By Zeinab Mohammed Salih
A demand by Sudan’s Hausa community to be recognised as traditional custodians of some land in Blue Nile state has erupted into deadly violence.
Clashes broke out last weekend with members of another ethnic group that considers itself native to the area.
More than 100 mainly unarmed people were killed and thousands of Hausa have been driven from their homes, prompting angry demonstrations elsewhere in Sudan about their treatment. At least eight people have died in these subsequent protests put down by the police.
Who are the Hausa community?
Originally from West Africa, they have lived in Sudan for centuries, often settling there on the long and arduous land journey to or from Mecca for the Hajj. All Muslims who are able to do so should try to visit the holy city in Saudi Arabia at least once in their lifetime to perform the pilgrimage.
British colonisers in Nigeria were also responsible for the movement of many Hausas eastwards – when they defeated the defiant sultan of the Sokoto Caliphate in 1903, many of his followers and descendants eventually settled in Sudan.
During colonial times, the British created one of the world’s largest irrigation schemes between the Blue Nile and White Nile. When the Gezira project started in 1911, slaves were largely used as free labour to mainly grow cotton for the industrial mills of north-west England.
After the British abolished slavery in the region in 1924, Gezira – which today has expanded to an area of more than two million acres (more than 900,000 hectares) – faced a manpower shortage.
According to Mr Ahmed, one solution the colonial administration came up with was to give 3,000 Hausa people land to encourage them to settle – with many of them working on the Gezira scheme.
This allowed a sizeable community of Hausa people to put down more permanent roots.
But right from the start, local groups were unhappy and stipulated that the land could not be handed down to younger generations. This was followed in 1948 with a restrictive citizenship law.
« The Hausas were denied citizenship status based on their ethnicity by the Sudanese authorities with the complicity of the British administration, which resulted in denying them education, and other opportunities, » says Mr Ahmed.
With the country’s independence eight years later, things did not improve greatly – as a person had to show their great-great grandfather was Sudanese to get citizenship, which many Hausas were unable to do.
This changed for the better in 1994 when Islamist politician Hassan Turabi was speaker of parliament, and ushered in a law that allowed those born in Sudan or had lived in the country for five years to get Sudanese nationality.
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