Last week, I was shocked to find out that over 2,000 civilians had been massacred in a single day by the Russia-backed side in the ongoing civil war in Sudan. Most haven’t heard of this event: the Ardamata massacre, ethnically motivated, hasn’t been front page news. For many Westerners, the fact that Sudan is in a civil war may itself be news. The massacre has passed largely unnoticed, even as hundreds of thousands of Sudanese flee to neighboring Chad and millions more are displaced from their homes. There are no flyers, no posters, and no rallies for the murdered Sudanese.
Fundamentally, the wars that we hear about are not considered newsworthy because they are particularly bloody or cruel. They are covered instead because they include “developed” nations that Westerners are interested in hearing about. Sudan? A poor desert country stereotyped as a dusty wasteland of uneducated farmers? It’s not surprising to the average Westerner that two “warlords” would fight over who gets to control the dust. This attitude, however, is falsely informed and generally racist.
To understand the conflict in Sudan, one must understand its context. There is a longstanding divide between Arab and native African populations in Sudan, which goes back to the 1950s and culminated in the 2011 independence of majority-black South Sudan from the rest of the country. Then, in 2018, the incumbent president, Omar al-Bashir, was deposed by the military. Al-Bashir is accused of various crimes against humanity, financing terrorism, and of course, the ethnic cleansing of native African populations. Al-Bashir was one of the leaders who sheltered Osama bin Laden before 9/11. The new Sudanese government was, for a time, led by joint efforts between civilian and military leaders: a military president, a civilian prime minister. They banned female genital mutilation, cracked down on terrorist financing, and established peace with many rebel groups. However, in 2021, the military decided they were tired of civilian involvement and committed another coup, establishing a full dictatorship.
This dictatorship has now fractured in half, with the two sides fighting each other in a bloody conflict that has displaced more than four million people, killed tens of thousands of civilians, and led to bloody ethnically-motivated massacres, most recently in Ardamata. A single attack led to the death of over 5,000 civilians. Interestingly, one side (the Rapid Support Forces, or RSF) has been backed by Russia and the Wagner Group, while the other (the Sudanese Armed Forces, or SAF) is largely lacking in international support. Even as they ostensibly support peace before the United Nations, Russia continues to support the RSF, which commits regular ethnic cleansing against those darker-skinned native African populations that remain in Sudan such as the Masalit, the target of the worst massacres.
The Western media and government have been very happy to report extensively on Ukraine-Russia and Israel-Palestine. Some have gone as far as to describe these as the first major wars of the 21st century. This attitude reflects a fundamental disregard for human life when it appears in “uncivilized” (read: largely Black) forms. Nearly as many civilians have died in Sudan (pre-Ardamata figures) as in Ukraine or in Gaza. Several times more civilians have been displaced in Sudan than in Gaza. And yet few have batted an eye or sought to do anything about the conflict.
This is not to say we should not care about life in Ukraine or Palestine; we most assuredly should. But we should also care about life in Sudan, or in any of the other African countries in turmoil: the other Sahel countries, Central Africa, Somalia, and the Congo, among others. Africans deserve peace just as much as those in Europe or the Middle East.