Racist slur caught on air sparks Sudan outrage

A racist insult broadcast live on Sudanese television during a high-profile trial involving ex-President, Omar al-Bashir, has triggered an outcry against the racism that continues to permeate Sudanese society three years after the long-time leader was ousted.

Bashir’s defence team were chatting among themselves in the courtroom in the capital, Khartoum, and did not realise that their microphones were still on.

One of them was heard to say: “This ‘slave’ with his ugly nose irritates me.”

The Arabic word for slave, “abd”, was often used in Sudan to refer to people whose perceived roots were thought to be African instead of Arab – and was a derogatory term used to describe black people.

The comment, about three hours into the hearing, had nothing to do with the trial being aired on Sudan TV and the YouTube and Facebook pages of the Sudan News Agency (Suna).

The men were discussing a renowned journalist, Lukman Ahmed, who had just been sacked as director of the state-owned broadcaster, where I also used to work.

Ahmed, a former BBC Arabic correspondent who originally comes from Darfur, had been appointed to the role when a civilian coalition and the military were sharing power after Bashir’s ousting.

Last October, the generals reneged on the power-sharing deal, launching a coup. Ahmed stayed on in his post for another six months, but in the end he was accused of failing to honour the military head of statehaving relegated news about him to the bottom of the bulletins.

A clip of the lawyer’s comments went viral, with many on social media quick to denounce the racist slur made at Ahmed’s expense.

It brought to mind one of the slogans of the 2019 uprising when revolutionaries chanted: “Oh you arrogant racist, the whole country is Darfur.”

It was aimed at Bashir, who first came to power in 1989 in an Islamist-backed coup and who became infamous around the world for the conflict in Darfur.

He has been charged by the International Criminal Court (ICC) with committing war crimes and genocide there after pro-government, horse-riding Arab militias, known as Janjaweed. In the early 2000s, he started targeting villages and driving out their non-Arab residents – or “Zurga”, the local term for ethnic black communities. -BBC

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