A few days earlier, social media was abuzz with how Sudan has not been getting a fair media coverage. Although some of the media outlets are working hard to let the world know what is happening in this African country, yet it needs to reach more and more people.
I was personally keeping a tab on the uprisings on Twitter, after Alaa Salah, popularly known as “Sudan’s Lady Liberty” became a well known image. Alaa is a 22-year-old engineering student who gained attention worldwide when her picture, taken by another woman named Lana Haroun, went viral in April 2019. She came to be dubbed online as “Kandaka” or “Nubian Queen” after an image of her wearing a white thoub and golden disk-shaped earrings standing on the roof of a car, speaking to and singing with other women around her, during a sit-in near the army headquarters and the presidential palace, went viral.
She has now become a symbol of the Sudan protests. Her singing of “Thawra” which means “revolution” in Arabic has encouraged many people to take to the streets! Listening to “Thawra”, one will get the feeling of listening to the Arabic version of the song “Azadi”, which has been doing rounds of the internet post 2016, after the 9th February JNU incident. The song “Azadi“ has now become widely popular after it hit the chartbusters in Zoya Akhtar’s “Gully Boy“.
Most people came to know about Sudan only after the unfortunate Khartoum massacre which took place on the 3rd of June, but there have been protests going on since December 2018, and President Al Bashir, founder of the National Congress Party, had to step down from his 30-year rule after he was ousted in a military coup on April 11, 2019. But given the censorship of media and press, not many stories have been covered.
I tried reaching out to one of my batchmates from Sudan with whom I had attended classes on social research methods during my masters. We just exchanged pleasantries while we were at college, but never really interacted. So I tried doing a short interview with him over email—so that we all could get an idea of what exactly is happening in his home country.
His name is Drar Adam and he is a Civil Society and Human Rights Activist since 2006. He is presently working as the Secretary General of a local NGO named ‘Face for Future Foundation’ and has been planning, organizing and conducting workshops and capacity building sessions on human rights for various national activists, as well as conducting researches and producing reports on various human rights violations, and abuses of rights of vulnerable civilians.
I tried reaching out to him, because there are so many students who come to India every year from Africa with the hope for a better future, and giving it back to the society, and contributing towards nation-building. Drar did his masters in Sustainable Development Practice from The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI SAS), New Delhi.
Here is the short interview:
Zeba Ahsan (ZA): Where do you reside in Sudan?
Drar Adam (DA): I am from the Darfur region of Sudan, and Nyala is my hometown.
ZA: What prompted you to take up higher studies in New Delhi, India?
DA: My country Sudan has been at different stages of war and conflicts for more than five decades now, and this has resulted in great devastation and loss of human life and property. The aftereffects of war need to be publicly addressed, and hence I sought to obtain a masters degree in Sustainable Development Practice to acquire new knowledge and ways of problem solving, risk reduction and conflict management from India—a country which serves as a role model for many of us back home.
ZA: Can you tell me how the conditions in Sudan were when you were studying for your Masters course in New Delhi a couple of years earlier and what are the conditions now?
DA: Since the ousted President Al Bashir seized power in 1989 through a military coup backed by the Muslim brotherhood, the conditions kept worsening in almost every aspect of life, be it social, economic or political. Over the years, these conditions resulted in gross human rights violations against political opponents, ethnic and religious minority groups, and mass murdering of unarmed civilians in war-affected areas of Darfur, Blue Nile and the areas around the Nuba Mountains. There has also been unlawful detention of human rights defenders, civil society activists, journalists and regime critics along with extra-judicial killings, mass rape and media censorship.
On the economic front there is high inflation and high rates of unemployment among the youth. Majority of the Sudanese population lives below the poverty line and do not have access to clean drinking water, proper sanitation, primary healthcare services as well as adequate housing. The conditions have only worsened for many years now and people are getting angry and frustrated.
ZA: Can you tell me more about the nature of the economy in Sudan?
DA: Like other developing countries in Africa and elsewhere, Sudan’s economy could be described as a dual economy which relies heavily on agriculture (rain-fed mechanized agriculture, irrigated mechanized agriculture), which is mostly concentrated along the river Nile in central and Eastern parts of Sudan as well as small scale subsistence farming. There is small scale industrialization, too, which mostly uses raw material produced and supplied by the agricultural sector.
In late 20th century, oil was first extracted in South and western parts of Sudan. Since then, the economy is heavily dependent on the revenue generated from oil exports. Oil makes up around 80% of Sudan’s GDP.
After the separation of South Sudan in 2011, where 75% of oil fields existed, Sudan’s economy has suffered tremendously and has faced scarcity of cash in banks, high inflation rates and shortage of essential commodities such as food items like bread, wheat, milk, etc.
ZA: What is the reason for the ongoing revolt? Why has it been termed as the people’s revolution?
DA: To be honest, one can’t say there’s only a single reason, there are multiple reasons which have resulted in the ongoing revolt in Sudan. Here’s a quick history:
The revolts have erupted in the periphery of Sudan in the form of armed resistance. In the Darfur region of Sudan, revolts have happened in 2003 when two armed groups: “justice and equality movement” and “Sudan liberation movement/Army” rebelled against the central government, calling for the restructuring of Sudan on a new basis and finding solutions for a new social contract—mainly for equal sharing of power and wealth.
After South Sudan gained independence in 2011, the war broke out in areas surrounding the Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains between the government and the Sudan liberation movement, but their demands were not addressed.
In response, Bashir’s central government sought to adopt military solutions to handle those demands. The government has allocated about 70% of its annual budget for security purposes and neglected vital sectors like health, education and other livelihood development schemes across Sudan. This has led to the present political as well as economic crisis.
The worsening economic hardships, deteriorating living conditions, noticeably with the shortage of fuel and increase in the price of bread have initiated the protests across the country causing the president to step down. All people want is peace and basic freedom to make choices. The peaceful demonstration, erupted in mid-December 2018 in Damazin city, in the state of Blue Nile, subsequently spread to the other cities across Sudan, including the capital city of Khartoum. The peaceful demonstrations are still continuing in Sudan and are in its fifth month now. These protests have also helped in the stepping down of President Al Bashir in April 2019 and people are becoming more and more determined now.
ZA: Does it have any role to play with the Arab Spring revolt?
DA: No, the ongoing Sudanese revolution has nothing to do with the Arab Spring, because the current revolution is not the first of its kind in the political history of Sudan. Sudanese have earlier toppled two other dictators, General Ibrahim Aboud and Field Marshal Gaffer Mohammed Niemiri, in October 1964 and April 1985 respectively. Therefore in my view, the people of Sudan are the pioneers in Africa and the Arab world when it comes to resisting dictatorship, but again, all people want is a peaceful life and development for all.
ZA: What has been the role of women in this protest? What do you think of Alaa Salah, popularly known as “Sudan’s lady liberty”?
DA: Women in Sudan are the first among many women in Africa to practice politics; they have represented in joint parliament sessions and participated in trade unions. Women work side by side with men. In fact in Darfur, women work more than men, some of them have participated in revolutionary movements (armed movements) and have fought it out in the battlefield as well. History tells us about women who held high positions in the ancient Sudanese kingdoms such as Amani who ruled during the Nubian civilization before the Common Era. The women were very well involved in this revolution, while the security apparatus was targeting men; the scene was full of women from all walks of life.
It’s true that Alaa has become the symbol of the revolution and has been rightly called “Sudan’s Lady Liberty”, but there have been many other women from the past who have held positions of power and have come forward and voiced their demands. I just feel Alaa got a little too lucky!
ZA: Can you tell me more about the Khartoum massacre?
DA: The massacre at the SAF HQ in Khartoum was very tragic. The Transitional Military Council (TMC) does not want to hand over power to the civilian-led body. The attack took place on June 3, 2019, on the twenty-ninth day of Ramadan when the protesters were preparing to celebrate Eid-ul-Fitr, after a difficult fasting period with the temperature rising up to 45 °C. TMC disbanded a number of armed forces, including the rapid support forces and the old regime battalions which also participated in this crime against humanity. The head of the transitional council Al-Alfatah al-Burhan and his deputy chief Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, have committed heinous crimes in Darfur, and the former was a sponsor of the rapid support forces.
The number of people killed so far has not been established. The fact is that the victims are in hundreds. The bodies have been attached with weights and dumped into the Nile River so that they don’t float on the surface of the river. This is why the Military Council had cut-off the internet services and confiscated the license of the Al Jazeera network, so that the news doesn’t reach the world. They tried concealing this horrific crime, but it did reach the other side of Sudan and as you can see, people are tweeting about it and sharing images across the web. Most of the people got to know of the massacre only on the 12th of June. The official number of how many people died hasn’t been released yet, but sources say almost all of them died due to gun shots and the number is still being counted.
ZA: Do you feel democracy is the way forward to meet people’s expectations?
DA: Sudan gained its independence from the British colonial rule in 1956. It’s been 63 years now since independence, but military dictators have ruled us for almost 52 years, and the results are in front of the world: unpredictable wars, political oppression, economic depression, gross human rights violations, corruption, political unrest, among a pool of other hardships in our daily lives. Thus, I feel democracy is the only way to push forward. Also, if you look at other African nations who have experienced similar situations like us and later chose democracy as rule of the law and a medium of good governance, are now flourishing politically, economically and socially.
ZA: Since the conditions in Sudan are not getting adequate attention, are you satisfied with the coverage done by international media? What message do you want to convey to the world and what do you expect from India?
DA: I cannot say whether we are fully satisfied with the coverage done by international media or not, but they have helped the people of Sudan in many ways. They are trying to divert the attention of the world towards what’s happening in my home country and I guess these efforts count, no matter how small. But yes, we do need more coverage as most of the population now is reeling under a humanitarian crisis. Without the efforts of international media and the news that circulates via social media platforms, no one would have gotten to know about the Khartoum massacre.
I would also like to request the international media bodies to extend their coverage to remote areas of Sudan like Darfur, Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile where there are gross human rights violations happening on an everyday basis at the hands of Rapid Support Forces, led by warlords and the deputy president of Sudan’s Transitional Military Council, Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, also known by the nickname “Hemeti”.
As I have stayed and studied in India for two years, I want more and more Indians to know and speak up about what’s happening in Sudan. Above all, we need people from all over the world to stand in solidarity with us and help us achieve our goals in attaining peace, justice for all, freedom to make informed choices and above all, a way forward to implementing democracy!