Friday, February 17, 2012

Damned Dams

This was an essay for a course I applied to in December.

Damned Dams

27 December, 2011

“It is better for the Sudanese people to experience the rule of the religious mania group, it will be a fruitful experience as this group will expose the falsehood of religious slogans, it will control Sudan politically and economically even if by means of arms. And it will put Sudan through bitterness and strife, and eventually strife will hit among the groups themselves and they will be uprooted from Sudan”

- Mahmoud Mohammed Taha in a speech in 1977, he is a Sudanese Muslim reformer and mystic, considered by some as a Sudanese Gandhi, he was executed by Nimiri’s regime when Mahmoud peacefully protested against Shari’aa Laws.

It has been clear that Sudan will not see a bright future unless the government of the National Congress Party (Formerly known as the National Islamic Front) is stripped of power and replaced by pluralistic democratic civil society to guarantee the Sudanese people their basic rights and sustainable peace and development. the brutality of the NCP/NIF inflicted upon the Sudanese people after their 1989 military coup nearly eradicated such vision from the minds of Sudanese people, in addition to its investment in ignorance, NCP/NIF regime used Islamic sloganeering to portray itself as the protector of Islam and views those who attempt to oppose it as infidels. But after their 20 years old holy war with the South ended with a peace agreement, it became clear that all of the martyrdom propaganda they heavily used in the 1990’s was nothing but a big lie, and with the exposure of their deeply rooted corruption, people are starting to realize that all they’re left with is fear, and more people are breaking it day after day. With the power of the internet and new media, information is no longer suffocated by authorities. In 2007, the people of Kajbar town revolted against the building of a new dam that was going to repeat the tragedy of President Abboud and President Abdulnasir’s deal to build Al-Sad Al-Aali Dam which drowned not only the lands but also the ancient history of the Nubians of northern Sudan and forced them to seek refuge in other parts of the country, authorities wasn’t happy with the people’s attempts to stop the new dam construction and responded violently killing 4 young protesters with live bullets.

In 2009, the government of NCP/NIF started constructing another dam in the north, named Meroe, and was used by the president Omer Al-Bashir as a “we don’t need you” message to the “Americans, Israelis, and Zionists” after the ICC issued arrest warrant against him. The people of Al-Manasir were promised compensations which they’ve been waiting for ever since. On November 17th, they declared a protest and started a sit-in in Ad-Damer city in northern Sudan that is still going until the hour of typing this article. It sure gathered momentum, as the number of demonstrators kept increasing, videos and pictures were uploaded and views by millions outside the “Justice Square” as the Manasir themselves named the location of the sit-in. Activists in Khartoum started sending support messages to the demonstrators in Ad-Damer by conducting solidarity stands in front of the Dams Administration building and declaring that their “stand with the Manasir is a a stand for change”.

On Thursday, December 20th a group of Manasir Youth arrived to Khartoum determined to bring the cause closer to Osama Abdulla, the president’s cousin and the Director of the Administration of Dams. They chanted around down town’s public bus station and were met with violence from the authorities and many youth were arrested. The next day the Manair Youth issued a statement on Facebook calling supporters to gather on Thursday 12 p.m in the University of Khartoum and march with them to the near presidential palace where they will deliver a message to the president, the police and security forces were waiting outside campus ready and steady not aware of the Manasir Youth tactic of splitting into two groups, one started a demonstration in the Public Bust Station once more, and the other group mobilizing the students inside the UofK campus. The police forces moved to suppress the first group which gave a chance to the second group to leave the campus and head to their destination, when the authorities found out they were fooled, the revenge was furious. Tear gas was bombed openly by riot police regardless of passing cars and buses, then the police invaded the campus and violently evacuated it without differentiation between students, except for the NCP’s student sector which is known to have direct contact with the National Intelligence and Security Services. Many students were injured and looted, some of them did not even know about the Manasir cause. Later that night the security forces attacked both the boys’ and girls’ dormitories beating and looting rooms taking mobile phones and laptops.

On Sunday December 25th, the students of UofK called for strike in protest of the police violence and invasion of the campus, and drafted a list of demands to present it to the university’s administration. An atmosphere of rebellion started spreading amongst the students, who demanded the resignation of the chancellor, an official apology from the police, the return of all stolen possessions, the treatment of all injured students and that the soldiers responsible be brought to justice, an important demand was added the next day of the strike, and that is to take the authority upon the very poor dormitories from the Students Support Fund and include it into the University’s administration, a very important demand because the Students Support Fund is controlled by the “Islamic Movement”, the student sect of the NCP/NIF, which spends more funds on its members and snitches than it does on the dorms. The students started organizing themselves through facebook groups and the Manasir Youth declared their support to the strike through speeches conducted in different campuses.

The political activism in Sudanese Universities is consisted of small parties and student sects of big parties, discussions are held daily in the form of open forums which are mostly attended by the members of the speaking party and a few members of its rivals; efforts are lost in mistrust, personal grudges and competitive behavior that often reach the point of violence, even though they all almost agree on the urgent need for change except –of course for the Islamic Movement which is pro NCP/NIF. But a great deal of students are not interested in these activities and they actually tend to avoid any contact with their fellow students who are involved in them, those seemingly apathetic students are known as flouters, and the maximum they’d do is to vote in the Students Union Elections, recently a new body emerged during UofK’s Union elections in October 2011, it was dubbed “Student Unity” and its slogan was “I am non-politically affiliated student and I vote for Student Unity”, other universities caught the trend and the flouter students showed great enthusiasm towards it. The recent strike situation in UofK brought all of these bodies and parties closer together, something that is almost unfathomable. I had a discussion with the son of a big time NCP/NIF leader, the son is a student in UofK and he has posted a status on facebook declaring that they should no longer stay silent on police violations and that “the youth are the change, the youth are the freedom, the youth are the future”, which I found very strange coming from someone who last year was urging people to vote for his father’s party in the Sudanese shameful elections of 2010. He spoke honestly and told me he only voted for the NCP/NIF in 2010 elections because all the “opposition parties” are nothing but chair seekers and the proof is the latest deal between the government and two of the major opposition parties which granted them two high rank positions in the state, and he said if he can go back in time he would abstain from voting because he doesn’t really believe in the NCP/NIF, he was honest to the extent he made a comparison between his situation and prophet Abraham’s situation whose father was “an infidel”. My point here is that, we should leave aside our political differences and political party relations and work on our human relations, everyone who wants to see a better Sudan where we all get equal chances of expressing our views peacefully can recognize the next one who wants the same thing I believe. I see this strike as an opportunity to create the necessary human relations that are based merely on the love of freedom and not political gains, this unity and determination to change can be sustained not by winning this battle, but by understanding the power of standing up as one, and I think this can be conveyed to the students by means of media and communication. UofK is not the only university that suffers from the regime’s brutality, during these days Kasala University is occupied by NISS agents and 16 students have been detained for a week, in Red Sea University students are being expelled for political reasons, and in universities all over the country the NCP/NIF is breaking someone’s legs or life. Student Unity bodies should all coordinate with each other and support each another, UofK students proved they are well knowledgeable when it comes to media production and they’ve been blessing their strike with videos and posters, this can be taught to the other universities in the far sides of the country where a camera phone is so hard to find, they can be provided with cameras and maybe laptops with basic training on capturing and uploading and social networking. Satire is great for breaking the tension and the fear; i suggest the students start mass producing jokes and cartoons about the police, about the irresponsible coward Mr. Hayati the chancellor of the university, about the unjust corrupted Osama Abdulla manager of dams department, and at the head of the decaying state Omer Al-Bashir. And we should not forget the real cause behind the UofK strike; it is not the Manasir’s long demand for justice, but the aspiration of the Sudanese people as a whole for social justice, freedom and equality. The October and April revolutions of 1985 and 1964 were sparked by Khartoum University students, and history tends to repeat itself, but this time we will prevent it, unlike the previous Sudanese revolutions, we will not allow this one to be stolen by the businessmen and soldiers again.

It is too early to determine whether the students’ faith in the possibility of change increased or decreased, the coming days will show and tell. But the obvious sense of responsibility amongst the students and the support they give for the poor people who are demonstrating 4 hours drive away to the north is remarkable, the use of social networking and communication tools has improved a lot since January the 30th when the youth marched down Alqasr Street inspired by Egypt’s Jan25 and Tunisia’s victory, and I can tell that January 30th 2012 will be a turning point.

The improving of the media created by the students is reliving, during the attack of the police on UofK’s campus, Khalil Ibrahim, rebel group leader was announced killed by the Sudanese Army, many local newspapers on the next day said the demonstration of Manasir in Khartoum is an act of revenge to Khalil’s death. Pro-government newspapers of course, but the students were ready to defend their cause and they pushed at least one newspaper into correcting its information, agencies like AFP, and Bloomberg conducted interviews with the students and published the true story on their websites, I believe the most effective way to support the cause through media is if we become truly independent in delivering the message, we are the ones who should be interviewing each other and taking videos and pictures of violations and victories, and provide the outside media with it, and not the other way around. We need to embrace the culture of video, even when nothing interesting is happening during a protest or a sit-in, we should keep a camera or two rolling, such footage will come handy and that is for sure, and it will also be a good training when all the dams of fear separating us from our future fall.

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