After three decades of life under President Omar al-Bashir’s repressive administration and, now, months of military rule, the Sudanese people have had enough.
On June 9, protesters began a campaign of mass civil disobedience, including a national strike, in response to a violent military crackdown on pro-democracy protesters that left more than 100 people dead last week.
The lost lives of at least three more protesters were added to the rapidly rising death toll on June 9. Both United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the US Department of State have condemned the military’s attack on peaceful protesters. And the US announced this week that it will send Tibor Nagy, the US assistant secretary for Africa, to Sudan and has appointed former Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan Donald Booth to return to the region to help bring the conflict to a peaceful end.
A protester wearing a Sudanese flag flashes the victory sign in front of burning tires and debris on the road, near Khartoum's army headquarters, in Khartoum, Sudan, June 3, 2019.
The high death toll is only now drawing international attention to the political clash in the country; however, the people of Sudan have been actively calling for democracy for the past several months.
The Beginnings of an Uprising
In December 2018, protests against al-Bashir began, and demonstrators demanded that he be removed from power after he cut government subsidies for bread and fuel. The sudden subsidy change led to economic frustration that moved across Sudan from the east to the capital city of Khartoum.
Then, earlier this year, on April 6, protesters filled the square outside of the military’s headquarters. Five days later, the military announced it had overthrown al-Bashir’s government.
With President al-Bashir dethroned, protests evolved into a call for a transition to democracy, believing a lengthy transition period was essential to completely rebuild the country’s government. However, the military, controlled by the Transitional Military Council (TMC), took power over the government.
The council, made up of seven generals, is led by Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and supported by the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and the Rapid Support Force (RSF) — otherwise known as the Janjaweed, the paramilitary force responsible for the atrocities committed in Darfur.
Leaders of the military forces and protest organizers eventually joined together in a group called Alliance for Freedom and Change and, about a month after al-Bashir was deposed, came to an agreement. There would be a three-year period of transition into a civilian government that would include a sovereign council, a cabinet, and a legislative body, the group announced on May 15.
But just weeks later, everything changed. On June 3, the RSF and other police officers beat and shot non-violent protesters during a sit-in, killing over 60 people and injuring over 300 in what has been called a major military crackdown. As of this week, the death toll has risen to over 100, after the bodies of 40 more were found in the Nile River. The RSF has also been accused of raping more than 70 people during the horrific attack.
The next day, the TMC announced that it was pulling out of negotiations with protest organizers and that a national election would be held within nine months, a much shorter time frame that would not allow for a full deconstruction of al-Bashir’s government network or the possibility of fair elections, according to demonstrators.
Women and Youth Are Leading the Charge
The Sudanese pro-democracy protesters are mostly the country’s young population. The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA) — made up on doctors, health workers, and lawyers — have been handling the organization of demonstrations, but women stood at the forefront of the movement before the violence broke out.
Sudan’s limited women’s rights have been well documented. Child marriage and sexual abuse remain problems in the country and women's rights are heavily restricted under the country’s laws. Despite this adversity, women like 22-year-old engineering and architecture student Alaa Salah, who was photographed leading protesters from the top of a car, became the face of the call for change. They were given the title “Kandaka,” the Nubian word meaning queen. Making up half of the country’s population, female activists have been working to reclaim their power and have equal say in the establishment of a new civilian government.
An Uncertain Future
Though the demonstrations and violence have been largely concentrated in the capital, Khartoum, protest organizers said that there have also been killings and rapes committed in 13 other cities across the country, perpetrated by the RSF and other security forces.
At least 19 children have been killed, 49 injured. More are being captured, recruited, and sexually abused by the RSF.
As of last week, there have been reports of cellphone and internet blackouts, and media outlets are being banned from broadcasting news about the conflict. Many of these tactics are believed to be used so the military can hide the true extent of their transgressions.
Ethiopia’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, has attempted to restart negotiations towards democracy. The SPA initially said that they would not return to the table in light of the June 3 attacks and would continue continue to hold peaceful demonstrations until the military gives up power. However, after acknowledging the weakening of their campaign, protest leaders called off the strike late Tuesday, encouraging the masses to return to business as usual. With prompting from the US and Ethiopia, protest leaders then agreed to reenter mediation talks with military leadership and cease all acts of civil disobedience.
There are several ways to support the Sudanese protesters being subjected to physical and sexual violence, including raising awareness about their ongoing struggle on social media, signing a petition for the formation of an international commission to investigate the military for human right violations, call for the US to classify the RSF as a terrorist organization, and donating to fundraising campaigns working to bring aid to those in need of assistance.