Reporting from Sudan’s hidden frontline

Nuba Reports shines a light on the undercovered conflict in the Nuba Mountains

There is a war being fought in Sudan, and it’s happening almost out of sight. In 2011, South Sudan became the world’s newest country as part of a peace deal to end decades of civil war. But just north of the border, in the Nuba Mountains in South Kordofan, the Nuba felt left behind. A group of black African ethnic groups, they had fought on the southern side of the civil war and had little in common with their Arab neighbors. Ahmed Haroun—who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes—was elected governor of South Kordofan amid claims of vote rigging. Fighting broke out in the Nuba Mountains soon after.

American Ryan Boyette had travelled to Nuba with an aid agency in 2003 and settled there. His wife is Nuban. When the war broke out and agencies pulled out their staff, Boyette decided to stay. Foreign journalists were finding it increasingly difficult to get to Nuba, so Boyette founded Nuba Reports, a not-for-profit news outlet manned by Sudanese reporters, that covers the worsening humanitarian crisis.

CJR spoke to Boyette about Nuba Reports’ work documenting a conflict that is in danger of being forgotten.

What inspired Nuba Reports?
What inspired it was what brought me to Sudan originally in 2003. I had read an article about fighting that was taking place in Sudan and I was quite frustrated that I had never even heard of the fighting before I had read that article, and it had been going on for 20 years at the time. When this war started, in June 2011, I remembered that that was the reason that I came to Sudan in the first place, because I saw a huge gap in information on Sudan getting out into the international community. I knew during this war that it would be very similar, that many people would be losing their lives, many people would be starving, and no one would ever hear about it because there would be no one there to get the information out. So that’s what inspired me and some of my friends in Sudan to start the team.

How does Nuba Reports work?
We have two kinds of work that our reporters do. The first thing is breaking news, which usually is something that takes place in the region that they are in charge of reporting from…If something takes place, like a bombing, or the army attacks, the village is burned, then they will go to the site and get as much information [as they can], and take a short video report.

The other thing is that sometimes we want character-based stories and reports, so we use longer assignments—short documentaries highlighting a character. We’ll get the reporters to do a specific assignment on a character that they might think will be a compelling person to follow.

What are the sorts of stories that you’re most interested in covering?
A lot of our audience are policymakers, a lot of them are other members of the media and NGOs in the US. That’s who is mainly seeing our videos and reports. We want to make them aware of the situation on the ground, especially the humanitarian situation…We want to bring attention to areas where people may have been displaced and there’s food shortages…There’s [also been] a lot of indiscriminate bombardment of civilian areas as a result of the war.

Why is the Nuba area so underreported?
It’s really difficult logistically for people to get into that region. For people to fly to the Ida refugee camp [in South Sudan and where many Nuba refugees have fled], it’s very expensive because there’s not regular flights going there…And then, from the refugee camp, reporters would need to find a different vehicle to take them into the war zone…One barrel of fuel is about $1,000.

How do your reporters get in there?
Our reporters are from the region, so they are reporting from areas where they have been and they know the language…Our reporters [also] have motorbikes, which use limited fuel, and they’re very mobile. While fuel is expensive, they can go by themselves with all their equipment and stay in an area. If they need to stay in an area for two weeks and cover a story, they can do that. We have that flexibility.

What do you hope to achieve with Nuba Reports?
You have a lot of ethnic issues because of the war. A lot of times people will say that this war is about Arabs versus black Africans or Christians versus Muslims. In actuality, it’s not like that at all. It’s more a complicated civil war that has been going on for a very, very long time. We are bridging a lot of those gaps that have been made through propaganda over the past probably 30 years, by the fact that a lot of our reporters are from the regions that they are, but a lot of our editors and support team on the Sudanese side are from different parts of Sudan. Whereas in the past, they may never have worked together. We have people who are Muslims, we have people who are Christians, we have people who are Arabs or black African tribes—all of them working together in the same organization, with the same goals: to bring attention to what’s happening in their country. This is quite revolutionary in terms of the situation in Sudan, and we hope that it will also show other organizations and other people from those regions that they can work together.

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Edirin Oputu is a former assistant editor at CJR. Follow her on Twitter @EdirinOputu Tags: , ,