Civilians are left behind in the fighting between the two generals in Sudan. Human rights activist and teacher Abdelmonim Ali (33) fled two weeks ago on his moped from the capital Khartoum to Gedaref in the east. His diary starts the day before the fighting broke out.
FRIDAY APRIL 14
A nice evening out
“Friday I went to my friend’s house. It was a nice evening. On the way back home I see armored vehicles in front of the presidential palace, and yes there are more than usual, but I’ve gotten a bit used to army units in the city. Although a premonition creeps up on me, I sleep well that night.”
Sudan was plunged into heavy fighting on Saturday, not only in the capital Khartoum but also in numerous other cities. Hundreds were killed, thousands fled.
Although civilian groups and military vie for power after the fall of Islamic fundamentalist autocrat Omar al-Bashir in 2019, a battle has now erupted between two generals: Abdel Fattah al-Burhan of the regular army and Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, aka Hemedti, whose militia the Rapid Support Forces(RSF) is part of the national armed forces, but has never been integrated into that national army. Citizens are watching. One of them is Abdelmonim Ali, a bachelor, a 33-year-old human rights activist, member of the resistance committees against the army, and an English teacher, living in the Almansoura neighborhood.
SATURDAY, APRIL 15
“After a good night’s sleep I get ready to go to the university where I teach English. When I want to get on my moped, there is a deafening sound and the universe is filled with artillery fire and exploding bombs. I hear my neighbor scream. She is in a panic, her children are still playing outside. She quickly calls them in. I hesitate to go to university. After all, I promised my students that I would teach them one more time for their exams. But the barrage of gunfire continues and it is clear to me: I stay home.”
Nothing left for dinner
“My neighbor, who comes from South Sudan, offers me something to eat, but immediately adds that there is nothing left for dinner. In the morning my neighbor and me decide to take shelter again at home from the violence. We hide from bombs and bullets. A bullet lands in my neighbor’s bedside table. The shops are closed, the streets deserted, there are only cats and dogs to be seen and there is no sound other than bombs and other weapons. For a moment I try to go out into the street and see that the usually blue sky of Khartoum is clouded by raging fires in buildings and cars. I’ve never seen anything so terrifying except in movies. I now blame myself for not seeing this coming, for not preparing for this war. There is no food in the fridge, my kitchen is empty. How long can humans go without food, I wonder. I remember my mother when I was a child telling me “seven days”.
“The eldest son of my neighbor is called Daniel. Do I dare to go out with him to get some food? Even if it’s just a piece of dry bread. I have read many books about famine and war, that people then consume everything edible, including leaves. But where do you find leaves? And how can you survive without drinking water?
As we walk through the streets I for the first time see fear in Daniel’s eyes. He is responsible for the family after his father’s death last year. I, too, am now overwhelmed with fear. Will his six siblings survive this? Life sometimes seems so unfair. What wrong Daniel and his family did that they had to flee South Sudan because of the war there, only to end up in another war that they are not a part of. The generals don’t feel sorry for them.
“We find some food, some beans and bread. We get home safely, although the bombs are still hitting everywhere and the walls are shaking.”
Internet again after a few hours
“It is the third day of fighting and today my internet of the MTN network is down, but luckily that of the rival Zain is still working. In recent years, those fucking generals always immediately shut down the internet during confrontations between the army and civilian groups, but now Hemedti and Burhan need the connection to communicate with their troops and to attack each other with vicious communiqués. After a few hours, MTN’s internet returns. It is our only source of information, if it is lost we become completely isolated. Pray for Sudan.”
Corpses on the street
“On the fourth day, members of resistance committees tell me stories about civilians starting to flee the city. I myself see how corpses lie on the street in my neighborhood and read on the internet that only a few hospitals are still functioning, because they are also under attack. Friends call me and tell me about RSF soldiers of Hemedti looting. I conclude that it is no longer possible to live in Khartoum. Shall I also try to leave? But what then is Daniel’s fate? Still, I have to get out of here.”
Bring clothes and computer
“All night I’m worrying what to do. At sunrise Wednesday I make my decision: I will take the risk. I only carry the most important things with me, some clothes and books, my computer, shoes and of course my rescue tool: my moped.
I tell Daniel I’m leaving. I offer him to come with me on the back of my moped, he refuses because he has to take care of his family. I can’t save them and have to leave them behind. If I stay here, it could cost me my life.
I see thousands of women and children walking down the street towards the suburbs. The sound of war hurts my ears, the corpses in the streets are starting to smell, it’s hard to breathe the air. I’m short on gas because none of the gas stations are open. I get some fuel on the black market. The price is unbelievable, it has doubled a hundred times. I need at least twelve liters to cover the distance of 350 kilometers to the eastern Sudanese city of Gedaref, where my sisters and brothers live. I buy four liters for $100 and hope to buy the rest out of town.
I manage to escape through Madanistraat. I am stopped twice by soldiers of the RSF. They gesture for me to open my two shoulder bags and I say: ‘books, clothes, pens and shoes’. What else do they expect in a bag from a teacher, I wonder irritably. They let me go.
After four hours of continuous driving, I arrive in the town of Wad Madani and am halfway there. I find petrol, but where to spend the night?”
With my brothers and sisters
“On Thursday I continue my journey and the road appears to be safe. And as I am driving, my worry is about the safety of the resistance committee members at Gedaref and Khartoum as the elements of Islamists and security services are targeting our colleagues. I should keep low profile when I reach my hometown as my colleagues and I, were arrested many times. For the first time in my life I feel abandoned in this landscape of sand and rocks, even though I grew up in this region. Four hours to go.
At the city entrance of Gedaref, a policeman checks my motorcycle papers. He sees nothing wrong with it but insists on asking me why I’m not wearing a helmet. What! He wants to fine me! I scold him. I’m really not going to pay. Even now they are corrupt. After a long wait, he lets me go. As I am driving, my hoodie put on, I reach the house at 12 o’clock, where my sisters and brothers receive me happily. They say they only heard gunfire in Gedaref last weekend. However, the elements of Islamists and security are arresting active resistance committee members in the neighborhood. Once in bed I fall into a deep sleep.”
I can’t stand joy anymore as I am feeling anxious
“After some hours of sleep, I wake up frightened. “How is Daniel in Khartoum?” “How are my colleagues who are arrested in Gedaref?” my mind flashes. I will contact Daniel immediately. He says that there is still fierce fighting. I promise to send him money to escape, but don’t know how that money can reach him. And about my colleagues I have no idea since I do not receive news about them.
Today is the end of Ramadan and my sisters offer me all kinds of sugary sweets and pastries. But I can’t stand joy anymore as I am feeling anxious.”
I stay home, anxious and ponder what my next move shall be as the Islamists are very active these days in Gedaref. They are organizing a march to support the Sudan Army against the RSF and at same time arbitrarily detain and even assassinate the active members of the resistance committees. These Islamists are very well organized. They are criminals.
I had an accident in 2021 with my moped and did find out later it was an attack on my life. If the Islamists who are hiding behind general Burhan win this fight, and of course they are, I will not be safe anymore in Sudan. I have to leave Sudan.
One of my colleague, a resistance committee member warns me via phone call to get out from Gedaref. I manage to get an Ethiopian visa in Almatama, and cross the border. As I am heading towards Gondar town, I don’t know where to go to, but as long as I am safe out of Sudan, I will figure it out.
This article first appeared in NRC 22-4-2023