Farmers in El Gezira state, south of Khartoum, have strongly condemned the demolition by the authorities of a village in El Hasahisa locality last week.
Government bulldozers, accompanied by a large police force using excessive force and tear gas, destroyed large parts of Kombo Aftas, a village inhabited by seasonal labourers and small farmers, on Wednesday. Seven people were reportedly arrested.
The demolition came against the backdrop of a conflict between the people of Kombo Aftas and a neighbouring village concerning a piece of land, Jaafar Mohamed, Secretary-general of the Kanabi Association, told Radio Dabanga on Thursday.
He described the incident as “a clear indicator of corruption in the land sector”, and pointed to previously attempts by the authorities to demolish a number of settlements in the area.
Mohamed El Jak Abushama, a leading member of El Gezira and El Managil Agricultural Scheme, called the destruction of the village “a barbaric and brutal crime.”
“The Agricultural Scheme stands firmly behind the seasonal labourers,” he told this station on Friday, and called for the establishment of an agricultural workers union “to protect them and support their just demands for adequate housing and development.”
He called on Sudan’s political forces and civil society organisations “to strongly respond to this criminal action which we consider an extension of the government’s oppressive policies in Darfur, the Nuba Mountains, the Blue Nile, and former southern Sudan.”
The El Gezira Scheme, located between the Blue and White Niles, south of Khartoum, used to be one of the world’s largest irrigation projects.
It was begun by the UK while the region was governed as part of Anglo-Egyptian Sudan (1899-1956).
The British developed an irrigation scheme for the production of cotton. In 1925 they completed the Sennar dam. In that year, they also established a number of camps (kanabi) for seasonal labourers from other parts (mainly the west) of the country.
Over time these camps developed into permanent settlements. The residents established the Kanabi Association in order to protect their rights.
The Sudanese government and the El Gezira Board further developed the Scheme after the independence of the country on 1 January 1956. In the early 1960s, the El Managil extension on the western side of El Gezira Scheme, was completed.
By 2008, the irrigated area in El Gezira state covered 8,800 square kilometres, about half the country’s total land under irrigation. The main crop was still cotton, though its production was reduced to less than 100,000 acres.
In late 2014, President Al Bashir described the Scheme as a burden on the country’s budget.
Early September 2015, the Agriculture Ministry amended the El Gezira Scheme Act, aimed at transferring land ownership to the private sector and foreign investors. The Farmers Union was replaced by ‘work associations’.
Hasabo Ibrahim, a leading member of the El Gezira and El Managil Farmers Association told this station in June 2016 that a large number of irrigation channels have been removed by the authorities during the past years.
“This has led to the destruction of a part of the irrigation system as the desperate farmers resorted to digging wells arbitrarily. The situation in turn led to widespread destruction of farmlands in El Gezira and El Managil,” he said.
Abdeen Bargawi, the spokesman for the Association, reported in December 2016 that the Scheme’s administration mortgaged assets worth more than $52 million to Sudanese banks.
Photo: The village of Kombo Aftas in El Gezira demolished by the authorities, 25 April 2018. Source: RD.