A sprawl of tents has cropped up at Zam Zam Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) Camp, in El Fasher, North Darfur in 2011. Tens of thousands sought protection there following fresh clashes between the Government of Sudan and rebel forces. Photo credit: UN Photo/Olivier Chassot

Anti-coup demonstrations erupt in Darfur, calls for African Union and foreign intervention issued

Twenty years of civil war means little as tensions reignite for residents of the southern Sudanese city. Protestors struggle with a coup d’etat while claims of crime and economic uncertainty loom. A bat signal to world officials has been made.

A country divided among ethno-racial lines is a tale as old as time, and nation states. However,  the cycle repeats itself as constituents find themselves at the precipice of civil war post-dictator Omar al-Bashir. 

In the past three weeks, thousands of Sudanese have staged anti-coup demonstrations at the nation’s capital Khartoum. Civilian groups like Forces for Freedom and Change rejected the terms of a military deal reached last month after an October 25 military coup d’état resulted in the kidnapping, but eventual reinstatement of economist Abdalla Hamdok Al-Kinani as prime minister. 

“There are no concrete steps being taken from any side to stop the violence. The state is absent as well as the justice system and police are nowhere to be found,” as per a statement by The independent Doctors’ Committee. According to their report, 199 people have been killed; most of which were shot dead. 

Initially, Hamdok Al-Kinani refused to declare support for the coup, calling for popular resistance. Soon after, armed forces placed him under house arrest. Later, he signed a 14-point agreement that included a promise that all political prisoners would be freed. 

“Protesters say the deal [signed last month] has given legitimacy to the coup . . .  the fact that prime minister Abdalla Hamdouk signed that deal is a big betrayal. He was a symbol of civilian rule before the takeover happened,” Al Jazeera’s Hiba Morgan reported.

In 2019, nationwide protests and work stoppages forced al-Bashir out of a years-long dictatorship. Following his ousting, there was a transfer of power from the Transitional Military Council to the Sovereignty Council of Sudan. The latter formally appointed Hamdok as Prime Minister until elections can be held in 2023. 

However, the appointment struck a nerve with demonstrators, largely consisting of women. The absence of women officials as a choice seemed to indicate a male-dominated government. Yet and still, Sudan’s military chief and head of the ruling party, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, says the military may refrain from politics once the transition of power is complete. 

| Read: Women of Sudan’s diaspora channel ancient mothers to keep the fires of revolution burning

Mohamed Tohami retrieving water at a well in Sudan’s Gezira State, which is where Khartoum is located. Access to water is a huge issue in the region which centers agriculture. Photo credit: Mohamed Tohami on Unsplash

“When a government is elected, I don’t think the army, the armed forces, or any of the security forces will participate in politics. This is what we agreed on and this is the natural situation,” al-Burhan told Reuters.

Moreover, the Human Rights Watch has urged the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation (UNAMID) formerly in Darfur to intervene again. Since 2007, UNAMID has been tasked with overseeing security and maintaining peace in Sudan. This past June, UNAMID departed per the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2559 of December 2020. This being the first time in 15 years the country has had this type of autonomy. 

Among other Western powers, the U.S. and E.U have acknowledged the Hamdok Al-Kinani Administration as legitimate and constitutional on October 27. 

Despite a peace agreement reached among the Sudan government and large rebel groups like Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) last year, Darfur remains marred by violence. Worse still, tensions mount as residents’ concerns like land disputes and livestock arise. Furthermore, problems accessing water that maintains said land and animals is a central complaint. 

“Water is a priority anywhere in north Darfur. We sometimes have only one shower per year, and often, as little as between 150–200 mm of rain a year,” explained UNEP project worker Mohamed Siddig Lazim Suliman on water resource management in Darfur.

With global climate change issues like drought and pandemic-era financial ambivalence, the availability of water in the area has become even more dubious. Inconsistent rainfall coupled with ever-rising temperatures are leading to food shortages and conflict for natural resources among local farmers.

War in Darfur

The current climate in Darfur follows a lengthy history of instability. Popularly referenced as the “Land Cruiser War” by rebel forces, the armed conflict began in February 2003 when insurrectionists – namely, the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) and the largest government opposition group in the city, JEM, contested Sudan’s authoritarian African-Arab president, General Omar al-Bashir’s. Their claim, al-Bashir inflicted gross maltreatment of non-Arab residents under his presidency. 

Centered around Khartoum, lethal tensions ensued between the predominantly Arab Muslim region in the north versus the southern Black Christians and animists. Al-Bashir wanted a more Islamic-based government fiercely opposed by those in the south, ultimately leading to a decades-long civil war. 

Purportedly, the dictator and Hosh Bannaga village native sought ethnic cleansing against Darfur’s non-Arabs as a solution to the rising tensions. Despite multiple peace agreements and ceasefires in 2005 and 2010 respectively, there were three million victims and upwards of 500,000 deaths. Subsequently, al-Bashir was charged with war crimes like genocide and rape committed between 2003 and 2008 by the International Criminal Court.  

In August 2020, Sudanese authorities and several rebel groups agreed to end armed hostilities after a promised three year transition to a civilian democracy. 

| Watch: Little Fires Everywhere: Wars + Conflict in Democratic Republic of Congo and Israel-Gaza

Presently, the Northeast African city hosts more than 3 million internally displaced people (IDP). Mainly from cities like Darfur, 1.6 million refugees  cannot return home, as per the UN Refugee Agency. Included in these numbers, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) claims the violence has added more than 83,000 people to the list. They also report spikes in global IDP despite mass mobility restrictions in the pandemic. 

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, displacement was around seven times higher in the period between January and September 2021 than during the whole of 2020. This constitutes the highest number of displacements in at least six years.

Unfortunately, the nation continues to deal with this cycle of state-sponsored violence and domestic turmoil. As tensions erupt among the constituency and rebel groups alike, it seems there may be some obstacles materializing the promised civilian democracy. 

One thing is for certain, there has long been a lack of confidence in the government. So, police tear gassing demonstrators during human rights protests does not feel like the authoritarian nature of the governmental body is completely gone. As well, it is likely not the proper way to gain civilian trust in a body supposedly having changed political direction and representing their interests.

Yolanda Aguilera focuses on culture, policy, domestic, international relations, and the African and Latin Diasporas.

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