Sudanese University Students Demand a Campus Free of Violence

UofKProtestPressconferenceApril10-cropOne might assume that universities are a safe haven for free dialogue, learning and intellectual debate. This, however, is far from the reality in Sudan, where most public universities have a heavy presence of armed pro-regime student militias who store their weapons on campus in what are called Jihadist Units.

Pro-government militias are also often involved in terrorizing students by rigging student union elections and disrupting public debates on campus (also called arkan, meaning [debate] corners)–a common tradition in many universities in Sudan.

Since the National Congress Party (NCP) came to power 25 years ago, at least 17 students from universities around the country have paid with their lives while peacefully practicing or demanding basic rights. None of these incidents have ever been investigated transparently, and no one has ever been held accountable.

March 11, 2014 was just another normal day on the campus of Khartoum University. A normal day that metamorphosed into a nightmare that the student body is still grappling with. That morning the Darfur Student Union organized a peaceful debate to raise awareness amongst their fellow students about the plight of their families in Darfur, where, according  to the United Nations, the rate of displacement in the last year is reminiscent of the early years of the conflict. Since the end of February this year, there have been more than 200,000 newly displaced persons in North and South Darfur combined.

The debate turned into a peaceful protest around and outside the campus that was then met with tear gas and live ammunition, leading to the death of a Darfuri Student, Ali Abbaker. He was a third year student studying economics, and was described by fellow students as someone who lacked any political affiliation and who was attending the debate and the protest like many others.

An active female student who was at the campus that day told the author anonymously:

Three students who are part of the NCP student militias entered the campus with guns. One of them shot Ali Abbaker as he was running. His killer can be identified, because he was seen and is known by many on the campus. Ali Abbaker could have been any one of us, he was not politically affiliated; he just happened to be there that day… We spend half our day on campus, is it logical that we spend all that time feeling insecure?

After a three-week shutdown the university re-opened its doors on March 31, but only to a limited number of faculties that are scattered from each other, to make it harder for students to congregate and organize. Those returning faculties excluded the Faculties of Arts – where Ali Abbaker was shot and killed – and the Faculty of Economics where he was studying. Dr. Ismat Mahmoud, a professor at the university known for his sympathetic stand with the students and their demands, asked on this facebook book page:

Given the that the Martyr Ali Abbaker was killed at the Faculty of Arts, those who have information about his murderers are students from the Economics and Arts departments. I have a thousand and one questions: to whose benefit are these students being kept away? I refuse the protection of murderers.

Since then,Khartoum University students have managed to stage a rare feat: a 10-day strike that included solidarity from a non-official coalition of 23 sympathetic professors and almost 100 percent of the attending student body. The students also put forward a set of specific demands to the University’s administration. The last time a strike was staged in late 2011, and it only lasted five days before the authorities closed the entire campus for two months.

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