The U.S. is sending its top diplomat for Africa to Sudan amid mounting global concern, just a week after more than 100 people were killed by government-backed paramilitary forces.
Unrest mounted quickly in April after the military ousted Sudan’s long-time dictator, Omar al-Bashir. For months, pro-democracy activists had demonstrated, demanding al-Bashir’s ouster, but they wanted him replaced by a civilian government — not a military junta which includes people who were loyal for years to the autocrat.
The Sudanese people are still desperate for respite after three decades of harsh rule under al-Bashir. The violence reached a crescendo last week with the crackdown on the protest sit-in outside the military headquarters. The details of what actually happened over the course of just one bloody day last week were still emerging on Tuesday.
Doctors have said they counted at least 118 bodies after the siege by government-backed paramilitary groups, including 40 pulled out of the Nile River. The government has only admitted to about 60 deaths.
Protesters have demanded a swift transfer to civilian rule since the military seized control from Bashir and locked him up. But after last week’s brutal crackdown many opposition leaders have been forced underground.
Internet access has been cut off in Sudan and other means of communication severely restricted.
Even more disturbing have been harrowing accounts emerging of men and women being raped by the paramilitary group, known as the Rapid Support Forces or RSF. Doctors said hospitals in Khartoum had recorded more than 70 cases of rape during last week’s attack on the protesters and in its immediate aftermath.
How we got here
It began with such high hopes. In December an economic crisis underscored by rising bread prices resulted in rolling mass protests, demanding al-Bashir step down.
They didn’t stop until al-Bashir was forced out by his military generals in April, ending three decades of autocratic rule. He has been indicted by an international court on charges including genocide and crimes against humanity for atrocities committed in Sudan’s Darfur region.
The civilian uprising that precipitated his ouster was disappointed by al-Bashir’s replacement with a military junta. Talks between the two sides went nowhere, and the protests were met with the vicious crackdown last week resulting in death, rape and hundreds of injuries.
What is the world doing?
There has been harsh condemnation of the bloody crackdown, but other than that here has been little concrete pushback from the United Nations or Western nations, including the United States. The African Union suspended Sudan’s membership and also called for an end to the violence.
The ruling junta’s shut-down of internet access in Sudan has made it difficult to get information, so there has also been limited media coverage of what’s happening inside the country.
The generals have said they need to hold onto power for another nine months, when they promise elections. But there are widespread fears that those elections would not be free or fair, and would be orchestrated simply to legitimize the appointment of a new military dictator.
Democracy advocates point to Egypt as an example of this happening in recent history, after a similar popular uprising was quashed there. There are also concerns over the current ruling generals’ ties with the autocratic regimes in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which could be helping to pull strings in Sudan.
With all this in mind the Trump administration has dispatched Nagy to call for a cessation of violence and a resumption of peace talks. He will also visit neighboring Ethiopia to discuss options for a political solution to the Sudan crisis with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
The Ethiopian leader has tried to mediate between the military and protesters in Sudan, but as the generals have the political and financial backing of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, there is little incentive right now for them to back down.