Revolution, What Revolution?

By: Reem G.
Apparently, the country is going through a revolution. I’m not sure exactly what the definition of  ‘revolution’ is, because what I see going on these days sure isn’t what it’s supposed to be. Yes, there are scattered demonstrations that get squashed in 10 minutes flat by the riot police with the least possible effort. And there are burnt tires and traffic lights on 1 or 2 streets. There’s a Twitter marathon of news about people ‘breaking through the band of fear’ and taking to the streets, much of which is either not big enough to be seen by the naked eye, or simply not true.
However, I am not here to discredit the revolution, because regardless of the fact that it’s such a tiny thing, it’s still a start. And the fact that hundreds of people are being detained in known and unknown locations alike means that they’re making enough noise to make someone uncomfortable about something that isn’t right. My problem is this: why ISN’T there a revolution going on?!
I mean, what are all these people roaming the streets to and from their jobs and homes and whatever doing? Why aren’t they protesting? Maybe where they come from 1kg of sugar still costs 3.5 pounds, or even less. Maybe they have running water and electricity all day and all week. Maybe their kids study for free in clean and cool schools, taught by teachers who know what they’re talking about, and eat enough food during their lunch breaks to keep them satisfied. Maybe health care where they are is also free and the equivalent of a 5-star hotel service. And they all drive cars to work which they fill with 8 pounds per gallon, or less. And they have dreams and aspirations to pursue studies and careers that will take them places; not places abroad, because they don’t need to go abroad. Nope, right here in Sudan. Because apparently, Sudan is the place to be these days.
Every day I am on the streets looking at the sights of this country around me. There are beggars EVERYWHERE. And walking alongside the beggars are children, CHILDREN selling tissue boxes and chewing gum. And standing alongside those children are aging men selling pre-paid phone cards and cigarettes. And standing alongside those aging men are traffic officers whose clothes are so choked with exhaust smoke that they’re all sorts of colours except white, and whose faces are tanned black from standing in the sun hours on end. And standing alongside those traffic officers are the bulk of the nation trying to get on a bus to work, who have to push and shove and get knocked over just to get on, whose shoes are scuffed and dirty and whose clothes get caught in the doorways and windows and get torn, and who sometimes stand for hours in the heat waiting for a bus that, if it does show up, is almost always full of people who look just like them. And standing alongside those people are the bus drivers and conductors who work from daybreak to midnight, who have to pay for petrol and for fines and for taxes and for repairs of their aging vehicles, and who have children to feed and houses to support and illness to pay for. And standing alongside those bus drivers and conductors are every member of this nation: teachers who don’t get paid for months; doctors who are forced to treat patients with nothing more than their hands and wits; homeless men, women and children walking the streets barefoot and bare chested, sleeping in doorways and under pieces of cardboard, rifling through trash for whatever crap they can find to fill their growling bellies; school children who are learning nothing but that discipline is enforced by whipping; veterans who have burned their lives for this country and ended up with nothing; people returning from the Diaspora fleeing the unjustness and suppression of those nations that treat them like slaves, only to come back to a country they thought was their own, but realized they are slaves here of a different kind.
And worst of all: people who are listless and dead on the inside, who have grown skins too thick to feel the hunger and cruelty, who have lost the ability to feel what they should be feeling: humiliation, dissatisfaction, exhaustion, anger, and that realisation that this needs to STOP once and for all!
These people are not protesting against anything. They go on with their daily lives, grumbling about ‘the government’ and ‘the current times’ and wishing the glory of the golden days could somehow return. They turn up their noses to news of college students shouting slogans about how their nation is hungry but cowardly, and scoff at their immaturity and naive optimism. And they ask the question that never grows old: if not them, then who? If not HIM, then who? Since there’s no ready answer to that question, then why bother? Let them crush the life out of us, bury our children in this despair, blast our country to pieces as they sleep on their silken beds and drive their custom made German cars. Cars they bought with OUR sweat and blood, OUR freedom. We don’t mind. We just want to live to see tomorrow.
حسبي الله و نعم الوكيل على كل ظالم، إن الله يمهل و لا يهمل و هو شديد العقاب
This post was originally posted in Reem’s Perspective, read it here.

3 thoughts on “Revolution, What Revolution?

  1. This is true not just in Sudan, a country I love and feel has experienced tragedy more than most, but also even in other, apparently wealthier countries, like the one I now live in: Ireland. Yes, the depth of poverty is nothing like as extreme. People are on the whole much more likely to have some resources, and the government and institutions are much less corrupt. But there has still been enormous corruption, and abuse of every aspect of democracy, to the point where the country has been bankrupted by greed and the naked hunger for power which is manifested by the builders and bankers and others. My own sense is that this is a relative thing: in other words, we are all to some extent implicit. All we can do is keep opening up the questions. Al Bashir is far more obviously and blatantly greedy for power than so many of those who control the resources here. But in essence, the same process is as work. How do you dismantle that? You really cannot blame people for not wanting revolution. When has revolution not meant martyrdom of significant numbers of the bravest and best? When has it been achieved without the suffering of those who really cannot imagine being able to tolerate more suffering? I am sure that talking helps. I am sure that realising that we are all a part of the problem, and a part of the answer, is important. I know English is not your first language so I will go now. I taught in Port Sudan and later in Kakuma refugee camp where I collected oral testimonies of Southern Sudanese youth. I was honoured to have known an academic called Ahmed Kharadawi, who was a great thinker and a hugely influential figure in my life. I would love to work in Sudan and I’m sure I’m not alone – though do you really want white westerners teaching you again??? – but I do think that you must believe that democracy is possible, that the best aspect of each of us can be realised. That fear and exhaustion are excusable, and not blameworthy, but that those who have the strength have an obligation to do everything they can to keep asking questions about what fair and just relationships look like, pragmatically, not idealistically. Practical acts for doing good involve just reflecting, just sitting, and then acting wisely. Sudan has so many cultures, so many of them very ancient, or fusions of ancient and modern, and there is great wisdom in the cultural practices which ask for reflection and then practical actions. What I would urge for the Sudanese people is that they realise what enormous potential they have as culturally diverse, generous, brave and strong communities of people who the rest of us need to learn from. We need to know what it is we can do. Just listen, perhaps? Or engage in discussion about alternatives? You tell us. Thanks, and Great Peace to you.

    • Thank you Gamanrad for a very thoughtful and earnest comment.

      I see nothing wrong with “White Westerners”, Asians, or the many variety of Africans teaching us in Sudan. We could use the help. While Sudanese pride themselves in their ancient heritage and better customs, there is much to learn. After all, we are part of a global community, aren’t we?

      Besides, it is a democratic inclusive Sudan we want to build, one where radical, ugly, and contextually derogatory labels such as kaffir (infidel), westerner, or Abd are completely erased from our memories. Admittedly, Sudanese are far from perfect. 23 years of a brutal and demonic dictatorship has impacted the lives of millions; many of which are lost. 23 years of isolation from the world has impacted our international communal development. Sanctions have hurt the masses who are finding it difficult to get access to universities in the west (especially the United States). We need your help there; it is key for Sudanese to build relationships with other nationalities through exposure and travel. I have personally seen the kind of positive change that this sort of experience can have.

      Also, on another front, the west has made great strides in advancing civil rights and including minorities in society. Sudanese could learn from Ireland or any nation in that regard. We simply can’t afford to be falsely proud where other nations have visible advantages. That some of us in the diaspora now call Ireland, the U.K, the Netherlands, the U.S., Canada, or Australia our new homes (in addition to our native lands) goes to show our support and belief for the widespread Anglo- and American intellectual heritage.

  2. Thanks, Cordoned. Just looked at your site. Very impressive, well articulated work. I’m not used to the world of blogging so only found this now (I’m also having horrible difficulties focussing on reworking my entire thesis around a new focal point, but that’s another, not entirely separate story). But in practical terms, what can each individual do? Do you suggest that we write to politicians? It would make it easier (and therefore more likely) that people would do that if someone (along the lines of Avaaz, which is pretty effective) could put together a well worded articulation of a demand for discussion, legislation and intervention, if that’s what the consensus of opinion believes will change the situation. I’m very concerned that current political models merely metamorphise one formulation into another unless and until there are changes to the structure of how social representation takes place. How about a new constitution for Sudan? Your concerns over the lack of access to education and that impact on Sudan is very real, but there is, as you know, a massive diaspora, and so many of those have sweated blood and tears to access education. There’s a deep hunger for justice, but this must be tempered with mercy. i read your earlier post where you expressed your reluctance to ask for outside intervention to oust Elbashir and I think that you need to keep in mind that the power interests of governments of other nations for outweigh any sense of solidarity they might express. Can we somehow circumvent this? Work as individuals and small groups helping or supporting individuals and small groups? I don’t know. I don’t know how that could be powerful enough to effect change. Yet I have a sense that if change could be effected in that way, it would be really far more democratic, and would have the effect of allowing ordinary citizens to develop a sense of power and to perhaps decide what they want to happen in the land.

    My own views of what matters in a country, any country, are, of necessity, minority views: I believe that we are not just not stewards of the places we live in, but we are mere community members. This means we have to find ways of respecting not just one another as humans, but the wider, non human living and non living entities and relationships within which we live (and into which we are woven). So if I came to Sudan (impossibly remote a possibility with the amount of money I have available to me for the forseeable future!) I would be looking to support or implement projects and programmes that promoted this ethos, either through discussing ways of interpreting people’s existing cultural and perhaps religious belief systems, or through supplementing them with the knowledge we now have about how we belong in the world.

    I must go. Thanks for the conversation and feel free to respond if you see fit.

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