Image: Wikimedia Commons/ Marc Mongenet

The War in Sudan: My family’s harrowing story

On the morning of April 15, 2023, I was greeted with distressing news: my homeland, the place of my birth and adolescence years, was under attack. Videos depicting the bombardment and destruction of Khartoum, the capital city, flooded my screen. In the chaos, it was revealed that the orchestrators of this violence were none other than two dictators: Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who led the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, also known as Hemedti, who oversees the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF). Their clash, stemming from opposing stances on the Framework Agreement, an agreement which states that the country should be ruled under a civilian led government, plunged the nation into the grim reality of conflict. 

Initially, disbelief shrouded our perceptions as we hoped for a swift resolution, unwilling to grasp the full extent of the leaders’ thirst for power. However, as weeks passed, the harsh truth of war settled upon us, forcing acceptance of a protracted struggle ahead. Despite attempts to shield myself from the grim reality, the omnipresence of war on news outlets and social media platforms shattered any illusions of escapism. 

I recall speaking to my cousins and hearing the echoes of explosions in the background. Initially, I brushed it off, assuming they were simply playing one of their usual pranks on me. “This isn’t funny, stop,” I urged, but their laughter gave way to a chilling realization – the danger was real, with bombs detonating dangerously close to them. One of my cousins, unable to mask her fear any longer, whispered in a trembling voice, “Iba, if anything happens, I love you,” leaving me grappling with the sobering possibility of never seeing my family again. 

Around 19 million children are unable to access education due to the destruction and displacement

Heart-wrenching accounts flooded my feed – images of frightened children, women subjected to brutality, and tales of unspeakable horrors inflicted by the armed forces. UNICEF has reported that around 19 million children are unable to access education due to the destruction and displacement. According to the International Organization for Migration over 9 million people were internally displaced, making Sudan the largest internal displacement crisis globally. In addition to that, more than 3.5 million people had fled the country as refugees temporarily settling in refugee camps across East Africa. Furthermore, many of those 3.5 million who fled did not survive in the process, most having been trapped in the crossfire between the RSF and SAF. Accessing food, water, and medication proved exceedingly challenging throughout these journeys. Tragically, many individuals, both young and old, succumbed due to the extended duration of travel and the substandard quality of provisions available to them. Survivors were deemed fortunate despite enduring pervasive racism, ongoing instability, and looming financial hardship. For countless individuals, remaining in Khartoum was their only option, as they lacked the means to depart, compounded by the predicament of inaccessible assets amidst rampant bank lootings. 

My mother received the devastating news that her cousin had been fatally shot

Fearing for their safety, my mother’s siblings made the difficult decision to relocate from Khartoum to a town in the state of Kordofan, located in the centre of Sudan. Days passed by while they praying for their safety, and nights were consumed by ceaseless worry and sleeplessness. Then, one fateful morning, a jarring phone call shattered the fragile peace – my mother received the devastating news that her cousin had been fatally shot. He had ventured out in response to the sounds of commotion and gunfire, only to fall victim to the crossfire between the RSF and SAF, like so many others. The torment experienced by those beyond the conflict zone only intensified from that moment on. 

Shortly after, the anguish of those trapped within the conflict zone became worse, as violence spread beyond Khartoum into smaller regions. The journey from Kordofan to Khartoum, an exhausting eight-hour drive, followed by another twelve-hour stretch from Khartoum to Port Sudan, marked a desperate bid for safety for my family. I recall this day so clearly as I had an exam and the single thing I could focus on was the fact that I may never speak to them or see them again. Communication hurdles only amplified the anxiety, with certain regions devoid of service and internet. After navigating through numerous RSF/SAF checkpoints, they finally arrived in Port Sudan, a gateway to safety. A day later, they found refuge in Saudi Arabia. Despite their triumph over adversity, I couldn’t help but feel guilty – here I was, preoccupied with trivial concerns, while my family teetered on the brink of peril. 

Months passed, each marked by the grim toll of lives lost, numbing me to the ever-present spectre of death. Distancing myself from loved ones became a coping mechanism, an attempt to shield my emotions from the relentless onslaught of despair. I brought most communication with them to a halt, intentionally missing calls and so on.  

As my family contemplated escape, my grandfather’s reluctance, steeped in cultural notions of masculinity and pride, added another layer of complexity to our ordeal. Their arduous journey to safety, fraught with danger and uncertainty, weighed heavily on my conscience, juxtaposed against the triviality of my own “first world” concerns.  

The grim statistics spoke volumes: at least 13,0s0-15,000 people killed, 33,000 others injured, and a nation plunged into darkness

By February 2024, the grim statistics spoke volumes: at least 13,000 – 15,000 people had been killed and 33,000 others were injured, and a nation plunged into darkness amidst an internet and communication blackout. The gravity of the situation hit home when I received a call from my aunt and 4-year-old cousin. I joked her asking “how it is to have a big summer holiday?” the toddler replied with “how can we learn anything if the RSF are present at every road with their guns?” her innocent response about learning amidst the omnipresent threat of armed forces serving as a pitiful reminder of the innocence lost amidst conflict.  

The traditional song “Baladn Hi Lina” captures a sentiment that deeply resonates with me: the profound connection to our homeland. It eloquently expresses that when our country sheds tears, we share its sorrow; when it is in distress, so are we. I hope for an end to the war so that I may return home, create cherished memories with my loved ones, and contribute to the process of rebuilding and healing. Since the onset of political unrest in 2018, we have embraced a powerful mantra: “The country is ours and we will establish a civilian lead government.” I fervently await the fulfillment of this vision, eager to witness the restoration of our nation’s democratic principles. Hanabniho!  

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