Mixing (small) Business and Pleasure: a UNV story in Sudan

1 May 2011 - On a dusty side road in Damazine in Blue Nile State, near a sparkling but empty Chinese hospital, Amir Muhamad Babiker tends his shop. It’s not big, but it’s his and this Tuesday morning it seems the whole town is looking for sugar.

A girl not more than five or six steps forward and shyly hands Babiker a crumpled one Sudanese pound note. He measures out the appropriate amount of sugar and dutifully hands it back before she quickly scurries off. He watches her go and smiles, “I am stable.” He says quietly. “My family is stable. It is better than when I was in army. Now my children are [finally] in school.”

I wasn’t always interviewing ex-combatants as part of UNDP’s DDR (Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration) project but when I received my confirmation for the reporting officer position from the UNV in New York late last year, I knew that I was ready for the challenge. Working in the head office in Khartoum, with frequent trips into the field, I’m fortunate to get both a bird’s eye and working view of this difficult yet rewarding development process. My colleagues in UNDP have been nothing less than terrific; teaching and informing me every step of the way.

I’m lucky that I get to come across lot of inspiring men and women like Amir Bubakir in my day to day work. Balancing both reporting and public information duties means that a great part of my responsibility lies in conveying the manifold struggles and successes facing the DDR programme in a post-conflict environment. As a reporting officer it is my job to convey these challenges and show both how far we’ve come and how much further we still have to go.

But back to Babiker.

Five years ago, he was discharged from the Sudanese army. At 35 years old, he had spent exactly 18 years and 9 days of his life serving in the SAF. He’s 40 now and with a wife and six young children (“all girls” he says beaming. “Mabruk!” Two of his visitors rejoin simultaneously), living a completely new chapter in his life.

For Babiker, like many men living in the shadow of a civil war which decimated infrastructure and stigmatized those who fought, work is hard to come by and the answer came from the Chinese. For 10sdg a day (roughly $2.5usd), he worked long shifts in construction on the local water dam heightening project. “If you got ill or couldn’t make it to work, you were docked pay for that day” he remembers, “and they didn’t pay you anything until the end of the month”. He still remembers the day he received his reintegration package. March 3rd, two and a half months after finishing his small business training course. Now he is earning more than 50sdg a day. When asked how business was going he glanced back at his store and the dwindling pot of sugar in front of him, “Mafi Mashkeleh. Business kwaysa!” No problem. Business is great!” He laughs and then turns away. Another customer had arrived and it is back to business for Amir Babiker.


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