Mohamed Yahiya: I wish to be able to draw more smiles on the faces of Sudanese people

Thirty-three year old Mohamed Yahia wakes up every morning with renewed determination to fulfill his dream. Yahia is passionate about the true sense of our Sudanese “identity” with its composite ethnicities, Sudan’s rich history, and notions of peace and  acceptance of one another as first class citizens.

Yahia is currently involved in innovative ways to promote a sense of nationalism and unity amongst children and youth across Sudan. By designing comic stories, games and animations for Sudanese audiences, Yahia is hoping to instill new values in the coming generation.

UNDP Sudan met with him to hear about his aspirations for fostering peace and tolerance amongst Sudanese who have for decades struggled with these notions. He hopes that through his small-scale project he is able to create positive change.

Yahia, how would you best describe yourself?

I view myself primarily as a dreamer, a storyteller a Hajaay as my grandparents would call me. I constantly aspire for a better Sudan and a better Africa where we would realize our full potential. I also wish to be able to draw more smiles on the faces of Sudanese people whom I have noticed are smiling less nowadays

What is your most valued contribution to Sudan? What do you want to be most remembered for?
I regard my most valued contribution to Sudan to be my project Ta-City (Technology, Arts and Culture) which is an initiative for youth aiming at evoking a sense of nationalism amongst this generation to build their future by forming a connection with their history and heritage.  We are great nation and we should never believe for a minute that we cannot retrieve our past glory.

For years, I have constantly observed that the Sudanese youth are fixated with foreign cultures presented to them in the form of comics and games, recounting for example the great heritage of “Naruto” – a great Japanese role model.  This “Naruto” however does not reflect our values and should not represent us; the Sudanese. We should have our own role models and our own comics, games and animations that reflect our identity.  I have also noticed that the values portrayed in some of these games are not at all desirable, such as the glorification of  war and the killing of civilians.

How do you propose to address these issues?  What are the opportunities and challenges for implementation in Sudan?

Together with a team of volunteer artists, we design comics, animations and games that are “Sudanese” in nature. We promote in a subtle manner values such as the need for peace and development. Our games and cartoons carry no violence in them unlike other games and instead, we focus on the importance of constructing and developing a better tomorrow. 

One game challenge which we designed asks players to build the old Sudanese Kingdom of Kush. Another game takes the example of a village with a challenge to reconstruct the village after it has been struck by conflict including the re-building of social ties within the torn community. The underlying theme for all these games and comics is “Humanity is the basis of nationality in Sudan- not race, not religion, and not any other difference amongst us.”

I believe there is a huge market for what I am promoting. You must’ve noticed the large number of volunteers in Sudan, in particular those who are promoting the abandoning of tribalism and ethnicity, both amongst those who live in Sudan and those who are in the Diaspora, and I feel this is the way forward.

Challenges?  I am a person who looks at challenges as opportunities to grow. I have had this idea for years now and I think that if we focus too much on bottlenecks we will never go anywhere.

In reality, the overall environment is improving, but lack of awareness of the public poses a challenge. This is not only in Sudan, but also those in the Diaspora. There are those who know little about Sudan’s history and I am trying to change that.  History was relayed to them in a discouraging and monotonous manner and hence they choose to ignore it. I try to persuade them otherwise. History is living in us and amongst us. There is also the fact that I have to design ways in which I am able to change the taste of the youth who are currently highly passionate about Manga cartoons and who might be reluctant to enjoy a different set of stories based in a Sudanese context.

My initial plan focuses on selling those games and animations for profit and then have the revenues used to cover the printing of comic series in hard copies to be distributed for children for free in various parts across Sudan. Another obstacle which I could think of is to be able to avail funds for the purchase of equipment for animations, and the high costs required for training of staff and others.  As an example, it costs 6, 000 SDG to train one individual only.

I am on constantly on the lookout for opportunities to realize my dream. Just recently I have applied to the Mashrouy TV competition which encourages entrepreneurship amongst the youth. I am happy to announce that I am amongst the four finalists.  If I do win this competition I see this an opportunity to fund my little project and go forward with Ta- City.

Lessons learnt from the past? Would you do it differently…?
If time would roll back I would do this all over again. The major lesson learnt is that for entrepreneurship to flourish you don’t really need to depend on a lot of people to help.  If you have the vision, the tools and the social network it is more than enough.  I would also study scenario –script writing to enable me to do a better job with writing comics.  I am grateful for UNDP for providing me with this opportunity to speak to a larger audience to promote my idea. I am intent on making it happen.

And lastly, what is your vision for the future of Sudan? When imagining Sudan 2030 what do you see?

In 2030, I hope to see laws and regulation that are enforced  which respects human rights, and  ensures equal opportunities to all.  I hope by then it is a normal thing so that no one will  raise is as an  issue  no more.  After we build a foundation for understanding we will start building our future , by tackling more scientific and intellectual fields then.

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