Sudan has gone to the dogs, but on the continent it has company

Saturday July 15 2023

Smoke billows behind buildings in Khartoum, as fighting between Sudan's warring generals intensified on June 4, 2023. PHOTO | AFP


“When Allah created the Sudan, Allah laughed!” is a joke I came across in Khartoum in the 1970s. It was about the punishing climatic conditions: The sun, characterised by searing heat — easily 45°C on a good day — plus the sand-bearing windy mirages you could actually see shimmering as they come towards you.

I doubt that joke can be applied to the tragedies that have beset that country through the past few decades, during which we have witnessed all manner of atrocities committed by rulers against their people, without the latter having a snowball’s chance in hell to extricate themselves from their tribulations.

For the past three decades, Sudan has been yoked into a bloody military dictatorship under Omar al-Bashir, who is still wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Currently, while Bashir must continue living like the criminal he is, his successors are committing the self-same crimes for which he is being sought.

Read: Can Sudan conflict buy Bashir more time from ICC?

This week, reports of a mass grave in Darfur suggest that massacres are underway, smacking of attempted ethnic cleansing, the hallmark of the doings of the sinister Mohammed Hamdan Daglo, the same man responsible for the atrocities committed in Darfur on behalf of Bashir in the 1990s. Daglo was then head of the notorious thugs called Janjaweed. With Bashir out of power, Daglo is pitted against his supposed military chief in Khartoum, Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, under whom he refuses to serve as deputy chief.

Obviously, these days there is no honour among thieves; each of them wants to be the kingpin, and their power struggle all too often escalates into an all-out conflict in which innocent civilians are the unwitting “collateral damage.” The more than 80 bodies discovered in a mass grave this past week give us reason to worry that many more people are being killed while the African Union seems to be jaded by the conflict and standing on the sidelines watching its navel.


It speaks to the ineffectiveness of the continental organisation, which has not been able to rise to the occasion to face up to the soldier boys who usurp power by the force of arms and go on to kill, steal and rape as they like. The suffering people in such situations must be wondering what things like the AU are good for if they cannot exert any influence on these military thugs.

Read: AU seeks to tap the influence of civilian groups in Sudan peace

The unfortunate truth — which is rarely spoken — about the atrocities committed in the Sudan is the racism that permeates the various conflicts in that sub-region, where Black people are considered by their Arab compatriots as inferior.

I sincerely believe it is a problem worth spending time on, because papering over it only exacerbates the situation in the various countries where the phenomenon is widespread. The AU harbours in its midst many countries in which whole groups of people of a darker complexion are treated as second-class citizens.

We recently witnessed what happened in Tunisia regarding the issue of immigrants swarming the country in their “desperado” attempts to cross the Mediterranean into Europe, but soon we were exposed the deep-embedded feelings of racism and xenophobia among the Tunisians.

This problem is real and has been felt by the hundreds of young people who have found themselves on the trek across the desert into North Africa in search of a life that their own countries have not been able to give them. Just as they are treated as undesirables in North Africa, so are they seen as disposable by the “Arab” elements in Sudan and regularly harassed, raped and killed.

Recently, we have heard little about action by the ICC regarding crimes against humanity on the continent, and it cannot be because such crimes have subsided, no. The reason might be a lot of previous action by the international court has not received any significant cooperation from the rulers of our countries, and that is obviously because they themselves fear that one day they could be dragged before the same court. As they say, the turkey will not vote for Christmas!

Read: ICC opens new probe into Sudan violence

It thus behoves our civil society — what little of it remains — on the African continent to keep track of what is happening and what it means and entails in the conflicts engulfing us, fully aware that they are not lessening either in their frequency or their intensity.

As I always say, all African countries can be put in three categories: Pre-conflict; In-conflict; and post-conflict, pre-conflict again. This is because our rulers have learnt precious little in governance values, and every day we realise that democratic principles are being eroded with frightening regularity. It is as if the anti-democratic forces on our continent have formed a mutuality to afford each other mutual support and solidarity in the “scratch-my-back” fashion.

That is why I firmly believe in the strength of civil society, in sync with what remains of political goodwill, to raise our collective voice, to denounce the crimes committed in Sudan and everywhere else.