Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Green Bucket and Me

My life has been full of buckets lately , I've grown accustomed to the agonizing process of living in a house where water coming out of the tap is rare; and a lot of energy is invested, time is wasted on waiting for water (for some odd reason, it only gushes out of the tap in our upstairs kitchen or from the "Wudu" tap in the front yard) and filing all the buckets available. I am now very fond of my large green bucket and make time to make sure it is full of water all the time, even though I hate the process of waiting for it to fill-up and having to carry it upstairs. We've been suffering from electricity cuts at work and it was almost the usual in Ramadan. Working while fasting is already difficult, but trying to work in the heat without the luxury of having water to quench your thirst is nothing short of a test. 

As I sit in my relatively luxurious office, one of the women who stopped by our office for an appointment said that their electricity comes on at 6 p.m. before it cuts again at 2 a.m. She lives in one of the humble neighborhoods in the South of Khartoum and during times where electricity has become rationed, it seems that the authorities think that the poorer you are, the more capable you are of handling power cuts. Or maybe they thought that if you live in the marginalized areas around Khartoum, you don't deserve the electricity that the government gave you out of benevolence ……to vote for them in the national elections. 

Looking at the people around me, it seems that we got the better deal. We live next to many key government buildings and this somehow makes us lucky. The last time my mother went to buy no electricity credit, the lady working there told her almost matter-of-factly, "right now 80% of Omdurman has no power." Nonetheless, there is a damned tree in Al-Arda street which seems to be making our life difficult; every time one of its branches collapses, we suffer from a day-long power cut as the electricity office tries to figure out the problem before they finally remember the tree and decide that it is the main reason. I would never demand for the tree to be cut, plants are our lifeline, but why are the electricity wires and cables so intertwined with the tree and its branches? 

As I am spending a good proportion of my evening filling and transporting water buckets and worrying that two buckets might not be enough for washing the evening dishes, I see pictures of protests in different neighborhoods around Khartoum condemning the water and electricity cuts. I have to admit, the protestors are creative, they close the streets with empty water buckets, Azyar and bags of trash that have been left uncollected for weeks. Then, I sat down one day and thought about it in all possible ways…

1) It is good that neighborhoods are mobilizing and taking matters into their own hands.
2) The protests were led by women and men who are ordinary citizens and were not orchestrated by political actors or activists. It means that many ordinary mostly apolitical citizens will gain a lot of awareness and knowledge on how to manage resistance and use peaceful ways to protest with clear demands. 
3) It is easier to get people to protest around issues that are central to their lives and they feel it on a daily basis as opposed to….war in Blue Nile?
4) People are holding the government accountable for not providing even when they are paying for the austerity measures implemented by the NCP  and are paying so many taxes. It is almost that we as a people are subsiding the government to not provide services.

Then, I became very uncomfortable with this line of thought. Why are we advocating for such protests if the demands are so…basic and are tied to a specific demand that the government can provide i.e. bring back the electricity or water.  

So how effective are such protests, anyways? 

I came to think that the issue is not whether they are effective or not , it is that the protests need to be tied to the main issue which is the fact that the government of Sudan is failing to provide basic services to a significant percentage of its citizens and is failing to sustain the services that it is supposed to provide to citizens in the urban centers or those living in areas that are not frowned upon by the government. 

As an avid reader of newspapers due to my profession, I've almost chronicled all the articles about the mismanagement of the state since 2011. The newspaper articles are usually in the form of documents leaked about corruption charges: the money swindled from Khartoum State by the former governor, the corruption of the former Defense Minister when he was the Interior minister, the unknown pipeline that was discovered by the government of South Sudan, the fact that an official in the ministry of justice bought and sold half of the land in Khartoum state, the bogus companies that are so good at getting tenders from the government etc.

Munzoul Asaal of the University of Khartoum estimates that at least 120,000 civil servants were sacked to the public good in the 1990s as the government aimed to replace the entire civil service with individuals who are Islamists, loyal and non-threatening regardless of their qualifications. This created a state that is not only loyal to the party that grew out of Al-Inqaz in the1990s, the national congress party, but one that is so mis-managed, it only makes sense to the NCP affiliates and no-one else.

For a long time, I've thought that the Sudanese state functions haphazardly due to the work of very few employees or based on the bribes that are given, but I've came to realize that maybe there is a system and the NCP has created a system that does not make sense to outsiders to continue in power and exclude those who are not affiliated with it.

But the system broke …it has been breaking for years, but due to the recent excessive lack of money in the country, it stopped working. I am hypothesizing that this is due to several reasons:

-The country was heavily oil-dependent, it neglected all other natural resources and now there is no production because there is no functioning industry and no money coming into the country.
-The corruption became too much, rumors have it that the NCP actually told its cadres to "yes, you can steal, but leave some money to run the country". But then again, the swindling of public funds continues and with the decrease in funds, there is less likelihood for excess money to be pumped into the state affairs.
-Again lack of funds means that things can't be fixed and the infrastructure that is already challenged can not be maintained. 
-The NCP is divided, the club that did not want Bashir to run or for Sudan to hold elections in the first place are unhappy and not doing the roles they traditionally carried out to hold the fragile state together, the old guard were so competent in the system that is in place and they made it work for them. Now the old guard is gone, the likes of Nafie, Ali Osman, Osama Abdullah, Al-Jaz etc.
-The multiple "hot summers" did not salvage the situation in the two areas, Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, and even if the conflict in Darfur is marked with low intensity fighting, the militias in Darfur are used to large amounts of money and they need to be paid to stay in order.

Now, the government is set to increase the price of water and electricity to the dismay of citizens who are already struggling to make ends meet as they are heavily taxed because the money extorted from Sudanese people became one of the main sources of income to the state..government. Some believe that the heavy water and electricity cuts were for this reason- to exhaust and terrify people into submitting to the new increases because life is already difficult…power cuts are bad for business…water cuts are expensive for households as they have to pay large amounts of money for a bucket of water. Just submit already!

That is not the issue in question, the increase is merely another attempt by the government to raise more funds not to provide services, but to literally keep the party in power. Bashir and his party are fighting against odds, they are used to taking a piece from public funds and can not be weaned from this regardless of the fact that funds are continuing to decrease, warlords need to be paid and wars need to be fought on the pretense of stopping the armed movements from taking power. 

Because staying in power is costly, the infrastructure will continue deteriorating and cuts will continue. 

Back to the protests….asking for basic services and protesting for your demands is noble and in line with the constitution that we earned as a result of thousands of deaths during the civil war. However, if we don't situate our demands within the large context of the mismanagement of the country, we will achieve gains that will last for hours and we will continue doing what the government wants us to do. Exhaust all of our energy and waste our human potential protesting for days and weeks in a row for services that we pay for, but don't get.

This physical and mental exhaustion thet goes into staying up waiting for water to trickle down the tap and for the bucket to fill makes you so busy and overwhelmed, you can't see past your simple demand.

But we can't give them what they want!