The Women At The Forefront Of The Sudanese Revolution

“Kandakas” are leading the protests in Sudan, asking for more recognition and space in society.

Women celebrating  in Khartoum on April 11
Women celebrating in Khartoum on April 11
Jean-Philippe Rémy

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who has been in power for nearly 30 years, was ousted and arrested on April 11. Defense Minister Awad Ibn Ouf announced the army had decided to oversee a transitional period of two years before holding elections. Protests against Bashir, who took power in 1989 through a military coup, lasted several months.Le Monde correspondent Jean-Philippe Rémy talks to the women who seek more than just an end to Bashir's regime.

KHARTOUM — Sitting on the edge of the sofa with her back straight so as not to touch the backrest, her hands flat on her legs, her dress pulled down, she embodies the archetypal well-behaved Sudanese girl. Her mother, slumped on a nearby chair, keeps a watchful eye and seems satisfied. With just one look into Alia's eyes, you understand what really drives her. She is like a volcano that chooses how it will erupt: calmly, slowly, but with all the fire of the earth.

She could have been that young woman whom the whole country knows and admires, photographed on April 8, stirring up a sea of demonstrators from the roof of a car, singing songs to the glory of the "revolution" and dressed in the style of the great popular movements that brought down two military regimes, in 1964 and 1985.

That woman now embodies the so-called "kandakas' — the title given to the queen mothers of the kingdom of Kush, which erected dozens of pyramids three hours north of Khartoum, and gave the country an empress who defeated Augustus' Roman legions, just before the Christian era.

When she goes out to protest, Alia is inspired by this story. For her, Sudanese women have even more to gain from the ongoing struggle than men. They outnumber men during demonstrations, and not only.

A professor who hacked into the Ministry of Education's system and obtained confidential statistics discovered that the same applies to universities: "In total, there are 76% of girls. They are the majority almost everywhere, even in medicine, architecture and agriculture. They are more educated than men, and yet their place in society is limited. Obviously, this is intolerable!" says the teacher, a veteran of the 1985 revolution, who is now working on a prototype for metal stars to slash the tires of security forces' vehicles — in order to neutralize them when they go after young girls, for instance.

Alia laughs and smiles, but this fight is extremely hard for her. Her brother, Babiker Abdelhamid, was killed during the demonstrations in Khartoum. He was a 27-year-old doctor, and was shot down while trying to help people who had been injured by security forces in the Burri district. Doctors in Sudan are targets of the forces loyal to President Omar al-Bashir, who have committed serious atrocities over the past 30 years.

The movement began within the middle classes, and spread to other circles of society. Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets of Khartoum since April 6 to protest against the army.

We want to change the world, we want to change the way we live.

Here in Kafouri, a wealthy neighborhood in Bahru (north of Khartoum), the noise and fury of street violence could remain just a distant rumor. Nonetheless, Alia, like her sister who recently joined her, found in this movement a way to highlight her own struggles: "Before, it was mostly hard for the poor. Now, everyone is affected. This is what some of the protesters, especially the men, think. For us, it's something else: We want to be free."

Alia's sister does not hold back: "We don't just want to change this dictator, we want to change the world, we want to change the way we live. We want to study wherever we want. I was lucky, our parents let me attend university in Malaysia alone. But what about the others? All those who have no right to anything? We want to reverse all this! We see what the world is like through social media. We know what is happening in Algeria. We see how women all over the world live, and we are no different."

In demonstrations, on the streets, in cafés, in living rooms, the same shock wave is moving things in an undistinguishable way. There is still much to be done, so the "kandakas' continue the fight, and are at the forefront of the demonstrations.

Despite all the violence, insults, pain and fear, women of all ages are there, in the front, as close as possible to the armed men who will hit everything they can get their hands on, without ever crushing their spirit. "This generation must claim its rights, and understand that this government betrayed the Islam it claimed to defend with its nonsensical rules," says Soha Karmalla, a student from a private university on her way to a protest, while adjusting her black baseball cap that matches her clothes — with the exception of a pair of swimming goggles in her bag, for tear gas.

Alia pauses and looks at her watch. She must not be late for work. She is a doctor at the hospital, and she cries every day. "The money I take for lunch, I never spend it, because I can't help but pay for things that are dear to my heart: families with a sick person who can't afford basic medicines or a medical test. Poverty is frightening. Today, I had to buy stomach pills from a man with an ulcer. There has always been a problem, but now, we're reaching the bottom."

Women sentenced to be whipped

Once, she had the opportunity to do an internship at a hospital run for the security forces: "I couldn't believe it. Over there, everything was well organized, all the instruments worked, all the drugs were available. While the population is suffering, they have all this comfort, this luxury. That's when I understood everything."

Her heart is caught in-between several revolts. For instance, the one against the public order police, set up after the military-Islamic coup of Omar al-Bashir in June 1989, which enforces "decent" clothing, and hunts down women caught in a car with a passenger who is neither their father, nor their son, nor their husband. Tens of thousands of women are arrested each year and sentenced under article 152 of the Criminal Code to be whipped dozens of times in addition to being fined.

Alia has no doubt: It is worth dying in the street to try to change this situation. "It's so hard for girls here. Until you're married, you're just a child, and even when you're married ... you're still a child. You can't even travel alone! But we're going to change that world."

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!