Monday, December 24, 2012

Sudan Activists Languish in Jail

MEDANI, Sudan — On June 28, 2011, Mohamed Saleh and Ma'ni Mubarak were attending "Breaths," a three-day cultural forum organized by students at Al-Jazeera University in Medani, 300 kilometers from Sudan's capital, Khartoum. Hailing from Nubia, Mubarak was involved in organizing the section about Nubian heritage and culture, while Saleh attended the performances before leaving in the late afternoon, long before the clashes began.

At about 6 p.m., the students were taking a break before resuming the forum after prayers, when a fight broke out between students from the Islamic Movement and the Democratic Front. The initial scuffle seemed contained, until:
"All of a sudden, I saw students from the Islamic Movement coming towards us with metal rods and trying to break the benches in the cafeteria to use them as weapons," said Nisreen Al-Mamoun, one of the forum's organizers.
Al-Mamoun said that the attackers asked all students to leave the area except for Communist students, in reference to the Democratic Front (DF), which is a student movement affiliated with the Sudanese Communist Party (SCP).
"They dropped a molotov and students started leaving, but the attacks on students already began and I saw people getting injured," said Al-Mamoun, who was a chemical engineering student at the time.
Mubarak was one of the students beaten, as he was one of the most popular characters on campus and a speaker for the DF.
"I was beaten with metal rods and to defend myself, I began throwing bricks at the attackers," said Mubarak, who added that other students were defending themselves by throwing stones and bricks.
Mubarak was unlucky, he was injured and rushed to the hospital, not knowing that more than a year later, he would be behind bars for causing "severe bodily harm" as stipulated under Sudanese criminal law.
The clashes received little media coverage and the students moved on with their lives. Saleh graduated and began applying for jobs.
"A year later, I was in town to attend the fourth memorial of Mutasim Abu Al-As. I was with friends, including Mubarak in a coffee shop, when security officers arrested us," said Saleh, who was in town to get his certificates and documents from the university.
Abu Al-As was a DF student who was stabbed to death in clashes with Islamic Movement's students in 2008 at Al-Jazeera University. Saleh said he was warned by an Islamist student accused in the murder of Abu Al-As to not return to Medani.
"He told me to stay away or else I could get killed," added Saleh.
Student violence has become a norm in Sudan. In 1964, a revolution that toppled the military dictatorship was inspired by the killing of a University of Khartoum student at the hands of the police. However, violence has in the last decade adopted an ugly politicized face with students from rival political factions killing each other.
Student deaths in recent years have exceeded 35, with the majority being due to severe torture by security forces or clashes between Islamic Movement students, who are loyal to the regime, and other students.
"We were detained for two weeks before our friends and lawyers paid 3,000 Sudanese pounds ($600 at the time) to bail us out," said Mubarak recalling the detention last June.
But Mubarak was not released and was instead accused of attacking a security guard at the university.
"In court, the witnesses — who were security agents — were too scared to lie. They ended up contradicting the case and the court declared him innocent," said Hanadi Fadul, an Al-Jazeera University graduate who worked on Mubarak’s case.
In late November, the five students were arrested again and taken to court.
"The witnesses who were students from the government's party contradicted themselves on key points which should've dropped the charges against the students," said Adil Abbas, a lawyer who is part of the student's defense team.
Abbas added that although Saleh was not there, the court deviously built its case on the fact that he did not clearly say that he was not there during his court hearing.
"The students when attacked have the legal right to defend themselves," added Abbas, in reference to the accusation that Mubarak caused harm to students by throwing bricks at them.
Five lawyers worked on this case including Abbas and Fadul to divide the work load. Fadul was responsible for defending a student charged with stabbing a student.
"My defense was simple, he suffers from dwarfism and he has to stand on a table in order to stab a tall person in the stomach. He is also incapable of holding the huge knife they claimed he used," said Fadul. He added that, legally, only medical reports from a government hospital were accredited by the court, but this time, the court accepted a report from a private hospital, which is against the law.
In prison, the students receive visits from their friends who bring them food and keep them company in an attempt to make their one-year sentence more bearable.
"The food they serve, even birds cannot eat it," said Mubarak who added that their cell has 50 prisoners.
Nisreen Al-Mamoun, who is a close friend to both students, brings them food each week.
"Two days before they were sentenced to a year in court, Saleh was hired in his dream job at the Ministry of Agriculture," said Al-Mamoun.
Mubarak's younger brother, Mohamed, told Al-Monitor of his anger at his brother’s sentence while en route to Medani from Kharoum. "I'm going to see my brother, I cannot accept this sentence, it is very unfair, he does not deserve a year," said Mohamed.
Last week, four students from Al-Jazeera University were found dead after they went missing following a public forum discussing fee exemption for Darfuri students.
Their colleagues and human rights activists allege that the students were tortured to death by security forces, however, the university and the police stated that they drowned in a sewage pond not far from the university.
Their deaths inspired a wave of protests in many cities across the country calling for retribution and the removal of the Sudanese government.

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Remembering Mohamed Abdel-Salam in Medani

"We enter the university with pens and notepads, but from now on we will enter with machetes to protect ourselves."
On August 3, 1998, a law student at the University of Khartoum called Mohamed Abdelsalam, was detained by security forces after taking part in protests against the rise in accommodation and educationfees. 
The next day, Mohamed Abdelsalam's parents were told that their son died during clashes between the police and students. An autopsy, however showed that the cause of death is, "brain haemorrhage" due to repeated beatings about the head and Abdelsalam's parents, tragically, saw their son's body covered with bruises.
Abdelsalam was from Medani and I thought about him on the way to Medani last Friday after hearing news of two students who died in security custody shortly after they were detained. And his face with the classic glasses, a face I only saw in pictures, came to my mind a few times even after coming back from Medani.  
Abdelsalam and two others were detained after going to the storage room of the Student Fund and distributing mattresses, lamps and used fans that the fund was not giving to poor students who have come from all parts of Sudan to study.
He just didn't want his fellow students to sleep on the floor and not have a lamp in their rooms if they wanted to study at night.  
In Medani, fourteen years later, two students were found dead in a pond on Friday after taking part in protests and participating in a forum against the university's decision to make Darfuri students pay fees.
Students for Darfur have been exempted from fees since 2006 and in the 2011 Darfur peace agreement signed in Qatar, article 14 states that students whose families are in internally displaced person (IDPs) camps or are refugees are in turn exempted from fees 
Sadly, due to an administrative problem they have no hand in, the students could not prove they qualify, they did not have the right documents.
Two students were lying in the morgue when I reached Medani and by Sunday, four students were dead. Their colleagues accuse the security force of torturing them to death as they went missing in their custody.  
The police and the university issued a statement detailing how the students drowned in the sewage pond their bodies were found in. Their colleagues say that the pond is 1 meter deep making it impossible for them to drown.
Yesterday in a public forum, a student activist said what will forever be remembered by the attendees," We enter the university with pens and notepads, but from now on we will enter with machetes to protect ourselves."
The machetes are a clear reference to the security agents who attacked students in a university in Khartoum state a few days ago. 
Abdelsalam was not the first student to be killed by security agents for standing up for student rights and the four students killed last week will probably not be the last.

First Published:

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Citizen Journalism in Sudan Shakes Up Media

First Published:

On May 18, a Sudanese special police force attacked a village tucked away in the Nuba Mountains, a story which could have easily gone unnoticed.
Last month, citizen journalism group Nuba Reports gained access to a video documenting the brutal attack on the village of Gardud al-Badry. The footage, apparently collected on a mobile phone by officers from the central reserve police, made national and international headlines.

ُThe Nuba Mountains lie in Southern Kordofan, a border state with South Sudan. It has been the site of recurrent conflict since June 2011, after the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) complained that local elections were rigged.

Ryan Boyette
© Nuba Reports
Ryan Boyette, founder of the Nuba reports project, said he was determined to report on the human rights atrocities. He noted that many crimes went unreported, for example during the second Sudanese civil war, which raged from 1983 to 2005.

“While I was in the Nuba Mountains where I worked for the last ten years, I heard many stories of what happened here during the last war, but the media was not able to come here to report whats happening,” Boyette told The Niles.

Boyette decided to change that. He created a media team from friends and aspiring local journalists to shine a spotlight on the humanitarian situation unfolding in the Nuba Mountains. Spurred by their conviction, these reporters embark on long trips to confirm reports, witness events and talk to eyewitnesses.

They collected stories which would not otherwise make it into the international headlines. Most reporters do not venture into the Nuba Mountains due to government restrictions, an ongoing deadly conflict and the region’s challenging geography.

The authenticity of citizen reporters’ information can be difficult to prove, an issue that Boyette tackles by geographically pinning down his information. “We only report what we have witnessed ourselves and what we can confirm. We confirm pictures with GPS, every picture we take is tagged with GPS coordinates,” he explains.

And although global news organisations are aware that footage filmed on mobile phones can be staged or manipulated, appetite is growing for reports from areas which are challenging for news agencies to reach.

© Nuba ReportsThe citizen reporter’s video about the destruction of Gardud al-Badry eventually made its way to Reuters news agency and elsewhere. The footage, subtitled by Nuba Reports, was widely circulated by Sudanese social media activists.

Similarly, in an article published earlier this week, AFP used a testimony from Nuba Reports which stated that the plane shot down by the SPLM-N is probably the same plane that dropped bombs in a market in Kauda in Southern Kordofan State last week.

This new stream of information is filling gaps in Sudan’s traditional media coverage. It has arrived on the scene at a time when the national press is heavily censored and newspapers face pre-publication and post-publication controls. Reporters without Borders ranks Sudan at a lowly 170 out of 179 on its press freedom index.

Since last year, more than ten newspapers were shut down and over 20 journalists were forced to stop writing by the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS).

Najla Seed-Ahmed, a citizen journalist famed for her Youtube videos says: “I had the idea of using a camera during the Sudanese Women’s Union conference in 2009. I realised that many pressing problems in Sudan are not documented.”

Over the next few years, Najla recorded thousands of videos documenting human rights abuses, poverty, strikes and other pressing issues in Sudan, founding Sudan’s most popular Youtube channel. The channel has 651 subscribers and over 900.000 video views.

© Nuba ReportsBut her honeymoon period of online freedom came to an abrupt end. In January 2012, Seed-Ahmed’s house was raided and her cameras and laptop were confiscated. She documented this raid in a video that went viral alongside the message that she will not stop reporting.

In April, Seed-Ahmed was summoned a number of times for interrogations and in June, when protests broke out in Sudan, she was detained every day, a plan which she said was designed to “prevent her from documenting the events”.

In July, Seed-Ahmed was forced to flee Sudan with her husband and four children. A number of videos she recorded about the conflict in Southern Kordofan resulted in a criminal case brought up against her by the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) that carry the death penalty or a minimum of three years in detention.

Najla Seed-Ahmed was forced to move but she inspired others to follow in her footsteps and become citizen journalists.

“I was inspired by Najla Seed-Ahmed and while watching her videos, I wondered why others are not doing the same,” says a young engineer who created Sawt al-Sudan (Voice of Sudan), an online radio station that turned into a Youtube channel a few months ago.

Ahmed added that Syrian citizen journalists also inspire him because they put their lives at risk to show the world what is happening on their doorstep.

Usama MohamedUsing an iPhone, he filmed the anti-government protests in June and July. His Youtube channel became a hit and his footage was aired by national and international news agencies and websites.

However, Sudan’s citizen reporters run the risk of detention and repression. Usama Mohamed, who uses Twitter and Storify to document political and social issues in Sudan, was featured on The Stream, a popular program on Al-Jazeera’s English-language channel that follows Twitter for topics, interviews and debate. After the appearance, he was detained by security services.

Another active Twitter user who wished to remain anonymous told The Niles that security forces identified him during an anti-government protest: “A security officer asked me if it was me,” the protester told The Niles. “I realised that I was recognised from my Twitter profile picture.”

My friends..... sometimes rebel

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In Sudan, you don't have to be in the war zones to meet a rebel. It just so happened that the brother of a friend of a friend of mine had a friend who was friends with Mohamed Ibrahim*. 

We met in a popular cafe in Al-Fasher in North Darfur and sat on awkwardly small chairs sipping sugary tea and drinking tap water which they believe is better for your health than bottled water and talking about Sudan and its never ending problems.

Ibrahim who joined the group later began telling me about his years in the battlefields with the Sudan Liberation Movement. 

Ibrahim is soft-spoken with a charming smile and likes tucking in his shirt, but the obvious scar below his right eye looks like it is the result of a very dangerous and difficult story. 

He spent two years wandering the deserts of Darfur, it was him, his truck and his gun. At times, he was joined by an American postgraduate student. He told me his name and asked me to find him online.  "You have to find him, he was my friend," he said.  

I met Ibrahim a few months ago in North Darfur where I spending sometime just out of curiosity.
The last time I was in Darfur was in 1990 when I was a year old and my father was working there.  
This was before it became known to the world as a place of extreme war, displacement and misery. 

At that time, my father was a senior civil servant and our house along with four other houses had more allocated time for electricity than any other house in North Darfur. 

I needed a change of scene, so I took a plane to Al-Fasher. The owner of the aviation company was so shocked that I was going to Darfur he told my cousin who works there that I should get a free ticket.  
I found myself in that cafe with Ibrahim, his friends and a tall guy who coincidentally was sitting next to me on the plane and was a witness to me fainting and throwing up due to turbulence.

The friend of a friend's brother invited me to his sister's house for breakfast. There, I met his brother who returned from fighting with the rebels as his wife was due to give birth. The young man himself was preparing to go the desert. I politely declined the invitation to join the rebel fighters as a fighter. I fight with my words (or laptop) not a gun. 

But Ibrahim is now a different man. He left the rebels and decided to join the non-violent struggle for democracy. The dilemma in spending years fighting a government or a country is, you eventually forgot your cause. You begin fighting because you don't have a way out of this or because you are used to fighting.

This week, I briefly met the friend of my friend's brother in Darfur and asked him if he is back to the armed struggle. He said yes, the struggle is ongoing even if there is a political resolution. I cannot imagine him, a law student, holding a gun. 

Friday, November 23, 2012

Sudan: a state In debt, a people in debt

Published @
I have noticed that many people in Sudan from taxi-drivers to teachers know that Sudan's external debt is over $40 billion. It seems that the country's debt worries them: it is an amount they their children and grandchildren will still be paying off for years to come, an amount supposedly deducted from their health care and education expenditure. 
To be exact, Sudan's debt will reach $43.7 billion this year.
But the population has other things to worry about: their own personal debts. A few years ago, my uncle who is an English teacher was assigned to a school in Al-Rahad in Northern Kordofan state. In Al-Rahad, he didn't get paid for 6 months at a time and along with friends, they bought food items from the grocery shop and borrowed money from him promising to pay back when "things got better". 
When they received their very late salaries, or at least part of it, they were so indebted, almost all of their pay went to the owner of the grocery shop. This continued until he decided to leave Sudan and teach abroad.
Last month at a Sudanese organization I'm working at, a colleague bought skirts, jeans and tops to market them to the young fashion-crazed girls at the office.I was examining one of the skirts when I was told, "you take it now, you pay the first installment after pay-day at the beginning of the month and the rest mid-month or next month." 
This seemed like a good deal, but I'm too scared of installments. Everything has an interest rate and if you don't pay on time, as the Sudanese state and most of the population have discovered, the price goes up.
Sudan's debt is expected to go up to $45.6 billion in 2013, making 83% of its 2011 GDP.  
ُIn the 1970s, Sudan's former military dictatorship, led by Gaafer Nimeri bought buses from Brazil that came to be known in Sudan as Abu-Rejela, the money was never completely paid and it rose up to a $40 million debt  this year.
Early this month, Sudan's foreign minister said that the Brazilian parliament has banned the government or even Brazilian companies from investing in Sudan or giving us any grants because of Sudan's debt to Brazil. It’s scary, but the Brazilian debt dates back to the 1970s and this too keeps haunting Sudan.
On a monthly basis, Sudan pays $300 million in debt repayments. But the debt just keep on piling up. 
Debt in Sudanese society is a vicious cycle. Its the most normal thing for someone to tell you that they have borrowed money for rent or to pay their debt to the grocery shop. Debt becomes doubled or tripled as you borrow money to pay the money you borrowed and you become indebted once again.
The government, if it acted seriously to end conflicts and human rights violations in Sudan, could maybe get debt relief. Meanwhile, normal citizens have no choice but to try and pay back their mounting debts.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Kids Found the Oldest Industry In the World

In a poor school in Khartoum North, a teacher who is a single mother struggling to make ends meet, told me she gives two girls in third grade breakfast money. 

I was very surprised, knowing the daily struggle she faces with her low salary and low child-support money she receives, why would she even consider supporting the twin girls.

"I found out that they  go to the shop near the school everyday and the shopkeeper does whatever he wants with them for 50 cents each," she finally told me.

I was shocked, why are girls in third grade doing this and do they even understand what he is doing to their bodies?

The girls come from a poverty-stricken household and poverty is becoming more grinding in Sudan as the economy continues to deteriorate.

My family, who are middle-class, are affected by the alarming price increase, I'm sure this family is even more affected, the working class makes very little money , most families are in debt to supermarkets , work or relatives. This reminds me of a famous "joke"-a man makes 400 pounds a month at work and pays 400 pounds a month for rent. When asked what he eats. He says , he eats the rent.

Another girl, also in primary school, sells her body (unknowingly) to a banana-seller in exchange of bananas. She does that out of hunger, she comes from a poor and large family. Her mother works all day , but barely provides enough food for the large family.

A few years ago, my dad's friend told us a story. He found out that one of his acquaintances knows that his daughter engages in prostitution. When he asked him if he agrees with this, he said " I am too old to work and I know what she is doing is wrong, but she is sacrificing for her younger sisters."

Monday, November 5, 2012

Sudan: Who is Responsible

A week after Israel allegedly bombed an arms factory in Sudan, one thing is clear; there is more public anger towards the government than Israel.

First published @

At about midnight on October 23, I was sitting on my bed with my cousin deciding which movie to watch. The windows were wide open to allow some fresh air when all of a sudden, the sky turned red. It caught our attention at the same time and we rushed to the window to close it, expecting this to be a typical angry Sudanese sandstorm.  

A few minutes later, I received a text message saying "plane crashes into Al-Yarmuk arms factory". I was confused and our national television channel, Sudan TV, naturally, was airing a music show. I logged into twitter and began making phone calls to understand what had just happened.

Not far from the factory, a fellow journalist and newlywed had no more idea than I. She heard the sound of planes followed by the loudest noise she had ever heard. Her building shook, and in panic the young couple struggled to gather their important documents and flee the house. In the street, they found women wrapped in bedsheets covering their nightgowns. My friend told me people were trying to run towards the Nile, thinking it the safest refuge from whatever it was that was happening.

The cynical ones said this was our introduction to judgment day. 

Shortly after the airstrike and explosion, government officials announced on TV and radio that this was an internal explosion due to maintenance. They denied the airstrike; it was a figment of imagination on the part of thousands of people living there who insisted that they had seen and heard planes.

For years, the Sudanese government successfully rallied people around it in times of crisis, from the International Criminal Court's arrest warrant to the 2008 Darfur rebels invading Khartoum state and the recent conflict with South Sudan.

However, this time, the public felt disconnected from the government's convoluted relations with other countries, and frustrated about the unnecessary loss of life and property damage. Although Israel has yet to confirm or deny this particular airstrike, since 2009, Israel has bombed Eastern Sudan for alleged arms smuggling to Gaza. 

Emerging details remain confusing; we were told that the airstrikes were because the factory made weapons for Iran. The government, naturally, denied those allegations, and instead what happened was that they prohibited newspapers from writing about this issue. In fact, two years earlier, they temporarily suspended a newspaper for writing about a Khartoum-based factory that made weapons for Iran. So much for treating Sudanese people like adults.

So it was a sad Eid this year in Khartoum. A few days before the airstrike, sewage water exploded in Khartoum North, flooding houses. Just days later, it was the turn of people in Southern Khartoum who had a few sleepless nights when houses collapsed due to the airstrikes and subsequent explosion. Fires burst out again twice after the explosion, spreading fear and anger towards a government that had failed to take responsibility for what had happened.

Commenting on the ongoing fire at the factory, the spokesperson of the Sudanese army said that the firemen couldn't reach some trees the first time. Nobody really believes anything they are told.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Escaping military service and kidnap, one Eritrean woman’s Ordeal in Sudan

Cross-posted @ -

When Fatima (not real name) escaped Sawa, a military camp in Eritrea, she had already been there for two long years doing the compulsory military training that is supposed to end after 18 months.
For many young Eritreans, the service never quite ends. 

The months become years and many youth, men and women, find themselves stuck in the military service for over a decade.

Fatima and five of her friends escaped one night from the camp without any sense of direction. They walked for three days until they reached the border with Sudan, digging up mud to drink water and having nothing to eat.

There, they found themselves face-to-face with Sudanese soldiers who detained them for two days. The rest escaped except Fatima. She was left behind and remains in Sudan, ten years later.

Fatima was then taken to a military outpost and not long after, late at night, she was rapped by one of the soldiers.

I met Fatima through a friend who found out about her story through another Eritrean in Khartoum.

 I didn’t even hesitate for a minute when I read my friend’s email and agreed to meet her the next day. 

My friend thought her story was worth telling, I felt humbled by the opportunity to tell her story.
I opened the door to find an Eritrean man David (not real name) who is probably in his 50s. And inside there was Fatima.

 Although I’ve read a guideline to interviewing victims of violence online at the Dart Center’s website, all of a sudden, I didn’t feel like I could do this. How could I remain composed through all of this? This was a huge challenge, but I felt a responsibility to tell this story and look for other women who have suffered a similar ordeal.

First, I chatted with Fatima and David about Sudan. In fact we talked about if they liked tea sugary or not too sweet. The conversation flowed smoothly and Fatima began telling her story and answering my questions without hesitation.

As Fatima spoke, her thin body drowned in her Sudanese toub (a cloth worn by Sudanese women) and her face testified to years of suffering endured.

 At 24, Fatima entered Sudan in 2000 and until now, in her 34th year she’s still stuck in Sudan.

At the military outpost, after her brutal rape, the soldier took Fatima to live with him in his tent.

“I later became very sick and I found out that I was pregnant,” said Fatima. She said she tried to escape at least three times, but was always caught and returned to the soldier, a man she had two children with.
After she had her first child, she says she halfheartedly accepted her reality and realized it is very difficult to escape. She stayed there, raising her two children with a man who verbally abused her and sometimes, beat her.

Their house was a tent inside the military camp with no access to electricity or the basics. She cooked with coal or wood and never left the tent.

“He worried that I would get to know people if I left the tent, so I never left, I never went to the market, I know I was in Kassala, but never saw it,” said Fatima.

For 10 years, Fatima was forcibly living with a Sudanese soldier. As time passed by, she learned Arabic, a language she did not speak a word of when she came from her homeland.

“When I was alone, I cried until my eyesight was almost gone,” said Fatima who was holding her glasses.

Two years ago, the father of her children stopped coming to see them for a long time. He didn’t come home everyday but this time he didn’t come for over a year and a half.

Three months ago, one of soldier’s friends told Fatima that the soldier fell sick and was now in Khartoum. A few days later, she was told he passed away.

“After all what he did to me, I was sad, he was the father of my children after all,” said Fatima. She could no longer stay captive but Fatima had known nothing much about Khartoum in the ten years.

She was told by the soldier’s friend to pack up and move. In the morning, Fatima was brought to Khartoum with her two sons. She was abandoned in Al-Daim, a neighborhood in Khartoum South that is known for its large communities of Eritreans and Ethiopians. She had no money, no contacts and for someone who has not interacted with people outside the military camp for years, it was an utter shock.
Fatima asked people in the street about the nearest house of an Eritrean and she was led to the house of Zeinab (not real name), who came to Sudan two years ago.

Fatima now cleans houses to make ends meet and her children attend school; she still lives with Zeinab who is now a close friend.

Her children don’t know what really happened to their mother. She protects them from all this hoping their lives will be better than what she has seen so far. But her life in Sudan remains uncertain as none of them have documents to prove their Sudanese nationality.
Fatima still keeps her Eritrean ID but an Eritrean activist in Khartoum told me that the children can only get an Eritrean ID when they turn 18.

Besides Fatima is not keen on returning with her children to Eritrea. Among others she fears her family would never accept her and her children. She also worries her boys could one day be forced into the obligatory military service yet her life in Sudan has only been of unspeakable brutality.
“I want to go somewhere else and raise my children there,” she said then asked me, with tears in her eyes, whether I think she has a chance to be resettled to a third country.

No one knows the exact number of Eritreans in Sudan, but there are thousands in the refugee camp in Al-Shagrab refugee camp in East Sudan. Since 2010, I’ve heard horror stories about how refugees are kidnapped and their kidneys are forcibly taken from them. In Khartoum, their suffering continues, they are subjected to ill-treatment and humiliation at the hands of the police who extort them after threats of deportation Eritrea, another brutal dictatorship.

Fatima’s story is one of many untold stories.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Sudanese women become their own bosses despite downturn

KHARTOUM - With few career options, Sudanese women are increasingly building up their own businesses from scratch -- earning themselves financial benefits and freedom.

published @

Mahasin Ali and her sister run an outdoor cafe in the Sudanese city of Omdurman in Khartoum state. It is a makeshift affair, a few plastic chairs circling Ali who sits on a low stool, preparing tea, coffee and pastries for her customers.

Locally, the two sisters are called “tea ladies” and they have become a familiar sight on local streets over the last few years, catering for businessmen to young people to students.

Ali mixes tea with spices such as ginger and cinnamon and sells it for two pounds (US$0.40), a better deal than in other cafes where plain tea is sold for at least eight pounds (US$1.60).
Before opening for business in the morning, Ali works as a cleaner at the University of Khartoum where she makes roughly US$100 after benefits and the recent increase. Her husband died years ago, leaving her with four daughters.

“My salary isn’t enough, I give the money I make by selling tea and coffee to my daughters who go to university and use it for our daily expenses,” says Mahasin who works from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day.

And Ali’s story is not an unusual one: There are no exact figures available, but the streets of Khartoum buzz with new businesses run by women, from cupcake stores to nail spas to women selling home-made ice-cream on street corners.

Sudanese women have come a long way since the rise of the women’s movement in the 40s and 50s. In 1964, the year Sudan revolted against a military dictatorship, women gained the right to vote and, a few years later, the right to equal pay.

The trend gained momentum in recent decades. In the 1990s, official statistics show women’s employment rose although the economy was not creating new jobs. But the women’s journey into the workplace has been far from easy. As late as 2000, the Sudan’s constitutional court ruled against a decree banning women from working in public spaces such as gas stations and restaurants.

This move sent a message about women’s central role in the Sudanese economy and the 2000s witnessed an increase in women’s profile in both the formal and informal workforce.

However, in the traditional workforce, women remain hindered by low wages and the struggle to find a job reflecting their interests and qualifications. A population council research paper estimates that Sudanese women represent 47 percent of the workforce in the public sector, but they mostly work in lower and middle-level managerial jobs.

Instead, many women are trying out their chances in the informal economy, which offers them flexible working hours as well as an opportunity to try out their creative new business ideas. Often their customers are women, especially educated or working women.
For example, Rimaz Hashim, a civil engineering student at Sudan University, began an online wedding planning business with a friend in 2009. “I started my business on Facebook because its free and I can reach many people,” said Hashim whose Facebook page, Wedding Planners Sudan, attracted thousands of members and is full of pictures from weddings she organised.

3,000 exit visas are issued on a daily basis for youth leaving Sudan for jobs.

The role of Sudanese women is getting more important as men emigrate. As of 2010, tens of thousands of young men left Sudan looking for better opportunities abroad, boosting the chances of women in business. Last month, the head of the Sudanese expatriates service revealed to the media that 3,000 exit visas are issued on a daily basis for youth leaving Sudan for jobs: The overwhelming majority are young men.

Middle-class men, in particular, have suffered during Sudan’s economic decline which began before South Sudan’s referendum in early 2011.

“I have no responsibilities as I am unmarried, I have a car , a good job , but I still consider leaving the country, it is a dead-end here,” says a young telecommunications professional who did not want to be identified.

Fatima Salah, who owns a furniture and art gallery in Khartoum, notes this demographic shift. “There is a change in society: middle-class people, especially men, cannot move forward in their career, they are not making good money, so they leave Sudan.”
“I have always wanted to do interior design. In Sudan, people watch television and see how homes abroad look. They want this quality,” explains Salah who owns a gallery where she sells furniture, home accessories and also showcases the work of famous and up-and-coming Sudanese artists.

Salah said women do not face more prejudices in work than men -- but she has the universal issue of juggling her work with caring for her little boy. However, she added that Sudanese society frowns upon independent women, who men view as too intimidating to marry.

This prevalent opinion weighs on career-minded women. This view sometimes restricts women from going forward with their careers. For example, when Shaima Essam Al-Deen, a 25 year-old event organiser who is interested in getting an MBA and starting her own business, told her close friend she wanted to complete a master’s programme, her friend retorted that “master’s degrees are for spinsters”.

Amel Habbani, a women’s rights activist and journalist told The Niles that when women progress academically, financially and professionally, it becomes hard to find a compatible marriage.

“Many successful women get proposals from men who are not at the same level and are instead looking to improve their personal situation,” Habbani notes.

In South Khartoum, Yasmeen Mohamed opened Flawless Spa, a newly established beauty centre in Khartoum. In an interview with the Niles, Yasmeen explains that “I target all kinds of women especially working women who want the same spa experience they would get outside Sudan”.

Mohamed added that she is encouraging women to start their own businesses by advising young women who come to her asking her to train them. She has also trained a friend who started her own beauty business in another Sudanese city.

“The economic problems are affecting my business, but I’m giving a lot of discounts to continue attracting customers,” says Mohamed.

Secret reading in Khartoum

My first column published @

In Sudan, the state security apparatus has adopted a new habit: confiscating and banning books. Authors and rights activists are rightly outraged, but this is helping the growth of a new reading culture in Khartoum.

When Fathi Al-Daw, a Sudanese journalist and writer published a book about the state security apparatus and how it has operated over the past few years, the security apparatus quickly confiscated copies of the book from bookstores in Khartoum, turning it into a much-sought after book, with a badly photocopied version selling at $10.  

After Al-Daw's book, travelers who arrived in Khartoum with books found themselves put through a much more rigorous airport security. Many reported confiscations of books, especially travellers coming from Cairo, where a large number of Sudanese authors are published. 

A few weeks ago, a doctor returning from Cairo was stopped at the airport and a very early work of politics by Al-Daw was confiscated from the luggage of a university professor who refused to leave the airport until the confiscated books were returned to him. He organized a sit-in and encouraged his students to join him, which they did. The security apparatus feared that the students would turn the sit-in into a highly organised protest.  

Abd Al-Aziz Baraka Sakin, a well-known Sudanese novelist, caused ructions last week when his books were three days late arriving at Khartoum's book fair. Sakin threatened to begin a hunger strike before the books were brought over from Cairo to the book fair.

His books only lasted a few hours at the book fair before the security officers confiscated all copies saying that they had to read them before they could go into circulation. Then, they said, they would return them. 

In total 15 books were confiscated from the book fair, causing many young readers and intellectuals to boycott visiting the book fair.

In a matter of minutes, the social media broke the news of these latest confiscations and a whole crowd of youngsters started asking where they could get their hands on the confiscated books as an act of defiance against a surveillance state where freedoms and civil liberties and now creativity are shackled.  
Trading secret books is somewhat similar to organizing a protest in Sudan. Code words are used, the planning takes places only through trusted sources, and personal security becomes important. 

A young woman keeps Sakin's books, which are now officially banned, in boxes in the back of her car. She tells me that the "marijuana", is selling fast. 

In Sudan, they used to say that Cairo writes, Beirut prints and Khartoum reads, but in recent years, the reading circle has shrunk to politicians and the creative community. Now with the growth of a politically-aware younger generation, the ongoing censorship campaign is endowing books with their long-lost status all over again. 

On social media, the blogs of writers were tweeted, retweeted and shared and novels written by Sakin and other banned authors have been circulated as pdf files by one of the largest Sudanese online lists.  
Meanwhile, its not too bad that security officers will get the chance to read the banned books. Who knows – they might find their personal stories between those covers which Sakin dedicates to "a class with slaughtered hopes and dreams". 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

How Hundreds of Journalists Became Unemployed

Exactly a week ago, 100 employees who used to work for Al-Tayar newspaper became unemployed.

Al-Tayar, one of the best-selling newspapers in Sudan, was suspended by the security apparatus in June.

"Until now, we were told the decision came from top officials ," said Mahjoub Osman, the head of the news department of al-Tayar to me.

For four months, the newspaper paid the salaries of its employees hoping that it will resume publication again since Al-Tayar was confiscated and suspended from one day to a few weeks in the past year alone. Last month, the newspaper stated that the closure has cost the newspaper over $100,000 and it was no longer able to sustain the expenses.

In July, Al-Ahdath, another independent daily was forced to shut down because of Sudan’s bleak economic situation, forcing dozens of reporters out of work.

Hamza Baloul who worked for Al-Ahdath said that at least 40 journalists and staff are now unemployed and less than five have found jobs.

The Sudanese Journalist's network estimates that at least 200 journalists are now out of work and after taking into account the recent closures, a founding member tells me that the number could go up to 400.

This year, the security apparatus has confiscated a number of issues from independent newspapers such as Al-Jareeda and Al-Sahafa causing great financial losses. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

نمشي وين بالظبت؟: موقف مع ناس النظام العام

في عام ٢٠١٠، لمن انتقلت اسرتي الى السودان نهائى  ، عودة طوعية يعني ، حصلت لي حاجة في اول اسبوع لي في السودان  اثرت علي شخصياً و خلتني متطرفة ضد النظام العام بشدة  لحدي ما بعد سنتين ….. فتحوا فيني  بلاغ ظريف كدا علي خلفية مقال كتبته عن  الشهيدة عوضية عجبنا.....
الموضوع و ما فيه انو مشيت حديقة مع صديق  و بنات خالاتيالفكرة كانت انو نفسح اولاد بت خالتي. قبلي ما نطلع…. اتصلته بي صحبي عشان يجي و نتونس هناك. 
اتجهنا على واحدة من الالعاب و انا و صديقي قعدنا في كنبة خشب كدا نتونس على بال ما يخلصوا اللعبة. 
بنتونس و مبسوطين و الجو جميل و كل شيء……فجاة ظهر لينا واحد كدا من ناس النظام العام او امن المجتمع و قال: ممنوع ولد و بنت يقعدوا براهم هنا. 
قلنا ليهو: نحنا منتظرين ناس  و ما جينا برانا….
الاخ طبعاً ما اتفاهم و رفض انو يسمعنا.
الموضوع بقى جادي و قال لينا قوموا يلا معاي
قبلي ما نقوم، في راجل كبير قاعد مع اطفال في الكنبة الجمبنا قال لي الزول دا : الاتنين ديل قاعدين بتونسوا ساي ما عملوا شيء.
وانا في راسي بفكر انو مفروض الناس ديل، النظام العام او غيرهم، يشجعوا الناس يقعدوا في حتة عامة! و لا كيف؟!؟
صحبي طبعاً كان داير ينفعل معاهم و كدا لكن انا كنته ليسه جديدة في البلد و ما دايرة ادخل في حاجة ما مستعدة ليها     و رضيت  بالطلب بتاعوا: انو نطلع برا
فعلاً ،  طلعنا برة  و مشينا محل شربنا شاي و انتظرته بنات خالاتي و رجعنا البيت سوا…
بعد داك و لفترة طويلة اتعقدته من المرقه مع صديق او زميل….

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Story of Heba

Based on a true story, names were changed...

At the tender age of 12, Heba changed many people around her, except her murderers.

Heba had no idea what awaited her at home when her older brother caught her holding hands with a boy.

The boy, an innocent crush, was her classmate and the pre-teen flirtations were viewed as a crime by her brother.

Her brother was so angry at the scene, he quickly grabbed her by the arm and took her home, but this was just the beginning of the story.

A few days later, her angry father went to her school to tell the principal why his daughter has been absent for days. 

"My daughter is a whore and she is being kept home and punished," he told the principal as he recounted the story.

Everything changed at Heba'a school. The young boys and girls were seperated, the classroom was no longer mixed as the school attempted to prevent such "problems" from taking place. This could, after all, tarnish the school's reputation.

Heba's friends were crying, they missed her, but little did they know that their friend was being punished severely. She was tied to her bed in a room she was not allowed to leave. Her food was brought to her. Her brothers and father took turns beating and physically and psychologically abusing the child.

Her mother wanted all of this to stop, but she could not find a voice to protest. She could not say any word to spare her daughter from this torture.

One day, Heba's bestfriend, Mias, insisted to visit. Her mother accompanied her to Heba's house. 

Heba's mother told them that she is being beaten, in an innocent gesture, she agreed to let Mias's mother see her.

Mias's mother was glad her daughter did not come upstairs with her. The scene was horrific. She saw poor Heba tied to a bed. She was helpless, a girl who could possibly be killed was in front of her.

A few days later, Heba managed to escape from her house. She went to hide in her friend's house. Mias's mother was worried about the consequences of this, she convinced Heba to go back to her house and ask for permission to visit Mias.

Mias never saw Heba again. When she returned home, her brothers and father beat her to death. Her mother was pleading for them to stop, but they could not. She was bringing shame to her family....

The police showed up to Mias's house. Her poor mother was accused by Heba's family of beating her to death. They had a solid case, in their mind that is, Heba visited Mias shortly before she succumbed to her death.

In the end, noone was charged. Heba didn't live to see her teens, Mias was traumatized for a long time, crying for her friend.

There was a silence at the funeral..... Heba's mother lost her mind, literally. She looked at her own sons and husband with blank eyes. She hated her eldest son the most, she remembered how she begged him to stop before it was too late...

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Story of Sawsan

At the height of the conflict in Higleig, the NISS summoned Sawsan Atora, a mother who was previously affiliated with the SPLM.

Atora went to the questioning and was told that she needs to leave to the South. Although she hails from South Sudan, Atora is married to a North Sudanese and resides in Khartoum.

Atora was given a week to leave "Sudan".

Even before the week was up, she was arrested by NISS and transferred to the Omdurman Women's Prison.

She had no idea where she was. A mother of six children, she spent her days worrying about her children. One of them left school to get a job as she was the main bread-winner. 

When the rainy season came, Atora worried that their roof would not survive the rain and it would collapse on her children.

She was kept at the prison since April until NISS forgot about her, in fact Atora became an unknown detainee. No one wrote or tweeted about her during her detention, in fact I only found out about her after they began releasing some detainees. 

Atora became lucky when the cells became full and she had to share the cell with a few other detainees.

A detainee released a few days ago said that when she was called for interrogation, Atora told her that she would like to meet an officer.

For over 3 months, not a single officer came to her cell, she has not faced a single interrogation.

When the former detainee told the officer that Atora wants to see him. He said "she is still here?"

She was forgotten even by NISS.

Atora was released a few days ago with eye problems. 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Random Arrests

So I have not written a blogpost in a very long time. In fact, I've not written anything in a long time. This is long over-due, but at least I am writing it now!

Since Sudan began revolting in mid-June, hundreds have been detained. Many remain in detention , mostly men since most female detainees were released in the last few days. Since its easier to highlight the arrest of politicians or activists, many names were left off lists of detainees, in particular, the random people arrested.

The random people arrested were arrested just because they were at the wrong place at the wrong time. Let me give you a few examples.

-A good friend of mine was getting arrested by two NISS officers when the owner of the grocery shop he happened to be  standing in front interfered. The kind man told them that this young man was doing nothing wrong and why are they arresting him anyways? He was arrested with my friend and released a few hours ago. At the same time, some kids playing football were curiously observing the arrest only to get arrested along with the guy.

One man arrested randomly , an electrician who was fixing something at the house of one of the detainees when the NISS raided her house, was given a hard time. He kept telling the NISS that he was an electrician to no avail, they kept telling him that he "thinks he is smart for being in disguise" and accusing him of "pretending to be someone he is not". The poor electrician fainted in detention from all the stress after saying that he has not eaten anything the whole day. 

-When Mawahib Majzoub and her husband were arrested after NISS raided their house, they happened to have guests at the time. Yes, the guests who do not even live in Khartoum were arrested with them and released the next day. 

-When Girifna activist, Rudwan Dawood, was arrested in early July, his brother and father were arrested along with him. His brother's mental condition exacerbated due to the detention conditions and torture, this did not stop NISS from including him and the father, Yacoub Dawood, in the court case against the activist.

-For the NISS, Seraj Omar represents a challenge. Tall, skinny, smart and equipped with excellent security skills ( as a result of being affiliated with the communist party), Seraj has vanished into thin air. The NISS raided his house a few weeks ago, he managed to escape, but this didn't stop them from arresting his brother and two uncles. The uncles were released, but his brother, a  non-politically activist youth remains in detention to pressure Seraj to hand himself in.

There are many other cases of haphazard arrests, I just wanted to highlight a few. Freedom to all detainees and freedom to Sudan from the NCP rule

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A Story of the Lives Affected When One Country Became Two

published @

On 9 July 2011, when South Sudan became an independent country, Rose Michael, a South Sudanese woman who had lived most of her life in Khartoum, decided to stay in the city where she had a great job and owned a house. But in April 2012, Rose had to leave for Juba after her employer let her go. She planned to return to Khartoum. But then she lost her Sudanese passport and now she can't return because the war has escalated and flights are cancelled.

When the Sudans separated, Anas Zanga was stuck in the middle. With a Sudanese mother and a South Sudanese father this young man has a split identity. He struggled to get Sudanese citizenship and as a result couldn't find a job. When I met him last March, he told me that his wife is six months pregnant and he was worried the child would be stateless like him.

Nanjoor is also caught up in a war not of her making. She is from Abyei, an area contested by the two sides. In her makeshift tent in a camp for returnees to the South she makes mint tea and tells me her story. Her husband is from South Sudan and lives in Juba, but she has a life in Khartoum and does not want to go to the South. Clad in a toub, the Sudanese national costume, Nanjoor looks like any woman you see in a market or public bus, but that's not an identity available to her now.

Mohamed Saeed is from the Nuba Mountains and works as a driver for an international NGO in Khartoum. Over the past year, he has hosted seventy internally displaced persons from Nuba. Jalila Khamis, an activist from the region, had taken in twenty-one internally displaced persons, who had all walked for days to reach the safety of her Khartoum house.

She was arrested in March 2012.

I chose peace between Sudan and South Sudan when I read about the 1987 Ed-Da'in massacre where 1,500 were brutally murdered. I choose peace in the Nuba Mountains because I don't want to see families living in caves; I want Nubas to live in dignified conditions. And because I choose peace, I choose to revolt. I choose to join thousands of protestors demanding change in Sudan because only regime-change will bring peace to Sudan.

I choose peace because last year, my friend, Rashaida Shams Al-Deen was tried for participating in an anti-war protest for Southern Kordofan and she has now been detained for two weeks for choosing to protest for peace. I choose peace because Mosaab, a nine-year-old kid who cleans cars on Nile Street walked from Blue Nile to Khartoum on his own. He does not even know where his family is. I choose peace because I choose humane life.

Names have been changed for security reasons #ChoosePeace

Social media attracts youth to #SudanRevolts

With the start of #SudanRevolts, a hashtag that helps aggregate information on the mass protests spreading across Sudan to topple the regime, many newcomers to twitter have emerged. Over the last one week, Mansoor El-Tayeb, a computer scientist working with children in-need is live-tweeting from Wab-Nobawi, the site of one of the largest protests for two Fridays in a row. El-Tayeb has tweeted on the heavy security presence and marked down their specific location.

“There are many security trucks and tok-toks without plates,” he tweeted.

Another tweep, Zeinab Elrayah, has become very active in encouraging protestors and updating on the situation at the University of Khartoum.

Today she tweeted” our parents are worried about us from arrests and torture, what do they call what we are in? It is the same thing, if not worse.”

Others like Yousif Al-Mahdi, an active tweep, stared a blog to share his thoughts. Two days ago, he wrote down a blog-post called “security tips for #Sudanrevolts” and circulated it widely. The post discusses basic security tips such as not using phone for internet and social media security.
He also divulges into a sensitive topic, arrest.

“You’ll be surprised how little NISS know. Most of the information they have is fabricated or incomplete; provided by informants under pressure to deliver their weekly quotas,” he writes and assures people that if they are not outed as activists to the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS), they should not mention their affiliations and even if they are known, they should not give information.

Another new blogger, Sara Al-Hassan who started blogging at , translated the story of an 11-year-old who arrested by mistake and kept for three days in detention from a Sudanese online forum.

For the past few weeks, Al-Hassan has tweeted and blogged pictures of people from all around the world showing their support for #SudanRevolts. The pictures came in from Ireland, Bolivia, France and many more countries.

Even if youth in different countries sympathize with #SudanRevolts and support with this movement for change, the international media doesn’t feel the same way.

For instant New York Times carried an article called “Dissent Sprouts in Sudan , but it may not be Arab Spring”.
In the article, he quotes a Sudanese protestor who said that he is marching because “we lack freedoms” , but added a quote from John O. Voll , a Sudan specialist at Georgetown University stating that “ unlike protesters in Egypt, Libya or Bahrain, the Sudanese have not been able to occupy anything, not even a single public square.”

Sudanese tweeps and protestors are exuding a lot of optimism about this being the beginning of the end. From the beginning, the hashtag picked was “Sudan Revolts” and in Arabic, the hashtag uses the word “intifada” which translates into revolution in Arabic. All this enthusiasm is not reflected in the media leading protestors to show outrage at international channels like Al-Jazeera, a news channel that was instrumental in covering the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions.

@SuperMojok tweeted from a protest in Wad-Nobawi in Omdurman that there are
“Signs shown against aljazeera tv coverage #SudanRevolts”

Another Sudanese tweep, Cordoned Sudan tweeted that it is just a matter of time.
People are writing of #SudanRevolts just as little as they were during Tunisia’s initial weeks of uprising. It’s coming.”