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Institutionalised activism and politicised NGOs : the state's engagement with NGOs in Sudan Salih, Khaldah


This research explores the relationship between NGOs, activism, the state, and international agencies in Sudan. There is growing importance pursuing activism within institutional structures, and the constraints that funding and donor interests can have on the potential of that activism. The Sudanese state’s policies towards NGOs have been hostile, leading to activists and NGO staff being arrested and NGOs being shut down. The Voluntary and Humanitarian Work Act of 2006 regulates the NGO sector in Sudan and enforces the Humanitarian Aid Commission. These legal mechanisms act as apparatuses of surveillance against activists and NGOs. Literature on Sudanese feminism and NGOs defines categories based on proximity to the state and political or religious ideology (Badri, 2008; Nageeb, 2008). Interviews were conducted with 10 experts in the sector and six staff members from SIHA Network, an NGO in Sudan which pursues advocacy for women’s rights, to explore how people in the field experience the relationship with the state, issues of surveillance, and concerns on international funding. This research is based on a theoretical framework informed by feminist critiques of development (Spivak, 1999) and NGOs (Jad, 2004; Rodriguez, 2017; Smith, 2017), and Foucauldian approaches to surveillance and state power (1995), and governmentality (1991). I argue that the Sudanese state’s practice of surveillance on NGOs which practice activism has long influenced their development and their current concerns, and leads activists and NGO staff to practice self-surveillance on their work. Activists and NGO staff were more concerned with the state’s policies and other activists’ and NGO staff’s relationship to the state than they were with international funding. I argue that the relationship between activists and NGOs, and the state is what defines their categories and relationships to each other.

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