Ásia, Deutsche Welle, Inglês, traduz

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“Before this conflict started, we had many crises, but I didn’t even think for once to leave the country, I don’t know why, I just loved it there,” says Aya El Sammani, who is originally from Sudan but now lives in the German capital, Berlin.

She was born in the Sudanese capital Khartoum and was at university studying English literature and art when the clashes between two rival armed factions broke out in Khartoum on April 15, 2023. Within a couple of weeks, people began to realize that they needed to flee the city situated at the confluence of the White Nile and the Blue Nile. 

“If I went out from home to get something from the grocery store or to do anything, it wasn’t going to be peaceful. I might get killed. I might get raped. So now Khartoum is their place. It’s not ours anymore,” she explains. 

The conflict is primarily between the powerful paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), headed by General Mohammed Hamden Dagalo, and Sudan’s armed forces, led by de-facto ruler General Abdel-Fattah Burhan.

The two generals had seized power together in a military coup in 2021 following the collapse of the Western-backed government.

After falling out over internationally backed plans for Sudan to transition to civilian rule and the contentious issue of the RSF’s integration into the regular armed forces, the two generals are now fighting for control of the vast resource-rich country at the crossroads between Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East.

A year of war has left Sudan with a humanitarian crisis

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Caught in the middle are the Sudanese people, who are facing a devastating humanitarian crisis. More than 6.6 million people have been internally displaced and a further 2 million have fled to neighboring countries, including Chad, South Sudan and Egypt.

Some 20,000 people are forced to flee their homes every day in Sudan, according to the International Organization for Migration, and more than half of those displaced are under the age of 18. 

In December 2023, the World Health Organization reported that 70%, of the country’s health facilities were non-functional.

Shortages of medical supplies, an exodus of healthcare workers and outbreaks of infectious diseases, including cholera and measles, are exacerbating an already dire situation. 

‘Everything has been stolen in Sudan’

El Sammani describes herself as one of the lucky ones. When the war broke out, she had a valid passport and an entry visa for Saudi Arabia where her father works.

She lived in Saudi Arabia for 10 months before moving to Berlin in March as part of residency program run by German non-profit Media in Cooperation and Transition.

“While I’m talking to you right now, there are armies of soldiers who are staying at my home, in my room, and I cannot go back there. I mean I can’t even enter my street,” El Sammani told DW. 

“Everything has been stolen in Sudan. Every personal thing, cars, I mean you can even go to your house, and you can’t find your furniture anymore.”

She is worried about her sisters, who fled 800 kilometers (500 miles) to the coastal city of Port Sudan.

They are unable to make the journey to Saudi Arabia because they lack the necessary paperwork; one of her sisters also has a small child who doesn’t have a passport.

El Sammani also tells the story of a friend who initially fled to Egypt but returned to Sudan to be with his elderly father who refused to leave.

She says that she spoke with him a week after he arrived back in Khartoum but has been unable to reach him since. She doesn’t know if he is still alive.

It isn’t “easy to accept” that the conflict won’t end anytime soon, she says. She fears the word has forgotten Sudan and decries the lack of international media coverage, particularly in the past six months.

The “other world” doesn’t care about the Sudan crisis, she says.

As of April 2024, 16,000 people had been killed in the conflict, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project.

“I mean isn’t it about crises, isn’t it about people who are killed?” El Sammani asks.

‘This war is not our war’

“We try to make them also understand that this war is not our war,” explains Sudanese activist Mai Shatta from the Bana Group for Peace and Development, an international feminist network.

Born in Khartoum to a family from Darfur, a region in western Sudan particularly hard hit by the violence, Shatta has lived in Germany since 2012 after she was forced into exile because of her political activism.

Mai Shatta
Political activist Mai Shatta says that it is civilians who are paying the price for the war in SudanImage: Privat

Many people assume that the war is a factional one between two generals, she says. But it’s not an internal conflict, she points out, rather external influences are fueling the conflict.

“[Sudan] is being dragged to this fight and we are the civilians who are paying the price right now, and we’re still paying the price to this day.” 

Many analyses of the Sudan crisis highlight the complex web of regional and international influences that contribute to the power struggle to control Sudan, along with its natural resources and funding flows.

‘We don’t know where this will end’

South Sudanese author Stella Gaitano has been living in the small German town of Kamen since 2022. She’s on a PEN Writer in Exile scholarship.

Her two children, aged 13 and 15, joined her in 2023. They plan to stay because, she says, “we really don’t know where this will end and how.”

When the violence first flared last April, Gaitano was living in Khartoum. She had fled to the Sudanese capital from South Sudan after her open criticism of South Sudan’s government attracted a campaign of harassment. But the conflict forced her to flee again.

Stella Gaitano
South Sudanese author Stella Gaitano says she does not know where or how the war will endImage: Duha Mohammed

Gaitano still has two sisters in Sudan. They have been displaced twice and are now based in the east of the country.

“They can’t work, their husbands left their jobs. The children have been out of school for almost a year. There are millions of children out of school,” she tells DW. 

In Germany, Gaitano has finished writing her second novel. She feels the Sudanese lack a voice to let the world know about their problems, she says.

‘There’s a very big storytelling issue’ 

Hager Ali, a political scientist at the German Institute for Global and Area Studies, agrees. Despite Sudan marking the war’s one-year anniversary last week, the conflict has been overlooked by the media, she says.

“There’s a very big storytelling issue with the war in Sudan. It’s not something that you can very easily just summarize into a war between good and evil or democracy and autocracy. That limits how it’s covered internationally,” Hager tells DW.

“There is also a false perception that the war doesn’t affect anything politically outside Sudan and that, in terms of the world’s economy, it might also not be particularly critical.”

She says, among other world conflicts, Sudan’s people feel invisible.

“Imagine you had to leave your home and family behind only to witness how your suffering is not even prioritized or remembered. With everything else [going on] in the Middle East, Sudan’s war is just forgotten.”

Edited by: Anne Thomas and Kate Hairsine

 

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