I don’t know where to start. I wish I had taken my wife. Who am I without my school certificates? These three remarks by refugees, scribbled into notebooks by The Niles correspondents, support the Sudanese proverb that ‘experience is a solid walking stick’. War, hunger and poverty have repeatedly forced both Sudanese and South Sudanese to flee their homes. Right now more than 4.5 million people are on the road in the two countries, like these passengers on a bus from Khartoum to Shendi. The fifth edition of The Niles documents their journeys, following their routes to neighbouring villages, fast-expanding cities or the other side of the globe, revealing diverse experiences with a recurring theme: When you leave home, the familiar is lost but the essential remains.
20 The Niles > Departure: Romania > Arrival: Qatar via Khartoum, Sudan > Distance: 5,550km “I don’t risk my life to feed stereotypes” > Departure: London > Arrival: Juba > Distance: 5,859km “Life here is rewarding but testing” Sudanese caricaturist Khalid Albaih moved from Romania to Sudan before finally settling in Qatar. His distance from his home gives him more freedom to criticise his home country. By Hassan Faroog Y ou have moved around a lot. Where do you consider home? I was born in Romania, as my father was a consul in the Romanian Embassy. We returned to Sudan but left again in 1991 after the current government came to power and my father was sacked along with many colleagues. I studied in the United Arab Emirates. Definitely, my focus is on Sudan as it is my homeland and I love it more than any other country. When did your interest in caricature start? My father played a major role in this, as he was a reader of the two Egyptian magazines Rose Al-Youssef and Sabah El-Khir. These two magazines were keen on caricatures and I loved how they would merge politics and art. I studied graphic design at university and started drawing caricatures as a hobby after graduation. Did you grow up in a political family? How did that affect you? My family is politically oriented and that formed my character. My uncle is Field Marshal Abdel Rahman Suwar al-Dahab, interim president after former President Jaafer Nimeiry was toppled. His cousin is Babker al-Nur, one of the leaders who staged the 1971 coup and was subsequently executed along with a large number of Nimeiry’s officers. I closely followed political debates as a little boy. Our family was split between Communists and Islamists. Despite our ideological differences we remained a good family and there was no extremism. Have you faced difficulties because of your work? Definitely. My drawings have been rejected by all the magazines and newspapers in Sudan, Qatar and Egypt. I’ve been told that my drawing style was weird and my drawings were too powerful to be published. I think our generation has a different way of thinking than our parents. We grew up in a more modern world. Looking at the Arab Spring, we can see the difference in ideology between the two generations. How did you overcome these problems? I published my drawings on my Facebook page. I abandoned newspapers and resorted to the internet. During that period, protests erupted and the Arab Spring started in Tunisia. I interacted with the events and in no time, my drawings attracted attention from around the world. I was very emotionally involved in what was happening in the Arab World. Did your caricatures find their way into newspapers? Yes, they did, though I did not take any money for publishing my drawings. My caricatures were published in the New York Times, The Guardian, The Atlantic as well as newspapers in Germany and Brazil. They were on the BBC, Al Jazeera, and Al Arabiya. In general, I work with institutions more than newspapers as I think of my caricatures as an educative tool. I was raised in many countries including Sudan, Egypt, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. During those years, I was very connected to the internet and, as a result, my work is global. Have you received threats? Yes, I received threats on the internet from Sudan and other countries. I was arrested and investigated in Egypt. In general, as long as you raise contentious issues, your life will be in danger, but those working on the ground are in greater danger than me. I live abroad and I can express my opinions. Do you see any difference between Arabic and Western political cartoons in terms of style or content? I don’t think there is a difference in style as artists discover new styles all the time via the internet. You can’t tell where an artist is from by his style. In terms of content, I think cartoonists from this region are way more creative talking about issues due to censorship and self-censorship. We need to talk about taboos but in a way that our society can appreciate. They understand the questions we are trying to ask without being offended: offending people will divert attention from what we are trying to say. We also face government censorship – that is actually someone’s job! I avoid it by working as an independent online cartoonist but my life is threatened every single time I post a cartoon. Are you Charlie? I am not Charlie. I try to unite people and build bridges. I do not do what Charlie has done, breaking the world down into separate teams. Feeding stereotypes and doling out abuse under the banner of freedom of speech is not why I risk my life every day. Your cartoons also criticise Islamist extremists. How do you do that? By showing people how narrow-minded these extremists are. By that I mean not just Islamists but all extremists. What challenges do you face in Doha? There are no challenges as I live in the cyberspace and do my best to stay away from any political movements. This is why I have two names: my official one and a nickname I use to sign my drawings. Do you want to return to Sudan or stay abroad? Returning to Sudan has pros and cons. If I returned I would be close to events as they unfold. However, staying abroad gives me a broader perspective – plus I cannot guarantee my safety in Sudan. Khalid Albaih is a Sudanese cartoonist, based in Qatar. Londoner Naomi Swain teaches yoga in South Sudan and argues that it can help people take their minds off their daily stress. By Simon Bingo W hat are you doing in South Sudan? I have been in South Sudan since January 2011, and have spent ten years in Africa, in places including Uganda, Mozambique, Zambia, Zanzibar, and South Sudan. I am here for work… South Sudan is not an easy place to live but there are a lot of opportunities. What do you like about South Sudan? South Sudanese people are welcoming and it is tremendously cosmopolitan. Life here is rewarding but testing. What don’t you like about South Sudan? There is no regular power here. It gets hot when you have no fan because of the inconsistent power supply. Sometimes it gets to 50 degrees and that can make things difficult. Things are very expensive here: This apartment costs US$3,000 a month, a lot of money for a one bedroom flat. Do you miss home? I miss living somewhere where things are easily available in the supermarkets. I miss my family and friends. Why teach yoga in South Sudan? People need to continue with normal life in such an insecure time. Yoga is a good way to unwind... It gives you time to switch off. Juba people are super busy. Day-to-day living here includes bad mattresses and bad roads which can cause pain and tension. Do South Sudanese people attend your classes too? All sorts of people come including South Sudanese, Indian, Thai people, and Japanese. I have men, women, old, young, fat and thin. Last year I had classes in the refugee camp in Gorom, about half an hour’s drive from Juba, and sometimes I teach in the Confident Children Out of Conflict Centre on Sundays. I’ve also done some classes in the women’s prison. Do you think more South Sudanese should do yoga? Yes. People here always complain about their shoulders, their breathing, and that they can’t sleep. There is a lot of pain at present and yoga can be key in helping people to take their minds off the stress. theniles_enar_20150327.indd 20 2015/3/31 1:50 PM
The Niles 21 Sudanese railways, once a vital link, are now in disrepair. > Departure: - > Arrival: - > Distance: 5,978km A ticket to no- where The Sudanese railways, among the longest in Africa, once linked populations and ushered Sudan into the modern age. These days, many have been reduced to scrap metal. By Hadiya Elias In its heyday, Sudan’s railway measured about 4,588km, with four main train lines crossing the country. But a sharp decline began in the 1990s, and has continued ever since. Today, only the northern line to Atbarah carries passengers while the others are largely derelict, sometimes merely lines of scrap metal tossed on roadsides, and there is scant evidence of a return to the golden years. A legacy of British rule in Sudan, the railway cost around half a million British pounds (US$757,500), according to the English writer Mark Estrag in his book ‘From Cape to Cairo’. Lord Kitchener, the British campaign’s leader, ordered the railways to be built mainly to “transport supplies and food to the army when it passes through Sudan”, Estrag wrote. The railways were built by Egyptian farmers, Sudanese people, and 200 prisoners who were released especially to help the construction, as well as a number of soldiers. Key to the railway development was a Canadian engineer, Sir Édouard Percy Cranwill Girouard, who helped establish the Canadian Pacific Railways before joining the British army. Opened on the last day of the 19th century, the railway line initially spanned some 1,068km between Halfa in the north of Sudan and Khartoum-Bahri, a link used mainly for military purposes. The line was expanded to the east of the country in 1905 and was connected to Port Sudan on the Red Sea. In 1909 the railways were developed to reach towards Al Jazirah, linking to the largest agricultural project in the country, and thus boosting the economy. In 1912, tracks reached into the White Nile in western Sudan. By the time Sudan gained self-rule in 1954, its railway network had expanded to 3,104km, according to Mustafa Mohamed Khojali in an article written in English and published in Sudan Studies Magazine in July 2010. The post-independence national government increased this network “to consolidate national unity and strengthen economic development”, he wrote. It built three railways: a short one from Sennar to Damazin and two longer ones from Arabeida to Nyala in Darfur and from Babanousa to Wau in Ghazal Sea, reaching a total length of 4,588km. Journalist Qurashi Awad praised the railways for “connecting all parts of Sudan with each other”, underlining that they had a big impact on public life as “they developed the countryside and contributed to establishing cultural clubs, cooperatives, and schools”. Salah Khalifa, a Sudan Railway Cooperation (SRC) worker for more than 20 years, underlined the social impact of the railway. “Uniting Sudan and linking all the Sudanese tribes with their cultures” was the railways’ most important achievement, said Khalifa, who comes from the north. He added that the railways connected him to people from Babanousa, the east and the centre. “I was introduced to many cultures.” Trains offered citizens a cheap and secure means of transport, a step up from travelling by road on the back of lorries. In recent years, the roads have been paved and the railways have decayed so people tend to travel by cars and coaches. The railway’s decline follows years of negligence, poor management, and political problems. Its deterioration began in the late 1970s. Khalifa believes the government of Jaafar Nimeiry (1969-1985) was to blame for the downturn. “Workers’ strikes were a major concern for the government and, thus, the body they belonged to had to be finished.” Successive governments followed the same strategy, he said, igniting an era of confrontation between politicians and railways workers’ unions. Thousands of experienced workers and engineers were sacked during this time. Meanwhile, economic boycotts suddenly meant that spare parts were in short supply. The Sudan Railways Corporation was hurt by a lack of regular maintenance and the US sanctions, as more than 80 percent of the railway’s machines were made in America. The restoration of the railway is often discussed by the government and the Sudan Railways Corporation but their words have yet to be turned into action. Recent attempts include the government’s plan to improve the link between Khartoum and the neighbouring states, a scheme unveiled by officials in October. But as yet no details have been provided. Abdullah Ali Masar, chairman of the Transport Committee in the National Council has said that projects to develop the transport sector will soon reach neighbouring countries with a plan “to establish two railway lines to Ethiopia and Chad”. Many view the renewal of the Sudanese railways as a key priority for the nation. “Rebuilding the Sudanese railways is connected to rebuilding Sudan as a country,” journalist Awad said. He added that reviving the railways will require “developing technical education, training staff in specialised schools and, most important of all, changing the country’s external policies through cooperating with countries in the field of developing railways to import spare parts”. Khalifa agreed with him, saying the network needs “full maintenance of trains and the neglected railways...Experts, engineers, and fast trains should be imported.” In light of Sudan’s deep economic malaise and a lack of political action, however, the railways look set to stand derelict for some time. 5500km 5600 5700 5800 5978 km 5900 6000 theniles_enar_20150327.indd 21 2015/3/31 1:50 PM