Recognizing Nubian Displacibility

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In this poignant text, Menna Agha addresses the forced displacement and resettlement of Nubians from the Nile banks to the desert. This episode had profound and lasting consequences on Nubian social and political organization, in particular for Nubian women.

Article published in The Funambulist 30 (July-August 2020) Reparations. Click here to access the rest of the issue.

“You who understand the dehumanization of forced removal-relocation-reeducation-redefinition, the humiliation of having to falsify your own reality, your voice you know. And often cannot say it.”

Trinh T. Minh-ha, Woman, Native, Other, 1989.

This story is yet another story of dams destroying Indigenous territories, as hegemonic ambitions for development often demand blood sacrifice and those whose humanity is discounted become that sacrifice. Nubians, my people, were deemed an acceptable sacrifice for Egypt’s developmental ambitions and were displaced in one of the largest development induced displacement and resettlement (DIDR) schemes to date. And even though this was half a century ago, we still recognize, feel, and identify as displaced people longing for return.

In 1952, the interim Revolutionary Council government of Egypt decided to build the High Dam in Aswan as Egypt’s ticket to modernity and industrialization. The decision to build the High Dam, however, ignored “the costs of salinization, waterlogging, declining soil fertility, the loss of archaeological heritage, increased disease, coastal erosion, the destruction of a large fishing industry, the loss of water due to evaporation and seepage, and other problems already evident from the first dam, and without even attempting studies of costs and benefits.” (Timothy Mitchell, “Economentality: How the Future Entered Government,” 2014). But Egypt needed a new pyramid.

On June 20, 1964, the Egyptian government concluded the displacement of all Nubian villages from their territories and ancestral land to a state-built project in Kom Ombo valley that is designed to house all Nubians displaced within the Egyptian borders. Sudanese Nubians were also victims of this project as Nubians were displaced to New Halfa. In both cases, Nubians were deprived of their beloved Nile and forced to cope with a desert environment.

In 1899, Nubian land was dismantled: the British colonizer of both Egypt and Sudan drew a political border to separate them into two territories on latitude 22. Mostafa Shorbagy traces the story of the border as; one day Nubians in the village of Adendan were surprised by military preparations, surveyors, and government clerks, in an out of the ordinary movement for the serene village. They ended up erecting an Egyptian flag near the house of Gamal Dokki, 200 meters away they erected a sudanese flag near his brother Dahab Dokki. In a matter of minutes, members of the same family became of different nationalities none of which corresponded to their collective identity.

The dismantlement of Nubia then continued spanning the 20th century, and our Original Land now lies silent under the large water reservoir of the dam, The reservoir is commonly known as Lake Nubian in Sudan, and Lake Nasser in Egypt, named after then-president Gamal Abdel Nasser, the mastermind of this project. This name is often framed among Nubians as “the killer writing his name on his victim’s grave.” This lake and its empty shore now represent a 550 kilometer vacuum on both banks of the Nile valley, it also represents a great geographic divider between Egyptian Nubians and their Sudanese cousins.