Home | News    Monday 15 September 2008

Sudanese blogger uses YouTube videos to deliver political messages

September 14, 2008 (WASHINGTON) – Up till recently Anwar Dafa-Alla uploaded videos into YouTube showing his newborn child for his family and friends around the world to view.

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Anwar Dafa-Alla, Phd Computer Science Candidate Chungbuk National University, South Korea

However one day the computer science PhD candidate studying in South Korea came across a news item that infuriated him after which he decided that he will use the video medium to deliver what would be conceived as political messages.

In August the Sudanese president Omer Hassan Al-Bashir awarded members of the Egyptian soccer team 35 vehicles and monetary disbursements in honor of their achievement in winning the 2008 African Cup of Nations held in Ghana earlier this year.

Anwar said that was a turning point in his perspective of things in Sudan.

“The reward came at a time when the Sudanese people are in desperate need. They need every single penny…We hear about an oil boom and flow of money but the people don’t see it” he told Sudan Tribune in an interview.

Dafa-Alla, who is also the founder of Sudan developers association, uploaded a handful of videos condemning the reward in very strong terms and accusing the Sudanese head of state and his aides of mismanaging the country’s money and the priorities of their people.

“If they didn’t say it to your face Mr. President I will. Fear Allah Omer. Fear Allah. You belong to the Islamic movement and held you conference recently. You spoke about Islam and related stuff. What you are doing has nothing to do with Islam. Hear it from me today before you do so in your grave” Dafa-Alla said in one of his videos.

Asked whether the ban by Sudanese authorities on YouTube website undermines his work, Dafa-Alla said that the largest groups of people viewing his videos are from inside Sudan.

The videos came a few months after Dafa-Alla met with Al-Bashir on his visit to South Korea and even personally presented him with a symbolic gift on behalf of Sudanese expatriates living in South Korea.

What caused the shift?

Dafa-Alla said that he has been away from Sudan for five years and relied on conventional news sources for information on what is happening in the country hence his favorable view of the Sudanese government previously.

However the announcement by the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) Luis Moreno-Ocampo in mid-July that he filed charges against Al-Bashir made him dig deeper into what was going in his homeland.

“I am now finally reading between the lines” he said.

“It is because of the actions of the authorities in Khartoum that Sudanese people are suffering. US sanctions for example prevent Sudanese from using Google. It is a result of their policies” he said.

Dafa-Alla also said that the decisions taken by the government are not always a reflection of what the average Sudanese wants and cautioned of problems down the road because of this.

“I did not choose this government or elect it. They took the microphone from me and spoke on my behalf. Their [government] weakness prompted them to make unreasonable concessions at the expense of the future generations. We will be the ones paying the price” he said.

“The statements made by Sudanese officials challenging the whole world won’t harm them but their people in the long run” he added.

He dismissed Khartoum’s arguments that media reports on Sudan are driven by the West and are exaggerated.

“I don’t think so. Sudan is listed as one of the failed states in the world. I don’t think it’s a subjective or political list made up by the West. There are specific criteria to evaluate a country. We are also one of the most corrupt countries in the globe.” Dafa-Alla said.

He further said that standards of living in Sudan are deteriorating particularly for families that were known to be wealthy.

“I come from a historically comfortable family. They were merchants. In 1989 he built a 3 storey building that cost 1 million Sudanese pound at the time. That was a big sum of money at the time. Right now my family is financially unable to build the foundation for a house in Omdurman” Dafa-Alla said.

“No one from our family particularly the youngsters ever thought about leaving the country to make a living. Things have totally changed now” he added.

“Pretty much my entire generation living in Sudan wants to leave the country. They are in deep despair and lost hope in the future. I talk to them daily. I personally know computer science graduates who are working in cell phone stores” he said.

Dafa-Alla lashed out at corruption in Sudan which he described as “widespread at the highest levels of government”.

“When I hear that one of Al-Bashir’s brothers have property at the most prestigious areas in Dubai then this must raise an eyebrow. The president comes from a humble family. So where did they get all this money from?” he questioned.

“Recently there was a public confrontation between the governor of Khartoum and the mayor over some public bids. The way I see it is that this is a dispute between two thieves. It wouldn’t surprise me if I see both men one day mobilizing people publicly in the name of Islam” Dafa-Alla spoke sarcastically.

He also said that the government officials are growing very distant from the day to day difficulties facing the average citizen.

“Some of these officials are my relatives. I can almost claim that they wouldn’t know the temperature in Khartoum since they are locked up in their air conditioned houses and luxurious cars. It is a lifestyle that does not reflect what the bulk of Sudanese are going through” he said.

Dafa-Alla disclosed that he was approached by semi-governmental organizations to work on a campaign to “improve the reputation of Sudan” in the cyber world.

“I told them this won’t work. There has to be real change on the ground. Trying to change the term genocide in Darfur to beauty of Sudan on the web is unrealistic and will not do anything to improve the country’s image” he said emphatically.

He also downplayed the efforts to collect million signatures opposing the ICC move.

“I can create a bot that would generate the required number of signatures. How would you authenticate these signatures? Who is the third party who will make that determination? Is it the Arab or Islamic world which stood silent by what is happening in Darfur? Only the West with this kind of infrastructure who can validate it” Dafa-Alla said.

In one of the videos Dafa-Alla uploaded he mentioned a news piece quoting the spokesperson for Al-Bashir’s family in which he said that “the president will not be extradited to the ICC until the last child in Sudan perishes”.

Responding to that Dafa-Alla in the video said “I am not willing to sacrifice my wife and kid for Al-Bashir. Who is he [Al-Bashir] anyways for me to lay down my life for him? This is simply unacceptable. Al-Bashir is a person and Sudan is a country”.

“Al-Bashir would have been the symbol of sovereignty for the country if he was elected. He only represents a very limited political faction in the country. We didn’t say take him to the death row. We said go to court and fight these allegations. At this point they are just accusations” he added.

Asked about Al-Bashir’s statements where he denied war crimes in Darfur and that only 10,000 died Dafa-Alla gave an example of a South Korean tourist who was shot dead on the borders by North Korean forces causing a total breakdown in normalization of ties between the neighbors.

“If Al-Bashir thinks that 10,000 is a small number then I don’t see why anyone should make a sacrifice for him. If the value of the Sudanese soul is counted by numbers to say that only a certain number of people died then this only means that the people in power cannot be trusted with the peoples’ lives” he added.

Asked whether he is optimistic with Sudan’s future Dafa-Alla said that “he sees no reason for optimism”.

“Under the current leadership as well as opposition parties it does not look like things are likely to change. It requires a radical transformation” he said.

“We need a Sudanese state treating its people equally; not an Arab or Islamic or African state but a Sudanese one. If that means secularism so be it. I am living in a secular state and never felt discriminated against” he said.

Dafa-Alla said he will continue uploading videos despite advices from his friends and family to put a halt to it fearing government reprisal. Some have even accused him of being “unpatriotic”.

“When politicians live up to their responsibilities I will return to my lab for my work in computer science. I have more videos on a wide array of issues coming up. I received overwhelming encouragement from people so I feel a duty to continue” he stressed.

(ST)

Anwar Dafa-Alla YouTube page