“Emergency of epic proportions” is coming to Sudan. But only civilian give assistance

With assistance of Abdelmonim Ali

destruction of Khartoum in recent days

The five month old war in Sudan is causing a “humanitarian emergency of epic proportions”, the UN warned last month. Hundreds of thousands of children are severely malnourished and will die if help does not arrive. Nearly one million citizens moved to neighboring countries and three million people were displaced within Sudan. And the number continues to increase daily.

Fighting between General Fattah al-Burhan’s regular army and the paramilitary units of militia leader Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, also known as Hemedti, has reached a stalemate in the capital Khartoum. However, the quicksands of fighting are spreading to the central Kordofan region. And in the Western region of Darfur, large-scale ethnic cleansing continues to take place by Hemedti’s Rapid Support Forces (RSF) or by Arab militias affiliated with the RSF.

Hospitals, airports, museums, homes, ministries, laboratories, all types of infrastructure have been damaged and put out of order. Many farmers have abandoned their fields, although now is the time to sow as Sudanese citizens having virtually nowhere to turn for help, foreign aid is not available, or only in small amounts.

The only assistance a Sudanese can hope for is from emergency committees that were set up by civilians. These groups emerged from the Resistance Committees, which led the fight against military regimes. Initially, this happened during a short-lived and failed popular uprising against President Omar al-Bashir in 2013, culminating in the popular revolution of 2019. Since then, hundreds of such committees have been set up, not only in cities but also in small villages and suburbs.

Every day, Othman Ahmed (36) climbs a hill in Omdurman, the sister city of Khartoum. There he catches a signal for his telephone; most signal towers no longer work due to a lack of fuel. From the hill he says:

“From here I can coordinate the activities of our Emergency Committee. There are only a few of us left; most of the members have fled. We can’t do much, what we scrape together we divide it. People are dying of hunger because water pipes are bombed, food supplies are inaccessible and medical supplies are unavailable.” Many residents of Khartoum fled eastwards, to the agricultural region of Jazeera state or to the cities of Kassala and El-Gedaref.

Adam Ali (29) is a member of an Emergency Committee in El-Gedaref: “We receive about fifty families a day at the bus station. We buy food for them with our own money, because the government does almost nothing.” El-Gedaref is not in the war zone, the east is in the hands of General Burhan’s government army. “We investigated the relief supplies that the municipality had stored,” continues Othman Ahmed. “We discovered that only a quarter of relief supplies were distributed to the displaced.

The rest was sold on the market.” Burhan’s supporters are using the relatively safe area in the east to prepare a counter-offensive. The arms market near the borders with Ethiopia and Eritrea has been flourishing since the start of the war. “The government army is recruiting civilians, including children, on a large scale to fight”, says Adam Ali. In addition, the El-Gedaref authorities shelter radical Islamists. They formed the backbone of Bashir’s thirty-year regime, and also retained influence under Burhan afterwards. These radical Islamists, organized in the paramilitary brigade Katibat Albraa, are participating in this counter-offensive from Eastern Sudan. One of the most prominent fundamentalist leaders is Ahmed Haroum, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Haroun escaped from prison in Khartoum at the outbreak of war and has since been seen in El-Gedaref.

Tarig Abdulrahman (25) recently fled Khartoum for the eastern Jazeera region. “Before I left my neighborhood, my brother was shot in the head by a female RSF sniper,” he says. The civilian activists no longer work as Resistance Committees, because they would then become a target of one of the generals. That’s why they call themselves Emergency Committees. Abdulrahman: “We provide health services and medicines to patients with chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and asthma, especially among the elderly. Unfortunately, we cannot help with healing after rape. And rape happens very often in this conflict.”

Two months after the outbreak of war, several foreign aid groups had arrived in Eastern Sudan. They work directly with the citizens’ committees, to the annoyance of the authorities. Some foreign aid workers, while keeping their names strictly confidential, say that they distribute aid through civilian committees. These committees remain the only lifebuoy for the helpless population.

This article was first published in NRC on 4-9-2023

Kenya’s wildlife industry: Animals have nowhere to hide anymore from humans

“I show tourists around paradise. What I don’t do is tell them that this nature is manipulated by humans,” says Kasao Laerat (50) with an ironic smile. He is talking about game parks where he has spent the last 23 years earning his living as a tourist guide. The lion peering over the endless savannah, the wildebeests plunging fatefully into a crocodile-infested river, the frolicking young cheetahs in the tall grass: it is all a sham he says. “Tourists in the West marvel at the vastness of Africa they see in documentaries and advertisements, but in reality that world is shrinking rapidly, due to population growth. Wildlife parks have become an industry.” Kasao Laerat is a Samburu and grew up with (wild) animals.

Once these parks received only a few thousand visitors a year. But last year 1.5 million tourists came to Kenya, expecting to see wild animals in untouched nature. Half a million tourists went to the Maasai Mara alone, the icon of all world parks in the country.

In the 1,500-square-mile Maasai Mara in southern Kenya, a lioness awakens and begins to closely track a plane as it descends from the cloud-strewn sky, skims over acacia trees and rumbles to the ground near a tourist hotel. “Every day at this time she looks forward to the flight,” Kasao grins. Every lion and its daily routine has been mapped by the game wardens and tourist drivers. They are not only experts on the individual characteristics of every cheetah and every rhinoceros, they know everything about their cousins. “Untouched nature? Well, the days when animals could really live free are over”.

A lion hunts at night, rests during the day, surrounded by whirring tourist buses and their exhaust fumes, but that does not bother him too much. Lions are not shy. “They mate many times because they have a low sperm count. We guides describe that as a marriage, tourists call it love, but it’s just reproductive behavior, they don’t do it for fun.”

It is very different with a cheetah. It hunts during the day and is much less easy to spy on during its moments of intimacy. It gets nervous and the clouds of dust that the vans send billowing across the savannah disrupt its hunt. “So cheetahs are adapting to the new reality: they wait until noon when the tourists have lunch in their lodgings to hunt, or at full moon. They even hunt at night these days”.

A day’s drive in the Maasai Mara costs $80, and to that the cost of a stay in an expensive lodge or tented camp needs to be added. The park is packed around this time, when the famous annual great migration takes place. Rooms can go for as much $ 2,000 a night in the most upmarket of the park’s 125 lodges.

The draw is the endless line of animals – 1.3 million wildebeest and zebras – crossing the golden savannas from the south of the Serengeti Game Park in Tanzania to the Maasai Mara in Kenya. Drawn by the scent, they are called the clowns of the African savannah. These rain sniffers can look a bit stupid, they are nervous and jumpy; typical herd animals. Each one simply follows the animal in front. The wildebeest, despite their strange gait -caused by shorter hind legs – are nevertheless able to cover long distances and climb high sides of the rivers they cross during the migration. The species’ survival power lies in their quantity.

The spectacle, as far as the tourist is concerned, takes place in Maasai Mara, because that’s where the river Mara must be crossed. The animals  don’t really want to cross, because crocodiles are waiting in the water. But the pressure of the masses becomes too great at a certain point, the beasts throw themselves into the water. Or at least, that’s how it used to be.

“Sometimes it seems that there are more tourist vans by the riverside than wildebeests,” laughs Kasao. These vans position themselves behind the wildebeests and push them into the water in places where they would normally never choose to cross, because the cliff is too high or because there are too many crocodiles below. Or cars waiting for them on the other side of the river, and lions have entrenched themselves behind those cars. The wildebeests develop second thoughts in the middle of the river and want to go back, but by then they are already being grabbed by the crocodiles”. The tourists love the spectacle, unaware that their presence has disrupted the migration and changed the course of events.

There was for a moment when it seemed that the pristine nature had returned. During the corona pandemic, tourists stayed away and Kenyans had to stay at home. Maasai Mara regained its original appearance, tall grass swallowed up the roads, elephants entered the abandoned lodges and the monkeys left the hotel compounds. To prevent the wild animals becoming accustomed to the unfamiliar silence, game rangers let unemployed young people drive around in cars.

Those who want to experience the solitude of the bush in Maasai Mara now have to pay heavily for it. “Only a super-rich tourist has that pleasure,” says Kasao. He rents a part of the wildlife park and he flies in with his helicopter after all tourist vans have been temporarily denied access. “He imagines himself in the real jungle for a moment. But the reality is: there is nowhere for wild animals to hide from humans.”

This article was first published in NRC on 23-8-2023

All photo’s by Fred van Dijk, including the ones of Kasao Laerat

Other comments from Kasao:

Animals do get christened and become celebrities, just like in The Lion King. For example, a group of five male cheetahs became world famous under the name Tano bora, the Brilliant Five in Kiswahili. “The first thing a Chinese customer asked me at the airport was: ‘Show me the Tano bora and I’ll give you an extra $100’.” Kasao once took part in a film project with National Geographic about the Tano bora, not so much to observe the cheetahs as the tourist vans. “They were surrounded by 76 vans on average every day. Today, the first thing a cub sees upon waking in the morning is its mother, and then only vans. The mothers do not have enough time to take care of their children.”

Big cats fascinate tourists the most, especially since the movie the Lion King came out. “I understand, but a lion is not really the Kin g of the Jungle. Humans have made him the smartest and strongest of the jungle. But an elephant is much smarter, much more social, they protect each other. But my job is to keep my customers happy. So we drivers exchange information about where the lions are. That way I provide a dream safari and I get extra points from my customers. This is how the wildlife industry works.”

Large scale ethnic cleansing in Darfur, once more

A war behind closed doors in Sudan’s Darfur region is believed to have killed more than 10,000 civilians. Villages and residential areas of African peoples are destroyed, women are raped. According to the Sudanese NGO the Professional Pharmacists Association and leaders of African tribes, there are 11,000 bodies buried in mass graves in and around the town of El Geneina alone. But the outside world hardly knows about it as the region is too dangerous for foreign observers.

In April, fighting broke out in Sudan between two factions in the armed forces: between rivals Abdel Fattah al-Burhan of the regular army and Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, also known as Hemedti, of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF). This fight is concentrated in the capital Khartoum. At the same time, an old conflict between peoples of Arab and African descent flared up in the western region of Darfur. The RSF deploys Arab militias, but the government army largely remains in its barracks. The African peoples sometimes have their own defense militias.

Genocide

Many refugees tell how on their escape to neighboring Chad, they saw corpses lying along the roads and in rivers. “This is worse than what happened in 2003,” says official Alnour Abdalla (36) from El Geneina on the phone. He refers to ethnic cleansing of the same African peoples by Arab Darfuri and the government army led by then president Omar El-Bashir. The International Criminal Court in The Hague charged El-Bashir with genocide, which claimed an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 victims and displaced millions to displaced persons camps.

Even now, more and more reports are leaking out about possible war crimes and crimes against humanity from Darfur. The biggest victims are the African Masalit and the Fur. An estimated 700,000 Darfuri have been displaced and more than 200,000 fled to Chad. Lawyers and human rights activists talk about how the RSF uses lists with names of critics on it to be eliminated. Sultan Saad Abdulrahman, the traditional leader of the Masalit, called the attacks “well-prepared and systematic”. According to a group of activists from Masalit, the RSF is trying to implement a “demographic change”: the African peoples must leave Darfur.

Human Rights Watch reports in its recent report says that the RSF and allied Arab militias “summarily executed” at least 28 Masalit in the town of Misterei. The RSF paramilitaries went door to door and to mosques and schools. In one school, they entered classrooms and executed the men they found there. They also shot at children and women. Misterei went up in flames for the most part and satellite images show that another thirty villages were destroyed in Darfur. Rape is also systematically used as a weapon of war, human rights activist Ahlam Nasser told the BBC. An anonymous woman from El Geneina tells the broadcaster that men raped her “in turns” and then ordered her to leave the city, because it “belongs to the Arabs”.

“It is terrible what happened on that day in El Geneina on Friday morning, April 17, when it started,” says 28-year-old student Mustafa Ismail, another refugee in Chad, by phone. “I was at home when Arab warriors and members of the RSF rode into my neighborhood on motorcycles in off-road vehicles. They randomly shot young boys and the elderly and raped women and girls. I saw with my own eyes how a boy of twelve was shot in the head. Because I was hiding somewhere, they couldn’t see me. There was blood everywhere.”

He learned in his new hideout in the city that he was on a hit list. “I am a political activist and a Masalit. A friend told me that the RSF fighters were going around with an arrest list, and they had my picture with them. Miraculously, I managed to escape from my residence and hid again, this time at a friend’s house. When they left, I immediately ran to another neighborhood.”

Chad

Alnour Abdalla, who lives in a nearby neighborhood, hid for a long time after the outbreak of violence with his eight-month pregnant wife and other relatives. “I felt more hopeless every day,” he says. “We pondered for days whether we would flee the city.” The first time they tried it went horribly wrong.

“At 1 a.m. I started walking to Chad with my wife, mother and other relatives in a large group of people. But we were soon ambushed by the RSF. They shot at everyone, men, women, and children. Everywhere I saw corpses, there must have been three hundred. I ran away and later found only a few of my relatives. My wife made it, but my brother, his son… all dead.”

After a week he made another attempt, this time at 8 p.m. with a group of 250 men. “As soon as we were on the road, we fell into another RSF ambush. Many of us got shot, but we ran and ran, until we got to the Chadian border, thirty kilometers away. I saw many bodies as I walked to the border, of women and children and always of African tribes.”

Mustafa Ismail stayed longer in El Geneina. From his hiding place with his friend, he observed how the massacres continued. “I could not believe it. It was the worst thing I’ve seen in my life. These RSF and Arab militia are brutal and lack the essence of human feelings in their hearts. They are imbued with hatred of African tribes, especially the Masalit. As they killed young boys and raped women, they shouted, ‘Kill the slaves, kill the slaves’.”

After two months in that house, he decided to attempt an escape. “As we moved forward, we saw the boys from the RSF from a far. We saw how they had gathered dozens of Masalit youths and forced them to lie down on the ground. We hid in the bush and watched them shoot those youths in the head. They discovered some of us, shot some of them but I managed to run away. I reached Chad two days later. But here too, in the refugee camps, the situation is catastrophic. We suffer from water scarcity; there are no bathrooms and toilets. I feel lost and can’t shake the images off in my head. Now I’m going to find my wife, daughter and the rest of my family, because maybe they’re still alive, maybe they’re in Chad, maybe they’re still in Sudan.”

Alnour Abdalla

Mustafa Ismail

Thist article first appeared in NRC on 1-8-2023