Eyes on Sudan

Nadia Awad

It is nine months since the outbreak of civil war in Sudan. Power struggles between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), led by General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (Hemedti), and the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) under Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the de facto head of state, erupted in open violence on 15 April 2023.

According to the United Nations’ Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, at least 13,000 people have died (a conservative estimate) and 7.5 million have been displaced. Islamic Relief aid workers say that many of those who have fled the latest fighting in central Sudan have walked for three or four days with barely any food or water, sleeping out in the open by the roadside or under trees. Eighty per cent of hospitals have been declared non-functional; thousands of cases of measles, malaria, cholera and dengue fever have been reported. Nineteen million children are out of school. Sexual violence is pervasive and, according to the Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa, part of a deliberate strategy by armed groups. As the conflict has expanded into agricultural regions, 42 per cent of the population is facing acute food insecurity.

Both parties to the conflict are armed by international actors: the SAF is supported by Egypt while the RSF (which has sent mercenaries to fight in Yemen on the Saudi payroll) has the backing of the United Arab Emirates. Last Sunday, protesters convened in front of the UAE Embassy in London, covering its golden plaque with the words: ‘UAE funds genocide.’

In April 2019, a peaceful revolution brought to an end the thirty-year dictatorship of Omar al-Bashir. The spirit of the movement was captured in a photograph taken by one protester, Lana Haroun, of another, 22-year-old Alaa Salah, standing above the smiling crowd in a white tobe, her finger raised in the air as she spoke to them. But the revolutionary momentum was disrupted on 3 June, when paramilitary forces attacked protesters outside the Defence Ministry in Khartoum, killing dozens.

Negotiations between military and civilian groups led to the establishment of a transitional government in August 2019, but tensions and power struggles persisted, and Burhan seized power in a coup in October 2021.

International attempts to bring an end to the current fighting have been tepid at best. The Intergovernmental Authority on Development, a regional bloc, convened a summit on 9 December, but it led nowhere. A week later, the RSF seized control of Wad Madani, the capital of Gezira state and Sudan’s second largest city, spurring another mass exodus. A coalition of political parties and other civilian organisations, known as the Civil Democratic Forces alliance or Taqaddum (which means ‘Progress’ in Arabic), is trying to bring the warring parties to the negotiating table, but without more international support it faces little chance of success.

The Sudanese diaspora shares information on social media, using hashtags such as #EyesonSudan, #LiberateSudan and #KeepeyesonSudan. But Sudanese journalists, who face intimidation, violence and kidnapping – Reporters without Borders reported last month that the headquarters of the General Authority for Radio and Television in Khartoum has been turned into a detention centre – also struggle to attract the attention of the world’s media.

The lack of coverage, solidarity and serious attention to the war in Sudan is undeniably a consequence of systemic racial biases. The challenges confronting African countries are often marginalised in the Global North as routine and unremarkable. This perception has direct implications for government policy. Reductions in British aid to Sudan may well have contributed to official failures to foresee the conflict.

The UK minister for Africa, Andrew Mitchell, has recognised that the RSF’s burning of at least 68 villages in Darfur exhibits ‘all the hallmarks of ethnic cleansing’. Hemedti’s RSF grew out of the Janjawiid militia, infamous for genocidal crimes under Bashir’s regime. Yet the British government has not increased its efforts to provide aid or curb the violence in Sudan. The Canadian government recently agreed to allow people fleeing the conflict in Sudan to join their relatives in Canada. A petition calling for a similar humanitarian refugee scheme in the UK was met with a blunt refusal. ‘The situation in Sudan is different to that of Ukraine,’ the government response said, though it didn’t elaborate on the differences.

Despite a shortage of aid workers and insufficient funding, volunteers continue to provide what help they can. There is little prospect of a long-term solution to the violence in Sudan without a unified effort from regional and international leaders.


  • 24 January 2024 at 7:50pm
    Peter Crook says:
    What adds to the shamefulness of the British government's failings in relation to the Sudanese is that Sudan was a British dominion until 1956. No such close historical ties exist between Ukraine and Britain; and since no official explanation is proffered to account for the disparity in our government's responses to the suffering of the Sudanese and the Ukrainians, we can only infer that racist sentiment continues to exert a pervasive influence on British foreign policy into the 21st century.

  • 26 January 2024 at 3:22am
    stettiner says:
    "For some of the countries bordering the Red Sea, Houthi missile strikes have far worse consequences (...) For crisis-stricken Sudan, the Red Sea is the sole point of entry for aid, almost none of which has reached the 24,8m people in need of it since the attacks began".
    The Economist