CW: genocide, murder, rape, torture
Sudan is burning. Literally.
Government offices have been set on fire. Areas in Darfur have been burning for quite some time, though Western media no longer reports on it. The killings in Darfur that proved to be the initial acts of a campaign of genocide took place in 2003. Since then 480,000 have been killed by President Bashir’s forces, which include his ‘Janjaweed’ militia, with a further 2.8 million being displaced.
Again, as they have done for years now, the Sudanese public are fighting a dangerous, brave fight for their rights, in a country which nobody outside of Sudan seems to really care about. This time however, news corporations are starting to pay attention. The tail end of December saw the spontaneous birth of a social movement in Sudan which swept across the country in the form of large scale protests. During a protest in the city of Atbara, protesters set fire to the National Conference Party headquarters. The next day protests took place in several other cities.
Predictably, given Bashir’s approach to dissent, some protesters were gunned down. On the first of January, AlJazeera reported that at least 19 protesters had been killed, noting that human rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch put the number at 37. My Sudanese friend and human rights activist, whom I will simply refer to as Saif for his own safety, believes that the human rights organizations are most accurate.
The Sudanese people marching on the streets to demand their rights are taking their lives in their hands – Bashir’s forces are firing at them with both tear gas and live ammunition. They need our support.
These are not the only protests in recent history to have challenged the Sudanese government. They are certainly not the only protests in recent history that have resulted in the death of unarmed protesters.
Saif tells me that “throughout the history of Sudan, students have been the first line of defence against dictatorship.”
Nearly three years ago, Saif sent me a photo of a dead Sudanese student. A bullet hole was clearly visible in his chest. Accompanying the picture was a short description of what had happened, and Saif’s comment: “we are consumed by tragedies”.
Mohamed al Sadiq Wayo was a twenty year old student in the faculty of arts at Omderman Ahlia University. Shortly before the picture was taken, he had been participating in a political forum. Government forces stormed the premises, attacking the students with iron batons and forcing them out of the university building through the main gates. Once the students were the other side of the street, government forces fired at them… killing Mohamed.
There are currently two active international arrest warrants issued for [Bashir], as he is charged by the International Criminal Court with no fewer than five counts of crimes against humanity, two counts of war crimes, and three counts of genocide.
The battle for basic human rights and dignity is by no means new to the Sudanese people; it is simply not deemed important enough by the Western media to share with the world. Saif tells me that “throughout the history of Sudan, students have been the first line of defence against dictatorship.” Sudan remained largely quiet throughout the Arab Spring, or at least the struggle that was waged by students for years before, continued to be waged throughout 2011 as well as afterwards: this was a largely overlooked group of people resisting Bashir’s dictatorship, fighting back and calling for democracy and freedom of expression with little to no international assistance.
The current political establishment in Sudan is so far-fetched it reads like satire. Bashir took power in 1989 through a military coup, and has violently quashed grassroots attempts at calling for democracy ever since. There are currently two active international arrest warrants issued for him, as he is charged by the International Criminal Court with no fewer than five counts of crimes against humanity, two counts of war crimes, and three counts of genocide. These charges all concern Bashir’s campaign of slaughter and terror in Darfur, enacted through his Janjaweed militia. The same militia, which is now known as the ‘Rapid Support Forces’ and is deployed to assist Bashir in preventing migrants from crossing the Sudanese border and heading towards Europe. The EU has so far paid Bashir over U.S$200 million for his services in preventing migrants and refugees from reaching the coast of Africa.
This is such a horrific, surreal and completely unjustifiable state of affairs, I’m going to reiterate it one more time:
The EU (with the full blessing of the UK) has given President Bashir – an unelected, tyrannical war criminal who has warrants out for his arrest as the result of his murder of 480,000 people in Darfur alone – over $200 million dollars since 2015. Bashir has ordered the execution, rape, torture, beating and forced homelessness of hundreds of thousands of people and our fucking governments are rewarding him royally for it. How the hell can we look our fellow humans in the eye and tell them we support their fight for human rights and justice when we are permitting our governments to brutally fund their oppression and humiliation?
The recent wave of popular protests was triggered by the rise in price of fuel and bread. Economic mismanagement, corruption and nepotism mean that Bashir and his cronies own or control the largest national businesses and revenue streams, living lavish lifestyles with apparent impunity, while 46.5% of the population lives in poverty. In a country where 5.5 million experience food insecurity and are at risk of starvation, and around 32% of children are chronically malnourished, it is vital that the government cares about and serves its people. In Sudan, nothing could be further from the reality. The price of bread has recently tripled, the Sudanese pound has devalued drastically and inflation has risen dramatically. People are desperate.
Bashir makes it impossible for all but loyalist charities to operate in the country effectively. With 3.2 million displaced people living in Sudan, there is a dire need for food, medication, and shelter. Journalists cannot write freely for fear of being tortured, executed or abducted. Civil society is strictly regulated. So this rising up of people demanding that Bashir step down, that democracy be established, that they be able to live on their wages (rather than struggle to feed their families while the wealthy elites destroy the fabric of society and squander public funds) is the last chance for the country, the last chance for its people.
As Saif points out, elections under Bashir won’t work: the government will simply manipulate the results. In Port Sudan, in an act reminiscent of the Arab Spring, protesters were calling for the overthrow of the regime.
Pandora has opened the box. The justified anger of the Sudanese deserves recognition around the globe. The Sudanese people deserve our solidarity and our support. The very least we can do is demand that the EU stop funding dictators simply because they do the EU’s dirty work. The right to claim asylum in a safe country is enshrined in international law, as are the freedoms and rights that the Sudanese have been struggling to obtain for so long, while the world has simply yawned and focused on other things.
A few years ago, Saif said the following to me:
“Our stories are not sexy, and by that I mean they are not appealing to the international media or audience. We are not ‘exotic’ enough… we fit the stereotype of an African country: poverty, inter-communal conflicts, kakistocratic government, and so many complex issues that no one has time to unpack them or the inclination to do so. And for that, we are not making it to the headlines most of the time, thus we circulate our miseries amongst ourselves, the Sudanese. We are consumed by tragedies; we enjoy interval moments of peace until the next blow. We have some uplifting stories from time to time, but they too go unnoticed.”
The message of the Sudanese protesters is a simple one. A violent, nepotistictyrant should not be in a position of power – “people are more valuable than money”. In pursuit of this goal the Sudanese people are uniting: professionals, non-professionals, students and those from all walks of life are risking their physical safety in order to affect change. Doctors, lawyers and journalists are striking to protest Bashir’s repressive policies. Opposition groups have formed a coalition in order to challenge Bashir’s regime of tyranny and economic mismanagement. They are calling for Bashir to step down, and for the establishment of a transitional government to pave the way for elections. We should be doing everything we can to stand with the Sudanese as they try to rework their society for the good of the many rather than the elite few. When they succeed, there will be much we can learn from them.
Sarah has started a petition to cease EU funding of President Bashir and his Rapid Support Forces, which readers can sign here.
Featured image credit: author’s own.
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