Sudan Can't Wait: Voices from Darfur Six Months into the Crisis
At DWAG we are pleased to share with you some of our collaborative effort to bring the plight of the people of Sudan to the wider audience of civil society. On Oct.17th, Nimat, the founder and president of DWAG was invited as guest speaker at the "Sudan Can't Wait: Voices from Darfur Six Months into the Crisis" event.
The event aims to provide the audience with a more holistic view of the current humanitarian crisis in Sudan from the perspective of the Sudanese and what actions shall be taken to solve the problems. The speakers included Souleyman Adam, a Sudanese refugee who just recently escaped the country; Niemat Ahmadi, founder and president of Darfur Women Action Group, Quscondy Abdulshafi, Freedom House’s Senior Regional Advisor of Africa; Hala Al-Karib, the regional Director of the Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa; and Assondou, a refugee camp manager at Chad. The moderator of the event was Abdullahi Halakhe, Refugee International’s Senior Advocate for East and Southern Africa.
This event was organized to mark six months from the start of the horrifying war in Sudan and to bring attention to the situation in Darfur. Since its outbreak on April 15th this year, the power struggle between Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, the commander of Rapid Support Force, and Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the current president of the transitional government of Sudan and also the head of Sudanese Armed Force, has drag the whole country into turmoil and humanitarian catastrophe. The entire civil society is constantly under attack by both parties and civilians have suffered the most casualties since the beginning of the war. Right now there are 5.5 million people who have become the Internally Displaced People(IDP), and 1 million people have already fled across the border to neighboring states such as Chad. Within Sudan, half of the total population are in desperate need for means of survival, mainly water and food. The insecure environment also drove out a lot of humanitarian aid workers since the outbreak of conflict and also cut off existing channels for humanitarian aid, which further exacerbated the living conditions of IDP in Sudan.
The first speaker was Mr. Souleyman Adam. He brought to the audience the testimony of another refugee who is currently trapped inside a camp in Chad. According to Souleyman, people’s homes in Sudan were constantly looted; women, especially girls, were abducted; and people were forced to flee their lands. For those who crossed the border and entered the humanitarian aid camps, the situation is exacerbating every minute. There were already a large number of people who have lived in the camp for decades due to the 20 year long ethnic genocide in Darfur, and now the old camp is crowed with new refugees, who also overwhelmed the services provided by the camp. Currently, people in camp lack basic supplies for nutrition and education. The illiteracy keeps growing, which then contributes to the lack of work opportunities. The weather in the area also makes people’s lives harder. The summer is very hot and winter can be very cold, which is always accompanied by heavy wind.
The second speaker was Mr. Quscondy Abdulshafi. He explained the mechanism utilized by the aggressors to deliberately target and cleanse civilians during both the Darfur genocides that continues for the last 20 years, and the current civil war between SAF and RSF. He first recalled back in 2003 when a systematic ethnic genocide started in Darfur, there was no communication network, let alone internet. Darfuri people were mostly trapped within the region and had no way to convey their voices. The outside world could only get a few stories from those who managed to escape the region. After the current conflicts burst out early this year, similar patterns showed up too. All the roads got blocked, communication channels were cut off, and there were checkpoints everywhere to prevent stories about real situations from coming out of the conflict region. It was also not uncommon for soldiers to grab protection fees from ordinary citizens. Civilians then were forced to flee their homeland and some of them even tried to flee to neighboring countries. However, for many of them, the choice they ended up with was dying in thirst or hunger. Mr. Quscondy also particularly emphasized the expansion of war activities in the current conflict, compared to those conducted back in 2003. In Darfur 2003, it was villages that were major targets of the militias, but today, civilians in cities also become targets of perpetrators.
The third speaker was Ms. Hala Al-Karib. She provided her opinions on what made it especially hard for women trapped within the conflicts. Her main point was that atrocities came from a process of accumulation, and it did not happen in vacuum. Since the very beginning of the Darfur genocide back in 2003, the violence never stopped. Especially for women and girls, they were held as hostages and treated as sexual slaves. She further mentioned that it was not uncommon for women to commit suicide due to their experience of sexual violence. However, at the same time, women and girls were constantly neglected and little funding was set up to help them. The result was that while being under constant threat of sexual violence, women and girls neither had the channel to speak up, nor did they have necessary resources to pull themselves out of pitfall.
The fourth speaker was Niemat Ahmadi. She gave her answer to the question what pathways for women to overcome the current situation are, and what resolutions for the crisis are. Ms. Ahmadi’s statements resonated with what Ms.Al-Karib just said. She reiterated that Sudan currently is the most dangerous place to be a woman. They have always been the most impacted group of people during the 20 year long conflict in Darfur. However, Sudanese women reveal incredible resilience to their suffering and the harsh societal environment. In the 2019 revolution that overthrew the former dictator Al Bashir, Sudanese women showed great leadership as key actors of the movement. During the current conflict between the SAF and RSF, it was also women who filled up the vacuum created by the retreat of international organizations and agencies due to insecure working conditions. They came out to the communities and tried to document people’s stories, especially those of people who were persecuted by the warring parties and women who suffered from sexual violence. Unfortunately, even though women have shown their great leadership and resilience, they were not included in the negotiation of peace agreement or the formation of the transition government. Ms. Ahmadi claimed that since now, women shall not be only viewed as victims and survivors of conflicts, but shall start to be recognized as leaders and policy makers. Women should actively and also be offered the right to participate in the decision making process, and make their own contribution to the realization of peace on a larger stage.
The next speaker was Mr. Assondou. He described with details the conditions of camps and refugees who are living there, which helped the audience gain a better understanding of the severity of the current situation in Sudan. According to his statements, the refugees there live “half the lives of humans”. Their houses are composed of grasses; they share room with insects and snakes and are constantly under the threat of potential harm by those animals. The camp is facing a shelter shortage as winter is approaching, given the facility has already been attacked by heavy rains and flooding in summer. The harsh weather and lack of shelter will possibly lead to spreading of various diseases, which then further overwhelms the heath services. Though the lives they are living are without dignity, their conditions are still better than those people who failed to make it to the camps. They can still survive and do not need to worry about being killed during conflicts. Another serious issue faced by people in camps is the shortage of education facilities. According to Mr. Assondou, among 1.5 million refugees who live in camps, over the period of 20 years,, there are only 100 university students coming out from them. The long-term negative effects of lack of education is devastating, since less and less people are literate, they won’t acquire necessary conditions for more complicated skills and techniques, and more and more people won’t have the means to get out of camps and become trapped for the rest of their lives.
Next, the question from the moderator was what should be done to include women into resolving the current crisis.
In her response, Ms. Niemat Ahmadi emphasized again the importance of protection for women. She called to allow humanitarian supplies to go into the conflicting region, especially into the hands of women in need. Some necessary mechanisms, particularly some legal channels, need to be created to prevent violence against women. Women should also take a lead and be included into the decision making process. They should be able to actively participate into the negotiation and formation of any agreements and resolutions, since they, as the survivors of all those atrocities, know what the Sudanese people need most.
For Ms. Al-Karib, she highlighted the importance of changing the systematic discriminatory ideologies against women that were normalized into society under Al-Bashir’s regime. The primary issue to solve the problem is to prioritize the education for women. Only with sufficient education, can women and other victims of conflicts be able to speak up about what has happened, and further pave the way for peace.
To conclude the discussion, Mr. Quscondy Abdulshafi responded to the question what can and should be done by who to resolve the crisis, and particularly what is the UN’s role in the issue. Moreover, the moderator asked if there are any other actors who are benefiting from the current crisis. He first explained how important the existence of the UN peacekeeping forces was to the local residents in Darfur. When the UN forces were present, Darfur was able to establish a working local governance that could provide necessary public services to its citizens. However, as the UN force left, people in Darfur were once again given into the hands of their perpetrators. He then emphasized that in order to solve the crisis in Darfur, and also in Sudan, civilian protection should always be put first place. The conflicts in Darfur, while looks similar to the conflicts in Khartoum on the surface, have a much vicious nature, namely ethnic cleansing. Darfuri people would be killed simply because they were from different ethnic groups in the eyes of the killers, who were mainly RSF affiliated militias. At the same time, while the theoretical government forces SAF was also present in the Darfur area, their inactivity and nonresponse to the cause of civilian protection also positively contributed to the atrocities of local residents. In terms of resolutions for the crisis, Mr. Abdulshafi believed that the issue should be resolved from two sides. For the conflicting parties, he said that we need to find a way to reduce their political and economic interests. He revealed that currently in Sudan, one AK 47 rifle is cheaper than a kilo of sugar. There has to be some international actors that provide those equipment to the warring parties. Their supply chains then must be cut off, which will raise their costs of raising further conflicts in the future. For the international actors, some mechanism should be created to motivate them to become willing to intervene and take actions. That means the emphasis on international laws is always important. The justice and accountability of those who were responsible for the atrocities in the past and present should always be considered the top priority for the resolution of the crisis. In the end, he reiterated that the international community needs to rephrase the narrative about the crisis in Sudan, and to create a consistent and cohesive response system to address the problems in the country.
While the round table discussion focused on the current crisis in Darfur since the conflicts broke out six months ago, it definitely moves beyond the simple discussion about the current event. The guest speakers, with their unique personal experiences and perspectives, provided the audience with a more holistic view of what was, has, and is going on in Darfur and Sudan. The discussion revealed that the crisis in Sudan has deeper social, cultural and institutional roots, and not simply just power struggle between two warmongers. The violence against women and girls could be traced back to the ideology advocated by former dictator Al-Bashir, after whom gender and sex-based violence were constantly utilized as a tool of war. The ongoing crisis in Darfur was the continuation of ethnic cleansing that started 20 years ago. The cultural difference between Arabicized residents and local Sudanese made the latter victims of decades long genocide. The internal forces in Sudan right now are not capable enough to solve the problem by themselves, the support from outside becomes crucial. Here once again, the Darfur Women Action Group calls for the immediate intervention from the international communities. Ordinary people in Sudan need urgent humanitarian supplies to survive through the approaching winter; a secure working environment needs to be created for aid worker on the ground; women in the country need further legal protection and inclusion into the decision making process: and most importantly, a consistent and cohesive response system needs to be created to hold those who are responsible for the mass atrocities in the country accountable.
Please, join with DWAG to speak up for the people of Darfur and Sudan, and fight for their justice and promised peace.
Niemat Ahmadi, Founder and President, and Darfur Women Action Group Team