Home | Comment & Analysis    Monday 26 February 2007

Al Khatim Adlan’s legacy of wisdom and vision


By Ahmed Elzobier

Feb 25, 2007 — You can simply call them the Magnificent Four, and they all died tragically, leaving behind a well documented legacy of ideas and vision. Abdel Khalig Mahjoub1, Mahamoud Mohamed Taha2, Al Khatim Adlan, and John Garang3 – their names are synonymous with the wisdom and compassion this country desperately needs. Considering the low level of literacy, high cost of education, restricted exposure to good books and inspiring ideas, and the ongoing poverty and conflict in Sudan, it was quite a miracle that the country was able to produce these brilliant minds during the second half of 20th century. They all came from humble backgrounds but through sheer dedication to equality and the pursuit of knowledge, they contributed immeasurably to ideas of social justice, religion, secularism, democracy, and identity and ethnicity in Sudan. They inspired millions of Sudanese and no doubt their ideas will continue to instill hope for the future.

The youngest was the late Al Khatim Adlan who died in London on 23 April 2005 aged 55, only three months after signing the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). Al Khatim studied Philosophy at Khartoum University and was jailed for eight years during the 1970s for his student activities. He had been a member of the Sudanese Communist Party4 (SCP) since the mid-60s, and he was the party’s main public speaker from the early 1970s and through the third democratic period from 1985 to 1989. In the early 1990s he became a member of the SCP Central Bureau and then joined the SCP’s leadership office. Al Khatim realized that the party he had served faithfully for 30 years had to change and he wrote his well-known paper, “Time for Change”. But the SCP leadership flatly rejected his radical ideas. He resigned in 1994 and formed, with others, the Sudanese New Forces Movement in 1996. His resignation shocked many party members. He was one of few among them who clearly understood the complexity of Marxist theory, and perhaps on reflection this led him to realize Marxism’s imperfection as a proposal to solve and eradicate social injustices. Al Khatim noted his position in an article when he wrote, “I realized in the early 1990s how the Marxist project for social change has been proven wrong by history. I have not chosen to fall back on the 30 years I have spent serving that project. I was not paralyzed by fear to form or construct a new way of thinking, and create a new identity. I have not cared for what people will say, dead or living. I declared it to myself and then I went public. I went back to the roots of all our projects; the interests of the people and their right to live in dignity, peace and justice. I have tried, and I am still providing a modest contribution in this area, and many others have done the same.”

Al Khatim was considered by his friends and enemies to be a rare breed of intellectual, although he was brought up in a deprived environment in Al Jazeera State. But the young Al Khatim had, since his early school days, shown an enviable intellectual talent. He came across as a thinker of stunning clarity, able to express his ideas in written or spoken form with a precision that very few of his contemporaries could achieve. He was a fearless politician with rare moral integrity. According to Dr Al Kaersani, “The Islamists used to fear two opponents, the Republican Party5 members and Al Khatim Adlan”. His style was a combination of elegance and persuasiveness and would be impressive in any circumstances. Al Khatim always maintained that the ruling Islamists in Sudan are among the most scheming, devious and ruthless of men to have found their way into power in this country. He regarded them as essentially a malevolent institution that has visited untold psychological damage on Sudan and its people. That’s why he dedicated much of the last two years of his life to exposing Hassan Al-Turabi’s6 latest tricks and tactics in a series of well received articles published in the newspaper Al-Adwa. He warned the Sudanese people that the ultimate aim of Al-Turabi was to become the only alternative to the currently unpopular National Congress Party (NCP), and how he was deceptively counting on the good nature of Sudanese people and their tendency to sometimes forgive evil political crimes.

Dr Al Bagir Afif, a close friend, wrote in his introduction to Al Khatim’s book (a collection of political essays entitled What is exile and what is home?); “Al Khatim devoted his life to the powerless, he was not concerned with the worldly pleasures of life. He came to life as a poor person, and he passed away a poor person. Like them, he lived his short life in purity”.

In an interview with Al Jazeera TV two months before September 11, on 10 July 2001, Al Khatim was asked, “What do you make of Osama Bin Laden’s movement?” Al Khatim replied with mesmerising precision:
-  “I think this issue is beyond personality and specifically beyond Osama Bin Laden, because it involves many other groups that are dispersed globally. We cannot reduce this phenomenon to one person, irrespective of his role as an individual; I consider Osama Bin Laden as part of a bigger picture, which is the phenomenon of international terrorism, so let us directly address this without hesitation.
-  “I think international terrorism will harm these people themselves in the first place, and then harm the Arab and Muslim people. Let us start by defining terrorism. I know this is a TV interview and not an academic forum … in short it’s the violence applied against a legitimate state, this legitimacy being either democratic or historical, in order to achieve a political objective. Although their tactics will not in a million years come near toppling or destabilising the USA, they use these tactics during peacetime and most of their victims are civilians.
-  “I am talking specifically of when this group killed 200 and wounded 5500 Africans, and killed 12 Americans when they bombed the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. No one talks about these people and the devastation that has so badly affected their families – and Bin Laden and his group share the full responsibility for the blood and suffering of these people”.
-  Al Khatim continued his argument passionately; “If that is the case, in my opinion, the American Government will resort to using their military forces rather than CIA investigators. This will have serious and disturbing repercussions in the Middle East and the Islamic world”.

The recent history of the region has proved that his reading of these events was correct. And when people try to make out that it was a magical vision you can be sure he would have shook his head in disappointment. Even on his deathbed, although overwhelmed by chemotherapy and painkillers, swinging between states of consciousness and unconsciousness, he was angered by a relative’s attempt to perform some kind of religious ceremony to prepare him for death. Al Khatim’s brave last words were; “Please be witness and tell the people, I have lived all my life spreading enlightenment and fighting against superstitions. If I have two days or two hours or two minutes to live, I will spread enlightenment”.

Last Saturday 17 February in Khartoum, and maybe for the first time, young Sudanese were introduced to this inspiring, gallant political thinker through the event organised by the Al Khatim Cultural Centre and the National Committee in Al Sharga Hall to launch his fascinating new book, What is exile and what is home?.

* The author is a Sudanese writer and Human rights activist. He can be reached at ahmed.elzobir@gmail.com.


1: Abdel Khalig Mahjoub (1920 – 1971): one of the founders, and General Secretary of the Sudanese Communist Party. He was executed by Gaafar Nimeiry’s regime after a failed pro-communist military coup in 28 July 1971.

2: Mohamed Taha (1909 – January 18, 1985): a Sudanese political figure and theologian. Taha played a prominent role in Sudan’s struggle for independence and was a co-founder of the Sudanese Republican Party. Noted for his advocacy of liberal reform within Sudanese society and within Islam itself. The regime of Sudanese President Gaafar al-Nimeiry executed Taha for his views in January 1985.

3: John Garang de Mabior (June 23, 1945 – July 30, 2005): Vice President of Sudan (after signing the CPA in 9 January 2005) and leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). Garang was born into a poor family in Wagkulei village, near Bor in Jonglei state in southern Sudan. In late July 2005 Garang died after tragic plane crash in the south.

4: Sudanese Communist Party (SCP): founded in 1946, it was a major force in Sudanese politics, and one of the two most influential Communist parties in Africa, with the South Africa Communist Party. In 1971 an abortive coup d’état by pro-communist officers prompted military ruler Gaafar al-Nimeiry to launch a wave of repression against the party. As of 2006 the SCP is led by Muhammad Ibrahim Nugud and plays only a marginal role. It advocates a return to democratic, secular rule and supports the unity of Sudan.

5: The Republican Party: founded in October 1945, the organization’s publications reflected the strongly liberal, secular orientations within Islam’s modernist movements.

6: Hassan Al-Turabi (1932–): political leader of the National Islamic Front, now the National Popular Party. He was an influential figure in Sudan politics and the power behind the Ingaz regime from 1989 until his disagreement with president Omar al-Bashir in December 1999. Turabi was born around 1932, in the province of Kassala, in eastern Sudan near the border with Eritrea.

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