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Sudan

A return to war?

The vast, green grasslands stretch across the impossibly flat plains, a few hazy trees pockmarking the stretched horizon. Every now and then, a small pocket of tokuls, the traditional Sudanese mud and thatched huts, pop-up alongside the dirt road that leads to Pariang, at the heart of ...

South Sudan - Losing Power

South Sudan - Losing Power 

 The frequent buzz of the motorcycle taxis— boda-bodas —of Juba have diminished somewhat since I returned to the South Sudanese capital. The thumping of the generators that power the city are also somewhat more discrete. 

 For South Sudan is suffering from an acute fuel shortage, caused by the block—I want to say “-ade”, but that engenders an act of war—so we’ll say “-age” of trade routes between the north and south. Despite South Sudan’s impending independence, she still relies on the north for much of her supplies. And despite producing the majority of Sudan’s oil, the South relies on the north for its refinement, and therefore, domestic fuel supply. The conflict in South Kordofan and Abyei are, by no means, helping the situation. 

 Other routes are open, with neighbouring Kenya and Uganda, but a regional fuel crisis, partly as a result of the  conflict in Libya , means that South Sudan’s problems are exacerbated by being at the end of that chain. 

 The “city power” is virtually non-existent much of the time. It’s source? Large diesel generators near the Nile. And establishments here are worried about their stock of diesel to keep their  jennies  running. 

 Getting around is a lot more expensive: petrol, the rarest of fuel-stuffs right now, is going for $10 a litre on the black-market. Many people, and in some cases, organisations, are having to ration their driving. Local watering holes are becoming more and more frequented compared to their farther flung competitors. 

 But the effect is rather more dramatic on those who have not the capacity to deal with commodity-price increases. Almost all of the products in local markets are imported; South Sudan’s agricultural sector is far from developed. And so with many good coming from neighbouring Uganda, any fuel-price increases mean an increase in food prices. An increase few southern Sudanese can afford.

South Sudan - Losing Power

The frequent buzz of the motorcycle taxis—boda-bodas—of Juba have diminished somewhat since I returned to the South Sudanese capital. The thumping of the generators that power the city are also somewhat more discrete.

For South Sudan is suffering from an acute fuel shortage, caused by the block—I want to say “-ade”, but that engenders an act of war—so we’ll say “-age” of trade routes between the north and south. Despite South Sudan’s impending independence, she still relies on the north for much of her supplies. And despite producing the majority of Sudan’s oil, the South relies on the north for its refinement, and therefore, domestic fuel supply. The conflict in South Kordofan and Abyei are, by no means, helping the situation.

Other routes are open, with neighbouring Kenya and Uganda, but a regional fuel crisis, partly as a result of the conflict in Libya, means that South Sudan’s problems are exacerbated by being at the end of that chain.

The “city power” is virtually non-existent much of the time. It’s source? Large diesel generators near the Nile. And establishments here are worried about their stock of diesel to keep their jennies running.

Getting around is a lot more expensive: petrol, the rarest of fuel-stuffs right now, is going for $10 a litre on the black-market. Many people, and in some cases, organisations, are having to ration their driving. Local watering holes are becoming more and more frequented compared to their farther flung competitors.

But the effect is rather more dramatic on those who have not the capacity to deal with commodity-price increases. Almost all of the products in local markets are imported; South Sudan’s agricultural sector is far from developed. And so with many good coming from neighbouring Uganda, any fuel-price increases mean an increase in food prices. An increase few southern Sudanese can afford.

Libya: A Precursor

Libya: A Precursor 

 I didn’t know it yet, but this would be my first taste of the Libyan revolution. 

 With such sensitivities around protests in Sudan, it was with a healthy dose of trepidation that I drove over to the Libyan embassy in Riyadh, Khartoum’s rich, eastern district. I had got word that some people would be demonstrating about the events unfolding in Libya, and was curious to see what would happen. 

 Arriving at the embassy, there was no-one but a few heavy-looking security officials at the door. This was not a good sign, and being a  khawaja  with a camera, one tends to stand out a lot in Khartoum at the best of times. 

 After more driving around, wondering if I would catch sight of a group marching Libyans, I returned to the embassy as a handful of Egyptians arrived, print-outs of slogans in Arabic taped to their chests. It was Egyptian tricolours that they held, not the green of Qaddafi’s flag. 

 Photographing them as they stood on the pavement opposite the embassy, one o the heavies crossed the road to come and speak to us. “This is it”, I thought. But he seemed relatively uninterested in my gear as I prepared to show my Press Pass from the ministry. 

 And then I was bundled into the back of a pick-up truck with some of the protestors. With my limited Arabic, and their limited English, I knew not where we were headed, and I questioned how I could explain my association with them if we were stopped by Khartoum’s heavy-handed police, en-route. 

 And then we arrived outside the main building of the Sudan Students’ Union and a large crowd had formed. I have never seen anything like this in Khartoum. 

 
   “Today this demonstration is called for by the Sudanese and Egyptians to support the Libyan people to help remove Qaddafi and his government.” 
 

 This, as one of the student leaders told me, was what those assembled were risking their freedom for. They wanted to demonstrate their belief that Qaddafi should not “kill Islamic people, the important thing for humans is freedom”. Freedom. An interesting concept for those living under the Khartoum regime. 

 “We are annoyed that he [Qaddafi] is using planes and helicopters to kill people” they told me, and that they are wish to show that “all the Arab nations are with the Libyan people and their struggle against Qaddafi”. 

 And then it all melted away. Students piled into mini-buses, cars drove away, flags hanging out of windows, and I was left in another empty street in Khartoum, with my camera, some photos and my freedom.

Libya: A Precursor

I didn’t know it yet, but this would be my first taste of the Libyan revolution.

With such sensitivities around protests in Sudan, it was with a healthy dose of trepidation that I drove over to the Libyan embassy in Riyadh, Khartoum’s rich, eastern district. I had got word that some people would be demonstrating about the events unfolding in Libya, and was curious to see what would happen.

Arriving at the embassy, there was no-one but a few heavy-looking security officials at the door. This was not a good sign, and being a khawaja with a camera, one tends to stand out a lot in Khartoum at the best of times.

After more driving around, wondering if I would catch sight of a group marching Libyans, I returned to the embassy as a handful of Egyptians arrived, print-outs of slogans in Arabic taped to their chests. It was Egyptian tricolours that they held, not the green of Qaddafi’s flag.

Photographing them as they stood on the pavement opposite the embassy, one o the heavies crossed the road to come and speak to us. “This is it”, I thought. But he seemed relatively uninterested in my gear as I prepared to show my Press Pass from the ministry.

And then I was bundled into the back of a pick-up truck with some of the protestors. With my limited Arabic, and their limited English, I knew not where we were headed, and I questioned how I could explain my association with them if we were stopped by Khartoum’s heavy-handed police, en-route.

And then we arrived outside the main building of the Sudan Students’ Union and a large crowd had formed. I have never seen anything like this in Khartoum.

“Today this demonstration is called for by the Sudanese and Egyptians to support the Libyan people to help remove Qaddafi and his government.”

This, as one of the student leaders told me, was what those assembled were risking their freedom for. They wanted to demonstrate their belief that Qaddafi should not “kill Islamic people, the important thing for humans is freedom”. Freedom. An interesting concept for those living under the Khartoum regime.

“We are annoyed that he [Qaddafi] is using planes and helicopters to kill people” they told me, and that they are wish to show that “all the Arab nations are with the Libyan people and their struggle against Qaddafi”.

And then it all melted away. Students piled into mini-buses, cars drove away, flags hanging out of windows, and I was left in another empty street in Khartoum, with my camera, some photos and my freedom.

Sufi Celebrations in Sudan

It is rare to see gatherings such as this in Sudan. But as much of the western world was celebrating St. Valentine’s day, Sudan’s sufis were this year celebrating the birth of the Prophet Muhammad.

In Khartoum, in Omdurman and in Bahri—the three cities centred on the confluence of the two Niles—tents were erected and, for Sudan, a carnival atmosphere ensued.

Amid the sellers of traditional sweets, people listened to tales of the Prophet’s life from various Sufi sheikhs, they prayed en-masse, and the dervishes entered trance-like states.

Working on a piece with Simon Martelli for AFP, we were told:

“Some of them feel like their minds are out of their bodies. At this time, they do not feel anything outside. An old man who cannot normally stand for 15 minutes; here he will dance for three of four hours.”

A welcome break from the typical pace of Sudanese life.

Petition for Prisoners

Petition for Prisoners 

 As governments seemed to be toppling throughout the Middle East, many of us wondered whether the unrest would spread to Khartoum. 

 Not that it would be easy to cover. The Sudanese youth had called for mass demonstrations in the country on January 30th, which were violently suppressed by the police and security services. Journalists trying to cover the protests were prevented from operating, and in some cases arrested. The Sudanese security apparatus do not like cameras. 

 It just didn’t seem to take off here. Despite the fifteen-thousand that joined the Facebook group “Youth for Change” that called for a day of action, only a fraction of those who supported it—or at least clicked “Like”—actually turned up. And I don’t believe that Sudan has the same desire for change as Tunisia, Yemen and Egypt, the Sudanese youth’s role-models. 

 From my time in the country last year around the time of the  2010 Sudanese elections , Omar al-Bashir and his ruling National Congress Party  are  popular. Unpopularity stems largely from rising food and fuel prices; he certainly isn’t the crony of the West that could be claimed by other Arab leaders. 

 The women depicted above, however,  do  have gall though. Their sons, their husbands, their brothers and uncles were imprisoned in the demonstrations that bubbled in Khartoum, and have spent the last two weeks imprisoned in the ghost-houses of the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS). 

 In the courtyard of the house of the leader of the national Umma party, these women manifested for their release. On the road opposite the house, two pick-up trucks full of plain-clothes security operatives sat, inconspicuously. At a nearby crossroads, other trucks full of baton-wielding, riot-shield clad police were posted on every corner. 

 As I slunk in through the door to join a handful of brave Sudanese journalists, and one other foreign correspondent, my heart was pounding. 

 A while later, the women left by the back door as we journalists left by the front. As we drove to the NISS building, where the women hoped to deliver a petition demanding their loved-ones’ release, a van full of riot-police flanked us. 

 Several of the women were stopped and arrested en-route, being driven around the city for several hours before being deposited in random parts of the city by security operatives. The chance of pulling out my camera in front of the NISS building was non-existent. 

 Sudan’s elections last year were heralded as the first democratic vote in the country since the eighties, but for those showing their discontent of the situation in the country, freedom of expression and demonstration is far from a reality.

Petition for Prisoners

As governments seemed to be toppling throughout the Middle East, many of us wondered whether the unrest would spread to Khartoum.

Not that it would be easy to cover. The Sudanese youth had called for mass demonstrations in the country on January 30th, which were violently suppressed by the police and security services. Journalists trying to cover the protests were prevented from operating, and in some cases arrested. The Sudanese security apparatus do not like cameras.

It just didn’t seem to take off here. Despite the fifteen-thousand that joined the Facebook group “Youth for Change” that called for a day of action, only a fraction of those who supported it—or at least clicked “Like”—actually turned up. And I don’t believe that Sudan has the same desire for change as Tunisia, Yemen and Egypt, the Sudanese youth’s role-models.

From my time in the country last year around the time of the 2010 Sudanese elections, Omar al-Bashir and his ruling National Congress Party are popular. Unpopularity stems largely from rising food and fuel prices; he certainly isn’t the crony of the West that could be claimed by other Arab leaders.

The women depicted above, however, do have gall though. Their sons, their husbands, their brothers and uncles were imprisoned in the demonstrations that bubbled in Khartoum, and have spent the last two weeks imprisoned in the ghost-houses of the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS).

In the courtyard of the house of the leader of the national Umma party, these women manifested for their release. On the road opposite the house, two pick-up trucks full of plain-clothes security operatives sat, inconspicuously. At a nearby crossroads, other trucks full of baton-wielding, riot-shield clad police were posted on every corner.

As I slunk in through the door to join a handful of brave Sudanese journalists, and one other foreign correspondent, my heart was pounding.

A while later, the women left by the back door as we journalists left by the front. As we drove to the NISS building, where the women hoped to deliver a petition demanding their loved-ones’ release, a van full of riot-police flanked us.

Several of the women were stopped and arrested en-route, being driven around the city for several hours before being deposited in random parts of the city by security operatives. The chance of pulling out my camera in front of the NISS building was non-existent.

Sudan’s elections last year were heralded as the first democratic vote in the country since the eighties, but for those showing their discontent of the situation in the country, freedom of expression and demonstration is far from a reality.