Monday 3 March 2014

Countdown timers on traffic lights, Mashrouy and other unfortunate things

My recent trip to Sudan was disappointing, mainly because I missed a lot of events and didn't get to see Rashid Diab's Art Centre. I’ve been away from Sudan for more than three years before going back last December. I had the unfortunate opportunity of visiting again about a week ago. Sudan is a funny place. Not “haha” funny, but treacherous underachievement funny. Khartoum has expanded significantly in the last two decades, albeit haphazardly. Land is abundant, and people are buying it left, right and centre. Roads connect the expansions. I say roads but they’re actually lumps of tarmac on minimal foundations steamrolled into perfect unevenness. It’s like the bumps are deliberate. The roads make areas accessible, and make hitherto worthless houses more investment worthy, because they’re “on a road.” So people invest; in houses, land, apartment buildings, whatever can be purchased – almost everything mind you. At the same time, old roads are constantly losing shape. So, new roads lead to new houses, and old roads lead to, well, not very far. This will continue, the new roads will eventually become the old roads, and the chaotic expansion of Khartoum will reach the border with Eritrea.
What’s baffling is the constant expansion. Other than not making sense, this expansion has instilled a sense of achievement among the masses. Many people think we’ve come a long way, you know, because we have roads and shit. I stumbled upon a theory in Khartoum; it’s not really a theory, I just figured this ought to be how people measure betterment. The theory goes: development is directly proportional to the annual percentage increase of restaurants in Khartoum.  The more restaurants there are, the further we’ve come. There is a shit load of new colleges too. You can earn a diploma in Business Administration or Computer Technology for as low as $3 a term. I’m exaggerating. But they’re plenty. I’m not against the proliferation of educational institutes, but since the privatisation of the education system, there has been a surge in below standard university openings, almost as much as restaurants. Restaurants have the upper hand as colleges tend to have restaurants and vice versa is impossible, so far at least. So here’s the issue, what happens when most of your population is getting poorly educated, regardless of the language it’s being taught in? I’ll tell you what happens, Mashrouy happens. More on that later.
Life in Sudan seems to be moving forward though. It might be a bit of a stretch to claim that business is booming, but bank loans are being handed out like leaflets at a political rally. When I left Sudan in 2010 there were a handful of private banks, now, apparently, there are 34. There’s a new bank in every corner in the capital city. I noticed this, hence the investigation. They’re all doing business apparently, big business too. But with whom? As far as I’m concerned Sudan is a net importer of food, oil, agricultural produce, bathroom slippers, toothbrushes, and, according to Usama Daoud, powdered milk. So who are the banks giving loans to? And how are the repayments being made? I can only imagine that in some way or another people are being traded in, maybe those that chill on the steps in front of houses. I’ve been trying, very hard, for some time now to understand how the Sudanese economy functions, but I’m still clueless. I asked a friend who works in a bank, he said he didn’t know. So if you do know, please step forward and provide an explanation. Please.
Then there’s this. If you’re fortunate enough to get into a car in Sudan you will notice that every traffic light in Khartoum has a countdown timer. I never understood the idea behind countdown timers, I mean, you’re going to wait anyway, it doesn’t matter whether you know how long you’ve got left or not. But that’s not the problem. Having a countdown timer on a traffic light in Khartoum is like a bald person putting on hair gel. That’s not how the world works. There are so many things wrong with Sudan, whether I know I’m going to wait 30 seconds at the light or not is hardly the issue. This is a recurring theme in most things Sudan; un-necessity.
There’s another recurring theme; individualism. More than three quarters of the people I know are self employed, the other quarter work in large private organisations. I know one person who works for a public institution, and he doesn’t count. Look around you; think about the people you know in your generation and the generation before yours. Right? Right? No one works in the public sector, no one. There are reasons of course. The public sector is underfunded because the government is, well, underfunding it, the private sector is much more funded and offers better opportunities for self development, the public sector’s entry requirements are as negligible as those of a corner shop, etc. While the reasons are well known and understood, their implications have been overlooked.
In 1956, in the year of Sudan’s independence, only 2.5% of Sudan’s population lived in Khartoum. Even so, the majority of Khartoum’s population resided in Omdurman. Khartoum was where the state institutions were, and where people came to attend university. This meant that those who did end up in university – or the public sector after attending university – came from very humble backgrounds. After completing university, whether in Sudan or abroad, the majority ended up working in the public sector. Mainly because the government was the biggest employer back then, but also because the government provided for everyone’s education. Either way, the country’s human capital was concentrated in the public sector. Now, however, even those who are able to afford decent education abroad come back and work in the private sector. Most of us who can afford decent education abroad lead relatively comfortable lives, which translates into a lack of responsibility towards general wellbeing due to a distorted perspective. The private sector’s contribution to development in a country like Sudan, other than providing jobs, is negligible. The private sector has no responsibility towards the country whatsoever. Even if we assume there exists some degree of enforced liability. And, inadvertently, working in the private sector will benefit the individual more than the country. So here’s our problem: nowadays the country’s well educated and well trained individuals end up in the private sector, which automatically weakens the public sector (because it gets the rest), making the public sector less desirable for anyone who’s qualified enough to get into the private sector (because it’s better structured and more financially rewarding), which is a consequence of people choosing more self-serving jobs, which leads to individualism. And individualism is bad for a country like Sudan. Hence why we have projects like Mashrouy.
Mashrouy is a television ccontest that rewards entrepreneurship. Twelve contestants present their business ideas that are then scrutinised by the panel of judges. Of the twelve, six are chosen after some challenges. Three contestants from the remaining six will be chosen to go on air, a winner will then be chosen by the viewers. The first prize is 200,000 SDG, and the second and third prizes are 150,000 SDG and 100,000 SDG respectively. I found this silly. Other than the fact that it’s blatant mimicking of Western television programs, another failure to comprehend the difference between the developed world and the Third world, at best it’s a short-term fix. Entrepreneurship, the type unconsciously being championed by the organisers of the contest, requires solid foundations.  At this level, entrepreneurship will only succeed if the foundations are there for it to succeed. In Sudan, and the Third world, entrepreneurship is more widespread than in the developed world. This is a fact that the organisers of the project failed to see. There’s entrepreneurship everywhere you look: tea ladies, cigarettes and mobile credit vendors, food vendors, mechanics, traffic light vendors who sell anything from mobile phone chargers to pillows. This is entrepreneurship out of necessity. The entrepreneurship being supported through Mashrouy will eventually lead to an individualistic perspective on life and on careers. Third world countries like Sudan can’t survive with individualism. And sooner or later, in a country where the rule of law is as fragile as Omar Al Bashir’s self esteem, one will face obstacles of some sort; obstacles that are a direct consequence of political mismanagement. Plus, there are a lot of negatives in promoting business in a badly governed environment. Those among us with influence should be directing people away from individualism, not towards it. We should be encouraging activities that benefit society more than the individual. This type of entrepreneurship in Sudan is like the countdown timers on the traffic lights. It might even be worse, because there’s a huge chance that it’s potentially harmful.
I have no doubt that more and more people now have fewer and fewer electricity cuts, there are new roads, more people have mobile phones, there are more cars on the road, there are more colleges, even more fat people. But the fact of the matter is that the electricity comes from the Merowe hydroelectric dam funded by Kuwait, the new roads cancel out with the state of the old roads, Chinese mobile phones are cheap and hence indicate nothing, most of the cars on the road are bought on unsupervised loans, all the new colleges and universities are below standard, and the fat people are actually unemployed thin people. It might seem Sudan is going somewhere, but it's actually not; maybe to the corner shop to chill. It gets worse. In a country where the more educated end up in the private sector (or abroad), I don’t see what can be done in the near future. Whoever said Sudan’s problems are purely political is as myopic as those who sit on Mashrouy’s panel. You can’t stop the countdown timers from infesting our traffic lights, but you can chose not to support private sector oriented projects, no matter what good they claim to achieve. Short term fixes are exactly that, short term. Oh, and the banks, f*** the banks.
On a more positive note, this is by far the best thing to come out of Sudan in a while. Please check it out.

Btw, I still want that explanation. I would say it’s because of my poor grasp of economics, but I have a feeling no one knows what’s going on.

Saturday 31 August 2013

Why the West should attack Syria, Uganda and the Bahamas

This post is not about Syria. I frankly don't have time for Syria, or Egypt for that matter. I don't have time for any political or human calamity that's not Sudan. Why? Well, for starters I'm Sudanese. And frankly, Sudan doesn't get the media coverage it deserves, hence I will give it my all, literally. But that's not what this post is about either. This post is about the world that you and me live in. Just before writing this I was being thoroughly entertained by Baratunde Thurston's How to be Black. Hilarious book. You should get it. Anyway, for some reason it got me thinking about things, and 17 seconds later I cringed. You know why? Because the world is a messed up place. It really is.

I have a Greek friend in Southampton. He's not normal. But in a good way. He told me today that he turned down an invitation for a night out with some other Greeks who were throwing a random Greek guy a going-away party. He told his friend that he "didn't care for socialising with them," and that "they're good library friends." I asked him why he did this, and he said "look, I know him, he's a nice guy, we meet in the library every now and then and talk; but I'm not going to go out to celebrate some random person's departure. I'm an honest person and I didn't know how to convey this to my friend in any other way." He had a point, and he didn't care how his friend was going to interpret it, but then again, that's how he is. He wears the same clothes everyday, a fanny pack that houses his credit card, student card and wallet, and a set of very unattractive earrings. The fact that he wore the same clothes everyday was pointed out to me by some friends a while back, in a dismissive manner. But what they don't understand is that he sees no value for clothes. In fact, had it been socially acceptable, he'd probably walk around naked. The point is, he sees a lot wrong in the world - the inequality and poverty - and he acts accordingly. He wears those earrings in an attempt to lure away people who judge others by their looks, he has no intention of befriending such people. And he literally wears his heart on his sleeves. Anyway, today we were discussing how the world works over some succulent chicken shish kebab, which inadvertently led to this post.

The per capita GDP of the Democratic Republic of Congo is $800, while that of Qatar is just shy of $105,000. So, on paper, the average person living in Qatar is more than a hundred times richer than the average Congolese (if you go into the details it's much worse). Yaya Toure, the Ivorian midfielder for Manchester City Football Club earns around £250,000 a week. A week. And in Equatorial Guinea 70% of the population lives below $2 a day - which is $60 a month, which is around $720 a year. In Sudan, 46.5% of the population lives below the poverty line ($1.25 a day). An average hedge fund owner (whatever hedge funds are) would've probably made $250 million last year. Now, we look at these numbers and think Oh my God so much inequality, what a terrible world we live in, what are all those rich people doing with all that money, why do they need 17 cars and 8 houses, this is unbelievable. Then we read books written by Joseph Stiglitz or Noam Chomsky about the "prosperous few and the restless many", and think yes, these guys are right, the world is not balanced, I totally agree with them, I'm so glad that we see eye to eye, this inequality has got to stop. Then we wake up the next day, go to the shop buy some coffee or cigarettes we can do without, eat an overpriced burger, and buy some shorts and loafers for the summer.

The fact that the world is imbalanced is a thought we carry along with us, but in the back of our minds, we look for it and deploy it at our own convenience, to win an argument or show our sympathy for the less fortunate. But the fact remains that it's in the back of our minds. Unfortunately for us, this imbalance, all this inequality will not go away, ever, if we keep thinking the world is a terrible place. These figures I just quoted are exact to some extent, the Sudanese government might argue otherwise, but they're pretty much accurate, and if you look at them closely they reveal not only that the world is at an all time low, but its continuation is not beneficial, at all. You might like your life and what you're doing, but as long as the world stays like this, and it will, then we've failed as a species. Apparently evolution doesn't tolerate failed species, yet we're still here. We should be gone, one way or another.

It doesn't make sense for people to be allowed to earn billions of dollars, and then be ranked by Forbes in a list that only Britney Spears cares about, while others can't find food to eat. Food. Fucking food. It's offensive. It really is. I had an unfortunate encounter with a friend of my cousin the other day where I made an inappropriate racial comment intending for it to be funny. No one laughed. The friend got offended, and I got an earful. I eventually apologised, reluctantly, and we moved on. But then it occurred to me that we get offended by comments, and we don't get offended by poverty, by the fact that billions of people around the world can't afford to eat or drink water. When one gets offended they feel the need to confront the situation, only then can they move on; whatever it is that offended them then moves to the back of their mind, they never forget it, they can then fetch it at their own convenience. The only thing that allows a person to forget the situation is confrontation. Yet, with inequality, it moves to the back of the mind with no confrontation. Which means that it doesn't offend. It doesn't need a confrontation to ease the process of putting it in the back of the mind. It doesn't make sense to get offended by a comment or a cartoon or a book or an article or a tweet, yet we look at the disparities between the rich and poor and think oh that's just terrible and move on. It doesn't make sense.

It also doesn't make sense that we buy handbags, watches, shoes and other insignificant accessories for thousands of dollars and fail to see the incongruity of it all. It's not our fault though, you and me. It's a bigger issue. It's the fact that we've been brought up to think that it's normal to invest in such asininity, to lend our sympathy to the poor but not care enough to question the reason for the existence of chronic poverty. We've been taught to look at the poor as a demographic, a statistic that can be quoted in posts like this one to prove a theory, raise awareness or question morality. We've also been taught to think that imperialism has ended, that colonisation was a thing of the past, that tomorrow will be better than today, that poverty exists because it's difficult to eradicate, that there isn't enough money to go around. There is enough money to go around. There's more than enough money to go around. The average income in the world is ten times that in Sub-Saharan Africa. This is not a problem that a book can solve, or an Earth Institute at Columbia University can solve. There are rovers on Mars for fuck's sake. There's no point putting men on the moon if men on Earth are starving. There's no point discovering a cure for disease if the only ones getting cured are those who can afford it.

Then we're told Africa's time is now. That Africa is open for business, that it's ripe for investment. Africa has been ripe for investment ever since the Europeans decided in the late 1800's to come over and claim it. Nothing has changed since then. The profits that are made in African countries are invested abroad. The poor see none of it, none. And no one should be commended for providing six jobs for slave labourers. And if that's not enough, the rich in Africa are put forward as paragons of success. We're all told that in order to be successful you have to become rich. And it's true. The rich are idolised. We have to sit and listen to what they have to say. Basically, if you're rich then your opinion counts. Fuck that. I couldn't care less what Mo Ibrahim has to say about African or Sudanese politics. If he really wanted to "help Africa" he would've never made that much money to begin with. There's no problem with being rich, but there's a problem with hypocrisy and self-beneficial charity. This is evident throughout the continent. And we only hear about those lucky enough to exceed expectations and make a lot of money. We hear about them in Forbes lists. Yet, what we don't hear about is that at the same time the poor are still poor. And frankly, whenever Forbes is involved, you know something is wrong. The fact that people are allowed to acquire so much wealth while others are still hungry highlights exactly what the fuck is wrong with the world. Again, we look, we read, we sympathise, we move on.

There are three wars in Sudan, a war in Syria, a political crisis in Egypt, a war in Afghanistan, a war in Congo, a something in Palestine (don't even know what it is anymore), all of which claim lives everyday. For what? Money? Power? Cheese? Whatever the reason, it's never worth it, ever. And the majority of us can't see that. See we all think that it's ridiculous that people could kill each other over land or oil. But they do, we do. Those engaged in wars and those making big decisions are also human. They think, eat, breathe like the rest of us. They too might think the wars are wasteful, but not wasteful enough to be called off. Some people around the world still think that killing people for oil or cocoa beans is worthwhile. And this is not their fault, because the world that we've created allows them to do so. It allows for East Asians to work for a pittance in the Middle East, it allows for billionaires to pop up in countries plagued by poverty, it allows for quarter of a million dollar cars to be driven in countries with no roads or street lights. It allows for alcohol to be advertised like it's a cure for cancer, it allows for Mo Ibrahim to write for the Christian Science Monitor, it allows people to overlook hunger and feel resentment at a set of words.

It's clear now that there's no difference between Obama and Bush, no difference between Al Mahdi and Bashir, or Mubarak or Morsi. The way things are is no coincidence. There will be no eradication of poverty, or solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Modern day slavery will continue, most of the money will be controlled by a few, and Rihanna will continue to be a recording artist. So my proposition is simple. Let the West attack Syria, triggering a wave of contempt in the Middle East. Iran and Russia will join in to defend their ally. Israel will help the West in the Golan Heights. China will help Russia. The other Middle Eastern countries will only serve as bases for Western armies, and hence will get targeted by those supporting Syria. Japan will feel the need to join in and retake Pearl Harbour. India will attack Pakistan because during the last guard change the Pakistani guard's legs didn't go up high enough. Bangladesh will join India. Sri Lanka will join Pakistan, which will join Syria and co. The US will realise that it needs oil to fuel the war and will hence build a base in Uganda to secure the newly discovered oil. This move will upset China which is technically already fighting the US in Syria. China will start fighting the US in Sub-Saharan Africa from a Chinese restaurant in Sudan. A suicide bomber defending his country's sovereign rights that have been taken away by the West will blow up a holiday resort in Barbados. Military intelligence will deduce that there's a terrorist cell in the Bahamas, which will then be bombed by the US. Mexico will move in to protect the holiday makers in the Caribbean who form a large segment of the Mexican marijuana market, which is Mexico's largest export. Costa Rica will join Mexico. Brazil will provide ethanol to the US's fighter jets in the Caribbean. The UK will attack Argentina because of unfinished business. Mexico will attack Brazil for supplying the Ethanol, and for speaking Portuguese. This will spark a Spanophone versus Portugophone war in South America. The war in Syria will not go to plan, so the US and UK will ask for France's help. France will reject, and Italy will comply. France will bomb Italy for complying, and for Zidane's red card in the 2006 World Cup final. Germany will bomb France because they've done it before. Belgium will close its door and no one can come inside. Spain will close down Zara, this will cause outrage in the Middle East. A wealthy suicide bomber will blow up a mall in Spain. Eastern Europe will gain dependence and become part of Russia again, and join the war in Syria. As a contingency plan the US sends a nuclear missile towards Norway. Norway attacks Sweden for having more blonde people. Anyone with access to a nuclear arsenal will start entering coordinates. Nuclear missiles will be fired into Syria, Uganda and the Bahamas for maximum possible damage. Everybody dies.

The only solution is that we start over. From zero. From the first organism and earliest methanogensis. There's no other way. So tell your congressmen and MP's. The world needs the war on Syria - and the other two countries - more than anything else. And I'm sure my Greek friend will agree.

Disclaimer: Egypt was not mentioned in the scuffle because the world doesn't revolve around Egypt.

Tuesday 26 June 2012

Sudan: A new Sudan in the making

Sudan has witnessed two revolutions in the past, in October of 1964 and in April of 1985. Sudan is not new to revolutions, and it is definitely not taking part in the Arab Spring. Primarily, because Sudan, in recent times, was never considered an Arab state, not by Arab or Western media, nor by Arab or Western academia.

The current protests taking place in Khartoum and other cities in Sudan were sparked by a new government austerity plan. The plan includes the removal of fuel subsidies and cuts to government spending to decrease a $2.5 billion budget deficit. The Sudanese government lost 75% of its oil revenues due to the secession of the South, and the recent conflict in Heglig saw the shutdown of oil production for a significant amount of time. 

A normal person would think that given the loss of oil revenues the government is right to impose austerity measures. Let's assume that since signing the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005, the government was working - which I highly doubt - towards a united Sudan, the eventual loss of oil revenues was obvious since the results of the secession plebiscite from February of 2011. Imposing austerity plans in June 2012 is, let's be charitable and say, fatuous.

Nevertheless, the budget deficit will not be fixed by an austerity plan, or any plan for that matter. What the government needs to do is realise that it's not qualified to run a country. Hence, the protests.

The common misconception is that the protests are against the austerity plan, they're not. The protesters are calling for the fall of the regime. They might have been sparked by the austerity plan, but they have been ongoing for 10 days now and it doesn't seem that they will stop any time soon. 

The students, and citizens who eventually joined, want regime change for very simple and understandable reasons. The education and health systems in Sudan are virtually nonexistent. There's no infrastructure, no legal system, no economic plan of any sort, and last but not least, no freedom of expression. For all intents and purposes, Sudan is a failed state; statistically, socially, economically, financially, and everything else-lly. 

Unfortunately for us, the current development of events are indicative of similar scenarios to those of the recent Arab revolutions. First, there's the denial of violence towards the protesters by the likes of Amin Hassan Omer, who appeared on Al Jazeera - along with the white pubic hair on his chin - to discredit the peaceful protests in the country. Then, there's Omar Al Bashir, pulling off a Qaddafi, and calling the protesters "شذاذ أفاق" (foreign prospects).

The government's plan to reduce spending kicked off last week with the resignation of the Khartoum State government, and eventually the Red Sea State government. The only issue here is not the resignations, but the formation of new cabinets in these governments. If this is going to cut costs, it either means the sacked government officials were over-payed or the new ones are cheaper, which means not qualified. And it is precisely these nonsensical decisions that have brought Sudan to where it is today.

The only salvation for Sudan's economy was - and I emphasize on was - agriculture. However, the government - and its officials - was so busy falsely spending the oil revenues of the last 10 years that it forgot to keep agriculture a viable option. So now, I guess the only solution is to sell Starvation Bonds to European banks. The situation cannot get any worse than it is now. 

The current events in Sudan look promising, and I think I speak for all sane un-bearded people when I say, I hope Sudan rises as a nation against corruption and defunct political institutions.

Saturday 14 April 2012

Sudan: The war of fiction

In 1884, in the Berlin Conference, the Europeans decided to set off for Africa. Which in the mid 1800's was considered a land ripe for violation - they, of course, used the terms trade, exploration and settlement. In arrogant rhetoric, the Europeans considered Africa a "disputed territory".

This disputed territory was "disputed" because it didn't belong to any of the prominent countries at the time; and because it didn't have any squiggly lines encompassing a name of a country written in Times New Roman font. And so the rampage began.

Africa was divided between seven European countries. The conquest of Africa was done in an astronomically condescending fashion, with no regard to local customs, culture or belief systems. The locals were tamed forcefully and financially.

Britain got Sudan, and unfortunately for them, Sudan was complicated. They found a medley of remnants of old civilizations and religious conquests, local tribes and seasonal nomads. They were discombobulated.

When they finally left, the British left Sudan as how we see it today - including South Sudan. They were well aware of the differences between the North, South, East and West.

It is fair to say that the border demarcations throughout Africa have been done arbitrarily with colonial interest in mind. They were drawn up to either ease control of the area or for trading purposes.

The Africans were then made to believe that they belong within these borders, and regardless of culture or religious beliefs they have a moral duty to the land demarcated for them.

Sudan's border dispute with South Sudan is not unique, it has been plaguing Africa for decades now ever since the 'Scramble for Africa'. It is a shame that we argue for and against war based on lines drawn by foreigners for us to manage. We base our patriotism on these arbitrary lines, and call out others on not respecting them. We sacrifice the lives of the poor and desperate to protect what is 'ours'.

The current conflict between Sudan and South Sudan is a direct reflection of Western arrogance and assumed superiority. The United Kingdom even has the audacity to comment and 'urge restraint and cooperation'. Whether it's a resource war or not, border disputes are silly and wasteful. We buy weapons from Western countries to defend borders they have drawn up for us. Do you know how ridiculous that sounds?

We can always argue that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement addressed the border issues and that there should be legal consequences. However, the CPA itself was somewhat conjured up and supported by the West.

In this context, patriotism based on borders is a flawed concept for us, and the foundations for this war-to-be are as fictitious as Omar Al Bashir's reading abilities.

Saturday 17 March 2012

Sudan: Why Clooney's arrest is both good and bad

Sudan, to most Westerners, is a place of war, genocide, famine and little children with big bellies. It is a place where an Islamist central government is fighting a religious war with Christians. It is where Arabs kill Africans. It is a place of suppression, racism, bigotry and Islamic violence. The funny thing though is that Sudan is exactly that, but not that at all.

The current regime in North Sudan took power in 1989 in a coup that saw the prominent National Islamic Front to power. Since then, it has vigorously attempted to bring the whole of the Sudan under the control of the ruling party currently known as the National Congress Party (NCP).

The NCP, in 1989, inherited the war with the South from its predecessors. Using Islam as a tool to foster its power, the NCP branded the war with the South a 'Holy War'. It was far from that. The NCP was engaged in a war with the late John Garang's Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), which, according to Dr Garang's visions, was fighting for a New Sudan, a united Sudan. This New Sudan vision, as was explained by Dr Garang, would afford all Sudanese of all ethnic backgrounds, representation in the central government in Khartoum.

Like the SPLM, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) - established by the late Khalil Ibrahim - took up arms to seek representation for the people of Darfur in the central government in Khartoum. The consequence of this rebellion was military suppression by the Sudanese government. The events that followed, genocide or not, saw the indictment of president Bashir by the International Criminal Court.

During the North-South civil war, the inhabitants of the Nuba Mountains, under the leadership of Abdul Aziz Al-Hilu, saw an opportunity to address their plight and joined the ranks of the SPLM. After seeing what Al-Hilu claimed as rigged elections for the governorship of South Kurdofan, Al-Hilu took up arms - independently this time - against the central government in Khartoum with what was left of his Nuba SPLM soldiers.

Despite the Western media's portrayal of the situation in the Nuba Mountains, the so called "genocide waiting to happen" is actually a rebellion. The distortion of such causes is what makes this whole activism by Hollywood celebrities so deplorable.

Earlier in the week, George Clooney pleaded with the US government to take action on the "atrocities" happening in the Nuba Mountains. This act alone highlights Clooney's ignorance of the situation that North Sudan is currently in. It is very obvious that the US has very little leverage with the current Sudanese government. This lack of cooperation between the two nations dates back to 1995 when the Sudanese government gave Osama Bin-Laden safe haven. Since then, the US had put detrimental economic sanctions on North Sudan. Another reason is the US's broken promises to North Sudan's government following South Sudan's independence. The US had promised the removal of Sudan's name from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism, and possible removal of sanctions, of which the US had done neither.

The US's stance on Sudan is questionable to say the least. In 1983, when Garang formed the SPLM/A and took up arms against Jaafar Nimeiry's - then Sudanese president - regime, the US supported Nimeiry, despite the fact that Nimeiry's government at the time was "Islamist", primarily because of Garang's communist inclinations. At the time, Garang was supported, militarily, by the USSR, through Mengistu's regime in Ethiopia. After the fall of the USSR, Garang sought the West for support, which he eventually got under the false pretense of fighting fighting an "Islamist regime".

These contradictions in foreign policy have been entrenched in the Western media's reportage. In John Avlon ridiculous post for the CNN on Clooney's arrest, he shamelessly insists on how we shouldn't let the world be ignorant about the "slaughter of their fellow human beings". Forgetting of course that the US is currently involved in two very questionable wars with more civilian casualties that one can fathom. Unfortunately, Mr Avlon himself doesn't understand the history behind the conflict in the Nuba Mountains nor does he understand the US's stance on Sudan.

Statements like "That's why Clooney envisioned the Satellite Sentinel Project, administered by the DigitalGlobe and the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, which uses satellite surveillance technology to pierce the isolation of the Islamist nation" are exactly why such bad press from Mr Clooney's campaigning is bad for Sudan. The word "Islamist" has no meaning whatsoever in the aforementioned statement. Unfortunately for us Sudanese, so called activists like Mia Farrow use twitter to publicize the conflict in Sudan using tweets like this "Omar Al Bashir is wanted by the ICC for genocide in Darfur-is now slaughtering civilians along oil-rich borderland #arrestBashir". Again, terms like "oil-rich" have no pertinence whatsoever to the matter at hand.

The current narrative on South Kurdofan is misleading, hence why you had people like Congressman Jim Morgan from the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People at the protests yesterday in front of the Sudanese Embassy in Washington. He probably thinks that the Arab Muslim government in Khartoum is deliberately targeting helpless coloured Africans in South Kurdofan.

After being released from 3 hours of detention, Mr Clooney told the press that the situation in South Kurdofan is a "man-made tragedy by the government in Khartoum to get these people to leave". Again, Mr Clooney is failing to understand that what's happening in South Kurdofan is a war between rebels and an ill-equipped government. Which begs the question, why isn't Mr Clooney campaigning against all the "accidental" civilian deaths in Afghanistan by US and NATO forces?

The reportage gets even more distorted when people like Mukesh Kapila, Special Representative for the Aegis Trust, visit South Kurdofan and release statements report that they saw "two churches hit by over head bombs, while a mosques was left untouched".

We are not doubting the concern that these activists and officials have for the people of South Kurdofan, but unless they understand the roots of the conflict and the consequences of their reporting, they will not be helping anyone. They seem oblivious to the obdurate nature of the Sudanese government and Mr Bashir. These reports only give Mr Bashir and his government more of a reason to continue their war in South Kurdofan. What's more, other than the fact that the Mr Al-Hilu's forces might be supported by the government in the South, foreigners like Clooney and Kapila coming in to South Kurdofan from the Southern border is counter productive to the already tense North-South relationship.

I will concede that George Clooney's arrest has shed some light on Sudan's issues, but it's shedding it wrong. Sudan's problems are far more complicated that Mr Clooney might think, and Sudan's situation is extremely volatile.

However, there's no reason for Mr Clooney to be concerned with situations such as the one in South Kurdofan while there are those suffering in Palestine. Yes, this is a naive observation, but it still holds. If human suffering is his concern, then he should at least join the protests against the occupation of Palestine. He should be against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he should also be campaigning against any hostilities towards Iran.

What most Western activists fail to understand is that the political climate in countries like Sudan is no place for philanthropy. If anyone wants to help, they can fight for freedom of press in Sudan, the release of political prisoners and the end to corruption. They can also try and persuade the US government to lift the economic sanctions from Sudan, which is hurting the people more than the government. The people of Sudan are not incapable, they are forgotten.

Saturday 18 February 2012

Sudan: Sleeping, intending and other illegal activities

Speaking to a reporter after his release from a few hours detention, Muzafar (not his real name) said that they were woken up by batons, whipped unto their feet and out of the university dorms. He said they were told to pack their clothes and take them with them. "Please make sure you take all your belongings with you" said the officer in the air hostess uniform.

The boys' dormitories at the University of Khartoum was raided at 4 am on Friday. More than 300 students were apparently beaten and arrested, and taken to several police stations around the capital Khartoum.... for sleeping!

The university has witnessed a surge in student protests since late December, in which students were demanding a stop to police violence and the right to form a student's union. The authorities then decided to close down the university until early March.

In Friday's raid, the students were charged with "disturbing the peace", "G-Unit" and several other record company names. They were charged for their "intention" of staging a peaceful sit-in on Sunday.

Let's assume the government of Sudan has a legal system; let's also assume they - like everyone else - are humans, have human brains, feet and eyeballs. Is it possible, that a bunch of humans huddled up in a room, thinking with their feet, suggest a raid on sleeping students, agree on it, and eventually carry it out? Apparently so.. you know why? Because sleeping is illegal in Sudan; specially sleeping at night, in dorms, at an educational institution, in a bed, while breathing, oxygen, but not any oxygen, NCP oxygen. That's right. Non-NCP members aren't allowed to breathe NCP oxygen.

It all seems unfair to be honest; because honestly, we don't have a proper oppressive regime. Our dictatorship is chaotic, it has sporadic surges of political testosterone. When this happens - even at 4 am - they get this inexorable urge to beat something. Apparently, when they really can't find a justifiable target, they take it out on cattle.

In a proper dictatorship, the beating would've taken place during the sit-in on Sunday. This seems relatively fair. Yes, ethical crime is a contradiction, but it seems to be the code of the "bad guys"; ask Hussni Mubarak and Dr Evil. Not only is our government violent against its own citizens, it's recklessly violent.

Most of the students were eventually taken back to their dorms, but most were left money-less; and apparently some are still detained. The students said they were looted by the officers during the raid, which is not surprising given the nature of the raid. It is precisely this type of thuggery that has caused so many to criticize the current regime. But, criticism or not, Friday's raid was absolutely abhorrent.

This is yet another sign that the government is becoming extremely uncomfortable and apprehensive. The government is so uncomfortable that, not only is it making whimsical decisions, but well thought out irrelevant ones too.

Now, apparently, no high ranking government official is allowed to leave the country without Bashir's approval. His personal approval. So, you have to call him - on his cell phone - and ask for permission to leave the country. This, they say, is part of the government's new plan to cut spending and keep the negligible amount of foreign currency they have left within Sudan's borders. So after you call him, he does the math in his head, calculates how much your trip will cost, deducts that from the $17.29 of foreign currency in the Central Bank, and then decides whether your trip is worth it. After permission is granted, the government official has to bring back a note from the country that he's travelling to confirming his visit, and that he was a good boy. The note has to be signed by the president of set country, the foreign minister and Sudan's ambassador.

It's a f***ing kindergarten!

Saturday 4 February 2012

The Sudanese Identity

“Indeed, many of the conflicts and barbarities in the world are sustained through the illusion of a unique and choiceless identity” - Amartya Sen

I've come to realise that many Sudanese youths are overly - and might I add, falsely - preoccupied with the concept of 'Sudanese Identity'. We always end up enthusiastically arguing this point when discussing Sudan. We seem to be stuck in the middle of a tug-of-war between African and Arab.

These arguments arises from the fact that Arabic is the dominant language, and Islam is the dominant religion in the country, hence creating an Arab identity. Yet dark skin and frankly, an excess of local languages are evidence of African ancestry.

The above arguments are false in many aspects. Islam does not mean Arab, and dark skin and local languages don't necessarily mean African. And then you have the issue with Arab and African identities, which themselves are also not fully defined. So there is a problem with trying to identify with nonexistent identities in the first place.

My contention with this issue of Sudanese Identity is the consistent requisite of having to identify ourselves. Being from Sudan doesn't seem to be enough anymore. This is a very serious issue, because the end goal of all this ‘defining’ is less beneficial than we might think.

Older generations never had this problem. Everyone was Sudanese and content. No one questioned what their Sudaneseness transcended to. Because frankly, it doesn't really matter. Being Arab or African doesn't add or take away anything from who we are.

In Rwanda, Belgian conquerors aggravated the tribal rivalry by giving citizens ID cards that clearly stated which tribe they were from. They then went on to assign each tribe a place in society, giving Tutsis the high societal positions and the Hutus were designated the labour. This is the root cause of the genocide, because primarily, an uneducated Rwandan society failed to see that being Rwandan comes before being Tutsi, or Hutu. Yet, the Rwandan Hutu labourer could’ve identified with the Rwandan Tutsi school teacher just from a common taste in music, let alone a common nationality. So if they had chosen to be Tutsi or Hutu and Rwandan, the story would’ve been different.

It’s obvious that the issue of identity is a global one, not only confined to the borders of Sudan. In his book “Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny”, Amartya Sen says that current identity classifications find their roots in the Western society’s theory of The Clash of Civilizations. He claims that the current identity characterisation is based on civilizations and religions. A concept which he claims is counterproductive to the ubiquitous credence of equality among humans.

He also goes on to say that we all have plural identities, and that if we choose to embrace one and ignore the others, we risk widespread animosity.

The point he’s trying to make is that it is impossible to identify any individual with one thing and one thing only. A person can be a Muslim, a woman, an African, a dentist, a feminist, a vegan, pious and a football fan all at the same time. And she cannot identify with only one category and ignore the others with no significant consequences. Identification with a single group causes divisions, which are perfect for inciting hate towards the ‘other’:

The implicit belief in the overarching power of a singular classification can make the world thoroughly inflammable. A uniquely divisive view goes not only against the old-fashioned belief that all human beings are much the same but also against the less discussed but much more plausible understanding that we are diversely different.

In the aforementioned text, by “diversely different”, Amartya Sen is not referring to a single identity with several sub-identities as we seem to view the Sudanese Identity. It’s in reference to the fact that we are Sudanese, but we’re also a lot of other things.

So since we are all of plural identities, we can find commonalities within our identities, and use them strategically. One cannot identify as only being Sudanese, because this makes an implicit commitment to this category while ignoring all other shared identities.

What we need to do is decide the degree of importance to attach to being Sudanese over other identity categories within which we belong. We cannot create a ‘Sudanese Identity’ that encompasses all existing identities within the country, primarily because we would be to identifying with a single category.

When we finally come to see ourselves as the plethora of identities that we are, the next challenge is how we appear to others. It’s important in the case of Sudan because we have been led to believe that certain people from certain parts of Sudan have certain habits, and this is what we would identify them with.

In Sudan, the Southerners didn’t define themselves as Southern, the Northerners have created this identity for them; and the same has been done for all the people in the outlying regions of Sudan. The north holds this power of ascription for the sole reason that it has always been the more developed, intellectual hub of the country.

The Sudanese Identity cannot house any other identities other than itself. It’s an identity just as being Muslim or Hausa is an identity.

A common misconception is the belief that the lack of a Sudanese identity has stalled any prospects of a revolution in the country. Revolutions don’t happen because of common identification, they happen as a consequence of injustice and corrupt rule. The commonality here is being human. Yes, this sounds ridiculously humanistic, but being human does come before Sudanese; what we fear for ourselves as humans, we fear for others, before that feeling is felt about being Sudanese.

The same concept can be applied to the wars in Sudan. The Sudanese Identity has been defined for us by the rulers of our country since its independence. The problem here is that it was defined, not that it was defined falsely. The fact that this defined Sudanese identity encompassed several identities involuntarily alienated some. The solution for this is not a Sudanese identity that includes every single identity within our borders, because that’s illogical.

We have to choose to be Sudanese, and that’s that. There’s a difference between defining an identity, and choosing one. Defining an identity not only puts limits, but it alienates others, consequentially by the person or people defining it. Plus, no one should have that right to begin with. While choosing one is a personal commitment, and identity is a personal issue.

So instead of defining the Sudanese Identity, we have to choose to be Sudanese, and more importantly, we need to create the conditions in which it becomes obsolete.

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