The AU Panel Hears Controversies Over Land
By Alex de Waal, Wednesday, July 1st, 2009
The AU Panel Hears Controversies Over Land
Dimingawi Fadul Seisi Mohamed Ateem, the most senior Fur chief in the historic province of Dar Diima, now known as the eastern localities of West Darfur State, spoke at length to the Panel. “We are Darfurians, we are true Africans.” He provided a history of how the war began in the late 1980s, and in many ways the discussions that followed showed how the conflict of twenty years ago was still unfinished business in the heartland of the Fur.
“The civil war started in Chad and led to the displacement of citizens to my area. They came and never returned back home. Our customs and traditions are different from theirs, our values are different. The political parties did not all care about the misery of individuals, they were just addressing the political aspect, and ignoring the citizens.”
“I represent all the eastern localities [of West Darfur]. I have been through it all. We sat and made agreements. I have a book, full of agreements, from 1989 onwards. I have all these agreements in writing. But they have come to nothing on account of those who are carrying weapons. Many of those who are carrying weapons are from Chad. The Janjawiid are paramount, they are beyond the law. We need to hold everyone accountable.”
An Arab Omda, Daud Dahab Abdu (from Nyertete) responded to the Dimangawi, and also to Shartai Ahmed Bakheit, who had presented the consolidated recommendations of the Native Administration, and spoken about how 600 Chadian Arab families had settled in his locality. Omda Daud said:
“The tribal wars began in the 1980s, all localities, Arab and Fur. The reason was that some began to claim that the nomads are not Sudanese. History tells us that all the tribes in Darfur are original and native, known from history from the time that the Arabs came to Sudan. When the war erupted in the 1980s, reconciliation was achieved in 1991. Then came the [SPLA] invasion of Daud Bolad and Abdel Aziz al Hilu…”
He had a different version of the history of the last twenty years. When he began to recount it, there was an outcry from the assembled chiefs, who encouraged him to go straight to his major points.
“With all due respect to the Shartay and the Dimangawi… On the issue of settlement, war led to a lot of displacement, a lot of movement of people from one place to another. Some people found empty lands and started using them and farming them. It doesn’t mean they are claiming ownership. We can all go back to our lands. This is not a crucial issue, it can be resolved. The concern for us is the conflict between the government and the armed movements, what is our role in that?”
After speaking, returning to his seat, Omda Daud made a point of stopping to greet the Dimangawi warmly, shaking him by the hand.
In several hearings, President Thabo Mbeki asked participants whether there was a problem with the hakura system of land tenure. The answers revealed differing interpretations of what the hakura system actually meant, and whether it should be reinstated, adapted, or even abolished. Some noted the importance of balancing citizenship rights with customary land rights. Others noted that a hakura is not, historically speaking, a tribal land grant, but rather a neighbourhood in which rights need not be granted on a tribal basis. In some cases, the issue was not so much the hakura system per se, but disputes over who has entitled to control which piece of land. Part of the disagreement arose because historically the hakura system was not monolithic, with different practices prevailing in different places. The interpretation of hakura as “tribal land ownership” is a recent re-invention of tradition. But arguments over historical interpretation should not obscure the massive violation of rights that has taken place with the forced displacement of millions of people from their villages.
The issue of land rights and citizenship interact in important ways. In the al Fashir hearings, Hassan Abdel Aziz of the Arab Coordination Council said “We shouldn’t be categorized as a part of society that is different. Don’t classify us as a segment that is not part of society.” That same day, Adam Mahmud, Omda of Salaam camp al Fashir, did not dispute the Arabs’ citizenship, but argued that recovering alienated land was an essential step: “We are in a prison, ten by ten [blocks], while others are living on our lands.”
Several nomad representatives made the point that historically, the nomadic communities had been disadvantaged, including under-representation on voting rolls. Some raised concerns about the implicit xenophobia that crept into some discussions on land. For example, Yousif Ismail Abdalla, of the Masar Organization (which provides services for nomads) spoke in the Khartoum civil society hearing, “Many tribes are nomads, and have different problems to those who are settled. Also those who are moving across borders to Chad and Central African Republic, they should have the same rights.” The issue of removing settlers who originated outside Sudan was raised—but no-one spoke on behalf of those settlers and their rights.
In the Geneina hearings, the issue of land alienation and occupation was particularly salient. Two inter-related issues arose: the alleged preferential award of citizenship to new settlers and the forced removal from land. One IDP said: “If I go to the Ministry of Interior to get an IDP card, I can’t get a document even with witnesses, but someone from Niger can come and get one even without.” And another spoke: “Some tribes are above the law, they behave like government. For us to be equal, justice must prevail.” The point about forced removal was emphasized by one IDP who said that the name of his former village had been changed and the trees that had previously been the boundary markers had been cut down, so the place could not be recognized. The IDPs had a practical suggestion: “We look forward to a mechanism to come to the IDP community to look into our claims and address our issues in an independent manner.” They said that they had all the evidence for land occupation, but a neutral body was needed to investigate and establish the facts.
In the final press conference before leaving Sudan, Pres. Mbeki outlined some steps that could be done immediately, without waiting for any agreement. Among them was a joint investigation by UNAMID and the government, with the involvement of IDPs, into the threats to IDP security, both in camps and on their return home. Examining the extent and nature of land occupation is part of this agenda.