Land conflicts in El Dali, Al Mazmum and Abu Houjar
The areas of El Dali, Al Mazmum and Abu Houjar, in the State of Sennar, have recently witnessed an escalation of land use and ownership conflict. The region in question occupies an area of 40,000 square kilometers and inhabited by 1.6 million people. The conflict reached its peak during bloody clashes in November 2016 in Kokri village in the locality of El Dali and Al Mazmum, that caused the death of a civilian and the injury of another by members of government regular forces.
The local community members and their leaders reported that the bloody event started when the Ministry of Interior sent a force of 100 armed men, commanded by a Captain, from the Central Reserve Police (CRP) to El Dali and Al Mazmum localities. The declared objective of their mission was to stop the encroachment of pastoralists nomad on the large mechanized farms in Kokri that was established on their historical lands where they typically camped after returning from their seasonal grazing journey into South Sudan. The Ministry made the decision under pressure from the independent member of the National Legislative Assembly, for Singa Umm Banin El Dali, Salah AlNour, who presented several petitions about this issue to the Ministry and the Parliament.
The CRP force was hosted in one of the large farm owned by Ahmed Kamal Jar Elnabi, a business agricultural investor, who financially supported the election campaign of Salah AlNour. Ever since the CRP force arrived in the area, it engaged in provocative behavior towards the nomads and small farmers in the area including beatings, looting of belongings and stealing of cattle. The force continued to target the community members to make their life hard enough so that they leave the area. For the local community, this despicable behavior was incited by Ahmed Kamal Jar Elnabi, who covers living expenses of the force and hosts them in his 300,000 feddan farm. Consequently, community members were faced with detention and exorbitant fines for the alleged destruction of the agricultural farms by their livestock.
In November 2016, a member of the police force who was driving a police vehicle ran over Ali Malik, a 26 years old small farmer, while harvesting his crop of sesame seeds. Ali died on the spot while his younger brother was shot when he refused to vacate his land and leave the harvest behind. Moreover, the four-wheel police vehicle was driven over the small farm to destroy the crop. The incident, coupled with the cumulative provocations by the police force, led to the rallying of thousands of locals from the neighboring villages around Kokri area and they decided to take matters into their own hands since the authorities turned a deaf ear to their complaints. They decided to stop the police provocations by attacking the CRP camp on Ahmed Kamal Jar Elnabi’s property.
As a result of the confrontations, a resident of Mazmum area and 11 members of the police died. Following the incident, the Ministry of Interior issued a statement in which it ignored the number of casualties, closed the camp and withdrew the CRP from Kokri to Singa. A buffer zone of 3,000 feddan was instituted between the large mechanized agricultural farms and the nomads. The Governor of Sennar State, Al Daw Al Mahi, then visited the region to calm down the situation and addressed the community promising to implement the Federal Cabinet decision no. 209 of 2013 that address the historical conflict between nomads, small farmers and owners of large mechanized agricultural projects. The 209 decree will be addressed below in great details.
The bloody events in Kokri cannot be viewed and addressed in isolation from the historical conflict over land ownership, use and allocation in the region. This conflict has deep historical roots which can be summarized in the next section.
Historical Roots of the Land Conflict in El Dali and Al Mazmum
The conflict over land in this area can be traced back to 1957, following a decision by the federal government at that time to allocate large agricultural land to investors from outside the region. The decision has also regulated the mechanized farming along the following guidelines:
- agricultural schemes size is limited to no more than 1000 feddan, with Acacia trees space of not less than 10% of the total area of the scheme;
- The authority to allocate mechanized agricultural schemes is only bestowed on the federal authorities in the Khartoum;
- strictly banned mechanized farming outside planned areas;
- granted monitoring and supervision over the mechanized farming to the chiefs of Rufaa Al Hawye and the Agricultural Office in Singa.
Despite these regulations, conflicts between agricultural investors and the local pastoralists, nomads and small farmers continued. The locals believe that the decree and the it regulations did not consider the views of the community and their leaders on its content, implementation and consequences especially the impact of mechanized farming on the traditional/communal land ownership, on the pastoralists and small farmers and on the environment and the biodiversity of the area.
With the continued and unabated land conflict between the nomads, small farmers and agricultural investors, the government efforts continued as well throughout the period that followed the introduction of the large scale mechanized farming in the area.
One of the most prominent and important interventions that adversely affected the area and contributed to the escalation of the conflict over land was the decision by the government authorities to dissolve the Traditional Administration in 1970. Thus, its authority to regulate land ownership, use and allocation, was also lost and that has in turn encourage land grabbing encroachment. As an immediate consequence of the absence of authority, large areas were cleared of acacia trees and other vegetation, estimated at 2 million feddan, while large mechanized farms mushroomed haphazardly and land grabs became widespread. A good example for land grab, is the agricultural investor Kamal Jar El Nabi. His farm size is estimated at 300,000 feddan, although his official registered land is no more than 60,000 feddan.
- Large agricultural investors continued to enjoy the protection of the government throughout the periods that followed Numairi’s regime (1969-1984) and do so today. Their farms and powers have increased proportionally to the government’s facilitation of allocation of farm land. This trend has increase the displacement of the pastoralists from their traditional grazing lands, and led to the shrinking of small agricultural holdings. The pastures areas have also diminished that tens of thousands of the pastoralists moved to Blue Nile State and into South Sudan. Those who persisted and did not leave their traditional lands were shot dead by the large scale agricultural company/investors and the armed forces they hire to protect their crops.
- In 1972, the first conference to resolve the conflict between the pastoralists and the agricultural investor was held in the Tibeilab area in western Blue Nile State, however its recommendations were ignored by the government and the investors.
- In 1975, another conference was held in Al Mazmum to discuss peaceful co-existence between the agricultural investors and the pastoralists and how to attain an optimum use of the land. The nomadic pastoralists at that time constituted about 40% of Sudan’s population. The idea of reserving corridors for nomadic pastoralists (Massarat) – specific routes for the pastoralists and their livestock pass without trespassing the large agricultural farms – emerged as the best recommendation of the conference. The Massarat were planned to be 2 km wide. However, none of the conference recommendations were implemented. Consequently, polarization in the area increased between the large land owners and agricultural investors and the local pastoralists, nomads and small farmers.
- In 1982, Mohammed Alhassan Aburouf, the chair of the Regional Council, and the former co-chair of the Rufaa Al Hawye Union, proposed ideas to resolve the crisis between the pastoralists and the agricultural investors as well as to curtail the domination of mechanized farming over grazing areas, forest and mining. He suggested that the government should come up with an investment map which would establish the baseline for land allocation to investors, pastoralists, forestry and mining. His ideas gained the acceptance of FAO and that of Sayed Mohammed Dawood Al Khalifa, an advisor to the then President Jaafar Nimeiry. However, Aburouf’s ideas irked the then Governor of Central Region, Abdel Rahim Mahmoud, who portray Mohammed Alhassan Aburouf as biased to his nomad clan and tribes. As such these ideas were buried.
The secession of South Sudan and the Return of the Nomads
- Throughout history, the nomadic Rufaa Al Hawye tribes have seasonal migrations with their livestock to Yabous on the border with South Sudan and return to the North to Jabalain and Shagarat Mahu Bek and proceed North as far as Gezira State where the current Gezira Scheme is located.
- After South Sudan gained independence, the subsequent tensions on the border between the new state and Sudan and the civil war that erupted in South Sudan, the nomad’s freedom of movement across the border between the two countries, including the Rufaa Al Hawye tribes whose number amounts to 60.000 individual, have been adversely affected.
- Following the civil war in South Sudan, the nomads were forced to return and settle on their historical lands in Sudan. However, to their dismay these lands were seized by the government and allocated to local and foreign large agricultural investors. The area in question includes Kokri and Turus, the latter was previously reserved for the Mazmum town expansion. As such, a new cycle of conflict emerged related to the ownership of land.
- To find solutions for this recent tension, the State government in Sennar decided to allocate 10% of the areas allocated for mechanised farming to the resettlement of the returning nomads and Massarat for their livestock. However, these solutions had further complicated the situations, when manipulated and altered during implementation.
- Another attempt to diffusing the simmering conflict, was the formation of a committee by the then Vice President of the Sudan, Ali Osman Mohamed Taha, chaired by Mahdi Ibrahim, to look into the conflict and find a solution to better settle the returning nomads. The committee visited the area and listened to all parties, including the Shura Council of Rufaa Al Hawye tribes who presented a detailed memorandum to the committee that included following:
1. There is a large presence of agricultural investors in the area who encroach on lands designated for animal husbandry and gum Arabic and turn them into mechanized farms;
2. The presence of thousands of nomads who are marginalized and treated by the government authorities. The government responsibility is to allocate an area for their settlement after the deterioration of the situation in South Sudan. The memorandum mentioned that there are two groups of nomads:
3. Those scattered within the State of Sennar. The government should group those into permanent villages, to ease the provision of social services and protect them from large scale agricultural investors;
4. Those returning from South Sudan. The government should welcome them, track their numbers and the number of their livestock to be able to draw plans and programs for their resettlement.
5. The need for the reduction of the mechanized farming area in favor of animal husbandry, gum Arabic production, and livestock corridors per the 1993 plans which was endorsed by the National Investment Department;
6. To conduct an evaluation of the adverse effects of the mechanized farming on the nomads, small farmers, forests and the green cover of the land. Moreover, there is a need to review and evaluate the work of the operating irrigated agricultural farms in Sirou, Tawfigiya, Dar Al Salam, Um Marah, and Kinaf Abu Naama and the planned ones in Um Balina, Rouweina, and Tibat Al Bahar;
7. To reduce the standard size of rainfed agricultural farms from 1000 feddan to 500 feddan;
8. Group small farmers and nomadic pastoralists into cooperatives societies through which they can own agricultural schemes and organize legal access to the waste of the large rainfed mechanized farms;
9. The establishment of a joint mechanism between the State government and the Shura Council of Rufaa Al Hawye tribes to resolve problems between the agricultural investors and the nomads especially those returning from South Sudan;
10. To conduct a survey of all lands that have been officially allocated for mechanized farming and names of their owners and holders;
11. The formation of a federal authority for the development of the nomadic people in Sennar State;
12. The rreinstitution of the traditional administration and the Shura Council of Rufaa Al Hawye tribes;
13. Withdraw expired farming licenses and the allocation of the land based on an agreed agricultural investment plans that preserve all natural resources in the area – forests, pastures, and rainfed farming – and prioritize allocation to owners with valid farming licenses;
14. To designate Abu Houjar as an area for animal husbandry and gum Arabic production due to its comparative advantage in sheep, cattle, camels, and its location on the gum Arabic belt.
- Following its visit to the area and the review of the memorandum of the Shura Council of Rufaa Al Hawye tribes, the committee chaired by Mahdi Ibrahim came up with its own recommendations which was shared with the chiefs of Rufaa Al Hawye for opinion. The most important of these recommendations were:
1. Re-planning and re-allocation of lands to ensure the sustainability of natural resources and justice for residents;
2. The necessity of re-integrating the nomads returning from South Sudan in the local community with the aim of changing their life style to sedentary;
- The construction of basic infrastructure in the areas designated for the settlement of the returnees, and the provision of water, health and education services, veterinary services, security and markets.
- The Presidency formed a committee, chaired by Eng. Kamal Ali Mohammed, former Minister of Irrigation, to implement these recommendations.
- The State government of Sinnar intervened to hinder the implementation of these recommendations when it provided false information about the area. For example, the former Governor of Sennar, Ahmed Abbas, told the committee that there are 44,000 feddan reserved land, 70 water reservoirs, and 8 water stations in the area. The goal of State government was to stop the implementation process of the recommendation as it would threaten the interests of the big agricultural companies and businesses.
- Based on Eng. Kamal Ali Mohammed’s committee report, the Federal Cabinet issued, during its 13th Session on 27 June 2013, Decision No. 209, that stated the following:
1. The Re-settlement of Returnees Report by the committee was accepted by the Cabinet;
2. The re-settlement areas were to be expanded to include all states bordering South Sudan (White Nile, Blue Nile, South Kordofan, East Darfur, and South Darfur). It was also decided that the State of Sennar, to be the seat of the administrative committee that will ensure implementation per specific time schedule;
3. To consider and learn from previous efforts in the development of nomads in border regions in the areas of building dams, water reservoirs, and provision of health, education, vet services;
4. To use micro-finance to enable returnees to settle and advance their standard of living;
5. Emphasize the importance of land management to preserves resources, address issue of land rights, through the participation of civil leadership in the region in the decision making in order to maintaining the spirit of cooperation and consensus;
6. The state authorities should review and evaluate the large land designated for mechanized farming to avoid the destructive effects on the environment and the security of the regions;
7. The Supreme Investment Council should produce regulations and procedures that would govern large scale mechanized farming to circumvent the negative environmental and security consequences;
8. Call upon the Ministry of Interior, state governments, the Supreme Investment Council, the Central Bank of Sudan, the resettlement committee, and other relevant authorities to take all necessary actions for the smooth implementation of this decision.
Decision No. 209 (2013) of the Federal Cabinet was welcomed and praised by Mohammed Hassan Aburouf and the affected community in the area. However, per the tribal Shura Council, the decision was not implemented and instead reduced to a mere State decision, when its implementation was assigned to a State level committee, chaired by Idris Algeed, the advisor to the former Governor of Sennar Ahmed Abbas.
Cases of Corruption Associated with the Land Conflict in El Daly and Al Mazmum
The topic of Land ownership, allocation and use in El Daly, Al Mazmum and Abu Houjar was marred by several corruption instances. The dual nature of land ownership in addition to an array of government authority’s decisions, open the door for illicit gain from land deals. According to testimonies of observers and activists and civil society organizations in the region, the following practices amount to corruption:
- The logging of acacia forests and the allocation of the empty space to political appointees and high ranking officials and their families for large scale farming. The areas that has been cleared by such illicit practices is estimated at over 2 million feddan;
- The encroachment into historic grazing areas and livestock passage corridors, thus leading to the escalation of the conflict between the pastoralists and the agricultural investors;
- The spread of farming outside the areas official allocated by the government authorities for large scale farming, as in the case of the farms of the investor Kamal Jar Al Nabi;
- The corruption associated with the allocation of 5,000 feddan for agricultural farming in Abu Houjar, owned by the company named Usul. The residents of the area protested the establishment of the project based on its detrimental effects on the environment and on livestock, but nobody heeded their objections. Later, the residents uncovered that the former Governor of Sennar state is a co-owner of the project, although the Usul company was registered as a foreign agricultural investment company;
- The Sennar State government ignored the stipulation that 10% of the total land approved for mechanized agriculture, amounting to 514,681 feddan, is to be allocated for the settlement of the returnees from South Sudan and for livestock passage corridors. Instead, only 4000 feddan were allocated for resettlement in the village of Al Turus, and 3000 feddan in East of Al Mazmum for use by small farmers. The rest of the designated area was then reserved for allocation that benefits security officers, police and the staff of the attorney general office.
- Many of the senior officials in Sennar State appropriated large agricultural farms from the land allocated for the settlement of returning nomads, as follows:
1. 350 feddan farmed by Mohammed Adam, the director of the Administrative Unit in Al Mazmum town;
2. 1500 feddan farmed by Qasem, aka Wad Al Hajja, the Sennar State Director of Mechanized Agriculture;
3. 500 feddan leased by a Al Tabieq, a civil servant in the Administrative Unit of Al Mazmum;
4. 500 feddan farmed on behave of the General Director of Agriculture in the Sennar State;
5. Farming of large size of land by Mohammed Adam Damba, Commissioner of El Dali and Al Mazmum locality;
6. The Executive Director and the Financial Manager of El Dali and Al Mazmum locality farmed 250 feddan each of the land allocated for the resettlement of the returnees.
Traditional Administration Rivalries and the land conflict
- Mohammed Hassan Aburouf, the Chair of the Rufaa Al Hawye tribes Shura Council and the Chief of the tribes, though not endorsed by the government, believes that the former Chief of Rufaa Al Hawye, Yusuf Ahmed Yusuf, did not take the land and tribal problems seriously and that is why two conferences were held to tackle the chiefdom question. He added that problems within the chiefdom was a major cause for the escalation of the conflicts between the agricultural investors and the pastoralists, and the ensued government backed corruption.
- Chief Mohammed Hassan Aburouf said that the Rufaa Al Hawye tribes held a conference that decided the ouster of Chief Yusuf Ahmed Yusuf and appointed his brother to the position. However, the former Governor of Sennar, Ahmed Abbas, organized another conference, mostly attended by members of Popular Defense Forces, a government militia, and not members of the Rufaa Al Hawye tribes to reinstate the pro-government Chief Yusuf Ahmed Yusuf, who misrepresents the interests of the nomad pastoralists and small farmers.
- On March 5, 2016 Rufaa Al Hawye tribes held another conference in Al Mazmum which ousted the Chief and elected Mohammed Hassan Aburouf, Chair of the tribal Shura Council, as the new chief. However, the government authority in the Sennar State did not recognize the results of the conference nor the newly elected chief.
Resolving the Land Conflict, Addressing the Grievances of the local people and Protecting the Victims
Several recommendations expressed by community leadership and the grassroots organizations in the area need to be taken seriously to resolve the land conflict, protect the rights of locals and address the grievances of the victims. These recommendations provided a rich input to a final resolution of the conflict in the area before it expands to adjacent areas. The recommendations include:
1. Conduct a serious and thorough review of the legality and how land is owned, allocated and used. This process will provide good information for re-planning and re-allocation of land to ensure the sustainability of natural resources and bring justice to the residents;
2. The state must take legal actions regarding illegal larger holdings that came at the expense of small farmers, pastoralists, the environment, vegetation cover and the forests;
3. The state must provide the necessary funding for vulnerable community in the area to help improve their standard of living;
4. The official authorities must involve the local community in the decision-making process regarding large land allocation for investment;
5. Al Mazmum Youth Organizations advocated for a return to the old farming system, as a solution to the land and environmental problems facing the area. The old system follow three cycle rotations that leave two third of the land as fallow for grazing and one third for farming.
6. High importance should be given to the development and preservation of the Acacia forests and of the production of gum Arabic. The area has a comparative advantage which make this option economically feasible;
7. The implementation of the Cabinet Decision No. 209 to resolve the problems facing returnees from South Sudan, including the projects listed in the accompanying booklet. It is important not to leave the implementation of the Decree to the State authorities in Sennar;
8. Pastoralists and nomads must establish a charity fund organization to make resources available to defend their interest and resolve their problem, similar to the Earth Fund established by the agricultural investors.