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Sudan: Residents Trapped Between Warring Rival Factions as Humanitarian Crisis Escalates

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Conflict in Sudan between two rival military factions is entering its fourth week. Despite international calls for a humanitarian ceasefire, both combatant groups have repeatedly breached truce agreements. More than 700 people have died. As thousands of Sudanese civilians flee both the capital Khartoum and the country entirely, the fighting is expected to continue, with no end in sight. As Sudan braces for the renewed possibility of full-scale civil war, we speak to McGill University professor Khalid Mustafa Medani and Sudanese activist Marine Alneel about the country’s brewing humanitarian crisis. “The only path toward stability is the establishment of a civilian democracy,” says Medani.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman.

We turn now to Sudan, where fighting between rival military factions continues for a 25th day. On Monday, Sudan’s military leader ruled out any peace settlement unless both warring parties agree to a lasting ceasefire. Representatives for the national military and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces have been holding talks in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. At least 700 people having killed. Over 100,000 people have fled Sudan since fighting broke out. This is a Khartoum resident who spoke to reporters from the border town of Wadi Halfa.

KHARTOUM RESIDENT: [translated] I need to take my insulin. Today is the third day that I did not take insulin. I have no money to buy insulin. I left all my money and my job in Khartoum. After the attacks, I left everything behind and just came here. I don’t own anything here, assuming that I would find a way to leave directly. There was nothing there that made me stay or wait. As soon as the attacks happened, I left everything behind.

AMY GOODMAN: And this is Abdullah Osama, another Khartoum resident who fled the city.

ABDULLAH OSAMA: [translated] We would wake up every morning to the sounds of bullets and missiles. We would walk and find corpses in the streets. Streets were closed. Hospitals were closed. Everything was closed. There were electricity and water cuts.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now by two guests. Khalid Mustafa Medani is an associate professor of political science and Islamic studies, chair of the African Studies Program at McGill University in Montreal. He’s from Sudan. And joining us from Khartoum is the Sudanese activist Marine Alneel. We had hoped to go to Marine in Khartoum first, but we are having trouble with her line. There is so much trouble with power and electricity in this war-torn nation right now.

Professor Medani, let’s begin with you. Talk about what’s happening right now. You have negotiations going on in Saudi Arabia, yet the forces on the ground — 100,000 people have fled the country. Seven hundred are dead, at least?

KHALID MUSTAFA MEDANI: Yeah, absolutely. First of all, thank you for having me on your show again.

The crisis is incredibly severe and has increased in the course of the last four weeks or so. Not only is it about food insecurity at the moment, but famine, potentially, in the capital of Khartoum. And so, in the addition to the absence of electricity and clean drinking water, the lack of access to food, there is an unbelievable amount of looting of stores, of people’s homes, the looting of factories, food factories. So, the infrastructure of the city is particularly destroyed, and that’s one of the biggest aspects of this humanitarian crisis, which is a really big problem.

In addition to that, those volunteers, youth activists — I think Ms. Alneel will talk about it a little bit more — are being actually threatened by both the paramilitary forces and the national army. In other words, those young people and networks in civil society that are trying to volunteer to actually provide medicine and food and supplies, utilizing social media and charitable work, so to speak, are the very people who are being detained and being intimidated and threatened. The Sudanese Doctors Union, which is doing all it can to provide medicine and provide healthcare and health services in the context of 70% of the hospitals in Khartoum that have been bombed, have also been threatened.

And so, there is a political aspect to it and a political crisis to it, but the humanitarian crisis is not only deep, it’s now expanded throughout the country. The man you interviewed in Wadi Halfa in the north is just one of hundreds of thousands who are stuck at the border. It’s not just about being stuck at the border, but the lack of access to food and medicine. Even if you do have the finances, which, of course, most residents in Khartoum, for example, do not, the prices have quadrupled over the last weeks. And so, the humanitarian crisis is really problematic.

And the absence of the U.N., of, you know, kind of refugee agencies is really stark in the capital. There is some supplies that are coming from the World Food Programme, but the absence and the lack of presence of the United Nations agency in the context of this complex humanitarian emergency is extremely disappointing.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor, let me go to Marine Alneel.

KHALID MUSTAFA MEDANI: And so, I want to emphasize the humanitarian crisis, to begin with.

AMY GOODMAN: We just got Marine Alneel back on. And while we’re able to speak with her, Marine, I’m so glad we could get in touch with you. I have been worried since we last spoke to you, not able to reach you. This has been going on now — what? We’re in the 25th day. Can you describe what you’re seeing on the ground and the level of threat to civilians, and if you see any possibility of these warring commanders stopping the fighting?

MARINE ALNEEL: The humanitarian situation, Amy, in Khartoum has only gotten worse since we last spoke. So, we’re still suffering from shortages in food supply, power cuts — we have some areas in Khartoum that have had no electricity for over a week now — water cuts. And it’s still very difficult and not safe to move around, which means many people are not able to go to hospitals or other centers that are providing medical care. And as has been said, 70% of medical services are down currently.

And although the numbers are reporting that over 100,000 have fled to neighboring countries and 300,000 have been internally displaced, however, we have to remember that these numbers are only small percentages, and many have remained within Khartoum. Only those who can afford it, which are actually a small percentage of people, have left Khartoum. So, now the remainder of the people who are here are people who have not been able to leave for financial reasons or other reasons. They are the people who have less access to international media, to even just internet or access to journalists, or being able to get their story out there, basically.

This is turning Khartoum into another war, similar to the ones that have been raised by the Sudanese government on its people before. So it’s becoming another ignorable war. When you have all the middle class and upper middle class and all the foreigners have left Khartoum, this is what Khartoum residents are now facing: It’s this fear that we are now going to be forgotten in this situation.

AMY GOODMAN: And how do you think people can be most helped by other African nations — I mean, talk about what’s happening on the borders — and also by the entire international community? Talk about the warring commanders, what they’re demanding, and where the civilians fit into this picture.

MARINE ALNEEL: Both parties, the Rapid Support Forces and the Sudanese Armed Forces, do not seem to be genuine about their efforts to negotiate. Only yesterday, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan has said to one media outlet that a peaceful solution is the only way to end the crisis, and has said in a statement by the Sudanese Armed Forces that they are not willing to consider any temporary ceasefire, which implies that they’re looking for a victory for the Sudanese Armed Forces. So it seems like both parties are not serious about their interest in creating a temporary ceasefire or maybe even safe passages so that the livelihood and the well-being of the people who are in these conflict areas can be taken care of while the conflict continues. It doesn’t seem to be a priority for both parties.

So I think the main effort that can be helpful to the residents of Sudan right now is to support the civilian efforts that have been providing aid for people in Khartoum and in other conflict-affected areas. It’s only been popular efforts that have actually made an impact on the ground. Any NGOs, whether international or national, have not been able to reach because of the lack of safety. So, it’s the people who are also stuck in the conflict that have been able to provide things like ambulances and makeshift hospitals, and even just getting food supplies and life-saving medication from one place to another. And during these trips, for example, only a few days ago, members of resistance committees that were running an ambulance were arrested by the Sudanese Armed Forces. So, we’re having to just face these risks just to be able to provide basic life needs.

AMY GOODMAN: And let me ask Khalid Mustafa Medani the question of whether this is becoming a kind of proxy war. You have the reports that the Wagner Group has been supplying Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces with missiles, and The Washington Post reporting Hemedti has close ties with Russia, whose mercenary Wagner Group reportedly supports his gold mining interests, while Burhan is backed by neighboring Egypt, in the Arab world’s most popular nation. Professor Medani?

KHALID MUSTAFA MEDANI: Yes, absolutely. I think, quite frankly, the reason that the United States and Saudi Arabia — one of the main reasons that they’re holding these, what they call prenegotiation talks is, number one, to feel out the two generals, following the executive order that President Biden implemented in terms of the threat of sanctions or sanctioning these generals. But another had to do — and he stated it himself, and that is the spillover effect and the fact that other actors are going to use different domestic groups, in particular, these two generals, as proxy actors. It’s widely acknowledged that the Wagner Group, of course, has interest in gold. Russia has long had an interest in actually finding a base or establishing a base in the Port of Sudan. And the United Arab Emirates, of course, has historically been very supportive, financially and politically, of Hemedti, and Egypt of Burhan. Those, I think, are really important aspects of why these negotiations are taking place. I think there’s absolutely no question that there is a great possibility of greater interference, and I think that’s one of the reasons these talks are being held, the recognition that actors, particularly those unfriendly to the United States and Saudi Arabia, will actually intervene and complicate the situation, of course, and having a spillover effect throughout the region, which I think is extremely important.

I do think, if you don’t mind me saying, that there’s a central problem with the negotiations. Number one, it is supposed to provide for humanitarian corridors after a ceasefire, but civil society and those, as Ms. Alneel just mentioned, who are actually doing the humanitarian work are completely excluded from these negotiations. And the danger here is to return to the previous history, where you basically have a compromise between two generals that basically reestablishes the very kind of tenuous balance of power that they had in the past. And most centrally and importantly, the repeated mistake — and I can’t emphasize this enough — the repeated mistakes of these negotiations to exclude civil society actors, including nongovernmental organizations and the resistance committees, the trade unions, the Sudan Doctors Unions — the very people who would be able to secure the implementation not only of a ceasefire, in terms of service delivery, but also to make a potential negotiation durable in the future.

My opinion is that actually betting on Hemedti and Burhan, with respect to the international actors, as sources of stability is completely incorrect. They have proven that they are not able to administer this country. And the only solution — and this is why the role of civil society here is so important in Sudan — the only solution, as civil society actors — and many analysts, by the way, have insisted upon, in the case of Sudan, that the only path toward stability is the establishment of a civilian democracy. That is not on the table. And Saudi Arabia and the United States have yet to actually put that on the table, including and also adding more stakeholders, more buy-ins into these negotiations. So, once again, the same mistakes are being replayed, and this is, I think, what we really need to emphasize at this moment.

AMY GOODMAN: Khalid Mustafa Medani, a professor of political science and Islamic studies, chair of the African Studies Program at McGill University, a Sudanese. Also, congratulations on getting your mother out to safety. Marine Alneel, all the very best to you, Sudanese activist who remains in Khartoum, as so many others do. We thank you both for being with us.

Next up, protests continue after the death of Jordan Neely, longtime subway performer, who had become unhoused and was choked to death by a former marine in a subway car last week. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: Violinist Lorenzo Laroc performing in New York City’s subways. He’s one of our next guests.

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