms in the North. These exports earn precious foreign exchange, which enables the government to shop in the intemational weapons bazaar, and thus to keep waging its civil war in the style to which it has become accustomed.
ONE evening, a group of us sat under the tree in the yard of Catholic Relief Services telling war stories while the moon sank into the mountains. From some toylike hamlets that cling to the narrow ridges above Lokutok, there was a constant, frenzied tootling of flutes, interspersed, occasionally, with bursts of gunfire-people celebrating an "elopement," someone guessed. The story that stayed with me from that evening was about the siege of Juba. Juba, which has a refugee-bloated popldation of some three hundred thousand and has been loosely surrounded by the S.RL.A. since 1986, has been subjected to a great deal of rebel shelling. In 1991, which was a very bad year in Juba, the storyteller's uncle had been playing don-iinoes in a park with friends. An S.P.L.A. shell landed in the park, and a large piece of shrapnel decapitated the player sitting next to him. The headless mads reaction to his misfortune was not to keel over in a grisly heap, however, but to seize the storyteller's uncle in a desperate embrace. And so the two men had wrestled, failing off their chairs, kicking over their dominoes, arms locked around each other in a hellish grapple that lasted longer than anyone would have thought possible. Afterward, the uncle was in profound shock He did not speak for days. Finally, a meeting was held, at which a number of clan elders spoke, and religious consolation was offered. The uncle was invited to speak. He found his voice. "I have seen death," he said. "I have fought death. I am no longer afraid."
IN Lokutok, hundreds of peasants sudderdy arrived one morning. They had come from the villages north of Torit, ready to collect the supplies - seeds, hoes, maize-that had been airEfted here for them. Valuable commodities don't tend to sit around undisturbed very long in southern Sudan. The villagers had walked all dav and all night, circling north around [email protected] mountains, to avoid the battlefront. Their black skin shone with a rich sheen of red dust. They looked exhausted and, at the same time, almost frighteningly strong. Most of the women were bare-breasted. Some of the men were naked, and many of them carried long, thin, leaf-bladed spears. Some carried carbines, others assault rifles. Some of the older women smoked pipes and studied me skeptically. I wondered what the villagers thought of the Djeflabah and of the S.P.L.A. The rebels have never been terribly popular in Eastern Equatoria, but lately, people told me, they had been behaving less arrogantly. "Before, they acted as if they owned the war," one man in Lokutok sal 'd. "They don't own the war." The rebel commander for the Lokutok area was a Dinka, but he had married a local woman, and had managed to recruit many local youths as fighters, and these moves had helped improve the S.P.L.A.'s image in the neighborhood. "The people have developed an interest in them," another Lokutok man admitted. But, as with the Dinkas in Bahr alGhazal, the true attitudes of the Lopit could never be represented, I knew, in generic modern political terms. Whether the S.PL.A. was an auy, a protector, depended on so many things, including individual commanders, even individual fighters, and, always, on who was asking and why. People's political views would be highly contingent on the power arrayed around them. The power arrayed around them at that moment, the S.P L.A., was advancing on Torit from three sides. Khartoum, in response to the rebel offensive, was reported to have announced a general caUup, which had meant shutting the country's universities. Now the government was flying thousands of new recriits in to Juba. What did all this fighting portend? Even if the S.P L.A. took Torit (it ultimately [email protected]), nothing really new woldd have occurred-the rebels had occup'ie,-] it before, and been driven out. It was afl just more bloody seesawing. This was part of what people meant when they talked about "the normalization of the war." Another part was the obliviousness of the outside world-its willingness to let an African war burn on for decades. And then there were all the individual accommodations-psychological, social, economic-that people made to survive the fighting. Finally, though, the crucial element of the Sudanese civil war's crazy 11 normalization' was the insulation of the country's elites, particularly in Khartoum, from the cruel havoc that their feuds wreaked on muons of ordinary people.
KHARTOUM must be one of the world's least charming old capital cities. Its shabbiness is monumental, its amenities remarkably few, considering that it is home to some five million people. The main streets are filled with choking dust and diesel fumes. The old villas are disintegrating, and the newer buildings are blindingly ugly. Parks are rare and unkempt. Even the banks of the great rivers-the Blue Nile and the White Nile meet in Khartoum-remain, for the most part, muddy and dispiriting. In architecture and public planning, Islamist theory seems to make little provision for the modem commons. The resldt, in Khartoum, is a city of wails, as resi 'dents retreat from the harsh neglect of the streets into private realms-into whatever they can afford in the way of gardens, patios, a shuttered house. Khartoum is also a city of rumors. Hamas, I heard, was on the fifth floor of my hotel the Hilton. But I only ever saw members of a Libyan soccer team, lithe in bright-blue sweat pants, get off the elevator at five. German businessmen, looking hot and unhappy, sat in the lobby waiting for government officials. Gulf State sheikhs swept past, too important to wait for anyone, and disappeared into white limousines. Above all, in the Hilton and around Khartoum and everywhere in government-controlled Sudan, there was the mukhabarat, the secret pofice, watching, listening, bundling the truly unfortunate off to their jails and torture centers, terrifying everybody. It was stupefying, somehow, after being in the South, to know that Khartoum, this Middle Eastern desert city, parched and puritanical, was the putative capital for the myriad tropical African societies of Equatoria and Dinka country. But even the apparent homogeneity of the "AraV' and "[email protected]' North is an illusion. There are no pure Arabs in Sudan-each tribe of Arab nomads who ventured south of Egypt over the past couple of millennia mixed with local people, and the Arabic-speaking riverain Sudanese who today describe themselves as Arabs are usually quite dark-skinned. They are the country's largest ethnic group, but they are not a majorityamounting to only forty per cent of the total population, according to the 1956 census. (Dinkas, at twelve per cent, are the second-largest group.) Although Islam is the state religion, only sixty per cent of Sudanese are Muslims, and though Arabic is the country's official language, only sixty per cent of the people speak it. Finally, even among the ruling Arab Mushms, there are major religious and political schisms. Most northern Sudanese Muslims belong to Sufi sects founded and led by local holy men. The country's two largest Sufi orders are also its two largest political parties. (These parties, both basically family dynasties, are currently underground, with their 'led leaders in armed alliance with exi the S.PL.A.) Sufism is a heterodox Islam, incorporating song and dance (and whirling-Sudan has some dazzling dervishes), prone to mysticism, and tolerant of diversity. Attempts to impose a more orthodox Islam-by Egyptian overlords, for example-have traditionally been resisted. The rise of a radical Islamist movement in Sudan was strictly an 6]ite phenomenon, building slowly among university students and the professional and political class in Khartoum before and after independence, and in direct opposition to an eq ' uauy small, well-educated Communist movement. The Islamists in Sudan gather much of their political and financial strength from an internafional group known as the Muslim Brotherhood, which promotes political Islam throughout North Africa and the Middle East. In 1986, during the last elecfion before their 1989 putsch, [email protected] Islamists, known then as the National Islamic Front, received eighteen per cent of the vote. (It was their highest vote total ever but still well [email protected] the votes of both the big Sufi parties.) They have functioned in power as a vanguard party, and it seems safe to say that if a free election were held today they would get even fewer votes. And so the prospects of the fiiu-scale mobilization for war that was under way while I was in Khartoum in October seemed to me dubious. The universities had effectively been closed. And all over town one saw caravans of white Toyota Hi-Lux pickups honking their way through the streets with clumps of sweating, scared-looking young men in the truck beds, and loudspeakers blaring, '!41labu 4kbar! Ala Jibad! Al Sudan Yanadakum!" ("God is great! To the holy war! Sudan calls you!") The state radio played military and patriotic music non-stop, and the state television showed young conscripts being sent off to Juba and the front. Sudanese living abroad were urged to donate blood and send money. According to the government, the alleged rebel offensive in Equatoria was actually an invasion of Sudan by Uganda, Eritrea, Rwanda, and Tanzania, and was being directed by the Great Satan, the United States. Fifty thousand new mujahideen were needed. President Bashir assured the troops, in a televised speech, "This battle in Eastern Equaton'a will be decisive and final." Not surprisingly, no one in Khartoum seemed to believe anything that the government said about the situation in Equatoria-not even the government officials themselves. It was simply assumed that all official reports on the counteroffensive would be of glowing victory. (In fact, the counter-offensive was successful.) There was strong resistance to the general call-up, especially among university students, but almost nothing appeared in the press about it. And there was great apprehension among parents of young men hable for conscription: everybody I talked to mentioned it, and stories about hospitals in Juba and Khartoum fiMng up with the newly wounded were circulating furiously. Few people seemed to be buying the idea, much repeated by the war's promoters, that dying for jihad in the South was a glorious way to 90, and that all such martyrs received a swift transfer to Paradise. But there also seemed to be little feeling among ordinary people in Khartoum about the war itself-that is, little real support for the war, and little serious criticism of it. People seemed ready to discuss, and even passionately denounce, the government-assuming that the mukbabarat was not aroundbut the war was of much less interest. The South was a primitive, impoverished waste, according to most of the people who could be bothered to discuss it with me. Unless I was mistaken, a great many northern Sudanese would be just as happy to let the whole place go. People felt keenly the loss of political freedom under the Islamists. The previous government might have been corrupt and ineffectual, but at least it had been elected. This regime banned political parties, labor unions, and pubec meetings. It shut newspapers and magazines, and it harassed its opponents without mercy. Thousands had disappeared, and millions had fled the country. The mukbabarat had expanded enormously, and a national network of "popular committees" had been created by the region to act, among other things, as spies on ordinary citizens. A much hotter topic than political oppression, however, was the decline of public services, such as health care and education. Even the price of bread had risen. Government subsidies had been slashed in every area, and it [email protected] only the war that was draining the national treasury, for this withering away of the secular state is also fundamental to pohtical Islain. Islamists, Eke Christian theocrats, don't trust the state, seeing it as inherendy corrupt and inefficient. For the redistribution of wealth, they favor zakat-tithing. In fact, the "fundamentalist" label often applied to militant Islam can be misleading, because, although there are plenty of Koran Eterahsts among Islamists, most of political Islam is modernizing, seeking to adapt Koranic law to contemporary life and, in the process, to follow political and economic models imported from the West: socialism, Communism, hberal capitalism. This great social and ideological project requires endless evangelizing, and the Sudanese even devout MusEmsare clearly tired of being harangued about what is allowed and what is not. The project also requires a focus on youth, on somehow creating a generation more pious and strict than its predecessor. I heard many parents complain about the Islamist indoctrination that their children receive in school, and the strife that it causes at home. Talking to a foreigner, moreover, seems to bring out people's frustration with [email protected] international isolation. "Sudan had many friends," an economist told me bitterly. "Even under Nimeiri, who became a beast, Europe and America Eked Sudan. Now there is no one. Just Iraq, Libyathe other pariahs." According to many opposition activists, the American missile strike on the Al Shifa pharmaceuticals plant in north Khartoum back in August gave the regime a great, undeserved shot in the arm, poEticauy speaking-uniting nearly everyone in patriotic anger. But I also heard people in Khartoum say that there was much quiet cheering around town after the missue strike, even among those who never believed the American evidence of nerve-gas production at Al Shifa. "There are so many of us who just feel that anything that hits at this government-and I mean anything-is good," one opposition lawyer told me. "Transparency," as it is called, is a common Sudanese opposition demand Oust as it was in Eastern Europe under Communism), but the decision-making of the Turabi regime mocks this demand at every tum. Nobody outside a secretive inner circle knows what is [email protected] oil development, in external relations, in domestic repression, in the economy, in the war. Everyone can see that Sudan's economy has been extensively privatized, yet it has not been liberalized. Nobody knows who actually owns things. Suggestions and complaints from ordinary (Mushm) citizens reach the government through a system known as sbura, which includes discussions held after evening prayers in the mosques-but what becomes of those suggestions as they rise toward the scat of power is unknown. As for the Turabi regime's thinking about the civil war, it, too, is largely opaque. Diplomats, academics, and exofficials agree that there is at least one faction in the ruling circle which is ready, just as many ordinary northerners are, to cut the South loose. The constituency for continuing the war, on the other hand, reportedly includes the military leadership, which naturally does not want to be seen as having lost a war; religious zealots who dream of extending the dominion of Islam throughout the South and beyond; and, of course, pofificians and businessmen who, in one way or another, are profiting from the war. The government's military and pohtical strategies, by contrast, seem perfectly clear: Khartoum will continue to play one southem faction off against the other, whenever possible. Even if two factions join the government, they can apparently be set to fighting one another. That was the situation at least in Upper Nile Province while I was in Khartoum. There two Nuer militias, both aligned with the government, were slaughten'ng one another in large numbers. Nothing much was being done to stop the fighting, and I got the impression that there were few things the Turabi regime enjoyed more than watching the South bludgeon the South.
MORE than two million southerners who have fled the war now live in the North, an estimated one million of them in and around Khartoum. You see them in the city, often in rags, sening cigarettes on street corners, sleeping in the shadows, despite regular police roundups meant to keep them out of sight. You see them in the kitchens of private homes, and working at menial [email protected], shovelling. The bellhops at my hotel were big, gracious, middleaged Dinkas with elaborate tribal facial scars. Many live in squatter settlements near town, fighting running battles with the government, which bulldozes their shacks in scenes reminiscent of apartheid South Africa. Most displaced southerners hve, however, in a vast constellation of far-flung camps in the desert around Khartoum and Omdurman, which is Khartoum's sister city, across the Nile. The camps are stunningly bleak places: featureless, flat-roofed, mud-brick huts, mile after baking mile, without a bush or a tree or a flower in hi sight. And yet the saddest t ng I saw in the camps, somehow, was the homey touch of a pair of tremendous, lyre-shaped Dinka catde horns stuck on the mud wag of somebody's tukul. Sudan has more internally displaced persons, as they are called, than any other country in the world, and numerous relief agencies, both local and international, operate in the camps. The local Muslim charities, which are favored by the government, are often accused of trying to Islamize and Arabize the southerners in the camps, who fiercely resent the prohibitions of shariah law, not to mention their own extreme poverty and the long commute to badly paid jobs in town. "They're a time bomb, the camps," people say. Too many southerners, too Ettle hope, too little to lose-Khartoum one day will be simply overwhehned, perhaps burned to the ground. The government, though, doesn't seem notably worried. Its sensitivity to the fact that roughly forty per cent of the capital's metropolitan population is suddenly black doesn't, for instance, seem to have inspired anyone in power to consi 'der changing the name of a main Khartoum thoroughfare, Zubeir Pasher Street, although Zubeir was an infamous nineteenth-century slaver and the street's name has long given offense to southerners. As a rule, I found that Ushari Mahmud, the slavery researcher, was right: the Sudanese Arab belief that blacks belong to a lower order of being is very deep and very widespread. Mahmud was also right in saying that slavery is, nevertheless, an extraordinarily sensitive subject. The regime recognizes that it is an explosive topic outsi 'de Sudan, and each time I asked an official (or a re 'me supporter) about it I 91 was told not only that there was no credible evidence of slavery's resurgence but that I was obviously trying to pander to African-American readers by even raising the question. And so, while international human-rights groups estimate that there are now tens of thousands of chattel slaves in Sudan-and a growing trade in Sudanese slaves that may reach as far as Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States as well-the Sudanese government s reaction is not to investigate such charges aggressively but instead to demand proof To many observers, this reeks of tacit approval. But Sudanese Arab attitudes toward slavery really are unusual. Even most political liberals, Mahmud had warned me, are in total denial." I had tea one evening in Omdurman, in a magnificent old house belonging to one of the leading Sudanese political dynasties. The lady of the house, a professor of mathematics, served me dates from her garden and spoke movingly of her dangerous work with other mothers in organizing protests against conscription. She had a brother, a former government minister, in jail on political charges, she said. But when I mentioned the slavery issue her manner changed. "There is no such thing here," she said sharply. "The Sudanese people are not that kind of people." When I cautiously mentioned Mahmud and his work, she said that he was "a bad man' and his work was "wrong."
THE government, like most governments, has both rough sides and smooth. President Bashir is not a particularly polished character. Once, on a state visit to Bahrain, he told the press that he would have the leader of the Sudan Medical Association, a distinguished physician, whom he had already thrown in Jail, hanged. (He backed away from this threat after an international furor.) The regime's roughest side is, of course, the mukbabarat, which is really a myriad of agencies, many with their own detention centers (even the state electricity agency has its own detention center), staffed mainly by semiliterate thugs and torturers. Torture centers are known in Sudan as "ghost houses." The Turabi regime's smoothest side is Dr. Turabi. He has been a prominent Islamist since his university days, in the early nineteen-fifties. He holds advanced law degrees from the Sorbonne and the University of London, and in the early sixties he was the dean of Khartoum University's law school. He. was jailed for seven years during the Nimeiri dictatorship, then released and later made Attorney General. He was a prime mover in Nimeiri's imposition of shariah law, and he was still a close Presidential adviser in early 1985, when Nimeirl disgusted much of the Muslim world by executing Mahmoud Muhammad Taha, a distinguished liberal scholar of Islam, who was then in his seventies. Indeed, Turabi's path to power is said to be littered with a large number of bodies. But knowing much about this Machiavellian, not to say bloodstained, curriculum vitae only leaves a visitor to Turabi's office unprepared for the lissome, laughing old intellectual who presides there. "We are going for freedom, completely," he told me. He waved his hands in a loose, fluttering circle and giggled. Dark-skinned, white-bearded, and wearing white robes, a turban, and blackframed glasses, Sudan's maximum leader is-with his little buck-toothed, Bugs Bunny laugh-an improbable figure. He is also given to making improbable arguments. At one point, he was trying to convince me not lust that his poor, hungry, war-torn back-water "is becoming a very important country'but that his terrifying police state "is a free country," and added, "Monopoly is only for God." He mixes economic libertarianism with high-flown disquisitions on art, science, and religion. ("An artist is submitting to God. A scientist is doing the same.") The over-all impression is of a politician so hardheaded, so shrewd in his assessments of enemies and allies, and ultimately so successfid in his machinations that he can afford to be playful, obscure, even silly. I found his single most unnerving gesture to be an upward-glancing, inward swoon of contemplation followed by a girlish sigh. 1 asked Turabi about the war. He said that John Garang was jealous of the former rebels who had joined the government, which struck me as unlikely. To explain the situation in the South to me, Turabi thought to use an American analog the Civil War. "The Confederacy no longer exists," he said. "Most of the niggers of yesteryear, they are in Chicago now. It is just the same here, with millions of southerners having come to the North. With better roads, which we plan to build, virtually all of them will come North. They are becoming conscious of the fact that there is such a thing as a job, et cetera. They will no longer want to sit under a tree 'ust waiting for the fruit to fan." The idea that the people of Sudan's South-herders and farmers with the most physically demand ing lives imaginable, people as deeply wedded to their lands as any set of tribes on earth-are lazy and are looking forward to mov ing north en masse to work for the hated Djellabah struck me as so deeply foolish that it was almost funny. Nobody laughed, though. And Turabi nattered on.
NOT only is Sudan's civil war, as presently arrayed, unwinnable by either side but peace it self seems to lack any significant constituency. Suffering, war-weary civilians have little leverage. None of Sudan's neighbors are being seriously threatened by the war. In fact, few, if any, of their governments, no matter how much they fear and loathe Khartoum, and no matter what they say publicly in support of the S.P.L.A., want to see the South win its independence, for aR of them have their own restive minorities, and secession is thus a horrifying idea. Egypt, the regional powerhouse, detests the Turabi regime. (Egypt's government does, anyway. The country's many Islamists tend to feel differently.) In August, Cairo hosted a meeting of the leadership council of John Garang's National Democratic Alliance, and in September President Mubarak announced, against most available evidence, that the American attack on the Al Shifa pharmaceuticals plant in Khartoum had been justified. And yet even the Egyptian government has no interest in seeing southern Sudan gain its independence. Egypt's overriding strategic concern is the Nile, without whose waters it cannot survive. The last thing Cairo wants to see is a weak new southern state, possibly under the influence of Israel, controlling most of the upper White NUe. This is never publicly stated, but it is widely understood. Indeed, it is often given as the reason that Garang [email protected] dare announce that the S.PL.A.'s real goal is independence for the South: Egyptian opposition would doom his movement. Of course, the viability of an independent southern state is another question. Landlocked, with virtually no infrastructure, and already filthy with warlords, it would be the world's poorest country-completely destitute, even by African standards, and totally dependent on outside investment for any development. If there is any sunnier, more realistic prospect for an independent South, I [email protected] heard about it. American policy toward Sudan since the end of the Cold War-and since the rise of the Turabi regime-has been a combination of open hostility, stemming mainly from the regime's involvement with Iraq and from its hospitality toward a remarkable number of terrorist groups; of humanitarian engagement, primarily through Operation Lifeline Sudan; and of tepid political support for the rebel alliance. Like Sudan's neighbors, who aid the S.PL.A. and would seemingly fike to see the regime in Khartoum fall, [email protected] does not appear to have any actual alternative government in mind. The fact is that Sudan's strategic significance to the United States today is negligible, with the Horn of Africa no longer a cockpit of American-Soviet competition. Egypt is our key regional ally; Sudan is a sideshow. Given the scale of Sudan's suffering, the ongoing catastrophe of its civil war, and the millions of lives already lost in the South, the geopolitics raise an extremely disturbing possibility. While the outside world's obliviousness of Sudan's plight is real, it is hardly complete. There is, after all, Operation Lifeline Sudan, now the largest air-rehef operation since the Berhn airlift, fifty years ago. O.L.S. is expensive, having so far cost its sponsors more than two billion dollars. For the price of one weeles air relief, it is sometimes said, all the war-destroyed bridges and roads in the South could be repaired. Such reconstruction would, of course, require peace. The hard question is why the international community-the Westem powers, really, led by the United States-is willing to invest so heavily in humanitarian relief and, at the same time, to invest almost nothing in the diplomatic effort that might compel the warring parties to make peace. Th ' e awful possibility is that the Sudanese status quo, an indecisive, low-intensity conffict that weakens an unfriendly re 'me and 91 suits our key regional ally, Cairo, also suits our policymakers. And so I heard out Martin Mawiens Dut, the village magistrate in northern Bahr al-Ghazal who had recently lost his wife, his daughter, and his son in the war, as he explained his hopes for an American-sponsored, all-parties peace conference for Sudan. "Only the Americans can do it," he had proclaimed. "We are all counting on them!" And I did not tell him what I had heard one analyst say-that the West, for market reasons, would probably become interested in Sudan's oil reserves in about thirty years, and that Sudan should therefore expect its civil war to last until then.