Dateline: 13 April 2019
I think of that story today, as Sudanese activists succeed in their years-long campaign to oust Omar al-Bashir from power. After months of sustained protests, the dictator has been removed by the military and the world seems to have awakened to what is going on in Sudan.
In the weeks preceding the ouster, something astonishing happened. Sudanese soldiers began to refuse to use violence on the crowds. As the protesters pressed their bodies into the streets bordering the army headquarters, soldiers left their posts, talked with the protesters. When the government sent in the brutal National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) in to attack the protesters using live ammunition, tear gas and batons, elements of the army turned to defend the demonstrators. Media photos of the protests show an array of people from across the states of Sudan, Muslims and Christians, shoulder to shoulder, and, amazingly, as many as 70% of them are women.* ‘Kandaka!’ the crowd shout as a woman clambers to the roof of a vehicle and addresses the gathered crowds. ‘Oh, Nubian princess, lead us!’ they respond.**
How did this happen? after decades of an oppressive and brutal dictatorship, what was the tipping point? The accumulation of all of those years, tipped perhaps by new economic strictures, a sharp rise in the price of bread, a feeling that there is nothing more to lose. We’re fed up, they said. Fed up. I smiled when I heard that expression; I recognised the Arabic word, girifna…
* Source for the 70% figure (BBC)
** My Nubian friend hastens to correct the impression out there. The use of the word Kandaka is not meant to refer to just one woman but to include all of the women out on the streets of Sudan’s capital, all equal. Though a proud Nubian herself, E reminds us that there are many other tribal groups in Sudan.
Read here about the problem of sexism in the ranks of the protesters.