This was a time, not so long ago, when my ancestors ruled this country. A British army officer was given vast power as judge, general and chief over vast sections of Sudan. It was not the worse period in Sudan’s history. I gather they were perceived to be fair and some had the interests of the people a close second to the interests of the empire. But it was an exploitative relationship nonetheless.
My role now is surely completely different?
I am sent here by a complex international organisation. Put in charge of the “National staff” and with fairly little oversight left to get on with things.
Admittedly, I am not here to rule, judge or subjugate. But as I write this our cleaner is working as I have my feet up typing on a laptop.
The staff who directly report to me are a mix of what would be normal back home, for example junior doctors who have been working 1 or 2 years and those whom the fact I am there boss is farcical to the point of being uncomfortable. An experienced surgeon in his late 40’s who I have only just managed to get to stop calling me “doctor” and start calling me by my name, one experienced doctor in his 50’s who was practising medicine when I was a teenage and another the same age as me but much more familiar with the conditions and presentations we have see here and whose clinical and ethical judgement I trust more than my own.
They have no resentment of this structure. They seem unconcerned a man 10 years their junior and fresh to this kind of medicine is organising their roster and signing their payslips.
So I try to earn there respect; I graft side by side with them. I check they are happy with the hours they work and try and make allowances as able.
But for me it is still uncomfortable. It is not lost on me that I am white are they are not; added to the outdated dichotomy. Although the international staff are for a diverse background of countries; from many different countries from Europe, Asia and Africa, there is still a massive line between us and those employed locally. Between those who choose to leave their home countries are labelled “ex-pat” who can retain there privilege and those who were forced to leave and are labelled “refugee” becoming those with the least rights. We could be airlifted out for toothache, but I have treated the relatives of my staff in our own clinic, which is fantastic in some respects considering the resources we have, but if we are honest, is entirely insufficient for the needs of the population.
So what to do? this is how the world is. This is not the way we would design it or how we would want it. We live in a world were the lives of people born on this continent are worth less than the continent I was born on. The value of some-ones life when they are declared a refugee is worth even less. We came here to try and reverse this to an infinitely small degree, but we do not escape being part of the overarching problem. I do no propose any grand solutions to this seemingly intractable state of the world. All I can do whilst I am here is treat my colleagues as the diverse, insightful and capable individuals they are and not as “just” African refugees.