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Lee McKenna's Journal: Sudan, November 2008, Entry 3

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January 27, 2009 | bpfna

Lee McKenna has been representing the BPFNA across the world for many years. Her main work is teaching and accompanying people as they experiment with and implement the peacemaking work of transforming conflict. Lee's most recent trip was a return trip to Sudan in late November 2008. These journal entries chronicle her travels and encounters. You are invited to prayerfully read them over and imagine yourself there alongside her as she accompanied peacemakers interested in conflict  transformation.



Lee McKenna's Journal
Sudan, November 2008
Entry 3

A local newspaper carries news of yesterday’s attack on an Army Base in North Darfur by one of the rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Army – to which the military responded with an air attack on nearby villages, the dead not yet counted. The government’s response today: it didn’t happen. Just hearsay, Sudan’s Ambassador retorts. That’s not what they’re saying around here. The ceasefire in a brutal war of attrition that has left 2.5 million homeless and at least 350,000 dead, enjoys the respect of neither side. But it is the government that is once again escalating the violence, targetting humanitarian aid efforts, hoping perhaps to present a status quo of permanent destruction prior to further UNAMID deployment. With President Omar al-Bashir under indictment by the International Criminal Court, it seems he intends the escalation as a deterrent to the ICC’s issuing of an arrest warrant.
 
In other news, the SPLM’s (Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement’s) Saturday plans for a celebration of the Obama victory at al-Mogran Stadium in Khartoum have been postponed out of respect for the death by vehicular mishap of the Secretary General of the Ummah Party, Abdul Nabi Ali Ahmed. (The day after Obama’s win, South Sudan declared a holiday.) An inside page carries the full text of a recent speech by the president-elect. Another page covers the latest on the contentious issue of the boundary that will divide the North from the South.
 
Gathered once more with the veterans of the ‘Forum’, Light reminds us that it was in this room that we held the first training in non-violence three years ago. There is no one else in Sudan, multi-laterals, NGOs, no one, no organisation that is doing work just like this. This is not the death-defying work of humanitarian aid workers attempting to deliver food, shelter and medical care to the displaced, desperate and dying. This is the history-defying, social norm-, cultural-, religious- and warrior-defying work of non-violence training. The participants have taken risky journeys to get here, as the edges of multiple conflicts overlap and spread across the map of this country. We gather in a church compound layered with the red dusts of the latest haboob (sand storm), a place that the Bishop has declared holy ground – for both Christians and Muslims, where Muslims can pray, both in wonder. This place has been targetted by the government and attacked by the Justice and Equality Movement, one of several Darfurian rebel movements. A recent gathering here was kept quiet until the last moment because of the danger for travelling participants.
 
The work begun here has reached into unusual and far places in Sudan. The training required by the diocese for its workers now includes non-violence taught by one of ‘ours’. Another ‘graduate’, Saleh, is an oddity, a Muslim, an imam and a card-carrying member of the SPLM (the political movement of the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Army, which carried out a 21-year war with the central government, ending in 2005 with a peace agreement whose key elements remain ignored by Khartoum). Saleh continues his work with the SPLM membership, doing hit bit to coax it out of warrior mode and into governance mode. Isaac is working with the newly-appointed members of the South Sudan Parliament of the Government of National Unity.
 
Fatima has been multiplying her training experience across Darfur in rural areas and IDP camps, focussing on non-violent change, a culture of diversity, and violence against women. Yasmin has been working in the women’s prison, Mamoun with hundreds of members of several political parties, doing training in non-violence, gender and HIV AIDS. Light tells us that the University of Khartoum now implements a course based on SONAD’s School of Democracy and Human Rights to people from all regions, tribes and religions across Sudan, in schools, villages and in the capital.
 
I have a dream, one says, consciously quoting Martin Luther King – that someday there will be a Sudan chapter to A Force More Powerful that will tell the story of the Sudanese Forum for Non-violence, who challenged the course of history, tradition and culture to bring about radical, non-violent change in centuries-old systems of oppression and inter-tribal, inter-religious, hostility and warfare.
 
Widad wants to speak. While we were focussing on conflicts over water, food, shelter, struggling to build that dream, I began to see the violence in me; that I needed to begin right here, she says, her hand on her stomach, her heart and then her hijab-enwrapped head. Sulafa is a child psychologist – a position that she was able to have qualified as her ‘national service’ – working in both Khartoum and in Darfur. In a recent workshop with 400 medical students, she incited animated debate and discussion on the, to them, novel and perplexing concepts and practices of non-violence. In Darfur, she travels from school to school, camp to camp, often presented with heart-breaking cases of violated children who have become the soft target of their fathers’ war-broken impotence and rage.
 
Many tell stories of their work in pairs and triads, all graduates of the trainings, women, men, Muslim, Christian, going to Muslim villages and camps west of El Fashur and the oil-displaced Christians and animists of Malakal, Wau and Warab. Others tell of training in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, their organising and training for the 2009 elections and the 2011 referendum. Arig, a young physician from the Nuba Mountains, trained dozens of musicians and actors in non-violence and theatre of the oppressed. Luka, a teacher and a Christian, talks of a remarkable invitation to do training during Ramadan in a Muslim community in Western Kordofan. Tall, lanky, with a mobile face and a body that seems to have more springs than joints, Luka asked the participants in the workshop, What is love? We all talk about it, but what is it? Why is it that we prepare so much more efficiently for war than for peace? He spoke about non-violence in the Bible; the participants responded with verses from the Qu’ran about love of neighbour. Intrigued, the participants threw themselves into the workshop, lingering long after the time was over, talking, debating, questioning; finally making their way home, their hearts beating for peace. The next day, Luka began with: Why do we beat our children? Because otherwise, they will be savages, their parents assert. Who knows what they would do if we didn’t beat them into submission? Gloria interrupts with her reminder that last year the Ministry of Education declared beating of children in schools to be unlawful. Sulafa adds: ‘They often suffer broken bones as well as broken hearts. They learn early the language of violence, that coercion and the threat of a beating is the only way to get them to show up to class. But a child beaten today’, she says, ‘will grow up to beat someone else, their children, their partner, their neighbour, the stranger. It never ends. At some point you just have to stop.’ Yasmin and Rafaat tells us that they have put together a training that makes use of the CPA (the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed between the South and Khartoum in 2005), looking at its implementation through the lens of non-violence: it can be done!
 
With another dam planned for the Kajbar, just below the third cataract of the Nile, Rafaat organised thousands of his fellow Nubians to protest the latest chapter in a miserable history of displacement and destruction – of their history, their antiquities, their land and their living. The Committee to Rescue the Kajbar organised simultaneous demonstrations in Khartoum and at Tagab, the site of the proposed dam. At Tagab, thousands gathered peacefully to demonstrate, eventually making their way to the Nile. As they approached the river, a phalanx of armed men on horseback appeared over the hill on the other side like a scene from the Dirty Dozen, opening fire, first with tear gas – which made them run for the river to wash the sting from their eyes – and then with bullets, wounding dozens and killing one young man from the village. In Khartoum, Rafaat is arrested and tortured, imprisoned for nine days without charge. But, it was good, he insists; other organisations joined us to form a larger coalition. It is hard to say right now, but we may have succeeded.
 
Shortly after Arig graduated from the 2006 Training of Trainers, Light asked her to accompany him to Abiyei, an area of tension and heightened conflict as negotiations to decide the boundary between the North and the South repeatedly founder on longstanding tribal quarrels over issues of traditional lands. With only five days’ warning from Light, Arig went to her parents to ask their blessing on her journey. Her mother acquiesced easily, while her father remained adamant that he would not see his daughter travelling to the Christian south for such dangerous nonsense! Light and Moses went to talk to her family; the conversation went on for hours. At the end, to her father’s own surprise, he agreed to let her go.
 
At the airport, the reception told her she could go and wait somewhere else as the next flight was for Juba. But I am going to Juba, she insisted. Indicating her hijab, they countered: but Muslim women don’t go there. Even as she boarded the plane, their sceptical looks remained, certain she was in error, getting on the wrong flight. At the workshop, she was the only northerner and the only Muslim. Over the course of the following three days, she heard the participants, Mysserya and Dinka Ngok, lay out the details of their conflict, challenging her to figure this one out! Though the encounter was remarkable, trans-religion, trans-tribal possibilities modelled in the persons of the trainers, there is no happy ending, she says. Solutions are hard to imagine at this point; it is no simple replication of the 1956 border. The border question joins a long and growing list of obstacles faced – and erected – by the SPLM on its path from rebel to governor.
 
Gloria, just beginning to show the signs of a blossoming pregnancy, talks about non-violence as a new way of life for her. Together with Lisa (both Christians), she led a multi-day workshop in the Nuba Mountains – on, of all things, Islam and non-violence. In Sudan, diversity is used to divide and conquer; the multiple hues of tribe, culture and religion reduced to the monochrome of violence. The participants were puzzled, wondering if they had misheard the workshop leaders’ introductions of themselves as Christians. They also focussed on violence against women, both women and men insisting that they have their role and it is ordained from forever: bearers and nurturers of children, cooks and searchers after water, fuel and food. How to measure success? she asked. We laughed together, learned and had fun together, tested out some risky ideas. The wonderful thing was to watch the women begin to turn, to challenge their father’s and husband’s gendered assignments for them in life and to consider the benefits of fuller participation in their respective families, clans and societies. Dangerous imagining, indeed.
 
We close the day with a blessing. We remind ourselves of our role as midwives, bringing to birth the new Sudan.


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