Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Activist Community and Its Discontents

I've always taken a strong stance against injustice. Whether its the wars raging in various parts of Sudan ,  the displaced people who have no home to call their own and the torture victims who are traumatized for good….

I think it all started when I read about El-Daein massacre of 1987. 1,500 Dinka were massacred, but it wasn't the number that caught my attention. It was the way they were massacred, every time they tried to escape, the killers caught on with them until they finished them off. I remember reading the details of the massacre from a book called Emma's war to my sister and her telling me "wow, they were so adamant on killing them".  

When I moved to Sudan for good at 20, fresh out of college and ready to elect Yasir Arman ( that is another big post), I found myself part of a community of activists. Since I was against injustice and in my opinion, this regime was an impediment to peace and social justice in Sudan, why not advocate for change?

All of a sudden, I found myself an "activist". I was interviewed and quoted as a human rights advocate and invited to events because I'm "active". 

The more "Active" I became, the more critical I became of the activist community. From an idealistic, point-of-view, I would not have written this post in February because I thought that as activists we should not give the regime a chance to smirk and poke fun at us for any reason. Maybe this is why I feel conflicted writing this post…I digress...

But then again, I write this with good intentions. I will point out some deep flaws I've observed in the activist community.

-The Activist Clique: the activist community feels like a clique, a small community who know each other and share information and about events with each other. This small circle of communication has a strong security aspect to it.  The activists, rightfully, fear the involvement of "sub-marines" or security agents who infiltrate to collect information about activists or sabotage their work. My main problem with this is… kind-off need to involve more people for an event to be a success. For example, I've managed to attract a number of friends and family members to events and solidarity movements just by telling them about the events. I've found out that so many people are interested and willing to come, they just need to know about it!
-The Internet: I've had long discussions about this with some activists. I feel that Sudanese activists are still not using the internet properly. Yes, we can argue that the internet does not reach a big number of Sudanese people and maybe a large number don't own computers, but after the new offer of 1 pound a day for internet , its easy to use your phone to access the internet. I wish many people distribute information on Facebook and through twitter. There is a gap between activists who consider themselves field activists and who look down on "online activists". Why can't you be both? I've had great experiences attracting people from twitter to field events such as the Awadia memorial. 

-Using email: if you are an activist or a journalist, you would probably know that you shouldn't talk on the phone. Phones are bad, need I explain more? It is so easy to tap phones and use anything you say against you , this is why we should rely more on internet. Having an email is not enough if you don't check your emails for days in a row.

-Forums and Events:  I remember going to a conference last October and I was given the mic to give the last comment. I said " I know every single person in this room, whether by name or I have seen you before and I find this very sad". They enjoyed my comment, but then again, the intellectual community in Sudan has a history of holding events to share information. This information, written in very difficult language, does not extend beyond the halls and meeting rooms. There is a great distance between the people and the intellectuals. The academic papers, although important and very rich in information, are given to like-minded people and end-up gathering dust on shelves or desks. 

-Political Parties: Yes, the government has harassed the traditional parties into poverty, inactivity and caused many of their members into exile, but lets get tough on the parties. Our political parties have failed us, they have failed to lead us out of this dark tunnel, this is a fact.

*Here are some thoughts*

-The faces of the parties are old and have already held political offices. I've heard this many times: so if Al-Bashir was ousted, who will come, Al-Turabi or Al-Mahdi will probably come to power. I doubt this will happen, but it doesn't help that they are not delegating to new generations. This makes me wonder, is it because the parties are not attracting youth in the first place or is it because the older generations are power-obsessed? مشروع الكنكشة

-The parties are letting down their own constituencies. The traditional political parties have historically won elections because they had strong-holds whether in East-Sudan, West-Sudan or Northern states, but they are losing them faster than they know it. E.g: The Manasir have traditionally rooted for the Democratic Unionist Party. What did the DUP do during their months-long protest? Nothing

-Removal or reform: Please make up your mind, I am bored. The communist party and the Popular Congress Party are sure about their position, they want regime-change, but the other parties are somewhere in the middle. If parties do not agree on one position and work towards it, they might as well join the government and take-over the ministry of jeans or some random ministry.

-The People: there is anger within the activist community... We often ask: we don't Sudanese people revolt? Are they that apathetic? Just when we think things can't get worse,…we are surprised. Our economy is collapsing so fast, the IMF and World Bank are in shock. It seems that even the upper middle-class is struggling, you find every single family member working but yet families can't save money, they barely keep up with the ever-increasing prices. 

The more I think about it, the more it becomes clear to me. The people don't comprehend what the activist community is on about.  You can not ask an average Sudanese man to come to a solidarity march at 12 p.m. when he is too busy trying to figure out how to make money to feed his family. There is discontent all over Sudan, I've visited North Darfur and Gedarif state this year and from talking to people there, they want change, but we are waiting for it to happen. 

I remember a show-host in Al-Jazeera once said: Sudanese people complain that we don't cover Sudan, but they are expecting to wake up one day and find people on the streets (my paraphrasing). 
No, they are expecting to wake-up one day and watch a revolution unfold on Al-Jazeera.

-The rest of Sudan: there is a huge divide between Khartoum and the rest of Sudan. It is true, change truly happens from the center of power, the capital, however, there needs to be coordination with other regions of Sudan. They, more than any other group, ask: Sudan has endured two revolutions and nothing has benefited us. This is why they have become isolated from the activists in Khartoum. Some took-up arms (Darfur, East Sudan at some point, SPLM-N in Blue Nile and South Kordofan) and some are fighting their own battles (the people of Kajbar). When I was in North Darfur in March, I met a number of young guys, many of them told me that they have joined armed movements at some points because they gave up on change, gave up on life. They were happy I exist, they were happy I came to see them. They told me "we have been waiting for someone from Khartoum to come, to talk to us, to understand how we feel". When I came back and almost got into an argument with an activist who claimed that the people of Darfur don't trust "us" and want to fight their own battle. So, lets be clear here, do we want to change the government or the entire system? If we truely want change, we need social justice and equality not just a different government with the same superiority complex. 

I think this post is incoherent , but I just wanted to touch on a  number of issues. I hope, in the near future, I divulge into them separately and share my observations from my short-time fighting against injustice.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this intersting post. U have touched very important issues .