Khartoum / El Gezira — Seasonal labourers in El Gezira, allied in the Kanabi Congress, demand better housing and services. They attribute the disregard by former state governments to racism.
Most of the seasonal labourers - called kanabi (camp workers) in Sudan - in the state moved from western parts of the country, including many from Darfur, in the last century in search of work in the El Gezira Agricultural Scheme. The workers settled on the outskirts of villages and near irrigation channels and water banks.
As the successive El Gezira state governments considered them temporary workers, they did not provide many services. Their lives can be characterised by poverty and isolation, due to government policies and the discrimination they face based on ethnicity and culture from the surrounding population.
According to figures presented by Dr Jaafar Mohamedein, Secretary General of the Kanabi Congress, in 2018, 2,495,000 kanabi are living in 2,095 'camps' in El Gezira. They make up 39 per cent of the total population of El Gezira.
At a meeting in Khartoum on Monday, attended by leaders of the Sudan Liberation Movement led by Minni Minawi (SLM-MM) and a representative of Sudan's Sovereign Council member Mohamed El Taayshi, the Kanabi Congress Secretary General stressed the need to document the kanabi case.
Mohamedein called on the Sudanese government to provide model villages for the workers.
He further demanded the participation of the kanabi at the various levels of power, and the establishment of a commission dealing with their affairs under the supervision of the Sovereign Council.
The labourers are ready to ally with political forces, in particular with the El Gezira and El Managil Farmers Alliance, he added.
The El Gezira and El Managil Farmers Alliance expressed its full support to the demands of the seasonal workers for better living conditions.
Hasabo Ibrahim, leading member of the Alliance, commented by saying that the issue of the kanabi, "productive agricultural labourers", consists of a labour and a social dimension: "Production relations are often disrupted, housing and services are extremely poor, and the workers are prone to discrimination."
He said that the kanabi are responsible for 60 per cent of the agricultural work, while their returns amount to 14 per cent only. He recommended the labourers to organise themselves better to claims their rights.
Juma El Wakeel, head of the Darfuri SLM-MM delegation currently visiting Khartoum, also supported the demands of Mohamedein. He called for urgent solutions to the problems of the seasonal labourers.
The rebel leader further encouraged the workers to establish a political party to represent their interests. He further stressed the need to combat the racism rooted in the Sudanese society.
Mohamed Mahala, Director of the Office of Sovereign Council member Mohamed El Taayshi, said that the kanabi are considered to be among the people marginalised during the 30-year reign of ousted President Omar.
He called the dire living conditions of the agricultural workers, displaced people, and refugees "a shame on the forehead of the country".
Their issue has been taken up, together with displaced people and refugees living in camps, in the current peace negotiations in the South Sudanese capital of Juba, he said.
The situation of the seasonal workers "is to be dealt with as an issue of equal citizenship by the federal government", Mahala said. "Equal citizenship must be included in the Permanent Constitution."
He called on the seasonal labourers "to look to the future, as the current generation of kanabi is able to get their rights and address all historical imbalances".
El Gezira and El Managil Agricultural Scheme, located between the Blue and White Niles south of Khartoum, used to be one of the world's largest irrigation projects.
In late 2014, President Al Bashir described the Scheme as a burden on the country's budget. In September 2015, the Agriculture Ministry amended the El Gezira Scheme Act, aimed at transferring land ownership to the private sector and foreign investors.
Farmers Alliance leader Hasabo Ibrahim warned in June 2016 for the consequences of the "destructive agricultural policies".
The authorities in El Gezira also attempted to demolish 'camps' of seasonal labourers in the past. In April last year, a large police force using excessive force and tear gas, destroyed large parts of Kombo Aftas, a 'camp' or village in Hasaheisa, inhabited by seasonal labourers and small farmers.
The demolition came against the backdrop of a conflict between the people of Kombo Aftas and a neighbouring village concerning a piece of land, Secretary General of the Kanabi Association Jaafar Mohamed told Radio Dabanga. He described the incident as "a clear indicator of corruption in the land sector".