Friday, June 17, 2016

30 Sudanese Women You Should Know About

Posted in ElleAfrique Magazine on 17th of June

For centuries Sudanese women have been pushing the boundaries of the patriarchal society, excelling in fields almost always dominated by men despite the difficulties they face. We searched for the women making an impact today both nationally and internationally, in all different fields: health, environment, women’s rights, arts, filmmaking, political and social activism, engineering, literature and even traditional dance, and came up with over 45 names but had to cut down to 30 for the sake of the reader’s sanity. This list, in no particular order, is just the start.

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1. Jalila Khamis Kuku – Political activism: Sudanese teacher and activist who is the face of the almost invisible conflict in the Nuba Mountains. A member of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement – North, she was arrested by the Sudanese National Intelligence and Security Service in 2013 and accused of treason after posting a video on YouTube speaking out about the atrocities being carried out by the Sudanese government in the region. She was released after a 10-month detainment, and was later awarded the Delegation of the European Union to Sudan’s “Heroes for Human Rights Award 2013”.
2. Professor Balghis Badri – Gender studies and women’s rights: established the Afhad University Regional Institute for Gender, Diversity, Peace and Rights, and is an active member of Regional Centre of Arab Women for Research and Training. She has been fighting gender-based injustice such as violence against women, FGM and early marriage since 1979 and advocating for women’s rights and empowerment in Sudan by actively influencing policy through her research and training.

Description: Source: Facebook/Future Makers
Source: Future Makers

3. Hanan Mohamed A/Karim Abbas – Corporate Social Responsibility/sustainable development: a leading figure in corporate social responsibility. She trains and teaches young people in the use of innovation in science and technology, management, responsible investment and business ethics, marketing, the environment and sustainability among other things. She is a known supporter of civil youth movements and sits on the boards of several charity organizations and research committees, as well as being a member of the Jury of the Arabic CSR Network.

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4. Gada Kadoda – Knowledge management: she was 2010’s African Scholar Guest of the AnnualProgram at the University of South Africa, was on UNICEF’s list of nine innovators to watch in 2014, and received the Sudanese Women in Science Organisation Award in 2015. She is an independent researcher with a Ph.D. in Software Engineering. She is also the founding member of the Sudanese Knowledge Society, and is the author of “Knowledge Production” in the Encyclopedia of Case Study Research.
5. Magda Mohamed El-Sanousi – Women’s rights: a gender and development expert and activist, and is the manager of the Arab Region Gender Equality program that covers Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq, the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Yemen. She is also Chief of Women’s Empowerment Section at the UN Support Mission in Libya. She was Oxfam GB Country Director in Lebanon until June 2013, during which she worked in giving women living in poverty access to legal support and justice, and involving men in the fight against violence against women. She also lobbied to promote gender sensitive budgets and policies, advocating to give widows access to pensions, and on empowering women in remote villages in Egypt to vote and even stand as candidates in the parliamentary election.

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6. Taghreed Elsanhouri – Arts/Filmmaking/Social activism: an award-winning Sudanese-British independent filmmaker who has given a voice to the marginalized population of Sudan through her films: ‘All About Darfur’ in 2005, ‘Mother Unknown’ in 2009 and ‘Our Beloved Sudan’ in 2011. In 2011 she established the Cultural Healing initiative as a cultural activism and outreach project in order to promote dialogue and critical reflection on issues of silence and conflict in Sudan. The project produced 8 short films before being shut down by the security authorities in 2013.

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7. Awadiya Mahmoud Kuku – Social activism/women’s rights: a tea seller displaced fromKordufan, she is a part of a collective of women who established a cooperative union with almost 8,000 members for those whose income is generated through selling tea and food on roadsides, or engaging in informal labor. The union supports and improves women’s livelihoods and challenges their mistreatment, and provides them with legal support. In 2006 Awadia and several other union members were jailed for 4 years for debt. She recently received the International Women of Courage award from the US Department of State.

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8. Fahima Hashim – Women’s rights/political activism: a women’s rights defender/activist, researcher, and trainer, and the director of Salmma Women’s Resources Center. Through the center she has been mobilizing and empowering women and women’s groups in order to influence policy and overcome structural, political and legal obstacles to the advancement of women’s rights, as well as advocating for ending the violence in Darfur through organizing the movement ‘Women Against War’.

9. Nour Hussein – Orphans’ rights/social activism: a leading voice for the stigmatized group of abandoned children in Sudan. Growing up in the Mygoma orphanage, she overcame the barriers of social stigma and excelled in her studies, later winning a scholarship to pursue higher studies in Jordan. She established her center ‘Shamaa’ that advocates for the rights of orphans and children from unknown parents, and challenges the society’s perception of them by raising awareness about their rights and abilities, and about adoption, and helps in obtaining legal documents.

10. Gisma – Traditional: a Sudanese singer and dance instructor who has revolutionized the art of the traditional wedding dance night, and has shaped and reshaped the traditional wedding industry over the years. Due to the trends and standards she has set, wedding singers and instructors – and by association the entire traditional wedding industry – have shot up in cost, style and importance. While many may argue how positive her effect is, she is unquestionably influential.

Description: Photo Credit: Reem Gaafar
Photo Credit: Reem Gaafar
11. Muna Isam Eldin Osman – Architecture: a prominent name in a field that was heavily male dominated and is still highly politicized. She headed the powerful Dar Consultancy Firm’s design section for several years before moving back to teaching at the University of Khartoum where she was the first woman in the college’s history to be accepted based solely on practical experience and accomplishments. She was the first architect to introduce the curtain wall system in Sudan, and has since designed and supervised the construction of major landmark buildings, and now manages her own consultancy firm.

12. Widad Yagoub Ibrahim – Engineering/micro-financing: a civil engineer and the founder of the petroleum and housing development company ‘Bee’. Established in 1986 with just 3 employees, the company now employs over 800 people with both national and international offices. She also established the first bank for micro-financing in 2008 which has funded over 14,000 families and has 24 branches in different states, and has built several schools for elementary and vocational training in conflict areas. In 2006 she was the first woman to be invited to join the executive committee of the Business Men’s Union, upon which the name was changed to the Business Owners’ Union.

13. Nawal Nour – Health/Women’s rights: a Sudanese-American OBGYN and founder of the African Women’s Health Practice that focuses on both physical and emotional needs of women who have undergone Female Genital Cutting (FGC). She is the recipient of the MacArthur Foundation Genius award, and a Commonwealth Fund/Harvard University Fellow. She conducts workshops to educate African refugees and immigrants on the medical complications and legal issues of FGC, and has published a book educating OBGYNs on the medical management of circumcised women in the United States and Canada.

Description: Source: Alsudaniya Mentoring
Source: Alsudaniya Mentoring
14. Mai Khidir – Women empowerment: recognizing the difficulties girls and women face in Sudan in reaching their full potential, she established the Alsudaniya Mentoring program in 2014 to connect Sudanese female role models worldwide, accomplished in their academic or professional careers, to young girls living in Sudan. The program includes training young women in leadership skills, career planning, women’s rights and their role in society, organizational skills and time management. It is now in its third year and has involved 75 individuals to date.

15. Yassmin Abdel Magied – Social activism: growing up in Australia, Yassmin founded ‘Youth Without Borders‘ when she was just 16, an organisation that enables young people to work together to implement positive change within their communities and internationally. She has forged a hybrid career as an engineer, social advocate and media commentator. She published her book ‘Yassmin’s Story’ earlier this year.

16. Leila Aboulela – Literature: an award winning novelist who has put Sudan on the African English literature map. She has authored 4 novels as well as several shorts stories and plays. She was the first winner of the Caine Prize for African Literature and is the fiction winner of the Scottish Book Awards, among others. Her work has been translated into 14 languages.

17. Nahid Toubia – Health/Women’s rights: a women’s health rights activist, specializing in research into (FGM). She is the co-founder and director of RAINBO, the Research, Action and Information Network for Bodily Integrity of Women which works in Uganda, South Africa, the Gambia, and Nigeria. Among other posts, she is vice-chair of the advisory committee of the Women’s Rights Watch Project of Human Rights Watch. She has played a prominent role in changing the view of FGM from being a predominantly medical concern to a human rights issue.

Description: Source: The Guardian
Source: The Guardian

18. Niema Albagir: Journalism: an award-winning London-based international correspondent at CNN. She has covered difficult areas such as conflict in Darfur including exposing rape allegations against members of the African Union and being the only Western journalist reporting from Mogadishu during the US bombing of Somalia. In her first documentary with Unreported World “Meet the Janjaweed” she gained unprecedented access to “Hemeti”, one of the main Arab Janjaweed Commanders at the heart of the fighting in Darfur, broadcasting the first documentary evidence of the Sudanese government’s direct involvement with the Janjaweed and the role China’s arms sales to Darfur are playing in the conflict.

19. Zeinab Badawi – Journalism: a Sudanese-British television and radio journalist at the BBC since 1998, and is founder and chair of the Africa Medical Partnership Fund (AfriMed), a charity which aims to help local medical professionals in Africa. She has been an adviser to the Foreign Policy Centre and a Council Member of the Overseas Development Institute. In 2009, she was named International TV Personality of the Year.

20. Hania Morsi – Health: runs the first and only not-for-profit breast cancer clinic in Sudan and the Horn of Africa. Her clinic provides state-of-the-art screening, diagnostic and treatment services for patients from Sudan and neighbouring countries at prices that are affordable and/or subsidized, and sometimes at no cost at all. Since it opened, the centre has seen over 15,000 women and diagnosed 12,000 cancer cases, including some men. In 2015 Dr. Morsi was awarded Her Majesty’s Order of the British Empire.

21. Siham Daoud Angelo – Social activism/education: was one of 1000 women nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005. A native of the Nuba Mountains, she has trained hundreds of women through her brand Zags and Rags, which handcrafts bags, clothes and toys out of bits of material. Her company trains the women – mostly widows and housewives – in sewing and designing, and gives them sewing machines and jobs, as well as eradication of illiteracy by teaching them to read and write.

Description: Source: The Guardian
Source: The Guardian

22. Nesrine Malik – Journalism: One of leading Sudanese columnist in the British press and is a panelist on BBC Dateline London. She writes for the Guardian where she specializes in Sudanese affairs as well as Islamophobia and terrorism. She also writes for the New York Times and Foreign Policy. She has been shortlisted for several awards, and is a member of ‘Creative Access’, an organization that aims to get more minorities into UK media.

23. Salma Almagidi – Sports: the first woman to officially coach a men’s football team in Africa and the Arab World after obtaining her professional coaching license from the Confederation of African Football. Despite her young age (only 25!), she managed to lead her team Alnasr through 3 consecutive wins thereby saving it from dropping into the 4th category.

24. Maisoon Matar – Environmental awareness/ entrepreneurship: is Sudan’s ambassador for Women Entrepreneurship Day and the founding member and director of the recycling company ‘Fandoura’ that produces accessories and household items from waste to raise environmental awareness. She conducts training workshops in prisons, juvenile rehabilitation centers and neighbourhoods. The project partners with several entities such as Ahfad University for Women and the Higher Environmental Committee, as well as working with the UNDP with victims of violence.

25. Niemat Ahmadi – Political activism: the founder of Darfur Women Action Group, a group that works in education for internally displaced children in Darfur, protection of human rights defenders on the ground, as well as the establishment of a Women Empowering Center in Darfur that provides health care, counseling and safe spaces to survivors of sexual violence. She is also Founding Member of the Darfuri Leaders Network, a coalition of more than 20 domestic Darfuri organizations working to promote peace and security.

26. Asma I. El Sony – Health/scientific research: a leading specialist in TB nationally and internationally. She headed the National Tuberculosis Program Sudan Federal Ministry of Health for several years during which major progress in fighting TB was made, then founded The Epidemiological Laboratory, an institute which works in TB control and research, including working to make health services for TB more accessible to poor people (including those affected by the HIV pandemic). She holds several leading positions in organizations, has co-authored 4 books and has over 25 solo and 30 shared publications.
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27. Nahla Mohakar – Filmmaking/Human rights: a published writer, filmmaker and human rights activist. She co-directed her first film ‘Diversity’ in 2010 around the referendum for secession of the South, and conducts filmmaking training workshops for human rights activists. During her work with activist Nahid Jabrallah in the SEEMA center for training and protection of women and child’s rights in Sudan, she helped create videos to campaign for legislative reform.

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28. Hadeel Ibrahim – Business/philanthropy: the founding executive director of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation to support leadership and governance in Africa, a post she was appointed to at the age of 22. She is a member of several boards and committees, through which she advocates for victims of climate change, preservation of cultural patrimony and a zillion other things. She was recently appointed to the UN Secretary General’s High-Level Panel of experts to address humanitarian funding shortfalls, and has been classified as one of the 20 women who are moving Africa and one of the 100 most influential people under 40 in the Arab world.

29. Kamala Ishaq Ibrahim – Art: the first modern woman painter in Sudan. She is a pioneer in Sudanese and African contemporary art and painting who contributed to creation of the Crystal movement that challenged the art establishment in Sudan and sought to challenge the dominating masculine vision of art in the country.

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30. Dalia Haj Omer – Human rights: a peace-building, human rights and conflict management expert and writer with 10 years of international experience in the Middle East and Africa. She works with USAID/OTI-fundedprojects, Human Rights Watch, Doctors Without Borders, UNICEF, The World Bank, Chemonics and Development Alternatives Inc. Her reportage and opinion pieces have appeared in The New York Times and Foreign Affairs. She recently published her guidebook for the Strategic Use of New Media for Peaceful Social Change.

Who else do you think should be on this list? Contact us at ElleAfrique with your suggestions, and follow the hashtags #SudaneseExcellence and #SudaneseWomenRising for more.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

The May Revolution: Years of Prosperity and Drought

This is an overview of the memoirs of Zain Alabideen Mohamed Ahmed Abdelgadir, a key player in the May Revolution of 1969. I will give a summary of the book then pose some questions for discussion about the author’s stance, the period of governance itself, and what we can learn from it for our current situation/government.

The book starts off with a brief overview of the author’s childhood, then his early days as an officer where he sets off right away to explain how, despite his social circle and general preferences being leftist, and despite his admiration of the Sudanese Communist Party (SCP), that he was never – ever – a member.
After the October Revolution in 1964 that overthrew Aboud, the author touches on the issue of the ‘Free Officers – الضباط الأحرار’, a secret pan-Arab organization within the army under which nationalist officers who refused their governments’ behavior came together, and how some of these had successfully overthrown their governments, such as in Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Libya. At this point the author states that he and his friend Abu Alqasim Mohamed Ibrahim established their own organization inside the army called ‘The Modern Forces Organization – تنظيم القوى الحديثة’ – which later joined the Free Officers Organization – and started recruiting people, which ‘did not have a clear goal and was just a necessary preparation for tomorrow’. This later proved to be the seed for the May Revolution. He then goes on to tell about an unheard-of plot by Abdel Rahim Shannan and backed by Elsayed Ahmed Almirghani with funding from Kuwait to overthrow the democratic government in 1966. He was recruited by Shannan as a partner, but the latter was then appointed a minister and so the plot was apparently forgotten (?).
At this time the war in the South was raging on and the army was suffering in terms of supplies and political support, with several incidences occurring, including throwing the SCP out of parliament, and a general popular unease at the incompetence of the parties in managing the country. Here, a meeting is held which the author ‘just happens to be attending’, where the army discusses if and how they should get politically involved. It is to be noted here that there is a repeated mention of how the army’s job was to ‘uphold the constitution’ (which was hit with the SCP expulsion) and to maintain the country’s safety and ‘higher interests’ (which is at risk with the current behavior of the parties) – all justifications for the statements and actions that were to follow. During the meeting, the author told the audience that ‘if he were in charge, he would take over control until things calmed down and everything was organized, and then hand it back to the parties’. Basically, he’s saying that the revolution was his idea. This meeting was in August of 1967.

By 1968 the idea of taking over power has become more solid, and for the first time Nimeri enters the scene as someone who joined in the planning for the coup (which of course was not actually called a coup but ‘taking control’), and it is again stressed that all this was not being done for love of power but that it was the only way out of the current mess. Throughout this, there is no clear mention of how involved the SCP was, but by 1969 it is clear that while they weren’t calling the shots, they were still very much involved and actually more of a hindrance than a driving force, and eventually a split occurs when they insist on postponing the action for another year until they are ready, while a small group – including the author and Nimeri – insists they go ahead now. The timing of the coup is planned according to an annual training plan where a large portion of the army will be under their power in March, and is postponed until May when several high ranking officials are outside the country; therefore time was of the essence. Here and for the first time Nimeri appears as a leader of the group – the 6 officers who resign from the organization and decide to go ahead with the coup despite the others opting out – and Day 0 is set for the night of May 24th, 1969.
Chapter 4 describes the details of the coup which I won’t go into here, except to wonder how come everyone just agreed to go along with the plan and how smoothly it went, as described. Anyway, it happened, and everyone they needed to arrest was arrested, and they woke up Abdelwahab Ahmed Salih the radio presenter and brought him to the national radio station in the early hours of the morning (in his pyjamas ya Rabi?), and the country woke up to the military music playing over the radio waves and the declaration of the revolution announced at 6:30 am on May 25th, 1969, to which the people took to the streets shouting their happiness and support.

The Revolution Leadership Council is formed of which, of course, the SCP is a part. Here a rift occurs in the SCP between Abdel Khaliq Mahgoub and the others, although the author does not go into details of the disagreement except to mention that their choosing the SCP representatives without asking the SCP’s permission contributed to the rift. Also, Nimeri insists that those officers who executed the coup should be part of the council, to which the majority of the FOO members did not approve. The council is formed with 10 members/ministers and headed by Nimeri. To this point there is no clear justification for why Nimeri was chosen or his leading role in the coup; was he the most senior? The smartest? The strongest of will? What were his personal ideological preferences? Anyway the council is formed with 3 SCP members and 7 others, and the following period is described as one of perfect harmony and happiness and acceptance even from the Southern leaders who stated their approval of the new leadership and their preparedness for dialogue.
A year later it is clear that there is not much harmony at all, and the interference of the SCP is posing a threat, with a divide occurring between the 3 SCP council members and the remaining 7. Here the author touches on a few of the major issues that made the May era so hated by the people and places the blame squarely on the SCP since it was ‘their idea’; the nationalization and confiscation of property and the fierce ‘cleansing’ of the civil service from all those with party or right-wing alliances. Again, the non-SCP council members are noted for their pure and innocent intentions, not even opposing the removal of their own family members. Also, aside from the direct orders from the SCP, non-direct interference shows with several members assigning themselves as ‘advisors’ to each council member and their involvement in meetings and preparation of work papers.
An important event occurs in March of 1970, when the Ansar declare Jihad against the communist government, and 2 confrontations occur; one in Wad Nubawi where the mosque was hit and the Ansar surrendered, followed by the invasion of Aljazeera Aba (the stronghold of the Mahdiya) and bombing the Mahdi’s castle. The author insists that the Mahdiya were the ones to start the violence, that they tried to avoid using force and that the least possible damage was done, but of course the Ansar have their own side and version of the story.
Following this the SCP members start pushing everyone’s buttons by going around saying that the revolution’s success and continuity relies on the SCP’s political support, which in addition to their continuous disagreements with the non-SCP council members, eventually leads to their expulsion from the council. The author insists that this was Nimeri’s decision, and that things could have gone differently if a more lenient decision had been reached. On July 19th, 1971, the communists overthrew the government. 

The author describes the details of the coup and how he, Nimeri and one other were held prisoner in separate rooms in the Republican Palace, and how 3 days later army officials loyal to the May revolution managed to get hold of a couple of tanks and crash the Palace where Nimeri and co are being held hostage, and the communists (failing to gain the people’s support) then proceeded with one of the most painful atrocities in the Sudanese army’s history: the Guesthouse Massacre (مجزرة بيت الضيافة). The author describes the details – including naming the perpetrators – of this and the following events. This is an important issue since there is some denial about who did what and who made the orders and who pulled the trigger, because the only 2 or 3 people who survived the massacre and actually saw who shot at them only emerged years later with their evidence. Here – again – the role and activities of the SCP leaders are rushed through, mentioning only that Abdel Khaliq Mahgoub had escaped (when was he arrested to start with?) and was hiding in the Republican Palace (??). Also, there is no mention of his inclusion in the trials and what happened to him; he just drops out of the book.

This is the point that the author describes as the turning point both in the May Revolution’s progress, and in Nimeri’s personality and conduct to an arrogant and hot-headed man. It is also the point at which the author starts to be pushed out of power, and naturally shows his vexation. An investigation and study into the reasons of the communist coup was refused, a referendum was proposed and then conducted about assigning a president with solitary decision making authorities, and to dissolve the Revolution Leadership Council. Only here does the author start to describe Nimeri’s shortcomings and volatile personality through previous encounters, and that he – the author – had had a feeling very early on that if some disaster were to happen to the revolution, it would be because of Nimeri!
After Nimeri becomes president, gold diggers and opportunists start appearing and surrounding him so that the distance grows between the president and his previous comrades, and eventually the author and others are replaced and demoted, and eventually resign from government and from the Socialist party.
The country then takes on the socialist political system, which the author believes was a premature step and should have waited a few more years until the revolution was better established. He goes into details of the different offices, declarations and decision and the establishment of the Sudanese Socialist Union in 1972. In 1974 the Shaaban Events, driven by the Islamists, flared up and riots spread to all parts of the capital and some states. Not much detail is given here, except that a few months after this Nimeri asks the author to come back as Minister of Youth, Sport and Social Affairs, which he accepts, and goes into long details about the accomplishments in this field during his time there.

In 1975 a second coup – Hassan Hussein – is attempted, which fails almost immediately and turns out to be backed from outside the country by the opposition, and which the author insists had racial and tribal roots. Less than a year later, a third coup is attempted, backed by Libya and the members of the opposing political parties, namely Alsharif Alhindi and Alsadiq Almahdi. During this event, Nimeri disappears, and turns out later to have been hiding in his brother’s house. The mention of Alqathafi’s role here (he is described as some psycho with interesting ideas such as digging an extension from the Nile to Libya and marrying one of his officials to a Sudanese official’s daughter) also serves to highlight the issue of the Arab Union project between Sudan, Egypt and Libya, and the specific ‘brotherhood’ between Egypt and Sudan.
Next comes an interesting chapter about one of the controversial roles the May Revolution – with its Socialist ideology – played, i.e. property nationalization and confiscation. It comes with the justification of auditing bodies being setup to save the civil service from collapse, and punish banks and capitalists for corruption, smuggling and tax evasion. The author, while not questioning the process itself, notes that several limitations faced them: the new management could not maintain the international networks and relationships as the old, some of the reports on corruption justifying confiscation were actually untrue, and some of those given responsibility of managing the confiscated properties used them for their own personal means (which may have been a reason for the communist coup). Then, Nimeri suddenly decides to have a National Peacemaking Initiative and invites the opposition back to the country and the government, further alienating his comrades. Again, it is noted here how the author describes his disagreement which sounds more like jealousy than genuine distrust (subjective opinion).

Between 1972 and 1979 an important economic period unfolded, with good progress being made in the country’s infrastructure in all fields, which makes me wonder why little if any credit is given to Nimeri in terms of economic growth. Probably because of what happened later; failure to obtain funding for the projects and for buying stuff, and rising interest from debt, leading to pressure from the International Monetary Fund on Sudan to devaluate its currency for the first time in history – a decision which was made by the Socialist Union which had no technical expertise – and which caused an uproar. The Sudanese pound dropped from 3 USD per pound in 1979, to 1USD per 2.5 Sudanese pounds in 1985! Someone calculate this percentage please. Furthermore, people packed whatever foreign currency they had in their suitcases and siphoned it out of the country, draining the national reserve, and of course the black market flourished and inflation blew through the roof.
Then, after a lot more drama, came the September laws in 1983, which is a long story for another day; but just to mention that the abrupt Islamization of government rule was an almost solitary decision made by Nimeri in consultation with 3 obscure individuals he met somewhere by coincidence, and which was the last nail driven in the coffin of the revolution, which was overthrown by the people less than 2 years later.
The second part in this book serves to highlight specific incidences encountered by the author and what they meant to him and to the Revolution, and more or else serve to show how humane, patriotic and genuine the Revolution and its people were, and how they had always worked towards the greater good. Even Nimeri had good intentions but was ‘surrounded by bad people’. The third part is a collection of documents, declarations and letters (which I didn’t read).

The book:
It was well written but full of editing and typographical errors, unnecessary footnotes that serve no clear purpose, and much repetition. I blame this on the editing and publishing house, but understand that the book was published after the author’s death and so maybe they weren’t too keen on editing too much. Still not excuse for all the typos.

The writer:
I understand this is an autobiography of someone very well known for his role in an extremely controversial era of Sudanese history, so the defensiveness and bias is expected. He makes a point of clearly distancing himself from the ‘bad guys’; i.e. the communists, and from Nimeri himself after the latter had gone bad. He makes a lot of effort to show that the ‘true colours’ of the revolution were truly patriotic. He conveniently skims over details of several key issues such as the cleansing of the civil service, and discusses the confiscation policies in terms of their alleged justifications. No mention of how the government dealt with the leaders of the SCP, especially Abdel Khaliq Mahgoub. And there is no mention at all of the imprisonment and death of the father of Sudan’s independence, Alzaim Alazhari!
Also, I find the obvious dissatisfaction of being repeatedly distanced from Nimeri and others being made favourites to undermine his judgment and portrayal of what was really happening. His own summary of the reasons weakening the revolution are:
-          Downsizing the Revolution Council from 10 to 7 members (after ousting the communists)
-          The 1971 coup
-          The National Peace Treaty and inviting the opposition back into government
-          The September laws

-          In terms of socialist ideology, how well of a fit was this to the Sudanese context?
-          What is the communists’ side of this story?
-          What similarities and differences does the May Revolution share with the Inqaz?
o   Both were allegedly as a response to an unjust and inefficient rule. But that’s everyone excuse: between Independence and 1989 there were 9 coups/coup attempts: 2 by Shannan and a third later with Almirghani, Nimeri, Hashim Alatta, Hassan Hussein, the Libyan/opposition attempt, Siwar Eldahab, and finally the Al-Bashir/Al-Turabi. That’s quite a lot of dissatisfaction.
o   Despite being backed by two opposing ideological extremes, the army proved its incapability to either work in perfect harmony with its political brain, or to completely free itself from its hold, and hence to rule at all. Does this mean that a democratically elected civil government is a better solution for ruling the country?
o   At some point the same ridiculous excuses are given: Nimeri was a good person surrounded by bad people. Al-Bashir is a good person surrounded by bad people! Both were/are genuine at heart but corrupted by power and bad advice. But while Nimeri still had the power and strong-headedness to make his own erratic decisions, Al-Bashir is more of a puppet kept in power for other people’ use.
o   One key difference between the 2 regimes is the ideology and the popular base; while socialism as an economic drive may have had its positive points, it has proven no match for the emotional and theological blackmail in the form of the Islamist rule used by the Inqaz. It proves that you cannot buy the loyalty of the people no matter how much you do for them, but you can trap them in their beliefs that refusing your rule is refusing religion. Therefore the strength of the Muslim Brotherhood lies not only in their extremely organized and solid base and their having infiltrated every corner and niche, but in the ideological power they hold over the masses – something May did not and would never have had.
Were the factors leading to economic collapse the same in both cases? No; in May there was widespread and undeniable construction and establishment of key structures, which the author states as the actual reason behind collapse. Possibly better planning or better financial advice may have lessened the drastic effects of this? Another setback for having politicians and army officials in positions that need technical and educated brains. In the current case however, we have dismantling of the major structures such as the railroads, marine transport system, agricultural schemes etc and complete reliance on the lately discovered oil, and of course corruption. But for the sake of discussion let's leave the 'subjective' issues out and focus on the erroneous policies and what we can learn from them.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Growing old in Sudan

Originally published in ElleAfrique Magazine

The young lady delicately adjusted her multicoloured tob and dabbed at her multicoloured face, looked down at her notes, and cleared her throat.
‘These days, doctora,’ she chirped at her middle-aged scholarly guest, ‘we bear witness to a certain phenomenon, a phenomenon which is alien to our society.’
‘Yes,’ the doctor gravely agreed.
‘This phenomenon,’ the young hostess said with a growing look of disdain on her face, ‘is the appearance of… homes for the elderly.’ This last part she spat out with a look of pure, multicoloured disgust.
The guest was a geriatric physician; a doctor who is specialized in the health of the elderly. In developed countries where advanced medicine and socioeconomic circumstances have extended the life expectancy, the elderly form a significant percentage of the population. In the US 13% of the population was aged 65 years and older in 20101, while in the UK the 10 million people currently older 65 years of age are expected to double in number in the next 20 years2.

In Sudan, despite medicine and socioeconomic circumstances actually getting worse, the life expectancy has nonetheless increased. However, unlike their more developed peers, the elderly in Sudan are plagued with a plethora of diseases and conditions, not the least of which is poverty. The lack of health education and affordable healthcare complicates these conditions, making growing old in Sudan a heavy, heavy burden.

Having an elderly and almost completely dependent relative around the house is a taxing issue. They need help with everything: feeding, bathing, soothing, pain management, grooming, entertainment and general safety. They need medication and diapers and special bedding, even flooring and a guard at the door to prevent them from wandering out and getting lost. They need a proper diet and a friendly face and loving hand that will wipe away their irritation and fear and sadness. All these things cost money, time and patience; and in Sudan not everyone has the means to provide these.

I once asked people what they thought of services for the elderly. All the answers were along the same lines of disgust as the young woman hosting the family show: these were abominations, things that were un-Sudanese and must be fought. It is the family’s duty to take care of their elderly whatever the cost, and to even try and share this responsibility with someone else is to have failed this duty; it is selfish, cruel and unforgiveable, and anyone who does it is to be judged and condemned. Only one person had the idea that, actually, specialized services for the elderly are not such a bad idea after all. This person had stayed at home and taken good care of her own elderly mother for several years, was educated and well off, and had travelled the world and seen how other people live. And more importantly, she was reaching old age with several illnesses of her own, and had some idea of what she was about to face. She, like myself, had reached the conclusion that specialized services for the elderly are not only necessary, but are in fact a right to be given when trusted and affordable.
The problem with Sudanese people’s refusal of these services is that the majority of them don’t realize that they are doing more harm than good to their relatives. Most people cannot afford proper necessities such as hospital beds and air-mattresses that distribute the person’s weight to prevent bed sores. Patients are fed lying down or inadequately propped up and they choke and inhale their food, causing them aspiration pneumonia, which can easily kill them. Lying down for long periods without movement causes bedsores which, especially in the presence of diabetes and general ill-health, do not heal and become infected. Bathing a dependent person is a difficult task, especially if the person is heavy or uncooperative. This part of general care is frequently neglected and some people even believe that it does the person more harm than good. When old age is accompanied by dementia, this doubles the problem. Demented people want to get out of bed and out of the house, they are violent and verbally abusive, refuse to eat and be bathed or have their catheters inserted/changed. They don’t sleep and don’t let anyone else sleep either. They embarrass people in front of guests. They spit out their medicine and knock things over. They do not recognize family and believe everyone is their enemy. It’s exhausting and heartbreaking, and a lot of people simply can’t keep up with it.

But it’s no one’s fault, and everyone here is a victim. No one wants to grow old and dependent on other people for their very life, and young people have their own families and jobs and careers to take care of. Asking for help does not mean neglecting one’s duties towards their elderly relatives; it just means that they don’t have the means to solely provide the proper care this elderly relative deserves. Some people have to make a choice between working to be able to provide and to stay at home to take care of their parents. Some people simply have no idea how to take proper care of a sick and bedridden person; how to recognize signs of illness, the right way to clip their nails without hurting them, how to provide physiotherapy to prevent their joints from freezing up from disuse. A lot of these things can be taught, but still need regular supervision.
(Web Images)  
(Web Images)
Specialized care can be anything from dedicated homes for the elderly (which the Sudanese society finds the most despicable), daycare units that provide care for several hours a day, and the home nurse. All of these are severely lacking in Sudan, and what little services available are of terrible quality. In order to improve these services we first need to improve the society’s attitude towards the needs and rights of the elderly. The society cannot continue to judge people who seek help as ‘bad sons and daughters’. Just as it is accepted to take a 6 month old child to daycare, the same acceptance towards specialized care for the elderly is needed, and will come eventually. The large home in which extended families live together is fast dissolving; we are turning into a society where the household is restricted to parents and their children, and occasionally a grandparent or 2. Just like there is usually no longer a relative to take care of the child, there is no one to take of the grandparent or parent. We’re getting there anyway, so we might as well get used to it and make the best of it.

Elderly parents deserve just as much care as they gave their own children and grandchildren. They also had a life full of accomplishments and memories and aspirations, and they made sacrifices for their children and went to different lengths to provide them with a good life. No one wants to end up bedridden and a burden on anyone else; but it is the way of life:
)يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِن كُنتُمْ فِي رَيْبٍ مِّنَ الْبَعْثِ فَإِنَّا خَلَقْنَاكُم مِّن تُرَابٍ ثُمَّ مِن نُّطْفَةٍ ثُمَّ مِنْ عَلَقَةٍ ثُمَّ مِن مُّضْغَةٍ مُّخَلَّقَةٍ وَغَيْرِ مُخَلَّقَةٍ لِّنُبَيِّنَ لَكُمْ ۚ وَنُقِرُّ فِي الْأَرْحَامِ مَا نَشَاءُ إِلَىٰ أَجَلٍ مُّسَمًّى ثُمَّ نُخْرِجُكُمْ طِفْلًا ثُمَّ لِتَبْلُغُوا أَشُدَّكُمْ ۖ وَمِنكُم مَّن يُتَوَفَّىٰ وَمِنكُم مَّن يُرَدُّ إِلَىٰ أَرْذَلِ الْعُمُرِ لِكَيْلَا يَعْلَمَ مِن بَعْدِ عِلْمٍ شَيْئًا ۚ وَتَرَى الْأَرْضَ هَامِدَةً فَإِذَا أَنزَلْنَا عَلَيْهَا الْمَاءَ اهْتَزَّتْ وَرَبَتْ وَأَنبَتَتْ مِن كُلِّ زَوْجٍ بَهِيجٍ( الحج: 5
(O mankind! if ye have a doubt about the Resurrection, (consider) that We created you out of dust, then out of sperm, then out of a leech-like clot, then out of a morsel of flesh, partly formed and partly unformed, in order that We may manifest (our power) to you; and We cause whom We will to rest in the wombs for an appointed term, then do We bring you out as babes, then (foster you) that ye may reach your age of full strength; and some of you are called to die, and some are sent back to the feeblest old age, so that they know nothing after having known (much), and (further), thou seest the earth barren and lifeless, but when We pour down rain on it, it is stirred (to life), it swells, and it puts forth every kind of beautiful growth (in pairs).)22:5

This care is the responsibility of these same children; but we must acknowledge and accept that there are limits to what each individual can provide. Instead of blaming and criminalizing, we must attempt to find proper solutions that are acceptable to everyone. It is part of our teaching as humans and Muslims first and Sudanese second to take care of our own; but we should be – and are – allowed to ask for help. This generation and the generations to come need to make sure our parents can grow old in Sudan with dignity.

1Older Americans 2012,
2The aging population,
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Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Muscat Film Screening Night: A Taste of Home

While on holiday in Oman, I arranged a film screening at the Sudanese Social Club in Muscat. The initial idea was to screen my own film, Light of the Sahara, with a collection of other short films from Sudan Film Factory’s workshops to give Sudanese in Oman an idea about the film making industry in Sudan. Due to several foreseen and unforeseen circumstances, I could not finish the re-editing of my film before travelling to Muscat, and working on it on my laptop was impossible due to the sheer size of the project. But after thinking about it for a while, I thought why not screen the other films anyway? And to add to the fun, why not screen Alkhartoum by Gadallah Gubara? I knew that this particular film would be very much appreciated especially by the people who had left Sudan from as far back as the early 70s and just could not come to terms with what the country had come to now.
So after taking all necessary permissions from the directors and producers, I approached a neighbor whom my dad said was in touch with the leaders of the Sudanese community in Oman. I wanted to screen it in a public place, easily accessible and preferably belonging to the Sudanese community in Muscat. Since the embassy was now off-limits, the next best option was the Sudanese Social club – a place I had been to only a handful of times in my life because it was so far from everywhere and because I found it immensely boring. Eventually I was put in touch with a young man whom I am related to somehow in that unique Sudanese way, and we met so that I could show him the films. Impressed, he took the message back to his people, who asked to see the films themselves. So off to the club I went, and sat down with 2 elderly gentlemen whom I showed AlKhartoum, Diversity by Mohamed Hanafi, Maaz Alnujoomi and Nala Mohakar, and 50 by Ibrahim Mursal.
I found their discussions and comments quite interesting, mostly the comments about how these films showed how normal life used to be in Khartoum, not just in the 70s but also before the secession of the South. Suddenly I had a flashback which I shared on my Facebook page, about how when I was a freshman at Juba University and couldn’t fit in anywhere and was made fun because of my strange clothing and broken Arabic, that the first people to welcome me into their midst was a group of young, smiling Southern Sudanese guys, because ‘they liked my English’. They were my first friends in the whole of Sudan.
Anyway, I then contacted several of my director friends and asked for permission to screen their films as well, because I wanted the audience to see the latest and highest quality of short films possible at such short notice. Elaf Alkanzy gave us her film Shimesh, Razan Hashim provided Existence, and Mohamed Kordofani sent his film Gone for Gold. Other options for screening were Malakia Juba by Muzamil Nizam Eldin and Beats of the Antonov by Hajooj Kuka, but both were too long and intense and would have needed a night on their own. Obviously, it didn’t occur to me to try and arrange more than one night for film screening.
Long story short, the organizers said that the screening would better take place as part of their Independence Day celebrations, so by some twist it turned out to be the last night of my stay in Oman. I made the poster and sent out invitations, called and messaged and harassed friends, families and neighbours of all nationalities to come, and made a big fuss out of the whole thing. I translated the film Khartoum into Arabic and edited in the subtitles (as well as editing out a 2 second segment of a woman in a bikini). I had to show the films to 5 different people on 3 different occasions to get them cleared for screening, and was told several times not to expect much of a crowd, especially young people, but despite my and my dad’s irritation I kept my mouth shut and agreed to whatever was said because for once, I just wanted this night to happen. I. My dad suggested I prepare a presentation to go with the screening, because pretty much everyone attending was expected to have no idea about Sudanese cinema at all.
And finally, the day arrived. On a Thursday afternoon, we drove my dad to the airport and dropped him off (he had already booked his flight and so unfortunately missed the event), picked up a couple of friends and headed to the Social Club which was a good 40 minutes away from our campus. They had arranged the screening in a closed hall, but it could hold up to 70 people so I wasn’t too worried. All the equipment was in place and we spent a while testing audio and microphones, adjusting levels and positions, and checking everything was working and in place. And then, we waited. I had announced that the screening would start at 8 pm, but the invitations sent from the club to its members stated 8:30 for some reason, which meant that people wouldn’t show up till 9. The organizers arrived and had a look over. A couple of my relatives also came in early. Then we all had ta3miya sandwiches from the club’s canteen, while my friend Amal tested the live broadcasting service provided by Facebook.
At 8:02, a young non-Sudanese woman came in and sat in the back. I went over and said hi, and she said she was an Omani friend of one of my friends and was interested in arts in general and had seen the announcement and decided to check it out. I was quite flattered, and decided this was a good start to the evening. Bit by bit, people started to filter in, but not that many. At around 8:25 I was informed that one of the head club members who was in charge of documentation was a good 30 minutes away and that we should wait for him. I was very irritated, but didn’t know what to do. I was screening 6 films, plus a presentation, plus the discussion and 8:30 was already too late. A few minutes later they said they couldn’t wait for him anyway, so let’s just start. Finally!
I sat up front with the cultural secretary who gave a short introduction, and then I commenced with the presentation, at the end of which the hall had filled to about half of its capacity, with many elderly men in their 3immas pulling their chairs up as close to the screen as possible. Then, the films started. First, Khartoum by Gadallah Gubara, where people burst out laughing at the mention of Khartoum being the cleanest city in Africa and a dozen bananas costing a farthing. When Nimeri showed up on the screen, people in back clapped and cheered. Mumbles of surprise and laughter at the commentary about how the Sudanese enjoyed musical shows and films from all over the world, at the new and chic hotels and clubs, and at the clean streets with people driving on the left side of the road. A loud applause when the film was over. Next was 'Diversity' by Sudan Film Factory, a film made in 2010 as part of their first workshop, which followed a group called Sudan Unite who used art as a means to call for a united Sudan in the looming shadow of the South’s referendum and eventual secession. It was also well received. Then followed 4 short films: Gone for Gold was an apparent favourite, and I laughed when I heard the loud gasps with the unexpected plot twist. With Shimesh, I heard the ‘kor 3aley’s as the little street boy pulled out the picture of his lost family. Laughter in Razan Hashim’s existence as the little girl eats her sandwich while watching TV, and more laughter as the coin and 5 pound bill in ‘50’ exchange news and complaints in a rickety old drawer in a university cafeteria. When the last 2 films where remaining, it was already almost 10:30, so I informed the audience that I had 2 films left, one 18 minutes and the other 5 minutes and I could show just the shorter one if they were tired. Everyone shouted ‘show them both!’, so we did. Overall, all the films were received with enthusiastic applause. And when the lights came on at the end of show, the hall was packed with just a few seats empty. Basically around 60+ people had filled the room, which was 60 more than anyone had expected.
And then came the discussion. I didn’t really know what to expect, because this was the first time I had attended a screening for Sudanese in the Diaspora, and especially a group with such a wide range of ages and backgrounds. I had both Sudanese and non-Sudanese, academics and businessmen and housewives and students, and the men in the front looked about 70 while towards the back there was a girl who couldn’t be more than 14 years old (who later came and begged me to show/give her the films because she had missed all but the last because they were stuck in a karate lesson that had ended late). Also equally surprised was the lack of annoying children who are a hallmark of any Sudanese gathering. One kid showed up in the middle of the event and was unceremoniously shooed out of the hall by the audience. The main points of discussion were as follows:
The first woman to stand up and comment was quite emotional as she spoke about Gadallah Gubara being the photographer who had documented one of the most important moments in our history: the Independence. Seeing where Khartoum was and where we are now had made her upset. She said that despite our differences no one harmed the other, but that people now went to unprecedented lengths because of greed and poverty (she was commenting on the film Gone for Gold). As for the film Existence, she said that Sudanese relationships had changed, like this poor old grandmother living alone and having to work for a living, which was definitely the doing of her daughter in law! I found this observation an interesting interpretation of a film that I had thought very differently of. Later, my brother told me the best thing about this film was the simple fact that it had a grandmother in it, which further showed just how differently one film could be interpreted and received. It was also mentioned by someone that old women remain productive until the end of their days.
One elderly gentleman took the microphone and said how very proud he was of the young audience attending today, and that they wanted the mission of the club to continue which needs the younger people to come more regularly and to present and organize their own events and participate in the regular events the club holds. Again, Gadallah Gubara was mentioned and how he was in-charge of the mobile cinema back in their days. He then asked an important question: are those who followed in Gadallah’s steps under financed? Is that why cinema and the quality of films has deteriorated so much since then? Even these cultural institutions I had mentioned as serving as screening venues and sponsoring workshops for filmmakers; have they their own interests in mind in this support?
I answered this question as well as I could: in that there is very little support for filmmaking in Sudan. In fact, there are more obstacles than support, and that the authorities’ role is more of harassment than anything else. Most, if not all, filmmakers were self-financed (I gave myself as an example and how my family had financed my entire filmmaking career). Bodies like the Film Factory also depended on support from mainly non-Sudanese entities. And other things of the sort.
Someone praised the film Khartoum, and was so happy it was screened because they tell their children all the time about how glorious Sudan used to be, that it was the cleanest capital in Africa! But now their children could actually see this with their own eyes. And it was important that films like this be screened regularly. They also mentioned how the people looked in the film: relaxed, smiling and happy. Who walks around on the streets of Khartoum looking like that these days?
About the film Shimesh, which talks about a small street boy, one gentleman talked about how we look down on these people, but that they are people just like us, people with feelings and dreams. If this kid had found an education and someone to care for him, he would probably have become better than all of us. About the film ‘50’, which follows a 50 piaster coin around the city: this simply shows us how low our economy has reached. He spoke about how his generation doesn’t do justice to the younger generations and always point out that how useless they are. He commented on the backgrounds of the organizer (myself, a doctor) and the film directors (pharmacists, petroleum engineers, aviation engineers) and that ‘we don’t want our kids to be just academics, but to also embrace and encourage their artistic and creative side’. He urged the younger generation not to wait for someone to help them do these things. He echoed the usual thoughts of how they feel that their generation was the best and those behind them are lost, but that they actually need to support this generation, and everyone needs to accept the challenge.
One lady mentioned that if she had not come tonight and seen these movies she would have died of regret, and how difficult it was going to be to describe it to those who had missed it. One thing she praised was the acting: this was the first time she had seen Sudanese acting of this quality, even without dialogue. The film Diversity was someone’s favourite, especially their paintings and the celebrations to attract people to unity. The young Omani lady said that she had come to have a good time and wasn’t disappointed, and while she hadn’t known what to expect because she had no background about Sudanese cinema, she was still pleasantly surprised about what she had seen tonight. She had learned a lot about Sudanese cinema and its high quality.
Dr. Yousuf Alobeid talked about how his father, the late Abdel Rahman Alobeid had been a member of a team who worked in the observation room in Cinema Coliseum where they used to watch every film that comes in, then decide if they will be played or not. They even reviewed the posters to decide if they would be appropriate to show.
One young man stood up to comment, and talked about how the differences between the old and new generations and the constant attack of the old to the new was intended to push them forward but in-fact did the opposite. If the generation that criticizes the young all the time takes more care in finding and nurturing their talent, this would be far more helpful. Apparently, the films shown tonight had provided strong proof that the younger generation of Sudanese are not at all hopeless. He also talked about the quality of the films: that sometimes it would be high quality footage with expensive equipment but no story, and sometimes a great story but crap quality, but for the first time tonight he had seen films with both a good story and great quality. But the question on his and everyone else’s minds was: Why didn’t I see these films? Why are they not known and available?
This was the main point of the evening: these films and others like it need to be available for the public. It was very sad that these things are not available to be publicly viewed. One man mentioned that he had left the country in 1979, and that’s where his memory of the place stops, that’s all he knows of it. When people see these films they want to see more. They miss these things. I honestly could not defend this point at all. For myself, I make films because I have an issue that I want people to know about. I want people to see my films. I honestly cannot understand why filmmakers in Sudan insist on hiding their films because of fear of ‘illegal distribution’, or because they want the films to circulate only in festivals or screenings that they arrange themselves. One woman offered to buy the DVDs, and said that they were happy to support these filmmakers by buying and distributing their films. Unfortunately this was not an option, and everyone left empty handed.
Overall, it was an interesting experience, and I promised to come back to Sudan and secure screening rights for the Sudanese community in Oman for as many films as I could, for them to be able to hold regular screening events of their own, and hopefully to encourage any potential filmmakers in their midst to take the step towards making their own films. I think that whatever the intended messages of these films are, their role for the audience and especially those in the Diaspora is far underrated and unappreciated. The night showed me not only the power film has over people's emotions and perception of the world, but also the ability to open a dialogue between different backgrounds and generations on topics that are rarely discussed. It gives people a common ground to stand on, and draws a picture in a way that no amount of describing can do. And for people in the Diaspora with nothing to connect them and their children to Sudan but the constant news of political unrest, economic depression and societal deterioration, all this means so much more to them.

For them, these films bring them a little bit closer to home.