All these views could have been communicated to the Sudanese people if the movement had enjoyed adequate media coverage. Media attention to the Sudan uprising has, however, far from satisfied the needs and expectations of its activists. The western media appears to perceive those Sudanese not from Darfur, the Transitional Areas, or border regions as supporting the regime. In reality, however, they are just as much the victims of the country’s dictatorial regime as people from these other regions.
Government violations against journalists have not helped either, with several reporters, including Bloomberg’s Salma Al-Wardani, arrested and later deported. In light of these punitive measures and fearing reprisals, many activists have not engaged in sufficient media outreach. Local media is censored and, while BBC Arabic, Sky News Arabia, and Al-Arabiya in particular have done an admirable job of covering events, none are as powerful and far-reaching in Sudan and the surrounding region as Al-Jazeera and the other indigenous Arabic media outlets.
Al-Jazeera is state-owned and its initial neglect and later damaging portrayal of events on the ground in Sudan seems to indicate that other forces have influenced its coverage. Given the well-known ties between the Qatari government and Khartoum, Al Jazeera’s portrayal of the Sudan revolts has likely succumbed to political pressures.
The movement has compensated for the lack of media coverage by using social media. In Sudan, the effectiveness of social media as a mobilization tool is not as clear as in Egypt or Tunisia. With just under half of the Sudanese population (46.5%) below the poverty line, estimates place internet users at 10-25% of the overall population. As such, relaying information from social media to the masses remains a challenge, while also reinforcing perceptions about the elitist nature of the current uprising.
Social media has, however, proved a useful medium for communicating and documenting events. As one blogger proclaimed, “Dear Media, just as we’ll uproot the tyrants ourselves we’ll report it ourselves.” Here, the Sudanese diaspora has played an active role. Through Twitter, Facebook and personal blogs, the diaspora has spread the word and garnered international media attention for the Sudan revolts. As compared with their domestic counterparts, members of the diaspora have greater freedom to engage in on-line activism. The NCP’s “Electronic Army” polices social media and other websites, blocking news sites and discussion forums within Sudan and gathering intelligence on anti-government sentiment. Many inside Sudan have been taken from their homes solely for the opinions they have expressed online.
Conclusion: Prospects for the Future
Ramadan is here – a time for gatherings and daily prayers, and a golden opportunity for recruitment and daily protests after “Taraweeh” prayers. Nevertheless, the communal spirit of the month, as well as continuing restrictions on mobilization and media, have prevented this result from materializing.
While the movement has brought together a broad spectrum of people it remains somewhat elitist, with the most downtrodden sectors receiving little information about the revolts due to media restrictions. Nevertheless, various youth groups inside Sudan have made strides in synchronizing efforts, and some independent unions (doctors, lawyers, transport workers and journalists) are starting to take form.
These professional bodies could potentially play a major role in coordinating strikes and other forms of civil disobedience. For the movement to truly gather momentum, however, all involved parties must agree to support organized change and have a unified vision for the formation of a transitional government made up of independent, qualified technocrats. This would streamline the movement and help combat prevailing doubts, encouraging mass mobilization and increasing pressure for media coverage.
One thing is clear: while there is no ‘magic bullet’ for 23 years of oppression, the process of change is inevitable. The economic outlook for Sudan is dreadful and new developments that add to the deterioration and hardship occur on a monthly basis. In addition to recent austerity measures, which have increased fuel, sugar, VAT, customs and excise duty, and that have devalued the Sudanese pound by 63%, on July 22, 2012, the cost of electricity increased by approximately 300%.
Inflation also reportedly reached 37.2% in June 2012, double the level in the same month one year ago. The cost of food items has also jumped 41.4% from a year earlier while the price of meat, all of it local, has risen by 150% – today, a kilo of meat costs 50 pounds ($11.4 at the official rate) as opposed to 20 pounds one year ago. For July, figures just released by the Central Bureau of Statistics indicate a staggering year on year inflation of 41.6%.
An oil deal recently reached between the Sudanese government and the Government of South Sudan could potentially provide the regime some relief. Details of the deal, however, remain sketchy and will take time to implement and take effect with oil pipelines currently shut down and Southern exports halted. The deal also stipulates that before the oil flows the two governments must first conclude a deal on security to tackle disputed border areas, an issue that has long held up negotiations.
The Sudanese government can ill afford these delays. In the interim, the movement must and will continue. To keep the revolution alive, coordination and momentum will be key. Unplanned, anarchical change may cause damage exceeding that witnessed in Egypt, Libya, or Syria, and must be avoided at all costs. A perturbing precursor to this may have come on July 31, 2012 when 12 people were shot dead and 80 injured by security forces in a high school protest in Nyala. Events like this will do little but further entrench Sudan in a cycle of violence and suffering.
*With a membership spanning the front-lines of Sudan to the Sudanese diaspora, #SudanRevolts is a media team providing updates on the situation in Sudan to the international media.