Reports: Education in Sudan
Education and Art
As well as singers and musicians, sculptors and their work have come under attack; the ancient as well as the modern. Pre-Islamic Nubian painting and sculpture has become an undesirable element to be expunged from Sudan's cultural history, and statues at the College of Fine Art have been destroyed by zealots. Archaeology and anthropology, which seek to study the non-Muslim and non-Arab Sudanese societies past and present, are regarded by the National Islamic Front as a direct threat to their ideology. The decline of the National Museum of Antiquities may be attributed to this government antipathy. The attitude was encapsulated by Abdallah Muhammad Ahmad, who as Minister of Culture under Sadiq al-Mahdi (and a relative by marriage), when he advocated the removal of all statues from the museum because they were "un-Islamic". (He later became Education Minister under the Bashir government.) One of the museum's most precious relics, a statue made of pure gold from the Meroitic era (2750-2250 BP), was stolen in 1992. No effort was made to recover it, and no official information about its loss was made public. The statue of Taharqa, Nubia's most famous pharaoh, has been badly damaged.
The bust of Babikr Bedri, the pioneer of women's education whose views were anathema to the NIF, mysteriously disappeared from its plinth at Ahfad Women's College in Omdurman, and even the symbolic obelisk to the Unknown Soldier was removed from Palace Avenue in Khartoum.
The religious precedent for the destruction of statues is the action taken by the early Muslims, who pulled down pre-Islamic idols in the Ka'ba in Mecca when they first took over the ancient shrine. When President Jaafar Nimeiri - with the close involvement of Dr Hassan al-Turabi - introduced the September 1983 "Islamic Laws", the first statue to be vandalised and eventually demolished by religious militants was that of Mahatma Ghandi. The concern to avoid idolatry by discouraging figurative representation did not extend to the banknotes, however, which carried Nimeiri's portrait until he was overthrown in1985.
The 1983-85 "September Laws" era saw the rise of Islamist figures who have subsequently resurfaced under the Bashir regime. Often ill-trained but highly opinionated, Islamist lawyers and judges were advanced while the independent civil judiciary was rendered powerless. In Nimeiri's "Emergency Courts" only one judge had academic legal qualifications and professional experience. The remainder were drawn mostly from the military or security forces; even those with qualifications in law had not been practising lawyers. These included Judge Mukashfi, who headed the Omdurman Emergency Appeals Court and confirmed the death sentence on the religious teacher and writer Mahmoud Mohamed Taha (see below).
Return of the book-burners
One of Nimeiri's newly appointed Sharia judges, Al-Mahallawi, supervised a book-burning ceremony, carefully stage-managed for the television cameras, and "reminiscent of the Nazis in Berlin in 1933," according to one witness. The author of the burned books, the 76 year old progressive Islamic teacher Mahmoud Mohamed Taha, was later hanged in public on 18 January 1985. A life-long advocate of peace, he had been convicted of apostasy, a religio-political crime against the state, but the public sense of revulsion at the unfairness of his trial and execution became a catalytic element in the unrest that brought Nimeiri's downfall three months later.
The security forces of the Bashir regime brought back the practice of book-burning soon after seizing power. In 1991 a former employee of the Khartoum University Press (KUP) witnessed the destruction of an entire store of books at the Khartoum University library. Thousands of books by internationally known left-wing writers went up in flames, as well as the works of prominent Sudanese authors such as novelists Tayib Salih and Professor Ali al-Makk, and poet Dr Mohamed Abd al-Hai. The practice continued into 1992, when thousands more books from the pre-1989 KUP "Exhibition of a million books" were burned, including the works of Marx and Lenin.
Despite the widespread perception at the time that Islam had been abused for political ends, the overthrow of Nimeiri in 1985 did not bring the abolition of the "September Laws", only the temporary shelving of some of the huddud penalties such as amputation. During the brief phase of elected government from 1986-89, attacks on the arts from extremists became increasingly vitriolic. Absolutist thinking thrived on the justification it found in the 1983 laws, and continued to grow in the absence of determined action to abrogate them. It is vital to recognise the thread of intolerance that preceded the current regime in order to counter-act it in the future.
Early warnings of the Muslim Brotherhood / NIF's hostile attitude include the 1968 attack on University of Khartoum students performing a traditional dance from Eastern Sudan known as Al-Ajako, and several subsequent attempts in the 1970s and 1980s on mixed dance performances in universities and colleges. In 1978 and 1979 they organised acts of violence against women playing basketball and volleyball at university, prompting their angry opponents to suggest that the Brotherhood wanted "Sport from Behind the Veil".
A more recent precursor of current events was an organised attack on the University of Khartoum Staff Club in February 1988, when Islamists disrupted a theatrical performance by the French Cultural Society. They beat up and injured many of those present, including French diplomats, and damaged lighting equipment. In the 1980s women singers such as Nasra and Hanan Bulubulu, controversial for their vulgarity, were physically attacked by males who found them "incorrect".
Since 1989 the Bashir regime has given licence to all levels of authority, including the NIF's "Popular Police", to intensify the harassment of artists of all kinds, in any number of ways. The provisions of the 1991 Public Order Act are the principal legal device for restricting religious, social and artistic gatherings. There has, however, been a backlash. In September 1994, there were massive protests in the town of Abri in northern Sudan after the local authorities restricted wedding celebrations - formerly an all-night affair to the period before the sunset prayers. The Governor of Wadi Halfa Province, Brigadier Ahmed Muhammad al-Hassan, signed Local Order No.2/1994, which was issued by the Abri Town Council. It restricted wedding parties to daylight hours and decreed that they must be supervised by sheikhs and the police. The penalty for disobedience was up to 2 months in prison and a fine of 9CSud 800. The conflict was sparked by arrests of wedding guests, including children, who arrived after dusk. Demonstrations continued for several days; police arrested 75 people, used tear gas and clubs, and fired live ammunition at protestors, wounding a female student. Troops were brought in from nearby Wadi Halfa to bring the situation under control. (MENA 12 Sept 1994, Al-Ittihadi 4 October 1994)
This evidence of genuine popular rejection of the regime's campaign against the arts in Sudan offers hope for the future. Resistance is mostly passive, not least because of the weakness of the political opposition, but it is always ready to be stirred into action.
THE INSTITUTE OF MUSIC
The role of the arts within higher education has been eroded and narrowed to conform with the ideology of the NIF, and nowhere has this been more vividly illustrated than in the dismantling of the Institute of Music and Drama. This independent body was unique in the country, and had offered tertiary-level practical instruction and research in music, drama and folklore since 1969. Throughout its lifetime it has often been prone to political interference and ministerial tugs-of-war, but under the Bashir regime it has been destroyed and rebuilt in the regime's image.
The brainchild of then Information Minister Abdel Majid Abu Hassabu, the Institute of Music and Drama was inaugurated by the civilian government in 1969, shortly before Nimeiri's May coup d'etat. The efforts of people like El-Mahi Ismail, its first director, brought a marked qualitative improvement in the standards of practising musicians and theatre people. However, while its skills and reputation were exploited by the government - for seven years its annual performances, led by North Korean music teachers, were the centre-piece of the "May Revolution" anniversary celebrations - it struggled for recognition of its diplomas and for adequate funding and premises. In 1976, Education Minister Mansour Khalid persuaded Nimeiri to upgrade its status from vocational to higher education, but provoked a row with the Information Ministry, which withdrew the facilities it had hitherto provided. In November 1976 Mansour Khalid's successor, Dafalla al-Haj Yousif, gave it autonomy and a separate budget (but no purpose- built premises) as an academic institution, its diploma now equivalent to a university degree. This put an end to the obligatory performances at political celebrations for the next fourteen years.
The Institute survived the first wave of National Islamic Front resurgence in 1983, but when the Bashir regime took power in 1989 it became a target for political demolition. As the social artistic milieu with which it interacted was being undermined by the government's crackdown on all potential sources of dissidence, and many artists went into exile, the Institute became increasingly vulnerable. With the appointment of Dr T.H Dafa'alla as its new director began the process of "Islamization" of the Institute: new, ideologically-approved lecturers were brought in, and the talent-based test for admission was replaced with an interview on religious attitudes. The Students' Union was barred from attending Senate meetings, and in 1991 the director announced a plan to take part in celebrating the second anniversary of Bashir's coup.
The students refused to cooperate: 120 (slightly less than half) were dismissed, and a politically embarrassing uproar ensued which led to the dismissal of the director but the continuation of his policies. The institute was then transferred to the former Polytechnic, now the Sudan University of Science and Technology (SUST), losing its independent status and described by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor of SUST as "a hotbed of political activism rather than an institution of learning" (Al Maseira 1 February 1993).
It may seem ironic, given the regime's drive for Arabic language as the medium of tertiary education, that the Institute of Music and Drama should have been a primary target for confrontation, since it was a rare example of an academic institution in Sudan using Arabic language as the main medium of teaching and research. However, it underlines the regime's apparent primary concern to hinder the flow of free knowledge and restrict exposure to ideas. Ultimately, its interest in the Arabic language has more to do with using it as a tool for censorship than as a means of instruction or access.
The use of Arabic as the medium of instruction in higher education has been on the agenda of the older universities for at least 20 years. Apart from the Institute of Music and Drama, the sole exception has been the Islamic University of Omdurman, which has used Arabic since its inception. Fifteen years ago the University of Khartoum set up a translation and Arabisation unit. Now a fully-fledged department, it has concentrated almost exclusively on teaching translation, not because the members of faculty concerned were averse to the idea of Arabisation but because the university did not have a clear policy with regard to the issue. Among Sudanese academics opinion is divided, if not about the principle then about the timing and the necessary preparatory investment and work.
The NIF approach to the issue, on the other hand, does not emphasise the pedagogical arguments commonly advanced by the advocates of Arabisation, that students learn better in their own language. There is also very little reflection of the need to improve standards across the country or on the educational and pedagogical problems involved. Paramount importance is given to the need to inculcate the NIF's version of the "culture" and "traditions" of Sudan.
THE MOVE AWAY FROM ENGLISH
Arabic language has been the medium of instruction in Northern Sudanese junior schools since independence, and in the higher secondary schools since the late 1960s. It replaced English as the language in which students prepared for the General Certificate of Education. In most of the institutions of higher education, however, English has remained the principal language of instruction. As the former Dean of Agricultural Sciences at Gezira University, Professor Osman Ahmed Ali Fadl, has confirmed, there are sound reasons for this practice. In science and technology especially, almost all the academic reference works are written in English, and their Arabic equivalent has not been established. Historically, this absence dates back to the stagnation of Arab culture during the Ottoman Empire, when the society and language failed to keep pace with modern developments in science and medicine, leading to a huge gap in its vocabulary. The language lacks the ability to convey scientific and medical terms accurately and concisely, as attempts to translate text-books have shown. Technical words such as "index", "reflex" and "mitral valve" often require lengthy and vague circumlocution, and Arab scholars conversing in Arabic introduce English vocabulary simply for clarity. Not even the vastly greater resources of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have succeeded in overcoming this problem.
English provides the key to knowledge of the outside world, and in the Dean's opinion, the move away from English language instruction is based on ideology rather than practicality. It enables the National Islamic Front to marginalise the majority of secularist academics, whose training is in English, and to exert tighter controls on access to learning. Lecturers and professors have either been dismissed or forced to implement the NIF educational programme against their own better judgement in the knowledge that they face dismissal and even torture for non-compliance.
The result has been a marked deterioration in standards, because staff are asked to teach subjects for which teaching materials in Arabic do not exist. "Students have become weak in English because the government is pursuing the NIF's ideological orientation at their expense, and is not interested in international standards of education in which English proficiency is a major element," Professor Osman Ahmed Ali Fadl told the opposition newspaper Al-Ittihadi on 28 June 1994.
Funds and resources for English language education have been cut back at all levels. Contracts for foreign English teachers in higher secondary schools were abolished by Abdallah Muhammad Ahmad, the NIF-loyalist former Minister of Education, in April 1990. He closed all the British Council libraries across the country at a time when the Ministry of Education was unable to provide students with sufficient English language text books. Denouncing English as an unnecessary remnant of the colonial heritage, he declared that the teaching of English as a foreign language would be replaced by lessons in "French, German, Chinese, Japanese or Hausa," and "the languages of Muslim countries". These have never materialised.
His successor, Abd al-Basit Sabidrat, visiting the Khor Omar secondary school in May 1991, announced to the staff that the book "Cry the Beloved Country", which had long been on the syllabus, had been removed because it was "too supportive of the role of the Christian church in society." Similar statements by other ministers have led to the removal of most Christian educational books.
ARABIC LANGUAGE AND SOUTHERN SUDAN
Among Southern Sudanese, for whom education has often been severely disrupted by the war, the new policies have been particularly detrimental. The majority of schools in Southern Sudan continued to use English as the first language of instruction until the current regime, with vernacular languages in the early stages of schooling. When the 1992 General Education Act made Arabic language and Islamic education compulsory for all, its immediate impact was on Southerners intending to enter higher education, most of whom could not meet the entrance requirement of qualifications in Arabic language.
Southern Sudanese have long been severely under-represented at public and private universities, and their numbers as a proportion of the total student body have fallen further under the Bashir government. It is important to recognise, however, that with the exception of the early years of the Nimeiri regime, no government has worked to improve the educational lot of the Southern Sudanese. The share of the South in the total population of Sudan was 25.6 percent in 1983, while its share in student places in higher education was only 0.1 percent in 1987.
The failure to address this structural imbalance was epitomised in the treatment of the University of Juba, which was established in the Southern capital in 1977. Southern students and faculty members were suspicious of the northern administration and senior lecturers of the university, and conflict was fuelled when the Nimeiri regime appointed Islamists such as Vice Chancellor Professor Abd al-A'al to lead it in the early 1980s. Violent instability followed, and several lecturers and scores of students were dismissed. A new Vice-Chancellor during the brief democratic period proved incapable of restoring stability and eliminating discrimination. In 1989 the university was transferred to Khartoum, where "temporary" facilities have been so meagre that very few of its students have been able to fulfill their study courses and graduate.
Islamist influence in education policy did not emerge overnight in 1989. It has been in the ascendant since the "National Reconciliation" between then President Nimeiri and his Islamist political opponents in 1977, with Nimeiri's appointment of Ministers of Education such as Dafalla al-Haj Yusif and Osman Sidahmed, and Bashir Haj al-Tom by the Transitional Government after Nimeiri's 1985 overthrow.
For several years before it seized power, the National Islamic Front worked to infiltrate the teaching profession, subsidising NIF members who became teachers at a time when the salaries were very low. It also funded literacy and religious education classes especially for women. These days they are sponsored by the Jihad organisations and known as "Buyoot al-Noor" (Houses of Light). These "Buyoot al-Noor" are "in reality internment camps where whole non-Muslim families, including the elderly and schoolchildren, are kept against their will and contrary to their beliefs, and where they are forced to attend classes of doctrinaire education in contravention of the universally recognised ethics of education," according to one report (Al-Zubeir/WUS). Both approaches have helped the social inculcation of the values of the NIF in the guise of religion.
SUDANESE PRESIDENT OMAR
AL BASHIR DECREED LAST YEAR THAT PEOPLE WHO MEMORISE THE ENTIRE
KORAN WOULD BE ABSORBED AT SOME UNIVERSITIES OR APPOINTED AS SENIOR
TEACHERS IN SCHOOLS ACROSS THE COUNTRY. (InterPress Service
On 1 August 1995, Education Minister Kabashour Kuku announced that Islamic education would become the norm throughout the country, by the following year. New books written for his ministry would be distributed to all regions, including the south. Southern Sudan had hitherto been officially exempt from the religious requirements of the Islamic sharia code.
A thousand teachers had been trained to teach Arabic and Islam in the south, the minister said, and by the end of 1996 all southern teachers would be trained to read Arabic. There would no longer be a special education system in the south using English as the medium of instruction. (IPS 1/Aug/95)
An earlier attempt to impose an Arabic-Islamic education on southern Sudan led, in 1991, to thousands of secondary school students fleeing to Uganda and Zaire or joining the rebel SPLA. Southern faculties and students protested, and two Catholic priests, Fr Constantino Pitia and Fr Nicholas Abdallah, were arrested in March 1992 in connection with their opposition to the education policy for the south. The Arabisation proposal was temporarily withdrawn, but re-introduced in 1994. To over-ride the objections raised by regional governments in the south, the central government appointed Muslim Southerners as ministers of education in the southern states.
When the Bashir regime embarked on its programme of Islamisation soon after seizing power, it ordered the Ministry of Education to delete sections of textbooks which it regarded as hostile to Islam. One of the first "deletions" was the well-known story of "Taha al-Qurashi", a text for teaching about fly-borne stomach disorders. President Bashir said the story had been introduced by British Christian administrators simply to distort the image of Islam. It was derided as "blasphemous" because the name of its main protagonist, Taha, was one of the names of the Prophet Mohamed, and the title Qurash denoted the ethnic group to which the prophet belonged.
More than two million school text books will be burnt, a Ministry of Education official acknowledged in August 1995, because the government is scrapping books introduced before independence in 1956. Their destruction will mark "the last liberation of the Sudan from colonial-tailored education," he said, because the books provided "bad images" for Sudanese students.
In theory, basic education will become compulsory for all Sudanese children in 1996, as part of a drive to reduce the country's estimated 80% illiteracy rate. The previously announced target of "basic education for all" by 1994 was not achieved, however, and the new date looks equally unrealistic. This is partly because technical and financial resources have not been made available, and partly because the drive to impose a religiously-oriented curriculum - and replace opponents in the education system with NIF loyalists - takes precedence. The elementary stage of general education has been prolonged from 6 years to 8 years, a device which can be seen as a means of entrenching the Arabisation and Islamisation programmes. Against this background, the introduction of Arabic language as the medium of instruction in the southern schools will seriously hinder the development of meaningful basic education and underlines the primacy of ideology over practicality.
THE EDUCATION JIHAD
The so-called "Education Revolution" now being implemented reflects not only what the NIF hopes to achieve in the educational system: it also corresponds to the NIF's political behaviour with regard to education in the past, especially during the 1978-85 period of NIF alliance with Nimeiri's regime.'- Dr Ali Abdallah Abbas (Middle East Report Sept-Oct/91)
The re-structuring of education, which the Bashir regime calls the "Education Jihad" or "Education Revolution", involves providers of institutional Islamic education which operate outside the Ministry of Education. Jurisprudential and philosophical backing for the NIF's "Jihad" programme in education comes from the University of the Holy Quran and Islamic Sciences, and the Omdurman Islamic University. The implementers are non-governmental and parastatal bodies, generously supported by the NIF through channels including the Da'wa Islamiyya (Call to Islam) campaign, Diwan al-Zakat and the Shari'a Support Fund. The parastatals, such as the Popular Defence Forces, Nida'a al-Jihad, Youth of the Nation, the Holy Quran Society, the General Union of Sudanese Students and the Popular Committees, have budgets which greatly exceed the Ministry of Education's budgets for general and tertiary education. Not only do they play a key role in developing and delivering "Islamic" education on the regime's behalf, they represent the "hiving off" of government roles to outside agencies with NIF approval.
Non-Islamic providers of education, on the other hand, have been denounced as advocates of Christianity and providers of shelter for the SPLA. In July 1992, the government took over 140 schools designated for displaced southerners in Khartoum state, many of which had been set up by the churches and relief organisations in the poverty-stricken areas on the outskirts of town. At least two such schools were reported closed and the pupils sent to schools favoured or controlled by the NIF. An "Islamic" programme was introduced in the sequestered institutions. Two non-southern communities whose schools set standards of excellence have also become targets of the regime. After the 1992 General Education Act the Egyptian Community schools were peremptorily nationalised, and their Egyptian staff given minimal notice to leave the country. The prestigious Comboni schools of the Catholic mission education system came under extreme pressure to conform to the "Islamic" dress code for its female pupils, and were threatened with closure when they protested.
Even the traditional Quranic elementary schools, the Khalawi, have been taken over from the Sufi sects who used to run them, by adherents of the NIF's particular religio-political philosophy. Adult education has similarly been infiltrated and re-oriented to suit the purposes of the NIF. Memorising and reciting of the Holy Quran is now compulsory for school pupils, university students, conscripts and recruits of all ages to the Popular Defence Force. A deep and fundamental contradiction has arisen between the Bashir regime's education policy and international norms of human rights. The stipulation of the 1992 General Education Regulations Act is that the children of Sudan must be equipped with Islamic religious awareness in order to develop an Islamically-oriented personality. This is not compatible with the the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Sudan is a signatory, which stresses the freedom of religious belief as well as freedom of expression in education.
DESTRUCTION OF THE TEACHING UNIONS
The Nimeiri regime (1969-85) maintained a tight hold over the activities of teachers' associations, trade unions, cooperatives and funds, but the return of democratic rule brought a resurgence amid the atmosphere of relative freedom. Many of the issues raised by the organisations - establishing greater openness in education and improving teachers' living and working conditions - were intended to raise the standard of teaching in the country. They were opposed vigourously by the National Islamic Front, notably by Bashir Haj al-Tom, Minister of Education in the transitional government and an NIF member. Nevertheless, there were some union successes, including the establishment of democratically elected leaderships in the elementary, intermediate and secondary stages of education.
Almost as soon as it took power in 1989, the Bashir-Turabi regime began dismissing hundreds of teachers who were trades unionists, and installing its supporters in their place, under direct supervision of the State Security apparatus. The teachers' cooperatives and funds were taken over and placed under the administration of NIF followers.
The Professors' Union of the University of Khartoum joined with the Physicians' Union, the (Civil Service) Employees' Union and others in presenting a memorandum to Lt-Gen Omar Hassan al-Bashir in the early months of the new regime, appealing for the restoration of democratic freedoms and a commitment to safeguard human rights. The signatories were immediately arrested, tortured and taken before special military tribunals.
Elected representatives were subjected to arbitrary arrest and interrogation, detention and torture. Many elementary school teachers, particularly, were taken to the remote desert prison at Shalla, Darfur. The consequences of this treatment, and the extremely poor medical provision that accompanied it, were sometimes fatal: among those who died were Abdel-Moneim Salman and Abbas Ali, well-known educationalists and trades unionists. Intimidation and harassment were emplyed by security officers to force other teachers to collaborate and inform on their colleagues. Many prominent teachers fled to neighbouring countries in fear.
Nimeiri's decision to "Islamise" the economy gave the NIF an unprecedented opportunity to control some of the levers of economic power in the country through the new "Islamic" banking system. The NIF used its new economic power to infiltrate the established elite by exploiting patronage. In a depressed job market, student leaders who proved loyal to the NIF got jobs in Islamic banks, or in firms and organisations controlled by the NIF, as soon as they left university. The regime extended this policy to the public sector, especially the civil service. Interviews are used to screen out job applicants who are not NIF members, and graduates in engineering, for example, are asked questions on religious knowledge.
The National Islamic Front grasped the potential impact of higher education - and the influence that graduates could exert - long before the other political parties. Its own origins and development can be traced through the higher education system, and, unlike the older parties, most of its core members are university graduates. When it seized power and disbanded the university staff associations and independent student bodies, it was more inclined to allow the NIF-dominated student unions to continue, not least because they helped to monitor the activities of dissident students. The widespread harassment and dismissal of staff and students following Bashir's coup was conducted on the basis of detailed inside knowledge, and one former deputy head of faculty at the University of Khartoum, Nafie Ali Nafie, went on to head the country's Internal Security service.
Since 1989 the regime has radically restructured higher education to advance its own political programme, but with no consideration of the disastrous consequences for the quality of learning and for the economy in general. Formerly autonomous and independently administered universities and tertiary education colleges have been brought under the control of the Bashir regime, either by decree or by dismantling. All revenues must be paid to the Ministry of Finance. Some of the country's most valued educational institutions have become casualties of the new policies.
Already the victim of years of damaging neglect by previous governments, the University of Khartoum has been pushed to the point of collapse by the dismantling of its last asset, its internationally respected staff. Compliance with the regime is valued more highly than competence, and even Dr Mamoun Humaida, Vice-Chancellor of the University and a supporter of the NIF, has eventually admitted that the "Education Revolution" has had "catastrophic" results. (Al-Ittihad al-Dawliyya, 1994). Dr Mamouda is a member of the "National Committee for Salvation of the University of Khartoum", which in 1994 launched an appeal for four billion Sudanese pounds and seven million US dollars to stave off the collapse. Other members are Attorney General and Minister of Justice Abd al-Aziz Shiddu, Minister of Education Abd al-Basit Sabdrat, and Minister of Higher Education Ibrahim Ahmad Omar, all executive leaders of the National Islamic Front government.
Transformation of Higher Education
The convening of a special Conference on Higher Education in Khartoum in February and March 1990 helped lend an air of legitimacy and consultation to the NIF's programme. In practice, however, educationalists whose views differed from the prepared plan were shouted down with cries of "Allah Akbar". All existing charters and regulations governing higher education institutions were abolished. New charters were drawn up which gave unprecedented powers to the regime and took away the decision-making freedom of the senior staff, who became mere administrators. Objectors were purged from the system, including the Higher Education Council, and replaced with more malleable individuals. University vice-chancellors, deans and heads of departments were often replaced by inexperienced appointees, in some cases fresh from post-graduate studies.
Increase in Student Intake
Before the advent of the Bashir regime, academic higher education in Sudan was already facing a crisis of relevance. Medium level techncial and vocational training was already suffering under-supply: although there is a shortage of doctors per head of population, there is an even worse shortage of medical technicians and nursing staff per doctor.
Despite the already enormous pressure on resources created by the existing numbers of academic students, the conference recommended an immediate increase in the higher education intake. Soon there were seventeen universities, but with only a fraction of the necessary funds. Thousands of students were recalled from abroad and admitted to faculties for which they often had little qualification. In consequence there was a rapid decline in the material expenditure per capita, and in the ratio of qualified staff to students. Shortages of library stocks, laboratory supplies and other facilities became acute, and the quality of teaching fell drastically.
"Since 1989, access to important academic journals and books has become extremely difficult as a result of cuts in library budgets." (A. al-Zubeir Hamad/WUS 1995)
"According to a number of Sudanese academics, the real effect of these changes has been to lower the standards of education for approximately 11,000 students at the University of Khartoum alone, by overcrowding them with inadequate facilities and replacing highly qualified professors with newly graduated students and less qualified professors. Overcrowding is apparently resulting in classes of up to 100 students and impeding access to labs, equipment and other crucial resources." (Fund for Peace: Abuses of Academic Freedom in Sudan - New York, May 1992)
The decline in educational standards notwithstanding, the employment market in Sudan has only a limited capacity to absorb graduates. The prospects in other Arab countries that existed in the 1970s and early 1980s have largely disappeared, not least because of the poor quality of recent Sudanese graduates. UNESCO reports that there was a sharp drop, from 1982/83 onwards, in the number of graduates employed - down to 21.1 percent in 1983/84 and 17.4 percent in 1985/86. The lack of employment opportunity often leads to graduates working in fields unrelated to their studies, with the result that they lose touch with their disciplines and their knowledge - especially in the technical fields - becomes outdated.
Among Sudan's "New Universities" are:
This change in status for the polytechnic was in progress before the 1989 coup)
The regime boasts that it has created 17 new universities. However, the proliferation of higher education institutions, with a new university established in every "state" in Sudan, has much more to do with political image manipulation than economic reality. Some of the new universities are in buildings smaller than a secondary school; others have been described as existing more on paper than on the ground. They function as devices to improve the status of party loyalists and entitle NIF-approved staff to draw salaries, but their value as educational centres is negative: in areas where elementary and general education is in urgently short supply, they only act as a drain on resources. Prior to 1989, massive budget cuts had already forced postponement of the "target of universal primary education" from 1990 to the year 2000.
By expanding university education in this way, the NIF government has disregarded earlier studies by bodies including UNESCO and the ILO, and their recommendations that the meagre funds available should be used to boost enrolment in primary education, especially in southern and western Sudan. Any expansion in tertiary education should be cautious and strive to be relevant, beginning with small colleges and growing gradually.
HOSTILITY TOWARDS INDEPENDENCE
The Egyptian-owned Khartoum Branch of the University of Cairo, established in 1955, had reflected the Egyptian quest for influence among the emerging Sudanese urban middle classes, and was the fore-runner of mass higher education in Sudan. Its accessibility and teaching of clerical and office administrative skills filled important gaps left by the more elitist academic approach of the University of Khartoum. Despite its usefulness, the Khartoum branch was criticised for favouring quantity of intake over quality: by 1993 it had a student population of nearly 29,000, more than the total intake of the remaining Sudanese universities. Its student numbers and its independent outlook - it was financed through Egypt, not Sudan - came to be regarded by the NIF as a threat. Eventually, the regime's dispute with Egypt over the border territory of Halaib provided an excuse for its seizure, along with other Egyptian properties.
When the Khartoum Branch was violently sequestered in March 1993, it represented the silencing of an institution whose syllabus and staff had been beyond government control. Without notice, security forces prevented the Egyptian staff from entering their offices and loudly ordered them to leave the area. Students who protested at the action were severely beaten and arrested. Many were taken to the woods near the White Nile at al-Shajara, and forced to crawl barefoot across thorns. These woods have been used by supporters of the regime - including pro-NIF students - to detain and torture student opponents involved in human rights activities or journalism.
The modest advances in education for women prior to the 1989 have been halted, and a climate created which diminishes women's opportunities and freedom to learn. Dismissals, harassment and religious strictures have been employed to reduce the number of female students and academic staff. Female university and school teachers are less likely to be promoted or entrusted with headship or deanship of faculties, irrespective of their eligibility. An obsession with "Islamic" correctness of appearance prevails. While the attempted imposition of "hijab" dress has been resisted by women in the streets, in the universities the University Higher Committee of Hijab has used its powers to enforce dress restrictions on female students, prohibited the use of cosmetics and forbidden certain hair styling and cutting methods. It is also empowered to prevent female students from informal association with males.
*Female students at Gezira University had their heads shaved and were flogged in public for participating in protests *
MILITARY TRAINING AND SERVICE
In 1992 the government introduced the requirement that students - as well as teachers, lecturers and other State employees - must undergo months of military training and Islamic indoctrination before matriculation. In addition to the predictable physical and psychological burdens this imposes (deaths from exhaustion have been reported), suspected opponents of NIF policy are singled out for particularly gruelling treatment. The prospect of such treatment acts as a deterrent for a great many southerners, reducing still further their representation in higher education. The camps function as "re-education" centres, where the objective is to bombard the students with propaganda and to discipline them into submission. Female students were exempted from the programme at the last moment, although all-women branches of the PDF militia are open to volunteers. University education is so highly prized and competition is so fierce, however, that the vast majority of male students have submitted to the dictates of the regime.
BANS, DISMISSALS AND TORTURE
After the fall of Nimeiri, the Khartoum University Staff Union proposed a new Act for the university, to eliminate the ambiguities that infringed on the autonomy of the university and freedom of thought and research, and inaugurated a new system of elections for the top administrative offices in the university. Months after taking power, the Bashir-Turabi regime abolished the electoral system embodied in the 1986 Act and unilaterally appointed a new vice-chancellor, a deputy vice-chancellor, deans and heads of department. Later a new Act was imposed throughout the country with not a single word about elections or any guarantees for freedom of thought and research.
When the 1986 Khartoum University Act was superseded by a new act in 1990 applying to all universities in Sudan, the National Council for Higher Education gained the power to appoint and dismiss at all levels. The importance of higher education to the regime's agenda is evident not only from the large number of decisions taken in connection with higher education and the speed with which they were implemented, but also from the pattern of appointments to top posts in the higher education sector. The National Council's Secretary General and overall supervisor was Maj-Gen Al-Zubair Muhammad Salih, Deputy Chairman of the ruling Revolutionary Command Council, and its Chairman was a longstanding senior NIF member, Professor Ibrahim Ahmad Omar, who subsequently became Minister for Higher Education. In contrast, none of the three persons to hold the post of Minister of Education between 1989 and 1991 had any formal connection with the NIF before the coup.
By the end of 1990 "scores of teachers and administrators from the universities of Khartoum, Gezira, Juba, Sudan University for Science and Technology, and the Islamic University of Omdurman were forcibly retired... The dismissals were clearly based on the perceived political sympathies of the faculty members targeted." (Fund for Peace: Ibid)
In 1992, Professors Mohamed Said al-Qadal, Abdeen MZ Abdeen, Taisier Mohamed Ali and Mohamed E al-Tom were dismissed by presidential decree from the University of Khartoum, and Professor Omar Mohamed Abd al-Rahman al-Agra and others resigned their positions in sympathy.
THE ISLAMISATION OF KNOWLEDGE
A sustained clampdown on publishing, in the name of a campaign called "The Islamisation of Knowledge", has led to greater levels of suppression of authors, academics, historians and journalists than the country has previously experienced. The quarterly journal of the Khartoum University Press (KUP), "Hurouf", was temporarily banned by the regime in 1992. Its executive editor, Bashir Juma Sahl, and editor Sharaf al-Din Yassin, as well as KUP deputy director of distribution Nur al-Huda Mohamed, were dismissed by presidential decree. The KUP offices are subject to frequent searches and interrogations and detentions of staff.
In the Department of Archaeology at Khartoum University, associate professor Dr Ali Osman Mohamed Salih was dismissed for involvement in university publications rejected by the NIF's Islamisation of Knowledge project.
Text books on ancient Nubian and Egyptian civilisations became targets for banning, along with the pre-Islamic works of art whose confiscation and destruction is described elsewhere. The State of Khartoum has used the 1992 Public Order Act to prohibit the display of scripture, paintings and images considered to contradict Islam.
For teaching the Darwinian Theory of Evolution at the Faculty of Science in the University of Khartoum, biologist Dr Farouq Mohamed Ibrahim was imprisoned in a secret detention centre and tortured. His antagonist viewed the theory of evolution as inherently anti-Islamic.
Numerous professors were dismissed from the other universities, and more than 30 university staff members were forced into retirement. At the University of the Gezira, 17 lecturers were sacked for refusing military training. Their dismissal prompted large-scale protest demonstrations by the students, already aggrieved that their conditions of accommodation were worsening while the Vice-Chancellor lavished funds on comforts for senior figures in the institution.
ACTIONS AGAINST STUDENTS
Violence and Infiltration Under the Bashir-Turabi regime, previously numerous student associations have been banned on campus for the first time since Sudan's independence, and those that remain active have been subjected to infiltration and often violent intimidation. The methods of repression used by the NIF since its seizure of power have precedents in earlier incidents. In its earlier political incarnation as the Muslim Brotherhood, and later as the National Islamic Front, the movement's history has been marked by the readiness of its student wing to launch physical attacks on its opponents. The Nimeiri regime gave the NIF a free hand in higher secondary schools in exchange for a task that the NIF was happy to perform: keeping campuses "quiet", especially Khartoum University.
At different times groups of NIF students have used sticks, knives, iron bars and ultimately guns against their victims, who have ranged from student demonstrators (usually denounced as communists or atheists) to mixed couples (seen as an affront to decency). One member of the current regime, who has served as military governor of Darfur and Minister of Interior, Brig Al-Tayib Muhammad Khair, gained the nickname "Tayib Sikha" (Iron Bar) during his student days because of his readiness to wield such a weapon on campus. In 1987, NIF students at the Khartoum Branch of Cairo University launched an armed attack on other students who were antagonising their gathering, and one of their number was killed in the resulting melee.
The National Islamic Front's close concern with the student movement is driven by from the inherent elitism of its political philosophy and by its failure so far to control professional associations and trade unions, which remain firmly opposed to its policies. While the policy of the regime in higher education is rooted in the belief that the NIF can control the student movement, the NIF has overlooked the fact that the political affiliations of students are not immutable.
The majority of impoverished Sudanese who want to study, especially those from rural areas, have been excluded by the government's removal of the right to free education for all students at the University of Khartoum, together with an enormous rise in tuition fees (they now range from US$2,000 to US$25,000). The university boarding houses have been closed and free meals abandoned. The Student Support Fund, financed by the Diwan al-Zakat, and the Social Solidarity Fund cater primarily for NIF recruits. When students protested at the new arrangements a female student, Al-Taya Abu Agla, and a male, Salim Abu Bakr, were killed.
Opposition to the regime was clearly shown in the Students' Union elections of September 1991, when - despite harassment and threats - an alliance of anti-NIF students succeeded in defeating the NIF supporters. Their activities were promptly banned by the authorities. Resistance continued against a background of recurrent detention by the security forces of individuals and groups for interrogation and physical brutality, as well as dismissals.
Thirty-six students were wounded, some critically, in the September 1991 clashes at the University of Khartoum. The security forces closed all streets leading to the university and intervened on campus to stop fighting between student factions. The disturbances stemmed from the occupation by National Islamic Front sympathisers of the buildings of the Khartoum University Students' Union (KUSU). The elected union was run by groups sympathetic to the opposition alliance, and the NIF move was ostensibly a protest against the union executive's decision to dissolve several allegedly pro-Islamic Front "cultural societies". Students from the nearby secondary school, Khartoum al-Gadeema, were also drawn in the conflict. (al-Sharq al-Awsat 17/9/91, al-Hayat 18/9/91)
In the University of Khartoum, al-Nashat Club at the Students' Centre was closed because of its political activities, and for a while the Students' Union itself was "frozen" by the authorities. When, after considerable pressure, it was allowed to resume, Vice-Chancellor Professor Mamoun Humeida imposed an electoral committee to "supervise" a new round of union elections. The committee announced a list of permitted candidates which was dominated by the NIF. The subsequent outburst of protest led to the arrest and interrogation under torture of 300 student demonstrators.
Brutalities against student opponents of the regime were frequently reported from the main regional universities - Al-Gezira University, Al-Sharq University, Wadi al-Nil University, and Juba University - as well as from secondary schools and gatherings of student conscripts at Popular Defence Force camps such as Al-Qeteina.
In line with its economic philosophy, the regime has "deregulated" private education at the higher education level: at least four such new universities have already started admitting students. But the only private university with a high academic reputation to be established before the 1989 coup, Omdurman Ahlia University, was the scene of a series of violent attacks on the anti-NIF student union starting in 1991. NIF students and security forces assaulted the union, stole its equipment and arrested and maltreated the union leaders. The union secretary-general, Mustafa Sirril, has been held in a "ghost house" detention centre ever since. When, in protest, the students boycotted the graduation ceremony attended by Lt-Gen al-Bashir, the government responded with an official ban on all political activity at the university.
September 1995 saw the most widespread and persistent of protests in the Sudanese capital, begun by students from several campuses and joined by thousands of other inhabitants. With chants of "October" recalling the 1964 civilian uprising, Khartoum citizens joined with thousands of students in a series of anti-government demonstrations between 9-15 September reported by all news agencies. The scale of the open protests against the National Islamic Front - which included a march on premises believed to contain the office of Dr Hassan al-Turabi - put them among the most serious in the current regime's history. The government, variously blaming communists, leftists, Egyptians and Ethiopians, retaliated with mass arrests, tear gas, tanks and live ammunition. In addition to uniformed police, armed supporters of the regime in civilian clothes confronted the demonstrators. Three deaths were confirmed by the government and dozens more were reported, along with many serious injuries.
The Sudan Embassy in London was subsequently obliged to contradict a report by the government-owned newspaper al-Sudan al-Hadith in Khartoum which alleged that the German Ambassador to Sudan was likely to be expelled, after he accused Khartoum of killing students who had been jailed for taking part in anti-government protests. The German Ambassador, Peter Mende, had been summoned to the Foreign Affairs Ministry in Khartoum on 17 October, where he had been criticised for his accusations, but had not been asked to leave the country. Ambassador Mende had made his comments at a university seminar the previous week, and said the Bonn government strongly opposed the way the students had been treated.
The Khartoum government says three
people were killed, but maintains that demonstrators, not security
forces, were responsible for the deaths. It claims that all students
arrested at the time were freed shortly afterwards. (Reuter 19/Oct/95;
Al-Sudan al-Hadith, SUNA 18/Oct/95)
Recognition and acceptance of Sudan's cultural diversity are a necessary element in restoring stability and healthy dialogue to the country Arabisation/Islamisation The current government of Sudan or its successor should abandon the politically motivated drive to Arabise and Islamise the population by force, a programme which has been discredited as counter-productive to the needs of the society and a major cause of conflict. The cultural rights of Sudan's diverse peoples should be recognised as an asset.
Restoring Standards of Education It must be recognised that a dangerous deterioration in basic academic standards, for example in Mathematics and English, began in the 1970s. The ablest Sudanese teachers went to work in the Gulf during the oil boom, and the supply of good Egyptian teachers dwindled when the Sudanese currency lost its purchasing power. The end of the current regime will not of itself end the problem, and coherent plans to restore the quality of education are needed. Equality of opportunity So long as higher education remains the preserve of a fortunate minority, the main challenge will be to ensure that the members of that minority are drawn from all sectors of the society.
Africa Watch - April 1991 - Academic Freedom and Human Rights Abuses.
Fund for Peace: Abuses of Academic Freedom in Sudan - New York, May 28, 1992)
Hamad, AbdelHadi al-Zubeir: Education from Behind the Veil - The Denial of the Right to Education and Academic Freedom in Sudan (mimeograph)
Middle East Report / Dr Ali Abdalla Abbas, September-October 1991. (Dr Ali Abdalla Abbas was associate professor of English and African Literature at Khartoum University and the Chairman of Khartoum University Staff Union. He spent one year in detention for signing a letter to the RCC calling on them to allow unions to function freely. He wrote the article while on sabbatical leave at New York University.)
World University Service: Academic Freedom (Vol.3) Education and Human Rights - Chapter 5 - Sudan (author AbdelHadi al-Zubeir Hamad) Zed Books/WUS 1995.