Citizens' Voice is a platform for people-driven news and opinion. Be the opinion leader. Write and submit an 800-word op-ed with a one sentence bio and head shot.
Journalist Naomi Wolf offers some useful guidelines for writing an op-ed - Read More
by Matthew Kohn
Despite fifty years of civil war, three ethnic genocides in Sudan have remained hidden from the rest of the world until long after they took place. But the citizens of north Sudan have had enough of this: they are in the midst of a nonviolent, homegrown protest.
Sudan has been ridden by conflict between the northern and southern provinces, and notably over the issue of natural resources.
Over the last ten days, protests have erupted not only in Khartoum, the capitol of Sudan, but also in every major city and in many minor cities and villages as well. Ordinary people of Sudan are standing up for their basic civil rights -- and this movement may change Sudan forever.
On Friday, June 29, Sudanese from every northern city will stage a protest they call “Licking the Elbow.” This is a Sudanese expression for doing the impossible. The activists seek to remove the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) from power.
Using social media, cellphones and gentle word of mouth in public places, youth activists have reached out to people from all walks of life. Many previously intimidated citizens have finally lost their fear and responded.
Why are the people seeking the ouster of this powerful party? For years, the northern government maintained subsidies for basic commodities, like oil, and fuel and sugar.
On June 16th, the Sudanese government announced it was lifting the subsidies, automatically increasing prices on people who are already struggling with poverty. Many Sudanese believe that corrupt government officials simply pocket the profits on these basic goods.
In response to this hike in prices, female students at the University of Khartoum started the first protest in their dorms. The men, living separately, immediately joined them. Spontaneous protests spread.
For a nation with a rich history of repressed political activity, the breadth, depth, and rapidity of Sudanese participation appears unprecedented. At the same time that the subsidies were lifted, the new annual budget was announced. 70% was allocated to military and security forces -- while 5% to education and healthcare.
According to Anwar Elhaj, Representative to the US from SPLM-N, one of the main opposition groups, this new gouging of the people is really all about financing wars, and boosting the military apparatus that is protecting the government in Khartoum from the wrath of the governed: “When the South went on its own, the North lost 75% of oil production. Now, they have to compensate by adding other taxation on the Sudanese people,” he explained.
An activist named Nagi, a leader of the non‐hierarchical student protest group Girifna, is now hiding from the Sudanese Security forces. They have been seeking him for a week. He’s been arrested many times in the past, and in late 2009, he was badly beaten on the street for participating in a rally calling for freedom and justice. When these new unprecedented marches and public speeches started two weeks ago, he decided to lie low, while hoping to get the word out.
“A lot of people were believing the NCP, that the economical situation would be much better, and there would be progress after separation of South Sudan. They believed that there is more oil in the North than in the South, and we have gold. Instead… we can’t afford food for our children. We can’t plan for our future, and we can’t plan for the next week.” Daily activities have become impossible because of economic instability,” he points out.
Nagi also feels that this is a moment that is unprecedented. “People are saying that they kept silent for 23 years. Until when should we keep silent?,” he asks. “We are going to die, or the NCP is going to put us in jail, or torture us, or kill us. We are already suffering. We are suffering inside prisons or outside in the streets. That’s what’s moving people.”
Nagi believes that it is important for student leaders to tell the people to remain peaceful during demonstrations, because the security forces are panicked: “That is why there is a lot of security outside on the streets. Every three or four blocks, you will find security. They can arrest you if they get suspicious, and a lot of people were arrested and beaten by security just because they were suspicious.
Yesterday, one of my friends was telling me there was a group of seven guys. They were having dinner on the street, and the security came and arrested all of them. They beat them, and just let them go. Also, there is a video of a guy, who was visiting a relative, and the security came and arrested him with one of his relatives. They broke his leg and beat him until he was not able to move. Then they threw him next to a hospital. We have a lot of cases of violations, of torture, of people, we don’t know where they are, missing people.”
The government in Khartoum appears to be shutting off the Internet, or making access to it sporadic so that it can track Girifna members, and other protesters, who are tweeting videos and photos to #SudanRevolts and YouTube.
In spite of this danger, both Nagi and Elhaj are clear that communication is part of this campaign to educate and embolden Sudanese citizens about their civil rights in general. Nagi told the story about a friend of friend whose mother threw him out of the house. She shouted at him, “Don’t come back home. You must be courageous and stand up with people outside, on the streets.”
Nagi is also part of another homegrown network called, “Know Your Rights.” They are not talking about ending the NCP or Bashir. The main point is that people should stand up and talk about their rights -- whether it’s for education, health care, or land ownership. This group is working on a grassroots level. Regardless of one’s politics, Bagi says,
“The police and security do not have the right to silence you. It is your right to demonstrate peacefully. It is your right to stand up on the streets and to talk about your problems.”
After years of infighting among different rebel groups and civil society, often confounding outsiders who wanted to help, the various Sudanese factions have unified in their determination to overthrow the NCP, even though several members of Girifna are already missing. Even Umma, an Islamic party that has always had close relations to the government, is now calling for a sit‐in at an important mosque in Khartoum.
According to Lehaj and many other activists, “We don’t know whether this will be Egypt, Libya, or Yemen, but as of tomorrow, things will be clear as to how they will go.”
Nagi after he was beaten Dec. 7th, 2009.
Director Matthew Kohn’s short fiction films include Sea Level Inferno, SinCine winner Rosa X-Rays Joe and Freedom Isn’t Free featuring Alexandria Wailes, and I think I know You.. Kohn’s next fiction project is the feature film version of his script, Jimmy Three. It’s the story of a Polish journalist in Greenpoint Brooklyn who is coping with the impending death of his terminally ill artist wife.