My Memories of Nyala City, dubbed al-Bihair, in South Darfur
By Mahmoud A. Suleiman
I am writing about Nyala al-Bihair from a very different perspective than the disastrous events and atrocities continued plaguing the people of Sudan in Darfur and related to the issue/crisis of the region that I wrote about in my previous articles and books. This time I try to retrieve my memories of the City that my backpacker landed on two occasions the time-lapse between them Thirty-Seven odd years!
The first two of the most unforgettable occasions in my experiences with Nyala include the time when I went as a fourth-year elementary school pupil to sit for the examination of selection for entry to the Intermediate school in 1957 while the second contact was in 1994 when I became the Founding Vice Chancellor for the new University of Nyala! In between the two foregoing, I was a passerby Nyala City to other destinations.
The South Darfur state is located in the southwestern part of Sudan between latitudes (30:8-30:13) degrees north and longitudes (28: 22-28) degrees east. It is bordered to the north by the state of North Darfur, on the west side bounded by the state of West Darfur and the Central African Republic (CAR), On the south bordered by the States of Western and Northern Bahr el Ghazal, It is bordered on the east by the Greater Kordofan. The state capital is the city of Nyala, the largest cities of the state. The South Darfur state has Number of Municipalities and rural councils: Nyala Local council – El Daein local Council – Adela Local Council – Buram Local Council, Tulus Local Council – Rihaid al-Birdi Local – Eddel Firsan Local Council – Kass Local Council. Nyala area timing is the East Africa time zone (GMT +3).ref 2
The Nyala City, nicknamed or dubbed al-Bihair lies on both banks of the Great Burley Wadi/Valley was the Capital of the South of Darfur Rural Council and the seat of its District in the former Province of Darfur prior to the administrative changes that introduced the new system of Regions in Sudan instead of the olden Provinces. Darfur means the realm of the Fur, in western Sudan. This city of Nyala nicknamed al-Bihair. Al- Bihair means a small Sea/lake in Arabic. It lies on both banks of Wadi Burley, which is virtually a seasonal river. I can unreservedly say that city has carved important memories retained in my sentiment.
Nyala City is located in the northern region of South Darfur state that is characterized by terrain of rocky land covered by layers of clay and sandy soils lies. The Jebel Marra plateau lies in the northwestern part of the City. From the Plateau, descend several seasonal moving from north to south to pour into the river of the Arabian Sea, and feeds the Baggara basin. Burley Wadi, which is one of the largest valleys of Darfur, cleaves the Nyala city from the west towards the east valley, collecting seasonal rainwater that falls from the highlands. The topographic features of Nyala include Mount Nyla and the Valley of Bilail that is located in the west of it. There is a mountain in the east of the City named (Gad al-Haboob) translated from Arabic as Air inlet to the city! The name ‘Nyala’ is thought to have originated from the Dajo or Daju tribal language that means “the place or arena for dancing, wrestling, socialising, place for chatting, drumming and all kinds of popular entertainments, of chatting/discussing or a theatre. Historians say that Nyala was first founded in the region surrounding Mount Umkardous east of the current site of Nyala, in the fifteenth century as headquarters for the Kingdom of ancient Dajo tribe until the fall of the Dajo dynasty by the end of the fifteenth century. One of the famous Dajo rulers was Sultan Farouk Casey – the natives referred to him in their accent Sultan Koussofurōh. Ref 1
In 1921, Current Nyala became the district headquarters of western Baggara, for Habbaniya, Taaisha and Beni Halba. The British Commissioner for South Darfur moved from Buram to Nyala in 1931.
Nyala’s history as a town begins in the late nineteenth century. Favourably located on Wadi Nyala, and therefore with plentiful water supplies, the first area to be settled was Hai El Wadi, in 1880 – now a neighbourhood in the centre of the town. With the fall of Sultan Ali Dinar in 1916 and the extension into Darfur of the Anglo-Egyptian condominium, the British constructed the first brick house (still standing) in 1917. Nyala’s evolution from a nomadic camp in the 1920s to an administrative and service centre in the 1930s was slow and gradual. The establishment of the first Magdoumate court in Nyala in the early 1930s, following the legal recognition of the Native Administration, was a further boost to the town. Nevertheless, by the mid-1950s Nyala’s population was still only about 14,000. The arrival of the railway in the 1950s brought with it a substantial increase in commercial activity and attracted traders from Khartoum and Medani. It also provided an important means of transport for pilgrims to the Hajj from West Africa. By the mid-1960s, the population had almost doubled, to around 26,000. By the early 1970s, the population had doubled again, to 60,000. (Reference City limits: urbanisation and vulnerability in Sudan Nyala case study; HPG Commission Report; http://www.oodi.org.uk/sites/odi.org.uk/files
Currently, the estimated total population of the City of Nyala is 368000, estimated in the year 2009.
A huge number of residential neighborhoods characterise the Nyala City. They include the
Cinema neighborhood, Shamelnaseem neighborhood, Al-Imtidad (Extension or sprawl) neighborhood, and al-Mazad (auction). The Nyala northern administrative unit , and includes neighborhoods of al-Salam (peace) , neighborhood of Congo , al-Dibaghah (tanning) neighbourhood , Neighbourhood of Khartoum Billail (Khartoum at night) , Sukkar Shattat Neighbourhood, al-Thawra Neighbourhood, al-Sad al-Aaley (High Dam) Neighbourhood,al-Dowra Neighbourhood, Al-Hilla Foug Neighbourhood, al-Riyadh Neighbourhood and Hayelmatar Neighbourhood. The Nyala East administrative unit and includes neighborhoods of east of the railway, The Railway neighbourhood, al-Jebel neighbourhood, Neighbourhoods of Majok, al-Masalih (Industries Neighbourhood, al-Tadamun (solidarity) neighbourhood, Neighbourhood of Taybatelneel, and Diraig Neighbourhood. The Nyala South administrative unit and includes neighborhoods of Korea, Neighbourhood of Texas, Neighbourhood of Wadi West, the Neighbourhood of Wadi East and al-Jeer (Lime) Neighborhood. Other important milestones for the City of Nyala al-Bihair include Heigh-Rayig (Arabic meaning Serene neighborhood), Zongo Neighbourhood, Kunduwa Forest, Neem tree Forest, al-Domayah (Dom Tree or Hyphaeneنبات الدوم), Zareeba al-Mawashi ( Cattle Corral), al-gasharat Alqcharat (Peanuts Scalers), Tebaldi Tree (Baobab Tree) of the Mauled Square, Baobab Treeشَّجَرَةُ التِّبِلْدِي, we should not overlook the village of Sheikh Musa that since it represents one of the neighbourhoods.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, my first contact with Nyala al-Bihair was in the 1950s when I was an Elementary School Pupil from Kutum went for an examination of entry to one of the two Intermediate Schools, Nyala and El-Geneina. At the time, all 4th-year pupils from all over the Darfur Province had to compete to get an access to one of the Two. The two schools had a capacity for Only 80 pupils from across Darfur on merit. The majority unlucky pupils, sadly, had to seek other options in a technical institute or an Elementary school teacher training at Bakhta Ruda in the White Nile District. Luckily, I was a success, admitted to El-Geneina Intermediate School in Dar Masalit, and went back to my parents happily in our home village Tina.
My second contact with Nyala al-Bihair was in 1994 when I became the founding Vice Chancellor of Nyala University. Prior to that, I was a Dean for al-Fasher Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences on an Assignment from the University of Khartoum. This time I was a guest of honour of extremely hospitable colleagues and old friends. My welcoming hosts included Professor Adam Hassan Suleiman, Dean Faculty of Veterinary Science, the late Engineer Yousif Shambal the Principal of Nyala University and many sincerely enthusiastic hard working fellow lecturers, teachers, workers to make the emerging University to succeed in it educational, training and community service mission.
The Nyala University, founded in 1994, is one of the educational highlights for South Darfur. Currently it has a number of Faculties and Departments that include the following: Faculty of Veterinary Science, Faculty of Education, College of Engineering Sciences, Faculty of Economics and Business Studies, Faculty of Law and Sharia, Faculty of Graduate Studies, Faculty of Technology and Community Development, College of Health Sciences, and a community college, and research centre, and community service. The Nyala Technical College, which includes most of the colleges of science and engineering and technical diploma awarded in three years. Nyala University plans and works with a Mission and Vision to be:
- A University of Excellence offering research, training and community development programmes with highest quality.
- A University where:
- Students compete.
- Community members dialogue and seek advice.
- Neighboring regions and countries from North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa as well as from Nile Africa and Niger- Senegal Africa meet through joint research, exchange of staff and students and academic venues.
- Cultures and knowledge meet to advance technology and skills to promote the knowhow of the community.
- A university Working to :
- Develop its consultative abilities providing advice to community institution and individuals for a homeland free of illiteracy, poverty, disease and conflicts.
- Provide a model of a community in which the relationship between members is ruled by solid institutional traditions, trust, respect and devotion.
- Prepare students to live, work and compete in any part of the world.
Nyala University successive Vice Chancellors include:
Professor Mahmoud Abbaker Suleiman form 1994 to1998
Professor Adam Hassan Sulaiman 1998 to 2003
Professor Abbas Yusuf Tijani 2003 to 2008
Professor Abbaker Ali Idris 2008 to 2013
Professor Mohammad Ali Haj Alouba from 2013 to today
I thought my secondment to Nyala University ended after the completion of three faculties. They included the Faculties of Veterinary Sciences, education, and the Faculty of engineering sciences. Other units established included the Students Deanship and the main University Library. The Plan and the budget for the University buildings at Mosey Campus, ratification of the laws and regulations governing the institution along with the Special statutes that govern students’ activities made ready. I thought my secondment to Nyala University ended by achieving the aforementioned. Accordingly, I handed over the responsibilities of the Vice Chancellor to very adept and competent people headed by Professor Adam Hassan Suleiman and the rest of the team. I left Nyala for Khartoum where I met with the Minister of higher education and scientific research, Professor Ibrahim Ahmed Omer. I handed my resignation and explained to him that the Nyala University after four years of planning and development it reached a stage of maturity that made the post of a Vice Chancellor redundant. I was certain that every faculty and unit had good grasp and knowhow managing the tasks and tackling with confidence and competence. After a heated debate between the Professor of Philosophy and science and me, he said to me that my discourse won. He kindly endorsed my letter of resignation by adding few sentences of Compliment, thanks and wishes. Nevertheless, he wanted me to go back to my previous place of work at the Faculty of Medicine in Khartoum University. I explain to him that I had enough university admin work and wanted to work differently abroad, in the United Kingdom. The word UK stunned him. He said, with some surprise and indignation: “Straightaway to England?” I responded by saying yes! He repeated his earlier phrase of “To England?” His tone of voice and the grim expression of his face indicated resentment. I answered: “Yes England is my next destination”! I came out of the Minister’s office feeling free of those mammoth tasks and responsibilities of management of that Great nascent Institution of Nyala University. I was also feeling sad to some degree for leaving brilliant students, excellent academics, adept administrators and competent officials but they were there to do the job tirelessly with perfection. I went to my house in Khartoum to prepare myself for a new journey in life.
Gone by the good old days; my cherished memories remained through the decades!
Dr. Mahmoud A. Suleiman is an author, columnist and a blogger. His blog is https://thussudan.wordpress.com/
Ref 1: Wikipedia
Ref 2: http://www.odi.org.uk/sites/odi.org.uk/files/odi-assets/publications-opinion-files/6515.pdf