The Cognizant Citizen: The Sudan Uprising

 

The Republic of Sudan is a small country situated in Northeast Africa backed up by colossal oil production and agriculture. The country—hiding behind the ‘high’ GDP and growth—is facing one of the biggest and escalating humanitarian crisis. Under the rule of President Omar al-Bashir, the people suffered from rising prices of essential commodities, and the majority of citizens were below the poverty line. These problems, along with the crimes against the minority groups, drove the people to the streets in December of 2018. The rising protests led to the disposal of the president, but the former regime was overpowered by complete military control. The nation has fallen into a turmoil that threatens to destroy what the people have achieved and descend the country into violent dissension.

Political History

The Republic of Sudan was formed in 1956 when it unanimously declared independence from the British rule. In February 1953, the United Kingdom and Egypt came to an agreement, providing Sudan with self-governance. However, since its independence, Sudan has been plagued by internal conflicts— the two civil wars, the secession of South Sudan, and the war of Darfur.

The National Unionist Party, led by Ismail al-Azhari, dominated the first cabinet and was quickly overthrown by the coalition of conservative parties. But the civilian government didn’t last long, as Chief of Staff Major General Ibrahim Abboud overthrew the political regime in a bloodless coup d’etat. The country went through a series of administrations and a civil war before another coup d’etat, led by Omar al-Bashir, who declared himself as the President of Sudan. He went on to rule for 30 more years until the civilian protests worsened, and the military removed him from power in yet another coup d’etat.

The nation has faced years of famine and political manoeuvring, which has stunted the development of the citizens and increased the cost of living.

The War of Darfur

One of the most recent cases of brutal crimes towards minorities was in the region of Darfur. It is a major armed conflict that began in February 2003 when the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) launched an insurrection and accused the government of oppressing the non-Arab minority groups in Darfur. The government responded violently by carrying out ethnic cleansing against the non-Arabs. The operation, led by the Arab-militia Janjaweed, left thousands of people dead and millions displaced. They also terrorised the civilians and prevented foreign aid from entering the region. The mass genocide of the minorities was brought up by the United Nations Security Council in July 2007. They authorised a joint UN-AU peacekeeping mission to replace the African Union (AU). In July 2008, the International Criminal Court (ICC) accused Bashir of the crisis in Darfur, but the government claimed that he was innocent. As of now, the current situation of Darfur does not provide much optimism. Between the weak international response and the internal fights among groups, the turmoil continues with no sign of stopping.

Seven years ago in the University of Khartoum, Professor Mohamed Yousif Ahmed al-Mustafa proposed the notion to unite various trade unions into one. It was a display of the classic argument of “We are stronger when we are together”. The initial set of efforts took place in 2012 with the doctor’s syndicate and the teacher’s committee. Due to the oppression of the government and its ban of a trade union – the attempts were in vain. The scenario was repeated in 2014 without much change in the result.

On October 2016, three major organisations – Central committee of Doctors, Journalist Network and the Lawyer’s Association joined hands to form the largest professional group. The Sudanese Professional Association was born. Their initial goal was to reinforce their rights and fight for better working conditions

Sudan Professionals Association

On 19 December 2018, people in Atbara took to the streets in response to the increase in the price of bread.  The SPA decided to get involved in raising their demands – an increase in the minimum wage. Gradually the protests grew longer and spread over Sudan. From a wage increase, the demands grew more prominent and louder. The protestors soon joined hands with SPA in a bid to overthrow Omar Bashi’s rule.

“This revolution is a result of an accumulation of historical injustices suffered by different communities, people were ready to take to the streets, but they wanted leadership and the association came at the right time with the right message.”

                                                          -Amjed Farid

People from all walks of life were quick to team up with SPA. To them, the association reflected a part of everyone. Unlike political organisations, people believed that they don’t have any ulterior motives. They became the voice of Sudan. Demands for a civilian ruling body started echoing across the country.

By the end of December, the country went into lockdown, with no access to social media and curfews were implemented. About the same time, the government arrested few students from Darfur and tortured them for false confessions. It was to propagate the idea of this being motivated by race.

On February, Bashir declared an emergency and made the military as the centre of power.

For the next few months, media was under the watch of government officials. Students and other professionals were targeted. The Nile turned red with the blood of innocents.

After nearly two months, on April 6th – people reached their breakpoint. The SPA’s call for demonstrations made thousands of Sudanese to take to the streets. They flocked toward the headquarters with a bid to remove Bashir from his power. As with the case of all peaceful protests, the security forces violently intervened killing dozens. Five days and innumerable deaths later – Al Bashir was forced to step out and was arrested by the military.

 

Transitional Council

It was indeed a joyous occasion to the people of Sudan – but it was short-lived. Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan was one of the few generals who supported the protestors. The country was ecstatic upon his initiation as the head of the Transitional Military Council. The protestors and the military agreed to negotiate. Political prisoners were released, and curfews were lifted. But still, they couldn’t agree. On April 18th, the protestors publicly announced a deadline of 2 days to form a civilian government. Their cries went unheeded. Soon after, they called off the negotiations with the military.  This resulted in further more unrest in the country.

Military Rule and Janjaweed

Like from the frying pan into the fire, Sudan went from Bashir’s tyranny to the hands of the military. For now, their fate rests upon Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagalo. He is the interim vice president and also a former commander of the notorious Janjaweed. The term translates to “a man with a gun on the horse”. From a smaller group, they have now grown to become a military funded terror group. Dagalo is the mastermind behind the latest activities of Janjaweed. Under his wing, they took on a new identity – Rapid Security Forces. They move from place to place terrorising the protestors, publicly humiliating them and raping women. Subduing protestors with violence have long been used by the oppressors. Witness accounts from Sudan are heartbreaking to read as people describe the RSF’s barbarity. But not everyone in the military sided with the RSF. Those who supported the demonstrators had their weapons taken away.

“It’s all about degradation, humiliation and beating of the spirit. This is part of what they did in Darfur – they did it as a means, a weapon of war.

           “Now, it is a weapon to kill the revolution.”            

                                      —Sulaima Ishaq Sharif (Mental health worker)

On June 3rd, people gathered in Khartoum for a sit-in demonstration. It soon took a violent turn, as the armed forces barged onto the protestors. More than 100 were killed and raped by the military.

This event eventually led to the proclamation of civil disobedience. SPA has called for a political strike. From retail markets to legal services, everything is shut down till date.

Timeline of the 2018-19 Sudanese protests

Foreign Intervention:

1. European Union (EU)

The crisis in the nation led to a lot of citizens migrate to other countries, with European nations being the top priority. The central part of the EU’s current migration policy is to pressure governments in Africa and the Middle East to cease onward migration in exchange for aid. This essentially means that the EU provided financial assistance to African countries for the people, to reduce the movement to their countries. This was done through the Khartoum process to address the “challenges posed by the mixed migratory flows of irregular migrants, refugees and asylum seekers between countries of origin, transit and destination between the Horn of Africa and Europe,” through “a spirit of partnership, shared responsibility and cooperation”. However, the borders are controlled by the RSF, which disrupts the flow of money to the people, and ends up in the officials’ pockets.

The EU also encouraged the refugees to return to their “home” country. This also poses a problem, as the government has been arresting and deporting citizens for “illegal entry” into Sudan. The policies and help given with the purpose of self-interest make the EU an unlikely partner to the Sudanese public.

2.Saudi Arabia and the UAE

Saudi Arabia and the UAE have quite stable and friendly relations with Sudan, despite its internal instabilities. General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo—the deputy head of the military council of Sudan went to meet the Saudi prince and pledged its support to send its troops to Yemen.   

              “Sudan is standing with the kingdom against all threats and attacks from Iran and Houthi militias,”   

                                               — Dagalo “Hemeti”

 

Saudi Arabia has close ties with the military council and continues to provide support to it. The UAE and Egypt also have given their complete support to the military government, and believe the government will maintain security and stability in Sudan.

However, the relations have faced criticism from various organisations and the public, as they believe that the Arab countries are supporting the military rule.    

3. USA

The US has remained reasonably restrained about the crisis in Sudan. On 23 January, the United States announced its concern over the arrests and detentions, calling for the Sudanese government to release journalists, activists, and peaceful protesters arbitrarily detained during the protests. It also called for  ‘independent and credible’ investigation into the crisis.

ECONOMIC IMPACT

Sudan’s economy boomed due to the high prices of oil and large inflows of foreign direct investment. The government also worked with the IMF to execute macroeconomic policies, including the stability of the exchange rate. However, Sudan’s economic freedom score is a mere 47.7, with lower scores for trade freedom and financial conditions. Its overall rating is well below the regional and global averages.

The decades of political instability and civil wars in the country have decreased investor confidence. With the rising inflation, this further undermined the investors’ trust and led to a reduction in private demand and hence, growth. The economic mismanagement by the ruling power has led to inflation, food and water shortages, and an overall financial crisis. The petroleum sector provides some economic stability, but the other industries face structural issues. Moreover, the secession of South Sudan has led to Sudan losing two-thirds of its oil revenue. More than half of the people are below the poverty line and depend on subsistence agriculture.

Women’s Rights

Alaa Salah, stands on top of a car, dressed in a traditional white thobe, with her right arm raised while the crowd chants ‘Thawra’ (revolution). This iconic picture has since become synonymous with the Sudan Revolution. Women have been protesting for their rights since time immemorial. Under the fundamentalist rule of Bahir, women were the most affected. They were allowed to work without a male’s permission or wear their choice of clothes. When the call for protests was announced – women took to the streets in hundreds. The sexist chants during the initial stage – calling Bashir a woman to portray him as a coward soon subsided. Women have been leading protests, facing the military with stubborn determination despite death and rape threats. Unlike any other revolutions across the world, it’s the older women who were the leading the frontline.

“I clearly remember my childhood was taken away. We were young, but we dressed freely as teenagers and pre-teens. Suddenly, everything changed: The way we dress changed, our school uniforms changed. For my generation, it was a strange experience, we had a taste of freedom, and then it suddenly transformed. We became sexualised objects, and our bodies became a battleground for those in power.”

–  Dalia El Roubi (Activist)

Artwork by Ashirwad Ray

Media Impact

The Government shut down the internet services at the beginning to suppress the protests. But soon people found a way through it in the form of VPNs. Due to the imposition on the internet, the duty now fell on the shoulders of print media. The call for protests was circulated through newspapers despite official warnings. As a result, journalists were arrested on the terms of spreading ‘fake news’. Despite several hurdles, activists are continually sharing videos of protests with the rest of the world in a bid to raise awareness.  The hashtags #SudanMasscare and #IamtheSudanRevolution have been used extensively to show solidarity.

People have also been sharing personal stories of the victims in their social handles.

#BlueForSudan

26-year-old Mohammed Hasim Mattar was a one among the crowd at Khartoum. He succumbed to the injuries he sustained while trying to shield two women. In his honour, his friends and family changed their profile picture to a shade of dark blue- Mattar’s favourite. This soon became a social media wave with people associating it with the revolution in Sudan. People all over the world were being encouraged to change their display to the colour blue. This is seen as a way to stand in solidarity with Sudan. Over the course of a few days, social media was painted blue. While this is an excellent way to spread awareness – many have taken advantage of this dire situation. Pages like “Meals for Sudan project” have popped all over the internet with a claim of providing food parcels for every repost and share. Even though others repost such pages out of the good of their heart – it is advisable to stay away from such fake profiles.

 

#BlueForSudan

 

Protests have become a way of living in Sudan. From old-timers to the young children – everyone’s life had taken a drastic turn. There is never a single answer as to how a revolution will affect the country’s future. It’s a play of chance between political, economic, and social factors. With the economy of Sudan in shambles – it’s the social determination that keeps them moving.

“The bullet doesn’t kill. What kills is the silence of people.”

Every day they lose their kin to fire. Every day they get lynched and tortured. Every day they get their body broken but not their will. Years of despotism has made them stronger than ever. Sudan will not rest until its demands are heard.

 

Written by Alankriti Singh and Aneesha Muthuraj for MTTN

Featured Image by Sayantan Karmakar

Artwork by Ashirwad Ray

Graphics by Yashovardhan Parekh

Sources: BBC, Al Jazeera, Economic Times

Image credits: Google Images

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