Africa Middle East Centre (AMEC)
Sheraton Hotel, Pretoria
South Africa
17th July 2019



In droves
In the late 80’s and 90’s
Indeed, my generation of educated Sudanese professionals are scattered around the globe
(Out of 200 medical graduates from Khartoum University in 1992, 20 remain in the Sudan)
We never lost contact with the country and our friends and families
We followed the news closely
And reacted in exaggerated ways to every small change – as compensation perhaps to make up for being physically distant
But to a great extent, we “disconnected”
We appeared to have abandoned the ideals we embraced in our university years
We had different reasons for leaving
Extreme economic hardships
Overt persecution and other forms of disadvantage
For myself personally, I found the social restrictions as a women suffocating – when I was denied a promotion at work because I needed to sign a document stating that I would abide by “proper” dress forms, that became the final push I needed to leave


We spent many years trying to advance professionally
For many of us, these were journeys of tears and sweat and incredible struggle
We also committed time to building up our communities in the diaspora
And tried to integrate with our host communities
We debated what kind of a relationship we should [or shouldn’t] have with our embassies
We sometimes organised protests in front of the Sudanese Embassies
And amused our foreign friends when we had meals with the ambassador and his family a few weeks later
In many countries, our communities became polarised into “the opposition” and the “kiyzaan” (pro-government, pro-Islamist)
It must be added, that after the December revolution erupted, and specifically after the June 3rd massacre, there was no more doubt in our minds where we stand with regards to anyone or anything that represents the previous regime and its current extension as represented in the Transitional Military Council (TMC)


Some of us bought land in the home country
We bought properties, furnished them and spoke about returning
Indeed, many properties, in prime locations remain empty awaiting the return of those abroad
We struggled with elderly parents being alone back home
Many of us brought our parents to live with us – despite their resistance


Before long, years had passed
10 years, twenty years, and more
We initially used to discuss our return
We debated how a new generation of Sudanese should bring up children and how we could help in the creation of a new Sudanese identity while not being physically in the Sudan
We debated whether a Sudanese identity relied on a geographical location or whether it could be nurtured elsewhere
We debated what was good in our culture and compared ourselves to other cultures and debated what we should rather adopt
When of some our children started escaping to join ISIS (in the period 2015-2016), we were temporarily shaken out of our complacency… what is our generation in the diaspora getting wrong?
We reached the age where we started debating whether we would retire in our host countries or perhaps go back home
And life went on in a tedious and predictable routine
We thought this was how our lives would continue, and end…


Our lives completely changed with the start of the protests in December 2018
For months, we have been glued to our phones – at critical times, we could not sleep
It was a responsibility, we declared, for us to become the voice of those leading and maintaining the struggles internally
We were fascinated by the youngsters who adopted the slogan peaceful (silmiya) and just fall (tasgot bas), and were absolute resolute and articulate in their vision for a non-racist, non-sexist future Sudan – referring to the revolution as a “revolution of awareness” (thawrat waay)
We were inspired by the youth-led revolution and the slogan “the whole country is Darfur” (kul al balad Darfur) and when the revolutionary spirit erupted in a beautiful avalanche of music, art, poetry – and “re-branded” as a cultural and social revolution

We took pride in the fact that the protestors were disciplined and non-violent at every stage of the revolution
We were concerned when the time extended to months, and we were then reassured as we felt that the long stretch of time had allowed for better organisation and conceptualisation of a way forward
We re-grouped and devised ways in which we could support and actively participate
Through the guidance of the Sudan Professionals Association (SPA), we re-connected as engineers, architects, medical doctors, lawyers, and other professions
We started working on bringing back to life the dismantled professional unions and associations
We devised methods of lobbying support, recording information, designed logos, assisted with communications and raised funding
Though few of us were professional journalists, many of us became involved in trying to develop media and communication strategies
We issued media statements and bugged journalists and human rights activists when no one wanted to cover the Sudan, and we then struggled to respond to media requests when everyone wanted to report on the Sudan

“Sudan is subjected to multiple marginalisation – too African for the Arabs and too Arab for the Africans.”

When the protestors occupied the space around the Military Complex for two months, we followed everything and everyone closely; we memorised the protests songs, we knew the people who protected the barricades in name, the artwork was imprinted in our minds and hearts
We wrote articles documenting the site and its activities believing that the site was a microcosm of the envisioned future Sudan of “freedom, peace and justice” (huriya, salaam, aadala)
We sent money to clean the space, to erect the tents, provide the mattresses, to furnish the classrooms and clothe the homeless children who found refuge at the site; we sent money to provide water, food and to erect shade structures
Indeed, I have also labelled this as a revolution of legendary Sudanese generosity
We broke down when the sit-in was violently dispersed and had to explain to journalists to please forgive us as we are not really politicians or reporters
We used the hashtag #mediacoveragesaveslives when the killings intensified and we wrote academic articles which aimed to assess exactly how many people had died throughout the protests
Having focused on our personal lives, professions and livelihoods for so many years, we were thrown into a new role that we were little prepared for, but wholeheartedly embraced
We were devastated when we saw the janjaweed militia (Rapid Support Forces RSF) take power and optimistic when we felt that agreements might be reached
We started to again believe that maybe we will return…


The new global realities – beyond geographic borders: the “city” and the “nation” as concepts have been “unsettled and reorganised in global time and space: the nation has also become increasingly detached from the formal territory of the nation-state through “long-distance nationalism” and the spaces of “diasporic citizenship”” (Crysler, 2003); the relationship between those in the country and those outside of it has come to the fore. Technology has allowed for this new reality.

The Generational Gaps; the movement has exposed tensions between the different generations; this has been incredibly evident in my own work with the engineering and architectural professional communities; the engineering groupings are split into two, one of the groups very evidently representing “young blood” and the other claiming to be representative of the “authentic” unions before they were dismantled by ElBashir; while they are now working together and have established a combined steering committee to take the profession forward in unity, neither group wants to abandon its name and identity and it is obvious that their modes of operation, communication methods and vision differ.

Gender representation has also come to the fore: while the movement seems to have been influenced and led by many young women, their exclusion from negotiations and nominations is evident; there are many forms of exclusion that we have to contend with; the exclusion is evident in attempts to silence or dismiss and this happens in both overt and subtle ways. The use of rape to terrorize women protestors has been an extreme and devastating form of silencing.

The concepts of gender, space and power are strongly interlinked; “Gender relations are… implicated in the conventional social and hierarchical arrangement of cities, where it is sanctioned that man should dominate space and that the house is woman’s assigned place.” (Lico, G. R., 2001: 37). Having more women in the movement would ensure an acknowledgement of their voice and their needs; however, this sometimes leads to a naïve understanding and superficial interpretations: I was amused at the creation of a “social” function in one grouping supporting the Sudan revolution so that they could find an “appropriate” role/function for the one women in the organisational team; a recent facebook survey asked if Sudan is ready for a female president; I refused to participate; I thought it was inappropriate to even conduct such a survey. Should it not already be evident? Ideally, we would all be labeled “human” in a transformed society that gives all equal access, serves all and celebrates all, in an egalitarian society. The Sudanese women’s movement has a wonderful history and pioneered many things in the region and globally – this needs to be reinforced and remembered.

Urban Public Space is many times appropriated by citizens and becomes a site of protest; as the Sudanese revolution evolved, I have wondered where our Sudanese public space, symbolic of the revolution, would be? It was always known that the ultimate aim would be an occupation of a major public space. The march to the army headquarters on the 6th April 2019 became one of the largest and most iconic of all the protests since mid-December. For myself as an architect with an interest in cities, space and protest, the decision to gather was incredibly significant. While the sit-in was brutality dispersed, the meanings of the space continue to remain strong in the Sudanese psyche and appear to be guiding all revolutionary activities since the 3rd June. The general mood has shifted. The occupied space had become a reflection of the intentions of the revolution – even in its absence, it continues to play that role. Public space is therefore perceived as a threat to those in authority as this is where dissent plays out in various forms – the whitewashing of artwork and the attempt at eradicating all memory of the sit-in site is evidence of this.


The Sudanese people are determined: there is enough evidence
The Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) are the leaders in the movement: this is now accepted widely and needs to be further reinforced
The delay in reaching agreements is related to the FFC needing to better organise and the Transitional Military Council (TMC) trying to remain in power
The TMC has not presented anyone who may be accepted as a leader and someone who has shown leadership capabilities – this is an opportunity for the FFC


The regional forces may not be so evident but are an important factor – it is a fluid situation – Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE may appear to “abandon” Hemedti because of his worsening reputation and notoriety
But Saudi Arabia is in a more critical position because of its own internal dynamics and need for soldiers
What may happen is that they try to identify another military personality to replace him – someone more acceptable locally, regionally and globally


Accept the agreement with the military – though it is bitter sweet
Focus on Hemedti as a war criminal – continue to communicate this widely – as well as the fact that he is a creation of the previous regime (perhaps ElBashir’s biggest crime?)
There is no option but a political resolution, which embraces everyone, despite the brutality and traumas to which the Sudanese people have been subjected
Embrace diversity – follow the South African model of truth and reconciliation and the Rwandan example
Become forward looking and focus on future building rather than on retribution (though this is a bitter pill to swallow)
Continue the peaceful resistance despite the agreement
The future is a big unknown
The work of the Sudanese in the diaspora will continue