Sudan Nile Dam Threatens To Drown Nubian Villages
By: Reem Abbas for Al-Monitor Posted on May 14, 2013
KHARTOUM, Sudan - On the morning of June 13, 2007, Mohamed Fageer
Sid-Ahmed spent one hour convincing his mother that he needed to
participate in a protest taking place later that day to protect his land.
His mother was adamantly against the idea - he was her only child after
all - but he won the argument and joined the protest. Thousands of
Nubian women and men protested that day from different towns and
villages that would be affected by the Kajbar Dam, a dam project
proposed by the Sudanese government in the mid-1990s.
The protesters marched to the dam site to protest; after being hit by
heavy tear gas, all of a sudden, live bullets were fired and Sid-Ahmed
was the first victim to fall to the ground.
"He was shot in the back. At the time, he was giving water to the
protesters, but police forces shot at the protesters from up the
mountains," said Osman Ibrahim, the secretary-general of the Higher
National Committee to Resist the Kajbar Dam, in an interview with
With tears in his eyes, Ibrahim told the story of Sid-Ahmed and the
story of his activism against the Kajbar Dam since 1995.
Ibrahim hails from Nubia, an area that stretches from northern Sudan to
southern Egypt and dates back thousands of years.
When Egypt built the High Dam in the 1960s, tens of thousands of Nubians
in Egypt and Sudan were displaced. In Sudan, they were resettled in an
area far away from the Nile, the bloodline of their community.
"I feel that there is a conspiracy against Nubians, the government wants
to get rid of us, they think we are all Communists," said Ibrahim.
The government of Sudan stated through Yousef Tahir Qureshi, an adviser
to the governor of Northern state, that the dam will generate 360
megawatts of electricity.
Qureshi told the Sudan News Agency (SUNA) earlier this month that two
large-scale agricultural projects will be established and services will
be offered to those resettled.
The head of the anti-dam committee, Ezzeldeen Idris, told Al-Monitor
that it is unclear how many villages will drown.
"The dam implementation unit failed to provide us with a feasibility
study that tells us how high the dam will be, so we can't clearly say
how many villages will be submerged," said Idris, who lives in Fareeg,
one of the villages threatened.
Sometimes government officials make revealing statements about the dam,
helping Nubians to estimate the extent of the damage.
"Qureshi said that the drowned area is 180 kilometers (112 miles), which
means from Kajbar to Al-Guld, which is 25-30 kilometers from Dongola,
the capital of Northern state," Ibrahim said.
Arif Gamal, a Nubian scholar now teaching at the University of
California at Berkeley, wrote on RescueNubia.org that in 1964, as
Nubians were being transported by train from their soon-to-be submerged
villages, one woman left the train and ran back to the village. There
was confusion on board for some time, and then as people were preparing
to follow her, they saw her coming back. She went to lock her house, she
The woman's house was locked, but soon submerged in water. Half a
century later, Nubians refuse to go through the same ordeal.
"What is happening is seriously making us think about secession, why
would we want to be in a state that wants to drown our villages along
with our culture and history?" Ibrahim asked, bitterly.
Ibrahim was detained for a month in a wave of arrests of Nubian
activists following the 2007 protest. He spent a year in detention in
the 1970s for political activism when he was a student.
Now in his late 60s, he walks around with a file full of statements by
the committee, pictures of the protests and what the committee calls the
The police center in Kajbar refused to open the complaint into the 2007
killings, so activists took the struggle to the international community
through Rescue Nubia, a Washington-based organization led by Nubians in
After the 2007 incident, the government grew silent about the dam
project, before speaking again about the ambitious $1.5 billion project
financed by China.
Even with the attractive development projects proposed by the
authorities, the Nubians oppose the dam because it will drown their
history and disperse a group of people whose identity is tied to this land.
"If they want to give us services in exchange for the dam, they are too
late, we already built a hospital and are building a secondary school
for girls now in Fereeg," Idris said, adding that the residents have
also sustained a collective agriculture project since the 1950s through
For the Nubians, the experience of the Manasir, an ethnic group
displaced by the Merowe Dam — a multibillion dollar project completed in
2010 — makes them hesitant to even consider the Kajbar Dam.
After waiting for compensation for years, 1,500 men from the Manasir
took matters into their own hands and went to El-Damer, the capital of
River Nile state, 300 kilometers (190 miles) from Khartoum, and
organized a sit-in that lasted three months.
Although other groups were also affected, the Manasir were the most
affected and were kept waiting for government compensation.
The protesters demanded to be compensated; finally, a delegation from
the government signed a memorandum of understanding with the Manasir in
"The agreement is on paper, but the reality is we have not been
compensated for our land. We want to be resettled around the lake, but
the government wants to resettle us far away," said Al-Rashid
Al-Affendi, of the Executive Committee of the Manasir People Affected by
the Merowe Dam, in an interview with Al-Monitor.
Affendi added that the only compensation received was for the lost palm
trees since they represented a large resource for the Manasir.
Peter Bosshard, the policy director at International Rivers, a US-based
environmental and human rights organization that published reports on
Kajbar Dam, said that this is an international test case.
"The Kajbar Dam is an international project, and international actors —
particularly from China — share a responsibility for it. The human
rights violations caused by the Merowe Dam have tarnished the reputation
of the Chinese companies and financiers involved in the project,"
Bosshard said in an email interview with Al-Monitor.
The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights filed a
complaint against two executives at Lahmeyer International GmbH, a
German engineering company that was a consultant in the Merowe Dam project.
In the villages of Nubia that will be affected by the dam, electricity
is not available the whole day, but the citizens there confirm that
there are many other ways to generate electricity other than the dam.
"Our area is very hot, they could try providing us with solar energy,"
Bosshard agreed. "Sudan has a solar energy potential and a big wind
energy potential that is much less damaging than the Kajbar Dam and
other projects on the Nile."
Reem Abbas is a Sudanese freelance journalist based in Khartoum and an
award-winning blogger. She currently contributes to www.theniles.org. On
Twitter: @ReemShawkat. Read more:
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