Despite the calamities in the education and research sectors in Sudan caused by a broken economy and the exodus of highly skilled workers, Sudanese professionals in the diaspora seek to push forward Sudan’s cycle of education and development.
More than 62,000 Sudanese working in white-collar occupations left the country between 2005 and 2008 to work abroad on legal contracts. (Those numbers could be much higher, as many undocumented workers may not be included in those statistics.) Most such qualified professionals seek employment opportunities in nearby countries, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Their wages in these oil-rich, rapidly developing countries are usually two to three times what they could earn in Sudan.
In 2013, expatriate workers sent $1.3 billion back to Sudan, with the annual total more than doubling from $442 million in 2011, according to the World Bank. But this contribution to the Sudanese economy doesn’t encourage the development of Sudanese institutions needed for the country’s advancement.
“Nafeer” is the Sudanese word for collective community work and, on the Internet, that means crowdsourcing. It’s a system that has been used in Sudan for decades, and now a nafeer has been created by the Sudanese diaspora to improve education and research in their home country.
Allam Ahmed, a senior lecturer at the University of Sussex, has created a platform, Sudan Knowledge, that seeks to exchange knowledge and information about Sudan and promote the potential of the Sudanese diaspora across the world for the benefit of Sudan. In an interview, he said he wants to create a database of Sudanese researchers whom policymakers and international organizations can approach for accurate, unbiased advice. He also stressed that Sudan Knowledge seeks to avoid what he views as toxic political debate.
Sudanese researchers and educators, he said, need to be positive and approach their subjects “without any political affiliation or residues from the past. We also need to understand that we need to change our basic understanding of traditional communication to a modern and respected way, trusting each other to work together.”
Some of the topics discussed included the design of a framework aimed at capturing the knowledge of Sudanese experts from all fields and utilizing them for solving the country’s problems. That paper was prepared by Adil Eltigani of the Skema Business School in France and Mohamed Shamou of Ford Motor Company. Also presented was a critical assessment of education in post-independence Sudan by Adil Dafalla and Elmouiz Hussein of Airbus UK and Marwan Adam of Sudanese Knowledge Society. They studied the major political changes marking three different phases from 1956 to the present and the impact the changes have had on the structure, architecture and performance of Sudan’s education system.
Ahmed strongly believes that in a knowledge-based era, it doesn’t matter where Sudanese are based to be able to give back to their country. He hopes that Sudan Knowledge and others will eventually compensate for the extreme brain drain that the country’s educational and research institutions are witnessing. “Most of the diaspora have all the means to help, such as Internet connectivity, time and money,” said Allam. “They can help their countries by simply making themselves available to be contacted and approached for advice.”
Ahmed’s short visits to Sudan are usually packed with teaching, training and capacity-building workshops.
Ahmed believes that researchers in the diaspora and those locally in Sudan, should work together and consider themselves partners rather than competitors in order to create a larger and more beneficial impact on Sudan. He criticizes some of the pessimistic researchers abroad, including Sudanese expatriates, who expect everything in Sudan to be like the countries where they reside.
Ahmed is also the founding director of the Middle Eastern Knowledge Education Institute and founder of the International Journal of Sudan Research, which seeks to highlight the best research undertaken about Sudan.
Sudanese youth living abroad are also trying to create opportunities for those still in the country through mentorship and training programs. Some of these initiatives include Al-Mustakbal, Alsudaniya Mentoring and the Institute of Tomorrow.
Waddah Fadul, founder and president of the Institute of Tomorrow, says he wants “to create, develop and maintain a think-tank platform to assist in responding to Sudan’s urgent and deep-seated problems in a well-researched, scientific and sustainable approach.”
He also hopes that the virtual institute will “assemble the scattered young and talented Sudanese minds all over the globe.”
The institute offers free mentorship sessions to help students learn about different careers.
“We train students and fresh graduates from different fields on the necessary skills required on the market,” Fadul said.
The institute also partners with universities and works with students in the last year of their education to use their research to tackle issues related to Sudan’s top challenges. For example, the latest call was a research project to help enhance the efficiency of Sudan’s electric grid.
Waddah believes that hard work intertwined with knowledge and good practices will help create change in Sudan. He likes the famous saying: “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”