We Want to Know: Strengthening Accountability in Sudan

Author(s): Haytham Karar
Date: February 3, 2021
Country: Sudan
Language(s): English

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Following the ouster of the al-Bashir regime in Sudan after five months of a wide-scale non-violent resistance, a new civilian-led government was appointed to lead the transition from autocracy to a democratic rule. However, changing the political system has yet to produce better governance. Citizens are still excluded from participation in policy-making while the state remains unaccountable, providing the public with scant information.

Girifna, “We’re fed up”; a non-violent movement concerned with democratization and social justice, has recently repurposed a local Sudanese term, Waruna, or “we want to know”, to shed light on a very basic component of accountability that is the ‘right to know’. Although the government of Sudan has passed the Freedom of Information Law in 2015, it was enacted in response to external political pressure rather than being a product of a bottom-up demand for transparency. Girifna’s strategy is twofold: utilizing social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, while hitting the ground extensively through seminars and group discussions, particularly in local markets and universities.

Waruna reflects the strength of the citizenry and collective action by referring to the accountability of government to citizens.

The accountability keyword ’right to know’ is consistently used by civil society advocates; either in the English language or through a direct linguistic translation (Al-Haq fi al-Marifa). Both keywords proved to be disengaging since they implicitly address a narrow social class literate enough to deconstruct their linguistic components, thereby it does not resonate with other social groups who neither relate to English nor formal Arabic language.

Waruna, however, is a local synonym that is more comprehensible and easily communicable among lay citizens. It is frequently used by much of the Sudanese people, especially when expressing an urgent need for specific information. Waruna is a plural verb that conveys the demand for inclusion. It implicitly refers to the right of inclusion and comprises a hint of blame and reprimand, particularly among social groups, such as tribes and extended family members. Although it is well-known locally, the term Waruna never appears in formal writings or conversations. Rather, it is used exclusively during informal social settings, and is thereby more engaging and powerful in communicating accountability. Just as importantly, Waruna reflects the strength of the citizenry and collective action by referring to the accountability of government to citizens.

Girifna’s campaign is designed to raise citizen awareness about the right to information, demand open and transparent government, especially around the formulation of public policies, and monitor the process of transition to democracy, including the formation of the Transitional Legislative Council, establishment of independent commissions, peace negotiations, and the performance of local government units.

In a society where only 60.7% of 15-year-olds are literate, this campaign posits reaching out to a larger segment of population. The theory of change is that if citizens were mobilized to voice their needs, and the government provided space for civic movement, the relationship of accountability will be strengthened and citizens will be empowered to demand more open and accountable government.

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ABOUT ACCOUNTABILITY KEYWORDS

Key terms in the accountability field often have different meanings, to different actors, in different contexts – and in different languages. This project addresses “what counts” as accountability, analyzing the meanings and usage of both widely used and proposed “accountability keywords” – drawing on dialogue with dozens of scholars and practitioners around the world. The project includes both an extensive Accountability Working Paper and more than 30 invited posts that reflect on meanings and usage of relevant keywords in their own contexts and languages. To share a post about a keyword that interests you, send us a proposal at arc@american.edu.

AUTHOR INFORMATION

Haytham Karar

Haytham is an international development practitioner. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Khartoum University in Sudan, and a Master of Arts from the American University, USA. He is also trained at the Hertie School of Governance on Public Administration, with a particular focus on Anti-Corruption Policy. He is the author of many academic papers published in well-read journals, such as the Journal of Developing Society and Italian Journal of Sociology of Education. He advised many international organizations on governance and anti-corruption in Sudan.

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