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Sudanese columnist defends comments on "odour" of sub-Saharan Africans

April 2, 2012 (WASHINGTON) – A Sudanese columnist on Tuesday vehemently rejected accusations that his most recent piece contained racial stereotyping of sub-Saharan Africans saying that many of those holding this view possess "ulterior motives".

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Mekki Elmograbi (Facebook page)

"[Sitting] beside me was a young man from Burundi returning home after a business trip to Dubai. The plane flying from Nairobi to Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi, was very small and had no spare seats so stretch legs so I decided to kill time [by] chatting to him," wrote Mekki ElMograbi in Saturday’s edition of the privately owned al-Sudani newspaper.

"He [the Burundian passenger] is like many sub-Saharan Africans who have their sweat mixed with a smell of unpleasant secretions," ElMograbi said.

Many Sudanese who read the column expressed dismay at ElMograbi and claimed that the article expressed racist sentiments.

"I totally reject any wrong understanding of what was written," ElMograbi told Sudan Tribune in a phone interview from the Sudanese capital Khartoum.

ElMograbi pointed out that the second paragraph of the column speaks of how the black complexion is superior to others.

"I said that black complexion is [proven] scientifically to be the best because it contains more colored plates and research has shown that [this attribute] protects from skin cancer," he said.

The Islamist writer went on to emphasise that the issue of sub-Saharans’ odour has scientific reasoning.

"People with darker complexion have a more active Apocrine sweat gland and when it interacts with the bacteria it produces this kind of odour. This is by no means an attempt to undermine [sub-Saharan] Africans and those who understood it this way are wrong," he explained.

"I apologise to my African friends because I myself am an African from sub-Sahara for the explanation [of what I wrote] put forward by others even though I am not bound by how it was interpreted," ElMograbi stressed.

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Front page of Al Sudani, June 12, 2011 (TMCT)

In response to a question on the relevance of making a reference to this subject in his column despite its potential to stir controversy, ElMograbi suggested that this was blown out of proportion.

"This is not a an article but a writing of light and mixed nature which includes my impressions at a certain point in time. I have done justice to Africans [in this column]. But there are those who want to exploit this for the purpose of making gains through portraying me as someone who negatively discriminates against Africans," ElMograbi said.

"Many of those [who criticised me] are not honest," before adding that they include people writing online and "hiding behind fake names".

He also dismissed allegations that he took the liberty when writing on this topic that that very few sub-Saharan Africans will read his column written in Arabic.

"This is not correct. I am a columnist in a newspaper that also gets published online and has wide readership. Those who read it and want to use it for [political] trading and practice intellectual terrorism will be quick to translate," ElMograbi said.

"This is not the first time a [controversy erupts] when I write on political issues and then gets translated in as little as two hours after publication," he added.