Despite being the provincial capital, Kadugli is still rather rustic. Walking down the main-street, a herd of cows lazily plod past the single—or at most, double-storey buildings. Three-or-so concrete roads run through town, the rest are dirt streets. The newspapers here are the previous day’s edition, and sold for 50% more than their cover price; “transport from Khartoum” the vendor tells me.
The Nuba mountains were the scene of intense fighting between the armies of the North and South during the civil war, and Kadugli a major stage for this. “Everybody knew how to use a gun very well” Hassan* tells me as we walk back to his home on the outskirts of town. I had met him an hour previously.
When he was a young boy, the civil war still raging, the road that he would use to go to school—a road we had just taken—was mined. It was not uncommon for him to see fresh bodies along the way, victims of the previous night’s fighting. As we cross some open ground, he points out two schools, one run by the National Congress Party (NCP), the party of President Bashir, the other by the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), the ruling party in Southern Sudan. “I hate them both” he says.
For young men like him, finding a job is difficult. We are talking French, a language he speaks rather fluently, having studied at the University of Omdurman. Despite his university education, he is now working in a photocopy shop, and feels désespéré, “hopeless”. “Unless you are with the NCP, you cannot find a job” he says. He is currently studying English in his spare time, here in Kadugli “it is more important than Arabic” he claims, with many international NGOs being based here.
Investment in the town is now growing, though. Peace was signed here in 2003, two years before the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that officially ended the Second Sudanese Civil War in 2005. Sat in the market drinking coffee talking to a Kadugli veteran, John, who has been working here for the last few years in de-mining, he says that two years ago, there were only two or three shops in town. The now bustling shops that surround us as we drink tea from a street-side tea-lady were just empty shells. Now, in the town centre, there are several restaurants and the foundations for a new bank are being dug, which will give a new face to the place. But I can’t help but think that shining glass will somewhat ruin the town’s humid charm.
But echoes of the fighting are still resonating. Whilst one can now walk safely in the hills immediately surrounding the town—they have all been cleared—many other areas are still littered with mines and unexploded ordinance. And walking through town, many a soldier, dressed in camouflaged fatigues, will cycle past on a decrepit bicycle, a Kalashnikov slung over his soldier.
South Kordofan was the only state not to vote in the recent legislatives as there was disagreement about the recent census. With such a divided population — Northerners, Southerners and native Nuba — having an accurate representation of eligible voters is crucial. A new census is planned soon, although with the onset of the rainy season, which is starting now, many villages will be inaccessible. Voting for the legislatives is scheduled for November, seven months after the rest of the country cast their ballot.
Sitting atop a hill overlooking the town, a tokul and the thick, knotted trunk of a baobab tree beside us, the problems of Kadugli seem far. The mines have gone, and life seems not to have changed since before the colonial era. Walking in the hills, two ladies carry bundles of firewood on their head, their long, slender arms forming an elegant arc. Hassan explains to me the legends of the mountains in the distance. How one is cursed and in which diamonds are to be found, pointing to the horizon. Another, steep-sided pinnacle has a tree clinging on to its steep side; the alchemic leaf from which gives eternal life and turns anything into gold.
The setting sun silhouettes the mountains and flora as we walk back to town, the muezzin’s call to evening prayer echoing from the rock. It is time for Hassan’s evening shift, but there is no electricity. Power cuts are common in the rainy season, he says.