Love for cities

Again, reports of armed clashes close close to South Kordofan’s capital, Kadugli. Two years ago, in January 2010, I shared a house, a dog and two motorbikes with friends Michaela and Marco in Kadugli. However far away it may seem now, it was a happy time. We loved Kadugli, we called it the city of happiness, and we hoped for a better future. In her new site CIVICISMPROJECT, Michaela captures this time beautifully:

“The capital of Southern Kordofan State, lying in the center of then-unified Sudan along its internal north-south border, was in 2009 a crossroads and stepping stone for Sudanese and internationals alike. Kadugli was a place to go to work, to wait for work, to collect ‘hardship’ posting bonuses, to prove your political mettle, to pass through heading north or south, to plot a better future. With frequent power cuts, water shortages, and roads transformed to mud pits in rainy season, some residents holed up in the fortified United Nations camp with illegal alcohol, while others smoked hookahs, drank tea, and shopped for vegetables in the town center. Everyone had a dream to move on, sooner or later, and the evidence could be found in eavesdropped conversations and litter blowing in the dusty streets. And yet, for the person who cared to pay attention, Kadugli’s sunsets were a riot of pink and purple, its hills draped in green and gold, its skies filled with spectacular birds of prey. Those unwittingly lucky enough to call this place home, even temporarily, slept under a canopy of a million bright stars.”

Michaela talks of Kadugli on CIVICISMPROJECT’s site because the project was inspired by our time there. Michaela believes that dialogues to bridge human differences can be structured around a celebration of what we share – for example, our cities. She explains how she came to this realization in Kadugli:

“What would happen if Kadugli residents, in ever increasing numbers, gave recognition and voice to the beauty and opportunity surrounding them? Would unemployed youth streaming in from rural areas more easily find the tools at hand to create, rather than wait passively for, what they dream of? Would politicians, merchants, and educators forge new paths for civic participation, cultivation and stewardship of the city’s resources? Would cynical international workers contribute to and benefit from a stronger sense of community celebrating Kadugli’s rich cultural and ethnic diversity?”

With these questions in mind, Michaela designed and printed thousands of stickers with the simple message “I [heart] Kadugli”. Fueled by her enthusiasm, a few of us distributed stickers to anyone who would listen. On vehicles and in shops in Kadugli. On mobile phones, laptops, doors, generators, helmets and backpacks. We once stickered all the cars outside a meeting place in Khartoum. One sticker even made it to Liberia on a friend’s laptop, where he was confronted by a rather incredulous Nuba young man.

I love Kadugli

Read the article linked above or any recent news on the Nuba Mountains, and you’ll know that Kadugli is not the happy place it once was. And yet for a time, these stickers changed the way some of us (Sudanese or not) saw the town and its place in the future. Of course love for cities on its own won’t bring peace, but it is an essential element to building peace, to changing a negative discourse. I still carry my stickers when I go to meetings in Sudan, and they still sometimes help to shift the conversation.

Which is why I’m excited to see where Michaela’s CIVICISMPROJECT goes. She’s moved from stickers to video, and is proposing an inter- and intra-urban dialogue to bring people together by celebrating the cities they love. The first video (Nairobi, shot in November 2012) is well worth watching. As with the Kadugli stickers, these videos will contribute to a subtle shift in how we view cities, and will become tools for all of us looking to bridge human differences. In many ways, CIVICISMPROJECT takes a similar approach to the Peace Factory, but with different media. I look forward to seeing how the project evolves, expands it reach and becomes even more participatory.


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