Sudan Revolts!

The front line of Sudan’s long-overdue revolution is finally forming up.  Students and women are leading the protests in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum. The trigger has been the Khartoum government’s removal of fuel subsidies, the 30% inflation rate and the precipitous drop in foreign reserves. Of course, this affects the poor most disastrously. And pretty much everyone except the government and cronies are poor.

For more than a generation, the Khartoum regime has made a mockery of the notion of governance, targeting the “undesirables” that comprise the majority non-Arab, black African population. They have been responsible for the deaths of millions of women and children, for the pillaging of their homes, livelihoods and culture. For an epidemic or rape. The people of Darfur continue to endure attacks even as millions remain, after 8-9 years, trapped in “temporary” camps that have denied them their dignity and their future.

The last year has seen the renewal of the government’s scorched-earth strategy in the Nuba Mountains. More that 100,000 Sudanese have fled the bombing and shelling of villages and towns in the border states, to gather in undersupplied camps on the South Sudan side of the unstable border. The UN’s urgent pleas for funding to begin assisting this new refugee population – reduced to eating tree bark and leaves, their children malnourished beyond the “emergency threshold” ­– have fallen on nearly deaf ears in the international community. The country is in free-fall.

Imagine: another genocide and again nobody is coming with substantive help.

It’s time to support the Sudanese who are standing up to – and ejecting – the criminal enterprise that masquerades as their government.

There is no clear popular leader to assume command. But perhaps clearing out the toxins will make space for better leaders to emerge. I’m being hopeful.

Support the new Revolution!  #SudanRevolts on Twitter.

Don’t bother with your Congressional representatives. They’ve been hobbled for years. Go to your media. Get out the word.

Kick Ass Madame President

Last week, Joyce Banda, the first women president of Malawi (the second head of state of an African country), refused to allow Sudanese President Omer Al Bashir to be invited to the African Union Summit scheduled for July in Malawi. Under the Rome Statute that established the International Criminal Court, signatory states, of which Malawi is one, are obligated to arrest and to extradite to The Hague any individual under indictment by the ICC.

 Since March 2009, the Sudanese dictator has been under indictment for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur; the charge of genocide was later added. He is the only sitting head of state indicted as a war criminal.

 The African Union, also known in some circles as “The Dictators Club,” threatened to move the Summit if Madame Banda did not relent. Much to her credit, she stood her ground, choosing instead to preserve credibility within the international community as a nation that honors its signed agreements. She was also thinking about the needs of her people, among the poorest in Africa, giving donors no excuse to refuse aid packages.

Relations with donors have already improved under Mrs. Banda and the UK, which had been extremely critical of Mr. Mutharika, [her predecessor] is now urging other donors to restore funding as soon as possible.

 Mrs. Banda was elected vice-president as Mr. Mutharika’s running mate in 2009 but the pair had since fallen out. When the president died, there were reports that Mr. Mutharika’s allies attempted to sidestep the constitution to prevent her succeeding him. Mrs. Banda also announced that an official inquiry would be opened into this “attempted coup” and the circumstances of Mr. Mutharika’s death

 Ms. Banda is a 61-year old married woman with two children and a university degree in early childhood education has been her country’s President for just two months. She has said she plans to repeal her country’s laws against homosexuality in her first state of the union address, a bold move, since homosexuality has been criminalized in 37 African nations.

This is a woman for whom the exhortation “Watch and Learn” was invented.

Sentenced to Stoning

On April 22 in Sudan, a young woman, Intisar Sharif Abdalla, was sentenced to stoning for adultery. She and her co-accused both denied the charges. Her “confession” came on the heels of severe beatings by her brother. She had no legal representation, does not speak the dominant language Arabic, and was sentenced after one court session. The man co-accused with Intisar was released based on his denial of the charges.

I know Sudanese women to be strong, resourceful and resilient in the face of unreasonable burdens. I can only imagine the lonely grief in which this woman spends her days. In many ways, her personal tragedy defines the status of women in Sudan.

 From the SIHA Report by Hala Alkarib, Director of the Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA):   “The de-anchoring of the law from a clear standard of general public interest leaves Sudan’s legislation in relation to personal matters particularly open to exploitation as a tool to express the temporary interests of the authorities in control. A good example is the public order police of Sudan’s, Special Forces that are assigned to terrorise women and interrogate them by observing their personal behaviour, their dress code, their mobility and their exposure in the public sphere. Ultimately the ideology behind the articles and the application of the Sudanese criminal code is meant to enforce the tyranny of the ruling regime through alienating women by crippling their public participation, both of which have a paralysing effect on society as a whole.”

 It’s been clear to me for some time that the solution to the catastrophic violence gripping the country is not only the inclusion of women in the efforts toward peace, but their dominance in that process. A generation has been lost to the mindset of war and poverty. Nonetheless, it’s never too late to help women discover their power. This is a foundational belief of Women’s Centers International.

Hala concludes: “Intisar is currently shackled by metal chains and imprisoned in Omdurman women’s prison in Sudan together with her four month old baby, where she is being re-victimised and burdened again by thecomplex layers of Sudan’s heavy political baggage and an unjust legal system.”

SIHA deserves the support of anyone who cares about the fate of Intisar – and all the nameless women who suffer as she does.