Guess what? There are places in the Muslim world – even in a so-called “pariah” state like Sudan – where the bad guys are not the Americans. That’s right, welcome to Sebu, Sudan. In Sebu it is the Chinese that are the bad guys (Sebu, by the way, is also sometimes referred to as Cebu, Sabu and even Sajar).
Now, I thought the town and the people in it were great. With typical Muslim hospitality we were welcomed in with open arms and immediately made to feel at home:
Of course, we also weren’t Chinese or affiliated with the Sudanese military… The government of Sudan views this village as a hotbed of insurgency – the Mogadishu or Kandahar of Sudan. And, to be fair, the area does have a rebel movement – the Kush Liberation Front.
The main driver for this conflict is a series of already completed and proposed dams along the Nile River. Two of these dams, the Kajbar and Dal projects, would inundate large areas of Nubian territory.
The Nile River runs past Sebu and given the topography of the surrounding land, it was decided that this would be an ideal site for a large dam – the Kajbar Dam. The Kajbar Dam would wipe out the town of Sebu, but it wouldn’t just destroy Sebu… It would also destroy many miles of fertile farmland next to the Nile River, flood more than 90 villages, displace at least 10,000 people and destroy an estimated 500 archaeological sites.
China, eager to curry favor with the government of Sudan as part of their overall push into Africa, readily agreed to construct the proposed dam and the contract went to a Chinese firm named Sinohydro.
There was a hitch though… No one bothered discussing this with the inhabitants of Sebu before construction started. The people of Sebu are of Nubian descent and, thus, are already sensitive about being marginalized and discriminated against by the government in Khartoum. Therefore, being surprised by Chinese construction crews showing up with heavy equipment and starting work on a dam that would destroy their homes did not help much with these Nubian feelings of marginalization and discrimination.
An insurgency soon formed that drove the Chinese away and evolved into two months of open war with the Sudanese government. This drove the government of Sudan into at least a temporary capitulation and the plans for construction of the dam were thrown into turmoil. And, indeed, this remains a “no go” zone for government personnel or individuals with Chinese passports.
As such, the city is entirely self-sufficient – no police, no fire department, no post office, no crews to repair roads or run electrical lines… You know what though? In the absence of taxes and government, the city seems to work perfectly well. The roads are in good condition. The people police themselves. They help each other out in case of a fire. You get the idea. It’s paradise for libertarians.
Sebu is known for the brightly painted gates that adorn many of the simple mud-brick homes:
Something that was interesting to me was a battered war memorial in the center of town. It was constructed by the British in commemoration of some battle in or near Sebu. And it had a lot of names on it – indicating a serious battle. However, I have been able to find nothing on this site since I have returned. Any British military history fans know anything?
Apparently, the Chinese and the Sudanese government are not the only groups to have had trouble in this area.
Outside town the scenery soon reverts to normal Sudanese scenes.
However, there is an interesting section of prehistoric rock engravings outside Sebu that are worth stopping for. Eleonora provides some scale:
Also definitely worth stopping for outside of town is a large hill featuring a great Nile overlook…
… And some unique ruins on top of the hill that forms the overlook:
The last place I saw a basalt rock formation of this magnitude was at Devil’s Postpile in the Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains of California. In California it is a National Monument and so I was impressed to see this unacknowledged geological display here:
This is a view from the top of the hill across the valley that was to be flooded by the dam. I’m afraid you can’t see it in this picture, but just to the left is a deep trench the Chinese dug for the foundation of the dam before they were driven off:
My Italian in the ruins:
Another view of the ruins… I’m afraid that I can tell you very little about the ruins because they have not been examined by archaeologists. They were evidently some type of fortress and are believed to have been constructed by the Nubians:
On our way back through town about a week later, a pre-wedding celebration was taking place and we were automatically made guests of honor. Men and women were separated and so I gave the Italian my camera to take some pictures of the goings on with the women as she was led about the town:
Here, the Italian has documented some of the pre-wedding feast prepared by the women of Sebu, laid out and about to be served:
Meanwhile, I was back with the boys in a shaded courtyard. We hung out and drank tea, took naps… It was pretty rough. From time to time a new guy would pop in to say “hello” and to hang out for a little while with the lads.
I have no idea what the guy below was saying, but he had everyone else in fits of laughter for the entirety of his visit:
Making people laugh:
One of the more serious gentlemen present:
Eventually we had to move on toward Khartoum, but the Sebu area left a very favorable impression on us.
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Sorry to say you are biased against development here. You come from a place where development is no longer an issue, but to us, in Sudan and what you call ‘third world’ development is a necessity. The problem is that you do not understand. One thing is sure: the dam will be built someday, and Americans are still the bad guys. Stop sticking your noses in every thing the world over. In other words; mind your own business.
Come on, abdelwahab… You seem like an intelligent guy. Do you really think the average American wants any part of having an empire? Do you really think the average American wants to go around bombing strangers in faraway lands and interfering in the lives of people all around the world? Do you really believe that?
It is not the average American whom you should direct your dislike against. Rather, your anger should be focused against the American government and the narrow, special interests that it serves.
People in most places I visit loathe their government and want nothing to do with it. As such, they would be horrified if I assumed that they supported the actions and policies of their government. The same is true of the average American – they would be horrified if someone assumed they supported the policies and actions of their government. Should I assume that all Sudanese support their government and all of its present policies and practices? Does the Sudanese government represent you? The American government sure doesn’t represent me…
To focus on this matter in particular… I assume you are not a resident of Sebu? Sebu will be destroyed if this dam is constructed. And not just Sebu, but a number of significant archaeological sites as well as another section of the Nile. I would be upset if my land and a beautiful river were to be destroyed. Should Sebu not be allowed to be upset about the same? In Sebu, it is not a question of development, rather it is a question of fairness. Of the residents having a say in the decisions being made about them…
And development is not about building dams. If you want development, eliminate corruption, lower taxes, remove bureaucratic obstacles to businesses and individuals, etc. The Sudanese visa was the most difficult visa I have ever obtained. How is Sudan going to attract investment with policies like that? How is Sudan going to attract scientists and engineers (or convince those already there to stay)? Development springs from a culture of innovation, acceptance of risk and a tolerance for creative destruction. It does not come from grandiose projects like dams or a national airline meant to stroke the egos of political leaders and to line the pockets of insiders. Development happens despite the government and not because of it. It is the result of millions of individuals working in a free market toward their own ends.
And don’t think that development will magically solve Sudan’s problems. Observe how many problems we have in the West. People in the West are the unhappiest people in the world. We have destroyed our environment and isolated ourselves from the things that make us happy.
And drop the conspiracy theories and hostility… Those in the West that urge caution in regard to this project are not trying to stop Sudan from developing, they are trying to save you from making the mistakes that we did.