Home | Comment & Analysis    Sunday 9 June 2013

Our Sudan: musings of the undead effendi


By Magdi El-Gizouli

June 9, 2013 - A group of technology-savvy, gender-sensitive and human-rights-mainstreamed Sudanese young women and men put together a twelve minutes film titled #OurSudan for the English-literate audience with Arabic subtitles. I recognized a few of the people who spoke to the camera as friends and university colleagues. The film is the brainchild and production of Tariq Hilal, a Khartoumian political scientist and democracy practitioner employed by the US Conflict Dynamics International. It is essentially a replay of Hilal’s TEDx Khartoum lecture in May 2012 with a cast. Apparently a hygienic exercise in the marketing of ‘good will’ and ‘positive thinking’, the film is a demonstration of ideology at its purest with the gushing of politics flushed out leaving bare the white bone of fantasy.

The knot of Tariq’s narrative is the apposition of two generations, the fathers who inherited the colony intact and their sons/daughters who suffered the postcolony as a site of fracture and degeneration. The first, he tells us, had it all, trains that ran on time, jazz nights by the Nile, Khartoum University in its prime when exams were marked in London and students had their laundry done, and the second had to queue for fuel and bread, fought for a foothold in crammed public buses and endured education in impoverished universities that offered nothing more than diplomas. The idealism that inspired the return of the fathers from higher education in Europe and North America to build the country they considered theirs was replaced by humble goals and a pragmatic worldview that kept most of their offspring abroad as ‘naturalised’ citizens or permanent immigrants in foreign lands. While the fathers could not realise their dreams the offspring had difficulties dreaming bogged down as they were by the perception of having “fallen short” tells us Tariq. The resolution he offers is belief. With the insight that the golden age of Sudan was not so golden and the dark age not so dark, Tariq’s advice is “to recognise that our generation is a generation to be proud of too.” Without the privileges of the golden age Sudan’s young men and women have achieved great things, Hilal assures us. The climax is reached with the suspicious and oft-repeated Sudan snippet, a resources rich geography where the Middle East meets Africa inhabited by peoples of diverse ethnicities, religions and colours, and endowed with a predominantly young population eager to learn and achieve. The cast of the film actually represented the flow of colour from the dark ‘akhdar’ through the hybrid ‘asmar’ to the light ‘asfar’ of the Sudanese. The endpoint is reached with a marketing repetition of the trademark ‘My Sudan…Your Sudan… Our Sudan’ on the background of the smiling faces of the troupe followed by the instruction: “It is time to dream a new dream, the dream of our generation.”

Tariq’s narrative and its video transformation pursue the politics of representation with the candour and inanity of television advertisements. The two sexes are highlighted as are the shades of skin colour, the signifiers of religious observance or lack thereof and the physiognomic features of ethnic categorisation. Conspicuously absent from the photogenic mosaic display is any reference to the contradictions of social class, and rightly so since the dreams entertained, the failed old and the celebrated new, are born of a shared political economy, that of the homogenous few who “stand tall”, to plagiarise Tariq’s very words, above the crowd. Tariq did a great job describing the anguish of Sudan’s effendiya and their heirs, the salaried degrees-heavy professionals with global ties, at the loss of a world they occupied but did not make. He voiced the fantasy of return from Babylonian exile in the world to a Sudanese Jerusalem to be with a passion deserving of admiration, but fell prey to the very fiction he dismissed as reminisce. If there is a single thread that runs through the tumultuous history of postcolonial Sudan it is the continuous revolt of its peoples against the power structures that made the trains run on the time of the effendiya as it were. Whether under the banners of a militant left in the 1960s, with the spears of sharia in the 1980s and 1990s or in the bandwagons of ethnic kith and kin, Sudan’s disenfranchised continue to challenge the colonial architecture of power at the heart of its persistent crisis. All claims considered, Sudan belongs to those who put down the rails, did the students’ laundry and shouldered the costs of the London exams. Cinema Coliseum is playing their film, and there are no subtitles.

The author is a fellow of the Rift Valley Institute. He publishes regular opinion articles and analyses at his blog Still Sudan. He can be reached at m.elgizouli@gmail.com

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