Crises are in the eye of the beholder. And no one has an eye on Sudan and Burkina Faso
The October 7 attacks by Hamas in Israel, and the subsequent retaliation by Israel, have transfixed global attention. And although there’s no shortage of extreme positions, the bulk of that attention has rightly taken the form of horror at the suffering and death of civilians, especially children, caught in the crossfire.
Alongside the attention, many international organisations, from the UN agencies operating in the conflict zone to regional and Western governments, and even to Israel itself, have put a great deal of effort to succour these unlucky victims. More than a hundred trucks packed with relief food, medical supplies and other such items now cross into Gaza from Egypt every day.
This is all admirable and should continue, until the conflict abates and the guns are silenced, hopefully soon, and hopefully forever.
But the world shouldn’t keep its focus there to the exclusion of everything else. For, despite all appearances, the crisis in Gaza, just like the Ukraine situation before it and alongside it, are hardly the only human suffering and innocent deaths in the world that are worthy of attention and help.
Some of the worst are unfolding in Africa right now, as you read this article. None of them have commanded nearly as much attention at any time, nor drawn nearly as much ire and help from the international community. But they should. Two, in particular, arguably deserve similar levels of engagement as the Gaza crisis.
The first of these is happening in Sudan. As of October, the war there, which started in April following a failed democratic transition, had killed 9,000 people and injured more than 10,000. It has displaced over 6 million people, over half of whom are children. Of the displaced, more than 1.2 million have fled the country. For context, the entire population of Gaza is just over 2 million.
Things are so bad in Sudan that UNICEF, which has been crying itself hoarse about the children of Gaza, considers the Sudan situation to constitute the “largest child displacement crisis in the world.” Such labels have become so common in reference to humanitarian crises in Africa, they are almost meaningless.
Some of the more extreme terms that have been bandied around to pillory Israel’s actions in Gaza, like genocide and ethnic cleansing, would be much more justifiably used to describe what’s happening in Sudan. In the Darfur region, Arab militias have been systematically killing members of the Masalit community, just as they did during the last genocide there, for which former president Omar al Bashir got indicted by the International Criminal Court.
What makes the situation in Sudan even more unfortunate is that the war there is much less justified than the one between Israel and Hamas. Whatever activists may say about Israel’s retaliation in Gaza, there is no denying that it was provoked and is, in principle, necessary.
The war in Sudan is much more mundane; the only thing that’s at stake is the pride of two selfish men.
And while Gaza’s call for aid has been answered so generously that the only bottleneck now is the inspection of the trucks carrying it, the international community has only funded an exiguous third of the requested humanitarian aid for the Sudanese people, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC). It is something, sure. But it’s pathetic.
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On the other side of the continent, the situation in Burkina Faso, about which we wrote a few months ago, hasn’t been getting any better. Though Sudan now has an arguably worse internal displacement crisis, Burkina Faso’s struggle with jihadist violence continues to exact a heavy toll. A quarter of its schools remain closed and half of all school-age children are out of school. Eight thousands civilians have been killed there so far this year.
Yet only a third of the humanitarian relief requested for Burkina Faso this year had been funded as of October, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Last year, only half was funded, leading the NRC to designate it as the world’s most neglected crisis. It’s likely to end this year with the same macabre status.
Going solely by historical precedent, it is highly unlikely that global attention will shift substantially towards these crises any time soon, nor to similar ones in other parts of Africa and the rest of the world. There’ll be no marches on the streets of Paris and London and New York; no impassioned TikToks and X posts; no posters for activists to rip off streetlamps and walls.
Unlike in Gaza and Ukraine, the suffering of the Sudanese and Burkinabe people, just like that of their counterparts in the rest of the world, isn’t sensational enough to provoke a global reaction. There is no compelling villain for social justice warriors to rally against, no grand narratives for them to drive. And so these crises will remain in the shadows.
Human suffering is bad enough without it being used to score cheap political points. But this shouldn’t mean that the victims of conflict and war in Africa continue to go without the help they need. The international community certainly has the ability to help. Israel’s slogan, “Never again!”, should be applied to Sudan and Burkina Faso as well.
Mathew Otieno is a Kenyan writer, blogger and a dilettante farmer. Until 2022, he was a research communications coordinator at a university in Nairobi, Kenya. He now lives in rural western Kenya, near the shores of Lake Victoria, from where he's pursuing a career as a full-time writer while concluding his dissertation for a master's degree. His first novel is due out this year.
Image credit: Khartoum burns / Reuters screenshot
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