Sudan should matter to all

Azza Radwan Sedky
Tuesday 9 May 2023

As the world focuses on the conflict in Sudan, has the Western media given appropriate attention to the humanitarian crisis in the country, asks Azza Radwan Sedky


The Western media began to cover the Sudan crisis by focusing on the history of conflicts in the country and why the conflict had erupted this time round. Very few reporters were on the ground in Sudan since it had become dangerously inaccessible, making reporting on the country something like an historical and geographical documentary.

 “The country straddles the Nile River, making the nation’s fate of almost existential importance, downstream, to water-hungry Egypt, and upstream, to land-locked Ethiopia with its ambitious hydro-electric plans that now affect the river’s flow. Sudan borders seven countries in all, each with security challenges that are intertwined with the politics of Khartoum,” said the BBC in its coverage of the conflict.

The reporting also covered how Sudan has been severely stressed by the conflict, the pre-existing food shortage in the country, the patchy ceasefires that were never adopted, and what awaits those who are fleeing Sudan to neighbouring countries.

Often, though, the topics alluded to were far removed from the main conflict and the story itself. One crucial topic for the Western media was the evacuation of foreign nationals and later the halting of flights from Sudan.

 “For days, the focus in the Western media has centred on the evacuations of foreign nationals in the country,” said the Washington Post. Commiserating with Canadians in Sudan, the headline to one Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) article read that “‘no one seemed to care about us’: Canadians trying to leave Sudan describe chaotic evacuation operation.”

It focused on how the Canadian Ambassador Philip Lupul, had feared for his life and how the conflict had taken him and others by surprise. After fleeing from Sudan and speaking from Nairobi, Kenya, Lupul said his staff “were trapped for eight days by non-stop fighting in the centre of Khartoum, the heart of the conflict zone.”

“It was a very intense experience… for myself and my staff, there was a lot of fear.”

The role of the US in the conflict and what US President Joe Biden had to say were very significant. The media focused on how Biden had warned of sanctions against those “threatening the peace, security, and stability of Sudan,” even though these would be almost impossible to implement without harming the Sudanese people in general.

“The violence taking place in Sudan is a tragedy – and it is a betrayal of the Sudanese people’s clear demand for civilian government and a transition to democracy. It must end,” Biden said.

The Western media has valued the role the US is playing to put pressure on the warring sides to meet to end the fighting. Talks have already begun in Jeddah in Saudi Arabia. A joint statement by the US and the Saudi government was highlighted as saying that “the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United States urge both parties to take in consideration the interests of the Sudanese nation and its people and actively engage in the talks towards a ceasefire and end the conflict.”

However, the conflict has also been an opportunity for the Western media to highlight its own position against its adversaries. It has discussed the role that Wagner, the Russian mercenary group, is playing in supplying Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces (RSF) with missiles against the country’s army.

The US outlet Voice of America (VOA) predicted that Russia “could face local resistance against the promised [Russian] naval base in Sudan.” Other articles mentioned ties between the UAE and the RSF, “which sent thousands of fighters to aid the UAE and Saudi Arabia in their war against Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen,” adding that many others have a stake in the conflict.

 “A thicket of outside actors, from Chadian rebels to Egypt’s military to a renegade commander in Libya to Russia’s infamous Wagner mercenary company,” are involved, one article said. There is a need to question the validity of the last statement since the 177 Egyptian soldiers who were in Sudan were evacuated earlier on.

The Western media has also cast doubt on the role of many mediators. The US Associated Press said “the sheer number of would-be mediators – including the US, the UN, the European Union, Egypt, the Gulf countries, the African Union and the eight-nation group known as IGAD – could render any peace efforts more complicated than the war itself.”

The UK Guardian newspaper highlighted how skin colour affects whom to allow into Britain as refugees. “The Home Office has been accused of operating an ‘unashamedly racist’ refugee system after refusing to offer people fleeing the fighting in Sudan a safe and legal route to the UK, in stark contrast to the schemes offered to those escaping the war in Ukraine,” it said.

“By contrast, almost 300,000 visas have been issued for Ukrainians to leave their war-torn country, including 193,900 for the home sponsorship scheme, launched in March 2022. Another 94,900 have been granted for a family scheme allowing Ukrainian refugees to join relatives in the UK.” No other publication spoke of this issue.

The New York Times was one of the few Western media sources that gave a revealing account of how the fleeing Sudanese are suffering. In an article called “An Exodus by Bus from Sudan: Sniper Fire, Desert Journeys and Fear” the harrowing hours one Sudanese family underwent are depicted honestly and accurately. The family escaped from Khartoum and headed to Aswan in Egypt and maybe Cairo afterwards.

“For them and other refugees, it had been a difficult journey north, disorderly and exploitatively priced. Bus tickets on the Sudanese side cost more than five times the prewar norm, workers and drivers at the Aswan bus stop said.”

This is one of the very few times that the New York Times has not attacked Egypt. It quoted Egyptian officials who said that more than 53,5000 Sudanese and nearly 4,000 foreigners had crossed the border into Egypt since the outbreak of the fighting, “heading for a country that shares a common language and deep historical and cultural ties with Sudan.”

It seemed pleasantly surprised by the fact that “the Egyptian government has relaxed border controls for Sudanese arrivals, allowing women, children, and older people to enter visa-free, and has sent extra trains and buses to Aswan, the closest major city to the border, to help the refugees move farther into Egypt. People there have been welcoming the refugees, finding them apartments, and bringing them food.”

However, the conflict in Sudan took a back seat as other stories came into the limelight. For over a week, the coronation of UK King Charles III overrode all other stories such as the conflict in Sudan, the war in Ukraine, and the floods and disasters occurring around the world. This is not the fault of the media as much as the fault of those who prefer to see the glamour of a coronation to the desperation of the fleeing Sudanese.

Looking at the conflict from the perspective of Sudan is more important than focusing on the sidelines. Alan Boswell of the international NGO the International Crisis Group said that “what happens in Sudan will not stay in Sudan.”

The writer is former professor of communication based in Vancouver, Canada.


A version of this article appears in print in the 11 May, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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