Sunday, December 25, 2011

Why the North is Silent

-I would like to thank S.O and A.A for contributing to this article and engaging in long discussions with me.

-I tried publishing this article in an attempt to get more no avail :)

Definition of the North: in this article the North refers to Central and North Sudan. Usually seen as one entity by the rest of the country, but in fact, it is a divided region where the Nubians feel marginalized by the Ja'alyeen and Shaigiya of River Nile state. However, inter-marriages and Arabization have helped unite the region in recent decades.

The Sudanese people have it much worse than their North African counterparts, but why is the entire population not out in the streets chanting "the people want to overthrow the government"?
Social media activists have jokingly said that the Arab Spring will not reach Sudan simply because we don't have this season in Sudan, but as I'm glued to Al-Jazeera and Twitter trying to stay up to date with the Arab Spring that continues to unfold, I stop thinking of the four seasons and my mind goes back to 2005 in an attempt to understand the silence in Khartoum.
It was a bright day for Sudan when John Garang became Sudan's First Vice President in July 2005. He was going to run for presidency and I was going to vote for him. Even my grandmother who hails from the Ja'aliya strong-hold town of Berber stated that he is her candidate of choice.
He was single-handedly going to change Sudan, we believed. He was a charismatic leader who was going to unite a battered country. Three weeks later, he died in a plane crash and my hopes and Sudan's unity were buried with him. In the week following his death, Sudan's ethnic divisions became even more obvious. We watched as Southern Sudanese youth believing that the plane crash was not an accident engaged in violent riots, looting and vandalizing office windows and businesses. Clashes ensued with security forces and individuals believed to be of Northern Sudanese origin.
The conflict for the first time came to Khartoum, the capital of Sudan and the center of dominance and dominant tribes. For the first time, Northern Sudanese were the ones being attacked and for the first time, we asked the naive American question of post-9/11, Why do they hate us so much?
There was no time to assess the situation. If Sudan was a household, we spent the next week silent at the dinner table until we forgot what happened, or pushed it to the back of our minds.
Fast-forward to May 2008 when the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) forces launched an attack to overthrow the Sudanese government. The attack which culminated in street fights in Omdurman, the national capital and one of Khartoum's twin cities, sent chills through the spine of North Sudan.
Suddenly, people started thinking about the periphery and trying to revisit earlier events to try to understand the rift between Central Sudan and the rest of Sudan. Estimates show us that not less than 400,000 lost their lives in Darfur, but Darfur was not a reality until it came to Khartoum.

The JEM attack helped start a dialogue about Darfur and the marginalization of the regions outside River Nile state in trying to understand why the periphery revolted.
Those two incidents have, in our opinion, inspired more North Sudanese support for the government as they cuddled around the government for protection.
Even months after secession, there is fear in Sudan's heartland. People are aware of the struggles in the periphery and are aware that the government's policies have created downright resentment and have bred grudges from Nyala to Damazin, from Kadugli to Suakin.
When a few weeks ago, 3 Darfur movements and the SPLM-North Faction announced the creation of an alliance (later joined by the Beja Congress) called the Sudan Revolutionary Front. Once again, people in Khartoum started speaking of a bitter periphery that is not only resentful of the government but also of the Northern people. Reactions to the alliance sparked two perspectives within the North.
Firstly, Khartoum needs to revolt as soon as possible to show the periphery that it seriously wants change that is in favor of democracy and equality and is adamant on preserving the rest of Sudan in light of the recent secession. The revolt will also be peaceful as opposed to an armed revolt that it pushed forward by the SRF.
Secondly, as a people we simply need to support the government because any change brought about by the SRF will be against Sudanese hailing from North/Central. They will be disfranchised and persecuted for the policies of successive governments.
- It is a fact that the North is a powerful constituency, it has an abundant amount of wealth and as a result of education opportunities, Northerners were able to immigrate to rich gulf-countries and the west and were able to generate more wealth than others. However, it is also a fact that anyone not in a position of power or related to someone powerful in Sudan is marginalized. You do not have fair access to jobs and other opportunities if you are not NCP. If this struggle is evident for Northerners, people from other regions have even more poignant struggles and this is why the North needs to revolt. It needs to stand up for Sudan as a whole; it needs to stand up against the government with the rest of Sudan. Hundreds of thousands protested in Mahalla Al Kobra in Egypt in 2007 and 2008, but the protests only gained momentum when they reached Tahrir, in downtown Cairo. The revolution needs to start in Khartoum, in the national capital and the heartland of Sudan's power and wealth and it needs to represent Sudan's search not only for democracy, but most importantly for social justice.
If it was just about overthrowing the government, then Egyptians would have left Tahrir in February and moved on with their lives. They could have entrusted the military with their revolution and waited for the elections. But they did not. They are now in Tahrir, losing their eyes and sacrificing their lives for total change and to be freed of a military rule? And why is that?
After overthrowing the Mubarak regime, they realized that the pursuit of social justice and democracy is not limited to removing a military dictatorship. If Egypt is ever going to have a proper democracy, it needs to have a civilian government and the military has controlled Egypt since its 1952 revolution. As we learn from Tahrir, we need to realize that Sudan doesn’t need an armed revolt, it needs a peaceful revolt. It needs a Tahrir moment followed by a civilian government. The military should be respected for its responsibilities, 1-to fight an invading army 2- to help the government during natural disasters.
On the other hand, the SRF wants an armed revolt to overthrow the government and take over power. We tell you, an armed liberation movement like the SRF is exactly like a military dictatorship with a better name. There is vast amount of literature opposing armed struggles as liberation movements capable of bringing about change. They end up growing into repressive dictatorships. This is the last thing needed in Sudan. If the SRF is made up of movements interested in improving the quality of life for their respective citizens and acquiring fair political representation, then they need to support a peaceful revolt in Khartoum and beyond.
Moving on to the second debate, it is important to note that the fears harbored by the Northern-Central Sudanese population are exacerbated by the government, the media and sadly, the periphery. In the opinion pieces published by Sudan Tribune, the opposition and JEM-affiliates seem to harbor anti-Northern sentiments.
In a recently published opinion piece entitled: The Sudanese Revolutionary Front- Right Way to the United and New Sudan. The author started off by discussing some misconceptions about the "Arab North", but ultimately ended up doing the same mistake as all the others he's criticizing. He started off by saying that the often misunderstood problem in Sudan is essentially a problem of racism implanted by a discriminating regime, and that the people of Khartoum themselves (often vilified in media) are victims of such a misconception. Agreed. However, he goes on to make the same mistake by singling out and targeting the “people of River Nile State” and accusing them of amplifying and imposing their 'Arab history and origins' on all of Sudan. We are wary of that approach as it just perpetuates this whole Arab North vs. Rest of Sudan dilemma. Sudan has tribal issues, however, we do not think that the Sudanese population want to disenfranchise any specific tribe economically or politically. It's a matter of social tribalism that has been inflated by this current regime and not the people of River Nile State and could be assuaged by a visionary leader/party who has the interest of the whole country at heart.
Hope and Change
As a conscious group of authors, we seriously doubt that the NCP is capable of reforms. Years of trying to negotiate with the NCP have been a total waste of time. The end result, usually a hefty publication with guidelines on how to end Sudan's disasters, is stored in a drawer or is somewhere gathering dust on a shelf. The NCP is interested in staying in power and if dialogue buys them time, they would engage in it for this reason, not because they are interested in changing their policies.
It is sad that under the NCP's watch, Sudan lost 25% of its population, it is even sadder that so far, it is not learning from its mistakes. This is why Sudan needs change; Sudan needs CPR in the form of a revolution. Only a regime-change will put it on the right track, to solving its internal conflicts and transitioning into a proper state instead of a governmental company where ministries and institutes are businesses.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Kenya and Sudan headed for showdown as deadline looms

*I contributed to this report

Posted Monday, December 12 2011 at 00:00

With the two-week ultimatum given by Khartoum edging closer and the UN tightening sanctions against Asmara over the latter’s support for Al Shabaab, there is a growing feeling that Kenya needs to rethink its foreign policy.

The Kenya government’s reaction to strong protests by Sudan following a court ruling ordering the arrest of President Omar al-Bashir if he sets foot in Kenya, has revealed major flaws in that foreign policy.

Attorney-General Githu Muigai has appealed against the ruling, but an adjudication is unlikely to come before the expiry of the two-week ultimatum, raising the prospect that Sudan could sever relations with Kenya.

Historically, Kenya has operated on the principle of non-interference in its neighbours’ affairs, and its foreign policy depended largely on the whims of the person in power. Now, Kenya seems to have shifted to a policy of “non-indifference” to events in the region and encouraging its representatives abroad to pursue business-oriented diplomacy.

Kenya appears not to have been fully satisfied with the additional sanctions that the United Nations Security Council imposed on Eritrea on Tuesday. The draft resolution received 13 votes in favour, none against and two abstentions from China and Russia.

“We have no problem with Eritrea. It is Eritrea that has a problem with every country in the region. But I have been communicating with their representative in Kenya and Eritrea maintains that it has no intention of severing links with Kenya since the issues can be solved amicably,” he said.

Kenya in November accused Eritrea of flying two planeloads of arms to Al Shabaab-held positions in Somalia, a charge that Asmara vigorously denied. Kenya then hinted it might review diplomatic ties with Eritrea if it turned out the Red sea country was arming the Al Qaeda-linked Shabaab militants who are currently fighting Kenyan forces in the south of Somalia.

On the other hand, Eritrean government officials hinted that Kenya is being influenced by the propaganda of their archenemy Ethiopia, with whom they fought a two-year war over the disputed border region of Badme.

Last week, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, insisted that Eritrea was a prime source of instability for the whole region. Apart from the 1998-200 war, Ethiopia remains uncomfortable with Eritrea over its allegedly close ties with Ethiopian rebel groups like the Oromo Liberation Front and the Ogaden National Liberation Front

Dr Ben Sihanya, a lecturer on international law at the University of Nairobi, argued that Kenya took the right decision by appealing to the UN over Eritrea, but the onus is on Kenya to provide evidence.

He, however, believes that the diplomatic row with Eritrea and Sudan goes to show that Kenya needs a consistent foreign policy regarding it interests in the region.

“This is the time to formulate a new foreign policy based on the new Constitution and international treaties we have signed. We need more detailed and consistent foreign policy because previously our foreign policy has been reactionary,” he said.

President Bashir gave Kenya two weeks to resolve the situation in his favour or face punitive measures, which will include cutting trade and diplomatic ties and banning planes leaving or bound for Kenya from over-flying Sudanese airspace. Other measures include throwing out about 1,500 Kenyans working in Sudan.

Since the issuance of his arrest warrant, Sudan’s president has visited Chad, Kenya, Djibouti and Malawi —all members of the ICC.

Faisal Mohamed Salih, a writer and human-rights activist in Sudan, believes that Kenya’s decision to avoid political confrontation with the Sudanese government is primarily due to the ongoing internal debate on the ICC’s intervention in Kenya following its post-election violence.

“Not all sides in Kenya support the ICC’s court case against Kenyan officials; also, some Kenyan officials fear being indicted and suffering the same fate as Sudan’s president. This explains their attempt to calm down the situation,” said Mr Salih. Dr Al Tayeb Zain Al Abdeen who teaches political science at the University of Khartoum, questioned the court’s ability to conduct the actual arrest

“The court does not arrest, it collaborates with the police, which in all countries is part of the state,” said Dr Al Abdeen who added that in any case, President Bashir should not consider going to Nairobi at this time.

In October 2011, Malawi also came under fire from the international community and rights groups when it hosted President Bashir. In a statement to the ICC, Malawi said that “as a member of the African Union, (it) fully aligns itself with the position adopted by the African Union.”

Additional reporting by Reem Abbas

Sunday, December 4, 2011

ام الناس- محمــد طـه القدال

The wonderful Mohamed Taha Al Gaddal, one of my favorite Sudanese poets wrote yet another masterpiece, Om Al Nas (the mother of the people). I managed to get the CD last week in an event in commemoration of "the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence"

You can now listen to Om Al Nas performed in the form of 4 different songs by Amal Al Nour and Asrar Babiker and others.

اوبريت ام الناس عمل من انتاج مركز سالمة لمصادر ودراسات المرأة صندوق الامم المتحده لدعم المرأة حركه تمكين المرأه من اجل السلام
اوبريت ام الناس من كلمانت الاستاذ محمد طه القدال
الحان وتوزيع موسيقي الاستاذ سعد الدين

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Pain for Beauty: the Dilemma of Facial Cutting in Sudan

This post is part of the series ‘Culture and Human Rights: Challenging Cultural Excuses for Gender-Based Violence’ hosted by Gender Across Borders and Violence Is Not Our Culture.

In a spacious house in Fetihab, a neighborhood in the city of Omdurman in Khartoum state, Soad Al -Tijani, a widow in her 70s recounts her traumatizing experience to her grandchildren and me, a journalist and the daughter of her niece.

She is telling us the story of her facial cuts. Every few minutes she stops her tale to underscore how lucky we are to be born in the contemporary world where practices such as facial cuts have vanished. She was not so lucky. Her round face bares three deep cuts on each cheek.

Facial cuts are common in some Sudanese tribes. In the North, many women were subjected to this practice until it began dying out in the 1950s.

The cuts are different from tribe to tribe. The most common kind is the one-eleven (111) cuts on both cheeks.

Women glorified facial cutting and they believed that it enhanced beauty and that is why the prettier and chubbier women were cut before others.

At the tender age of 9, Soad was taken by her aunt to undergo facial cuts or “sholouk” as they are called in Sudan.

“I was made to lie down while a very large woman was sitting cross-legged on the floor and holding my head on her lap, two were holding my arms so I wouldn’t move and one was sitting on a stool ontop of my chest,” recalls Soad.

She couldn’t turn her face or move any part of her body. She was still as the woman on the stool cut both cheeks with a razor.

“The razor was very large and looked like a nail clipper, they literally dig the skin out of each cut, ” said Soad.

Her grandchildren and I were disgusted by the ordeal and continued bombarding her with questions. The youngest in the room, Mustafa, is still in high school and did not utter a single word. When I asked him what he thought, he said that he agreed with me that women were subjected to a lot of pain.

“No better word describes facial cutting other than the word crime,” said Soad interrupting our loud discussion.

According to Soad, her mother was too scarred to take a strong stance against her powerful aunt. When her young daughter was brought home with a swollen face and neck, the mother couldn’t look at her for weeks.

“They dipped cotton in a black liquid and placed it on my face to stop the bleeding and my mother took me to my aunt’s house for weeks to reapply fresh cotton,” said Soad who said that her father was also against it.

Family and societal pressure is strong in Sudan. In the past it was worse with extended families living in one house. A child was seen as belonging to the whole family. Even though Soad’s father was against facial cutting, he told her to ask for thinner and less deep cuts as a compromise. But when the women came to cut her face, she couldn’t negotiate with them and ended up with the most severe and deep kind of cuts.

Her eldest brother, a journalist and writer was completely against the practice. He didn’t talk to their parents for three days as punishment.

Facial scarring is very rare in contemporary Sudan. Most women who were subjected to it are either deceased or are at least in their 60s and few young women abide by it. Perceptions about beauty have dramatically changed over the last decades, modern Sudanese women would never imagine being facially cut.

“I never thought about doing it to my daughters,” said Soad.

Soad is proof that culture can and does change.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Concern grows about detained Sudanese writer, activist

KHARTOUM - There’s been no word of Abdelmoniem Rahma, a poet and political activist, since he was arrested a month ago.

Published @

Rahma was close to the ousted governor of Blue Nile State, Malik Agar, and involved in the arts. According to a statement published by Human Rights Watch, he has reportedly been tortured in detention and is at risk of further torture and other ill treatment.

In an apartment on Tuti, a crescent-shaped island at the confluence of the Blue and White Nile surrounded by greater Khartoum, Rahma’s wife and three children wait by the phone, hoping for news of his whereabouts.

Abdelmoniem Rahma was arrested by Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) on 2 September in Damazin, the capital of Blue Nile State, one day after the resumption of fighting between the Sudanese national army and forces loyal to the northern sector of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM-N).

“I found out about his arrest from the newspapers,” said Rahma’s wife, who does not wish to be named. “I didn’t even know he was in jail.”

A few weeks ago, security personnel broke into a neighbour’s apartment, having mistaken it for Rahma’s residence. They were about to vandalise the place when the neighbour returned home from a mosque and spoke with the officials.

“He was very understanding and told me not to worry if they came back to search my house,” said Rahma’s wife.

Her other neighbours are more wary of any association with Rahma and his family. His wife and children have had no company since that incident, because rumours have circulated that anyone visiting them would be immediately arrested.

“My sister is very disturbed,” said Rahma’s brother-in-law. “She is too scared to leave the house, even to go to the grocery store.”

Rahma formerly headed Sudana, an organisation that promoted the work of marginalised art and literature groups in Sudan. He was a member of the Sudanese Writers’ Union during the 1980s and headed the Arabic section of the Sudan Radio Service network in Nairobi between 2003 and 2005.

Rahma also co-founded the daily Ajras al-Hurriya (“Bells of Freedom”), and served as its administrative director.

Hussein Saad, who worked as an editor at the newspaper, has known Rahma since 2008.

“He was very dedicated,” he said. “We worked very hard for months until the first issue was published.”
Read also: "Uncertain future for Sudanese media" by Osman Shinger
Ajras al-Hurriya was shut down by authorities one day before South Sudan’s independence.

The last time the two met was during Ramadan in Blue Nile State, when Saad went to cover a news conference organised by former governor Malik Agar, along with other politicians. Rahma was working as an advisor to Agar on cultural affairs.

“Rahma invited everyone to break the fast at his house,” Saad recalls. “He helped us during the trip more than anyone else.”

Saad, who spoke with Rahma by phone a few days before his arrest, said he believes his colleague’s political activities, especially his affiliation with the SPLM-N, made him a target when tensions rose between that party and the Sudanese government in Blue Nile State.

“He was connected to Blue Nile and he has a personal relationship with the overthrown governor, Malik Agar,” Saad added.

After years of exile, mostly in Kenya and Ethiopia, where he met his wife, Rahma returned to Sudan after the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed in 2005.

He was also instrumental in the development of a traveling theatre to promote peaceful dialogue among Sudan’s diverse cultures.

In a formal statement published on 7 September, the executive committee of the Sudanese Writers’ Union called for the immediate release of Rahma or a fair civil trial if there is a case against him.

Hurriyat, an online Sudanese human rights publication, reports that a former detainee imprisoned with Rahma stated that the writer was subjected to constant beatings and forbidden from using the toilet.

“Arbitrary arrests in Sudan are common because this is not a respectful country,” said Ali Haj, former political editor of Ajras al-Hurriya and friend of Rahma. “Officials don't have any charges against you and they don't tell you your rights. People are sometimes arrested in violent ways and subjected to torture.”

For more information: Amnesty International Rahma’s wife, who is of Ethiopian origin, expressed concern about her children’s safety in this time of uncertainty about her husband’s condition.

“I'm scared they could get kidnapped or taken away from me,” she said during a conversation at her apartment, adding that she sought help from the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR. “I was interviewed, but they didn't offer any assistance,” she added.

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Hidden War Against Female Journalists in Sudan

Amal Habbani, one of Sudan's leading female journalists, has 12 years of experience and a master's degree, but she can't find a job.

"I remember that day very well. I went to work on the 9th of March and I was told that I was suspended for being an activist," said Habbani.

"No newspaper wants to hire a trouble-maker," she told me in a cafeteria near the Northern Khartoum Court, where we were supposed to attend the trial of Fatima Ghazzali, a journalist facing charges of defamation for writing about Safia Ishaq, a young activist who was arrested and subjected to gang-rape by the security forces in February after participating in a protest.

Habbani is a familiar face in every protest for freedom of speech and women's rights. Her writings and activism have caused Sudan's state security to file a number of charges against her.

Although at least 10 journalists were charged for writing about Safia Ishaq, only Habbani and Ghazzali went to jail for it.

Ghazzali was sentenced after refusing to pay a 2,000 SDG ($650) fine for "publishing lies." A few weeks later, Habbani refused to pay the same amount and chose a month-long sentence instead.

Margot Wallström, the special representative of the UN’s Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, commented on the charges against the journalists by saying: “Rapists--not reporters--must face criminal charges in the Sudan.”

Women journalists in Sudan are not only tried under Sudan's controversial 2009 press laws, they are also subjected to the infamous public order laws.

The pubic order laws are carried out by special forces called "the public order police" and their main aim is to fight social corruption and uphold moral values in Sudan.

In the beginning of 2011, I attended a meeting organized by No to Women Oppression, a group that fights against the public order laws. A few minutes into the meeting, we realized that as women, we are more scared of the public order laws than men.

We concluded that the laws target female students and professional women: journalists, activists and even lawyers, and that they specifically affect the full participation of women in the public space.

"I'm constantly harassed when I'm trying to get information for articles I'm writing, but I can't report it," said Amina*, a journalist in her early 20s, who did not want me to use her real name.

Amina is mainly scared of ending up like Lubna Hussein, a journalist who was arrested by the public order police in 2009 for "indecent clothing."

"Lubna Hussein was an active journalist who wrote a controversial column. They just had to create a case against her," said Amina.

The sentence for "indecent clothing" is getting lashed.

Habbani is battling a case against her by the public order police for writing an article in support of Lubna Hussein. She's being sued for 10 million Sudanese pounds ($3.5 million).

Published @

Published @Blogher network

Monday, September 26, 2011


I've been feeling really depressed lately. I came across an opinion piece about Sudan a few weeks ago and it talked about how Sudan needs good "PR" and I kept thinking ..Sudan does not need PR, it needs CPR.

I can not live in the Khartoum state bubble and isolate myself from other states, Sudan's endless periphery. The isolation doesn't make sense anymore.
I sometimes write about Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile and it feels so distant to me. I tell my friends, " How long can you contain a conflict? I'm waiting for it to reach us.."

"It is only a matter of years , then we have to say, we are from Khartoum state," joked a friend of mine.

We were only joking when we spent 20 minutes talking about the separation of Khartoum state on the way from Khartoum to Bahri a week ago.

"You might have to work at Ivory (a fast food place) since it is close to you and you need a permit to go to Khartoum," said my friend H to M. They both live in Bahri.

"Imagine if I need a visa to come see you M, you live ten minutes away," I said.

The jokes continue.

I think I have become really angry since the south separated. I'm so frustrated at Sudan, I sometimes find myself looking for jobs in Dubai.

Sudanese people need CPR. My mum said the nation has changed, we are zombies. Why are we silent about the ever-increasing prices?

I don't know.

I had to think twice the other day when I wanted to make salad. The tomatoes are so expensive now, I just couldn't be selfish. I used two tiny tomatoes, leaving the bigger ones for the rest of my family.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Sudan: New Conflict Displaces Thousands

Published @

KHARTOUM, Sep 17, 2011 (IPS) - The Sudanese government says that a majority of the tens of thousands of people displaced by the fighting in the country’s Blue Nile state have started returning to the area. This is despite reports by local and international aid agencies that say people are still fleeing the region.

On Tuesday the United Nations estimated that over 100,000 people have been displaced by the fighting that began two weeks ago. On Sep. 1, Blue Nile became another conflict area in Sudan when fighting erupted between forces loyal to the north Sudan faction of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) – the ruling political party in South Sudan originally formed to oppose Sudan’s rule – and government’s Sudan Armed Forces.

The Sudanese Red Crescent Society estimated that 35,000 households have been affected since fighting began in Blue Nile at the beginning of September. The U.N.’s Refugee Agency reported that 16,000 refugees fled the area into Ethiopia.

But Magdi Abdulwahab, who is responsible for compiling reports on the Blue Nile for Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP), said that the state is stabilising and internally displaced persons are returning to safe regions in Blue Nile and neighbouring states. Blue Nile is one of Sudan’s 15 states. It borders South Sudan to its west and south, Ethiopia to its east and has a population of just over 800,000.

"Seventy percent of displaced persons in places like Sennar (a state bordering Blue Nile) and Senja, the capital of Sennar, are returning," he told IPS.

He said government had urged the IDPs to return for the harvest. "The government is asking people to return as this is the agricultural season and the livelihoods of most of the state's citizens are tied to agriculture and livestock," said Abdulwahab. He added he receives daily reports confirming that the situation in the state is calm.

Media reports have shown that most of the heavy fighting has occurred in Damazin, the capital of Blue Nile state, and Kurmuk, a SPLM-controlled town near the Ethiopian border.

But political anaylsts say that the conflict has been a long-time coming.

Even the former governor of Blue Nile, Malik Agar, who has since been fired by government, warned of the possible conflict in the area since June. He said it would occur if government and the SPLM failed to complete the remaining proposals of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which was signed between both parties to end the country’s 21-year civil war. A military representative, Commander Yahya Mohamed Kheir, has since replaced Agar as governor and a state of emergency was enforced in the state.

Government and the SPLM were supposed to resolve various issues, including those of oil revenues, border demarcation and military arrangements in the border areas of Abyei, Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile before South Sudan's secession in July.

But by late July, the Sudanese government still had a heavy military presence in Blue Nile and Agar had called for a review of the CPA on this matter. (Agar is also the chairman of SPLM-North, a faction of the SPLM that is comprised of people from Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan.) The Sudanese government called for the dissolution of the SPLM-North’s army, but Agar wanted further guarantees about the future of his soldiers.

"Agar did not refuse dissolving the army in principal, he asked for a political arrangement to secure the soldier's future in the Sudanese army, or as civil servants, or as members in their communities," said Dr. Khalil Al-Madani, the Dean of the Faculty of Commerce, Economic and Social Studies at Nileen University in Khartoum. He is also the head of a team of experts working on the council involved in the popular consultations between Blue Nile state and Sudan’s government. This is a CPA-mandated process that allows both Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan to voice their opinions on political and administrative arrangements with the government and to even vote for autonomous rule.

"The war did not happen now, all the factors leading to war were present, but it ignited now," said Al- Madani.

Al-Madani added that matters were tense as far back as April 2010 when Agar had won the governorship of Blue Nile by popular vote and the Sudanese government had been reluctant to acknowledge his victory.

"Agar believed that the government would cheat him out of the governorship, their decision could have unleashed a war at the time. But when they announced his victory, they stopped (a possible) war in Blue Nile," explained Al-Madani.

Blue Nile is an important state in the desert-like Sudan. The area is rich in livestock and agricultural resources and until last year, Blue Nile was the source of most of Sudan's hydroelectric power through the Al Roseires Dam. But it is also very poor. "There are no services, no schools and no access to water even though it has a lot of resources," Al- Madani told IPS.

Before the conflict, Blue Nile state was in the final phase of the popular consultations, which would have led to a decision on whether the state would call for a referendum to cede from Sudan. The popular consultations were delayed and the council responsible for carrying out the popular consultations wanted Agar to extend the period for another six months.

"Agar refused the proposal because he was not consulted before a decision was made to extend the timeframe. The protocol of the popular consultation states that the process should be finished before the secession (of South Sudan)," said Al-Madani.

However, the council that oversees the popular consultation process is made up of NCP and SPLM members and since both parties clashed on the matter, there was no one to meditate.

"The security arrangements, the collapse of the Addis Ababa agreement (an agreement on settling the security and military disputes and engaging in a political partnership) and the popular consultations… they are all reasons for the conflict. But the mistrust and suspicion between Agar and the government is the main ignition for the war. Nobody believes anybody," said Al-Madani.

Mohamed (name has been changed), who has been working on a project to monitor the popular consultations in Blue Nile since August 2010, said that the conflict was partially predicted.

"When there is tension between parties that work together you can expect all kind of problems," he told IPS.

He added that going back to the popular consultations is the only way out of this crisis. However, Al-Madani added that Agar had been democratically elected to his post as governor and his firing on Sep. 2 was against the constitution. "Since Agar was elected by the state through a vote, he could only be disposed of by the state and this is according to the constitution," explained Al-Madani.

Meanwhile, government insists that the state is returning to normal. Abdulwahab stated in a phone interview that the only problematic area was Kurmuk, but that government had issued a call to the SPLM for peace in the state.

"The conflict will be resolved soon, through negotiations or the battlefield," he told IPS.

Al-Madani, who has spent long periods of time in Blue Nile, believes that negotiations are the only way out.

"There is war in Darfur, in Southern Kordofan and now in Blue Nile. There will possibly be a conflict in East Sudan. We have been facing the same problems for the past 22 years. The government needs to come up with a political resolution, 95 percent of internal wars in the 21st century were resolved politically," said Al-Madani.

On Sep. 12, the Sudanese parliament endorsed the extension of the state of emergency in Blue Nile and voted for the continuation of military action by the Sudanese army.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Review: Lyrics Alley by Leila Aboulela

Lyrics Alley

I have waited years, literally years, for this book.

I read Lyrics Alley in a single sitting. I was flying to Libya from Dubai in early February 2011. Other than the fact that it is written by one of my favorite authors, Leila Aboulela, and it is set in Sudan, my country let me tell you some background on how I managed to get my hands on the book.

I have waited years, literally years, for this book. I have read and re-read her other books and short stories; when I interviewed her over email for an English-daily newspaper in Khartoum last year, she told me: "to stay in touch so I can be one of the first to read Lyrics Alley".

The book came out in January 2011. My mother got sick and wanted to come see her doctor in Cairo so we arrived in Cairo on 26 January, two days before the first Friday of anger.
In my opinion, the book is centered on two themes. The first is the conflicting Sudanese vs. Egyptian identity which divides many characters.

We spent the next week barricaded inside our compound, glued to the television screen and using our scarce resources to support the young men who were taking shifts guarding the compound during the first days of Egypt revolution. Hoards of men sitting in chairs or standing with guns, knives and random kitchen utensils turned weapons. The United Nations deported us to Dubai a week later, it was a mandatory evacuation for UN families and my father was still working with the UN at the time.

I bought Lyrics Alley on the way to the plane to Libya at Dubai International Airport. It was the last money we had and I spent it on the over-priced hardcover book and Bidoun, an arts and culture magazine.

A World on Papers…

In the beginning of the book, we learn that the book is inspired by Hassan Awad Aboulela (1922-1962), a relative of the writer and one of Sudan's most imminent poets. The book tells the story of a well-rooted family in Omdurman, the Abuzeids who live on Al Morada Street where the former residence of the Aboulela family is situated and across the street from my present house.

In my opinion, the book is centered on two themes. The first is the conflicting Sudanese vs. Egyptian identity which divides many characters especially Mahmoud Abuzeid, who is married to Hajjah Waheeba, a traditionally Sudanese wife and Nabilah, the cosmopolitan younger Egyptian wife who disapproves of all things Sudanese.

This theme is reminiscent of the minaret which centers on a Sudanese woman and an Egyptian-Sudanese family, Aboulela's own ancestry feeds into this subject, her mother is Egyptian and her father is Sudanese.

She was born in Cairo but was raised in Khartoum. She is consistently torn between these two identities. In the book, the attitudes are similar to real-life attitudes, the Sudanese are suspicious of the Egyptians and the Egyptians look down upon the Sudanese as their less sophisticated neighbors.

Leila began writing fiction in 1992 and has published three books and a collection of short stories. She currently divides her time between Scotland and Qatar.

The other theme is the marriage of fiction with non-fiction. Fiction is intertwined with non-fiction for a person familiar with Sudanese history.

I kept noting the resemblance of the Abuzeid family to the Aboulela family; their residence in Omdurman, their involvement in business and their admiration for Victoria College in Alexandria, considered the Eton of the Middle East at the time.

Nur Abuzeid , the son of Mahmoud Abuzeid was paralyzed in an accident in the beach in Alexandria. Hassan Awad Aboulela's was also paralyzed in a similar tragic accident in Egypt. Both characters used poetry to escape their painful reality. They were well-educated and had a bright future ahead of them. An education at Victoria College followed by college at Cambridge or Oxford and a good job back home in Sudan.

On his accident, Hassan Aboulela wrote:

"In you Egypt are the causes of my injury. And in Sudan my burden and solace."- These words are from "Travel is the Cause," a song performed by Ahmed Al Mustafa, the pioneer of modern Sudanese music. Aboulela also wrote Rahmak ya Malak "Have Mercy, Angel", which Ahmed Al Mustafa performed with iconic Lebanese singer, Sabah in an Egyptian film.

“Travel is the Cause” was memorized by almost all of the Sudanese population at the time.

As much as Nur's accident shook the Abuzid household, life moved on.

I finished the book as we were landing in Libya. Two weeks later, we would get evacuated one more time as Libya's own revolution was underway.

I recommend Lyrics Alley not only because it is a powerful representation of Sudan's social and cultural history, but because I was reading it under duress and after I turned the last page, I felt an overwhelming peace of mind.

More About the Author:

Leila Aboulela was born in Cairo in 1964. She moved to Khartoum and was educated at the American school and then the University of Khartoum. She moved to Britain with her husband and studied Statistics at the London School of Economics.

Published @

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Sudanese youth arm themselves with art to bring change

Published @

Sudan Eyez: Fight the Cause , a mix-tape that includes 14 tracks by different Sudanese musicians and poets couldn't have been produced at a more perfect time. While fight the cause was being widely circulated on Facebook and downloaded for free, a wave of political awareness was spreading amongst Sudanese youth.

Young men and women were putting Safia Ishaq, an activist who was gang-rapped by Sudanese security forces as their display picture and many were joining groups calling for changes a la Tunisia and Egypt. In its introduction, the mix-tape emphasizes that the battle for the Sudanese cause has been ongoing for 21 years and the movement towards change started on January the 30th 2011 was "inspired by the Egyptian and Tunisian youth."

By asking the listeners to make this CD the soundtrack of the 2011 Sudanese revolution, the artists are actively trying to mobilize their listeners to become active and involved in the movement. The mix tape begins with a 1958 recording broadcasted from Omdurman Radio which was called "This is Omdurman" at the time.

The recording was two years after Sudan's independence from Great Britain and the year of its first military coup. Music from old Sudanese songs is sampled and integrated into a number of tracks. It covers different genres from hip-hop by US-based Sudanese rapper and poet, Selma-I and Khartoum-based rappers, ReZOULution to Reggae beats by Mao and R n B by Dubai-based Sudanese artist, Mo'awia known as Nile. Featured artists easily alternate between English and Arabic and insert cultural references such as referring to the government as Kozes, a cup made of metal used for drinking water in Sudan.
The artists began working on the CD after the January 30 protests and the whole idea was instigated by the arrest of rapper, blogger, activist and poet Ahmad Mahmoud also known as DZA the Dissenter. 70 protesters were arrested on the 30th of January protest. Two days later, Mahmoud was arrested as he took part in a peaceful protest in Khartoum North.

Hashim , the brain behind the idea said that the aim was to produce a mixtape “ that is going to inspire the Sudanese youth so they can’t let us down when it’s the right time to make some changes,”

Picking the contributors wasn’t a challenge for Hashim, he already had a few musicians in mind. He made sure to pick the tracks that match the concept of the album. He told me in an interview over Facebook that he knew that the musicians wouldn’t mind joining such an album even if it is going to bring them problems.

The tracks were already recorded, Hisham just had to pick the most suitable ones. He started working on the mixtape and was planning to dedicate it to Ahmad Mahmoud, his fellow musician and good friend. Fortunately, he was released twelve long days later.
In the meantime, the youth movements in Sudan decided that 21st of March was a day of mass protests. The mixtape had to be finished and distributed beforehand.

“I really wanted that album to spread awareness so I had to publish it unfinished, after all, it took me about one month to collect the pieces,” he stated.

The mixtape was distributed online. Many put a link to it on their Facebook page. I personally stumbled upon the mixtape after a friend of mine posted a link to it on Facebook. When I asked Hashim if they used the internet only for distributing the mixtape, he quoted the poet and musician, Gil Scott-Heron and told me that “the revolution will not be televised,”
Reminiscent of the role of Facebook and twitter in Tunisia and Egypt, he added that the revolution is not televised, but it is internized,”

G. AbuNafeesa, a medical doctor found herself part of the artistic movement calling for change when she read about what happened to Safia Ishaq, a 25 year old artist affiliated with Girfna, a two-year old youth movement calling for change. Ishaq was arrested on 13 February 2011 by the police for her involvement in the January 30 movement. Not long after she was released, she spoke out about her arrest , beating and subsequent gang-rape by three members of Sudan’s security service in a video testimony broadcasted on youtube.
AbuNafeesa was heartbroken and angry by the oppression of women in Sudan and the ongoing violence against civilians and decided to use her pen to write the story of the Sudanese struggle.
In her piece, the quality of equality, performed at the Women’s Week at Ahfad University for Women in Sudan, she spoke of Ishaq when she said
“You asked for the quality of your equality, And gained nothing but cold depravity…of ones who crowned your head with fear
when they unwrapped your hijab, and bound your hands -
because you chose to make a stand!”

AbuNafeesa has used Ishaq’s picture as her facebook display picture for nearly 2 months now.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

BlogHer 2011

It was really difficult to make the decision to go to Blogher. I was scared of going to a faraway place on my own. I have traveled alone before but to neighboring countries and even when I studied abroad in California , I was with 5 other girls from college so I rarely had to be alone.

Then of course, I felt unqualified to be there. The panel I was speaking at was called "International Activist Blogger Scholarship". It was an award that I was nominated for an won:)

I was always an activist. Ever since I was a child, I understood the existence of injustice. I asked questions: why are we fighting a war with the south? why are certain tribes seen as better than other tribes? I just couldn't word it in my head, I couldn't call myself an activist until I was almost failing a class in college.

I was really concerned about my GPA so I went to speak to one of my professors. He basically told me that this course is not for me because I'm an activist and you can't bring activism to the classroom at all times.

I found myself develop into an even stronger activist when I moved to Sudan. I also struggled to keep my blog going with the 2 or 3 jobs I was doing at once. Then I was awarded the Blogher activist scholarship. It was announced on May and since then, I have been so motivated and more confident about my writing. Blogher is the best opportunity I was given since college to really realize my potential and think about all the issues that are close to my heart.

Day 0

My plane was at 8 a.m. I was all over the place. Packing, organizing, printing maps and itineraries. I went to sleep at 4 and woke up at 5:00. I live 10 minutes away from the airport so getting there was no hassle.

I couldn't believe my eyes when I ran into a girl from college. She was a friend of a friend and I remember her for her big smile and pointy shoes. We also met another girl from college and the three of us chit-chated until we boarded the plane.

A little over 4 hours later, we reached London. After over 30 minutes at the security check, we headed to the duty free, bought stuff, tasted a lot of amazing free chocolate and went our separate ways. R was going to Montreal. M was going to Washington and I was going to San Diego.

I'm familiar with "random check" at European and American airports , but I was surprised to see that I was the only one "randomly" checked while boarding the plane to San Diego. This is when you know that having a Sudanese passport labels you a lot of things. So after 10 minutes of really annoying "open your legs" "raise your arms" take off this and that and that, I was a free woman.

Day -1

This day was called pathfinder day. I headed to the convention center which was literally two steps way from my hotel. It was amazing! I attended a session in which Gina M. from Blogging While Brown was speaking. I came across her blog a few times. There was also a health blogger, Katherine from postpartumprogress and another blogger/online media expert.I have to admit, I left the session so keen on using her blog to spread awareness about PPP. I wonder how Sudanese women would react to hearing about PPP.
The session was really lively, I met a lot of great women (journalists/ researchers and women in academia).

Day 1

I was awake at 5 a.m. I turned on my laptop and skyped with friends until breakfast. I replied to tweets (I'm a beginner twitter user, or are we called tweeps?) so it took me a while to send "direct messages" , follow people and figure out how to improve my use of twitter since it is the hot thing right now. I remembered that I have to join Google Plus now because I keep getting invites and I need to be tech-savvy or whatever.

I looked at the conference guide and decided to go to the "Essential Writing and Editing Skills" session. I was torn between wellness for bloggers, cyberbullying and this session, but because I have to admit, I'm desperate to improve my writing skills and editing skills (since I usually have to edit my own work if I'm writing for Sudanese newspapers or writing blog posts). The session was moderated by Polly Pagenhart who works for Blogher and the panelists were Jane Goodwin and K.T. Bradford. Naturally, we discussed the use of slang and correct grammar. Even though Jane Goodwin teaches writing, she was really funny and grammar seemed fun ..for once.

I left the session more concerned about my blog posts, are they really grammatically incorrect and do they have spelling errors? I know I'm not a perfect writer, I still have a lot to learn especially that I'm not writing in my native language, however, well-edited and well-written posts make a huge difference. When you notice a spelling mistake, it stays with you and most of us judge writers for that. I'm not panicking about this post, but I admit that there are a lot of online resources out there for me to improve my writing and eventually, expand my target audience (how will I attract professional writers and scholars interested in Sudanese issues if my writing is not up to standards)

The second session I ended up going to is "Success On Our Own Terms". The room was packed, fresh graduates and older women were there to listen to Lori Leibovish and Christina Norman of the Huffington Post, Janice Min of the Hollywood Reporter , Susan Stiffelman- a well known author and Jane Buckingham, an author and blogger on Generation X and Y.

We were all there to listen to them because they are successful women and for me, as a young woman entering a competitive and sexist workforce, I always ask myself so many questions such as how do you balance having a family and a career? is there a balance in the first place? do you have to show "masculine" characteristics to be successful, i.e. successful women are often thought to be tougher than other females.

I don't even know if they are only portrayed as tough and often "cold" in the media because they have to act in a certain way or because working in top positions in all fields makes you this way. I was hoping to get some answers there or even advice on how to "make it" and stay sane.

The session was really alive, they had such powerful words to say on the work-life balance dilemma , but the best part was the Q and A. By the end of the session, it was clear to us that balancing your life and your work is so difficult, maybe we just need to focus on helping women stop feeling so guilty about not being everywhere and doing everything at the household.

The definition of success is rapidly changing in my opinion. You don't have to go to the office 5 times a week and work long hours to be successful, the Internet has given many men and women the opportunity to work flexible hours or even to work from home and be successful in their "own terms". This makes me optimistic that women in my generation will not face the same pressures faced by the past generations. We can make a choice, to work or not to work. You don't have to be a career woman to be "successful", you also have the choice to be a housewife. Equally important, you don't have to spend 80 hours at the office to climb the professional ladder.

After the session ended, I continued the amazing discussion with Tricia of She is a sweet, open-minded and passionate blogger focusing on beauty, fashion and life. I came across her blog a while ago and I was impressed by her witty posts and good photography. We spent an amazing time together visiting the EXPO. I ended up leaving with 3 gift bags full of useful stuff. I loved the Greek yogurt and the skinny cow ice cream. I also enjoyed the free sample beauty products from Philosophy, smoothies, greeting cards and travel pillow.
We also ended up going to the Voices of the year community keynote which was marked by inspiring speeches by passionate women. I laughed so hard and almost cried at some of the speeches. A mother losing a child, a woman whose friend lost a husband...

Women all over the world share the same aspirations and struggles , this was made clear during the voices of the year session. I wrote down their names and took notes during their talks, I want to continue reading their work and I aspire to become like them.

At the Blogher Party, I met Ann, an inspiring blogger who showed us a video she made during the keynote session. We had a thoughtful discussion about the video. I applauded her effort to start a new debate through her video on the idea of oppression. We talked about our narrow-minded interpretation of freedom and I was glad to know that a woman in a country so different than my own shares my views.
I also meet the sweet Lilian Chang who blogs @ Chinese Grandma. I looked at her blog and I love her insights on family life and her recipes.
I enjoyed the amazing snacks at the Blogher Party. Why do I not feel guilty when I eat so much finger food? Is it because of its small size. Small food doesn't have calories, right?

I couldn't go to the other parties. I was so exhausted from waking up so early so I retreated to my room.

Day 2:

When I was in college, I used to act in an annual play .That day, I woke up with the same feeling I had on the nights of performance. I had cramps and I felt dizzy. I struggled to put on my toub (the traditional Sudanese dress) and I fixed my hair to look classy and headed to the convention center.
Our session was the first session that day. It was scheduled on the same time as other sessions so the attendance was dispersed. Lilian Chang who I met on the first day of the conference was there so I had a familiar face to focus on every time I felt stressed. Rachel Levental , an acquaintance from Day 0 was also there and a couple of bloggers I met on Path-Finder day.
I think our session went pretty well. It was me and Simona Leid , a blogger from Trindaid and Tobago. The other two scholarship winners, Fungari from Zimbabwe and Yoani Sanchez from Cuba couldn't make it. Fungari had a death in the family and emailed us beforehand and Yoani couldn't leave Cuba because the government made it really difficult for her to get a visa to America. They even confiscated her documents a while ago. A representative from Latinos in Social Media, Elianne Ramos, was there to represent Yoani. Our moderator was Cheryl Contee, a blogger and partner at Fission Strategy. They were inspiring women and I felt so grateful to be there. The session went by really fast! We talked for a bit about our blogs and activism. To be honest, I have felt distanced from my blog in recent times, but I started blogging more actively last year. Over the years, my blog has helped me grow. I think my life would have been different if I had chosen not to start a blog. I would have led a more sheltered life and I wouldn't have made great contacts in the blogosphere and online.

Yes, I admit, blogging did change my life.

I made great contacts after the session. I was approached by many amazing women and I made sure to email each and every one of them after the conference!

We headed to an interview after our session and then I went to the Expo with Simona. We hung out there for a while and talked to other bloggers. I forgot that the immigration session was at 3 p.m. so I totally missed it!

Simona and I decided to explore San Diego. She was leaving the next day at 7 a.m. so we went to the mall and walked around the city. I took her to Heavenly Cupcakes, I had the most delicious Red Velvet Cupcake from there on my first day in the city. We went to the mall and spent most of our time at Bath and Body Works. Why do I always end up there? I was saddened to see that Borders had to close down. I felt that San Diego really lacked book stores!

We went back at 5 to attend the Women in the Media session. It was INCREDIBLE! They were all amazing women and you just couldn't put them in one room without having an explosion. Fatehman Fakharie from Muslimah Media Watch totally rocked the session. I have been following MMW for a few years and I couldn't wait to see her. I tweeted her before I arrived in San Diego and we met the day before.
Ricki Lake of the Ricki Lake show and Carol Jenkins from the Women's Media Center were also very articulate in their hopes to change the lives of women.

I spent the rest of the night partying so the post ends here. Blogher throws amazing parties!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

On Amal Habbani

A fellow journalist, activist and one of my idols is in prison for speaking up against violence against women in general and the rape of Safia Ishaq in specific.

Amal Habbani, a well-known journalist has chosen to go to jail as oppossed to paying 2000 SDG (600 US dollars). Last month, another journalist ( and one of the sweetest most dedicated journalists I know) , Fatima Ghazzali, was imprisoned by the same court, the Publishing Crimes Court.

Both women were charged with article 166 which condemns publishing "false information" since they wrote about the arrest and subsquent gang-rape of 25 year-old activist and artist, Safia Ishaq in February. Ishaq spoke up about her assault in a video shared on youtube and other websites.

"In my article, I was asking the government to hold the men responsible for this crime accountable and investigate this issue," said Amal Habbani to me a few weeks ago.

Habbani was sacked from Al-Jareeda, where she worked until last March. She has years of experience and a master's degree and she can't find a job.

"No one wants to hire an activist," she said.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Police Violence Alert

The last text message I read before getting on the plane to Cairo was from a young student doing research in Sudan, he told me about protests at the University of Khartoum. I asked him to email me more information.

Just thought I should share the email.

"From what I was able to gather from a professor and a student who were on campus, protests erupted at the student hostel and a police crackdown ensued. The protesters, who were primarily Darfuri students, rejected the university's deadline to vacate the premises for the holidays on the grounds that travel to and from Darfur during the holidays is both costly and dangerous. The number of students involved, or possibly detained, in addition to the size of the police force that responded to the protests was unknown by those with whom I spoke. However, the professor, who was administering an exam on the main campus, was able to smell tear gas. The incident began around 10 am and was contained by 11 am,"

I don't understand why the police reacts to any protest no matter how small it is with "tear gas"!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Break Time

Three months ago, I began working at a research center in Sudan. A week after I started my new job, my direct boss passed away in a tragic car accident. Al though I didn't know him very much , his death really affected me. It was the first time for me to see a person hours before their death. I was also struck by all the grief and sadness that filled my colleagues and his students.

Yesterday was my last day at the center. I decided to take time off to focus on writing and studying for the two courses I'm taking at SOAS.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Published: North or South, the heart has its own compass

***I forgot to post this, it was published four days before Sudan became two countries. My friend, Ajaa Anyieth wrote a beautiful peace that was published alongside mine , read her piece @

Two friends reflect on their common Sudanese identity.

After a two-month absence from Sudan, I was happy to return to work and my loved ones: first, I’d been stuck in Egypt during the violent days of the revolution in January; later, I was forced to flee Libya just before Muammar Gaddafi closed down the airport in Tripoli. It took two UN evacuations to get me home. Not long afterward, I was invited to participate in a cultural journalism workshop in Khartoum.

During my days abroad, while keeping in touch with my friends on Facebook, I noticed frequent comments posted on their walls by someone named Ajaa. By chance, I met her in person on the second day of the workshop.

In what can best be described as a small world moment, it turned out the owner of a magazine I write for had hired her as a graphic artist. We spent long hours jotting down ideas for the publication and debating critical issues over tea. Although we came from different backgrounds, we realised we had much in common, especially since both of us had lived abroad for many years before settling in Sudan.

We had both come home to a country we hardly knew.

From Mystery to Activism

I first became aware of Southern Sudan when I was 7 years old. We had gone home to Khartoum from Egypt for the summer when my mother told us that her cousin Ahmed was coming to visit. While waiting in our garden for the young man to arrive so he could take us to the ice cream shop in Molazmeen, we overheard the elders talking about Ahmed’s ordeal.

"The unlucky boy was literally kidnapped, put on a bus and sent to a training camp before they took him to the south," my grandmother stated matter-of-factly.
Read also "South or North, the heart has its own compass" by Ajaa Santino Anyieth
When Ahmed walked in, tall and frail, he looked like he was recovering from heat stroke, malaria or both. I suddenly felt an urge to stay home.

The place everyone referred to as “the south” remained a mystery to me. For years, I didn't understand why boys from the north were taken to fight there. Cousins and friends, some as young as 15, were recruited and sent away for "jihad.”

My knowledge deepened when I turned that age. To feed my passion for reading, my father bought me Emma's War, a book I read many times. Written by Deborah Scorggins, it traced the path of her British friend, Emma McCune, who founded schools and rescued children during the height of the war in Southern Sudan before dying in a road accident in Kenya. She’d been married to Riek Machar, who would later become Southern Sudan’s Vice President.

Haunted by the stories of brutality, I eventually contacted some of the individuals mentioned in the book and read reports published by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the Sudanese Organisation for Human Rights. A year later, when I started my undergraduate studies in Cairo, I decided to take action.

Living with the “other”

I never had any real encounter with southerners until my freshman year, when I volunteered as a teacher for young Southern Sudanese refugees at a church in Cairo. Most of them had fled Sudan under traumatic circumstances.

On my second day, I discovered that many of the students and co-workers had never met a northerner. They had presumed I was Egyptian, so when I told the staff I was Sudanese, they stopped in their tracks. A few seconds later, we all took a deep breath and realized that perhaps we needn't be wary of one another. After all, we do not represent a tribe or a region, but our own individual views.
North and South Sudanese coexistence - © Perfect Shot Films
For the next three years, I continued my volunteer work with Sudanese refugees, teaching at the Church and organising events. We forged deep friendships and have stayed in contact ever since.

In my junior year, when a professor asked me to contribute to a book on refugees in Egypt, I befriended a young man from the south who shared the story of his long journey from Yirol to Ethiopia, Kenya and finally to Egypt. I followed his love for music, attended concerts with him and documented his endless rejected applications to immigrate to Australia. As our friendship deepened, we became very close.

One day we decided to meet at a refugee church and walk to a café to have a drink and chat. The walk was less than five minutes, but as we made our way along the main street, I was stunned to hear hurtful comments by passersby, who made rude remarks about my friend and our being together.

Suddenly I looked at him and saw a young man who, despite his towering height, seemed scared. Slouching forward, his eyes looked downward as if he wished he were invisible.

From that day on, I became conscious of racial injustice and began to focus my writings on issues close to my heart.

Generation United

Not long ago, I tried to help my mother locate one of her friends from college, a Southerner. We couldn't find her on Google, but we are not giving up. The two had become friends in first grade when my mother lived with her family in Malakal. When they ran into each other in college, they immediately recognised one another.

Achol remembered my mother's voice twelve years later. That is the kind of friendship I wish to have—one in which a person’s ethnic background doesn’t matter.

I feel fortunate to have found that kind of friendship with Ajaa.

The new reality of Sudan’s separation has a painful aspect for many young people who believed in unity. To be honest, I never really expected the referendum to happen. But now that secession is a fact, I don't think this will change my friendship with Ajaa or any of my other cherished friends from the south.

What matters is our friendship that's based on our similarities that outnumber our differences, along with a deep understanding of our culture that is not limited to tribal or regional affiliations.

Reem Abbas Shawkat is a freelance journalist who blogs at:
Editor: Alexa Dvorson

The views expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the positions or opinions of the publishers of

Friday, July 15, 2011

On the 9th of July

Less than a week ago, Sudan, my country, split into two following a referendum in which an overwhelming majority of 1/3 of its citizens voted in favor of secession. South Sudan was born on the 9th of July and I wrote this late at night on 9 July after reaching home feeling a roller coaster of emotions.

The young men sitting under the tree in front of my house couldn’t stop staring at me.

I left my house in the scorching sun to go to a friend’s house to celebrate South Sudan. In my mind and heart, I was celebrating the freedom of Southern Sudanese and their right to living in their own country as First-Class Citizens, something that they would never have in the haphazard landmass called Sudan. Armed with a makeshift hand-painted Sudanese flag, I was holding the flag with one hand and trying to wave a taxi with the other. I couldn’t put it down.

I finally reached my friend’s house accompanied by another friend. Ajaa A., a friend who hails from South Sudan, was organizing a small gathering at her house to celebrate South Sudan’s independence. I have been watching South Sudan TV (SSTV) since midnight. My father has recently grown fond of Ebony and SSTV, they are the only channels he watches in addition to Al Jazeera. Sudanese channels are in a world of their own, we don’t even bother wasting electricity on them.

After watching the national anthem for about 60 times, we watched catchy songs recorded by South Sudanese musicians and a mini documentary featuring North Sudanese express their thoughts on secession.

At night, we headed to Nile Street. In recent years, Nile Street has grown to become the most popular hang-out spot for youth in the weekend. You sit on colored plastic chairs sipping ginger or cinnamon flavored tea or Ethiopian coffee made by Sudanese and Ethiopian tea-ladies (Sittat Chai) alike.

On the way to the end of Nile Street where we usually gather with friends, the streets were packed. Hundreds of cars were blocking the way, people were walking on all pavements and the majority was waving Sudanese flags. Cars were decorated with Sudanese flags and even the old Bahri Bridge was painted red, green, and white and black, the colors of the flag.
“What are they celebrating?” I asked my friends.

When the road gets less blocked, we would drive really close to cars waving Sudanese flags and I would roll down my window and blast my South Sudanese flag to their faces. They would, of course, get utterly shocked and ask me “why?” and tell me to raise it again. This led to being harassed by two guys, one of which had blow-dried hair and couldn't stop commenting on my hairband...

I put my flag down when we reached a busy area that was reserved for celebrations by National Congress Party (NCP) supporters. With their huge posters of President Bashir and huge flags, they probably didn’t know that the prices have already increase and many gas stations have no petrol. I wish them luck in finding petrol for their land cruisers.

I also saw a poster of the notorious “Just Peace Forum”, the controversial pro-independence Northern group headed by Al Tayeb Mustafa, the uncle of President Bashir and the owner of Al-Entbha, a newspaper I believe promotes racism and makes up news.
We stopped a guy selling water and asked him about the four flags he is showcasing.

“What are you celebrating”, I asked him, matter-of-factly.

“I’m celebrating today, the secession of the south,” he replied
“Why?” I asked again
“We are not going to have drunk people anymore,” he replied

I asked him if he ever saw a drunken Southern Sudanese in Khartoum creating problems and if this is the only reason and if he is thinking about the future of the North after secession. He was confused.

I sat with my sister and my best friend discussing the misinformation of people in the north. How they don’t grasp the enormity of the situation, Sudan was split into two countries and we are losing cultural diversity and an abundance of resources.

We were joined by more friends. A friend brought a cousin and when I started conversing with him, I was filled with sadness.

He was also celebrating independence because the Southerners were planning to “enslave the Northerners and torture us,”
“This is why John Garang was assassinated, he was evil, and he wanted to enslave us. You would have worked as a maid in his house, “he told, looking as convinced as ever.

“I don’t know where to start. How do you know John Garang was “assassinated” and for this exact purpose. The Southerners do not have an evil plan to enslave us or torture us. We treated them horribly and still do, but they are above that,” I told him.

I felt sick to my stomach, I found myself too angry to engage in a further discussion with him. I pulled my chair away and told my friend the shocking story. He, surely, continued telling me conspiracy theories. In a few seconds, he mentioned the US and Israel.

Of course.

The United States and Israel are the reason why Sudan has been embroiled in Africa’s longest-running civil war; they are also the reason why Northerners feel superior to Southerners. They are the root cause of all our problems.

As much as secession is painful, I feel that the attitudes of young Sudanese people from the north are even more disturbing than Sudan splitting. I think I have a few white hairs from what I heard over the past few weeks. At work, from relatives and at public gatherings, not only do they not feel any responsibility towards the fate of Sudan, they also feel that the over-burdening Southerners have left and now, the north is free to become a developed and peaceful country.

“It is not about the south separating. Now that the Southerners have their own country, we will still abuse other groups, we are free to harass people from west Sudan, whom we refer to as “gharabba”, said my friend.

She is right, stay tuned to the North VS. the rest of Sudan.

Published:SUDAN: Close to War As the South Prepares to Celebrate Independence

KHARTOUM, Jul 8 (IPS) – Sudan is closest to civil war since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005.
Mariam Al Sadig, a leading figure in the Umma Party, one of Sudan's main opposition parties, said that the conflict in Southern Kordofan shows that the CPA has failed tremendously and the events unfolding in Southern Kordofan are a huge security concern to the future of Sudan.

A report released by a coalition of Sudanese, African, Arab and Western non-governmental organsations warns that Sudan is closest to civil war since the signing of the CPA in 2005.

The report titled "Beyond the Pledge: International Engagement After Sudan's Comprehensive Peace Agreement" views the ongoing conflict between the North and South as a predecessor to a full-blown civil war and urges the international community to adopt more targeted sanctions.

Abdel Moniem Al Gak, an activist and co-founder of the Sudan Democracy First Group was involved in the writing and production of the report. Through his organisation, he lobbies for human rights and democracy in Sudan.

He has been based in Juba since his arrest and subsequent detention after the Sudanese government cracked down on international and Sudanese organisations following an arrest warrant issued for Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir by the International Criminal Court in March 2009.

"Sudan is not on the brink of war, Sudan is at war. It is living a state of displacement, destruction, violation of rights and deterioration of human rights in all parts of the country," said Al Gak in a phone interview with IPS.

He added that citizens in different regions in Sudan, the East, Darfur, Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan could suffer the same fate as South Sudan and call for their right to self-determination. He attributed this to peace agreements that do not affect the average citizen and development that contributes to more suffering and causes loss of heritage and displacement.

In May 2011, the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) declared that they seized control of Abyei after three days of bloody clashes with Southern soldiers. The army attributed the reason behind the conflict as the ambush and subsequent killing of 22 soldiers of northern origin. Abyei was the site of aerial bombardment and most of its population fled.

International condemnation and campaigning pushed the United Nations to take action immediately and in June, the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei was formed and it deployed 4,200 Ethiopian soldiers on Jun. 27 for six months.
Abyei, an area barely visible on a map, has witnessed a series of conflicts since the singing of the CPA between the government of Sudan led by the ruling party, the National Congress Party (NCP) and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM). In March 2008, at least 25,000 were displaced after soldiers from the SPLM clashed with Sudanese soldiers.

Currently, the coalition’s report estimates that 113,000 are displaced as a result of conflicts in Abyei. Abyei was supposed to hold a referendum simultaneously with the South Sudanese referendum to choose whether it wants to become part of the southern "Northern Bahr El Ghazal" state or the northern "South Kordofan" state. The referendum was postponed indefinitely after the two peace partners disagreed on the terms of eligibility to vote.

The report recommends that Abyei and Southern Kordofan need an immediate ceasefire for the displaced to return home and the volatile north-south border on which they are located needs to be a demilitarised zone.

Al Baqir Mukhtar Afifi, the director of Al-Khatim Adlan Centre for Enlightenment and Human Development, one of the organisations involved in the report, states that the report was inspired by all the pending issues between the two partners in the CPA that remain unresolved even though it expires in two days.

"In addition to the issues that may ignite war – citizenship, borders, oil, international debt and assets, Abyei is a real possibility of becoming the ignition of war between the two parts of the split country and the war in Darfur is still going on, and an additional war has erupted in Southern Kordofan. "Even the president who is beating the drums of war, has stated that he expects a war between the north and the south," he told IPS.

The report concludes that the unresolved issues between the north and south will not end on Jul. 9 and it invites the international community to examine its policies towards Sudan to prevent the birth of two states with more problems than prior to the CPA through continuing its engagement in negotiations between both states to ensure "peace, prosperity and stability in the region."
Meanwhile, South Sudan prepares for independence on Jul. 8. Hafiz Mohammed, Director of Justice Africa (Sudan) said he did not believe there would be security problems on the day of independence.

"There are threats but they are not based on real challenges. It is fair to say that it is not in anyone's interest to ruin this day, especially the Southerners who see this as a big day, the day their nation is born," Mohammed said.

He added that South Sudan had the right to secession. "It is also a sad day, we are witnessing the separation of Sudan. We only hope to see a successful nation in the south," Mohammed said. He added that he hoped the north would benefit from lessons learned from the secession of the south.

"It should try to protect Sudan from further separations and unite the country."
Ibrahim Al Grefwi, co-founder of Sudan Unite, a coalition of artists who attempted to raise awareness about the secession and keep Sudan united, said it will be a historical day when South Sudan becomes independent.
"It is a historical day for Sudan and it is also a very sad day. I feel sad and I feel that we have failed to unite the country. We also lost important aspects of Sudan's rich cultural diversity," Al Grefwi said.

"People in the north just realized that they lost a huge and an important part of Sudan. The political process marginalised the citizens and they just woke up to find that separation is a reality."

Simon Monoja from the Centre for Peace and Development at the University of Juba in South Sudan said he believed independence day would go smoothly.

"We have militias of concern s in Unity State and Jonglei but I believe that the event tomorrow ill be smooth because it is a day for all Southern Sudanese, they will all want to celebrate it and have it succeed."

But not everyone is happy. "I came from the north two days ago, I was there for 2 months. Most of the northerners are gloomy, they are so worried about the inability to predict what will happen after separation is declared tomorrow. I don't expect celebrations in the north tomorrow."

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

SUDAN: Feeling the Economic Impact Before Secession

I wrote a piece on the deteriorating economic situation for IPS

SUDAN: Feeling the Economic Impact Before Secession

By Reem Abbas

KHARTOUM, Jun 23 (IPS) – Amira Amer* becomes very picky the minute she reaches the bus station. One by one she lets the new air-conditioned busses pass her by. She is waiting for a cheaper bus. They are limited in the expensive city of Khartoum and are constantly packed to the point of overflowing.

"When the new air-conditioned buses came out, we were happy and felt that the government was finally genuine about our comfort, but sadly, they are not subsidised. They cost two Sudanese pounds (60 cents), I can’t afford to pay four pounds for a round trip," Amer said in an interview with IPS.

Amer’s job requires her to spend a great amount of time and money traveling to meet the needs of her clients. She buys imported goods and sells them to her clients who expect her to deliver the products to them.

"Many of my clients can’t afford to pay on the spot so I have to travel back and forth to collect the weekly or monthly instalments," she told IPS.

Things weren’t always so bad for Amer. She inherited 60,000 dollars in 2006 when the family’s house was sold. The single mother of three was able to buy a nice house for her small family and even save some money for her children.

At the time, one Sudanese pound was equal to 2.30 dollars and life was considerably cheaper. The Sudanese economy was booming due to high oil prices and increasing foreign investment.

In the years following the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005, new jobs were created, cafes were bustling with customers and young professionals were able to buy cars in instalments and travel to Cairo or Dubai or Kuala Lumpur for holidays.
"No one is traveling now, people are trying to save their money for worse days. Tickets were much cheaper a few months ago, but now the prices are up 25 percent," said Maha Ali*, an employee at a travel agency in downtown Khartoum.

Ali used to make a lot of money from commissions when she brought customers to the agency. Now it is a struggle to convince people to travel, especially when some airlines only accept dollars and reject the constantly fluctuating Sudanese pound.
The economy changed in November 2010. The North Sudan government claimed that Sudan lacked foreign currency and the Sudanese minister of finance and national economy, Mahmoud Hassanein, was quoted saying that the country’s people consumed more than the country produced and this caused the rise in prices.

In early January 2011, southern Sudanese voted in a referendum in favour of secession from the north and this set in motion the beginnings of an economic crisis in Sudan. Currently North and South Sudan equally share the profits of the oil found in the south. But this will change when South Sudan becomes independent.

But North Sudan began to feel the impact of the secession even before the referendum. Prices skyrocketed as a result of inflation and salaries remained the same or even decreased.

"My salary has actually decreased, I used to get a lot of benefits and commissions on projects, but they were taken away or cut in half. Life is getting more expensive and I make less money, " said a staff member at the University of Khartoum.
Prices are going up at an alarming rate. Sesame oil, a regularly consumed product jumped from 110 to 126 Sudanese pounds and the bread price increased by 25 percent. In supermarkets people buy what they consider to be basics, such as sugar, milk, and flour. Luxury products are neatly stacked in rows gathering dust.

"I usually shop for my household on a weekly basis. I used to spend 250 Sudanese pounds on groceries, fruits, veggies and meat. Now I pay 350 Sudanese pounds," a University of Khartoum professor told IPS.
Ahmed*, who sometimes works as a currency dealer on the black market thinks that the problem lies in the value of the Sudanese pound.

"For the longest time in 2010, the government maintained that the dollar equals 2.50 Sudanese pounds. The value of the Sudanese pound kept plummeting and as much as the government heavily invested in trying to stop the black market, people felt ripped off," Ahmed said.

He added that restrictions on the amount of dollars you can take when you are traveling abroad pushed many to the black market. "You were able to exchange the equivalent of 1,000 dollars only at the airport. You can get up to 1,500 Euros now, but it is still not enough," he told IPS.

Najm El Deen Ibrahim, a senior official from the Central Bank of Sudan, the bank responsible for managing the country’s accounting and setting an exchange rate for the Sudanese pound, believes that the national currency is not going to depreciate further.

"We have injected foreign currency into the market to major importers, exchange bureaus and commercial banks. The bank will make sure that the currency is stable and will act immediately to stop any massive fluctuations,"
He added that there is no direct link between prices and exchange rates. The increase in prices is due to an increase in the prices of commodities all over the world.

*Names have been changed

A State of Ghost Towns

I wrote about Southern Kordofan for IPS.

Southern Kordofan - A State of Ghost Towns

By Reem Abbas

KHARTOUM, Jun 29, 2011 (IPS) - While humanitarian organisations try to bury the corpses scattered across Southern Kordofan, aid to the thousands of people displaced by the fighting is slow as the country’s humanitarian commission has prohibited most aid organisations from working in the area.

On Jun. 5 heavy fighting broke out between forces loyal to the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) in Kadugli and other towns in the state. Kadugli is the capital of Southern Kordofan, one of Sudan's 25 states.

Since the start of the fighting, aerial bombardments were carried out by the SAF, which according to the United Nations (U.N.), lead to the displacement of 75,000 civilians from Kadugli, Kaunda and surrounding areas with the numbers going up on a daily basis. In addition, 35,000 are expected to head to El Obeid, a town in north Kordofan.

"We have reports of ethnic Nubas being denied entrance to El Obeid. They divide the displaced based on ethnicity and the Nubas are (left) in the middle of nowhere under the scorching sun, " said Fatima* a human rights activist. The Nubas, who are a minority in Southern Kordofan, are believed to have been targeted in the fighting.

Sudanese organisations and civil society groups are already calling for food donations and sending trucks full of supplies to aid the people of Southern Kordofan.

The Politics of Southern Kordofan
Mohamed, a postgraduate student at the University of Khartoum has fond memories of Kadugli in Southern Kordofan. As a child growing up there in the 1980's and early 1990's before the fighting became very intense, he recalls a green mountainous area where the Arab world and Africa intertwined in the form of tribes peacefully coexisting for decades.

"Kadugli has a mix of northern Arab tribes and Nubas. There was no real ethnic divide until the Nubas joined the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) in the 1980s. They were recruited in the SPLM's army, the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and they felt empowered as this elevated their social status as a marginalised minority in Sudan. They felt that their political struggle could be in the context of the SPLM," he added.

Southern Kordofan along with Abyei and Blue Nile are the three states known as protocol areas because they are geographically part of the north.

Many of their citizens were involved with the SPLA during the civil war and the states are predominantly populated by non-Arab tribes. In Abyei, the majority hail from the largest southern Sudanese tribe, the Dinka.

The protocol to resolve the conflicts in these states was signed in Kenya in 2004 and it entails that the three states hold popular consultations to determine whether they will remain in the north or become part of the south as stipulated in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in 2005 by the Sudanese government and the SPLM to end Africa's longest- running civil war.

In December 2009, the president of Sudan signed the Abyei Referendum Act that allowed the Abyei referendum to be held simultaneously with the South referendum as agreed in the CPA. However, the two peace partners disagreed over the terms of eligibility to vote and this led to the postponement of the referendum until further notice.

Blue Nile is currently undergoing popular consultations, which are time-consuming as it is compromised of many phases. However, Southern Kordofan is lagging behind since the state-level elections that should have been held in April 2010 were only held in May 2011.

In an attempt to help out within their limited mandate, some humanitarian organisations are burying corpses scattered in Southern Kordofan. But the Humanitarian Affairs Commission (HAC), the body responsible for coordinating all humanitarian affairs for local and international organisations in Sudan, has prohibited the majority of local and international organisations from working there.

"We held a meeting with the HAC yesterday and we asked them to give us permission to aid the displaced and they said that they are sending an investigative mission to assess the situation. I don't know when this will happen," said Suhaila*, who works for a national development non-governmental organisation in Khartoum.

She said she was concerned about the availability of food in the region. "This is the time right before farming begins, families are nearly running out of stored food and many of the families living in safer towns are hosting displaced families and sharing their food with them," said Suhaila.

Many displaced people are making public schools their homes as the summer season ends and the rainy season begins in July.

"The government does not want to establish IDP (internationally displaced persons) camps, they said they don't want this to turn into another Darfur, but people cannot simply go back to their homes. The situation is deteriorating, " said Fatima.

In January 10 states, which compromise the southern part of Sudan, voted in a referendum on whether they want to remain part of the north or have a separate state. Over 98 percent voted in favour of secession.

But the security situation in the state became tense after Ahmed Haroun won the governorship of Southern Kordofan in a controversial state election in May.

Haroun is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur for his involvement in instigating attacks and arming and recruiting militias to fight the insurgency. Haroun beat Abdel Aziz Al Helow, the SPLM's candidate in the elections.

"It is fair to say that 75 percent of civilians in the state are SPLM supporters but they lean towards the National Congress Party (NCP), the ruling party, because they want to survive," Samira*, an U.N. employee said.

She said prior to the elections the SPLM began distributing flyers through tea ladies, bakers and people in the market area that warned of dire consequences if the NCP's candidate won the governorship.

Samira arrived at work at the United Nations offices on Jun. 5 to find that many of her colleagues known for their pro-SPLM sentiments had already fled the town.

"I started asking questions and wondering if something was going to happen. The fighting started that day and for the first time, there was a power cut in the entire city.

"Our only option was to hide under the bed or next to a wall because it was pitch black and it was hard to locate where the gunshots were coming from," said Samira. She was evacuated and is now safe in Khartoum with her family. "I saw a large number of women and children fleeing the town and I could tell that they have been walking for a long time... I couldn't stop crying," recalls Samira of the day she was evacuated.

But the fighting continues and Suhaila says that based on information received from her colleagues working in Southern Kordofan, there have been a number of political assassinations.

"The SPLM launched attacks that targeted certain leaders loyal to the NCP and this sparked a retaliation from the Khartoum government. Even the citizens of Kadugli and other towns were asked to leave because the situation became characterised by political assassinations," said Suhaila.

Suhaila added that there are snipers located in the mountains and her colleagues informed her that politically active civilians have been shot dead inside their homes.

* Names have been changed to protect our sources.


The Politics of Southern Kordofan
Mohamed, a postgraduate student at the University of Khartoum has fond memories of Kadugli in Southern Kordofan. As a child growing up there in the 1980's and early 1990's before the fighting became very intense, he recalls a green mountainous area where the Arab world and Africa intertwined in the form of tribes peacefully coexisting for decades.

"Kadugli has a mix of northern Arab tribes and Nubas. There was no real ethnic divide until the Nubas joined the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) in the 1980s. They were recruited in the SPLM's army, the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and they felt empowered as this elevated their social status as a marginalised minority in Sudan. They felt that their political struggle could be in the context of the SPLM," he added.

Southern Kordofan along with Abyei and Blue Nile are the three states known as protocol areas because they are geographically part of the north.

Many of their citizens were involved with the SPLA during the civil war and the states are predominantly populated by non-Arab tribes. In Abyei, the majority hail from the largest southern Sudanese tribe, the Dinka.

The protocol to resolve the conflicts in these states was signed in Kenya in 2004 and it entails that the three states hold popular consultations to determine whether they will remain in the north or become part of the south as stipulated in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in 2005 by the Sudanese government and the SPLM to end Africa's longest- running civil war.

In December 2009, the president of Sudan signed the Abyei Referendum Act that allowed the Abyei referendum to be held simultaneously with the South referendum as agreed in the CPA. However, the two peace partners disagreed over the terms of eligibility to vote and this led to the postponement of the referendum until further notice.

Blue Nile is currently undergoing popular consultations, which are time-consuming as it is compromised of many phases. However, Southern Kordofan is lagging behind since the state-level elections that should have been held in April 2010 were only held in May 2011.