Interview: Herders fenced out of oil fields, jobs
Tension is growing between Misseriya tribesmen of South Kordofan and the petroleum company operating in Heglig. The oil field near the border with South Sudan was attacked and looted by Darfur and Kordofan rebels last April before being briefly occupied by South Sudanese troops.
Ahmed Yusif, a leader of the tribe living in Heglig, speaking to Radio Tamazuj said that his tribe is in a dispute with the Government of Sudan and a petroleum company working in the area.
The local name that the leader was using to describe the company suggested that it may be Chinese. Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Co. (GNPOC), an international consortium, operates the field.
“The oil company has stopped the Misseriya tribes from grazing in Heglig, and fenced all the areas that our people were staying on,” said the leader. He pointed out that they had meetings many times with the company and the Government of Sudan but failed to reach a solution.
The tribe has resisted a plan to transfer their grazing lands to an area to the south-west. “The government and its oil company are planning to transfer us to Abyei but we told them no,” said Ahmed Yusif.
Yusif reiterated that all the Heglig oil areas are fenced, forcing the cattle-keepers of the area to leave without compensation from the government or oil company. He said that they refused the company’s proposal to relocate them out of their place.
The leader claimed also that the company had dismissed all members of the tribe who were working for the company and replaced them with workers brought from Khartoum.
“Our people are all fired and the company has refused their dues, and now replaced us with the workers from Khartoum,” he said, accusing the company and government alike of discrimination against employees from his tribe.
‘We will fight them’
The Misseriya leader sees the fence as dangerous to his people and their animals. “We are ready for them and we will fight them if the still insist with their decision to transfer Misseriya out of their land.”
He explained that some of the tribe are keeping their cattle in South Sudan where they traditionally had dry season pastures. “Our cows are grazing in South Sudan but not in Sudan. That is why we made an agreement with South Sudan without involving the Khartoum government,” he explained.
He emphasized that they are looking forward to making their relationship with the tribes of South Sudan, because that is where their future is: “The Misseriya community is immediately in need of maintaining their relationship with the South Sudanese people.”
“I appreciate the agreement on four freedoms signed between South Sudan and Sudan, because we can move to the South now also without cows and the southerners can stay in our place,” he noted.
The source also articulated a recurring political theme from the area, namely the exploitation of South Kordofan’s resources without benefit to the locals. He pointed to the poor schools and health clinics and contended that the benefit was going to Khartoum rather than to the Misseriya.