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."