Social media has become a frontline in the battle against authoritarianism in Sudan.
In three days, the people of Sudan got rid of not one, but two autocrats. Omar al Bashir, Sudan’s seventh president from 1989 to 2019, was removed by the Sudanese Armed Forces after months of protests concentrated in the capital city of Khartoum.
His replacement, Ahmed Awad Ibn Auf served as the Head of State under the Transitional Military council for just one day and stepped down after protests in Sudan continued because of his decision not to hand Bashir over to the International Criminal Court as well as guarantee a return to a civilian democracy within three months.
Now dubbed the Sudan Uprising, the protests began in Atbara with locals complaining about economic and living conditions. The protest started after the government announced its decision to raise the price of bread from one Sudanese pound to three Sudanese pounds. But the increment was just a part of a larger problem.
Sudan’s inflation had been increasing hitting 63.87 percent in June 2018. But soon, the protests turned political with citizens calling for the "fall of the regime". After protesters burnt the headquarters of the National Congress Party; Bashir’s party, a curfew was imposed on the city and soon after, a state of emergency declared.
As violence erupted in major cities with Amnesty International putting the number of dead protesters at 37 in December, the government looked to shutting off internet services in the country to quell protests. NetBlocks - a civil society group, working at the intersection of digital rights, cyber-security and internet governance confirmed attempts by the government to block social media sites Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.
The government was looking to impose strict information controls while extinguishing the protest just as they had done back in October 2013 while in the middle of similar anti-government protests. But word got around, and the use of VPNs to bypass the government instituted block in the North African country became popular.
“When the internet was shut off, we were scared we would not be able to get the word out. Especially as the police had been killing and tear gassing people.”
Mamadou Abozeid, a 28-year-old filmmaker in Khartoum tells TRT World. But connectivity through the VPNs is still a little shifty.
“A couple of times, we are unable to connect to the internet through our VPNs, ” he explains.
In the battle against authoritarianism in Sudan, social media has been the main driving force providing people with an opportunity and avenue to organise and rebel against their governments. But in Africa where there are no real democracies or checks and balances against rogue governments, people often have to take actions into their hands.
There is usually a weight of expectation put on the press to speak truth to power and hold governments and people in governments to high standards, but African leaders have notoriously jailed journalists for being critical. Michael Christopher, the editor-in-chief of Al-Waten, an Arabic-language newspaper fled South Sudan after being ‘warned’ not to cover protests in Sudan.
Already close to 40 journalists in Sudan have been issued arrest warrants for ‘inciting violence’ and ‘spreading fake news’. But this does not only happen in Sudan.
In Cameroon, journalists are routinely jailed for spreading ‘fake news’ - these journalists were from the Southern region demanding independence and reporting on human rights abuses in the region. Also in Nigeria, Jones Abiri, a journalist was detained for two years without a trial getting out only in 2018.
In times when the press cannot hold the powerful accountable, the people will become the fourth estate. There have been a lot of videos and images coming out of Sudan - images that have brought an outpouring of international support for the people in Sudan and their right to determine their future.
Social media is slowly becoming the place to hold leaders accountable especially in Africa.
In a few places like Nigeria and Cameroon where demands for better governance are often lost in tribal divisions, perhaps the extent of suffering in Sudan was the last straw.
“There is a commonality of purpose that has gone beyond a debate. Everyone agreed that the dictatorship was bad and they needed a change,” Adewunmi Emoruwa a political analyst and lead strategist at Gatefield a public strategy and media group that influences millions of people on the continent explains.
“But, in Sudan, it’s a real revolution. People are moving beyond wanting a new government to declining support from countries they feel have a hand in their problems.”
The hashtag #تسقط_بس has become a repository and source of information on the protests happening in Sudan. BBC Africa Eye Open Source investigator, Benjamin Strick has been geolocating videos from the protests to give the world an idea of the hell inside Sudan.
On the ground, Abozeid, an Instagram user bsonblast and a few other people are at the forefront of organising and discussing options with the rest of the Sudanese people.
Social media network Telegram and a few Facebook groups help people organise and help to maintain the momentum of the protests until demands are met. Despite what seemed like a win with the ousting of Bashir, Abozeid tells TRT World that until a civilian government takes over power, the people are ready to wait for as long as they can on the streets.
“The week ends on Thursday. We have trains and buses bringing people from Atbara to Khartoum. We will be here. It will be a party for our freedom.”