Endless media reports have been a witness to how years of conflict in Sudan have torn the country apart. What media too often ignores is that peaceful uprising has played an essential part of Sudan’s history, and that they continue to contribute making lasting peace in the country. One of the organisations fed up with the conflict is called Girifna.
Peace Monitor addresses the fact that media too often neglect local peace initiatives and that such peace efforts and their effects consequently receive insufficient attention. The popular narrative also tends to frame non-violent protests as a modern phenomenon, even though such protests have a long history. One country that is often portrayed as conflict ridden is Sudan. Even though Sudan’s history of violent conflict is well reported, little is known of the country’s long history of non-violent uprising.
The people of Sudan have experienced decades of armed conflict. Since its independence in 1956 the country has suffered through civil wars, human rights violations and different types of regional conflicts. However, the struggle for a democratic Sudan through non-violent means has been going on for half a century. In 1969 in what was to be known as the October Revolution the people of Sudan overthrew the government using non-violent protest. A coalition government took over but was the victim of a coup d’état only five years later. In 1985 the people of Sudan toppled another military dictatorship. Once again they brought down the government through peaceful means and once again, only four years later, they lost power in a coup. Omar al-Bashir seized power and to this day he is the president of Sudan and the leader of the National Congress Party (NCP).
The uprising of the people is however not only a part of the past. In October 2009, three students in the city of Omdurman founded the Girifna movement. They dreamt about a people’s movement under an orange umbrella. They were fed up with their lack of rights and the NCP. The word Girifna actually means to be “fed up”! Girifna is a very modern organisation. They have no leader, only members. They don’t have an office, instead they gather in each other’s houses. They are not anti-government; they are pro-change. They are not demanding power; they are demanding justice and their basic human rights. Girifna started taking action by handing out messages on the streets. The first message was simply “know your rights!” The second was to unite and that they had to include women in the political process. Now, three years later the number of organisations trying to include women have risen and more and more people agree that women need to be part of the ruling future.
Girifna uses a range of different methods to mobilise opinion. They have tried everything from using humour through a “soap ad commercial“ where al-Bashirs picture is washed from a dirty shirt, to training people how to demonstrate and protest. But its not unproblematic working this way. Since Girifna was founded the authorities have targeted its members. Because of continuing harassment some members were forced to flee the country. Despite all of these efforts Girifna refuses to be silenced. They continue to mobilise people and they are demanding to be heard.
In January 2011 the people of South Sudan decided to split Africa’s largest country in two, hoping to end the bloodshed. But the violence has not ended. According to Mai Shutta, one of Girifnas most prominent members, the peace agreement was actually good. Everything is there in detail. The problem is that it only exists on paper and does not deal with the country’s problems as a whole. One of the biggest issues is that the agreement only focuses on North and South Sudan and not the other regions of the country. Even if the peace agreement stopped the physical violence it is not enough to guarantee the people of South and North Sudan their rights and freedoms.
In their current revolution the people of Sudan are demanding their rights. During the summer of 2012, more then 2000 individuals were arrested. Hundreds were kept for weeks without any charges, coming out telling stories about overcrowded prisons and cases of torture. Shutta was among the people who was arrested during the summer of 2012. She was held for 42 days without any charges. But none of these violations will provoke the movement to take arms. In 2012 one of Girifna members told the reporter from PAX, the Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society’s magazine: “I believe that means and ends should not be in contrast with each other. If your goal is justice, you need to act fairly as well. It is a difficult road, the sacrifices are huge, but it is also a very powerful way for progress.“
Movements like Girifna exist all over the world and they are quite successful. But they are facing problems. For the people living in Sudan it is quite hard to get information about what is going on in the region and the rest of the world do not pay that much attention to non-violent organisations. As Shutta explains: “We don’t need money from other countries. What we need is advocacy and media attention”. Girifna is just one example of a non-violent organisation that tries to change the world into a better place. They are working for peace, equality and trying to build a broader understanding between people that have been engaged in conflict against each other for such a long time.