NOUMAAN ANWER | 17 JUNE, 2019
What’s Happening in Sudan?
An explainer on the crisis in Sudan
The central African nation of Sudan is in the midst of a political crisis, with security forces cracking down on civil liberties and brutally persecuting and attacking pro-democracy protesters in recent weeks.
The events have caught the world’s attention, with media and internet blackouts impacting information from flowing out of the country. As things currently stand, despite the efforts of protest and activist groups as well as the global media, a resolution to the crisis seems far from achievable. International awareness of the gross human and political rights of the Sudanese people remains significantly low. In light of these trends, The Citizen takes a look at the key developments and aspects of the crisis at hand.
Civil unrest in Sudan commenced in December 2018, when the government of Omar al-Bashir, the dictatorial ruler of the nation who has held power for the past three decades, imposed severe emergency austerity measures to combat an impending economic collapse. Fuel and bread subsidies were slashed, giving rise to peaceful civilian demonstrations in the Eastern part of the country. Eventually, the climate of dissatisfaction – especially with regards to living standards, spread to the nation’s capital, Khartoum.
The protestors then increased the scope of their demands, pushing for the ouster of President Bashir and his government, in favour of a democratic, transparent set up. The government responded by declaring a state of emergency in February 2019, a move that involved the dissolution of national and regional administrations, and their replacement with military and intelligence personnel. With such developments only intensifying civilian reservations about the President’s legitimacy to rule, April 6 signalled the pinnacle of the democratic movement. Protestors, gathering in colossal numbers outside the military headquarters in Khartoum, demanded that the army force the President out of office – a demand that was met five days later.
The ouster of al-Bashir was followed by the takeover of the seven-member Transitional Military Council (TMC), on April 11. The army, however, is an unstable, disunited body in Sudan, a fact made evident by the violence they have undertaken in their attempts to ensure order and security since their takeover. While the head of the TMC administration, Lt. General Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman Burhan did announce the handover of power to a civilian government following a transitional period, little has been done to affirm the truthfulness of this statement. In fact, plenty has occurred to confirm that the TMC’s sole incentive of occupying power is to establish yet another autocratic regime in Sudan.
Throughout May, reports of protestors relentlessly holding their ground - despite the fact that they were fasting in lieu of Ramadan, attracted international attention towards the genuine commitment of their efforts. Many demonstrators hailed from the war-torn Darfur region, and they spoke out on military hostilities and the problems with handing power over to an authority that had such close ties to the former regime.
Families of protestors killed during the demonstrations also spoke up against the arbitrary and inhumane violence characteristic of the military’s actions. None of these people could have foreseen what was about to happen next.
On June 3, Sudanese Security Forces, alongside Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and extremist Janjaweed militias cracked down on peaceful protests in Khartoum. Heavy gunfire echoes across the national capital, as the forces, led by Burhan and his deputies, moved into a protest camp that has served as the center of the pro-democracy demonstrations.
Various reports have confirmed that dozens of peaceful protestors were massacred during the ensuing crackdown, with approximately forty bodies thrown into the Nile. Countless others were tortured, imprisoned, and raped in the streets of Khartoum. Security forces were also accused of attacks on hospitals across the country. “Hospitals have been systematically attacked and medical staff have been brutally… savagely beaten in Sudan,” said Husam Elmugamar, a member of the UK-based Sudanese Doctors Union, at a press conference at the Royal College of Pathologists in London.
Sudanese security forces deployed around the military headquarters in Khartoum, June 3 / BBC
According to Andrew Anderson, the Executive Director of Front-Line Defenders, an international human rights organization, these actions are symbolic of a larger, more sinister motive that drives the TMC administration. “In reality, Hemeti (Deputy Commander of the RSF) and a few generals who are riding his tiger are seeking to brutally repress all opposition, with the aim of preserving a corrupt and kleptocratic regime. They are backed by Saudi Arabia and the UAE and they have no political project to resolve the economic crisis or meet the aspirations of the people,” he told The Citizen.
On the other side, the Sudan Professionals Association (SPA) has been the key coordinator of the protests. However, according to Anderson, this body does not claim to speak on behalf of the youth, who have been key. Therefore, while it does seem like the SPA still has the confidence of many, there are evident fissures in the protest leadership. Negotiations for a smoother transition of power to a democratic government have stalled on several occasions – not just because of the intentional halting of interaction by the demonstrators, following the 3rd June crackdown.
“The broader Forces of the Declaration of Freedom and Change includes some of the old political parties who are largely discredited but who are trying to manoeuvre for position. This is why there are some strange comments at times from some of them,” Anderson said.
All of this has led to the marginalization of concern for the larger population. “Many residents in Khartoum, and cities across the country are telling us that they are afraid for their lives, and they do not what is going to be happening in the coming days,” says Mohanad Hashim, a BBC journalist. “Many people are saying that they are a people living under occupation. They are calling it ‘The Reign of the Janjaweed’”. The civilian populace is clearly living in an environment of fear, where hundreds of cases of indiscriminate killing, rape, beating, and torture. And yet, the struggle against corruption, oppression, and massacre continues.
Social media has proven to be of major significance for both the spread of public information, and for the rallying of united resistance and support both within and outside Sudan. #IAmTheSudanRevolution has been trending on multiple platforms, and activists and citizens within the country have mobilized the hashtag to highlight the wide range of abhorrent actions carried out against them in the past few weeks.
This has happened despite the fact that almost all internet access in the country has been cut off. The people are yearning to get their voices heard, but are struggling to do so. However, alongside art, the social media effort has persevered in continuing to highlight the plight of the citizenry, and the atrocities carried out by the TMC.
Source: The Guardian
Much like many other intra-national conflicts, the Sudan crisis has also become a playground for leading regional and international powers to attempt to exert their influence. China and Russia’s blocking of the United Nations Security Council’s bid to condemn the killing of civilians in Sudan has rendered the organization characteristically inactive, despite the mounting pressures from other nations to call for an immediate halt to the violence.
However, it would be wrong to assume that the reactions of the likes of the United States and the United Kingdom have conveyed adequate concern. “…While US and UK diplomats in Khartoum have been quick to condemn the attack on social media, the Sudanese people are countering these with pictures of these officials meeting with the alleged architect of the June 3 massacre,” wrote Nanjala Nyabola for Al Jazeera.
The regimes of both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, both benefactors of top TMC officials, have taken what can an best be called neutral stands on the recent escalations. Both Lt. Gen. Burhan, and Hemeti are said to have close financial ties with the Saudis and Emiratis. Their refusal to openly condemn the violence is therefore unsurprising, and that they choose instead only to ask for ‘increased dialogue’ between the warring parties, represents their underlying apathy, and means that a deep void is left in terms of regional leadership against the violence.
The African Union (AU) has attempted to do its bit, suspending Sudan from its ranks on 6th June – a powerful statement. Yet, the impact of the gesture is questionable as the TMC leadership has shown more interest in courting Middle Eastern financiers, than in speaking to diplomats of neighbouring countries at meetings of the AU. International attention has therefore, been too weak, scattered, and selfishly motivated to make a difference.
A demonstrator stands in front of a row of burning tyres, one of the major forms of roadblock used by pro-democracy protestors / BBC
A civil disobedience movement commenced in Sudan on June 9, and several people have been killed in the security forces’ suppression of these demonstrations. Roads across the country were closed by protesters, and citizens were encouraged to boycott their work, while hospitals and markets have been closed. While the opposition coalition has since agreed to suspend the campaign in exchange for concessions from the military, the situation remains bleak, with the media and internet blackout continuing to stifle the raising of oppressed voices. Stronger actions and statements from the international community are required, both through diplomatic pressure on, and on-ground action in Sudan.
The struggle for democracy and human rights continues within Sudan, but until the world is more willing to listen to, and lend a hand to Sudan’s voices of protest, fear, violence, and uncertainty remain the order of the day for the people of the nation.