The Villages of Agricultural Workers in the Gezira Scheme (Al-Kanabi): Marginalization, Neglect and Racism

Sudan Democracy First Group
Sudanese Transparency Initiative 

The Villages of Agricultural Workers in the Gezira Scheme (Al-Kanabi): Marginalization, Neglect and Racism
October 30th, 2018
Villages of Agricultural Workers, known as (Al-Kanabi)[1], were established in the State of Gezira after the fall of the Mahdist State in 1899. The population groups that immigrated from west Sudan to Omdurman, to support the Mahdist revolution were hunted by the British colonial authorities and had to flee to Gezira, south of Khartoum, as the British army cut off paths to their original regions. When the Gezira Scheme was established in 1925, many immigrated to the scheme and lived in Al-Kanabi to work as agricultural workers to fill labor shortages in the 2 million and 200 thousand acres scheme. Since its establishment, the scheme has suffered huge labor shortage therefore the British authorities had to bring workers from outside the region. As a result, some tribal groups from West Africa as well as some Sudanese citizens from Darfur and Kordofan in west Sudan had come to work in the scheme. The third group immigrated to Gezira in 1984 due to drought and desertion that have affected Western Sudan at that time.
Al-Kanabi are established on the outskirts of the cultivated land. Sometimes the farmer who owns -Hawashas (land that is given to each farmer), allocates a small area of his land to workers to reside in exchange for their services, such as preparing the land for crops, farming, harvesting, cleaning, etc., according to a certain production relation agreement. That is why most of Al-Kanabi are found on the outskirts of villages and near irrigation channels and water banks.
The colonial authorities at that time encouraged hiring seasonal immigrant agricultural workers to fill labor shortages in tasks that can’t be carried out by the farmers or their families. The authorities organized the distribution and settlement of the workers in areas near villages and Agricultural Inspection Units so that Agricultural Inspectors can easily to reach the workers whenever necessary. The scheme’s administration   deducts the workers financial dues from the farmer's share of profit according to the production relation that had existed at that time between the scheme’s administration, the farmers and the government. This resulted in three types of Al-Kanabi:
  • Al-Kanabi near villages
  • Al-Kanabi near Agricultural Inspection Units  
  • Al-Kanabi near water canals’ banks
The government authority and the administration of the Gezira Scheme considered the Al-Kanabi as temporary residential areas for the agricultural workers and that most of them return by the end of the agricultural season, to their original regions. This type of temporary housing and isolation from nearby villages have affected the life of the agricultural workers negatively on both social and economic aspects, despite the crucial role the laborers play in the Gezira Scheme. Their lives had been characterized by complete isolation, poverty and lack of services due to government policies and the discrimination they face based on ethnicity and culture from the surrounding population.  The emergence of Al-Kanabi in the Gezira Scheme can be attributed to the following reasons;
1. Neither the scheme’s administration nor any other government authority had planned to establish permanent housing for the workers;
2. The agricultural workers at the time had no intention to settle in the Gezira region but wanted to go back to their home villages after the conclusion of the agricultural seasons;
3. The British authorities and the farmers preferred temporary housing arrangement since it provided cheap labor and eliminated the burden of establishing permanent housing.

Statistics on the number of Al-Kanabi in the Gezira Scheme:
 There is no official statistics of the number of Al-Kanabi and their total population in the Gezira Scheme. Many activists and others interested in the scheme believe that although the government possesses such statistics it but has not made it public because of the unacceptable living conditions in the   Al-Kanabi.  Some statistics,  published by  the Kanabi Conference,  according to statements by the Secretary General of the conference, Jaafar Mohammedin, estimated the number to reach  2095 Kombo with a total population of  2,495,000 people, which  represents  39% of the total population of the State of Gezira (5 millions).It is worth mentioning that the total number of permanent villages in Gezira, is estimated at about 1572 villages.  These estimates classified the Al-Kanabi residents as follows: (Tama 65% - Barco 25% - Alarenga 5% - Other Darfur tribes 5%)[2]

Production relations between landowning farmers and agricultural workers
The production relations between landowning farmers and agricultural workers at the beginning of the scheme was based on daily wages in return for agricultural work. Workers used to reside where they found work and stay at the same place as long as there is ongoing work. Later on, the work relation developed into a partnership between the two parties where the landowning farmer provides the land and the workers do all the agricultural work like plantation, cleaning, irrigation and harvesting. Profits are then shared between both parties according to an agreed percentage, usually fifty-fifty. It is worth noting that the two parties also share the cost of land preparation, taxation and fees imposed by the government.
Later the workers started to rent the land from the landowning farmers and farm them for themselves in a system called al-Donkoti. This happened after the degradation of the project during the current regime, as many landowners abandoned agriculture and started renting the land to al-Kanabi workers. In Some cases, landowners sold their Hawashas all together to the agricultural and as such some workers now owned Hawashas in Gezira Scheme.

The Effects of Land Ownership in Gezira Scheme on the agricultural workers:
It is well known that a large part of the land of the Gezira Scheme is owned by individuals. It is, estimated that about980,000 feddan in Gezira and Managil Scheme, which makes up 40% of the area of the scheme (2,200,000) Feddan is owned privately while, 1,300,000 Feddan (60% of the total area of the scheme) is owned by the government..
The British colonial authorities opted to compulsory renting the lands owned by individuals and added those to the area of the scheme owned by the government of scheme instead of confiscating it to avoid disturbances and revolutions against its rule. In addition, the Sudan Government (British) was afraid that cotton cultivation would fail and compensating the landowners, if their lands were bought, would cost a lot of money. The rent was 10 piasters (Riyal) for one Feddan. On this basis, the 1927 Gezira Land Ordinance was issued.
It is worth noting that this compulsorily rent was for forty years which ended in March 1967, but the consecutive governments failed to solve the problems of the land owners even though many committees were formed. In 1991 one of the committees recommended raising the rent to 25 Pounds per Feddan, and in 2003 another committee suggested buying the lands from the landowners and compensate them. The Gazira Scheme Act was issued in 2005 recommending registering Hawashas under the landowner’s names.
Despite the passage of ninety years since the issuance of Gezira Land Ordinance and more than fifty years since the rent period had ended, no legal action has been taken on the renewal or amendment of their contracts. In addition, despite the passage of ,13 years since the 2005 Gazira Scheme Act, the landowner’s problems have become more complicated, as more cases have been brought to the courts and the constitutional court.
There is no doubt that this complex situation has cast a shadow over the conditions of the villages of agricultural workers, most of which have been established already on these lands. Furthermore, this has negatively affected the development, legalization and planning of these villages. The Al-Kanabi residents’ problems have been ignored by the successive governments of Sudan. In addition, it has not received the attention of researchers, writers, media, farmers' unions nor the various trade union organizations inside and outside the scheme. When the Gezira Scheme started, the British colonial authorities were keen to not allow the agricultural workers to own any land and forbid them of using permanent materials to build their houses. After Independence, national governments continued the same policies that marginalized agricultural workers and their Al-Kanabi and eyed only political gains when dealing with this issue. Services were planned and offered to some Al-Kanabi for political gains as the Al-Kanabi population is a significant electoral force, many of whom were members of the National Umma Party and contributed to its wining many constituencies in the middle region in the 1986 elections.
On the other hand, Planning and the provision of services for Al-Kanabi stopped for the same political reasons, to woo the farmers' villages and the landowners of the scheme.However, it is established that the percentage of Al-Kanabi that have been planned and provided with services is very low compared to the total number of Al-Kanabiin the scheme, and this action has focused on some of the Kanabithat are located on the outskirts of the villages that were planned, for example, Kanabi of Wad Solfabvillage in the locality of al-Hassaheisa, or some of Al-Kanabi which were turned into villages after the residents purchased part of the land on which they established the village. The farmers paid for all the expenses of planning, reconstruction and the provision of services of electricity, water, etc.
When the current regime came to power, the government made promises to provide services and organize Al-Kanabi to ensure their support of the regime. However, only some of these promises were met, such as services were provided for the kanabi of (Gilso - Malkal - Taweel - Shelin - 50 Om al-Quraa - Dar al-Farah).After the outbreak of the armed conflict in Darfur in 2003, some individuals from the Al-Kanabi joined the armed groups and reached senior leadership positions. During Abuja peace negotiations, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) included the Kanabi problems as part of its position, but the proposition was excluded by the African Union, which limited the negotiations to the Darfur region. This led the government to link some individuals and families of the Al-Kanabi to the armed groups. As a result, the government stopped any planned services to these Kanabi and instead raided by the security services were areas .
Since their establishment, most of Al-Kanabi suffered from lack of health, education, water and electricity services. They depended on the available services of the nearby villages. Their children went to nearby village schools and hospitals. Most of the villages depended on hand pump wells which were made by volunteering organizations such as the Irish Aid Project. The few villages which have mechanical water pumps didn't have a network for water distribution, so the water was sold in one place where people had to line up for water. Electricity services were confined exclusively to the villages of the scheme, but not to the villages of the agricultural workers (Al-Kanabi), most of which were soaked in the darkness while the electricity cables cross over them to supply the other villages of the project. For example, Abdul Aziz Bassam mentioned in a series of articles that the village of Wed al-Mansi which contained 200 houses had four water wells, while there were no water wells in the next village, which had 250 houses. The same articles quoted a resident of the village of Um Hamida, west of the tunnels, saying that there was only one water pump per 1,000 persons.[3]

Relationship between the villagers’ in the Gezira Scheme and Al-Kanabi residents:
Relationship between villagers in the Gezira Scheme and Al-Kanabi agricultural workers is not always perfect. Sometimes both groups live peacefully and the agricultural laborers from the Kanabi benefits from serves in the villages such as education and health services. However, on other times conflicts erupt mainly because the villagers believe that Al-Kanabi are established on lands owned by individuals, or because of the pressure they put on the merger services available in the villages. For example, the incident that toke place in the areas of Wadi Sheer and Mohamed Zein. In one instance, fire was set by Police in Aftas Kanbo in the locality of al-Hassaheisa in April 2018, when two villages had a conflict over land and the court settled the conflict in favor of the villagers. However, the conflict did not end here, but the villagers accused the residents of Aftas that they are not Sudanese and ask the police to deport them. It is worth noting that the government authorities failed to issue national identity papers for many Al-Kanabi inhabitants claiming that they are not Sudanese.
Tension between the villagers and the agricultural workers also rises when the residents of some villages object to the intention of some of the Al-Kanabi residents buy abandoned houses in some of the villages, for racial reasons, after the owners abandoned agriculture and moved to towns with their families. . . In one of these cases, the villagers collected money (donation) from villagers to sway the owner of the house from selling it to one of the Kanabi resident.
The deterioration of the scheme, accompanied by the collapse of the production, pushed many agricultural workers to leave the agriculture work and move to cities to practice different economic activities such as trade or work in gold mining . The agricultural workers who deserted the Gazira Scheme and working in gold mining amount to 70 % of those who currently manning this field, according to the statistics of the Al-KanabiConference.
Compulsory housing project and stealing of al-Kanabi resident’s money
The government of the State of Gezira started a compulsory housing project for Al-Kanabiresidents that was intended to build model villages where all necessary services would be provided and formed The Compulsory Housing Commission to realize this goal. However, the down side of this attempt was project was based on a racial perspective and the government ended up stealing al-Kanabi resident’s money without solving their problem. The authorities aborted the project, closed the commission’s offices and shifted them to the land offices in the localities. The project which has completely disappeared, was described as racist because of its name as it didn't aim to integrate Al-Kanabi residents with the local community.
 The struggles and the deteriorating situation of Al-Kanabi residents motivated them to form various organizations to escalate their demands. In March 2013, they convened Al-Kanabi Conference in Cairo to demand political, social and economic rights and to put an end to the state of marginalization they are facing. It is worth mentioning that the authorities prohibited the formation of any entity to represent Al-Kanabi residents, while it allowed formation of tribal associations like (Sons of Tama Association) and (Sons of al-Zaghawa Association), etc. This was seen as a divide and conquer strategy by the government.
Al-Kanabi conference, according to statements by its General Secretary, Gafar Mohammedan, was formed by all the entities of Al-Kanabi such as sheikhs, traditional administrations, popular committees, farmers and students, regardless of their religion, sectarian affiliations and political views. The conference addressed all of Al-Kanabiresident’s issues related to marginalization and demanded the provision of basic services and the form is planning to participate in all public events to bring the Al-Kanabi problems to the front and inform the public opinion. In addition, the conference recommended forming organizations at home and abroad. The Middle East office was established already in Cairo, and also offices in America, Australia and the European Union as well as offices inside Sudan for each state (Gezira - Sennar - White Nile - Eastern Sudan).

Recommendations for practical solutions of Al-Kanabi problems in Sudan
These Recommendations were agreed upon in Al-Kanabi conference, held in Cairo in 2013, as mentioned earlier, in addition to the paper submitted by the youth of the State of Gezira in the Youth Dialogue Conference, organized by Alayam Center for Cultural Studies and Development in cooperation with the Netherland Embassy, titled “Social Exclusion: Al-Kanabi as a Model)[4]. The recommendations are as follows:
  1. Al-Kanabi have to be organized in a planned way to become villages where basic services like water, electricity, schools and health centers are provided;
  2. Participation in all events and raising awareness about Al-Kanabi to become a public opinion issue is a must;
  3. Recognizing that Al-Kanabi residents are part of the Sudanese community and an economic force that supports the national economy and there is a need to facilitate the processes of issuing identification papers to prove they are Sudanese citizens;
  4. A need to conduct a field study about Al-Kanabi in Gezira Scheme;
  5. Organize the Kanabi in such a way the merge small ones with bigger Kanabi;
  6. Establishing an office for Al-Kanabi in each locality;
  7. Assign committees in each Kanbo to record their numbers and needs;
  8. Integrating Al-Kanabi with the local community to lessen encounters and eliminating discrimination between residents of Al-Kanabi and the villages;
  9. Al-Kanabi residents to participate in legislative and executive powers and in the political process. They must be recognized as a social force that cannot be underestimated as their electoral vote would count;
  10. Allowing Al-Kanabi residents to form associations, unions and foundations to represent them.

[1]The workers camps were called Al-Kanabi when the scheme started. The singular form is Kombo. the word is derived from the English word "camp".
[2] An interview with the General Secretary of Al-Kanabi Conference published on the official Facebook page of Sudan Liberation Movement on February 4th 2016
[3] Abdul Aziz Sam articles (Al-Kibai in Gezira Scheme, Racism and Egoism are the Roots of the Problem) published in Al-Rakoba newspaper on Spetember 24th 2015.

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