Dateline: Juba, South Sudan, 2011
In 2010, Girifna was formed, inspired by the region’s Arab Spring. It was made up of mostly young people. Trained in nonviolent direct action and conflict transformation, they provided leadership in those days, risking their lives to keep revolving demonstrations in Khartoum and state capitals nonviolent. They distributed pamphlets, held neighbourhood gatherings for music and spoken word. Al Jazeerah English made a documentary of their inspiring work called How to Mobilise a Million!
Some months later, my Swedish colleague, Martin Smedjeback, and I were having dinner at a restaurant in Juba, the capital city of the world’s newest new country, South Sudan. Al Jazeerah English was on. Familiar faces appeared on the screen. We were stunned—and thrilled with what we were seeing. It told the story of Girifna’s early organising in the streets of Khartoum. It also included footage of a dangerous journey from Khartoum to the Juba, a delegation of young Sudanese, there, in a press conference that gained international coverage, to bring their apologies for the role of their government in the oppression and marginalisation of South Sudanese peoples. A powerful gesture of nonviolence in search of reconciliation.
After the secession of the South, protests resumed later that year and into mid-2012. Protests were violently suppressed by security forces; thousands of protesters were arrested (see poster, left) and dozens killed. As with these days, women were in the forefront, planning, organising, protesting austerity and respression, demanding the end of Omar al-Bashir’s presidency. Friends were arrested, rumoured to be facing trial and execution. It failed. Or did it?
SIGNS OF HOPE: gathered from those on the streets in front of the army HQ
- Sudan now: Governing without a government
- As you walk into the area of Khartoum now completely controlled by the young ‘revolutionaries’ down town, you see the difference.
- Street outside: full of rubbish with plastic bags strewn across the roads.
- Street inside: clean of rubbish – bags to put your garbage placed strategically around and young men with long hair and skinny jeans roaming around, picking up trash and encouraging others to help.
- Overnight as the crowds thin out, they wash the roads in teams.
- People arranging prayer areas and ensuring privacy to do so.
- Volunteers organising checkpoints every few metres to ensure no one gets through with weapons. Women search women and men search men.
- “We apologise for the search brothers and sisters. This is for your own safety and your brother’s safety” is the refrain repeated to anyone moving through.
- A pharmacy run by young volunteer pharmacists to dispense medication to those who need it. Medicine provided by companies and individuals for free.
- Two blood donation trucks to ensure those injured in the protests obtain the blood they need.
- People collecting cash contributions and bags of money left at the side of the road for anyone to take if they need money to get home.
- Shifts organised – the ‘day revolutionaries’ go home at night after the ‘night revolutionaries’ arrive to take over.
- Tents set up and run by volunteers to arrange cash, water and food donations.
- Traditional Sudanese hospitality not forgotten – anyone visiting MUST drink tea or water.
- No cars allowed in unless you’re bringing donations – water, drinks, food. No exceptions or ‘mujamala’ [courtesy calls] even for foreign diplomats – the U.S. Chargé d’affaires was stopped outside when he came to visit.
- Street children being fed and looked after – included in this new society.
- Group parties on every corner singing nationalist Sudanese songs and performing traditional dances.
- Security? Taken care of. Makeshift blockades of bricks and borrowed razor wire block the roads to stop any attacks at night after a few failed but violent attempts to forcibly disperse the sit-in.
- Missing the football? Supporters sent a huge screen to watch the last big Barcelona match.
- The roads in Sudan are normally chaotic and, during a black out, the traffic police (if they appear), can hinder more than they help.
- But the roads leading to the army HQ have been taken over by the people who are happily directing huge volumes of traffic and hundreds of parked cars
- Children are given flags and biscuits, carried on shoulders so they can see above the throngs of people. Birthday parties, weddings – you name it, it’s happening right there in the street.
- Christian Sudanese Coptics holding fabric shades over the heads of their Muslim brothers while they pray under the hot sun.
- Without any ‘leaders’ whatsoever, these young Sudanese managed to effectively run this sit-in, this mini ‘state’ within the capital, and do so politely, without infighting, ego or provocation.
- Instead humour, cooperation, unity and solidarity are the order of the day.
- The Sudanese people have a long and proud history of peaceful change.
- Stay proud.
CALL TO ACTION: So what can we do?The people of Sudan have created this exciting moment when they can imagine a free Sudan, a peaceful Sudan–and they have done so in spite of the international community and its policy of neglect. The people of Sudan have taken their futures into their own hands. The Security Council called a meeting and they’re promising to keep an eye on things. Ok. So…
What can we do? I ask my Sudanese friends there and here: What can we do? Some suggestions from them:
- Call and write to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, copying your Member of Parliament, asking them to provide concrete indications in all ways possible of Canada’s support for the new reality;
- appropriate, respectful support for the democracy activists/organisations and their demands for a civilian government;
- monitoring of the political progress towards that goal through the presence of an Observer Mission;
- an increase in development funding that will assist the Sudanese people in accomplishing these goals.