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As we roamed the city of El-Obeid on a journey to learn about its people, historical landmarks, and the sounds of its music, we were stunned by what we found. The French Association, one of the city’s iconic institutions and fundamental cultural pillars in the state of North Kordofan, sparkles in beauty, music, and arts. Andariya had the opportunity to learn about its artistic programming when we spoke to Dr. Haider Ahmed Ali, the director of the French Association in El Obeid. Dr. Haider is a professor, former head of the French Language Department at Kordofan University, and is well informed about the rich history of the center, its activities, and its vision for change through arts and culture.

Photo Credit: Sam Photography

The Association’s establishment dates back to June 1989 and it was formerly named the ‘Sudanese French Center’. Its initial goal was to become a gateway for Sudan to communicate with Francophone countries like Senegal and Benin, to name a few. The Association’s goal was aligned with Sudan's strategy to reconcile with African countries through language, as it was planned in the 1960s when the country joined the African Union. But unfortunately, this vision did not occur due to the policies put in place by the Muslim Brotherhood regime during the last three decades, which coincidentally took power in a coup around the same time the center was established.

Nevertheless, the French Association in El Obeid remained lively by expanding the horizon for dialogue and knowledge through language, culture, and arts. It was frequented by artists, musicians, athletes, intellectuals, and specialists in the region as well as children who were granted the opportunity to discover themselves and interact with people outside their circle.

Photo Credit: Sam Photography

For thirty years, the Association resisted the previous regime’s arbitrariness that sought to destroy cultural centers and artistic talents. The French Embassy helped the Association rise through these difficult circumstances by providing many scholarship opportunities for the community. The Association’s impact was amplified with the help of the embassy, through the establishment of the French Language Department at the Faculty of Arts of the University of Kordofan- considered one of the best faculties teaching French studies in Sudan. The Association carved a space for students to practice various activities including theater, poetry, and literature in French.

During the thirty years since its establishment, the center was keen on not bowing to the previous regime, and as a result, it suffered from marginalization. But after the Sudanese revolution in 2018-2019, the responsibility now falls under the revolutionary government, which should aim to support cultural movements such as that of the French Association in El-Obeid.

Arts and cultural centers play a key role in society because radical change is only achieved through such disciplines. Knowing this information, the previous regime actively tried to bury these disciplines in fear of said change. It fought artists, demolished cinemas, and closed cultural centers around the country. The French Association was generous since its establishment, promoting opportunities for activities equally provided for both men and women. The Association encourages women and provides them with opportunities to participate in various activities to empower them.

The Association has different departments that work in perfect harmony to provide visitors with an interesting local experience. You will find the French Language Learning Department- which is the foundation on which the center was established, a music department which includes "El Obeid Roots" band, and the Musical Arts department with various young alumnus supervised by Professor Yasser Abdel Rahman.

Photo Credit: Sam Photography

The center is also home to an art gallery, which exhibits work by the "Courtrai" group; a group of young fine artists from different disciplines, who painted most of the murals in the city during the revolution. The art gallery also displays art exhibitions and organizes trips for artists. Two of their upcoming trips are to Port Sudan and Addis Ababa. The Ethiopia trip will be part of the center's aim of opening up to the African continent; especially since Sudan is witnessing historical and fundamental transformations led by young artists.

Photo Credit: Sam Photography

‘Educators for Democracy and Development group partnered with the center is hosting its activities in North Kordofan State, part of which became an integral part of the center with various events and activities such as seminars, lectures, and exhibitions.

Artists support the goals of the French Association in El Obeid, which is striving to have a positive impact on the new Sudan by spreading arts and culture, inherently believing that they are one of the most effective languages in opening doors for communication with others. Alongside the University of Kordofan and other bodies including the resistance committees in El Obeid, the French Association is launching an upcoming campaign to mitigate the crisis left behind by the floods this year, as well as host future campaigns to raise awareness about malaria and environmental sanitation. These campaigns will be accompanied by educational and cultural activities such as interactive theater, singing, music, and many other art forms. The aim of these activities is to build a strong community, as Dr. Haidar notes "the time has come to light a candle and stop cursing the darkness. This is the way for a new, democratic, and civilized Sudan that resembles the values of the glorious December revolution."

The French Association in El Obied is not only exclusive to the elites of society, but its doors are open to anyone who wants to participate in activities and events. The Association gives room for constructive criticism and opinions that contribute to the improvement of activities; it is built for everyone.

In the coming period, the Association will continue the activities that have been organized. It will also enhance its support for youth to play a key role in achieving social change through arts. We hope the Association will become the face of true openness for Sudan, both regionally and internationally.

Faiz Hassan

Faiz is a writer who is interested in documenting contemporary arts and artists in Sudan through in-depth reports, articles and interviews. Faiz won the Tayeb Salih short story award for youth in 2020 and one of his short stories was published in the book “Hasad” in 2016.