KHARTOUM , Sudan (Sudanow) - The visiting USAID Administrator Samantha power delivered a lecture at the Sharga Hall, the University of Khartoum, attended by dozens of civil rights and civil society groups and activists. Following is a full text of the lecture she delivered at the end of her official visit to the Sudan, Tuesday 3rd of August 2021:
Good morning, everyone. Sabah al-khair.
Let me take this special moment to welcome your justice minister, at a time when justice is in the air—Justice Abdulbari.
Also, let me welcome my colleagues—who have done such a wonderful job, I think, listening to you, learning from you, and seeking ways of supporting you—our Chargé, Brian Shukan, and Mission Director Mervyn Ferroe.
I also want to thank Vice Chancellor Fadwa for that warm introduction. As the first woman Vice Chancellor of this university—after 19 men!—in its more than 100-year history, your appointment is a potent reminder of the fruits of Sudan’s revolution.
It is a true privilege to address you here, at the University of Khartoum. Across more than a century of tutelage, this campus has helped foster Sudanese scholarship, art, and revolutionary spirit.
It was here, on October 21, 1964 that members of the Khartoum University Student Union held a fateful seminar to protest the military dictatorship of Ibrahim Abbud. And that seminar, as you all know, was raided by police.
It was not the first such seminar, nor was it the first seminar the government sought to shut down. Earlier gatherings were forced to disperse when police invaded the university; an intended meeting place was even flooded with water to prevent discussion. On October 15, the entire executive committee of the Student Union was arrested.
But the membership persisted. New leaders were elected, and when they gathered a week later in defiance of the government, nearly 700 students came prepared for a showdown. No one, however, expected the police to open fire. By nightfall, a student, Ahmad al-Qurayshi, was dead, after being shot by police.
The next day, a funeral procession was organized to dispatch Qurayshi’s body to his home village. Tens of thousands of Sudanese showed up in solidarity, a show of grief and anger that would soon ignite the October Revolution, and usher in a civilian government.
The October revolution, sparked by Sudan’s youth but soon supported by Sudan’s professors, workers, farmers, lawyers, and doctors, led to an era of promise and a generation of young people who sought to chart a new destiny for their country—a “generation of giving” one Sudanese poem called them.
But, as you well know, the new government was short-lived.
While the revolution created an opportunity for marginalized social and political groups to mobilize and participate in government, and led to the election of Sudan’s first woman member of parliament, the economy was in turmoil, and the country was stuck in a protracted civil war in what is now South Sudan.
Military leaders from the previous regime managed to insert a provision into the transitional constitution preventing their trial for crimes committed while they held power.
There was freedom, but there was no peace, and no justice.
Soon, many of the same people who helped topple the military dictatorship grew frustrated with the new government, and helped support a military coup in 1969.
Today, Sudan finds itself at another crossroads in its long history of popular revolution and military rule.
Fresh from a youth- and women-led revolution that both surprised and inspired the world, there is hope that Sudan will prosper as a peaceful democracy.
After decades of bloody civil war, brutal repression, genocide, torture in “ghost houses,” systematic government theft from the Sudanese people, and a persistent climate of fear, there is optimism in the air.
“We were trapped in a hole,” one woman at a camp for displaced people told me about their life under President Omar Al-Bashir, “And now we can breathe.” We can breathe.
But there is something else in the air, too: impatience.
Inflation is roaring. The pound is weakening. Prices for bread are rising so quickly that some bakers have resorted to selling smaller loaves.
There are power outages, water shortages, and a creeping sense that two years after the fall of the old regime, the revolution has brought freedom, but not yet paid economic dividends in the lives of the Sudanese people.
While disputes persist within both the civilian and military leadership, some also fear that dark forces may be out there, biding their time, waiting for their chance to snatch back Sudan from its destiny as a free and democratic state.
I want to talk today about that destiny…
About the patience required for change to unfold…
And, about the impatience necessary to spur that change forward…
About the dangers of favoring one over the other, and playing into the hands of those who would exploit either your complacency or your frustration.
I was one of the impatient ones.
Seventeen years ago, I was a journalist who came to this region to hear from refugees who had escaped the horrors of a genocide in Darfur.
In Chad, I heard testimony from several women, one of whom, Amina Mohammed, was separated from her 10-year-old son after government planes bombed her village near Furawiyah. Soldiers and janjaweed militias stormed through soon after the bombing, and by the time Amina felt safe to look for her son, he had been killed—beheaded—by the janjaweed.
I decided I had to see Amina’s village for myself. And together with my colleague John Prendergast, I crossed the Chad border into Darfur, stumbling across horrors throughout my journey. I saw huts with charred roofs, and belongings scattered in people’s deserted homes—signs of what at best might have been a desperate escape. Then we saw bomb craters, and the shell of an unexploded rocket whose nose was buried in the sand.
Soon we came across victims of the janjaweed’s brutality, men who had been executed, lying in the sand, shot from behind and left in shallow graves to decompose.
There was one man whose fate I will never forget. His body was far from the others; he had clearly tried to run away, and he died with his palm outstretched, pleading for mercy.
That visit to Darfur transformed me and my life. The savagery I had witnessed compelled me to become an activist rather than a journalist, and to use my voice to urge my government and the world to stand up for the people of Darfur.
But, I have to be honest, for all of my activism and idealism, I could not have imagined a peaceful end to Bashir’s stranglehold on Sudan.
No matter how vicious; no matter how he neglected the needs of the Sudanese people, Bashir’s power seemed permanent.
He had refined his tactics to maintain that grip on power. From shutting down the unions that had led successful general strikes in the past, to imposing strict limits on women’s freedom, disappearing activists, and weaponizing the country’s diversity to divide and rule Sudan’s population.
Bashir’s regime, as you well know, was built on war.
Conflicts in Darfur and Eastern Sudan, the Nuba Mountains, and Blue Nile, and nearly twenty years of bloodshed during the country’s civil war with the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, all fueled by a massive military spending to support a sprawling security apparatus.
And as the wars raged, Bashir positioned himself as a bulwark against armed gangs that would descend on Khartoum and, he said, plunge Sudan into anarchy if he were ever overthrown.
Dictators and autocrats have always relied on a certain type of fear—a pervasive sense of dread that smothers hope and thwarts needed change.
But what Bashir underestimated, and what, I confess, many of us who have followed Sudan failed to predict, was the will, determination, resilience, and courage of the Sudanese people to demand change until they got it.
In 2019, what began as a revolt against the price of bread in Atbara soon spread across Sudan, quickly reaching Khartoum.
And rather than the savagery, vengeance, and lawlessness of which Bashir had warned, the revolution embraced nonviolence, staging sit-ins, marches, and chants that emphasized Sudan’s unity, rather than its divisions.
“We are all Khartoum!” chanted protestors in Darfur. “We are all Darfur!” chanted protestors in Khartoum.
Just three days ago, I returned to Darfur for the first time since 2004. And there, I met with women at the Zam Zam IDP camp—women who have known nothing but the grinding daily life of the displaced for nearly two decades, women who yearn to return home. And it was these same women who in 2019, gathered in the camp what little money they had, chipping in, to march—to take a bus to Khartoum—to be part of the marches for Bashir’s ouster, and, in so doing, to demonstrate the will of a unified Sudan.
Despite the peaceful tactics of the protestors, the regime still unleashed violence. I met earlier this week with several young protestors, many of whom lost limbs or were grievously wounded as they marched to overthrow Bashir.
They recounted, with tears in their eyes, the violence they experienced—blinded by tear gas canisters, hit by live ammunition. They also described the justice that still evaded them following these crimes. They are the survivors
And they are the survivors. More than 100 young people, perhaps many more, were killed on June 3, 2019, when soldiers opened fire on a sit-in.
Their bodies still sit in the morgue, waiting for officials to carry out autopsies. Their parents and friends have yet to receive the closure that they deserve, so they keep vigil instead.
But in the end, it was peace that won out. The protests grew larger; the protestors grew more impatient. And in the end, their courage overcame the might of a dictator—a vital reminder to the world that no dictator anywhere is immune to the will of their people...
...And, this served—you served—as an inspiration to people all around the world who still live under the heel of repressive regimes.
“There was no future in front of us,” Rifqa Abdelrahman, known throughout Twitter as the “Tear Gas Hunter,” told me during my visit here. “There was no future in front of us so we insisted on creating one.
“The streets were a starting point,” she said. “We had no idea where they would lead.”
Where those streets led is to this moment—this window of possibility into Sudan’s future.
Like any window, you can glimpse through it, and catch sight of the bright day ahead. But it also offers a vision that is as fragile as glass.
Three decades of neglect have left Sudan’s economy underdeveloped and its human capital undernourished. Painful but necessary economic reforms have cut long-provided subsidies and led to sharp currency devaluation.
In order to secure badly needed debt relief and provide for the general welfare of the Sudanese people, the Transitional Government had to raise fuel prices and cut basic services, like trash collection.
The original calls for “freedom, peace, and justice” are increasingly being replaced in the streets by calls for “fuel, bread, and jobs.”
And so much work remains. The landmark Juba Peace Agreement has provided a roadmap to end armed conflict and integrate opposition groups into the government and security forces, while providing means for justice and reconciliation. Yet, key holdouts to the Agreement remain, and until it is fully implemented, millions of internally displaced Sudanese and refugees will not be able to return to their homes.
Women remain underrepresented in both national and state government.
And finally, there is the challenge of establishing a unified Sudanese military whose power and economic influence is limited to affairs of security and defense, rather than politics and personal profit.
The United States agrees that Sudan’s army should have a single, unified command, and we will actively support civilian-led security reform and the formal integration of the Rapid Support Forces and former opposition armed groups.
These steps are all crucial, as we work with the Transitional government to prepare for elections in 2024.
And because the work of preparing for an election can never begin too soon, I’m announcing today that USAID will contribute an additional $4.3 million to support electoral processes and an independent election commission.
If you dwell on them, Sudan’s challenges must feel daunting.
Two years since the revolution began, I can only imagine the frustration at the creeping pace of change, as the Transitional Government works to unwind decades of corruption, economic decline, institutional weakness and mismanagement, while attempting to heal the various wounds that Bashir inflicted on this country.
Impatience brought you to this moment. To remain patient now must feel like a betrayal.
But Sudan has wind at its back.
Sudan is more at peace than at any time during Bashir’s rule.
The transitional government has introduced major gender and human rights reforms—criminalizing female genital mutilation, abolishing the requirement for women to get consent from men to travel with their children, striking down the “public order” law that was used to indiscriminately harass and penalize women, banning torture and forced confessions, and guaranteeing the freedom of belief and worship.
And the painful economic medicine the country has taken has allowed it to clear its debt arrears. And now Sudan is on the verge of qualifying for debt relief.
Removing Sudan from the list of Highly Indebted Poor Countries will not only unlock further relief, it will clear the way for greater public and private foreign investment in the country's economy.
That’s the other factor that should reinforce the hopefulness of this moment—the international community, and the United States specifically, is dedicated to helping Sudan weather this delicate transition.
For so many years, our two governments were at odds. The revolution has changed that.
To come to Sudan, for me, 17 years after my first trip to Darfur, and be welcomed by your government—and I say that intentionally; it is your government—represents a truly profound change. The animosity and mutual suspicion that our governments harbored for so many years has receded, enabling the United States and Sudan to forge a genuine partnership, a partnership we will continue to grow.
We will continue as well, as we long have, to attend to Sudan’s urgent humanitarian needs. Since 2003, the US has actually spent over $6 billion in humanitarian aid for the people of Sudan.
Today, I’m announcing an additional $56 million dollars of life-saving assistance to help people throughout Sudan’s periphery with emergency healthcare and nutrition; water, sanitation, and hygiene programs; and funds to seek to protect the country's most marginalized populations.
We are also helping Sudan weather the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition to providing critical funding to the country's response to COVID-19, the US is fulfilling President Biden’s promise to serve as an “arsenal of vaccines” to the world. In two days, I’m pleased to say, a plane will land here in Khartoum with over 600,000 doses of US-provided Johnson & Johnson vaccines. And we know this meets you at an hour of great need, and more support will be forthcoming.
We are also investing in Sudan’s Family Support Program, to make sure that cuts to subsidies do not fall unduly on those who are least able to afford them. USAID has already invested $20 million to help launch the program, which is getting going and spreading every day around the country, and enrolling new beneficiaries, so that cash transfers can quickly reach the population as needs are identified and needs grow.
Already, over 1.3 million families have enrolled in the program, and we will continue to invest and support efforts to direct payments toward women and those most in need.
But I believe that the United States must be ambitious to meet this moment. We want to provide more than emergency food assistance and vaccines.
We want to help Sudan reap the benefits of your own lush natural resources—your livestock, your land, your water—and we are supporting Prime Minister Hamdok’s creation of an agricultural transformation agency to attack the root causes of poverty, malnutrition, and food insecurity in Sudan.
And finally, we want to support Sudan’s transformation from a source of instability to a partner in resolving the challenges of a volatile region, most urgently by working together to address the conflict in Ethiopia, to which there is no military solution.
But the truth is, there is one resource that Sudan, for all of its natural endowment, there is one resource that Sudan is in desperate need of right now.
All of you. The youth and civil society of Sudan. Your talent. Your conviction. Your stubbornness. Your resilience. Your belief in change. And, yes, your impatience.
No amount of high-minded reform or commitments to foreign assistance can deliver you. You are who helped Sudan come to this vital crossroads.
But this transition will not represent your sacrifice, or your values, unless some of you at least bring your revolutionary spirit inside the halls of power.
Sudan needs a new giving generation; a new giving generation that is willing to translate the chants of street protests into the unsung work of public service.
Mobilizing tax revenue, auditing budgets to weed out corruption, reducing bureaucratic hurdles so that investors can more easily create jobs and help grow your economy. None of this is glamorous work, trust me. But it is dignified work. It is necessary work. Besides, the fate of Sudan’s future may just depend on it.
Your willingness to enter public service may just speed reforms in a way a sit-in alone cannot. Your ability to put your hands on the levers of power, means that you won’t leave it to others to pull those levers in the right direction.
I say this to you, humbly, as someone who has lived a version of this journey.
I spoke earlier about how Sudan changed the trajectory of my life; about how what I saw in Darfur moved me from witnessing atrocities as a journalist to agitating the U.S. government to support the people of Sudan as an activist.
But as my appearance today demonstrates, I did not stay an activist.
Or maybe I’m an activist wearing a different hat.
Inspired by a rising politician named Barack Obama, I entered public service, where I not only got to call for change, but I had the chance to at least try to drive it from the inside.
I never became patient—trust me. But I tried to wield my impatience in service of the dignity of those people around the world who had been denied dignity for too long. Including people who have been denied dignity for too long, right here in Sudan.
So, please, young people of Sudan—before you grow discouraged by the pace of change, remember what you have done. Remember how you showed the world that you could make the seemingly impossible, possible. And try to draw inspiration for what you can still do to secure a peaceful, democratic, civilian-led future for your people and your country.
I mentioned earlier that I spent some time with Rifqa, and Rifqa told me: “This is our government. We put it in place. We don’t want to stop it. We want to guide it.”
I promise you, as long as you guide it in the direction of peace, justice, and dignity, the United States will stand with you.
I thank you; shukran.
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