“I am a British journalist”

A visiting friend recently left us with a copy of Chris Cleave’s bestseller The Other Hand.

I particularly enjoyed the following scene, in which the heroine, a Nigerian refugee, is deported back to Abuja accompanied by her friend, a women’s magazine editor.

The military police were waiting for me in a small room, wearing uniforms and gold-framed sunglasses. They could not arrest me because Sarah was with me. She would not leave my side. I am a British journalist, she said. Anything you do to this woman, I will report it. The military police were uncertain, so they called their commander. The commander came, in a camouflage uniform and a red beret, with tribal scars on his cheeks. He looked at my deportation document, and he looked at me and Sarah and Charlie. He stood there for a long time, scratching his belly and nodding …

The military police followed our taxi from the airport. I was very frightened but Sarah gripped my hand. I will not leave you she said. So long as Charlie and I are here, you are safe. The police waited outside our hotel.

If anyone out there is short of a few bob, I would pay good money to watch you try that “I am a British journalist” line in a similar setting.

A slick visit to Darfur’s red carpet camps

4134134680_bc643132e6_mThere was a time when visits to Darfur were uncertain affairs, fraught with danger. These days – as long as you travel with the right people and stick strictly to the right route – they can be as comfortable as a coach trip.

The African Union delegation plane touched down in El Fasher, North Darfur’s capital, at 9.35 a.m. on Tuesday. We were on the bus heading back to the airstrip at 4.40 p.m.

In between, the members of the African Union’s peace and security council visited the governor’s walled-in compound, where ambassadors watched tribal dancing and a PowerPoint presentation (complete with CD-ROM handout).

The next stop was the heavily secured UNAMID peacekeeping headquarters. Next, a razor-wired police station, 200 metres outside a displacement camp, where around 40 residents had been waiting for two hours to talk to the delegates.

Forty-five minutes later, the 18-vehicle convoy of buses, 4×4s and armed escorts drove slowly through Abu Shouk camp. Then there was one final stop at the governor’s to eat dinner and admire his collection of gazelle and exotic birds. The AU ambassadors and women in the party received souvenir mats…

Read the rest on Reuters’ Africa blog

Is an independent south Sudan now inevitable?

So, is it now inevitable that Sudan’s oil-producing south will decide to split away from the north as an independent country in a looming secession referendum in 2011?

That was the conclusion of some observers of a bluntly worded exchange of views between two leading lights from the north and the south at a symposium in Khartoum on Tuesday.

Sudan’s Muslim north fought a two decade civil war with southerners, most of them Christians and followers of traditional beliefs. The 2005 peace deal that ended that conflict set up a north/south coalition government and promised a referendum on southern secession.

Sudan’s foreign minister Deng Alor told journalists at the symposium most of his fellow southerners, embittered by decades of northern oppression and imposed Islamic values, “overwhelmingly” wanted independence. Only a miracle would change their minds, he said, going on to appeal for a “peaceful divorce” should the south choose to split…

Read the rest on Reuters

Is Sudan’s Darfur crisis getting too much attention?

Activists often say that the world is not paying enough attention to Sudan’s Darfur crisis. But could the opposite be true — that Darfur is actually getting too much attention, from too many organisations, all at the same time?

A rough count shows at least 10 international and local initiatives searching for a solution to the region’s festering conflict. Many of them are at least nominally coordinated by the United Nations and the African Union. But with so many parallel programmes in play, the opportunities for duplication, competition and confusion are legion.

Top of the bill on the international stage is the double act between the United Nations and the African Union. Their joint Darfur mediator — Burkina Faso’s low-profile former security minister Djibril Bassole – spends much of his time shuttling between capitals, holding closed-session discussions with rebels, regional powers, Darfuri intellectuals and civilian groups.

The most high-profile initiative is a project launched at the Arab League for peace talks between Sudan’s government and rebels hosted in Qatar. Those talks, currently stalled, are hosted “in coordination” with Bassole but their have their own separate identity — Qatar has made its own statements and has held its own meetings with rebels.

During one crowded fortnight in August, both Libya and the United States held separate meetings with different sets of rebel splinter groups, urging them to reunite ahead of talks, with mixed results…

Read the rest on Reuters

A tussle over trousers in Sudan

One moment everything was quiet on the streets outside the Khartoum courtroom where Lubna Hussein was on trial this morning, charged with indecency for wearing trousers.

The next, a three-way fight had exploded between riot police armed with crackling electric batons, women’s rights protesters waving banners and posters, and Islamists fuelled with righteous indignation and pious chants.

You couldn’t have asked for a better illustration of the opposing forces that have come piling down on Sudan’s government since the start of the case — opposing forces that also compete for influence at the heart of the Khartoum regime.

Women’s rights campaigners and other activists were the first to get involved after Sudan’s public order police barged into a party in the capital in July and found Lubna and 12 other female guests wearing trousers.

Read the rest on Reuters

Sudan skeletons

Reuters didn’t want this story yesterday. So here, in an exclusive Meskel Square production, is:

Centuries-old skeletons found at UK’s Sudan embassy
By Andrew Heavens

KHARTOUM, Jan 12 (Meskel Square) – Builders uncovered fragments of three, centuries-old skeletons buried deep in the grounds of Britain’s embassy in Sudan, officials said on Monday.
The contractors discovered the small pieces of skull and other bones while digging in the central Khartoum compound on Sunday, embassy spokesman Piers Craven told Reuters.
Police called in to investigate found the remains were up to 300-years-old, meaning they pre-dated the foundation of Khartoum as a major settlement in the early nineteenth century, he said.
“It is something of archaeological interest rather than anything more recent or more sinister,” said Craven adding officers had not been able to work out the gender of the bodies or their age when they died.
Historians say humans have lived for thousands of years at the site of Sudan’s capital at the meeting of the Blue and White Niles.
But it was little more than a fishing village until the 1820s when a Turkish-Egyptian expedition set up an outpost on the spot.
Embassy staff passed on the bones to the Sudanese police who were making arrangements for a re-burial, Craven added.


Three ancient statues sit at a dig at el-Hassa, the site of a Meroitic town in Sudan in this undated photograph. Archaeologists said on Tuesday they had discovered three ancient statues in Sudan with inscriptions that could bring them closer to deciphering one of Africa's oldest languages. René-Pierre Dissaux/Section Française de la Direction des Antiquités du Soudan

Three ancient statues sit at a dig at el-Hassa, the site of a Meroitic town in Sudan in this undated photograph. Archaeologists said on Tuesday they had discovered three ancient statues in Sudan with inscriptions that could bring
them closer to deciphering one of Africa’s oldest languages. René-Pierre Dissaux/Section Française de la Direction des Antiquités du Soudan

The ancient African language that anyone can speak but no one can understand.

Sudan statue find gives clues to ancient language

KHARTOUM, Dec 16 (Reuters) – Archaeologists said on Tuesday they had discovered three ancient statues in Sudan with inscriptions that could bring them closer to deciphering one of Africa’s oldest languages.

The stone rams, representing the god Amun, were carved during the Meroe empire, a period of kingly rule that lasted from about 300 BC to AD 450 and left hundreds of remains along the River Nile north of Khartoum.

Vincent Rondot, director of the dig carried out by the French Section of Sudan’s Directorate of Antiquities, said each statue displayed an inscription written in Meroitic script, the oldest written language in sub-Saharan Africa.

“It is one of the last antique languages that we still don’t understand … we can read it. We have no problem pronouncing the letters. But we can’t understand it, apart from a few long words and the names of people,” he told reporters in Khartoum.

Meskel Square’s new patron saint

2830128012_24f30f2d7aSudan’s Catholics turn to Darfur saint

By Andrew Heavens and Skye Wheeler

KHARTOUM/JUBA (Reuters) – In a dusty church in Khartoum’s Jeberona camp for displaced persons, the congregation claps and sings beneath a portrait of a smiling woman who has become a focus of hope for a divided country.

Josephine Bakhita, a former slave who died in 1947, has risen from obscurity to become the first saint from Darfur in western Sudan, a region convulsed by war for the past five years.

“I would say she was a gift from God … an offer from God,” said Bishop Daniel Adwok, the Roman Catholic auxiliary bishop of Khartoum. “She has come on time for the conflict here in Sudan.”