Saturday, August 14, 2021


Good afternoon, everyone.

I’m so honored to be able to address your gathering and I appreciate, deeply, all that the members of the Sudanese Americans Physicians Association, SAPA, have done for your communities here in America, and for the people of Sudan.

In just two years, this organization has grown into a movement, with hundreds of members across the country. You’ve helped mentor and train young Sudanese students and residents. You’ve introduced innovative new telemedicine services to help supplement a dire lack of ICU beds in Sudan. And when COVID-19 struck, you leapt into action, sending desperately needed PPE to hospitals and clinics throughout the country, including in Darfur, Gedaref, and Khartoum.

Just last week, I visited each of those states, where I was able to witness both the promise and the peril that Sudan faces after the popular revolution of 2019.

The last time I was in Darfur was nearly 20 years ago when, as a journalist, I reported from the scene of fresh horrors—bombed villages and shallow graves, the remnants of a genocidal campaign supported by then-President Bashir.

Last week, I played volleyball with girls at a youth center in El Fasher. I spoke with women at an IDP camp who pooled their money to allow some to travel to Khartoum and join protests calling for Bashir to be overthrown. And I met with the state’s civilian leaders, who are asking the international community to, “think bigger,” and move past their view of Sudan as simply a country in need of humanitarian assistance. “We are going to democracy,” the new governor of North Darfur told me, and that transition requires support for good governance, a strong civil society, and a determined fight against corruption.

In Gedaref, I witnessed the generosity of the Sudanese people as they welcomed in refugees from the current conflict in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. I saw a Sudan that was trying to transform itself from a source of conflict into a place of refuge in what is sadly becoming a more volatile region each passing day.

And in Khartoum, I saw the future.

I met young people who risked their lives and lost their limbs to show up day after day after day in the streets to protest Bashir’s dictatorship, refusing to give up and demanding a different path for their country. It was their courage that powered a revolution that finally did what thirty years of sanctions, universal denunciations, and an indictment at the International Criminal Court alone could not do: topple a dictator whose grip on power had seemed permanent.

In all of these places, I saw glimpses of a new destiny for Sudan—one of peace, freedom, and economic opportunity for a people who have long been denied those things.

But that destiny is not guaranteed. As you well know, 30 years of dictatorship has left Sudan’s economy fragile, its institutions weakened, and its civil society frail. Instead of looking to heal Sudan’s sick, Bashir armed the country for war. Instead of building hospitals, he built prisons.

His leadership drained Sudan of its promise, and with no better alternatives, many chose to leave. Estimates say as many as 5 million Sudanese fled the country during his long reign.

In a speech to the University of Khartoum, a strong partner of SAMA’s, I talked about what Sudan’s great poet, Mahjoub Shareef called the “generation of giving”—the talented young Sudanese who entered government after the country’s October revolution in 1964—those who had hoped then to steer the country away from a military dictatorship and toward democracy.

Sadly, that generation didn’t succeed… but a new generation of giving can. Sudan needs you. It needs your talent, your leadership, your concern for your fellow Sudanese to strengthen its civilian-led transition.

The United States, and my organization, the US Agency for International Development, have pledged considerable support for that transition. But without talented people being willing to enter public service and civil society and strengthen Sudan’s institutions, including its health systems, the country is at real risk of having its democratic destiny stalled once again.

I have come away from my visit asking myself — in this rare moment in history, in this brief and utterly fragile window of opportunity for Sudan—what more we can do.

All of you do so much already. But now is the time for all of us to reflect on whether there is anything else or anything more we can do.

There’s another poem by Mahjoub Shareef, one he wrote during the depths of the dictatorship that offered a vision of profound hope.

We will build the country we always dream about,
An inclusive and huge one no doubt.
A bird in the place of a bullet, hovering around a fountain.
A hospital... in place of a prison.

My sincere thanks to you all.

And my sincere hope that the Sudanese people are able to build that country we dream about.

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