Just over two weeks before the historic vote, I spoke with taxi drivers, shop keepers and slum dwellers on the streets of Khartoum about the election posters they were choosing.
On the streets of Khartoum, you notice that most taxis adorn the picture of our President. Mr Ahmed, (I will leave his second name for his protection), told me that most taxi drivers are being forced into this for hidden benefits like not having to pay road tax and the traffic police are much more lenient and friendly, if they can see Bashir on your window. Mr Ahmed said to me: “My taxi has the president’s campaign poster on, but it doesn’t mean I will vote for him. I have my choice which I will not tell you, but of course we are dodging the police tax and fines we will be charged if we do not appear to support the President."
Bashir sticker on back of minibus taxi
Mr Mustafa supported this opinion while cleaning his car mirror he told me “We did not know the fate of this election yet and if I openly support the opposition candidate, my number plate will be noted down and then if the President wins, where do I go? I have to show loyalty to him because he is still in charge of everything today”
Mr Mohammed, also a taxi driver, told me about a particular passenger he carried a few days back: “...with a poster of Yasir Aman on my car, on arriving at the destination, he asked me why I supported him and then hit me many times before I could get away"
The shop traders too seem to share the same experience as the taxi drivers. Most shops in Khartoum display the picture of the President apart from Souq al-French, that tends to be occupied by foreign workers and expatriats.
Other shops are tasked with tearing posters of the opposition down, replacing them with either the incumbent President or the Khartoum state governor. The shop owner in Omdurman that I spoke to by the name of Mr Tahyap said "most of us fear being targeted by the supporters of the ruling party who are mostly from the security service. I just want to be free, when I put a poster of Al-Sahdi people come to ask me why I have put it up and I know often these people are from the intelligence".
In contrast to this experience, when I visited the slum areas, the opposite is true. If you adorn a picture of the President on your window or shop people will come and ask you why. Mr. Hassan Farouk a trader in 'Soba Aradi' Khartoum’s largest slum said his brother placed a poster of the president on his shop door and it created a continuous questioning from passers by. He said: “people here are keenly political. They will question you what the president had done that he deserves to be voted back in?” .
Yasir Arman's poster in 'Soba Arabi' slum
While walking around the slum it is clear that all the shops in the area are dominated by posters of Yasir Arman the Sudan’s People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) party leader n the North, and those that belong to Dr. Lam Akol’s party are usually torn out.
Unlike in the South where citizens in a taxi, borehole or any other public place can more openly criticise the government of Southern Sudan for its corruption, maladministration, tribalism and nepotism, in Khartoum it would be impossible to do the same against the National Congress Party of President Bashir. Most people are fearful of opposing the government, thus the freedom of expression by the citizen is very limited due to fear of the intelligence services.
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