What is really happening in Sudan?

Sudan is in a rapidly escalating crisis and despite the efforts of people on the ground, there’s little understanding of exactly what’s actually happening in the northeast African country that is home to over 40 million people.

What’s happening?

Sudan is in the midst of a political crisis after security forces opened fire on pro-democracy protesters in the capital, Khartoum.

Representatives of the protesters had been in talks with the military over who would take control following the ousting of long-time President Omar al-Bashir.

President Omar al-Bashir was overthrown in a coup in April

But negotiations collapsed when a military crackdown on 3 June left dozens of protesters dead. The army said it had scrapped all agreements with the opposition, and that elections would be held within nine months. But the protest movement insisted a transition period of at least three years was needed to ensure elections are free and fair.

Much of the country was then shut down by an open-ended strike called by the opposition. Amid the deadlock, an envoy from Ethiopia was brought in to mediate and said talks between the two sides could resume soon.

Here’s what you need to know.

How did it all begin?

The unrest in Sudan can be traced back to December 2018, when President Bashir’s government imposed emergency austerity measures in an attempt to stave off economic collapse. 

Cuts to bread and fuel subsidies sparked demonstrations in the east over living standards and the anger spread to Khartoum. 

The protests broadened into demands for the removal of Mr Bashir – who had been in charge for 30 years – and his government. The protests reached a climax on 6 April, when demonstrators occupied the square in front of the military’s headquarters to demand that the army force the president out.

Five days later, the military announced that the president had been overthrown.

In essence, the crisis is a conflict between pro-democracy civilians and the country’s security forces. Following months of pro-democracy protests against President Omar al-Bashir, in April he was ousted by the military and arrested after 30 years in power. In 2010, he was charged by the international criminal court of having led a genocide in Darfur in western Sudan. That genocide resulted in deaths numbering in the hundreds of thousands, so al-Bashir has a track record of brutally suppressing dissent. Late last year, Sudanese civilians started protesting food shortages and rising prices, which turned into anti-government protests.

Representatives of the protesters began discussions with the military over who would take over when al-Bashir was ousted. When these talks broke down the military reportedly killed dozens and wounded hundreds of protesters during a crackdown on a protest camp, described by Al Jazeera as the “worst violence” in the country since al-Bashir’s overthrow.

Since then, the turmoil has intensified and doctors put the death toll at 118 people since June 3, while hundreds more have been beaten, arrested and detained, and more than 70 women have reportedly been raped by paramilitaries, according to those same doctors.

What’s life like for Sudanese civilians on the ground?

A general strike and campaign of civil disobedience called by the opposition resulted in Khartoum being brought to a standstill, in an attempt to encourage the Transitional Military Council to transfer power to civilians. Protesters brought the strike to an end to allow talks to resume between the two sides and an envoy from neighboring Ethiopia was brought in to engage with both sides.

During the general strike, activists encouraged people to stay at home. Markets and hospitals were closed and the streets were virtually deserted. “The streets are empty, no one’s going to work, as a way of saying ‘no’ to what has happened, to the people and the killing that’s been taking place. We are just waiting and waiting and waiting but… almost all internet services are cut except for one company,” an unnamed young woman in Sudan told the BBC.

A state-imposed internet blackout has been in place in the country for over a week, according to reports, making it even more difficult for activists and civilians to share what is happening with the world. Hashtags including #IAmTheSudanRevolution and #SudanUprising have sprung up in an attempt to rally other nations.

How has the international community responded to the Sudan violence?

Most African countries and those in the West have sided with the protesters, the BBC reports. The African Union, comprised of 55 member states, has voted to suspend Sudan until a civilian-led transitional authority is put in place. Some countries have been quicker than others to condemn the military violence, with Saudi Arabia reportedly holding back for fear of inspiring similar protests at home, according to speculation by the BBC.

The US condemned the events of June 3 as a “brutal attack” and the EU condemned the Sudanese military, while the UK laid “full responsibility” with the military council. The UN is removing non-essential staff from the country, but due to opposition from China and Russia, it will be unable to impose sanctions, the BBC reported.

Sudan has Returned Internet Access—But to Just One Individual

With the exception of a lawyer who won his court case against the country’s telecoms operator, the country is still without internet access. 

Sudan has been experiencing severe internet restrictions over the past three weeks which have almost entirely resulted in an internet shutdown. This comes after the deadly crackdown by the military in Khartoum which resulted in over 100 Sudanese protesters losing their lives. 

Whilst the past few weeks have seen the worldwide social media campaign #BlueforSudan raise awareness around the worsening crisis in Sudan, Sudanese civilians themselves have been without internet access for the most part.

Abdel-Adheem Hassan, a lawyer in Sudan, won his court case against telecoms operator Zain Sudan which alleges it was instructed to carry out the internet shutdown by military leaders. However, Hassan is now fighting for the internet to be restored to the rest of the country. 

According to reports from Reuters and the BBC, a court in Sudan ruled against the internet shutdown. However, the ruling has changed nothing. Hassan said, “We have a court session tomorrow and another one the day after tomorrow. Hopefully one million people will gain internet access by the end of the week.” 

The Transitional Military Council (TMC), which has been in power since the ousting of former President Omar al-Bashir in April, has become exactly what Sudan’s civic society feared most—a regime as bad if not worse than that of al-Bashir. 

Whilst the TMC announced that they would scrap the three-year power-transfer deal they’d initially proposed and hold elections within the next nine months, their most recent actions appear to be communicating otherwise.

WATCH: Sudan; The people who survived June 3 – BBC News

So who is in charge now?

A council of generals assumed power on 11 April but it has struggled to return normality to the country.

The seven-member Transitional Military Council (TMC) is led by Lt-Gen Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman Burhan. The council says it needs to be in charge to ensure order and security. But the army is not a unified force in Sudan. There are other paramilitary organisations and various Islamist militias that hold some sway.

References:
OkayAfrica, Complex, BBC

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