Sudan: Civilian Rule is the Will of the People

by Yassmin Abdel-Magied

A beautiful wedding song to play as you’re reading this.

‘The Sudanese are such wonderful people. Sudan is such a wonderful country! Just a shame you are cursed with such terrible leaders…’

These were the words of my father-in-law, last year. Or perhaps they were the words of an Egyptian colleague, or an Emirati friend. I can’t remember exactly, because I have heard the same refrain time and time again from folks who know Sudan, Sudanese people, and feel something akin to pity for our plight.

Our story wasn’t always this way. At least, five years ago, we believed the story of Sudan was being re-written. Protests had begun in regional towns across the North-East African nation in December 2018, culminating in the removal of three-decades long dictator, Omar El-Bashir, less than six months later. The December Movement was inspiring, the sit-in outside the front of the military headquarters in the capital city Khartoum seen as revolution-in-praxis: Sudanese folks young and old, coming together to live out the ideals of the nation they were hoping to build in real time, demonstrating to the world - and themselves - a better future was possible. We in the diaspora looked on, glowing with pride, stories, art and song.

The situation took a turn at the end of Ramadan that year, when armed forces massacred the civilians at the sit-in. Bodies were thrown into the Nile with heartless abandon, staining the banks of the ancient river red. It was an ominous omen of things to come. The civilian-military coalition tasked with transitioning Sudan to a civilian government was overthrown in a coup in late 2021, and in April 2023, the tensions between two generals belligerents and the armed groups they commanded erupted into all out war.

Khartoum had not witnessed conflict like this since the siege of the city in the late 19th century, when Mahdist forces captured the city and overthrew the British Governor, General Gordon. Khartoum’s relative peace over the decades has often been a sore point; those from the regions rightly rageful at the idea the nation was ‘safe’, while millions were ravaged: genocide in the west, civil war in the south, the list of tragedies creaking under the weight of a pain words cannot bear. But to recognise the fractured nature of the constructed nation of Sudan is to understand part of what made the Revolution so exciting, so hopeful. This was a movement that began in the regions, and Khartoum followed behind. This was a movement that declared ‘We Are All Darfur’ for the first time in decades, a recognition that all Sudanese should stand up against oppression by the state and not cower behind the protection of tribal affiliation. This was a movement that was by the people, for the people; non-violent and courageous, steeped in principles of pluralism, mutual-aid, and a desperate, clawing, no-holds-barred, hope.

What I wouldn’t give to feel that hope again, today.

I will tell you the statistics, although I don’t know what difference it will make. Over 7 million people have been forcibly displaced, Sudan now facing the world’s worst displacement crisis. The war has formally claimed over 12,000 lives, but the number is likely to be much, much higher. Almost 20 million children are out of school, risking ‘generational catastrophe’, according to the United Nations. Rape is being used as a systematic weapon of war, millions are all but starving, and no help is on the way. The outlook is so grim, even Martin Griffith, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, took to social media to express his frustration.

We are witnessing the collapse of a nation. And, as I have said before, we are bearing witness in relative silence.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, you can help us make sure it isn’t.

For as much as the collapse of a nation state is a catastrophe, Sudanese people know that things could not continue as they were. They are continuing to organise, take care of each other, build a nation of people beyond the confines of a militarised state. Through resistance committees, emergency response rooms, creating art from the heart of the rubble, they are imagining a better future, even as their worlds crumble. And they, we, need all of you to help make that possible, inshallah.

20201112-sudan_art-hussein_merghani_atbara_train-blog.jpeg Hussein Merghani’s watercolor of hundreds of people from Atbara traveling to join the sit-in at the military headquarters in Khartoum in April 2019. * from the article, *How Art Helped Propel Sudan’s Revolution by Elizabeth Murray.

So, please. Keep Eyes on Sudan. Share the stories of our success, our hope, our potential. Donate, especially to those on the ground, if you can. Amplify the voices of those continuing to speak, to bravely report, to consistently show up.

No action is too small, every movement is appreciated.

Freedom, Peace and Justice. Civilian Rule is the Will of the People, and we will see it in our lifetimes, inshallah. We are not free until we are all free. Khair, inshallah.

A powerful revolution song to play as you sit with the words of this article.

& a whole playlist to #KeepEarsOnSudan.