Scenes from a youthful uprising
After years of divide and rule by President Omar al-Bashir, the youth of Sudan have united to push him out.
More than 60% of Sudan’s population of almost 40 million people have never known a president of their country other than Omar al-Bashir. The young men and women visible in daily reports of the uprising in Khartoum and other Sudanese cities and towns over the last 5 weeks have lived a lifetime of constraints under the Bashir regime’s “revolution of national salvation,” which took power in June 1989. At its onset, secondary school students were forced to wear camouflage-style uniforms to their classrooms; their older brothers were conscripted to fight the losing war against the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), a war which ended up with Sudan, which had been Africa’s largest country, losing one-third of its territory as South Sudan broke away. Millions of Sudanese and South Sudanese died or were displaced in that process as well. For Bashir to remain in power against a catastrophic backdrop he adopted the tactics of violent extremism, strategies most usually found among non-state actors in his region.
The young people in the streets of the capital today, and significantly outside of the capital as well, have responded to the Bashir regime’s violence with an organized protest for peace and democratic change. While the president revealed himself time and again as a leader who hates his own people—bombing children in schools in the Nuba Mountains or Darfur over the long decades of his rule—the youth demonstrating in the streets today are united in a consistent voice of tusqut bas! “Just fall, that’s all!” This is a message to Bashir and his corrupt and incompetent cronies who have embezzled Sudan’s wealth and exploited her people’s faith. Meanwhile Bashir and his people blame “economic problems and foreign saboteurs” for the unrest, the people in the streets are asking for “freedom, peace and justice.”
These young Sudanese are dedicated to social media, which is their link to their brothers and sisters in the enormous Sudan diaspora and across urban Sudan’s congested sprawl. Sending out messages of encouragement, reports and videos of atrocities to all—WhatsApp a crowd favorite—has kept momentum alive. The videos are vivid with images of grandmothers shouting for Bashir to “get out!” And of young men and women waving Sudanese flags and rushing unarmed towards troops positioned on trucks to block their paths. When the Bashir regime—determined to disrupt the discourse of the streets—cut internet access to Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, the response of a young tech-savvy nation was to jump on VPNs within hours of the government’s move.
The strength of the crowds in the streets comes from the intense solidarity and pent-up fury that have been carefully nurtured by a cruel regime. Government troops now have shoot-to-kill orders with the heads of young men their targets. These troops and the recently transformed “Janjaweed” forces, which had been posted to the Egyptian border and paid for with EU funds to stem the flow of migrants, are now invading hospital emergency rooms where they finish off those they could not kill in the streets. Despite Bashir’s policies of dividing the nation into ethnic enclaves, the people have resisted and joined across generations and regions in this “fight to the end,” as one activist put it. He added, “there is no turning back from this fight.” Meanwhile, Salah Ghosh, Bashir’s security chief, dared the revolt in the streets to “try to stage 2 demonstrations in Khartoum at the same time.” They managed to launch eighty demonstrations.