INTERVIEW: Shooting in Khartoum

Dina Ezzat , Thursday 27 Apr 2023

Sudanese photographer Faiz Abubakr talks about Khartoum in the photos he took from before the Sudanese Revolution to the current armed conflict.

Faiz Abubakr
Sudanese photographer Faiz Abubakr. Al-Ahram


It was only a few hours before the dawn of Sunday, 15 April, when the professional photojournalist was driving his motorcycle from the zone of the Central Command of the Sudanese Armed Forces (CCSAF) to his house on the outskirts of Khartoum.

“It looked very odd with such a strong military presence; there were tanks, soldiers and armoured cars, and it just looked like something was about to happen,” he said.

He added that this scene came only a few days after the abrupt construction of a wall that surrounded the compound of the CCSAF.

Abubakr was well aware of the escalating confrontation between the leader of the army, Abdel-Fattah Al-Borhan and Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, the leader of the Rapid Support Forces.

For him, as for many Sudanese, “there was nothing new” about the highly charged accusations exchanged between the two generals who led parallel military and paramilitary bodies under Sudan’s ousted Omar Al-Bashir.

The political battle between the two men has been rising for over six months since “the failure of the 25 October military coup” that Al-Borhan executed to undermine the influence of the civilian political groups in the country.

“This is a battle over power and interests; it was clear to everyone that it would continue, but we were not expecting things to turn into a full-scale war, but it has been happening for almost two weeks now with no end in sight,” he said in a telephone interview with Ahram Online outside the Sudanese capital.

It was the last week of the holy month of Ramadan, and Abubakr arrived home shortly before breakfast.

After a quick meal, he went to bed exhausted, waking up to heavy noise.

“It sounded like the noise of intense fighting, but I could not believe that madness had reached that level.

When I realised that it was the SAF and RSF fighting, I thought that the clashes would only last a few days and would settle down somehow,” he said.

In his worst nightmares, this 30-year-old photographer never thought he would see these two generals fighting so hard to the point where large quarters of Khartoum would be destroyed. Instead, the city where he was born lived and wished to stay.

A few years ago, when he started photography, Abubakr had folders of people going around the markets, children playing, young people strolling by the Nile and students going to school.

He had endless pictures documenting the cultural diversity of this country that “has so many colourful pictures to offer.”

Photo courtesy of Faiz Abubakr

Photo courtesy of Faiz Abubakr

Photo courtesy of Faiz Abubakr

Later, with the start of the Sudanese Revolution in December 2018, Abubakr became one of the first photographers to capture the triumphal waves of civilians as they moved in “a unified mass in the face of forces” that Al-Bashir sent to quell the protests.

It was an inspiring moment followed by many challenges, “including the attack on the protestors in the CCSAF zone.” It was a moment for pictures of hope and pictures of pain.

Photo courtesy of Faiz Abubakr

Photo courtesy of Faiz Abubakr

Photo courtesy of Faiz Abubakr

Photo courtesy of Faiz Abubakr

Today, almost two weeks into the recent conflict, Abubakr has nothing but hopes to shoot.

“The centre of Khartoum is heavily damaged; buildings were brought down; people, mostly civilians, were killed as they were caught up in the middle of the fighting, with so many bodies left on the roads and long lines of civilians forced into a perilous path of displacement in pursuit of somewhere to hide from the armed conflict that turned into a war,” he said.

The photographer is having a challenging time documenting the sorrows of Khartoum and its people.

“A man with a camera is not something either the SAF or the RSF could tolerate; for either side, a photographer is a threat—either because they are feared as a spy whose pictures are going to be used by the other side or because they document and share the atrocities of either side and would not wish the world to see,” he said.

“Still, I have to find a way; I try to move discretely or get on top of a high-rise to take pictures that I hope will get the world to see what is happening in Sudan,” he said.

Photo courtesy of Faiz Abubakr

Photo courtesy of Faiz Abubakr

As far as he is concerned, there is no good guy or bad buy in this war. They are both bad guys who do not care about the people who have to suffer instead of seeing their promised dream of democracy.

“Today, it is not a matter of who fired the first shot because the brutal fighting that both sides are involved in comes at the price of the civilians who are being forced to either suffer in their city or escape into uncertainty,” he said.

If the SAF won, it would be “a new dictatorship, most likely a radical Islamist one.” If the RSF won, “it would also be a dictatorship claiming to be fighting the Islamists.”

Abubakr will continue to “shoot in the city that is in a very tough moment of its history that might change how it is viewed for a very long time.”

“There is no way to tell, despite the political talk of when this war will end, what the city will look like when the guns are silenced, and the bodies are buried.”

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