Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Rift Valley Institute Field Courses 2015

The Rift Valley Institute's field courses on Sudan and South Sudan, the Horn of Africa, and the Great Lakes take place from June to July 2015. Now in their twelfth year, the courses provide a basis for understanding current political and developmental challenges in the region. They are taught by teams of leading specialists—from the region and beyond—and offer a unique opportunity to spend time with an outstanding group of specialists, away from routine distractions. RVI courses are designed for policy-makers, diplomats, investors, development workers, researchers, activists and journalists—for new arrivals in the region and those already working there who wish to deepen their knowledge. A dawn-to-dusk programme of seminars, lectures, group discussions and special events examines the key social, environmental, political and cultural features of each of the three sub-regions.

Horn of Africa Course

13 - 19 June 2015

The Horn of Africa Course, held in Kenya from 13 to 19 June, covers Somalia and the Somali territories, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Northern Kenya. This year’s will focus particularly on 'borders and borderlands. The Horn’s remote borderland areas were once peripheral and largely ignored, but today are taking on new prominence thanks to oil exploration, major development projects, cross-border trade, insurgencies, federalism, regional integration proposals, and political devolution. Borders—defined along political, livelihood, and ethnic lines—remain deeply contested and flashpoints of political violence across the region. The course will also explore critical political, economic, and foreign relations issues in the Horn today, as well as providing cultural awareness sessions.

The Director of Studies is Ken Menkhaus, supported by Mark Bradbury. He will be joined by a teaching staff of—amongst others—Christopher Clapham, Lee Cassanelli, Dereje Feyissa, Laura Hammond, Nimo-ilhan Ali, Michael Woldemariam and Matt Bryden. 

Great Lakes Course

27 June - 3 July 2015

The Great Lakes Course, held in Kenya from 27 June to 3 July, covers the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Rwanda and Burundi. Elections, conflict, and changes in the region’s political economy will be at the forefront of our discussions. Presentations on the region’s complex history and society will provide the larger context for a stimulating week of discussion and learning. The Congo will again take centre stage, with a focus on the controversial electoral process, President Kabila’s succession struggle, and armed violence in the Kivus. The Course will take place shortly after Burundi’s elections, scheduled for May and June. We will take stock of the process and analyse the likely impact of the results on the country’s politics and stability. Finally, Rwanda faces the prospect of a hand over of power from Paul Kagame in 2017. We will explore this potential shift against the backdrop of governance and development in the two decades since the genocide.

Jason Stearns will direct this year’s Great Lakes Course, supported by Emily Paddon and Judith Verweijen. The directing team will be joined by Aidan Russell, Emmanuel de Mérode, Jean Omasombo, Koen Vlassenroot, Michael Kavanagh and Willy Nindorera.

Sudan and South Sudan Course

11 - 17 July 2015

Over one year into a bloody and stubborn civil war in South Sudan, political enmities, its war economy and ethnic tensions have steadily worsened, destabilising the the region. Peace deals have come and gone as quickly as deadlines and the threat of sanctions from the region and beyond. Defections, rejections, rebellions and accommodations only add to the exhaustion of efforts to build peace. In Sudan, the government manages an ever tighter grip on the state, despite insuppressible regional insurgencies, growing constellations of opposition voices, internal succession intrigues and perennial economic uncertainties. Deftly creating and exploiting political rivalries and patronage opportunities, the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) maintains its own centrifugal stability and seems in casual control of power. Oil unites and divides within and between both countries, but in Sudan especially, the need to understand the post-oil economy is stronger than ever. Elections are scheduled in both nations for 2015, yet their significance remains opaque. Seasoned commentators will feel that we have been here before. This is precisely why understanding the histories of state formation and conflict is vitally important. This year's Sudan and South Sudan Course, held from 11 to 17 July in Kenya, addresses the challenge of working in this complex, fluid environment, linking analysis of current events to contextual understanding of the region, society and economy. 

Sharath Srinivasan will direct this year’s Sudans Course. He will be joined by Daniel Large, Douglas Johnson, David Deng, Cherry Leonardi, Magdi el-Gizouli, Nada Ali Mustafa, Laura James and Suliman Baldo. 

To apply online—and to obtain further information on courses, staff, and locations--please visit www.riftvalley.net/key-projects/courses and download the 2015 Field Course Prospectus. For a general introduction to RVI courses please see our one page overview of the courses. Applications are considered in order of receipt. Places are limited. You can apply here.

Accounts of previous years' courses can be found here, and testimonials from previous course participants can be read here. In the coming months the RVI will be sending out updates on the courses, including on teaching staff and locations. In order to receive these, please subscribe to the RVI mailing list. You can also follow the Institute on Twitter and Facebook.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Long live the struggle of the Sudanese Writers Union

A departmental head at Sudan’s Ministry of Culture issued a letter dated 29 January to the Sudanese Writers Union revoking its licence for unidentified violations of procedure. Effectively a ban, the decision was communicated to the union in a Kafkaesque statement of three lines devoid of a specific accusation or a reference clause of regulations, the type of statement that is the naked language of power. 
In a sense, this second ban of the Sudanese Writers Union brackets a history, the first ban was in 1989 when President Bashir and his fellow officers assumed power. Like other independent trade unions and professional associations, the union was prohibited, its property confiscated and its headquarters at the mugran (confluence) of the Niles in Khartoum handed over to the General Union of Sudanese Students, a mobilisation agency of the new government. 
Disbanded, the union remained a network of relationships and a staple of documents in the office of its secretary general, the lawyer and poet Kamal al-Gizouli, for sixteen years. Only after the signing of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M) was it feasible to reconstitute the union and regain its legal status, an effort that I had the opportunity to contribute to in 2006. Kamal chose the term ‘second birth’ to celebrate the undertaking, and it certainly was. 
Kamal invested a chunk of his poetic soul in the Writers Union but the project expanded beyond his old network and soon grew out of his mantle contrary to the expectations of many critics. The Writers Union is an association of largely urbanite and Khartoumite intellectuals and has thus been famously criticized by ‘New Sudan’ advocates as a union of’ Arab Muslim’ Sudanese writers. Considering the voracious appetite for democratic procedure at the time of its ‘rebirth’, elections for the leadership of the union were hotly contested, its mandate subject to excruciating scrutiny and its activities closely monitored by detractors and sympathisers alike. 
For many of its members, the union was a replacement political party. It was expected to issue position statements on current affairs and mobilise for political struggle. The union, however, continued to operate on known ground. It organised and hosted cultural events peaking in an annual themed conference and reissued its irregular journal. Over time, it developed a certain routine, established new headquarters after a period of nomadic operation and settled to a limited bureaucracy and an elected executive. In the process, it entered into a ‘partnership’ with business and its events featured advertisements of the telecommunications giant Zain (Sudan) for a year or so. 
The radical bend the Writers Union had in its beginnings, when it was densely inhabited by leftist intellectuals, has been greatly ‘straightened’ in recent years, whether in consequence of the general fatigue of the left or the implications of Sudan’s neo-liberal transformation. Today, it is largely an association of liberally minded intellectuals, but that is already too much for the caretakers of power. The explanation, I presume, is that it continues to cherish a threatening principle. It is a free association accessible to all willing Sudanese writers without religious, ethnic, sectarian or gender restriction, and beyond that it successfully funds itself without need for government largesse and it organises! 
The threat of this simple principle continues to enrage the security authorities each time they are reminded of the existence of the Communist Party. Tijani Tayeb, the late veteran leader of the party, probably had this principle in mind in a brief speech he made to a celebration in Cairo exile back in 1996 marking the fiftieth anniversary of the Communist Party. “The early communists stormed an unknown to them and to the Sudanese society by establishing a party of a new kind without prior experience,” he stated. The authorities might ban the Sudanese Writers Union but this principle, a living legacy of the Communist Party which it once vigorously transplanted into the trade union movement, it can never ban. Hence, long live the struggle of the Sudanese Writers Union.

Monday, 26 January 2015

ترجف وانت في قصرك

افتتح الرئيس عمر البشير الإثنين 26 يناير قصره الجديد على النيل الأزرق، وهو منحة صينية وعد بها الرئيس الصيني السابق هو جنتاو إبان زيارته الخرطوم في 2007، تزامنا مع ذكرى تحرير الخرطوم المائة والثلاثين. تولى هو جنتاو الأمر في الصين عام 2003 وغادر مقعد الرئاسة في 2013 ليحل محله الرئيس الحالي شي جين بينغ بحسب مواقيت الحزب الشيوعي الصيني، مارس كل عشرة أعوام. بهذا الحساب فإن البشير من دفعة الرئيس الصيني الأسبق جيانغ زيمين الذي استمر عهده من 1993 حتى 2003 أو بالأحرى سابقه يانج شانج كون والذي حكم لفترة أقصر من 1988 حتى 1993 وقت كانت الرئاسة الصينية منصبا صوريا منفصلا عن السكرتارية العامة للحزب الشيوعي محل السلطة الفعلية.
عاد الرئيس البشير من المملكة السعودية حيث أدى واجب العزاء في وفاة الملك عبد الله ليفتتح قصره الجديد. تولى عبد الله الحكم في 2005 خلفا للملك فهد الذى تولى المنصب في 1982، سبعة أعوام قبل أن يدخل البشير القصر القديم رئيسا في 1989. إذا كان في الحكم آية فآيته الزوال، وحياة الفرد البشري لا تعدو أن تكون خدشا في مجرى التاريخ، لكن الرئيس البشير الذي مر عليه أربعة من رؤساء الصين وانقضى عهد ملكي بأسره في الحجاز وهو في منصبه لا يدرك من آية الغرور هذه إلا دوام العناد. ها هو يستعد لدورة من الانتخابات حرص حزبه المؤتمر الوطني بسطها له لا تردع نساؤه ورجاله حتى النصائح الصينية أن لحزب الحكم الواحد مطلوبات أولها تغيير الوجوه والصور. أخذ المؤتمر الوطني ببعض هذا الدرس المعاد لكن تعذر عليه أن يجري على الرئيس ما أجرى على الأدنى مقاما في التباديل والتوافيق التي تحكم تركيبه القيادي وقسمة السلطة بين مكونات الحكم. بدأت في 26 يناير بالتزامن مع افتتاح القصر الصيني على النيل الأزرق جلسة المباحثات السنوية، وعنوانها "الحوار الاستراتيجي"، بين المؤتمر الوطني والحزب الشيوعي الصيني في بكين، ولعل رفاق الصين سيعيدون على مسامع غندور وفريقه ما ظلوا يرددونه في هذا الشأن كل عام.
يسخر الرئيس من نفسه بافتتاح قصره الجديد في ذكرى تحرير الخرطوم، يوم اقتحمت جحافل المهدية الظافرة جاره القديم في حلف ثوري عريض، كسرت شوكة الاستعمار ووكلائه وأطاحت بساكن القصر وزبانيته، وهو من هو في مقام الإمبراطورية، بطل الصين الذي عبأت قصصه الأساطير. من كان يتوقع أن تطيح به جماعة "دارويش" في قفر افريقي لا ذكر له؟ ربما انتبه لهذا المعني نائب الرئيس حسبو فزعم أن الإنقاذ دورة ثانية من المهدية، وكأن التاريخ بيده، ومن يأمن غدر التاريخ فمثل "شباب" الرئاسة غافل عن قوانينه. 

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Ustaza Madiha: an editor against a vengeful state

Madiha Abdalla, editor-in-chief of al-Midan
Sudan’s prosecutor of crimes against the state summoned on Wednesday 14 January the editor of the Communist Party’s newspaper, al-Midan, to his offices in Khartoum for interrogation regarding charges filed against her by the country’s militarised security apparatus, the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS). Madiha Abdalla, a journalist and mother, faces charges under four articles of the criminal law: article 21 ‘complicity in criminal action’, 50 ‘undermining the constitutional order’, 63 ‘call for opposition of public authority with violence and criminal force’ and article 66 ‘publication of false news’, in addition to a charge under article 24 of the press and publications law ‘responsibility of the editor-in-chief’. The prosecutor referred the case to court and she was released on bail. 
The NISS based its charges on a report in al-Midan quoting Abd al-Aziz al-Hilu, deputy chairman the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement in North Sudan (SPLA/M-N). Al-Hilu issued a statement earlier in the month in support of a protest sit-in in Lagawa of West Kordofan, where hundreds of people remain camped for more than two months in front of the locality headquarters demanding employment opportunities and improvements in public services despite anxious mediation efforts by the local chapter of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) and affiliated community figures. Al-Midan offered its readers regular updates on the stubborn sit-in and the demands of its organisers, an issue wholly neglected by the mainstream press. The NISS is evidently keen to silence the already anaemic paper, the last surviving mouthpiece of an opposition party, and next to al-Ayaam a publication where the NISS has no editorial influence and can only confront with the tools of censorship and confiscation. 
I came to know Madiha in 2005, during the hiatus of press freedom in the interim period of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed between the government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M). I had started writing for al-Ayaam where Madiha was an established journalist. She wrote diligently on the material manifestations of class deprivation and initiatives of popular action across the country. In contrast to the mainstream preoccupation with the high-fly politics of declaration, Madiha invested her energies in investigating the affairs of the ahali (Arabic for ‘natives’, a term from the colonial dictionary still in use by the educated elite to refer to the mass of the population). She wrote notable reports on the employment of health insurance cards as a tool of political appeasement in suburban Khartoum, and investigated in great detail the operations of the Zakat chamber, a notoriously corrupt institution established with the aim of collecting Muslim alms, an article of faith, and distributing the proceeds to religiously defined recipients including the poor and needy, recent converts to Islam, those heavily indebted while attempting to satisfy their basic needs, unsalaried combatants engaged in jihad and the zakat collectors themselves. 
A main focus of Madiha’s work continues to be the multiple modes of exploitation of rural women, the consequences of rural to urban migration and the steady waves of expatriate labour migration on the family and rural livelihoods. In that regard, Madiha is heir to the emancipatory trend championed by the legendary Fatima Ahmed Ibrahim as editor of the monthly Sawt al-Mara (est. 1955), the organ of the Sudanese Women Union. Sawt al-Mara did not survive the demise of the Sudanese left in the early seventies but its pulse can still be detected in Madiha’s journalism and editorial style. 
When the veteran editor of al-Midan, al-Tijani al-Tayeb, passed away in November 2011 the bureaucracy of Communist Party named Madiha as his successor, and she energetically took up the position. Veteran party stalwarts probably saw in Madiha a safe bet, an editor who would be trusted not to claim any autonomy for al-Midan. However, she has since been struggling to transform the rather unappealing mouthpiece paper into a publication capable of reaching out beyond the party audience, a challenging undertaking to say the least. For over a year, from May 2012 to June 2013, al-Midan was barred from publication by order of the NISS but Madiha and her team continued to issue the paper online defeating the objective of the order, namely forcing the paper to shut down or accept operation under editorial instructions of the NISS. Madiha’s struggles are multiple, an internal struggle within the Communist Party to secure health editorial space for al-Midan, permanent confrontation with the security authorities and the greater challenge of creating an emancipatory publication under severe financial and professional strain. The charges against Ustaza Madiha carry the death sentence. When I talked to her about it this week, she shrugged off the threat with the dismissive ‘ah’ known to me from life-hardened mothers.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Independence blues: the palace and the doe

President Bashir’s head bobbed in rhythm from right to left reflector as he read out his Independence Day speech on 31 December in the gardens of the Republican Palace in Khartoum. To his audience were invited the grand and prominent of the capital in preserved colonial fashion, seated neatly row after row by order of significance. The president ‘s face, photoshopped to glamourous infinite youth, looked down on the audience from the height of the palace front, to the left and right extended the colours of the Sudanese flag. Erected at an angle from the podium was a theatre for the musical performance, its background Meroitic figures carved in steel and flashed generously with colours. Some money was spent on fireworks but obviously the contractor had slashed off a hefty cut. 
The president and his deputies sank into their overcomfortable armchairs, fingers tapping along with the ‘national’ songs intercepted by a compere overwhelmed by the excess of authority, senior military, police and security officers in their best uniforms, ministers and ruling party high priests, and Hassan al-Turabi. The elderly sheikh told the press the day after that he took the opportunity to contemplate on power and its trepidations, and obviously the fifty nine years of national government. Turabi’s right hand man, Kamal Omer, said the president’s speech was positive but lacked “depth” regarding efforts to bring the armed movements on board the promised ‘national dialogue’. The president had, following established habit, reiterated his invitation to rebel groups to come and join the roundtable of dialogue after an excursion into Islamic theology declaring ‘dialogue’ a principle of divine providence. 
Last year it was Sadiq al-Mahdi, now in self-exile, who was the star of the president’s show. He was duly decorated with the first class order of the republic together with Mohamed Osman al-Mirghani. In the president’s mind, the US Central Intelligence Agency and the Israeli Mossad wooed Sadiq into alliance with the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) with the promise of waging a Libya-style campaign beginning with declaration of a Sudanese Benghazi in al-Fasher. Sadiq al-Mahdi went even further in his strategic ‘thinking’. He told the London-based al-Araby al-Jadeed in an interview timed with the anniversary of Sudan’s independence that Israel plots to divide Egypt into three and Sudan into five statelets, but the US and the international community reject these devises because fragmentation would offer terrorist movements golden opportunity to expand. The Americans and the British did not even want South Sudan to secede, he declared.
Dedicated opponents of Sadiq al-Mahdi ignored their basic criticism of the imam and his religious authority to declare the twice former prime minister once again a flag bearer of imminent democracy. Sadiq al-Mahdi and Yasir Arman personalities of 2014, it was declared. The 79 years old Sadiq told supporters in a touching birthday message (the imam was born on Christmas day and his superstitious inclinations are no secret) that he intends to step down from leadership of the NUP and in the same sentence affirmed that he will continue to lead it. Sadiq promised to transfer his property to his daughters and sons in the new year and withdraw to a life of scholarship. He made it clear that his son Abd al-Rahman remains an Ansari by faith and a member of the NUP despite his decision to serve as President Bashir’s assistant. Nobody can strip Abd al-Rahman of his Ansari skin or exclude him from the NUP, said the revolutionary father ‘in exile’. 
Sudan’s liberal literati bemoaned independence as a sorry history of deterioration from a golden era of colonial endowment, naming of course the usual list of wasted assets: University College Khartoum, the Gezira Scheme, Sudan Railways and the mythically efficient civil service. The wailing was loud across political and ideological hues; a former Turabist, a declared follower of Mahmoud Mohamed Taha, a former Salafi and effendis of sorts echoed each other in the annual mockery of independence extending to national loathing. In this palace history there are no nas (people), only effendis and officers deadlocked in a cycle of failures told and retold ad nauseam
Khalil Farah, a poet of profound gift, feminised the notion of freedom from colonial hegemony in his timeless Azza, a classic of early Sudanese nationalism turned blunt by repetition and bastardisation. Nada Wanni translated a portion of the text in a critical study of Khartoum’s poetry

Azza, in my heart

Your magic is sacred

The fire of your love

A healing force.

Azza, I have not forsaken

The home of beauty

Nor have I desired anything

Other than Perfection.

Azza, in your love

We rise like the mountains

And to him who dares

Desecrate your purity

We turn into spears.

This year, I celebrated independence by translating Azza’s contemporary parallel, a love song from the Kordofani master Mastoor Bakheit. Here is a fragment: 

The doe of Um Ganafa

And her kohl eyes

She fled her abode leaving her lovers to perish

The doe of Um Ganafa

Her eyebrows rounded

Her skin brown and her cheeks blossom

For you I cry and my tears flow

Sheikh of the gubba I seek your help

Fix my heart it is about to fly out of my chest

Perplexed I am 

My food worries and my drink cigarettes

She abandoned me, closed her mobile

Forget missed calls, not even text messages pass through

The doe of Um Ganafa

And her kohl eyes

She fled her abode leaving her lovers to perish

Lady of my passion, how can I forsake you?

I will pursue you with the firearm I carry

I grab it, oh people, aiming to hit

I pull the trigger but up goes the barrel

And taw...taw…taw… my bullets miss

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Creative Commons Licence
This work by Magdi El Gizouli is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.