Sudan, Africa’s third largest country, has been in political turmoil for years. Bordering Egypt in the north, Eretria and the Red Sea to the east, Ethiopia and South Sudan in the south, and Chad and Libya on the west side of the country, this northeast African nation has a population of 39 million people. Many of whom are currently protesting a military coup d’etat that has left hundreds dead and over 70 people raped — both men and women. Over 40 bloated bodies were recently found floating in the Nile after the attacks.
To understand the current crisis, it helps to go back a few years and unpack the Darfur genocide, which happened in the western region of Sudan. The genocide began in 2003 and was overseen by Omar al-Bashir, the then President of Sudan. He came to power in a military coup in 1989, overthrowing Sudan’s first democratically elected Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi. al-Bashir has been elected three times since in national elections that have all been challenged with accusations of electoral fraud.
The crisis in Darfur claimed an estimated 200,000 to 400,000 lives, mostly targeting three specific tribes. Over 1,600 villages were destroyed and the rape of thousands were attributed to Sudanese government forces.
In March 2009 al-Bashir was indicted in the International Criminal Court (ICC) with genocide for directing the murderous campaign in Darfur, but will likely never be extradited to face charges, even though he is currently in prison.
This spring al-Bashir was finally ousted by the military, but it hasn’t been a peaceful takeover. al-Bashir was kicked out of office and arrested in April by military forces after months of pro-democracy protests due to food shortages and inflation. Earlier this month, after weeks of speculation, al-Bashir was marched out of a notorious prison by security forces to face prosecutors on charges of money laundering and corruption. After talks collapsed between military leadership and pro-democratic private organizations in the capital Khartoum, protests have swelled. On June 3rd, it was reported that the Sudanese government forces cracked down on protesters with violent beatings, killings, and rapes right out in the open.
The Sudanese Rapid Support Force is led by al-Bashir’s own enforcer Lieutenant General Mohammed Hamdan, also known as Hemeti, who takes credit for the horrific genocide in Darfur. The day before al-Bashir was taken in to face charges Hamdan drove with a heavily armored military faction to the neighboring town of Garri, waving to supporters in what many believe to be the beginning of a push to take control of the country. He spoke of western influence and the country’s need for military rule. Oddly enough, he doesn’t, in fact, run the whole army, and while some people believe him to be the de-facto leader of the nation, there are generals above him that technically have more power. Hamdan, a former camel trader, carries himself much like al-Bashir and is said to have been groomed by him for many years.
Protests have continued in Khartoum, but with a near nation-wide internet blackout enforced by the government, no one outside of Sudan is getting a lot of answers. While the months-long pro-democracy protests may be the reason for the ousting of al-Bashir, it seems Hamdan will attempt to take control to form yet another dictatorship. He appears to be as brutal (if not more) than his presumed predecessor and is likely to come down violently upon all those that oppose him. The only barriers that seem to be standing in his way are a few ranking superior officers and the entire Sudanese army — aside from his Rapid Support Force.
While revolutions always sound like they’ll revive a flailing country, they often just rotate the revolving doors of dictatorship so that a new face is in power. Indeed, it seems that Sudan is stuck in this revolutionary cycle as little has positively changed for the nation’s residents. While the pro-democracy protests are strong and shutting down the country, those with the most guns usually win 21st-century battles. Let’s hope the pro-democracy organizations can counter this narrative through collective action in the midst of an internet blackout.
Ann Lewis is an artist, activist, and writer based in Detroit. Her artwork reflects upon social and environmental justice issues.