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Sudan's American diaspora struggle for resolution amidst war

As crisis deepens, Sudan’s American diaspora struggle to see hopeful resolution
5 min read
20 November, 2023
The war in Sudan has been ongoing for seven months, with no signs of stopping. The Sudanese diaspora in America is appealing to the international community to pressure the warring sides to declare a ceasefire and safeguard the future of Sudan.

Seven months after the raging war in Sudan began, the Sudanese diaspora have relentlessly served as self-advocates and kept conversation of the conflict alive—often the only ones doing so.

At a recent protest outside United Nations headquarters days after Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, Sudan’s de-facto leader, addressed the international body, Sudanese American protestors voiced anguish and shock at his presence despite the aching need for humanitarian aid in Sudan.

“This whole war is one of control and dominance,” says organiser Thwiba Eltom on the outbreak of the conflict between Burhan, the head of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), and Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, the leader of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). Eltom was in Sudan with her two young kids when clashes broke out in April. “It is not a war for the people, it is not a war of dignity—it is simply a war of self-interest.”

In what the United Nations has deemed “one of the worst humanitarian nightmares in recent history”, with over 9,000 fatalities and displacement counts reaching over 6 million people, many protestors shared Eltom’s sentiment.

The power struggle broke out in April of this year when the opposing forces began firing at each other, each accusing the other of instigating the conflict. While previously allied, disagreements over the incorporation of the RSF into the Armed Forces, along with government instability led to the onslaught by both groups.

Osama Mostafa, the Vice President of the Sudanese American Community Organization of New York, said, “It is very hard to find any credibility to killing and mass murder,” referencing a lack of trust in Sudanese governance as citizen needs are ignored.

While many Sudanese Americans are refugees themselves, there has come a unique weight to raise awareness, funds, and do the work of international organisations to fill a gap that is only growing.

Seven months on, the war in Sudan shows no sign of letting up [Getty Images]

A civilian-led government in Sudan is a key goal for many in the American diaspora, who hope their presence would motivate others in the diaspora while providing support for on-the-ground efforts. Following protests in 2019, Sudan had captured the attention of the world as hopes for democratisation grew. However, with Burhan’s 2021 coup that dissolved the newly formed government, such hopes were quickly dashed.

Reliance on civilian groups that formed during the 2019 revolution was needed in the eyes of many Sudanese people, who expressed that global support from a growing Sudanese diaspora was necessary to achieve political change within Sudan’s borders.

While empowerment of the diaspora was key, messages demanding international intervention and accountability for Burhan and Hemedti’s forces overwhelmed political discussion. Yet, while international leaders voiced concern for the crisis in Sudan throughout the General Assembly, action in the two months since has not followed.

“We just ask that they [the international community] care about Sudan. They don’t even want to open their borders to the Sudanese people,” Haarm Elsheikh, a community member, said. She added that economic and medical hardship for those in Sudan without international aid may be the worst part. “If people don’t die by the war or by the guns, they will due to a lack of supplies.”

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As political and economic systems continue to collapse in Sudan, basic needs are becoming a luxury for the nation of refugees. Soon after the end of the General Assembly, the World Health Organisation declared a cholera outbreak in Sudan, only adding to the growing crisis.

Activists felt it was almost impossible not to compare the crisis in Sudan to other international conflicts over the last year, insisting that non-African and Muslim nations would be centre-stage as they compared to conflict to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Whereas other conflicts have the world’s attention, members felt Sudan has become a footnote.

Eltom, a dual US-Sudanese citizen, said she “felt like a second-class citizen” as she compared her experience with international organisations as she tried to leave Sudan, “I’ve always supported Ukraine because war is war and pain is pain, but I don’t think that’s the same [for Sudan].” 

A reliance on their own community was valuable in a time when they felt unsupported by the world but the community has also faced internal disputes. Some Sudanese-American leaders expressed worry about how disagreements regarding the war may impact parts of the diaspora.

Elnigomi Bushra, the former President of the Sudanese Community Center of Richmond in Virginia, stated that some members attend rallies and advocate politically, but do so “on their own accord.”

While protests and events were previously put together during the 2019 revolution by Sudanese organisations, a major show of solidarity, the ongoing war poses new challenges for the community. As ethnic violence rises amid the conflict, especially in Darfur where flashbacks to war crimes that have plagued the region for 20 years haunt many Sudanese people, diaspora members often find it difficult to unite under a singular Sudanese identity.  

“It’s become difficult to maintain community in this time of need,” Bushra said.

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Yet, as pockets of the diaspora express disagreements with some anthems and initiatives, arguments often quell the enthusiasm young Sudanese Americans bring to their advocacy.

“We’re strongly united,” said a Sudanese high schooler from Philadelphia. While he’s only visited Sudan once as a young child, he expressed distress in recent events in the nation. “We’re here for our country. I hope everyone can see what we’re here to do.”

And for many, like Bushra, empowered Sudanese youth remain the key hope for a successful Sudanese future.

“I am so happy to see our kids still proudly have Sudan in them,” he said, a pride shared by many Sudanese Americans who eagerly embraced younger generations, representing the hope of power shifting from the old to the new.

Suha Musa is a freelance journalist and Masters student at NYU’s GLOJO program. Suha is deeply passionate about the representation of Muslims, political relationships between the West and the Arab World, and media accessibility. She is also deeply interested in researching the current conflict in Sudan.