Sudan Elections: rumours of NCP’s death are greatly exaggerated – By James Copnall
It looks like a funeral, it sounds like a funeral – but it isn’t, not really.
The men pick up an angharaib, its wooden frame partially covered by a white shroud. A crowd look on, some sheltering from the sun in a makeshift condolences tent.
The video, filmed on a mobile phone, picks up lamentations and prayers. But there is a light, almost mocking edge to the voices, and the occasional whoop, ululation or laugh makes the gathering sound more like a celebration than a wake.
On the funeral bier, the corpse is not that of a human being, or even an animal. Instead, a tree with abundant green leaves is about to be buried. The tree, of course, is the symbol of Omar al Bashir’s National Congress Party.
I don’t know where or when the video was filmed. Some have suggested Abu Hamad, in River Nile state, where an independent candidate (formally of the NCP) beat the NCP nominee, one of a handful of independent candidates who won seats at these elections.
When I showed the short film to a NCP supporter, he went quiet, and then insisted that “everyone in Sudan loves Omar al Bashir” and his party.
Whatever its provenance, the fake burial is part of a long Sudanese tradition of mocking the country’s rulers.
Sudanese politicians are fair game for barbed jokes: in one, which is a few years old now, Nafie Ali Nafie, Ali Osman Taha and Bashir are boasting about the large crowds they can draw to rallies. ‘That’s nothing’, their fictional driver replies. ‘If I drive over the edge of a cliff, 30 million Sudanese will cheer!’
This election may have been short on suspense, but it has had its fair share of humour.
The satirist Khalid al Baih drew one of his Khartoon series, also focusing on the image of the NCP’s tree, standing lonely in a field of stumps (see above). The punchline? ‘The only tree they left in Sudan.’
The lack of competition was a source of much comic inspiration. One election monitor (from a party not expected to outshine the NCP), talking to me in a nearly empty polling station, compared the election to a football championship. Liverpool was taking part, he said, but all the other premier league teams were boycotting. Who would want to go to a football match between professionals and part-timers?
A friend told me the following joke, which reflects much of the popular cyncism about these polls. ‘A blind man went to vote in the elections, he didn’t trust any of the polling station officers, so he asked if one of his friends could help him. They agreed because the man is known as an NCP supporter. He asked his friend to help him locate the NCP sign. He placed his finger on the tree and asked his friend to tick any other symbol for him.’
Ibrahim Ghandour, the presidential advisor, was the butt of many other jokes. He was allegedly forced to leave a campaign rally after protesters bombarded it with stolen tear gas, leaving a shoe behind. Ghandour was then, inevitably, nicknamed ‘Cindarella’ on social media.
The Citizen newspaper printed a cartoon in which the solidly built Ghandour pointed out the apparent physical impossibility of him sprinting away from an angry crowd. To his credit, while denouncing what he called the ‘lie’ that any such event had taken place, Ghandour repeated the Citizen’s joke against him in an interview last week.
He was also clear that rumours of the NCP’s demise had been greatly exaggerated. Its opponents may poke fun on social media, or give the NCP’s tree a decent burial, but the electoral victory (scheduled to be announced next week) will ensure the party has a healthy majority in parliament for the next five years.
For some, that’s no laughing matter. But you suspect it might draw a chuckle from Ghandour, Bashir and the rest of the NCP.
James Copnall is a journalist and author of “˜A Poisonous Thorn in Our Hearts: Sudan and South Sudan’s Bitter and Incomplete Divorce’. He is Editor of “˜Making Sense of the Sudans’.