New Internationalist

The Sudanese diaspora must up its game

Sudan demonstration in London, 2012 [Related Image]
Sudan demonstration in London, 2012 muffinn under a Creative Commons Licence

Just over a year ago, on 30 June 2012, the Sudanese diaspora turned out in force to call for the toppling of Omar al-Bashir’s dictatorship regime. The protests echoed those back in Sudan. The vibe that day and during the whole month was intense, with communities throughout the diaspora protesting simultaneously across the world. We thought: it’s finally going to happen; we are going to come together as one nation demanding the same aim! A year on, and here we are again, witnessing another anniversary (the 24th) of the same government. No surprise, really, considering that the same angry people were using the same mechanisms to demonstrate last year as they did 30 and 50 years ago.

I am 26 and have lived most of my life under this dictatorship government. When I lived in Sudan, I had no opportunity to live, think, develop or even dream freely. I am angry too, but I am not interested in celebrating past revolutions or old victories. I am done expecting any good out of the old-fashioned traditional opposition. We live in the 21st century; can’t we just move on?

I came to Britain three years ago, and have noticed that we members of the Sudanese diaspora are acting and interacting as another mini-Sudan in Britain, rather than as a concerned arm of its society. This is reflected in the way we organize our activities, plan our work and communicate with the wider society. How can we better engage with the wider community and more efficiently contribute toward the ongoing debate on Sudan’s future?

We tend to be ‘reactionists’ who respond to external triggers rather than following clear, specific long- or short-term strategies. This is, of course, a key element in building cases, mobilizing people and influencing change. During last June’s demonstration in front of 10 Downing Street, the organizers had two general aims: to put pressure on the British government to raise Sudan’s profile through a memorandum handed to the prime minister; and to gain British and international media attention. But no specific measurable or achievable objectives were communicated to the public. The only action called for was the overthrow of the Sudanese government, which wasn’t realistic or feasible from within Britain.

Our public work is usually driven by personal motives and fuelled by anger and enthusiasm rather than evidence-based analysis. Last year’s demonstration should have been assessed in terms of media coverage, the response of the British government and human rights sector, and the influence on the situation back in Sudan. Accordingly, the organisers could decide if a similar demonstration this year is a good idea or, alternatively, if they need to explore other more efficient tools.

Additionally, professionalism seems to be missing from most of our work. Excluding a few organizing groups from the Sudanese community, it has become very rare to receive an event invitation with reasonable notice or attend one which starts on time. The blurring of boundaries between personal and professional life has transformed many promising organizations within the community into scenes of personal conflict.

Despite the amount of time many Sudanese have spent in Britain, most of those whom I have met do not feel settled. There is always the feeling that they will return to Sudan once the regime is overthrown. Not only is this emotionally draining; it doesn’t help the situation here or in Sudan.

On the other hand, there are many great opportunities to explore and from which our campaign could benefit:

First, online media and digital platforms, which offer the opportunity to write and speak out (both in English and Arabic) as individuals. Specific focus could be placed on techniques that put pressure on authorities. We could arrange an ‘online-demonstration’ through emailing our councillors and MPs all at the same time. This might grab their attention and put pressure on local authorities. We could actively participate in the Sudan and South Sudan’s ‘All Parliamentary Groups’ which help to advocate on behalf of and to build knowledge about the two countries. It is worth getting a broad idea of the debates already going on in Parliament about Sudan.

Second, the establishment of technical/professional groups as well as active collaborations with other similar organizations. This includes working closely with journalists and human rights organizations interested in Sudanese issues; African and Middle Eastern forums; migrant and refugee organizations; professional groups; and campaigns.

A major problem is the absence of the younger generation from the diaspora’s public work, particularly those born and brought up here, usually aged between 16 and 29. It is obvious from the nature of the events and tools used to communicate that a whole generation has been left out of our picture for Sudan’s future. Our failure to address their rising concerns – youth unemployment, privatization of higher education and so on – has helped fuel conservatism and resulted in an identity crisis among many of them, creating an easy recipe for extremism.

It is our responsibility as a diaspora to reach out, bridge gaps and engage with this generation. Groups and projects such The Youth Factor, Sudan Hub and Our Sudan are promising and should be encouraged and empowered to help create and lead the new Sudan.

Photo by muffinn under a CC Licence.

Nahla Mahmoud is an environmentalist and human right activist originally from Sudan. She works with a few campaigns in the UK including One Law for All and Secular Middle East and North Africa. She leads the Sudanese Humanists Group.  - See more at: http://newint.org/blog/2012/07/04/open-letter-to-sudans-president/#sthash.aXHV3O0t.dpuf
Nahla Mahmoud is an environmentalist and human right activist originally from Sudan. She works with a few campaigns in the UK including One Law for All and Secular Middle East and North Africa. She leads the Sudanese Humanists Group.  - See more at: http://newint.org/blog/2012/07/04/open-letter-to-sudans-president/#sthash.aXHV3O0t.dpuf
Nahla Mahmoud is an environmentalist and human right activist originally from Sudan. She works with a few campaigns in the UK including One Law for All and Secular Middle East and North Africa. She leads the Sudanese Humanists Group.  - See more at: http://newint.org/blog/2012/07/04/open-letter-to-sudans-president/#sthash.aXHV3O0t.dpuf

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  1. #1 Peter Verney 11 Jul 13

    Spot on. It needed saying, and Nahla says it most eloquently.

  2. #2 Tahir 13 Jul 13

    It's an interesting article Nahla, and I can see your effort to tackle the challenges are face the demonstrations against NCP regime. Let me add something, wherever there was a demonstration, it came from the low profile people. Who they were completely ignored, whereas they were the power pushed all the revolutions in the world.
    There's a great lack of communication between the activists and the majority of Sudanese population. I agree that the social media will help, but still they are targeting only 6% of them. What about the rest. Here's the main challenge

    With regards
    Tahir

  3. #3 Ali 29 Sep 13

    Wonderful Nahla, what I like most about this article is that you captured the most prevailing aspects of the on-going failure of Sudanese communities at least to benefit their existence within the most advanced states, specifically, with regards to advancing their public activities.I think what has been helpful in your successful attempt to accomplishing this task, is that you distanced yourself from the whole scene as Sudanese living in the same 'diaspora' - which equate in my view, in this sense, to (dilemma Mihna)noticing your intended use of 'we'

    However, it is not enough always just to illustrate the causing factors, but to rigorously identify a clear path that people can go through to overcome such shortcomings that jeopardise their efforts for change. To me the problem behind the Sudanese failure to pursue an effective and rational forms of activism, is that they are not a solid unit of actors,(Most of them ended up in Europe for completely different ambitions, and found themselves for a reason or another a free riders in the public arena) political inconsistency and different levels of capacities in many witnessed situations hinders the organised groups' ability to keep modern momentum or strengthen main streaming the experiences ways of perfect performance. It is utterly true to say that different factors that complicated over years has been qualified to yield what we are cultivating now.It is rather structural and deep-seated phenomena that goes beyond the normal setting of things.

    Well done.

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About the author

Nahla Mahmoud is an environmental campaigner and human right activist originally from Sudan. She is particularly interested in issues of secularism, equality and modern concepts of conserving natural resources.

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