KHARTOUM, Sudan — On Saturday, January 26, around 50 to 70 protesters congregated in Portland, Maine’s Monument Square. Darning Sudanese flags, as well as anti-Bashir signs and shirts, protesters were undoubtedly protesting the violence and corruption that is occurring in Sudan at this very moment. Before delving into what Portland’s protesters had to say, it is important to understand the context. As one of the protesters said, there is very little awareness in the world community in regards to what is happening in Sudan and why the Sudanese protests are occurring.
Current Situation in Sudan
Sudan, the third-most populated country in Africa, is situated in the northeast part of the continent. Gaining independence from Egypt and Great Britain in 1956, most of Sudan’s population has since dealt with harsh living conditions. Still, many see Sudan as an integral piece to the puzzle of stability and economic growth in Africa.
Since December 2018, widespread protests have occurred both in the cities and countryside of Sudan. The Sudanese protests symbolize a rejection of President Omar al-Bashir’s 30 years in power as well as the government’s inability to solve important economic issues. Using violence and intimidation, Bashir’s government has destabilized Sudan and deteriorated educational and economic institutions. Economically speaking, Sudan has the third highest inflation rate in the world, having shortages of essentials such as gasoline, bread and physical cash. Not only is the poor of Sudan upset with the economic state of Sudan, but the middle class as well since cash shortages have limited how much cash one can take out of ATMs in Sudan.
Though protests have taken place throughout Bashir’s 29-year governing sporadically, they have now become a daily occurrence in Sudan. Beginning as a response to the economic and institutional hardships that have recently plagued Sudan, the protests now focus on Bashir himself as people want him gone.
This sentiment was echoed by the Sudanese protest that transpired in Portland, Maine. Two of the organizers of the protest, Aymen Korika and Elfadel Arbab, named the removal of Bashir as a top priority to the specific protest, as well as the entire movement itself. Another top priority of the protest in Portland was that those that have replied to the Sudanese protests with violence be held accountable. According to Korika, the Bashir government has violently repressed the protests, dispersing the protests while at least 51 protesters were killed.
Most of all, though, the protest in Portland was more alarmist than provocative. The organizers said that they were protesting to make the United States and the EU aware of what is happening in Sudan. “We are working locally. We are meeting with the U.S. Congress, the White House, but we want local leaders to be aware of the situation and to use their power to influence,” said Korika.
The Protests’ Repercussions
Keeping in mind that these protests are fresh and ongoing, the protests have already created repercussions. As was the goal for the Portland protest organizers, the situation in Sudan has received more attention and awareness. Not only have the Sudanese protests been covered by major media outlets, but the poverty and corruption in Sudan have also been covered.
For decades, power, wealth and opportunities have been monopolized by privileged ethnic groups. However, with the ongoing problems in Sudan since its independence in 1956, many international players have become desensitized to the massive amount of poverty and disenfranchisement. As Marta Ruedas, the United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Sudan said: “If it were a new crisis, the dimensions of it, the scale and the need of it, would be such that it would be one of the biggest crises in the world. But nobody realizes that because it’s been going on for so long. The need is there, but the response is no longer the same.”
Surely, it is the protests in Sudan, followed by protests all over the world such as Portland, Maine, that have brought the need for aid to Sudan back to the forefront. Also, in response to the protests, Prime Minister Moutaz Mousa Abdallah called the protest movement a respectable youth movement. This is in contrast to reports that the government has violently rejected and repressed the protests.
Sudanese Government Response
No matter how Bashir’s government eyes the protests, it is certain that the government is aware of the protests’ influence. In recent rallies used to draw more support for himself, Bashir has promised policy changes that could positively affect the disenfranchised communities that have slipped into extreme poverty. Bashir pledged rural development by expanding access to clean drinking water and electricity across Sudan.
These new pledges are important for the future of Sudan’s leadership. In order to slow the progress of the protest movement in Sudan, the protesters must see the real change that Bashir is promising. If they do not see this change in living conditions, Sudanese protests will continue. This is especially important as Bashir is considering running for reelection next year.
To reiterate the sentiments of the Portland protest organizers, it is important that the developed nations become more aware of the living conditions and political suppression not just in Sudan, but all over the world. The first step for the world’s most economically strong nations in the fight against global poverty and poor living conditions is to be educated and aware, only then can the world’s richest nations help in the right way.
– Kurt Thiele