Social Capital in Sudan: The Silent Visible Revolt

Bashir A Abdelgayoum Ali

This book looks at a number of genuine community initiatives in the social and educational contexts in Sudan. In that sense we dare say that this book is unique in examining areas that are rarely acknowledged and often devalued. These are the social capital as represented by traditions that persist through practices such as communal labour (nafeer), rotating saving plans (sanduq), and community education. The latter is represented by the role of the Habouba1 in building a unique Sudanese identity. Most of the literature neglects the contribution of the Sudanese social capital and community education. The book aims to restore the roles of those significant entities and offer a corrective lens to the negative stereotypes created and guarded by neglect and miseducation.
The article: Social Capital in the Sudan: The Silent Visible Revolt focuses on the important aspects of traditional local structures and indigenous organizations. It shows how the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society organizations (CSOs) – state interface has grown and developed. This paper also points out how the Sudanese ruling parties used the apparatus of the state to set up a pattern of authoritarian rule in which CSOs and NGOs would be either restricted and controlled or included in the hegemonic framework of the ruling regimes. Those CSOs and NGOs, which have not accepted the government agenda and demonstrated their own identity and independence, have been excluded from the social, cultural and material privileges and facilities. NGOs, by virtue of their historical origin and political commitment to the government’s program, became deeply bound in this hegemonic process. As NGOs themselves were able to maintain identity, acquire resources, and provide social standing, mechanisms to control them intensified. In some cases, the regime succeeded in manipulating and speculating within CSOs and NGOs to further its political agenda.
The other interesting aspect is the role of different social forces in the promotion of an effective environment for local institutional development. This issue is of particular concern to voluntary work and local initiatives that look at the accountability of their interventions, scale-up the impact of their activities, and contribute to the strengthening of civil society. The commitment of various development workers including public and private sector and their interest in supporting local institutions is of significance in maintaining local integrity and social cohesion.
In the second article the writer shares the story of her own education journey focusing on the role of Habouba: her first educator. The paper yearns to restore the well-deserved trust to community education and encourage using it as a solid ground on which school education should be based. The writer hopes to activate further communication, questioning, and exploration of a crucial role that is commonly over-looked and neglected. This paper aims to say that Habouba and other women in her generation mattered and that their history is worthwhile of being written. Through that the writer hopes to develop deeper understanding and greater relatedness between generations of educators, students and the current communities. The article also thrives to truly modify a wrongly captured image of women in the Sudanese culture. While she writes about Habouba, the writer also writes about elders in Northern Sudan in a general term and highlights the role of the local knowledge and wisdom that is passed by elder women in Sudan. Elder women were regarded as the sustainers of the socio-cultural identity of the community. They are spiritually, emotionally, and socially connected to the various customs and ceremonies especially those associated with passage rituals through different life stages from birth to death. Elder people were the main educational and entertainment tanks for most of the communities in Sudan until their role has been recently overshadowed with the modern technological manifestations that know no limits. Finally the paper tries to fill in generational gaps and offers a base to formal education to use communities’ knowledge and local teachings as starting points to school education in order to build a proud Sudanese identity.

The third article focuses on displaced persons, one of the most vulnerable and marginalised people not only in Sudan but also globally. It is based on a case study approach to explore the experience of internally displaced persons, in particular women at Al-Salam and Mayo displacement camps in Khartoum and their social capital in form of tajammu’at (women’s groups).
The article presents the narratives of displaced women. These narratives allowed women to air their voices and to highlight their concerns. They also allow us to understand displaced women’s perceptions on their social capital experience at the camps.
The article argues that despite the many barriers that displaced women faced at the camps, these women were able to develop trust, relationships, social bonds and networks – all proven to be useful social capital that allowed women to provide support and assistance to each other, to negotiate with external actors, to invest in their skills and resources and to build their informal financial institutions. Nevertheless, women were reluctant to allow displaced men to be part of their social networks and they saw men as barriers rather than social partners, preferring to continue networking with each other on a gender basis and revealing in their narratives why men should not be part of their tajammu’at. By contrast men seemed unable to establish similar social networks across their gender.
This paper takes an inside look into the importance of local initiatives and the critical role they have played in creating economic agency in the recent history of the Sudan. More specifically, the paper describes three forms of traditional practices and indigenous associations; communal labor, rotating savings and credit associations, and migrant associations. Although these social economic forms have been given some attention in Third World Studies literature, Sudanese literature continues to lack any systematic analysis on the topic. The void in literature reveals that such initiatives are not given their due credit as genuine grassroots players. This is the case even though these initiatives are invariably committed to community development. It is hoped, therefore, to present empirical descriptions of some modes of formal and informal local initiatives, providing information that is relevant to wider studies of Sudanese politics and society.
This paper is divided into two main sections. The first section describes the growth and development of local structures during the colonial period and post-independence period. The second section presents the social capital in Sudan, including the voluntary and non-governmental organization (NGO) sector.
The paper presents further contributions and comments on one of the most vital efforts carried out in the Sudan during the last two decades; the increasing participation of Sudanese communities in larger local institutional structures.
In spite of many prophecies about the expected erosion and decline of voluntary community-based initiatives, such as communal labor (Nafir and Faza) and other forms of rotating savings system, known as Sandug, organizations have managed to cope with the new circumstances and continue to develop new ways of integration.
During the 1930s, a collective of Sudanese university graduates established The Graduates’ Congress. The establishment has branches in some of Sudan’s focal towns, including Wad Medani, Omdurman and Port Sudan. The key role of those who completed their education and worked as civil servants, at the time, was the struggle for independence. In addition to their political activities they made a significant contribution to the provision of services and social infrastructure in the communities which they lived in or originated from. Most primary and secondary schools and dispensaries in both urban and rural areas, for instance, were built on self-help basis. These local initiatives were a part of Sudanese tradition in the 1930s and 1940s. They were part of the indigenous culture concerned with communal labour, saving associations and migrant institutions.2
According to Sudanese literature on formal cooperation, the origin of these cooperative movements dates back to traditional informal practices that were carried out in Sudanese societies in the 1920s and 1930s. The Law of the Co-operative Associations of 1948 was based on these traditional structures of social informal cooperation. The Cooperative Act 3 explains that “the organizational set-up of the co-operative societies consists of primary societies with individual physical persons as members at the level of village, or area or locality.”
These traditional practices are known in English and Arabic by a number of terms; communal labor [Nafir and Faza], exchange labour, cooperative labor, and Aiad Al Hasad (Harvest) and wedding or funeral days (festive labor). Other terms are rotating savings and credit associations, or Sandug, literally meaning `box’. Sandug involves a regular contribution, in cash, by members of a savings group, the sum of which is delivered to a single member of the group every particular period. Migrant associations are based on rural-urban linkages that are geared towards supporting members in their transition to urban life. Here, individuals find the opportunity to support their rural communities by raising funds, mobilizing individuals, and channeling resources into positive community-building initiatives (i.e. building schools, purchasing school buses for girls, the maintenance of primary health units).
Communal labor is common in rural communities where productive tasks are mostly similar in structure and type of work. In such societies, it is a norm to find temporary labor completing a task initiated by an individual unit. Such collective efforts can be found in the fields of agriculture, house construction, community buildings, and well digging.
The traditional savings system known as Sandug is found in both rural and urban Sudanese societies. It was first introduced during the Second World War by pioneering women, who found themselves in need of coping with the economic difficulties that were created by the war. 4 The fascinating realization of the Sandug can be found in the Journal of Sot Al Maraa [Women’s Voice] of the Sudanese Women Union. Al Nagar5 writes that Sot Al Maraa was established in 1955 to express the visions of the Sudanese Women Union. The membership within Sandug groups follows a certain protocol. Members are composed of people bound by distinct personal ties i.e. members of extended families, neighbors, friends and work colleagues.
The nature of relationships between members of these informal associations and practices will vary between societies, and vary according to social and economic practices as well. Employment-based groups, for example, recruit members from outside the family group. The key principle in the formation of these associations is kinship in the form of direct family relationships or some other form of direct personal ties. Close personal ties are a determinant factor in mobilizing people in order to make informal cooperation possible.
As mentioned earlier, these different forms of social capital have rather specific tasks to fulfill. However, their practices, as well as their basis for membership, lead us into broader issues of understanding social organizations and the local economy.

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