Khartoum, Sudan – Abdirahman Moalim first came to the sit-in outside Sudan’s army headquarters in Khartoum to join thousands of his fellow countrymen in calling for Omar al-Bashir to step down as president.
But Moalim, a librarian by profession, saw he could do more.
“I saw most of the protesters were young. At the sit-in, they only had their phones and were reading from it. I then thought what if I bring them books so that they can read and protest at the same time,” Moalim, popularly known as Kabila, told Al Jazeera.
Kabila, who works at the Modern Kabo library in Khartoum, soon realised what books the protesters wanted to read.
“They mostly read books about politics and power. Almost no one reads fiction books,” the 35-year-old told Al Jazeera.
A librarian for more than 14 years, Kabila was surprised by the speed of change he is witnessing in his country. The protesters forced the military to remove al-Bashir as president on April 11.
“All my life I have only known one leader. A bad leader. From the books we read to our everyday life al-Bashir affected our lives in a bad way,” he added, as a group of young protesters sat nearby reading books.
Books about revolutions
Many books, especially those about the conflict in Darfur in the country’s west, and books about revolutions from across the world were hard, if not impossible, to find on the shelves of book stores in the Sudanese capital, according to Kabila.
“They were paranoid. They were scared of people finding out what is happening. They wanted to keep people in the dark,” he added as a large group of protesters chanted songs calling for the military to hand power over to a civilian authority.
|The open-air library has no shelves or stands with books spread in straight lines on the tarmac [Hamza Mohamed/Al Jazeera]|
The open-air library has no shelves or stands with books spread in straight lines on the tarmac. Protesters pick the book they fancy and read it while standing or walk over to the sand walk.
Others choose to squat. Arif Abdala just stumbled across the library a few hours ago and can’t get himself away from the books.
“It is my first time here and I like it a lot. So many good books to read. Many of them were not available before,” the 27-year-old primary school teacher told Al Jazeera.
“I don’t know how long I will be here. I have been here three hours now,” he added, reading former South African President Nelson Mandela‘s autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom.
Not all of the protesters who came to Kabila’s open-air library found it by accident while walking around the sit-in site.
Raising awareness through books
Rafaa Muhammad saw it on social media after some of her classmates shared photos of some of the books.
“I’m here with my friends and we can’t decide what books to read,” the 23-year-old university student said with a laugh.
“I will also share it on social media so that many young people know it and take advantage of it. It is really amazing,” she added.
Some protesters are buying the books and taking them home.
“I bought this book about the Darfur conflict. I have been looking for it for many years. I know Kabila from before so I told him ‘I was not leaving without the book’. I told him I need it for my home library,” Hassan Gasim told Al Jazeera.
“Books like this were extremely difficult to find before. We need them to understand our countries better. We have them now thanks Kabila,” he added.
To keep the protesters coming back and reading more books, Kabila changes the books on display every day.
The demand was so high that Kabila had to enlist two of his friends to volunteer for him.
“I like what he is doing. He is raising awareness and informing our people. That is why I came here to help him,” Alfadil Alkhidir, an electrical technician, said.
“Everyday after I finish work at 3pm I come here and help him until midnight,” he added.
For Kabila, raising awareness through books is what he always wanted to do.
“Our youth need to be informed and there is no better way than through books. I want to see change in our country and that can only happen if we are informed in a good way,” he said.
Follow Hamza Mohamed on Twitter: @Hamza_Africa
Demand was so high that Kabila had to enlist two of his friends to volunteer for him [Hamza Mohamed/Al Jazeera]