Monthly Archives: January 2011

Mohammed Abdulrahman and the Sudanese protests

Mohammed Abdulrahman died from injuries sustained from police beating during the protests on Sunday in Khartoum.  Abdulrahman, a student at Ahlia University, has been called a martyr and compared to al-Gorashy, the student that died in the October 1964 uprising.  My thoughts are with his family and friends; both Ahlia and Omdurman Universities have been closed today.

Laura Mann has made an ushahidi SMS protest map here; an update on what digital organisation is happening can be found here.   So far this is probably the best and shortest summary of events yesterday, although the figures for arrests vary.

The police seem to have been particularly proactive, as they basically stormed six universities and didn’t let 300 students out of Khartoum University.  This tallies with some personal reports on Facebook saying that there were very few people on the streets, and most of the YouTube videos show people in front of university gates.  People on Facebook are complaining about the lack of organisation, but in the face of a media blackout and suspension of internet access over the weekend, as well as a huge preemptive police operation, it looked pretty frightening to start with.  There are various numbers going around about how many people are still in detention, including two sons of al-Fadil, an opposition politician, and the government has been blocking the independent radio and newspapers in the North today.

So far Yassir Arman has been the only major politician to speak about Abdulrahman’s death, and against police brutality.  Taha has said that the demonstrations were allowed, while this has been contradicted by other unnamed NCP officials, but the only major NCP comment is from Obeid here, who says that the Sudanese protests won’t amount to anything as Bashir is democratically elected and there is popular involvement in Sudanese politics.

The site for the next protests (1 February?) is here.


Filed under Politics, Sudan

Roundup on student protests in Khartoum

The news reports on the protests in and around Khartoum today started to come out a few hours ago.  Here are a selection.  The main facebook group organising the protests today is here.

The tragic death of Mohammed Bouazizi was credited with sparking the protests in Tunisia; however, the death of al-Amin Musa in Omdurman’s marketplace on Friday 21 January has had far less international recognition as a political suicide and, as far as I can see at the moment, far less emotional and political impact on the protesters in Sudan today.  Magdi el Gizouli has written an excellent post on the reactions of the Muslim clerical association and Sudanese government press here.

I’m very poorly informed about Egyptian politics, but my concern is that the protests in Egypt have precedent – 2002, 2005, 2006, 2008 and 2010, from a quick look – and the Tunisian protests have come at the end of two years of political reshuffling and attempts to mitigate unrest.  It’s not that north Sudan hasn’t had its share of constant protest, or that it’s not in the grip of a serious foreign exchange crisis and economic failure, but I’m concerned that these protests are inspired by the real hopes of change in Tunisia and (cross fingers) Egypt, and the idea of a political domino effect, among a few educated young Sudanese who are able to be socially active, in that they are willing and able to take the risks of protesting.

Regardless, I hope the people arrested today (and there are conflicting figures, up to several hundreds) are released quickly without harm.

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Political change in Sudan: not just the South

Most of the talk of political instability, economic insecurity and potential for future violence is about the South at the moment.  In international news, the situation in Khartoum is mostly only picked up on from the perspective of US policy and the ‘rehabilitation’ or not of Bashir’s regime on the international stage.  This doesn’t make sense to me: in the middle of huge price rises and economic problems, Bashir’s government is in real trouble, trying to deal a complicated political balancing act between appeasing moderates and knocking back more violent opponents.

There are three days left on Al-Mahdi’s December ultimatum to the NCP to make a national government, redraw the constitution, call new general elections, resolve the Darfur conflict and the economic crisis, deal with the ICC, and make a sensible agreement with the South: whether or not Bashir properly responds to what sounds more like a rhetorical challenge than a real ultimatum, it’s a good summary of the problem the north faces at the moment.  There is potential for serious political change, or at the very least a change in how the game is played, in the north this year.

So while a lot of the commentary revolves around the future of the South, I think it’sprobably a good idea to keep an eye on the opposition in Khartoum, who are becoming increasingly militant, and some voicing frustration with the quieter negotiations of al-Mahdi and Turabi.  Magdi el Gizouli at StillSudan runs a fabulous commentary on the intricacies of the northern opposition versus the NCP and Bashir, and it’s worth a read.


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Fort Portal archives, Uganda

I’ve been writing and thinking about the internet as academic archive, publishing space and forum for a week or so, and so I thought, for a change, I’d post some photos of what most people would think of as a ‘real’ archive, the Fort Portal collection of government documents from the colonial and post-colonial period in Toro, Uganda.

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History Blogging Project and ‘impact factor’

At the launch of the History Blogging Project, I was invited to give a brief talk on how blogging could potentially have ‘impact factor’ – the preferred term for the importance and influence your research and writing could have in the ‘real world’ (or as someone at the talk last night put it, to ‘ordinary people’).

Yolana will be posting my actual talk here, and I’m going to repost it under the cut.

Just leading on from what I spoke about then, though, I’ve been thinking about the reaction my talk got, specifically when I talked about the ESRC and AHRC’s admittedly amusing ideas of the impact our research should have, as quantifiable economic benefit and contributing to the life of the nation.  People were very willing to approach blogging as a selfish, individual exercise, indulging yourself by writing about your own interests in a way that helps formulate your ideas and hone your writing skills (and ability to quickly churn out 500 words).

The audience yesterday, though, were less keen – or at least laughed more nervously – about the idea of thinking of your research as having a positive social impact in real terms.  Other than the element of self-depreciation in this, I found this a bit strange, not only because I had the same reaction.  But I do think of my research interests as not just interesting to me and maybe a few other people, but also important – I do think it’s important that we know more about what we see as ‘marginalised’ communities’ own organisation, not necessarily because I’m chasing an emancipatory kind of history but because I think it’s helpful to all to know about the people they are making decisions for.

So, regardless of the AHRC and ESRC’s overblown – and as someone suggested, written by a consultancy anyway – jargon about national intellectual capital and social wellbeing, don’t most researchers harbour some fantasies that their work is socially and politically important?

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Would you like facts with that?

My housemate Zoe and I have an ongoing dirty fascination with Stephanie Beswick’s Blood Memory and her rebuttal of our supervisor Justin Willis’ review of her book (the review can be found in The Journal of African History, Vol. 46, No. 2 (2005), pp. 340-341; Beswick’s rebuttal can be found here).

I think I’ve referred to the Beswick-Willis debate over her book – which is about Dinka pre-colonial history – in both my essays on epistemology last term; Zoe, working on the Dinka, comes across Beswick in her studies, and Justin is my primary supervisor on my PhD.  I’m aware that, as a newbie acolyte to the History department he heads, I can easily be accused of personal and intellectual bias, but I’m more interested in the argument as a good example of different concepts of what history is.

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South Sudan Oyee

The Sudanese National Anthem 1957

The Sudanese National Anthem 1957

Anyone good at the piano?  This is another gem from the Middle East Documentation Unit in Durham, from the Central Office of Information pamphlet “PROGRESS: 5th Anniversary Sudan Revolution, 17 November 1963.”

In contrast, the new South Sudan national anthem is a little bit less “duty and death”.  You can listen to it here, and read about it here.  I quite like it.  Lyrics are after the cut.

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Women in referendum stories

I’m saving a lot of referendum news articles under the title “referendum stories”.  If I were in South Sudan now, I probably wouldn’t leave the voting queues for all the lovely narrative arcs: apparently there are impromptu speech-givings, but I also imagine that a lot of people are situating themselves in a historical event, talking about the story of their lives in terms of change, liberation and closure.  The international media are loving them too, and I’m getting a lot of the proceeds.

One problem I know I’ve discussed and thought about before is how to find women’s accounts.  Other than men being frequently louder and more confident in their speaking, social position and English skills in giving information, there are many problems in trying to interview women.

A quick and entirely unscientific survey of the 107 news reports called “stories” I’ve collected from 3-12 January backs up this problem of a bias towards men’s personal narratives.  Not counting elected party leaders or SSRC/IOM voting officials, there are 49 men named and quoted individually; in US reports alone, there are 16 “Lost Boys” giving their accounts and feelings.  In contrast, 11 women are quoted in reports from South Sudan.  An additional 7 women are quoted in reports from the US, usually with far longer quotes.  There are also two “Lost Girls” giving their stories – with particularly interesting and emotional accounts of being actually in the polling booth.

That’s 65 men versus 20 women; a one in three, reflecting the dominance of men in community groups, how journalists find it easier to approach men for fear of cultural embarrassments, the usually male interpreters who know the men in the queue, the registration bias towards men that’s been frequently reported – with no actual statistics available as far as I can tell yet (please let me know if you have some!) – and the “Lost Boys” preoccupation in the American press.  Ultimately it’s about the English language, too – women were far more likely to be quoted in US articles alongside men, whereas writing on Southern Sudan threw up a few examples where a journalist had clearly set out to talk to women, such as Rebecca Hamilton’s interview with four women in a ‘vulnerable people’ queue in Bentiu.

I’m not drawing out any points – as the long sentence above shows, there are plenty of reasons for this – other than it’s something I continue to be aware of, and want to be constantly aware of.  It’s too easy to be so excited by the fantastic information you’re getting from interviews and forget the longer, slower process of talking to women and gaining the same confidences – and confident stories – as with men.  I’ll probably come back to this again and again (partly because the academic and NGO research work already done on my particular area of interest, the Southern population in Khartoum, is often substantially focused on abuses perpetrated against women), but I thought it worth writing, as it’s a notable phenomenon in the reporting of “stories” at the moment.  I’m going to wait for voting to close, and for “referendum stories” to dry up slightly, before starting to think about the stories themselves.

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Filed under Procrastination, Referendum, Sudan, Women

The referendum

The clock is literally ticking in Juba in the run-up to the Southern Sudan referendum on secession.

It’s very hard not to be quite tense this weekend over the conduct of the referendum (I even managed to have a stress dream last night about voting).  My friend Zoe has written on the longevity of the idea of secession – as a potential political reality or pragmatic bargaining chip since the 70s.  A lot of the media, taking opinions from registering Southern Sudanese, are noting the proliferation of comments about this ‘historical moment’.  Potentially some of the tension I’m feeling is because this particular historical moment has been so long used as a potential threat or reward, but not thought about as a practical reality for particularly long?

I am not feeling tense about the actual outcome of the referendum, or that events will turn violent over the weekend and war will resume – most credible commentators don’t believe this will happen, and I agree.  I’m far more concerned over the 6-month transition period – whether the issues that have been put off will be resolved, how the Abyei situation will play out, and even whether some people will become impatient and frustrated when a ‘New Sudan’ (or whatever it’ll be called – I’m currently in favour of Equatoria) fails to emerge at the end of six months.

Either way, the more I read about people celebrating the vote, the more I feel that I should put aside my tensions for Sunday, at least.  The tensions and fear are – as far as I can tell from the reporting – mostly from people in the North, fearing reprisals after a result of secession.  Most people in the South and elsewhere are excited, including in London.

Photo credit to New Sudan Vision.

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Inflammatory uncertainty: the rumour mill and reality

Nobody can give any definite idea of what will happen after the vote.  The more I look for commentary from what I think of as solid political or academic sources, the more I wonder how large the difference really is at the moment between considered opinion and speculative rumours.

This sounds obvious, but it’s rare that there’s such a historical turning point that you really feel that there’s no clear idea of what will happen.  This is definitely reflected in the rumours that I’ve heard and read in circulation.

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