Revolution has shaped my entire life. Much like the children of my generation, I found myself planted in a different country. Searching for scraps of culture in conversations and periodically imagining life had my parents never bared the brunt of colonization. Globally, the number of people that share in this experience is sadly increasing. War, conflict, and protest continue to be the underlying reason behind much of human migration and displacement.
1956: The Birth of A Nation
My father was born in January of 1957, just one year after Sudan became independent of British (and Egyptian) colonialism. He was born into a country, like many others across the continent, that was searching for stability and autonomy. In honor of the newfound freedom in Sudan, my father was named Azhari, after Ismail al-Azhari, Sudan’s first democratically elected prime minister. Al-Azhari would later be known for his attempts to keep Sudan and Egypt united, a concept that many Sudanese rejected.
My father and millions of other children of his generation would later be called the ‘January children’. Many children born during this time were assigned January 1st birth dates. They represented new life and a vision for freedom. Much like a child, my father’s country finally had been given permission to self-govern. My grandparents’ generation would watch how this child, who they fought and died for, would conduct itself in view of the world.
In 1964 and 1985, peaceful revolutions led by trade unions, professionals, political parties and backed by the military toppled ruling governments. Throughout his teenage years, my father went to countless of these demonstrations. Citizens finally felt a sense of ownership in government and their thoughts were spilling out on the streets.
In his lifetime, my father had been witness to a coup, communist, secularist and then Islamist rule. I heard about all these stories in our living room, over tea and during long car rides to school. My father watched as his country internalized pan-Arab ideology, pro-communist values, Western values and then liberalism. All of which were later scrapped for Islamic values. These values, along with the governments that upheld them, left just as abruptly as they came, always catalyzed through military action.
As a teenager in America, I found myself cycling through the same set of values. It’s an uncomfortable and confusing shedding and re-shedding of skin. Much like my father, I explored where I fit in a nation that so often rejected my particularly nuanced identity and needs. My American framework of organizing taught me intersectionality. It is important to note intersectionality is not the overlap of various identities, but the overlapping systems of discrimination that shape the complexity of prejudices that are faced by those people. Many of Sudan’s political and social environment has been marked by outside forces projecting their ideas of what Sudan should be (for personal or political benefit).
My father sought to make sense of the diversity, brought on by the drawing of borders by outside forces. He swears that in the streets, under the beating hot sun and the fiery passion of protest, everyone wants the same things: food, shelter, safety, access to health care, education, freedom to worship and a decent job. Intersectionality helped me explore why these messages have failed to reach government and why the stories of Sudanese are rarely acknowledged in media.
Prior to independence, the villain was so easy to spot, they were white faces governing a nation of black ones. This concept is not difficult to describe as unnatural. Since Sudan’s independence, people have struggled with defining their fellow country people as corrupt. It’s not an unusual phenomenon for the oppressed latch on to one another, with equal parts trust and fear. It is natural instinct to defend family, but what happens when your arm starts tingling under the pressure of that tight grip?
1990s: Adulthood and Leaving the Nest
In my case, my parents made the extremely difficult and emotional decision to leave their home country in search of better opportunity in Saudi Arabia. My father lived there for years and moved to the United States after receiving the diversity visa lottery. In an effort to diversify, this visa has been given to nationals of countries that are not currently immigrating to the United States in high numbers. My father, much like his country, has struggled to define what it meant to be Sudanese in America.
For me, the Sudanese identity has always been extremely clear in regard to values. I was taught that we behave with a strong set of moral values, hospitality, deep respect for elders, love of music and profound humility. These values I share with so many other members of the Sudanese diaspora but also the greater human race.
As an outside witness to my father’s country, I see a country struggling to live up to moral values. The messaging has always been confusing and clouded with external ideas of what country Sudan should aim to be, its nuanced Arab influence, its duty to redeem its once lofty position in the Western world, its economic investment priorities and what nations it should ally itself with. I see a country that has grown weary. The diversity of opinions, ethnic nuances and diversity in Sudan should never be a point of disillusion or grief. Rather, these voices should all be represented in its system of governance. However, this is far from reality.
2011: The Split
In July 2011, we watched in horror as South Sudan officially seceded from the northern part of the country. My discontent with South Sudan separating is nothing to the atrocities that southern Sudanese have felt at the hands of the al-Bashir regime. For the first time, I saw my father and his generation, the symbols of great hope, begin to feel the weight of that promise crashing down. Yet, South Sudanese citizens were ecstatic to have their own home and freedom after decades of torment. These two extremes in perception highlight the level of discord between two groups of people living in the same region.
Feelings of guilt bubble in the eyes of my father, despite his disengagement with Sudanese politics. This I understood because at the very least, being Sudanese was a matter of values. Genocide, ethnic cleansing, hate and division should not define Sudan.
I have realized that I am struggling with the same questions that my father first struggled with 60 years ago. They are questions I ask myself about the United States and Sudan. Some of the questions that come to mind include: Is liberation possible for a nation consistently riddled with political turmoil, or is this turmoil part of the liberation process? Does the international community, composed of mainly white bureaucrats truly understand the plight of those most marginalized? In the era of nonsensical, meaningless remarks by out of touch political leaders, who can we turn to? Does revolution ever work? Does revolution ever end? Most importantly – can a nation’s past be forgiven and is there room for true redemption?
I’ve watched from across the globe, re-adjusting my identity to fit what will be most familiar to my environment and adding a hyphen to my Sudanese identity. I’ve allowed my claim to Sudan to slip further and further away in my mind. As a community activist, I’ve never known if I could speak on issues facing Sudan or how to frame it. I’ll never be a Sudanese national and I’ll never feel the weight of the decisions made by any Sudanese politician. Even today, I hesitate to fully accept myself as Sudanese. I owe Sudan a debt of gratitude for molding my view of the world, yet I am not sure how I will repay it.
I see the way my father looks at pictures of youth who were murdered by the Sudanese government for protesting: whether 50 years ago, 20 years ago or a few weeks ago. He sees the suffering within the context of what could have been. Many years ago, my father could have been one of those men and the guilt of leaving Sudan weighs heavily on him. I feel this same weight when I remember the Native genocide that this country was built on. A genocide that made human enslavement tolerable, a genocide that is existence to this very moment.
2019: Re-birth of the Revolution
I recognize that we are quick to ask for the resolution and reconciliation of political uprisings but few of us are willing to engage with the steps necessary to achieve true stability. What we see in all of these photos of political uprisings are people telling the truth in public. The complexity of reconciliation can only be dealt with after those voices are heard.
Nowadays, my father and I follow protest updates on Whatsapp and Twitter, respectively. At 62 and 22 years of age, my father and I are beginning to understand the importance of inter-generational conversation. Bridging our experiences of Sudan can invite new life and hope into the inevitability of progress. Though I speak of my father’s experiences in this article, I do not want to minimize or erase the role of women in all of Sudan’s political moments.
There is a new generation on the ground, fighting and resisting and they need support. Historically, protesters in each of Sudan’s three major political movements have been relatively young, educated, union organizers and professionals. It is estimated that 2/3rd of protesters are women. Additionally, Sudan’s population has become increasingly diverse as it is one of the largest refugee-hosting countries in Africa. I ask myself: well, what can I do in this political moment?
I can commit myself to supporting their demands, sharing their stories, visiting their graves, educating myself and trying to understand their struggle.
I used to think I wasn’t Sudanese enough to understand certain political issues. People don’t need you to understand complex political issues or the interworkings of their legal system. People need you to get close enough to hear them and hold their struggles in the same regard that you hold your own. Regardless of where we come from, where we were born or where we currently live, we are all deeply intertwined in an inter-generational, cyclic struggle for liberation.
This post was authored by Doha Medani, Co-Founder and Operations Lead of Muslim Women For. You can read more about her by clicking here.