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International efforts to end the war in Sudan have waned

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Over six months of war has brought Sudan to its knees. Many thousands have been killed and nearly 6 million people displaced. Several attempted peace talks have failed while the army and the powerful paramilitary group continue a brutal fight for control of the East African country. Despite this, international efforts to end the war have waned. Throughout the conflict, NPR's Emmanuel Akinwotu has been reporting for us from West Africa, and he joins us now. Good morning, Emmanuel.

EMMANUEL AKINWOTU, BYLINE: Good morning Leila.

FADEL: So we're entering the seventh month of this conflict. What do we need to know?

AKINWOTU: Well, we know many thousands of people have died, but it's hard to grasp just the true scale of it. The U.N. says it's the worst displacement crisis in the world. There are about 6 million people displaced in and outside of Sudan, and the numbers are rising every day, particularly in Darfur. That's the region to the west where there was a genocide 20 years ago against African ethnic groups by the Arab militia group called the Janjaweed. That group is now the RSF, and the RSF say they've taken control of most of Darfur, and there are continuous reports of ethnic cleansing again. And despite all of this, aid still can't get to most of the country, so people are left to bear this without any support. And we've been speaking to people in Sudan for the duration of the war, and recently, they shared voice notes with us to explain what's happening around them.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTIVIST: (Chanting in non-English language).

AKINWOTU: These were the hopeful chants of resistance from Sudanese activists like Duaa Tariq in the early weeks of the war.

DUAA TARIQ: Oh, Revolutionary, continue chanting. Tell the people of the neighborhood I'm coming. As long as I'm alive, you're safe. Don't be scared.

AKINWOTU: They'd walk through battered streets in their neighborhood in East Khartoum and chant words of defiance so residents sheltering from the shelling could feel that they were not alone.

TARIQ: And don't forget, even when it gets dark and ugly, we're here around you, holding you down.

AKINWOTU: But now the chants have stopped. This kind of open defiance has become too dangerous.

TARIQ: After six months of war in the capital Khartoum, life have changed so much.

AKINWOTU: She and others in Sudan have sent voice notes to NPR about what their lives are like now. Duaa says militants from the Rapid Support Forces control the streets around her home, like in much of Khartoum.

TARIQ: There is so many of them. They are everywhere. People are in shock. People kind of now coexisting with the militia.

AKINWOTU: Every day, the people in her neighborhood share new stories of atrocities by RSF fighters.

TARIQ: Children, people, everybody just talk about the militia, what they have done today. They came by, they looted, they hit someone, somebody arrested.

AKINWOTU: And women routinely suffer sexual violence.

TARIQ: It's so difficult to be a woman right now. There are, like, women being raped in front of their families. It's very dangerous right now for women. And the situation is only getting worse.

AKINWOTU: Both the RSF and the army have been accused of several rights abuses across Sudan. For the millions left in Sudan, the war rages on, but without the attention it had six months ago or the diplomatic urgency needed to end it.

AMNA GASSIM: My name is Amna Gassim. I'm a pediatric specialist at Al Golok Hospital.

AKINWOTU: Dr. Amna Gassim works at what is now the only pediatric hospital in Khartoum state, the wider region beyond the capital city. Her hospital has been shelled four times and can only give minimal care because supplies are depleted, and the consequences are often fatal.

GASSIM: One of the most difficult situations or stories that we went through during the last month.

AKINWOTU: She tells a story about a family that brought their 12-year-old daughter and only child to the hospital. She had kidney failure and needed dialysis. They needed a catheter, a tube to drain fluid from her body, something they normally had. If they did, she would have survived, but they didn't, and she died.

GASSIM: You have nothing to do to save her life.

AKINWOTU: One of the epicenters of the fighting has been the western region of Darfur.

ADEEB YOUSIF: It's me, Adeeb, the former governor of Central Darfur. Things are getting worse.

AKINWOTU: Adeeb Yousif is a former governor in Darfur, which was the site of a genocidal war in 2002. He says the situation is worse there now than 20 years ago and that genocidal violence is being inflicted again.

YOUSIF: The conflict dynamic, it looks, in Darfur, is more of ethnic conflict rather than political conflict.

AKINWOTU: Refugees have reported mass killings by Arab militias aligned with the RSF, which itself evolved from the infamous Janjaweed militia responsible for atrocities against African ethnic groups, according to rights groups.

YOUSIF: Humanitarian situation, also, is getting worse. For those suffering people, there's no organization or U.N. agencies that are supporting them. This is an appeal to the international community, therefore, is in a very critical situation, and people are suffering.

AKINWOTU: After six months of war, so much of Duaa's life has changed.

TARIQ: Sorry, that's my baby on the background.

AKINWOTU: She's now a mother, and she's raising her child in a neighborhood in East Khartoum that's a shell of itself, shattered or disfigured by shelling and occupied by fighters.

TARIQ: There is not a chance for protesting physically on the streets.

AKINWOTU: She and other activists no longer chant around the neighborhood or protest the fighting, but they found other ways to soften the impact of the war.

TARIQ: There is a network of people in Khartoum.

AKINWOTU: They've turned their homes into a discreet network of 70 emergency response rooms where they share the little medical aid they can find as well as counseling, food and shelter.

TARIQ: The core of it is love and the mutual aid and taking care of each other, listening to what we have to say, sharing emotions. We move to houses next to each other to be close and watch over each other and to protect each other from the militia.

FADEL: So, Emmanuel, is there any sign of progress in U.S., African and Saudi-backed peace talks between the two warring parties?

AKINWOTU: Well, the talks don't appear to have had much impact. Virtually every agreement of, you know, on humanitarian cease-fires have unraveled. Last week, there was another humanitarian agreement announced, and this time, both sides said they would cooperate to allow more aid to move freely. We'll have to see if that bar is met this time. But both sides have only really come to the table when they felt they had the upper hand in the war.

FADEL: NPR's Emmanuel Akinwotu. Thank you so much.

AKINWOTU: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF TIGRAN HAMASYAN, ET AL.'S "BE KIND") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Emmanuel Akinwotu
Emmanuel Akinwotu is an international correspondent for NPR. He joined NPR in 2022 from The Guardian, where he was West Africa correspondent.