A comic based in Switzerland has become a YouTube star in his home country of Sudan by satirising a fictional government official living a life of luxury in the distant Alpine nation.
"Some people have fully believed that I am a minister, despite all attempts to confirm the nature of these videos and the purpose behind them," said Djidou Sharif Taher, comic and creator of the fake government official “His Excellency” Minister Jadeen.
The clips have resonated across political divides in Sudan amid street protests and a military coup that toppled the country’s longtime leader Omar al-Bashir last month.
Speaking to swissinfo.ch, the comic said his videos helped make the issues of corruption and discrimination accessible, and funny, to a younger generation of Sudanese.
"There are politicians who have opposed the regime for years and have not been able to reach young people through speeches," Taher said. "But the character of the corrupt minister has been accepted and followed up."
One such videoexternal link, in which Minister Jadeen normalized relations with Israel on behalf of the government in Khartoum, led to local media reportsexternal link clarifying that the minister was, in fact, fake. Taher was chastised for inaccurately describing the fictitious meeting as "historic" and for the "non-professional manner" in which he produced the video.
Accusations that Taher was financed by foreign agents further increased his popularity among younger Sudanese.
Taher is originally from Darfur. He abandoned his primary school education at a young age to escape recruitment into a Jihadist militia as a child soldier. He ended up in Switzerland in 2003, where he was eventually granted refugee status.
He is now based near Zurich, in the city of Winterthur, where he joined Switzerland’s leftwing Green Party. Taher now runs a car rental company, which gives him access to the luxury cars he uses in his satirical videos.
A Facebook pageexternal link he set up in late 2017 on behalf of the Minister Jadeen has since gained almost 80,000 followers. Some of his videos have gained millions of views on Facebook.
They address racial and political taboos. For example, in one clipexternal link, Jadeen visits the United States and kisses the American flag. In anotherexternal link, a Lebanese co-star Sarah Halawi (also a Swiss resident) emphatically rejects his marriage proposal because of his skin colour.
"Instead of giving speeches, I chose to represent and create videos that mimic reality and reveal it," Taher said. "Social networking sites have become the fourth estate and an alternative media and have given voice to young people outside of official channels.”
For Taher, the process of political transformation in Sudan is "still in its infancy”. But for now, satire helps.
“It is a kind of modern opposition."
(adapted from an Arabic version by Patrick Boehler)