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Monday, 17 February 2020

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Front Row at the Revolution

By Nichol Niyibizi


Front Row at the Revolution
When we arrived in Sudan in August 2019, I never could have imagined what lay ahead. As the new Head of Primary at Khartoum International Community School (KICS), the year started as any new year would—building relationships and getting to know the ins and outs of the school.

There were rumors of a coming revolution and long queues for bread and petrol. Tension was building, but otherwise things were quiet. Then, in December, people began posting videos and pictures of demonstrations on social media. By the time we returned from our winter holiday in January 2019, the revolution had begun.

I never felt targeted during the revolution or feared being attacked personally, as this was very much a movement led by the Sudanese, for the Sudanese. The leaders of the revolution were adamant that it would be accomplished peacefully. All the same, we had to be constantly aware of our surroundings so as not to find ourselves in the wrong place at the wrong time, suddenly caught up in a protest.

One evening that is exactly what happened; driving home, we got caught in a large demonstration and had to wind our way through towers of fire and smoke, with cheering people surrounding our car. Thankfully, the much-feared Rapid Support Forces (RSF) did not show up and we reached home safely.

On another night, I remember quickly closing the windows at home as we heard the sound of gunshots nearby and caught the smell of tear gas wafting inside the house.

Leading the primary school through the second semester was challenging. With the arrest of former president Omar al-Bashir and disagreements between the Military Transitional Council and the protest leaders, things grew very tense. There were ongoing school closures, public transportation interruptions, barricaded roads and bridges, and a lot of absences. Being situated close to the universities was of concern, as demonstrations were common among students and the military used a lot of tear gas to quash them.

More challenging than logistics was the emotional strain caused by a constant, underlying sense of worry and fear of the unknown. Where would this lead? What if civil war broke out? What if things turned violent?

One difficult aspect for our team was knowing that our teachers were out protesting by night and teaching by day. Some of them were arrested and a few even detained in the hot sun for hours. Many of our students and families were impacted, either directly or within their extended families. The emotional turmoil was heavy, as we watched people lose their lives in the name of freedom.

Despite it all, the courageous Sudanese held their ground, peacefully and persistently. On 3 June, the RSF brutally “cleared” (shot into) the massive sit-in area, where tens of thousands protested in front of Army Headquarters. Over 100 people lost their lives. The airport closed and things looked bleak.

Through various ups and downs the summer went on, with hope in sight as talks among leaders resumed. Finally, in August, an agreement was signed between the military council, civilian reps, and protest groups for a three-year transition to a civilian government. Women, who played a key role in the revolution, were appointed to various leadership roles. People were positively jubilant. Since then, a spirit of hope for the New Sudan has prevailed.

Sometimes in the journey of life, we come across circumstances that change us forever. For me, what has taken place here in Sudan was one of those moments. I will be forever inspired by the resilience and peaceful determination of the Sudanese people.

At KICS, our goal is to empower students to act creatively, positively, and responsibly in a changing world. I am confident that, as they go out into the world, they will build a better Sudan for the next generation and those yet to come.

Nichol Niyibizi is Head of Primary at Khartoum International Community School in Sudan.

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