Explainer — What Is The Crisis In Sudan; How Can You Help?

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Northeastern African nation Sudan has once again fallen into crisis. Months of political protests in and around the capital city of Khartoum have turned violent this week, gaining the attention of the world. Reports of military violence against protesters, women being raped, and more wartime atrocities have leaked, despite the fact that the military cut off internet access in an attempt to quash the information.

In fact, the world now has its eyes on Sudan. So what is happening in the country right now, and what can you do to help? We break it down.

What is happening in Sudan?

This latest crisis began in December 2018, when the government raised prices on everyday necessities, like bread and fuel. Specifically: bread prices tripled in Atbara, a city in the eastern reaches of Sudan, and thousands of people took to the streets in anger. The protest quickly grew and spread to other cities, including Khartoum, the capital, and became about much more than food prices, transforming into country-wide protests of Omar al-Bashir’s 30-year dictatorship, during which the government has committed numerous human rights violations.

These violations most infamously include the genocide in the Darfur region of the country, which started in 2003 when two rebels groups rose up against the ethnically Arab Bashir government, claiming that the government was oppressing the people in southern Sudan (largely non-ethnically-Arab Muslims and Christians). In response, the Bashir government went scorched earth, bombing villages and arming Arab Muslim paramilitary groups, including the janjaweed militia, thus starting a proxy war that would lead to the death of approximately 400,000 people.

According to many including the Human Rights Watch, the South Sudan conflict is still ongoing, despite the 2005 agreement to end the civil war at the heart of the genocide. Though American media covered the genocide heavily in the early 2000s, coverage by and large dried up, particularly after South Sudan officially became a country in 2011 as part of the 2005 agreement. But the Bashir regime has reportedly continued to harass and intimidate protesters and even blocked U.N. peacekeepers from reaching the approximately 2 million individuals who were displaced as a result of the conflict.

The government has also been behind continued bombing in the southern reaches of Sudan, numerous arrests of political activists, intimidation tactics, and violent break-ups of peaceful protests as recently as January 2018.

Fast forward to the current protests: Despite several dozen deaths in the initial December actions, protesters said they wouldn’t stop until Bashir’s government was gone and they were able to democratically elect their own leadership. One protest leader told The Guardian, “I don’t think the authorities will [be able to] control the huge number of disgruntled demonstrators. We are committed to peace.”

And in April 2019, it seemed that months of peaceful action had paid off: a collective of military officials finally removed Bashir from office after protesters gathered in front of the military headquarters to demand the military force him out.

Bashir is gone, so what’s the problem?

When the military removed Bashir from power, that was just step one. In Bashir’s stead, a body called the Transitional Military Council, led by Lieutenant-General Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman Burhan, took over. When the TMC took over, they promised to work with experts and protesters in order to ensure a smooth transition of power to the future democratic government.

But according to Al Jazeera, the TMC’s promises were just words. Eric Reeves, a researcher on Sudan based at Harvard, told the publication, “The [TMC] is not really serious about negotiating with civilians. This could not have been more blatant in the eye of the opposition and it certainly paralyzes any effort to move forward in negotiations.”

Protesters want an immediate transition to democratic power with a civilian-led council, and a democratic vote in nine months, according to the New York Times. The TMC, on the other hand, claims a three-year timeline would be best, which was initially agreed upon but later met with resistance. As a result, talks between the protesters and the military collective broke down in May, and demonstrations were reinvigorated, reigniting calls for fair governance. The military began cracking down on demonstrations, including a shocking display of state violence on June 3 (via a paramilitary proxy group), which brings us to the current crisis at hand.

Anywhere from 46 (according to the military) to over 100 (according to protesters) people were killed on June 3 and 4 at the hands of paramilitary members working with the TMC. Over 650 were injured. Protesters changed tactics and started a general strike, refusing to go to work or school. Meanwhile, activists and protesters continued to report instances of violence at the hands of the government, including numerous reports of violent rape, largely due to the fact that women are at the center of the movement.

While it momentarily looked as if the TMC was going to return to the negotiation table, on June 10, the TMC made a move right out of the Bashir playbook: they shut down access to the internet country-wide. As of now, the TMC and protesters are at an uneasy stand-still, and Ethiopia and the U.S. are urging both sides to return to negotiations before anyone else is hurt.

Activist Omar al-Neel told CNN, “All Sudanese people are in the street and demanding the downfall of the regime and not recycling the same people.”

“What can I do to help?”

First and foremost, if you’re American, you can call or e-mail your House Rep and Senators. How? There are several ways:

  • You can use Find My Representative to plug in your information and find all of the people who represent you in Congress, and you can either email them or call them and leave a message to tell them that human rights in Sudan matter to you.
  • You can use the Senate switchboard by calling 202-224-3121 and asking for your Senator. When you’re connected to their D.C. office, you can either leave a message on their voicemail or talk to one of their staff members.
  • When contacting your representatives, it’s important to give them your name, your zip code and/or city of residence (so they know you’re a constituent), and tell them why you’re calling. Say something along the lines of: “I know that the U.S. is involved in trying to bring together the Sudanese military and pro-democracy protesters, and I would like to voice my support for those efforts. I’d love to see a resolution or any mention of the conflict in Sudan on the Senate floor in order to put more pressure on the Sudanese government. What is Senator X planning on doing to address this problem?”
  • Don’t want to talk on the phone? Use ResistBot to text your Congresspeople.

You can also do the following: