On return from his recent reporting trip to Africa, Nick Turse told me the following tale, which catches something of the nature of our battered world. At a hotel bar in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, he attended an informal briefing with a representative of a major nongovernmental organization (NGO). At one point, the briefer commented that just one more crisis might sink the whole aid operation. He thought she was referring to South Sudan, whose bottomless set of problems include unending civil war, no good prospects for peace, impending famine, poor governance, and a lack of the sort of infrastructure that could make a dent in such a famine. Nick responded accordingly, only to be corrected. She didn’t just mean South Sudan, she said, but the entire global NGO system. Given the chaos of the present moment across the Greater Middle East and elsewhere, global aid operations were, she insisted, on the brink. They were all, she told him, just one catastrophe away from the entire system collapsing. I have to admit that as I watch the civilian carnage in Gaza; catastrophically devolving Iraq; the nightmare of Syria; the chaotic situation in Libya where, thanks to militia fighting, the capital’s international airport is now in ruins; the grim events surrounding Ukraine, which seem to be leading to an eerie, almost inconceivable revival of the Cold War ethos; not to speak of the situation in Afghanistan, where bad only becomes worse in the midst of an election from hell and the revival of the Taliban, I have a similar eerie feeling: just one more thing might tip this planet into… well, what?
When news of renewed protests in Sudan started to spread in late September, many in the community of activists who were part of the summer protests of June/July 2012 (dubbed the Sudan Revolts) took the news with a dose of cautious optimism. The Sudan Revolts left us feeling crushed – to say the least. The earlier wave of country-wide protests had been triggered by Khartoum University female students protesting economic austerity measures. The Sudanese government’s swift campaign of arrests led to most of the student leaders, youth movement leaders, and the younger leadership of political parties being held behind bars for up to two months without charges. Many endured physical and psychological torture, including extended periods of solitary confinement.