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When I moved to the United Kingdom back in September 2023, a few months after fleeing Sudan to Egypt, I was worried that settling into a new community would result in overwhelming and triggering lines of inquiry about the latest updates from the Sudan war the second I say the words “I am from Sudan”. This was all far from reality. With a few exceptions, the best that I got was “I heard there was a war in Sudan some time ago, is it over?”


It is not necessarily a lack of interest, but mostly a lack of awareness. The reality was that people around the globe were unaware of Sudan’s war because its news faded from international media headlines. After it was covered as ‘breaking news’ on major international news outlets in the first few weeks, it quickly became a forgotten war.

A screenshot of the Sudan war breaking news as aired on Aljazeera on April 15 2023. Source Aljazeera English


In the first weeks of the war, I spent my days doing back-to-back interviews with different international media houses. It was exhausting but I was keen to keep Sudan in the headlines. The rush of media requests started fading away and the daily interviews became monthly, as news from Sudan quickly disappeared from the spotlight. It is such an infuriating reality, as the atrocities of the war in Sudan and the humanitarian crisis are only worsening.


Anita Fuentes, Executive Producer of the Security in Context Podcast, interviews Hamid Khalafallah about the current conflict in Sudan 27, April 2023. Source Security in Context Youtube 


Ten Months of ‘Ignored’ Bloodshed


Ten months since its outbreak, the armed conflict in Sudan continues with no end in sight, while millions of civilians endure its devastating impacts. At the very least, 13,000 people have been killed thus far. A staggering 10.7 million people have been displaced, mostly within the country, making Sudan the largest internal displacement crisis globally. About 25 million people, half of Sudan’s population, are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance.


The dire situation is further exacerbated by the lack of healthcare services, as over 70 percent of health facilities in Sudan are inoperable or closed. Furthermore, the armed conflict has taken a drastic turn in Darfur, with mass ethnic killings mounting to genocide levels, on top of other war crimes.


The United Nations Emergency Relief chief has stated that the situation in Sudan is “one of the worst humanitarian nightmares in recent history”. Another aid worker said, “it is like planning for the apocalypse”. Yet, only 3.5 percent of the required humanitarian funding has been received to date. It is difficult to ignore the correlation between the lack of media reporting on Sudan’s war and the shamefully scant humanitarian assistance it is receiving. The persistent inattention of the world is consigning Sudan’s crisis to the shadows.


Why is the World Ignoring the Sudan Crisis? 

The attention span of international media concerning Sudan’s war has been rather short and only heightens around specific events before the focus on the intensifying crisis gradually drifts away again. Sudan’s invisibility has to do with a combination of factors. Above all, there is the editorial bias of media houses. As Kholood Khair, a Sudanese political analyst, argued, the world’s apathy towards the war in Sudan can only be understood within the “globalized structures of racism”.


Sudanese political analyst Kholood Khair, discussing the Sudan war on eNCA. Source: eNCA


There is a stark difference in how certain parts of the world matter to international media. In general, Sudan, even before the war, has been a low priority. Additionally, international media outlets tend to deal with the situation in Sudan as ‘business as usual’. The premise is that Sudan has witnessed multiple wars in its recent history, and this is yet another cycle of violence that the Sudanese people are used to. Even though the ongoing war is completely different in terms of scope and brutality, no war or humanitarian crisis of this magnitude should be ignored or tolerated. Not in Sudan and not anywhere. 


In addition, international media houses are usually more comfortable in reporting simple and straightforward narratives, as stories that seem to be convoluted are hard to sell. They tend to be apprehensive of the difficulty involved in presenting comprehensive accounts of such conflicts, with little capacity to engage with narratives that lack an obvious ‘good guy’ or ‘bad guy’.

  

Sudan’s war is particularly complex and multi-dimensional involving multiple armed factions and historical roots spanning decades, which requires nuanced reporting. Due to biases and logistical challenges, international media has not invested in establishing such infrastructure. For various reasons, there have been months of no international journalists on the ground in Sudan. Additionally, Sudanese journalists are unable to report from conflict areas as they have been systematically targeted and attacked by the warring factions. Sudanese citizens on the ground are also unable to film and share footage, due to concerns for their safety, as well as connectivity and electricity outages.


Nevertheless, Sudanese activists in the diaspora have been constantly providing updates from the ground, in addition to historical context and explanation. As such, perhaps even if there was room for international journalists to go to Sudan, the status quo might not change.


A Sudanese woman, who fled fighting in Darfur, helps a relative carry a bucket of water. Source: Zohra Bensemra/Reuters


Another factor that contributed to Sudan’s invisibility is the passage of time and the ongoing conflicts in other parts of the world leading to a competition for attention. As such, some might argue that the war on Gaza has taken priority and overshadowed the war in Sudan, leading to the diversion of attention. However, well before the brutal war on Gaza dominated media headlines, six months after Sudan’s war erupted, we saw limited coverage of Sudan and it was merely a footnote on the international agenda, while the country stood on the edge of an abyss.


In contrast, conflicts in other parts of the world that are more important on the international agenda, such as Ukraine, have had consistent daily and top-of-the-hour reporting for long months. As an international humanitarian worker in Sudan lamented while reflecting on the world ignoring Sudan: “it is not ignorance; it is a case of apathy.”


Keep Eyes On Sudan


It is crucial to understand the lack of reporting on the war in Sudan war by the international media is not an indication of improvement in the situation on the ground. The armed conflict in Sudan continues to grow and so does the human suffering, while it remains missing from the global consciousness, public discourse and the international agenda.


Sudan’s humanitarian needs are massive, and the world is lagging badly in its response to the humanitarian tragedy. As we know from other crises around the world, awareness is a prerequisite to action. The attention of global policymakers is, to a good extent, shaped by media and public demands. Thus, international media houses must focus on the situation in Sudan more consistently. This would be instrumental in shaping the global public discourse and pressuring policymakers to enact comprehensive policies on both the humanitarian and the political fronts.


People receive non-food item assistance in Gedaref State. Source: OCHA


Sudanese activists and advocates are exhausted from shouldering this calamity on their own for almost a year while feeling like they are screaming into the void. On the other hand, Sudanese citizens on the ground are solely at the forefront of the humanitarian response working to keep communities safe and supporting those in need.


All this comes at a time when the three main internet operators in Sudan have been offline since Wednesday, January 31, 2024. NetBlocks an internet observatory has warned that cutting communications for millions of people stuck in conflict zones or fleeing for their safety might continue to negatively affect the population.


At a time when there is a massive cash shortage, many people in conflict-affected areas currently depend upon e-wallets such as MBoK, a service by the Bank of Khartoum, now the network blackout restricting their access to food and health care and their freedom of mobilization.

A poster used to raise awareness about the Internet Blackout in Sudan. Source X platform


Nevertheless, there are still international journalists who are bravely contesting their organizations’ editorial policies and pushing for nuanced reporting on Sudan. Yet, much more needs to be done; the international community and the media ought to join the struggle and speak loudly about the war in Sudan before it is too late. Millions of Sudanese affected by the fighting currently feel abandoned by the international community. The world’s silence has been deafening, as Sudan painfully dies from neglect. Without action at the highest level, the world risks becoming a near-silent witness to the devastating tragedies unfolding in Sudan. The world and the media must keep an eye on Sudan because the country and its people are worth saving.


Hamid Khalafallah

Hamid is a development practitioner, researcher, and policy analyst. He is currently a PhD student researching political transitions and grassroots movements in Africa, at the Global Development Institute of the University of Manchester, UK. He previously worked for various international organizations in the field of governance and development issues in Sudan. He is a Chevening Scholar and was awarded the 2019 UK Development Studies Association dissertation prize.