It’s been six months. Six months since country-wide violence has resulted in the deaths of thousands, and many more displaced and injured. It’s been six months since the Sudanese people have been caught between two armies led by men that nobody wants in power.
When war starts, infrastructure collapses.
People are dying not only of bullets, but of preventable disease because most hospitals are inoperable. They are dying from hunger and thirst because they are trapped in their houses – , unless their houses have been occupied by the men with guns. Banks are closed, fuel is gold, transportation is elusive and safety is distant. Ethnic cleansing continues in Al Geneina and elsewhere. The harm of this war only immediate, and it will be felt for decades in the loss of cultural archives, in the destruction of infrastructure, and in the psychological impact on the people.
Four years ago, the people of Sudan showed their tenacity and bravery by deposing a long-held dictatorship. In this moment of hope and glory, they were celebrated – in the media, in activist circles, and in philanthropy. The historic moment of people’s power in action was widely iconized, even among those who know very little about the history of the country and its people. During the 2019 uprisings, Sudanese people, especially young people and women, formed decentralized committees that took up the charge of amplifying the demands of the people even when the international community preferred to legitimize the wrangling of military men and their proxies.
While this ‘civil society’ continues to be active, philanthropy has not. The racialized and gendered biases of philanthropy are on display in full force. The Sudanese people are being largely ignored by philanthropy because philanthropy normalizes Africa as a continent of war and disease. African deaths matter less
Since the war began it has been the revolutionary and neighborhood committees and other peoples’ efforts in Sudan and bordering countries that are ensuring safe passage for Sudanese and foreign civilians, building hospitals in the rubble, and attempting to meet the needs of the people. Feminists, women, LGBTIQ and other people have organized at home, through social media and in the diaspora. Regional Black feminist groups like the Strategic Initiative for the Horn of Africa (SIHA) have gotten hundreds of people to safety and supplied life-saving supplies to hundreds of households in Sudan.
SIHA also continues to amplify the demands of Sudanese women’s rights groups in their membership. Groups in Egypt, that need to remain anonymous for security reasons, have provided first-call humanitarian assistance to families fleeing the conflict while others have provided support to LGBTIQ people. These are just examples. Newly formed and established groups in Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Central African Republic, South Sudan, and in Sudan itself are organizing to meet collective needs, raising autonomous resources to do so.
While this ‘civil society’ continues to be active, philanthropy has not. The racialized and gendered biases of philanthropy are on display in full force. The Sudanese people are being largely ignored by philanthropy because philanthropy normalizes Africa as a continent of war and disease. African deaths matter less. Our countries are barely understood as such. And yet the international community hides their vested interests in our resources. These vested interests make the war in Sudan a powder keg with the possibility of exploding into a full-blown proxy war among many global actors – including Russia and the U.S. On June 19th, donor countries pledged $1.5bn for the UN’s crisis response in Sudan, more than $1billion short of the required $2.57 billion needed to meet the humanitarian needs. Yet still, entirely missing is the support for social movements and grassroots efforts that are needed for transformative sustained people-led change.
Funders can take the lead from the response by feminist funds, Urgent Action Fund – Africa (UAF-A) for example. UAF-Africa’s response to the Sudan crisis is grounded in the principles of intersectional feminist response to crises which is movement informed
Witnessing the inertia of philanthropy, the Black Feminists in Philanthropy network mobilized members into ‘Black feminist action on Sudan’ and invited Sudanese feminists to join. Over the last months, this group of Black feminists have raised US$500,000 in new funding for Sudanese feminist groups, which is being dispersed as I write. Another US$500,000 has been committed. The urgent need is for money to flow to grassroots efforts that are meeting immediate needs of those who have fled and those who remain in the country. The longer term need is to support Sudanese movements inside Sudan, in neighboring countries and in the broader diaspora to continue to meet these needs and to build power to ensure that the demands of the people are at the center of any negotiations or processes, and at the forefront of rebuilding the country. After all, that is what was being demanded from the start – a truly democratic Sudan for all its people.
Funders can take the lead from the response by feminist funds, Urgent Action Fund – Africa (UAF-A) for example. UAF-Africa’s response to the Sudan crisis is grounded in the principles of intersectional feminist response to crises which is movement informed. They have made over $100,000 in the last few months to Sudan in rapid response grants for movement strategy spaces, safety, relocation, medical services, documentation, strategic communication, stakeholder engagement, awareness raising, and psycho-social support while simultaneously engaging with local movements for lasting change. They have supported innovative enhancements by their grantees including creating safe spaces and peace negotiations through women’s cooperative groups for example.
The hope lies in the people’s efforts and the possibility still of philanthropy to respond adequately. Black Feminist Action on Sudan is calling on philanthropy to break the inertia, to match and surpass the million dollars raised for Sudanese feminist initiatives.
Hakima Abbas is the Co-Founder of The Black Feminist Fund