Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Sudanese university students demand a campus free of violence
In a courageous and unique act of collective action, students at the University of Khartoum in Sudan have gone on strike to protest the killing of a fellow student; demanding justice and a campus free of violence. Will their demands be met?
One might assume that universities are a safe haven for free dialogue, learning and intellectual debate. This, however, is far from the reality in Sudan, where most public universities have a heavy presence of armed pro-regime student militias who store their weapons on campus in what are called Jihadist Units.Pro-government militias are also often involved in terrorizing students by rigging student union elections and disrupting public debates on campus (also calledarkan, meaning [debate] corners)--a common tradition in many universities in Sudan.
Since the National Congress Party (NCP) came to power 25 years ago, at least 17 students from universities around the country have paid with their lives while peacefully practicing or demanding basic rights. None of these incidents have ever been investigated transparently, and no one has ever been held accountable.
March 11, 2014 was just another normal day on the campus of Khartoum University. A normal day that metamorphosed into a nightmare that the student body is still grappling with. That morning the Darfur Student Union organized a peaceful debate to raise awareness amongst their fellow students about the plight of their families in Darfur, where, according to the United Nations, the rate of displacement in the last year is reminiscent of the early years of the conflict. Since the end of February this year, there have been more than 200,000 newly displaced persons in North and South Darfur combined.
The debate turned into a peaceful protest around and outside the campus that was then met with tear gas and live ammunition, leading to the death of a Darfuri Student, Ali Abbaker. He was a third year student studying economics, and was described by fellow students as someone who lacked any political affiliation and who was attending the debate and the protest like many others.
An active female student who was at the campus that day told the author anonymously:
After a three-week shutdown the university re-opened its doors on March 31, but only to a limited number of faculties that are scattered from each other, to make it harder for students to congregate and organize. Those returning faculties excluded the Faculties of Arts - where Ali Abbaker was shot and killed - and the Faculty of Economics where he was studying. Dr. Ismat Mahmoud, a professor at the university known for his sympathetic stand with the students and their demands, asked on this facebook book page:
Since then,Khartoum University students have managed to stage a rare feat: a 10-day strike that included solidarity from a non-official coalition of 23 sympathetic professors and almost 100 percent of the attending student body. .. read more: