Monthly Archives: March 2011

What makes people burn people?

I’m struggling to edit an essay today.  I have neatly hit the wordcount, it definitely has facts in it (I’m not good at facts after three years of undergraduate Cambridge history and two years of legal practice) and I’ve done some minor trashing of the literature.  I’m even pretty sure I have some kind of argument, but this is where I’m in trouble.

I’m writing about ‘xenophobic violence’ in South Africa – particularly after the 2008 killings in Gauteng of about 62 people who were, to the perpetrators, ‘foreigners’.  A lot of people have explained how local structural problems of overcrowding, endemic violence, unemployment and media encitement were the neat causal factors for this violence.

However, a lot of these texts struggle slightly when they come to their conclusion – it’s hard to say that a lot of rational if extremely angry people make a definite decision that their problems will be eased, or at least they’ll feel a lot better, if they go out and do this:

Other writers, when they’ve tried to challenge this sort of gap between rational explanations and irrational burning of – in one instance – a nine-year-old girl, have gone for the ‘nationalism’ explanation: crass patriotism is I think a cunning way out of explaining mob violence, particularly when I think of the way the St Georges flag is associated in my mind with the massive fight between twenty football hooligans I had the joy of experiencing on a train platform once.

What makes people burn people?  I’m not writing off housing and unemployment as explanations – which are nice dry ways of explaining how someone can lack shelter, food, security and hope.  I also don’t want to underestimate how nasty the media and some politicians can be in inciting a good fervent hatred.  But I think saying ‘it’s nationalism’ is a cop-out.  So I’ve come up against trying to find my own conclusion.  And this is where I’m stuck.

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Filed under Academia, Procrastination, Writing

Great expectations: designs for a new capital for South Sudan

This poor phone photo is of a poster from the South Sudan Referendum party that was held in London to celebrate the secession vote – Zoe has a post about it, and photos, here.  The ‘welcome’ poster shows three photos of a model of the ‘new capital’ of the Republic of South Sudan, some larger versions of which I’ve found.

While GoSS is clearly enjoying contracting urban planning companies to make pretty models and maps, including the classic elephant option (image at the bottom of this post), the idea of a new capital is a long-standing one.  Juba has to expand, quickly, and is a mess.  Land ownership disputes are endemic, the cost of living is crazily high and the overcrowding is terrible.  There’s nowhere to put a new capital: the idea of having it equidistant from the three state capitals is very friendly and all, but is scuppered by the lack of water there (which is one reason why the land is a little empty there), and expanding Juba where it is, or building a new centre to the north, runs into the problem that local Mundari groups are claiming that Juba is on their land, and they have the right to stop construction or demand compensation accordingly.

It would be fun to talk to people in Juba and elsewhere about what they think should happen; there are huge debates on online forums about this, and if it’s being put on posters, albeit in a very nebulous way, the idea of an entirely new city hasn’t totally died at GoSS yet.  I doubt Juba is going to get an organised extension or completely move in the near future, but the idea – and the shiny models – are an interesting part of arguing over the future face of South Sudan.

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Filed under Politics, Procrastination, Sudan

International women’s day 2011 and Sudan: women in the Sudanese media

Happy International Women’s Day!

Although I can’t find any events online being held in Sudan, I’m going to do a quick roundup of some thoughts I’ve had as a feminist student looking at Sudan.

After my post on reporting of women’s opinions in the press during the referendum, I’ve been keeping a mental tally of how women are represented in Sudanese news.  This isn’t a new thing, but I’ve been discussing the importance of integrating women fully into research lately with my housemate Zoe.

It’s too easy to find vast numbers of stories about women and rape in Sudan – and also some stories about abuses against women on the grounds of marriage issues, alleged adultery and Islamicist dress codes.  Several female human rights activists and student protesters have been sexually abused lately.  The coverage of violence against women during marriage negotiations and over extra-marital relationships in Lakes recently has been welcome; however, there’s very little analysis in this reporting, other than the welcome announcement that GoSS will look at a law against violence against women.

This isn’t surprising, or wrong – sexual abuse in conflicts and as political repression, as well as in everyday repression of women, is a vast and horrific issue which receives insufficient and often poor media coverage.  As Major-General Patrick Cammaert, the former UN peacekeeping commander in the Democratic Republic of Congo, said in 2008: “It is now more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in modern conflict.”

However, women’s voices on anything other than the horror of their rape experiences are mostly lacking in these accounts.  This isn’t to underplay the centrality of the attack to these women’s lives, or to underestimate the problems women face in trying to speak out about their experiences directly: although recently Safiya Eshaq has done just this.  But often it leads to really frustrating reporting: this report on allegations of sexual abuse of female police trainees has no testimony from women, but quotes a male recruit’s frustration at being made to buy his own soap.

The discussion of women predominantly as rape and marital violence victims is overwhelming, compounding this separation of “women’s rights” from reports on political activism; women are only pictured in the reports on youth activism in Sudan, and the term “youth” perpetually refers exclusively to young men: a “political activist” in the media at the moment is assumed male until proven female, and if female, usually only appears in reports of her rape or abuse.

In conclusion, then, women are still being reported in terms of their physical victimhood.  There aren’t many reports that give time to women as active thinkers and doers as well as abused bodies; the reports that do still focus on women’s testimonies of their rape.  I think the situation is better in reporting on the Congo, but Sudanese media on women in the mainstream press has a long way to go.

In other news, one of the youth groups in Khartoum have called for renewed protests on 21 March – I will try to look out for updates on planning, but for now here are some facebook pages to watch for more information.

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Filed under Politics, Sudan, Women