Watching Jon Stewart in Khartoum

“Sudan Protests spark 113 arrests and one death,”  Pambazuka covers the January 30 movement.

[Update:  Sudan Tribune story covering the protests and repression, and Human Rights Watch statement condemning excessive force.]

In many respects Khartoum was the most oppressive place I worked in or visited during my time in East Africa.  At the same time, it seemed vaguely surreal to turn on the television in my (Malaysian) hotel room and see Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show in the fall of 2007.  This was definitely one of those “we are not in the Cold War any more, Toto” moments.  This is perhaps worth an essay I just don’t have time to write at the moment, but it certainly struck me that this was one reason that “public diplomacy” seemed dead–global communications had moved on.  On one hand I was cringing about what Stewart might say, and noting the difference between laughing at ourselves at home and others laughing at us; on the other, what greater symbol of America’s exceptional freedom than that you could still go on television in the midst of the war in Iraq and the “Global War on Terror” and the associated restrictions on civil liberties, and put down the government?

Around the corner on a wall was a poster from an African-American evangelist, part of the way to the Greek Orthodox church.  I was there to participate in a seminar to encourage the empowerment of Muslim women at a grassroots level, courtesy of the U.S. State Department through IRI. [Note:  “International Republican Institute”, not “Islamic Republic of Iran”]  I think it was a good program, led by my colleague who was an empowered Kenyan Muslim woman of Nubian ancestry.  We had representatives of various local groups from various places around the country (the North)–women, although perhaps a small majority of the local leaders were men who were interested in a more active role for women.

I almost got arrested once for taking an innocuous  picture of a sign on a building, and was rescued by a good Samaritan who intervened on my behalf.

I am sure that I learned a lot more than I taught, but I do think that as people in the new Sudan (the North) seek a better future, there will be some who will appreciate knowing that the American taxpayers were willing to take some note of and interest in them as citizens, as well as simply the grand geopolitical calculations.

U.S. Department of State, on FlickrSecretary Clinton Shakes Hands With Sudanese Foreign Minister Karti

“Secretary Clinton Shakes Hands With Sudanese Foreign Minister Ahmen Ali Karti”   Jan. 26, 2011


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