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

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