الاثنين، 27 أبريل، 2015

LEAVING TO COME BACK

written for Andariya magazine

A few months ago; Sara, my hair dresser- who holds a degree in law from Omdurman Islamic University- was depressed and out of focus. Her boyfriend had suddenly disappeared and his phone was switched off. A couple of days later, one of his friends relayed the news that the boyfriend was seeking refuge in Europe and found a smuggler who would take him there for a reasonable price. Her boyfriend only left her with a message regretting his misfortune; at being unable to neither find a job nor found a family with her in Sudan.
In April 2014, ten Sudanese men perished from thirst and hunger in the great Sahara desert. They were among a group of 319 illegal migrants (of whom a large number were Sudanese), trying to find their way into Libya. The news splash only lasted a few days, outraging the public and keeping the authorities unrested on the rise of human trafficking operations in Sudan. Yet, we never learned who these illegal migrants were and why they were so desperate to leave; but their stories may not be different from that of Sara’s boyfriend.
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When I graduated in 2008 I had big dreams of being independent and employed. These dreams were put on hold until I first completed the compulsory civic service internship – 15 months of unpaid work. I had to ask my family to continue paying me a daily allowance, as well as cover the Sudanese medical board registration and exams fees.  Nonetheless, it was not the worst scenario for a fresh graduate.
Years later, I realized that most of my fellow university colleagues and internship co-workers are now immigrants in Gulf countries, Europe and the United States. One of them, a registrar, was suspended from work for participating in the 2010 doctors strike. His monthly salary was 600 SDG with an extra 17 SDG for night shifts. He had a girlfriend and young siblings in schools. Luckily he got an offer to work in Saudi Arabia for 5000 Riyals a month, which saved him from waiting for the work suspension appeal and the economic hardship he lived in. People with certain professions like doctors may find their way out legally. This is not the case for other professions in the spectrum; so many seek salvation through smuggling.
Sudan is becoming a destructive place for young people. Universities are a site for violence and chaos. Graduates find themselves with little besides looming unemployment. To an increasing amount of young graduates and professionals, migration seems to be the only way to build a future and dignified life. The Secretariat of Sudanese Working Abroad, a regulatory governmental entity for Sudanese diaspora reported that 67,000 people migrated in 2014. The photo of hundreds of youth crowded in front of the embassy of Qatar in Khartoum last November was a clear manifestation of the phenomenon.
In 2014, I was granted a scholarship to pursue a one year Master’s degree in the UK. One of the scholarship conditions was to return to Sudan after completing my studies, and work there for at least two years. Extended family members and close friends were asking me whether I planned on returning or seeking asylum. Among many others; a journalist covering a scholarship related event told me “lucky you, you should never go back!”
Before getting this scholarship I contemplated finding a job and moving abroad on numerous occasions. However, I was not brave enough to make such a decision.  So I was deeply offended by people who decided for me to breach my scholarship agreement and seek asylum in the UK, regardless of my life plans and considerations.
I won this scholarship because I had plans to serve my country, not to use it to seek asylum. In Sudan, I was living in a middle class neighborhood in Khartoum and have been employed in public relations, advocacy and social activism for seven years. There are no threats to my life and well being, thus no need to lie and take advantages of my activism. I pursued activism because I could not bear the guilt of living well while millions are starving in displacement camps across Sudan. If anyone needs to seek asylum, it should be those who run away from war. Thousands of people have been living in the camps for years and have no opportunity to leave.
There is an interesting trend; where lack of development and economic growth is forcing qualified professionals to migrate in new waves. In 2012; the minister of finance made a statement that listed doctors among exported Sudanese products. Recently a video of a pro-government representative went viral on social media; she was encouraging youth to migrate claiming that migration is a prophetic practice. Perhaps there’s a grander plot to evacuate the country from any vocally dissatisfied people, like my friend the registrar who appealed his suspension- so it’s easier to dominate the voiceless.
I am planning to go back to Sudan after getting my Master’s degree. I will go back with more academic knowledge and life experiences. I will try to make Sudan a better place for myself, the millions in displacement camps and the forgotten who sacrificed their freedom, time, health and right to live at home. This is not a heroic act but an obligation towards the people who chose to stay, survive and fight for the advancement of society using the resources they have.
I am not suggesting that people should stay in Sudan when the chances for professional and intellectual advancement are slim. Yet I disagree with young diaspora who claim “we left Sudan because it provided us with nothing”, or “we did our best to change the situation but we failed”. Migration is always a personal choice in which one could consider it a runaway plan or a learning opportunity. I see the migration of skilled professionals as a transitional phase in which they get the skills and empowerment to lead in Sudan.

Sudan's anti-dam movement fights the flooding of Nubian culture

Written for the Guardian Africa Network

“The police bombed us with tear gas. I heard the sounds of bullets being shot. I could never imagine they would shoot to kill.”
Abdel Hakim Nasr recalls a protest in 2007 in the small town of Kidentakar, between the mountains and the Nile in northern Sudan, when government forces opened fire against demonstrators opposing a new dam.
The Kajbar dam would have flooded an estimated 90 villages, displacing nearly 10,000 people and destroying more than 500 archeological sites – some dating back thousands of years.
For many, this crackdown in 2007 was a turning point. Activists argued that it was not just about environmental destruction but also the attempted drowning of Nubian culture by a government intolerant of the non-Arab ethnicities that make up Sudan.
Four people were killed and at least 20 injured in the crackdown. Soon after, the government gave up on plans for the dam. But in 2010 residents were horrified to find machinery surveying their land after a contract worth $705m was awarded to the Chinese company Sinohydro, the world’s largest hydropower contractor.
International Rivers, an environmental group which joined locals in opposing the project, predicts that the Kajbar dam on the Nile’s third cataract will be 20 metres high and create a reservoir of around 110 sq km, leading to the further displacement and resettlement of some 10,000 people.

Flushing out



Many local residents feel that the dam project is a way of destroying Nubian heritage by displacing residents and advancing a policy of “Arabisation” across the country, spearheaded by the president, Omar al-Bashir.
In December 2010, weeks before the referendum where southerners chose secession from Khartoum, he made a speech in the south eastern town of Al Qadarif, saying: “If south Sudan secedes, we will change the constitution. Sharia and Islam will be the main source for the constitution, Islam the official religion and Arabic the official language.”
While non-Arab ethnicities in Darfur have been targeted by violence, earning Bashir an indictment for war crimes from The Hague, activists say the dams project is displacement by other means: environmental destruction.
Adham Nasr, a member of the Anti-Kajbar committee, said that the dams were being used to literally “flood Nubian culture” – an insidious way to exclude and alienate non-Arab ethnicities
The government claims that the dams will bring economic development to the region, but Nasr argues this is impossible “after our heritage and culture drown”.

The case of Wadi Halfa and Merowe

Residents didn’t have to guess at the kind of destruction they faced once the dam was approved – they just had to look back. In 1959 in Wadi Halfa, on Sudan’s northern border with Egypt, the controversial Aswan Dam led to the displacement of 52,000 Nubians on both sides of the state line.
Archeologists guess that the project destroyed many ancient relics. The ancient temple Abu Simbel, built by Pharaoh Ramesses II in the 13th century BC, had to be dismantled and relocated to the banks of what was to become Lake Nasser, to avoid being submerged and lost under the dam’s floods.
More recently, the Merowe dam caused similar controversy – and destruction. The project, which cost £1bn and is Africa’s second-largest hydropower project (after Aswan), displaced a further 50,000 people from fertile stretches of the Nile valley to new desert locations between 2003 and 2005.

Other attacks

The independence of the oil-rich south has resulted in economic hardship in Sudan, and has prompted several ill-conceived projects in search of new resources.
The government announced in early 2013 that it had found considerable gold seams in the northern states, prompting a rise in mining projects, both amateur and commercial. The result? Sites of archeological importance were destroyed and high levels of cyanide and mercury found dumped during the extraction process.
There have also been reports of attacks on date palms – the cash crop for Nubians. Used widely across the region for roofing and as cooking fuel, in the past five years Nubians in Kajbar have been losing their trees in suspicious circumstances. The Anti-Kajbar committee says that about 200,000 trees have been destroyed.
“It’s an attempt to displace Nubians through depriving them of their wealth,” said Tag Alkhatim Abdel Ghafour, a political activist originally from Nubia. “Losing a palm tree is a huge loss as it takes 10–15 years to grow and produce dates.
“Now thousands of trees are being lost in each incident. Political parties should pay attention to these abuses and these brazen attempts to destroy the Nubian culture.”
While armed conflicts and civil wars in other parts of Sudan dominate the news, the Nubian struggle is often ignored. Activists fear that the result could be the loss of one of the oldest and most enduring civilisations on Earth.

Sudan and Operation Decisive Storm

first published here

Sudan’s decision to join Operation Decisive Storm with Saudi Arabia and a coalition of Gulf countries to fight Yemeni Houthi rebels comes as no surprise.
The government of Sudan has no limits when it comes to its regional and international allies. Aerial bombardments were one of the techniques being used against people in South Sudan during the 1990s civil war, and more recently in the Darfur Genocide and in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile regions. Nuba Reports, who report from the frontlines in South Kordofan, stated that 3470 bombs targeted civilians since April 2012.
Considering Sudan’s history, the government is neither concerned with human rights nor the protection of civilians in Yemen or elsewhere. However, what is surprising is the opposition parties’ overt support for Sudan’s participation in Operation Decisive Storm.
The Sudan Shadow Government is an opposition initiative that aims to provide citizens with alternative ways of opposing the government, in an attempt to evade the conventional ideological clashes that regularly take place. They monitor government performance, and their volunteer ministers suggest alternative pursuable programs.
This time around, the initiative offered no alternatives to taking part in Operation Decisive Storm, which the government claims will improve Sudan’s international relations and economic stance.
A statement issued on the 27 March 2015 did criticize the government for exhausting its limited military resources and urged diplomatic missions to maintain regular contact with Sudanese residents in Yemen. However, the shadow government welcomed military intervention in Yemen on the grounds of breaking Sudan’s regional isolation due to close relations with Iran since 1989.
The shadow government’s statement failed to address the consequences the operation would have on civilians in Yemen, where thousands of Sudanese civilians also reside. On 26 March Altareeq reported that militias had attacked Sudanese families in Yemen. It was only on 31 March that the evacuation of Sudanese started to take place.
What’s odd is that there are concerns for Sudan’s regional legitimacy while the regime’s legitimacy is constantly being questioned by its own people—a regime that came to power through a military coup in a country that has been in endless wars ever since.
Major opposition parties in Sudan boycotted the elections that took place earlier this month, because they are refusing to give the regime legitimacy. However, representatives of National Umma Party (NUP), Sudanese Communist Party and Sudanese Baath Party support the government’s decision to join Operation Decisive Storm.
On the one hand, Mr. Fadlallah Burma Nasir, the vice president of NUP, toldAlsharq Al-Awsat that the operation is taking place to protect Yemen’s legitimate president from rebellion. It is worth noting that NUP has signed a joint agreement with the Revolutionary Front—the Sudanese rebels' coalition. It would be interesting to see how the NUP would react if the Sudanese government called on its allies to eradicate rebellion in Sudan.
On the other hand Mohamed Ali Jadin, leader of the Sudanese Baath Party, cautioned against Iranian intervention. It’s worth noting that the Sudanese Baath Party is ideologically affiliated with that of Syria, which is supported by the Iranian regime in its war against the Syrian people.
Amusingly Jadin described Sudan’s participation in the operation as a step towards fragmenting institutions of political Islam, even though it is clearly being led by Saudi Arabia – the leading pillar of Wahhabism and extremism.
Sudan itself is governed by one of the oldest institutions of political Islam in the region, the Muslim Brotherhood, who took control of the government in 1989.
Sudan’s opposition stance towards Operation Decisive Storm has received a lot of criticism from Sudanese social media users. Some users questioned the Shadow Government’s statement on their Facebook page. While Ahmad, activist and filmmaker, tweeted: “It would have been more appropriate if Siddig Yousif of the communist party announced his solidarity with Yemeni people rather than supporting a military operation”.
The operation has affected hundreds of innocent people in Yemen. Yasin Alqubati, a doctor and political activist from Taaz, posted a photo of a toddler who had been burnt to death urging parties to stop the hostility and save the lives of civilians. Abdel Aziz Baraka Sakin, a novelist and Sudanese writer, commented on the photo with a dark sense of humor: "Maybe this toddler was one of the disbelievers in Yemen," pointing to the government’s justification of joining Operation Decisive Storm to protect Islam in the region.
The solidarity with the people in Yemen being expressed on social media suggests that political boundaries and nationalities are no longer tools for patriotism. The people who experienced, or are even slightly affected, by war are standing firmly against it.
It seems that political parties and initiatives need to learn more about compassion for their fellow human beings, regardless of the diplomatic gains they wish to achieve.
As such, the opposition’s motives to change the regime in Sudan remain questionable since they see no harm in justifying military operations elsewhere

It’s always the woman’s fault

first published here

Women, in Sudan are considered adults once they hit puberty. Men, on the other hand, can still get away with heinous behavior no matter how old they are. In Sudan, for example, even when a girl is gang raped or sexually harassed, it is always her fault. The men, fully aware that they will not be held accountable, continue to violate women on a daily basis, because it is always “the woman’s fault.”
One of the horrific cases is of a 13-year-old Sudanese girl who was raped by a militia. She is being accused and charged with gross indecency, she tried to file for rape, but in order for the case to be processed she would have to bring four witnesses to verify her claim, which, of course, she couldn’t do. Her trial has been transferred from juvenile court to criminal court because she is considered to be an “adult woman”.
According to the Personal Status of Muslims Act of 1991, girls (or boys) can marry at the age of 10, and crimes related to sexual violence against girls mostly get prosecuted in adult criminal courts. There are claims that she had had an affair with her rapist, however untrue, in order to have the case transferred from adultery to gross indecency. Socially she is being accused with being immoral and seducing adult men. The general opinion is that she ruined her own future; nobody cares about how she feels or what she has been through as only she can be blamed for her rape. She has been stigmatized, worth nothing but her broken hymen. Now, it doesn’t matter if she attends school or attempts suicide, she brought it upon herself that 13-year-old “woman.”
Another daily occurrence in Sudan is of women being sexually harassed as they are going about their daily lives. If a woman is walking around in trousers, wearing a tight t-shirt and without a headscarf it can “annoy a man.” Men feel entitle to harass women and may even go so far as to file a case against a woman for wearing “indecent clothing.” On the other hand, if a woman wants to prove that she has been sexually harassed on public transportation, the police will refuse to file a case. If they do agree, then it is most likely that she has “connections”, however, she has to bring witnesses to the act, which is of course impossible, even though at times, harassers will beat a woman up if they are told to stop touching her.
A case that has received a bit more coverage is that of a young pregnant Ethiopian lady who was gang raped, and filmed, by seven men during the Muslim feast (Eid Al Fitr). Soon after the incident, she bumped into a police officer who took her to the police station but failed to file a case. Five months later, she got arrested when the video went viral on Whatsapp.
She is being accused of “practicing” prostitution and possessing indecent materials. While kept under police custody; the attorney general denied her the right to file the rape case as well as bail. He claimed that there is no provision in the law granting her access to the law on this; although there is no provision in the law denying her this right. Later the court refused to let her file her case because the investigation had already taken place on the basis of prostitution and possession of indecent materials. Furthermore, the prosecutor added charges of adultery and gross indecency before transferring the case to the court. Local media was relentless in blaming the Ethiopian “prostitute” who came to Sudan to spread immorality, HIV and destroy the future of Sudanese young men.
“They are just poor kids, she shouldn’t ruin their future and they deserve another chance to be good people. She is just an Ethiopian whore,” said a tea lady selling tea near the court. She cursed her and was also angry that there was a chance the men were going to be punished along with her for committing immoral acts. However, this same tea lady couldn’t say a word to the five police officers who got tea and coffee from her for free. If she were to ask them to pay, she may be charged with disturbing public order, and may be regarded as immoral and a whore herself. However, she was quite ready to be angry at other “immoral women.”
These stories are from the day-to-day lives of women in Sudan. Few make their way into the media. It’s easy for a man to rape a woman and get away with it, but rape survivors have no means to access justice. It’s easy for a man to drag a woman by her hand to the police station and claim that she disturbed public order but a woman has to know “important people” in order to file a case of gross indecency on public transportation against perpetrators. Not only that, in order to prove her case, she may as well ask the harasser to place his hand on her until she can find witnesses for the act. It’s always the woman’s fault.