UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA - AFRICAN STUDIES CENTER
Sudan Alternative Discourses
|Published and edited by Elfatih Osman||July, Volume 4|
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"Here we go, are you ready though?"
Welcome to the postmodern times: Sudan et sa crise d'identité
In a situation of flux, the effective use of the delicate skills of navigating our way through may very well depend on whether we are swimming against or with the currents of change or for that matter whether we are clear in what direction we are swimming ... (Ngugi, 1993: 29)
Gone are the binary oppositions dear to nationalist and imperialist enterprise. Instead we begin to sense that old authority cannot simply be replaced by new authority, but that new alignments made across borders, types, nations, and essences are rapidly coming into view, and it is those new alignments that now provoke and challenge the fundamentally static notion of identity that has been the core of cultural thought during the era of imperialism (Said, 1994: xxv; emphasis in the original).
Some have argued that we live in a postmodern, poststructuralist and, what some have called, post-feminism moment: a moment of subjectivity, of movement from 'margin' to 'center' and vice versa, of desire to belong and to re-present, and a moment of agency (among others, Hooks, 1990; McLaren, 1994; Giroux, 1992; Usher & Edwards, 1994; Haraway, 1991). In this moment, what is commonly referred to as identity, subjectivity, and Self is becoming more complex than we can ever described. The Self is found in flux, intersected, contradictory, shifting, shifted, and multiplicity of discourses. These discourses not only influence the Self, but the latter itself is constructed in and within these discourses. That is identities are not constructed out there and then enter the discourse, instead they are constructed in and within these discourses.
Thus the Sudanese in North America, Arab Gulf countries, or Japan will find him or herself in and within social structures, discourses that would be different than the socio-historical structures found in the mother land, Sudan. This article will precisely address the former. That is the question of identity of the Sudan found in the diaspora, and what is discussed here is based on my vécu, experience, and observations as Sudanese who lived in the UK, the USA, France, and Canada. Firstly, I address what I consider as one of the very heatedly debated notions: the postmodern times and it's conditions and, secondly, I talk to an issue that is way under analyzed: the question of identity of Sudanese found in the diaspora which is commonly discussed in terms of crisis ("our kids do not speak our language, they do not know their religion, they, in short, in trouble.") I argue that by addressing identity only in terms of crisis, one is in fact asking the wrong questions, for identities are never complete, always in process, always shifting, as I already stated. So, we should instead be asking the questions of what are the social conditions that allow identities and subjectivities to become what they are. If a child does not care about his or her heritage, language, and religion, why is this so, what are the social conditions that allow for this to happen, and what can we do about them.
The underpinning arguments for this article is the notion that Sudanese people are not, disproportionately, immigrant people. Till recently, the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s, for economical but most importantly political reasons, did we begin to see a non-negligible percentage of mostly educated Sudanese people refuged particularly to the West: Europe and North America. While these refugee communities are struggling to dismantle and knock down the dictator junta which took power in June 1989 with the help of National Islamic Front (NIF), a fanatic Islamic organization, they tend to forget, unwittingly I think, their children and families who are growing up within and in a different cultural and linguistic capitals. Children are now speaking English, French, German, among others, and dress in hip hop; children are listening to Public Enemy and playing basketball.
The notion of 'going home' thus becomes more complicated and complex; where is home for these children, what does home mean anyway? They may call themselves and they may be called, for administrative reasons, Sudanese, but what does Sudanese mean? Another arguments underpin this article is the notion that Sudanese have been guest workers for a lengthy period of time in the rich Gulf countries and Saudia Arabia, they are there for the money and not the sejour; they have been there for tens of years, but they are neither citizens of these countries nor do they intend to. They are not citizens because the laws of these countries do not allow them to be, for to be Saudi or Kuwaiti, one has to have Kuwaiti and Saudi 'blood' in his/her. Never-the-less, more importantly, most Northern Sudanese share, grosso modo, the same linguistic and cultural capital as the Saudis for example. When Sudanese refuged to the West, however, where the language and culture are different, they did not have a guidance, a raw model. Their guidance was a tiny group of professional, physicians for instance, and university professors who immigrated for different reasons to, more specifically, the United Kingdom.
Postmodernism or no Postmodernism, that is the question:
Postmodernism not only makes visible the ways in which domination is being prefigured and redrawn, it also points to the shifting configurations of power, knowledge, space, and time that characterize a world that is at once global and more differentiated (Aronowitz and Giroux, 1993: 115)
The emergence of the miscellaneous discourses in the last two decades, mainly as a form of cultural criticism, known as postmodern discourses had a non-negligible influence not only inside, but as well outside of the academy. To begin with, postmodernism is the term that is given to a multiple of discourses. These discourses forced a reconeptualization of what constitute the analytical categories; they opened spaces where the 'center' is ruptured and put to a serious questioning; they decentered the Subject by putting it in a flux of discourses, and by putting it, metaphorically, in that 'dirty' intersection of varied gender, race, and class discourses, among others (cf. Hall, 1991). By doing that, however, these discourses created an era that is generally, but not without it being a center of the debate (Hall, 1986), called the postmodern time. Before getting to this postmodern time, given his avant-gardism of the post in the modern (to give the postmodern), Lyotard is worth to be quoted at length. In critiquing Habermas, and strongly textually based definition, for Lyotard (1993: 81)
The postmodern would be that which, in the modern, puts forward the unpresentable in presentation itself; that which denies itself the solace of good forms, the consensus of a taste which would make it possible to share collectively the nostalgia for the unattainable; that which searches for new presentations, not in order to enjoy them but in order to impart a stronger sense of the unpresentable. A Postmodern artist or writer is in the position of a philosopher: the text he (sic) writes, the work he (sic) produces are not in principle governed by preestablished rules, and they cannot be judged according to a determining judgment, by applying familiar categories to the text or to the work. Those rules and categories are what the work of art itself is looking for. (....) [Lyotard then reminds us that in a postmodern time] it must be clear that it is our business not to supply reality but to invent allusions to the conceivable which cannot be presented.
To a postmodern analysis then the question of re/presentation is a central question: it raises question such as who is re/presenting who (in other words, who has the power to re/present who), how this re/presentation is taking place, and who benefits from it? A postmodern analysis, contrary to the modernist transcendental and transhistorical notion of meaning and representation (Aronowitz and Giroux, 1993), does not allow for preestablished rules and regulations against which all is measured; the latter rules and regulation, in a postmodern perspective, are themselves historically and socially constructed. Thus the rules of judgments, if there is a need to such a thing, which in most cases is very questionable, are established within the discourse itself. The rules of judgment, again, are taken not as sacred texts; contrary, they are taken as one of the competing discourses which, importantly, should be seen in equal terms: no discourse is more powerful than the other. A powerful text, if we can agree to such a subjective judgment, is only powerful when it allies itself with the gaze of legitimate power (Foucault, 1977; Bourdieu, 1977). This disturbance of the preestablished regulations, importantly, does not permit for what is commonly known as the master narratives, which are equated to some universal norms. For some eurocentric, imperialistic, and colonialist patriarchal reasons these norms are equated to Western trends of thought: let us be more specific, white, male, (upper) middle class or bourgeois trends of thought.
In other words, "From the postmodernist perspective", Aronowitz and Giroux (1993: 115) explain, "modernism's claim to authority partly serves to privilege Western patriarchal culture, on the one hand, while simultaneously repressing and marginalizing the voices of those who have been deemed subordinate or subject to relations of oppression because of their color, class, ethnicity, or cultural and social capital." The claim to authority, for me, stems from the West setting itself as the normalizing gaze, whether culturally, economically, politically, or otherwise. This modernist claim of authority, totality, and mastery, owed to postmodernism, gave "way to a more acute understanding of suppressed and local histories, along with a deeper appreciation for struggles that are contextual and specific in scope" (Aronowitz and Giroux, 1993: 115). What is been re/presented, however, usually indicates what is left out; it, again, raises questions of who has the power to represent who, how does this representation take place, what is left out and why, and who benefits from it? The absence of discourses of race and gender, for instance, from the 'master narrative' of the academy indicates their social position: marginalized discourses equated to marginalized social positions. This marginalization also can be read as an expression of the power relation question. In other words, the absence of gender and race discourses for a long period of time raises the questions of who has the power to represent who (read white male, middle and upper class), how does it take place (read through marginalizing the gender and race discourses), and who benefited from this absence (read white straight male).
Another aspect owed to postmodernism is the decentralization of
the subject. Postmodernism, in passing, challenges the liberal
humanistic notion of the unified, rational subject whose
action is guaranteed in metaphysical and/or
transhistorical terms (Usher and Edwards, 1994). In the
postmodernist perspective, the subject is historical, social,
fluid, contradictory, multilayered, and shifting. It is
contradictory, multilayered, and shifting because it is
founded in contradictory, multilayered, and shifting
discourses. It is contradictory not only vis-ŕ-vis the Other, but
as well within the Self. Postmodernism, in short,
emphasizes not only the Self, but, more importantly,
discourses, ideologies, and structures within which the Self is
found. This would explain why "the consensus of a taste", as
Lyotard argues, is more of a "nostalgia" than an
attainable consensus. In this view, the question of taste,
whether for arts, books, or even social positions, becomes an
expression of and also created in an intersection of
discourses. Class, for example, becomes one of these
discourses, and no longer the 'master' discourse; this needs
more explanation. Blacks and women for instance are entering the
middle class strata, but their taste and experience are not the
same as whites and males. Their taste then can not be talked
about without introducing gender and race, among others,
intersected with class analysis. Postmodernism in addition
argues for a politics of sign and meaning production that is no
longer less important than the politics of labour production.
"The political economy of the sign does not displace
political economy", Aronowitz and Giroux (1993: 116) argued,
simply assumes its rightful place as a primary category for
understanding how identities are forged within particular
relations of privilege, oppression, and struggle".
Culture is one more category that was crucially influenced by postmodernism. In an age of mass televized and computerized production where here and now can become there and now, where we can, hopelessly, become spectators of the Gulf War, where Pavoroti can be watched live in, from South America or Africa, in this age the liberal bourgeois distinction between high and popular culture no longer holds. Culture, in the postmodern perspective, is historically and socially specific, and no culture is less worthy when it comes to research. Postmodernism, Aronowitz and Giroux (1993: 116) explain, "rejects the European tradition as the exclusive referent for judging what constitutes historical, cultural, and political truth"; that is, "There is no tradition or story that can speak with authority and certainty for all of humanity." In sum, postmodernism as a discourse plays a vital role not only in the cultural critique but also in other social spheres: with this discourse, the culture and linguistic capital of "great men" are put into serious questioning, and "cultural difference" can no longer be defined "by means of hegemonic colonialist notions of worth and possibility" (Aronowitz and Giroux, 1993: 115) . Over all, for Aronowitz and Giroux (1993: 114),
As a form of cultural criticism, postmodernism has
challenged a number of assumptions central to the
discourse of modernism. These include modernism's
reliance on metaphysical notions of subject; its
advocacy of science, technology, and rationality as the
foundation for equating change with progress; its
ethnocentric equation of history with the triumphs of
European civilization; and its globalizing view that the
industrialized Western countries constitute "a
legitimate center - a unique and superior position from
which to establish control and to determine hierarchies"
Thus postmodernism calls for a contextualized and historicized notion of history and subject; it questions the centrality of the metropolis, its hegemonic discourses. In other words, the center is considered and positioned as one center among many others; the 'center' and the 'margin' are, the postmodern discourses argued, in constant move, fluidity, flux, and shift. This constant movement and fluidity put identities and subjectivities in that 'dirty' intersection of discourses of difference and diversity. Within these discourses, the question of identity becomes vitally importantly: what does it mean to be Sudanese, is the next section.
Again, Identity or no Identity? the Question of Being a Diasporic Sudanese in a Postmodern Time Identity is not as transparent or unproblematic as we think. Perhaps instead of thinking of identity as already accomplish fact (...) we should think, instead, of identity as a 'production', which is never complete, always in process, and always constituted within, not outside, representation (Hall, 1990: 222).
Identity politics, politics of identity, social identity, cultural identity, racial identity, identity formation, and the list goes on. These are just a few themes around identity that are moving to the center of the academic discourses: this movement is what Stuart Hall (1991: 9) refers to as "the return of identity". By "return", Hall explains, he does not imply that "the question of identity ever went away", but it is returning with "a particular kind of force" (p. 9). This forceful return has to do I think with the fact that the question of identity is, thanks to some postmodern, postcolonial, and feminist discourses, seen in and an expression of that complex intersection of multiple discourses which include, among others, discourses of difference, of subjectivity, of language, of history, of memory, and of power (cf. Giroux, 1993; Hall, 1991).
The Self, the identity, the subject is no longer found in isolation or a fixed point, within the postmodern discourse. It is, contrary, found in a multiple of discourses, including the discourse of otherness. Thus to be Sudanese in the diaspora is to be a subjet of and to new discourses, whether cultural, linguistic or otherwise. This is what Hall refers to as the 'new' discourse of identity. Hall (1990), makes a distinction between what he terms 'old' and 'new' identity which is used, almost, interchangeably with 'new' and 'old' ethnicity. The discourse and the logic the old identity, Hall explains, "contains the notion of the true self, some real self inside there, hiding inside the husks of the false selves that we present to the rest of world. It is [Hall continues] a kind of guarantee of authenticity. Not until we get really inside and hear what the true self has to say do we know what we are "really saying"" (Hall, 1990: 42-3). According to this discourse then, to be Sudanese is to be an essentialized Self of history, memory, language, and power. To be Sudanese, following the this old discourse of Self, is to be, and the being is positioned within and in a static version of history; to be Sudanese, is to have 'tradition' that is almost transhitorical, that never change. The old identity, in short, is an expression of the Cartesian stable self where the subject is situated within essentialized and static discourses of history and self. It is "a notion of the continuous, self-sufficient, developmental, unfolding, innner dialectic of selfhood. We are never quite there, but always on our way to it, and when we get there, we will at last know exactly who it is we are" (Hall, 1990: 42).
The new identity discourse, on the other hand, is more complexly different. It does not neglect neither history, multiplicity of discourses in which the subject found itself and the contradictory nature of these discourses, nor the power relations, the politics of positioning, and the dialogic relationship between the Self and the Other. In other words, subject formation, to be or to become Sudanese that is, according to this new identity discourse, takes place in and within multiple and contradictory discourses. Notion of difference, within this discourse, is central. Difference is not only dialectically constituted vis-ŕ-vis the Other, but as well within the Self. Thus, I define identity (Sudanese, for illustration) as the name we give and sometimes force onto an ongoing historical and social process. Sudaneseness, for instance, is the name WE give to an ongoing socially and politically constructed category. This explains why it is never complete, always in the make, and because it is found in historical conditions not of it's own choice, to paraphrase Marx, it is also contradictory. It is found in a framework of difference: difference vis-ŕ-vis the Other and within the Self. In other words, the Self has it's own multiplicity of identities. To be Sudanese can also mean to be Canadian, to be hip hop, to speak Japanese, to listen Pavaroti, and to read Kim Chi Ha, to give tiny examples. Non of these, I want to argue, should take away the very first fact of being Sudanese. At stake here is the notion that to live a postmodern time, Sudanese or anyone else for that matter coming from, for the lack of a better term, Third World countries should realize that there is no escape and no shame from using computer, from listening to rap music, from, if you are teen, being 'hip'. Hence to talk about these social phenomenon when they occur within Sudanese children as crisis is to miss the gaze of the 21st century: these are the discourses and the structures within which they grow up, they can not escape them. This is how Stuart Hall puts it
The critical thing about identity is that it is partly the relationship between you and the Other. Only when there is an Other can you know who you are (...). And there is no identity (...) without the dialogic relationship to the Other. The Other is not outside, but also inside the Self, the identity. So, identity is a process, identity is split. Identity is not a fixed point but an ambivalent point. Identity is also the relationship of the Other to oneself (Hall, 1991; cited in Giroux, 1993:75).
By no means am I suggesting that Sudanese should drop their linguistic and cultural capital (Bourdieu, 1990, 1977). Contrary, they can't in the first and, secondly, the notion I am suggesting is arguing for an understanding of the structure(s) that allow for Sudaneseness to flourish without negating other identities. Does braiding my hair take away from my Sudaneseness? I think, and at a certain point I hope, not. This is the issue at stake, being Sudanese should not negate being French, or speaking only in English. However, the notions of fluidity and hybridity have to be taken with a lot cautious. Being fluid for me does not mean take it all or leave it all. It means however to negotiate aground where the Self is positioned within poised and stabilized discourses: discourses where the inner Self and outer Self (the Other) are in peace, are to meet in a third space (Bhabha, 1990). This third space, Bhabha (p. 211) argues, "enables other positions to emerge. [It] displaces the histories that constitute it, and sets up new structures of authority, new political initiatives, which are inadequately understood through received wisdom." These emerging positions are unrecognizable because they are 'new' and 'different'; they are unrecognizable because they emerge in a novel forms which emerge from longitudinal 'negotiations'. These negotiations are what Bhabha refers to as "the process of cultural hybridity" which "gives rise to something different, something new and unrecognisable, a new area of negotiation of meaning and representation" (Bhabha, 1990:211).
To conclude: Never-the-less, to have an identity, to be able to speak, to have a location from which to speak, and to have an identity politics, by definition, means to have an ethnicity, Hall (1990, 1991) argues. When people are blotted out, put over there in the Third World, Hall explains, they need an identity, a politics, a location from which they can start their odyssey of "the search for roots" (Hall, 1990: 50). He adds that people need to honor the hidden histories from which they come. They need to understand the languages which they've been not taught to speak. They need to understand and revalue the traditions and inheritances of cultural expression and creativity. And in that sense, the past is not only a position from which to speak, but it is also an absolutely necessary resource in what one has to say (Hall, 1991: 18-9).
Yet, to honor these languages, histories, and cultural and esthetic traditions, people need politics of location, representation, and positionality where history and traditions can only talked about mediated by the present social conditions. People thus need an ethnicity, a new ethnicity that allows them to come from the 'margin' to the metropolis and still be able to speak.
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Instability, Higher Education & Development in Sudan: The Effect
of Al-Bashir's Higher Education Policies
Part 1 of 2
By Dr Zaki El-Hassan
( Please note that this article is written in 1992. Part 2 will address the period from 1992 to the present)
"Education is a basic human right and that its function is to
develop the talents of the individual to the fullest extent
possible to enable him to participate freely within a free
society. Schools instil basic values according to criteria of
principles and not of expediency. Individuals should not be
indoctrinated with party political creeds or moulded in highly
specific casts, recognizing the danger that such a function may
Gordon Memorial College, which later became the University of Khartoum, was established in 1902 by the colonial powers in order to provide the administration with its needs of indigenous manpower in the fields of education and administration. The college had experienced different phases of change which mirrored the economic and social development in Sudan. The establishment of the medical, agricultural and engineering schools was in response to the changing realities and needs as well as the aspirations of the population. Through all these phases the changes were gradual and adequate resources were normally provided. This small scale but balanced pattern continued after independence with the creation of new departments and widening of the range of disciplines offered until 1969.
The establishment of technical colleges in Sudan was closely related to necessity where colleges such as Shambat Agricultural College and Khartoum Technical College helped provide the much needed technical skills on which development projects and municipalities depended.
The Khartoum Branch of Cairo University was the eventuality of Egyptian quest for influence among the emerging classes of modern forces and it became the fore-runner for mass higher education in Sudan. The range of disciplines offered was crucial in reducing the gap in office skills which University of Khartoum with its elitist nature and budgetary constraints that curtailed expansion failed to deliver.
Omdurman Islamic University helped provide the education system with teachers and later, after expansion and modernisation, became another source for manpower in different fields. The conservative nature of the university helped to shelter it from higher education upheavals except for a short period of its history.
Inspired youths travelled abroad to gain higher qualifications and Egypt and Eastern Europe contributed significantly to manpower output, especially in disciplines where local institutions were not able to satisfy the needs such as medicine and engineering.
The ambitious development plans of the early 70s were catalyst for higher education proliferation, albeit being in a small scale. A number of technical colleges and new universities were established to provide skilled manpower for the different projects undertaken as well as to fill the gaps created by migration to rich Gulf states in the wake of the oil boom.
Political instability and the changing state of world economy, coupled with hasty and inadequate -and some times corrupt- economic decisions, caused the failure of several projects and the abandonment of others. The stabilisation of oil prices and the development of indigenous work force, reduced the prospects of migrant workers in the Gulf. All this coupled with austerity measures at home have resulted in a serious problem of unemployment among graduates in the early 80s which continued ever since.
"even in a multi-party situation, the central truth remains that education is a political agent because it must, in its very nature, either tend to preserve the status quo or promote change, depending on how it is organised, who organises it and the purpose to which it is put.*"
Higher education in Sudan has a long history of interaction with politics. Institutions were affected by the political climate as well as being instigators of political changes. Gordon Memorial College graduates were the force which established the Graduates Congress and led to the creation of the main political parties in Sudan either directly or as a reaction. The Graduate Congress was the focus of the independence movement and its leaders formed the new administration when self-rule became a reality.
The involvement of the graduates in politics continued unabated after independence and the influence of University of Khartoum was remarkable in October Revolution of 1964 and the demise of the first military regime of General Aboud.
All political groups had contested support among higher education institutions and the early generations were instrumental in forcing traditional politicians into the middle ground and away from their sectarian constituencies. These shifts caused contentions and the traditional leaders had to go back to their natural constituencies to safeguard their own positions as numbers are more important in the political game. With the educated being in a minority, the stranglehold of the traditionalists in the main parties increased and the educated flocked to other small political groups.
The growth of the Communist Party and the Muslim Brotherhood was fast among university and high school students. Students' radicalism found home in these groups at a time when traditional parties were starved of educated talents, a sad episode in the history of Sudan which explains, to some extent, the disastrous policies followed by successive governments in Sudan.
Southern Sudanese students remained within the boundaries of Southern political groups and it could be said that higher education did not effectively promote political unity and very few Southerners joined left wing groups such as the Democratic Front.
The liberal culture of higher education institutions was not confined to these establishments but was reflected in the influential professional unions which, for most of the time, were at log-ahead with the traditional powers which ruled Sudan. Through these professional unions, educated Sudanese influenced political changes and social development inflaming the conflict with the traditional forces and adding to the political instability which in turn affected the economic development of the country.
Before Nimeiri's coup of May 1969, an uneasy understanding was observed where universities were allowed to operate 'freely' and their sanctity was observed.
Political interference was minimum, and normally covert, and freedoms were allowed to flourish. The appointment and dismissal of staff, appointment to heads and deans, and other decisions were left to the University and its senate and political correctness was not an overt factor in recruitment. After the 1969 coup, an attempt was made to engineer a social change in the country and the higher education was not allowed to continue the old ways. Political interference became evident, political compliance was expected, political upheavals spilled into campuses, and staff dismissals for political reasons started with both camps, the left and the right, suffering purges at different times depending on the prevailing political atmosphere. The liberal charters which kept politicians at bay were abolished and direct appointments to high positions by the then military ruler, in his capacity as the guardian and the chairman of the university council, became the norm. Two things remained sacred: the regulations for the appointment of new staff members and the recruitment of students. No clear evidence exists of visible attempts to appoint loyalists to academic posts and no student was dismissed for his political beliefs. Arrests by the security during the academic year were good enough reasons to protect students from punishment for failing to attend examinations.
The normally strict regulations which limited the number of years students could study for a degree were normally relaxed in cases of political detention.
This stand-off continued throughout the seventies and early eighties apart from two developments after the inclusion of fundamentalists within the political structure.
These developments were the use of fundamentalist students as guardians in campuses after the 1977 reconciliation with Nimeiri, and the attempts in early 80s to introduce a new charter which would have changed the rules for staff recruitment and the operation of the university. The 1983 attempts to change University of Khartoum charter were universally opposed even by some of the fundamentalists who advocated their educational convictions rather than their political views.
The most significant of the proposed changes were the powers to be given to the chairman of the university council in the fields of appointment and pensioning of staff members as well as academic freedoms. The proposed charter was a clear attempt to destroy what was left of safeguards after the seventies' upheavals and was a blatant venture to give the political decision makers more leverage over academics.
The universal opposition to the charter and the 1985 uprising in Sudan The use of Islamicists to suppress dissent became blatant in the late 70s and early eighties as Nimeiri was more than happy to allow the Islamic Front a free hand as long as other forces, especially the left, were kept at bay. The beating of students during several occasions and the attempt in January 1982 to defuse the protest against government's economic policies, were clear examples of such interdependence. Students' frustration with fundamentalists' support for the regime at a time of hightened political tension in the country, was a prime factor in the fundamentalists' loss of students' unions elections in October 1979 and October 1984.After the downfall of Nimeiri a new charter was prepared in consultation with concerned parties and it was passed in 1986. Academic freedoms were restored and all high positions were filled by elections.
This newly restored autonomy should not be confused with the reality. The economic situation in the country and budgetary constraints were effective in starving higher education institutions of the needed resources for rehabilitation and exercise of their newly restored freedoms.
The autonomy did not last for long and the NIF backed military coup of Omer al-Bashir had more in stall for the universities and higher education sector than anyone could have envisaged. The changes enforced by the current regime are profound ones and they will be discussed later.
As stated before, higher education in Sudan had mirrored the different phases of economic and social change in the country. The nature of the Sudanese economy and its historic inadequacies were reflected in the planning of higher education. The different institutions tended to be service institutions rather than leading edge proponents of technological changes. Successive governments had treated higher education as a burden and expense despite their protestations to the opposite. The lack of proper planning and the tendency towards expansion in low cost courses added to the woes of the economy and helped to propagate the 'diploma disease'. In addition, the existence of a large number of graduates without proper job opportunities meant an accumulation of over-educated civil servants in government departments with nothing to do with their qualifications. Disenchantment, lack of satisfaction and a higher bill for the work force, increased pressures on already dwindling resources of an impoverished administration and caused a sharp decline in productivity.
Political pressures caused regular deviations from planning objectives. Institutions which were founded to provide graduates with vocational qualifications were normally upgraded to university status without proper consideration of resource implications or real needs, and in most cases the changes meant nothing more than the conferment of some titles on staff members and modification of degree titles, thus exasperating the imbalance between vocational and academic training.
The financial implications of the economic limbo meant a reduction in technology transfer and staff contacts with the developed world, as well as a severe decline in resources available for staff post-experience training and development which were desperately needed in higher education institutions. This aspect is very important in a country like Sudan as resources for fundamental and advanced applied research are scarce even in disciplines such as agriculture and veterinary medicine.
The absence of proper planning as well as totalitarian regimes obsession with large scale flashy projects, had contributed to unsustainable changes. The social pressures, to which governments were very weak, helped to propagate the severe imbalances between the country's requirements and the type and quality of graduates the higher education system was providing.
These shortcomings became a drain on the economy as increased numbers of graduates were of un-relevant qualifications and, as the phenomena continued, the courses which were really needed were lacking in resources and their ability to produce competent graduates was eroded.
Long term changes which could have added value to the economy by upgrading the abilities of the work force were ignored and short term policies prevailed. The improvement of pre-university education and the upgrading of its teaching staff was completely ignored especially in primary education with disastrous cascading effects.
The current government has announced an ambitious programme of expansion in higher education. Although most of the changes were announced at the end of the higher education conference in March 1990, government proponents claim that they were modelled on the projections made by the Strategy Conference which was convened late 1991 (!) The programme suffers from all the shortfalls of previous higher education plans and a combination of unrealistic projections, lack of resources and political manipulation, is creating a serious crisis in the higher education system in Sudan.
The NIF has realised the impact of higher education on the society and the influence graduates could exert long before other political groups in Sudan. The growth of the fundamentalist movement in Sudan is a testimony for this realisation as the whole movement originated and developed within higher education institutions and its hard core is mainly composed of university graduates.
Al-Bashir's government was quick to set in motion a process which could enable it ensures control over the educated elite as well as higher education institutions. University staff associations were disbanded along with other trade unions but student unions, which were controlled by NIF supporters, were allowed to function in order to keep a tap on students' activities in the early days of the government. The abolition of liberal university charters and harassment and dismissal of staff members and students were started in earnest.
Several steps were taken by this regime in order to transform the higher education system in the country and they will be discussed in the following sections:
Higher Education Conference:
Conference on higher education was convened in order to furnish legitimacy on the NIF educational policy and to create an impression of consultation. Apart from those attending because of their positions such as university vice-chancellors and senior figures in the higher education system, the conference was backed by fundamentalist supporters, some of whom had no knowledge of the workings of higher education institutions or their objectives. This could be understandable if the participants from outside the educational establishment were a representative sample of the complexions of the country as their participation is essential in order to ensure that higher education policies are reflections of the needs, aspirations and the values of the society. This was not actually the case and the high percentage of NIF supported helped to skew the deliberations and to create an intimidating atmosphere.
Educationalist who tendered views contrary to NIF convections were shouted down with cries of 'Allah Akbar'. In short, the conference lacked serious and objective debate and the prepared recommendations were rolled through without any regard for their political, social and economic consequences.
The basic principles underlying higher education planning were side-lined and the needs of an underdeveloped country like Sudan and its ability to sustain changes were ignored. Conference deliberations and recommendations were built on ill-defined economic objectives without clear means for their implementation. Development projections without coherent and detailed practical means to achieve them and a vision of the future loosely defined, were used to justify the necessity of the changes and their magnitude.
University Charters and Appointment of Senior Staff:
The regime was quick to abolish all higher education institutions charters and regulations and to replace them with its own. These new charters gave the regime unprecedented powers and reduced the role of senior staff in universities to mere administrators without any freedom of decision making. The powers and controls over staff members became unbearable and any sense of security or freedom has been completely lost. Politicians rather than the universities are now controlling all aspects of life in higher education system in Sudan and all the senior staff of the Higher Education Council had been replaced with ardent NIF members or quiescent administrators. Immediately after the education conference, all leading officials in the higher education system who expressed views contrary to NIF liking were removed from their positions.
It should be said that these views were the fruits of years of experience in the field of higher education and in no way partisan. Vice-chancellors, deans, heads of departments and units, and senior administrators were reshuffled and in most cases were replaced by inexperienced staff of no significant scientific or educational stature. People without any contribution to their scientific and professional fields were promoted to positions of deans and heads of departments and in some cases young graduates who have just finished their postgraduate training were given responsibilities to lead well established departments sidelining all experienced, acclaimed and dedicated staff. As a result, political expediency became the prime factor in appointments with severe consequences for the standing of the insti * Increases in Students' Intake.
Conference recommended the immediate increase in the number of students in higher education and the decision was implemented soon after. The recommendations could be commended if the conditions were appropriate for such changes. The reality of the situation is that higher education institutions are starved of resources and the pressures created by the existing numbers of students are enormous. The acute and chronic shortages of all modern teaching facilities, library stocks and laboratory supplies, and the enforced exodus of qualified staff, meant a sharp decline in the material expenditure per capita as well as a souring student to staff ratio. These problems bode ills for the quality of teaching and the standards of students, and economic realities of the country makes any corrective action a delusion. In addition to the educational factors which affect the quality of graduates, the ability of the employment market to absorb them is at best doubtful. As the current situation in Sudan, the lack of employment opportunities meant a wasteful expenditure in several departments as graduates, after few years employment in unrelated fields, loose touch with their disciplines and their knowledge becomes outdated especially in the fast changing technical disciplines. The prospects of employment in other Arab countries which existed in the 70s and 80s are no longer available for a host of reasons among them the quality of the graduates themselves and their ability to compete in a highly competitive market with their outdated knowledge.
Proliferation of Higher education Institutions:
This government is following in the foot steps of all totalitarian regimes where glaring projects are given priority over low profile and productive proposals. A large number of universities and higher education institutions have been created without proper funding or manpower considerations. The regime claims that these are institutions created according to the predictions of Sudan's needs during the coming ten years. The irony is that the economic targets for the base year for these projections (1991-92) are proving illusive and grossly over-optimistic, not a confidence booster in the regime's strategic plan. Unlike developed countries which catered for its priorities in higher education long ago, Sudan and its fellow developing countries need a clear vision about the quality of post-secondary education provided. The lack of direction blurs the real needs and makes any sense of priorities a dream.
Before the proliferation of higher education, Sudan is in dire need for the rehabilitation of its primary education system and scarce resources could be better used ensuring the availability of adequate primary and secondary education provisions for all those who require them. Expenditure in real terms to improve the quality of primary and secondary education in terms of material and human resources is urgently needed. The improvement of qualification of teachers as well as their working conditions could pay more dividends than the current expansion in higher education. In a country such as Sudan higher education is, and will remain, a prerogative of a minority and the main challenge is to ensure that this minority is drawn from all sectors of the society and not a propagation of class stratification. The economic and social impact of such a strategy could outstrip benefits from the current changes and maximise the added value to the economy.
The previous arguments do not negate the need for expansion in education above the secondary level, as expansion is needed but its qualitative nature should be stressed. Moonlighting specialisations are waste of resources and any money available should be directed towards medium level technical and vocational training. Although there is an acute imbalance in the ratio of doctors as a percentage of the population, an even worse imbalance exists in the ratio of medical technicians and qualified nursing staff as a percentage of the population. The same thing could be said about other technical disciplines such as engineering, science, agriculture, veterinary medicine and other specialities. An urgent drive to redress these imbalances is required as the lack of such expertise is frustrating the work of the higher strata of the technical manpower. The vacuum which now exists, especially after the upgrading of most of the institutions originally intended to fill this gap to university status, is costing the country huge amounts in terms of resources and causing untold damage. Apart from productive service sectors such as health and education, government's arguments about the recommended ratios of engineers and other highly qualified professionals in the working population are a travesty. The numbers of such professionals are governed by the size of the economy and its activities and not by averages extracted from contrasting environments. The planning of higher education should be closely related to economic activities rather than being based on international statistics for ideal situations.
Another argument advocated by the government in the
proliferation process is the high cost of students studying
abroad, but it is really doubtful if this argument could stick.
Some of those studying outside Sudan are reading for disciplines
which could not be established in Sudan because of their unit
cost as the number of graduates required is very small. Studying
abroad is very expensive when it is undertaken in the West, but
most Sudanese are studying in Egypt and India where the costs are
relatively low. It is really questionable if the unit cost could
be made cheaper in Sudan if adequate provisions and teaching
requirements are made available. It is pointless to cramp
inadequate classes with students who are not able to obtain the
necessary library, staff and laboratory provisions. The current
practices, even in the long established universities, had made a
mockery of higher education principles and ideals, and the
delinquency suffered by the existing institutions does not
inspire confidence in future provisions. In addition, it appears
that the argument about the cost of education outside Sudan is
politically motivated rather than being a genuine economic one.
A conference on Islamic information held in Khartoum in July
1992, has recommended:
"classifying of the data which we received from news agencies and
foreign mass media", and, "tight measures for use of technology
to protect the people from the Western intellectual invasion."*
It is clear that the government is more concerned with the
ideals and ideas those studying outside Sudan could transfer
rather than the purses of their parents or the public one. It
worth mentioning that this conference was addressed by Dr Ibrahim
Ahmed Omar, Minister for Higher Education and Scientific
Research, who said that the best way to deal with the cultural
invasion in Third World countries was to build the 'Islamic
The most serious defect accompanying the current proliferation is the fact that substandard courses and degrees are being established. The courses offered, including most of those offered by the older universities, are not up to scratch and serious doubts exist whether any of them could be validated or accredited by any acceptable criteria. This is a direct result of irrational expansion without proper human and material resources.
The education conference -actually the government- has ordered a change to Arabic as medium of instruction in all higher education institutions, a controversy with its political, social, cultural and educational implications.
Political, Social and Cultural Implications: Arabicisation is a highly sensitive issue in a country such as Sudan with a wide ranging cultural and ethnic diversity, and suffering from a brutal civil war with deep rooted racial and religious causes. The political and social history of the country makes any attempt to impose Arabic in the higher education system an explosive proposition, and leads to an increased polarisation in the country as Arabicisation is conceived to be synonymous with Islamicisation and Arab hegemony. Arabism is also linked to slavery and the abuses that accompanied the process, a dark episode in our history which could not be corrected without courageously acknowledging its existence and mend fences to ensure that it never happens again.
Non-Arabic speakers are clearly disadvantaged by this policy and it leads to increased social, cultural and political marginalisation of an already marginalised and impoverished community. The chronic under-representation of the South, and to a lesser extent other disadvantaged areas in Sudan, in the higher education system is bound to worsen with grave consequences for manpower and development in the south and will reinforce the state of alienation felt by the southern population. It propagates the backwardness as it could not be realistically expected that Southerners will rush to learn Arabic in order to compete with their northern counterparts for places in universities. Adding the effect of the delinquent state of general education in the south, the overall affect is a catastrophe of biblical dimensions.
A clear message of frustration is being expressed by Southerners at the moment. The hardening attitudes towards the north and the strong and reasoned calls for secession are indications that the current policies are precursors for the fragmentation of Sudan and any prudent political consideration could have prevented the start of the Arabicisation process at this juncture in time.
The government is fully aware of such implications and deliberately steam-rolling the changes in order to accelerate its programme of social and cultural emancipation, as NIF ideologues anticipate the spread of Islam to non-Moslem areas in Sudan and Africa with the spread of Arabic language. The government is implying that the use of Arabic in higher education is a religious duty and uses this notation to blackmail the Moslem population in the North, especially those who argue against Arabicisation. This argument tends to ignore the fact that the majority of Moslems in the world are not Arabic speakers and they never tried to abandon their languages and cultures to become 'good Moslems'.
Educational Implications: A host of factors makes Arabicisation impractical and hasty attempts disastrous. An argument could be made that students understand better when they are taught in their own language which is a valid proposal if two conditions were satisfied: availability of facilities, and the intake into the education system is competent in the language. The two conditions are not satisfied as the lack of facilities and the cultural and ethnic diversity of the population make Arabicisation impossible if equal opportunities are to be assured. Also in Sudan, a serious question should be asked: which language? Although Arabic speakers -and not Arabs- could be described as majority, still it is not a commanding one and even among those classified as Arabic speakers, a large proportion are not fluent in the language as their mother tongues are not Arabic such as the Hadandawa in eastern Sudan. The most ardent and nationalist Arab countries who could muster adequate resources and do not have the Sudanese ethnic and linguistic diversity, followed a gradual and balanced approach to Arabicisation. Courses in engineering and medicine are still taught in English or French all over the Arab World with the exception of few trials which went disastrously wrong.
The existence of reference material in Arabic is scarce in most fields especially in technical ones. The stagnation which affected the Moslem world at a time of rapidly advancing civilizations in Europe, resulted in a huge gap between the vocabulary of classic and modern Arabic, and the level of terminology necessary to allow Arabic to be used as a technical language. The rigidity displayed by language centres and experts has limited the gradual adaptation of words from other languages, which could have made Arabic a technical language.
The medieval history of Islamic education, especially in times of political upheavals, had concentrated efforts on religious and language teaching and had drawn brains away from science and technology, and the commanding advantage accomplished by Moslem scholars in the fields of mathematics, medicine, engineering, astronomy, chemistry and others was gradually eroded and the Islamic state became an importer of technology rather than a proponent of advancement. Conservative and suspicious attitudes reduced the ability of Moslem scholars to challenge the accepted view of life and to propagate technological advances. Frequent ideological repression and religious scholars fear of loosing their grip on the population meant an unrelenting and fierce opposition to new ideas and inventions. Heresy and apostasy became common accusations and earthly disagreements were frequently elevated to heavenly arguments. All these factors combined had led to an ever widening gap between Arabic language and modern sciences.
The lack of reference material and staff able to use Arabic as a medium of instruction had frustrated previous attempts of Arabicisation at places like the University of Khartoum. The availability of staff members who have an excellent command of both Arabic and their own speciality subjects at the same time was a rare commodity and there was a reasoned realisation that the process should be gradual and after all the required material was made available. The recognition that technical authorship is not in Arabic also added to the woes of those calling for swift changes. These practical difficulties left a group of self styled ideologue, who were motivated by religious and political purpose rather than educational one, to fight the battle for speedy Arabicisation. Unfortunately, the majority of them lacked command of their own speciality subjects and the whole issue became a cover for their own scientific shortcomings and ideological zeal.
The change to Arabic as a medium of instruction coupled with the lack of adequate resources to ensure that at least one foreign language was properly taught in schools and universities, could propagate the backwardness of the country as isolation and loss of touch with technological advances increase. In today's world, the English language is becoming a universal medium for science and technology and Sudan could not afford to ignore the importance of this fact and its implications. A good command of English is necessary, no matter which language is used in the education system, if transfer of technology is to be achieved. The remarks made by the former Education Minister, Abdalla Mohamed Ahmed, about the teaching of English in Sudanese schools were dangerously misguided. The Minister did not manage to distinguish between the English language as an international language and the British government, and made a suggestion that languages other than English should be taught because of the government's frosty relations with Britain. Sudan is a poor country in dire need for conscientious and efficient use of resources and decisions with far reaching implications and long lasting effects should not be left to political manipulation.
Changes in Enrollment Requirements:
Changes were made to the university entry system which made a credit in Arabic a mandatory requirement and allowed the use of Islamic studies to gain access to all departments. This is different from the old system where each department or faculty used to ask for subjects relevant to its activities, which is the norm all over the world. The immediate effect of these changes is to disadvantage non-Arabic speakers and those with no religious inclinations, no matter how they excel in their preferred and relevant subjects. This leads to a ripple effect in universities as intelligence activities needed to excel in subjects such as religion are not always compatible with those required in disciplines such as mathematics and engineering. Ability to memorise is not indicative of a readiness for rational analysis and vice versa.
For all intent and purpose, academic freedoms do not exist and any attempt to defend such ideals could be construed as heresy or political disobedience. The continuous ideological repression and intellectual terrorism practiced by this regime, lead to a dangerous form of mix between religion and scholarship and the atmosphere necessary for free thinking became a piece of the past.
Dismissal and Harassment of Staff and Students:
The dismissal of staff members and students for their political or trade union activities and beliefs became the norm. Scores of senior and experienced staff were dismissed from higher education institutions under the pretext of public interest. The continuous purges are leaving the zealots and the accommodating while all those with independent views are to be muzzled.
Students' dismissal for their political views and trade unions' activities is a new and dangerous phenomena and it is designed to intimidate students and enforce their acquiescence and subjugation. As if the continuous threats of dismissal, detention and torture are not enough, the security keeps a continuous presence inside campuses and students' demonstrations and protests are being put down with unprecedented brutality. In November 1989, the security forces opened fire using live ammunitions inside the University of Khartoum campus killing three students one of them a female. All the students were shot inside the University buildings, in an act interpreted by observers as an intentional warning that demonstrations will be faced by bullets and no should have not illusions about the brutal resolve of this regime. Another first in brutality was the actions of the security against female students at Gezira University after students' demonstrations. Female students were arrested, flogged in public, had their hair shaven off, then detained for long periods. This is gross violation of all the norms of decent behaviour and ethics known in Sudan.
The Mix between Religion and Education:
A new policy has been adopted where religious education became a core subject in all disciplines with the unmistakable purpose of indoctrinating students according to fundamentalist beliefs, a serious development in higher education in Sudan. No one could argue with the importance of enshrining ethics* into students' conscience, but this is completely different from religious indoctrination.
Since one of the main axioms of Islam is not to question or doubt what is perceived as the truth, the current practices could affect the character of educational system graduates and discourage them from using their brains for rational reasoning and questioning of accepted theory. It also develops a sense of helplessness which could easily be abused by unscrupulous quarters. Scientific arguments and facts could be blurred by religious and superstitious activities, and it is an easy way out to attribute human failings -and in some instances corruption- to the will of God. A corrupt supplier who provides spent fertilisers or pesticides could hide behind a facade of religious and superstitious arguments to justify the failure of crops, a proposal disagreement with which could be interpreted as apostasy, heresy or waging war against the Islamic state. Matters of belief and conscience should be left to the individuals to make their own decisions and earthly matters shouldn't be elevated into heavenly debates. The purpose of higher education is training and for this to be effective, fear and hesitation should be eradicating from student' mind. Students should be guided to learn how to use the most precious gift from God, their brains, in order to develop reason, analysis and to think logically and independently on the basis of valid evidence. God did not give us thoughtful brains in order to keep them redundant but to use them and to use them effectively.
The history of Islam is rife with examples of manipulation of religion by rulers, and the calls currently made by the fundamentalists to return to the days of al-Madina are glaring admission of the utter failure of the political structure of the Islamic state after the death of Prophet Mohamed. The fact that three of the first four Orthodox Khalifas were assassinated for political reasons, shows that even those who lived the life of Prophet Mohamed were not able to use their religious teaching and knowledge to rectify the political process. Human beings are greedy and all channels of abusing religion should be iliminated. A multi-cultural higher education system can not flourish in an atmosphere of fear and suspicion.
Popular Defence Training:
Students are forcibly enrolled in the so called Popular Defence Camps under the pretext of military training. Those who have been through this humiliating experience liken it to those recorded of re-education camps run by fascists. The purpose of the whole practice is an exercise in ideological and religious indoctrination, an attempt to convert students into subordinate and obedient species, change their characters, and to enshrine fundamentalist' principles into their minds. The programme curtails independent thinking and rational reasoning. Students are humiliated and made to feel humble and feeble and subjected to brutality not governed by any law or regulations. Protest at such practices was stifled and the break-away in December 1991 from Gitaina Camp, which resulted from unreasonable brutality by camp commandants, was ruthlessly suppressed. Families and parents were held to ransom in order to ensure that their sons spend the prescribed period at the camps and those who fail to attend loose their places at universities, are not allowed to travel and subjected to retributions.
These are not results or by-products of flawed planning but deliberate attempts to create a submissive intelligentsia, a process symptomatic of all totalitarian regimes which can not face argument and reason.
The current purges and harassment of experienced academics are attempts to stifle free thinking and to destroy the traditionally liberal culture of higher education institutions in Sudan.
The implications of the current changes could become irreversible and their repercussions on the economy and development are severe.
I read the SAD and had just a few comments: 1) I was surprised to find no mention of the problems facing Sudan or proposed, new, creative, solutions; your article in fact plays right into the hands of those who argue that the left is more concerned with endlessly debating points of dogma or interpretation of 'classics' than with people in Sudan. 2) I would think that serious efforts to recreate a Sudanese left have to answer questions like:-should the state enterprise sector be reformed or privatized, and how ? -should those firms privatized by the NIF be re-nationalized? -what should be done about mechanized farm schemes, demarcated and undemarcated? -should sugar/tea/petrol prices be controlled, or allowed to float -should the currency be convertible and floating, or controlled -how should disputes and crimes be settled (I.e., should an Islamic system of law- with 'imams', etc. interpreting statutes, and coexisting with a 'secular' system, and should people have the choice between the two?) -what kind of political representation should be recommended, over the short and long term? -what should be the role of the national government in financing local rural development? -what should the trade orientation of the country be? These and other questions must be clearly and concisely answered- they are what every Sudanese wants to know. A program has to be worked out- a platform of policy. If members of the SCP can agree on this, then worry about internal organization and the most effective way to engineer a transition from the current regime. If the members cannot agree, then perhaps it is time to start a new party, based again on a clear set of principles, and with absolutely impeccable credentials (complete incorruptibility) which is the sine qua non of successful leadership. 3) On the dalluka songs- I might refer you to Gerd Baumann's book on the Miri of the Nuba Mountains- he has a very nice discussion of dalluka and interpretation of lyrics. Thank you for reminding me of how important popular culture is when we think about 'grand strategy' I will look forward to more postings.++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar
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