Sudan is facing a turbulent and dangerous time right now, and is currently experiencing “one of the worst humanitarian nightmares in recent history“, according to UN officials. Thousands are reported to have been killed, 7.6 million people displaced and 25 million people are in need of aid – the impact of the Sudan War 2023 cannot be overstated.
The Sudanese suffering has been unique in the global context, poignantly articulated by Sudanese-Australian writer, engineer and award-winning social advocate, Yassmin Abdel-Magied, in an interview with Al-Jazeera English, “Not only are we dealing, as a Sudanese people, with the weight of the country collapsing, but it’s also having to deal with it in relative silence in terms of international media context. Seems like Sudanese people are mourning and grieving alone.”
As the year 2023 unfolded, shedding light on numerous wars and oppressions worldwide, Sudan’s plight serves as a stark reminder of our collective inaction. In order to ensure that the Sudanese are not left to navigate their hardships alone, we must advocate and amplify their voices for international intervention to end this crisis.
In this guide, you can find the Sudan conflict explained, dig into the reasons behind it, and practical steps to educate yourself and help.
The recent violent struggle for power in Sudan follows the promising Sudanese revolution of five years ago, sparked by the people’s will to bring about civilian rule and peace. Currently, Generals Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, leader of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagalo, leader of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), are engaged in a brutal power struggle, hindering the realisation of the revolution’s promises.
The RSF Sudan, is a powerful paramilitary group that has faced accusations of war crimes in Darfur. Despite this, it has grown into a formidable force of around 100,000 members, deployed nationwide and deeply entrenched in Khartoum neighbourhoods.
After the removal of Omar al-Bashir in December 2019, the Sudanese Army and the RSF collaborated to stage a coup in October 2021, targeting the transitional civilian government. In the beginning, Hemedti worked with civilian parties from the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) and consented to merge the RSF into the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) as part of broader security sector reforms.
However, conflict erupted on April 15, 2023, as tensions between the Sudanese Army and RSF reached a boiling point during the integration process. Khartoum witnessed intense fighting, resulting in over 500 deaths and thousands of injuries reported in three weeks. The violence spread to Darfur, giving rise to widespread violations of international humanitarian law, ethnically motivated killings, mass graves, and harrowing stories of rape.
Sudan’s conflict is often labelled “a forgotten war”, getting little attention in the media.
The complexity of the conflict and biases in global media coverage on African issues contribute to this lack of visibility. The international community’s limited attention on Sudan is due to other conflicts and changing public interests, influenced by the geopolitical priorities of powerful nations.
Here is an easy-to-understand video of the conflict in Sudan explained from Al-Jazeera, highlighting the history and ongoing situation in Sudan, featuring insights from Yassmin Abdel-Magied, a Sudanese-Australian author and social advocate, and Isma’il Kushkush, a Sudanese-American journalist – “Sudan’s Forgotten War”.
As the War in Sudan continues to escalate, Keep Eyes on Sudan are calling on their supporters to demand their governments take action.
In the United Kingdom:
In the United States:
Charities you can donate to that have an actual presence on the ground include
Sudanese Writers / Content Creators
Organisations offering Community Support
You can explore this list of films and books to get a better understanding of Sudan’s history, politics, and society – a starting point for grasping today’s happenings.
People arriving in Chad having fled the civil war in Sudan have reported a surge in killings in West Darfur. The Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary group has been fighting the Sudanese government since April, and has recently seized control of a key army base. In just over six months of war, at least 10,000 people have been killed, although that figure is considered to be a gross under-estimate.
Around 90,000 people have fled Sudan’s West Darfur state seeking safety from regional violence fuelled by the war between the Sudan army and RSF Sudan..
Suad Ramadan Abdullah, who arrived at the Gaga refugee camp in Chad from Muli, Sudan, tells Sky’s Yousra Elbagir “they set us on fire and took everything.”
Documentary to Watch
2019 Sudanese revolution, a group of friends create a make-believe TV station to capture the historic moment.
Films to Watch
Mohamed Kordofani’s film Goodbye Julia is set just before the secession of South Sudan in 2011. The premise: a Northern Sudanese woman hires a Southern Sudanese woman as her maid after causing the death of her husband. These two women become a metaphor for wider discussions around racism vis-à-vis South Sudan, division and difference, and the need for reconciliation.
Al-Sit takes Nafisa – a young girl from a cotton-farming village in Sudan – as its protagonist. Though Nafisa has a crush on Babiker, her parents have arranged a marriage with a Sudanese man who lives abroad. Meanwhile, Nafisa’s grandmother, the village matriarch Al-Sit, has other things in mind for her. This short-film by Suzannah Mirghani explores womanhood, autonomy, choice and power in a modernising world.
Podcasts to Listen
In conversation with researcher Aida Abbashar and founding director of Confluence Advisory, Kholood Khair.
In this episode of The Horn, Dr Suliman Baldo, Executive Director of the Sudan Transparency and Policy Tracker, explains the dire state of Sudan six months into the war between Sudan’s armed forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and whether Sudan has already collapsed.
This intimate discussion between Raga Makawi, Dalia Abdelmoniem and Ayman Makarem explores the many ways Sudanese people are reflecting on and struggling against the current war situation. With little to no international attention, these voices are vital to listen to and learn from.
Co-hosts Heba Aly and Melissa Fundira speak to two guests, Hajooj Kuka, external communications officer for the Khartoum State Emergency Response Rooms and Francesco Bonanome, humanitarian affairs officer with the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, OCHA, in Sudan, about unprecedented levels of collaboration between ERRs and the international humanitarian system, how they are trying to overcome the challenges, and how mutual aid groups are spurring a broader shift of power within Sudanese society.
Books to Read
For a solid grasp of Sudan’s history, look no further. This book provides a detailed overview, making it essential introductory reading on Sudan. Covering Sudan’s modern history, from the Turco-Egyptian conquest to civil war, the oil industry, and current ties with China and the West, this book is a must-read for those seeking foundational knowledge.
What happened after Africa’s biggest country split in two? When South Sudan ran up its flag in July 2011, two new nations came into being. In South Sudan a former rebel movement faces colossal challenges in building a new country. At independence it was one of the least developed places on earth, after decades of conflict and neglect.
A Poisonous Thorn in Our Hearts argues that Sudan and South Sudan remain deeply interdependent, despite their separation. It also diagnoses the political failings that threaten the future of both countries. The author puts the turmoil of the years after separation into a broader context, reflecting the voices, hopes and experiences of Sudanese and South Sudanese from all walks of life.
Discover the remarkable history of Sudan, where its people have successfully overthrown three military dictatorships. This book explores Sudan’s parliamentary periods, experiences of authoritarianism, and the dynamics of populist and civil uprisings. Gain a key understanding of Sudan’s political journey and its interplay with contemporary dynamics. An insightful resource for comprehending popular revolts and the broader regional political landscape.
This book sheds light on the crucial role of Al-Hakkamat Baggara women in rural Sudan, particularly during the Darfur conflict from the 1970s to the present. Examining their influence through various means such as poetry and symbolic acts, the author highlights their significant, yet often overlooked, social and political impact. Winner of the 2019 Aidoo-Snyder Book Prize.
Providing an overview of Darfur’s history, conflicts, and the involvement of governments in Khartoum and Tripoli, this book uncovers untold stories, explaining the origins and motivations of the Janjaweed militia. It also examines the Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement, offering insights into their roles in the region.
This book delves into Sudan’s civil wars, exploring the struggle for legitimacy between the state and Southern rebels. It focuses on how racial ideas were used in international discussions about the South’s political future. By examining the discourses of both sides, the book uncovers the competition for Sudan’s reputation during times like Pan-Africanism and the Cold War. It argues that the words spoken abroad played a crucial, yet often unnoticed, role in the Sudanese civil wars, shaping the narrative in strategic ways.
This book contextualises the current situation in Sudan against the 2019 revolution, mapping its success in toppling Omar Al-Bashir, through to the transitional-governments, ultimately asking, “Where can Sudanese democracy go from here?”
6. (UN)DOING RESISTANCE – Authoritarianism and Attacks on the Arts in Sudan’s 30 Years of Islamist Rule, Ruba El Melik, Reem Abbas
To contextualise the revolutionary art produced and consumed during the 2018/19 revolution, this book explores Sudan’s contemporary history by briefly looking at the politically turbulent 1980s and deeply looking at how culture and art were policed in the dark 1990s – which is the period after the Islamists took over power after the 1989 coup. During that period, the entire artistic and cultural landscape came under attack as artists were arrested, sacked from jobs and intimidated, but the infrastructure that has always supported this landscape suffered the most, as the book hopes to explain.
Memoirs & Personal Essays
Jamal Mahjoub fled Sudan with his family in the wake of the 1989 coup. This book is a personal and sentimental reflection of Khartoum: a mosaic of memories and non-fiction, in a unique blend of travel journal and memoir that paints a vivid picture of Khartoum, past and present. Exploring themes of colonialism, religion, diversity and politics, Mahjoub weaves together a “revelatory portrait” of his country.
With her trademark optimism, sass, boldness and search for answers, across a collection of new and revisited essays, Yassmin Abdel-Magied explores resistance, transformation, and revolution.
Nineteen Arab women journalists speak out about what it’s like to report on their changing homelands in this first-of-its-kind essay collection. A growing number of intrepid Arab and Middle Eastern sahafiyat – female journalists – are working tirelessly to shape nuanced narratives about their changing homelands, often risking their lives on the front lines of war.
Here, nineteen of these women tell us, in their own words, about what it’s like to report on conflicts that (quite literally) hit close to home. Their daring and heartfelt stories, told here for the first time, shatter stereotypes about the region’s women and provide an urgently needed perspective on a part of the world that is frequently misunderstood.
Selected as the most important Arab novel of the 20th century by the Arab Literary Academy, this classic packs a punch with an exploration of colonialism and its transformative effect on identity and culture. Salih’s novel takes a village on the Nile in the 1960s as its setting. The plot follows an unnamed narrator as he returns from his travels and studies in Europe to find a newcomer, Mustafa Sa’eed, has made a home for himself in his village. The novel culminates in a reckoning about Sudan’s encounter with the West.
“Minaret” unfolds the life of Najwa, a once-privileged Sudanese woman who, after political upheaval, leaves her country and becomes invisible to the wealthy families she serves in London. In her youth, Najwa dreamed of a different life, but circumstances changed dramatically. Finding solace in Islam, she adopts the hijab and discovers a new sense of peace. As she visits the mosque and encounters the Muslim community, Najwa’s life takes an unexpected turn when she begins to fall in love with a younger man. The novel explores themes of identity, faith, and love in the face of life’s challenges.
Longlisted for the National Book Award, this novel tells the powerful story of Nima, a girl caught between cultures and embarking on an unexpected journey to confront the ephemeral girl she might have been. Penned by the acclaimed poet Safia Elhillo from Forbes Africa’s “30 Under 30” list, the novel-in-verse is a tender meditation on family, belonging, and home. Nima, feeling misunderstood and unaccepted, loses her only refuge, her best friend Haitham. The story unfolds as Nima grapples with the phantom of a life not chosen—her parents’ intended name, Yasmeen—and discovers the strength within herself to fight for the life she desires.
This debut collection, shortlisted for the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation 2020, offers a powerful exploration of contemporary Sudan. Rania Mamoun weaves together real and imagined stories, portraying a rich and moving tapestry of human experiences. From poignant encounters with loved ones to unexpected friendships, Mamoun delves into the complexities of urban life, tackling themes of alienation, isolation, and estrangement with humour and compassion. Translated from Arabic by Elisabeth Jaquette, the collection captures the essence of Sudan through its diverse narratives.
For a comprehensive list of Sudanese literature for all ages, you can explore the Sudanese Literature Archive.
Bringing attention to Sudan’s overlooked conflict is vital. The proverb “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves” encourages everyone, no matter where they’re from, to acknowledge the silent suffering and take action. We must tackle Sudan’s ongoing issues and work towards a solution through raising awareness, amplifying Sudanese voices, and providing essential humanitarian support.
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