Muhammad Khamza is 32. He is a university graduate with a degree in economics and management and he is fluent in English. His current occupation is selling phone cards. He radiates kindness, happiness and composure, like most people in this poor country – always smiling, friendly and open.
You notice this at once and never stop being surprised. A traffic controller is smiling. A fisherman on the bank of the Blue Nile is smiling. Soldiers escorting a motorcade are smiling and joyfully waving their hands. I ask Muhammad who those people in the motorcade are who are being escorted by such jolly guards.
Those are guests of the president and they are going to see him in his place – not far away from here. Many people have come to attend the elections. As for why they are so jolly, – we have many people like this.
Khamza’s family is not poor and is well educated. His father is an engineer, speaks several languages and has worked abroad extensively. His father-in-law works in the oil industry, and has also worked abroad. Muhammad and all of is family are insured. He rents a flat. A year ago he married and the couple are expecting their first child in a week or so.
Muhammad makes 3,000 Sudanese pounds, which is about $1250.
For comparison, workers and drivers get from 1,000 to 1,800 Sudanese pounds, engineers get from 6000 to 7000 while managers in foreign corporations get up to 20,000 Sudanese pounds.
When you’re in Sudan, inevitably you start counting everything. A monthly salary is spent in three days for every one of observers and officials from the UN and other world organizations that cram all the luxury hotels in Khartoum. Thus, while observing the aspirations of the Sudanese people for democracy, world officials consume a yearly budget of a poor Sudanese family in several days. The per-capita income is 600 dollars a year.
Muhammad spends 600 pounds for a rented three-bedroom flat. His younger brother who is a student, and his mother-in-law, are living with him, so as to help his wife, Mimi. Life is expensive: a kilogram of fruit costs 10 to 12 pounds, and a litre of petrol costs 1.4 pounds.
- Oh, we are indeed so lucky. My landlord is a very kind man. He lives immediately downstairs. I had not known him beforehand. He told me he would love it to have very good tenants. Now we are friends. Otherwise, he could have let this flat for 1,000 pounds.
The flat is in a three-storied mansion, outside of the city. We are talking at a Sudanese lunch, sitting in a dining room. Vegetables, bread and tea are served. It’s rather cool in the house, although it’s 35 above zero outside. The walls are thick and the windows are narrow. A fan is hung under the ceiling.
Muhammad is senior in the family and has three brothers and a sister. One of the brothers serves as an officer. He is 27 and he makes 1,000 pounds. His military profession is not very prestigious and the salary is not big.
It’s yet hard for him to marry, with such a small salary. Besides, a military officer never stays permanently in one place.
This is how Muhammad married:
- I liked my Mimi and I asked her if she agreed to marry me. Then we both asked our parents. Then all of us went to visit all members of her family. Her grandmother and my grandfather are sister and brother. Then we began to ponder – where to take the money. I thought it was all doomed. My father took a calendar though and just marked the date when we were going to be married. And all happened exactly so. And I got a good job. And I found a good flat.
Mimi is a third-year student, studying primary education. She succeeded to enter a state-run university where the annual fee is 300 pounds. Muhammad’s brother, Ahmed, managed to enter a private university, where the fee is 170 pounds. The state-sponsored education is valued higher. The most popular professions are doctor and engineer. Ahmed is diligently studying the English language – he is reading [Robert Louis] Stevenson with a dictionary. Ten years ago all the subjects in universities used to be taught in English. Now they are being taught in Arabic, so he is trying to gain his knowledge of English on his own.
Freedom of speech in a “non-free country”
It’s easy to talk about Sudanese affairs. It is rare when someone would refuse to talk about who he or she would vote for. And virtually everybody has some political views. Universities even have special corners for discussion and political associations. Prior to the elections I happened to see activists from oppositional parties – those people literally could not speak as they strained their voices at rallies and during discussions.
Brother Ahmed says nobody is spying on the students who are free to speak out openly. But outside the university you can hardly hear such heated discussions, he says. Nevertheless, there is much more freedom in Sudan than in other countries.
- In Saudi Arabia it is impossible to criticise the dynasty and the laws. In Libya you can hardly say a word against Muammar al-Gaddafi.
For some reason, however, Sudan, where everything is open for discussion, is considered a country that is wrong, Ahmed wonders.
Muhammad’s family is for [Sudanese President Omar Hassan Ahmad] al-Bashir al-Bashir. His mother-in-law is a local activist. She worked hard for the election campaign, for their organisation. She supports the president, too. According to what she observes, most of the votes will be cast for him. Why, I ask?
– He is trying to do much for the people. The roads are well paved, the economy is evolving despite the isolation of the country. He is seeking political solutions, does not resort to military ways, although many foreigners say a lot of different things about him. As for us, we can see things. It’s true that life is not easy, but the efforts are visible. People judge him on his intentions.
Muhammad is fond of al-Bashir’s predecessor, so was he of John Garang [de Mabior], vice-president of Sudan and president of [Government of] Southern Sudan…
He was a strong personality. I am certain he was blown up in the plane in Uganda. Those who were against Sudan’s unity, who sought a war, did not need him. It was Garang who signed peace accords (between Southern Sudan and Khartoum), after which peace was established. In general, he had a grand plan to unite the whole of Africa. And Khartoum was blamed of the killing of him, as usual, although it was for the interests of America and Israel first, but not Sudan. And the world community always has one culprit for all possible cases – Sudan.
Oil+uranium = war in Darfur
Muhammad was born in Darfur. He would visit this place on business from time to time. When he hears hundreds of thousands were killed there he just wonders about such alleged figures:
- Foreigners say 170,000 were killed. Then the number gets to be 200,000 or 400,000. Not long ago I heard the number of two million. Does it make any difference how many were killed? You see, if that many had been killed there or if there had been that many refugees, Darfur would have become empty. But there are indeed people living here. I wish you could see those people! It’s a kind and peaceful people. They have lived in peace there. Specially selected people were brought there to play a role of trouble-makers. Darfur agreed to a peace accord, but there are forces in the world who need Sudan to have problems.
Just note: the war in the south had just ended and a peace agreement had been signed, when Garang who had brought this peace, was killed. Right after that Darfur emerged out of nothing. If there had been no war, we would have evolved very well.
Muhammad believes all the troubles of Sudan are caused by it’s having much oil that is sought by the USA:
- Our reserves have been prospected by the US. They laid up the oil fields amidst their hope for the Persian Gulf oil. They wanted the oil from Sudan to get into their hands after the oil from the Persian Gulf is over. But the people of Sudan are humans, too. And they have the right to use their depths. Al-Bashir called the Chinese who are extracting the oil and pay to their country, which is completely against what the Americans want. So they foment all the conflicts – Sudan has huge deposits of uranium and the USA wants to control it, too. Uranium is the main reason for and the main motif of all the wars around Sudan.
He is sure the abundance of UN peacekeepers does not bring about stability, but, on the contrary, deepens the conflict.
- Those are not peacekeepers, but spies from the UN. Our government is seeking ways for solutions, but they are blockading those ways. Just think of it, how could Khalil Ibrakhim have possibly suddenly arrived in Darfur with 3,000 vehicles, militants and weapons, without any support? Where did he get all that? Who paid him? Who supplied him with such a force?
Chemical weapons plant that did not exist
A huge territory in Khartoum’s suburbs is fenced. Inside there is what was left after a major African private pharmaceutical, Ashifa medical factory, was destroyed by Americans on 20 August 1998. The US had accused the factory of manufacturing chemical weapons. No weapons were ever found. No apologies followed. Al-Bashir order to have the site destroyed by fire, for the edification of those who want to believe America.
The owner of the factory, Sallakha Idris, is now president of the biggest football club, Khilal. He is said to have been paid insurance and does not seem to be penniless. Africa, however, was left without cheap medications. Muhammad’s father would visit the factory known for its modern equipment, high-quality products supplied to the whole of the continent. Anti-malaria pills were particularly valued (in Sudan, patients with malaria and a number of other diseases receive subsidies from the state).
It’s interesting to learn that the report on the investigation was published in the USA on a day when Monika Lewinski hearings were held. And the report passed quite unnoticed for the American public. What was left in the memory of the Americans, was that a chemical weapons factory was destroyed in Sudan. And nobody ever noticed a denial and a fact that the best pharmaceutical factory in Africa had been destroyed.
And it’s only a part of a big lie about Sudan.
Before saying good-bye, I asked Muhammad what it was like to live under the sanctions. This is what he replied:
- I am kind of glad these sanctions were introduced. For 14 years we have been living this way, relying only on ourselves. Otherwise we would have waited for crumbs. You can see that the country is being rebuilt. Roads are being paved. The Russians set up a truck-assembly factory. The cars are from Korea, Japan, or Europe. Nobody needs cars from America – they are not of proper quality and consume too much petrol. The computers come from Asia. Aircraft are the most sensitive issue. Our airline has only three old Boeings left. They used to have two operational airliners assembled. None flies though. The same is with the Airbuses. As for all the rest, we provide ourselves with everything we need, although we have to pay triple prices for many things, because we buy them through agents. China has been helping us – it’s our main economic partner. And Russia, of course.
Nadezhda Kevorkova for RT, Khartoum