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May 28, 2008

You know you lived in Khartoum when...

Facebook has got a very khawaja-focused group called You know you lived in Khartoum when…

For me, the ice cream choice is so the other way round.

But anyway, back to the looming war.

Posted by aheavens at 6:27 AM

May 26, 2008

The biro is mightier than the AK-47 M-16

In the old days, the pen was mightier than the sword.


Now, according to the logo of Darfur's United Revolutionary Force Front (URFF), the biro is mightier than the AK-47 M-16 (thanks rcfiver - see comments).

Although, given the fact that the rifle is on top of the biro in the image, maybe it is the other way round. Which is less poetic but, in Darfur right now, more realistic.

Posted by aheavens at 8:29 AM

It's hot

NPR's reporter took a break from the usual who-why-what-where-when of journalism to talk about the current weather in Khartoum:

Today's it's as dry as an old piece of toast...It's hot. It's so hot that even the insides of oranges are steamy on your tongue. It is so hot that you can even smell your own hair burning. It is so hot that somehow it feels OK to stand under an awning and ignore a photo display of young dead rebels in wells of their own blood. And that should never be OK.

I can confirm that it is indeed very hot.

Posted by aheavens at 6:51 AM

May 21, 2008

Do not panic

Your capital has just gone through the first rebel attack that anyone can remember for decades.

Your population is jumpy after a week of door-to-door searches and mass arrests.

So what do you do?

Sudanese armed forces hold shooting exercises north of Omdurman

Text of report in English by state-owned Sudanese news agency Suna website

Khartoum, 20 May: Early this morning the Armed Forces held shooting exercises north of Omdurman.

Major Al-Sawarmi Sa'ad, the director of the office of the Armed Forces official spokesperson, called on citizens not to respond to the rumours and asked them to remain calm.

Posted by aheavens at 7:36 PM

May 19, 2008

From today's papers

British newspapers often try to increase circulation by serialising parts of a bestselling book – often the bonk-buster memoirs of a disgraced politician.

Here is the Sudanese version, from the front page of today's Advocate newspaper:

The Advocate Daily Newspaper shall be serializing:
The 'Oslo 2008 Donors' Report on Sudan' and 'Towards a Strategic Framework for the Multi-Donors Trust Fund for Southern Sudan' on pages 4 and 12 respectively.

The thing is, these turgid, acronym-filled UN/donor/NGO reports do often count as mini-bestsellers here.

Go to Abyei or Juba and you will find people who can recite parts of the Report of the Abyei Boundaries Commission (ABC) or the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) verbatim.

And while we are in an unpleasant sneery mood, here is a front page apology from today's Citizen newspaper.

The Citizen would like to apologize to our sincere readers for the mistake that appeared on our yesterday's lead story about Melez Zenawi, who was quoted as the President of Eritrea. The correct is that Melez Zenawi is the President of Ethiopia.
We are sure that our readers have observed that was unintended mistake.

It is an easy mistake to make. Aren't Melez, the President of Ethiopia, and Izias, the Prime Minister of Eritrea, cousins, or something like that?

Posted by aheavens at 7:30 AM

May 17, 2008

An afternoon out in Omdurman

DSC0157Another sunny Saturday afternoon – and what better way to spend it than visiting the new Chadian invasion exhibition - AKA the 'Exhibition of the Brave' - in Omdurman.

Just in case you missed it (and I understand the story didn't get a lot of play on British TV), this time last week, Darfur rebels were mounting a full-on assault on Omdurman – one of three cities that make up greater Khartoum, just 30 minutes drive away from our home.

After almost a day of fighting, government forces pushed the insurgent Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) troops out of the city, leaving behind them at least 220 dead (rebels, civilians and army - according to the army), rows of bullet-scarred buildings and a huge pile of hardware.

Sudan quickly blamed its western neighbour Chad for funding and directing the attack. It then spent most of last week making mass arrests and collecting all the captured hardware together for an exhibition.

DSC0096The show took place in the grounds of the Khalifa's Mosque. Outside there was a line of slick Photoshopped banners with pictures of victorious Sudanese government troops waving their weapons under slogans like 'Chad will pay' and 'We are not afraid'.

The gates were guarded by two huge tanks with little Sudanese flags tied to their barrels and soldiers armed with everything from rifles to rocket-propelled grenade launchers all around. I wasn't allowed to take photos of the tanks, but everything else was fine – this was a 'victory' exhibition after all and they had a lot to show off.

Inside, it was a bit like a village fete. Singers blared out popular patriotic sings in one corner, surrounded by dancing men and children waving sticks in time with the music. In the centre of the field, there was a pile of twisted and battered vehicles the army said had been captured from the invading JEM forces.

Along one side of the field was a line of military vehicles carrying mortars, grenade launchers, anti-aircraft guns, and chains of what were either small rockets or huge, huge bullets.

DSC0146Soldiers posed for photos, answered questions from the crowd, swivelled in their captured gun turrets and let children climb up alongside them for more photos.

Every so often someone would come up to try their English, grin madly into the camera and shake their fists in victory.

Over on the stage another song blared out. Another crown of men and children rushed to dance on the stage. A small boy climbed up on to the shoulders of a dancing soldier, grabbed his assault rifle and waved it in the air.

There are a few more photos on Flickr.

UPDATE: Dangerous things these post-victory examine-the-military-hardware exhibitions. An hour after we left, a visitor was killed when one of the exhibits - some sort of grenade - exploded in his hand.

Posted by aheavens at 2:02 PM

May 14, 2008

The Khartoum attack explained some more

It looks like opinion is slowly swinging behind options 5 and 8 - see last but one entry.

Here is Alex de Waal on Khalil Ibrahim, leader of JEM, the Darfur rebel force that attacked Khartoum over the weekend, from Making Sense of Darfur:

Over the last two years, Khalil has repeatedly stated his intention to storm Khartoum, and observers have not taken him seriously. It was an error not to listen to Khalil's statements: his ultimate aim and grand strategy have been consistent over the years. In the last four days, Khalil didn't succeed in either pulling off a coup or instigating a mass uprising. But he has threatened to try again and let us be clear that he is serious. The sheer audacity of his action has won him acclaim among many Sudanese who aspire for revolutionary change in their country.

Meanwhile Omdurman is still under curfew and reports of arrests continue to come in. As a friend said in an email, I would not want to be a Darfuri in Khartoum right now.

Posted by aheavens at 4:58 AM

May 13, 2008

Fair trials for all

Minister of Defense: Captured rebel elements will receive fair trial
Khartoum, May 12 (SUNA) - The Minister of National Defense, General Abdul-Rahim Mohamed Hussein, on Monday said who were arrested and who had been involved in the recent attack on Omdurman will be brought to fair military trial.

And as for anyone arrested who wasn't involved in the recent attack ...

Posted by aheavens at 7:37 AM

The Khartoum attack explained

So, after hours of exhaustive interviews, in depth research and the refining of my own expert analysis, I have at last come up with the motive behind JEM's shock attack on Khartoum.

It is any one of the following 10 explanations. Or perhaps a combination of 1, 2 and 3. Or 5 and 8. Or just 7, with the understanding that the secondary target could also be El Fasher, al Obeid, or the Meroe Dam.

  1. A bloody PR move to get JEM some headlines
  2. Retribution – to bring some of Darfur's suffering to Khartoum
  3. Humiliation of Khartoum and exposure of holes in its security system
  4. Chad-backed revenge for the two Khartoum-backed rebel raids on N'Djamena
  5. The move of a mad, power-hungry warlord
  6. A move to break the stalemate in the Darfur peace process AKA Operation Longarm
  7. Distraction while JEM prepares for an offensive on El Geneina
  8. A genuine coup attempt
  9. The first stages of a coup attempt to test for support among army and opposition
  10. Creating chaos in the capital leading to the breakdown of the state

Now that we have a clear understanding of the reasoning behind the attack, surely it is time for the international community to step up efforts for a solution.

Posted by aheavens at 7:22 AM

May 11, 2008

A multi-million mistake

This is going to be very awkward for someone.

Sudan's state news agency SUNA put out this statement earlier today, offering a multi million reward for the capture of Khalil Ibrahim, leader of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) - the Darfur rebels who attacked Khartoum this weekend.

250 Million Assigned as Prize for Arresting Khalil Ibrahim
Khartoum, May 11 (SUNA) - A senior military source in the General Command of the Armed Forces announced that 250 million pounds are assigned as prize for any person who arrests the fleeing Khalil Ibrahim or inform about his place through the telephones 999. 99193, 0183-767557 and 0120977053. He appreciated the citizens' alert and unlimited and fruitful cooperation with the security authorities.

In today's money, 250 million new Sudanese pounds is worth about $125 million - not a bad reward. Hardly surprisingly, many people took the story and ran with it.

The only trouble is that they are not new Sudanese pounds. They published the figure using the old currency by mistake. 250 million old Sudanese pounds is worth 'only' about $125,000.

You have to feel sorry for whoever ends up risking their lives to detain Darfur's most powerful rebel leader then doesn't quite end up the millionaire he thought he was going to be.

Posted by aheavens at 7:54 PM

May 10, 2008

Attack on Khartoum

About half an hour ago we could still hear the dull thudding of aerial bombardments coming in over the Nile from behind our house.

The Darfur rebel group the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) launched their attack on Omdurman, a city a few miles north of Khartoum, this afternoon. Their aim was clear. "We are now trying to control Khartoum. God willing we will take power, it's just a matter of time," senior JEM commander Abdel Aziz el-Nur Ashr told Reuters by telephone.

I was flying back from Juba, capital of southern Sudan, when it started, and only found out what was going on when I turned on my mobile phone as I got off the plane at Khartoum's domestic terminal at around 5pm.

The airport itself seemed calm. But outside, the main Africa Road dual carriageway was packed with soldiers and traffic police. The lanes heading into the city centre, towards the fighting, were empty. The lanes heading south away from the fighting were bumper to bumper with cars. There was no panic. But people were clearly keen to clear the area.

The government had just declared a 5pm-6am curfew so the only thing to do was to head home before they shut down the streets. When I arrived at the gate, our Sudanese neighbours came out to welcome me back with an Alhamdulillah and offered to take us in if there was any trouble.

Being close to the action doesn't always give you a particularly clear picture of what is going on. The country's main mobile network was not working – either overloaded or shut down. Our internet connection was still up but the people I really needed to contact were offline. The only thing to do was watch the helicopters circling ahead and listen to the bombardments that seemed to drift closer and further away, depending on the wind.

After a while we got the Thuraya satellite phone up and running and got through to the government and some of the rebels. Here is the Reuters report that I contributed to. State TV started showing pictures of dead bodies and blood on the streets of Omdurman. The sun set and the bombing stopped.

Just a few random thoughts:

Posted by aheavens at 8:11 PM

May 9, 2008

Andrew Heavens was doing so well dealing heroin ...

Jealousy over drug profit led to killing
Sydney Morning Herald - May 8, 2008

ANDREW HEAVENS was doing so well dealing heroin that when he refused to hand over some clients to his supplier he was killed, a court has heard.

The alleged supplier, Scott Alan May, 27, is on trial in the NSW Supreme Court for murder after he allegedly ordered his close friend Ryan Burns to shoot Mr Heavens during a late-night meeting at Callan Park on May 2, 2003.

In his opening address, the Crown prosecutor, Anthony Cook, SC, told the jury that Mr Heavens, 31, was a successful supplier and user of heroin and that by the period leading up to his murder had many customers and a high turnover of the heroin he was selling.

The perils of ego-surfing.

Posted by aheavens at 10:49 AM

May 7, 2008

HIV positive - HIV negative


Anti-AIDS campaign in Switzerland (photo by d'n'c')


Anti-Aids campaign in Wau, southern Sudan (with added road sign)

Posted by aheavens at 4:04 PM

May 5, 2008

Sudan snapshot #2: School-on-a-camel near Al Meganis

nomadic teacherNEAR AL MEGANIS, Sudan - It is not every teacher who can pack up their school in a matter of minutes and stack it on the back of a camel.

But Hamad Abdullah Saleh is not every teacher.

He is the lone man at the head of a school of 61 children, all members of Sudan's nomadic A-Hamda tribe who spend large parts of the year covering miles upon miles of land across the neighbouring states of White Nile and South Kordofan.

And when the 61 students move, Hamad Abdullah Saleh moves with them, with his blackboard strapped to the back of his school camel, and his small stock of cattle trailing behind.

"As long as it is school time, I travel with them," says Hamad, a tall, white-robed man in his late 50s who spent most of his earlier career teaching children who stay in one place – White Nile State's main town of Kosti.

"The first thing we do when we arrive in a new place is unload the blackboard. Then the community spends a day collecting wood and straw for the building. Then we start teaching.

"I have to leave my family behind in Kosti. But I took on this new job as a new challenge. The children are good students. And it is very fulfilling."

Saleh's Mohammad Hamad nomadic school is the first educational establishment that the A-Hamda group has ever had...

Posted by aheavens at 11:22 AM

Sudan snapshot #1: Playing with grenades in Malakal

malakal_mine_injuriesMALAKAL, Southern Sudan - Temene Chamou was playing with her two young cousins when she found the interesting looking metal box underneath a pile of rubbish.

The 10-year-old took it back to her home in Malakal, on the banks of the White Nile in South Sudan, and tried to open it by pulling on a rod, fixed into what appeared to be its lid.

The explosion ripped of most of her right hand, burned her face from chin to forehead and peppered her body with shards of shrapnel.

One metal spike hit the head of her four-year-old cousin Emanuel David, missing his left eye by 5mm. Another fragment lodged itself in the neck of her other cousin, Habiba David, aged three, stopping just short of his windpipe. The boys' baby sister Angelina, who was also is the room at the time, was burned all the way up her right arm.

Officials are still not sure whether the interesting box was a grenade or an old-fashioned landmine, set off by some sort of fuse.

What they are certain of is that it was one of the millions of explosive objects that still litter the land around Malakal and other parts of South Sudan, all leftovers from decades of fighting in Africa's largest country...

Two months after the explosion their wounds may have started to heal, but the memories are still raw.

Temene's mother describes how the whole community rushed out of the huts when they heard the explosion and had to hunt for the boys after they ran out of the family compound in a blind panic.

Temene still has to go back to hospital every few weeks to have her bandage changed. She has regained her good humour and greets visitors shyly with an awkward left-handed handshake.

Ten minutes drive across town, yet another young body has been cut and torn by what, in technical jargon, is known as ERW – explosive remnants of war.

Augustino threw a stone at a cow he was trying to catch on open ground outside his family's home. The stone fell short, hitting a hidden mine that sprayed him and three of his friends with shrapnel.

All four survived but all four are permanently scarred on their faces, torsos, arms and legs.

Posted by aheavens at 11:17 AM