Sudan must come together to face its terrifying violence
By Reem Abbas
June 13, 2019 at 3:48 PM EDT
Reem Abbas is a freelance journalist and communications consultant based in Sudan.
When the Janjaweed militia attacked protesters at the peaceful sit-in in front of the army headquarters in Khartoum last week, eyewitnesses told me the militia forces said, "You used to chant the whole country is Darfur. Now we brought Darfur to you, to Khartoum.”
They were referring to one of the most famous chants used during the protest movement that toppled Omar Hassan Al-Bashir after three decades in power. “The whole country is Darfur” was repeated over and over again in protests all over the country, but especially in Khartoum as a way to recognize the suffering that was ignored for so long in Darfur.
The day the sit-in was dismantled was the last day of the holy month of Ramadan, the fasting month for Muslims. The next day was supposed to be the first day of Eid al-Fitr. But instead of a celebration, the day unfolded into a tragedy.
It marked the beginning of a crackdown by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a paramilitary group led by Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, known as Hemeti, a former security adviser to the governor of South Darfur who has carved a position for himself in Sudan’s Transitional Military Council. In reality, the RSF is made up of the very same Janjaweed forces that have terrorized and pillaged Darfur villages since 2003.
By the afternoon, we began counting the martyrs. Videos of young men being shot began surfacing on social media. Through phone calls, we found out that friends or acquaintances were missing. We were unable to use the Internet to contact our loved ones and make sure they were safe, because the authorities launched an Internet blackout in the late afternoon. The blackout continues until today, and the military council has publicly said it does not plan on bringing back Internet connectivity soon, as it considers the Internet a “threat to national security.”
By the evening, more harrowing and intricate details began to emerge, and they told of a larger and more complex story — a story that goes back 16 years. The Janjaweed routinely used certain tactics used against civilians in Darfur. They would enter a village, burn it to the ground, and kill, rape and pillage as they pleased.
They used the same tactics to dismantle the sit-in.
They burned tents where protesters were sleeping. Some have survived with burns that will continue to tell the horrors of that day.
They used live ammunition indiscriminately, shooting protesters in the head or chest in what appeared to be shots to kill.
They refused to let protesters carry their injured friends to the hospitals and even shot them again to make sure they had no chance of survival, according to eyewitnesses I interviewed.
They threw corpses into the Nile. Some families only found their loved ones many sleepless nights later, after they drifted with the current.
They raped young women and tried to rape many others.
They stopped and beat doctors to prevent them from reaching hospitals to treat injured protesters. Even the hospitals became unsafe, as the RSF attacked several hospitals with live ammunition.
Nowhere was safe as these forces terrorized Khartoum.
This state of terror is new for many in Khartoum, though this has been the norm in Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan for years. Over the past two weeks, the Janjaweed has brought Darfur to our homes.
In the process, we in Khartoum have changed. Many of us have found ourselves displaced within our city, unable to reach our homes for security reasons or because the streets were too dangerous.
But the blood that stains the streets and pavements has only united us and forged a sense of belonging and solidarity with the rest of Sudan. It is this unity that will be our greatest weapon against the Transitional Military Council, which continues to sustain Bashir’s blood-tarnished legacy.
A few days into the massacre, I found messages from a friend who lives in Kauda in the Nuba Mountains. Kauda has been under the control of the rebels for years and is very isolated. Between 2011 and 2016, bombing from Antonov planes was a daily reality for the people of Kauda, but they continued to fight. My friend told me he was worried about me and saddened by what is happening to Khartoum.
I told him I, too, was sorry for what happened to him in Kauda — and that I now could only begin to understand what that insecurity feels like. But the greatest sign of solidarity would be to continue fighting against the Janjaweed using the same peaceful tactics we used to bring down Bashir and his junta.
We cannot begin to heal from decades of conflict as a country if the Janjaweed militiamen are still at large and we are still at the mercy of authoritarians. As we finally come together, we cannot afford to let this moment go by without collective resistance, as has happened in the past. Darfur is Khartoum, Khartoum is Darfur, and all of Sudan must now unite against the violence that besieges us — through our pens, barricades, voices, smartphones and whatever peaceful means we can find.