Deaths of students, academics reported as conflict continues

Following several days of fighting between Sudan’s national army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and a failed ceasefire, dozens of deaths and a growing number of injuries have been reported in the country in a conflict which is also affecting the academic community.

Whereas the Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors (CCSD) on 15 April put the death toll at 56 people, some of the latest reports suggest a fourfold increase in fatalities and hundreds more injuries, but these remain unconfirmed from within Sudan.

The names of some of the student and university staff victims have surfaced on social media platforms, including Dr Muhammad Ahmad Al-Khatim, a lecturer at Al Fashir University, Abdullah Khaled Abdullah Adam (Gedo), a student at the Sudan Academy for Aviation Sciences and Technology, Dr Alaa Fawzi Al-Mardi, a graduate of the University of Science and Technology, and Dr Najwa Khaled Hamad.

The University of Khartoum Teaching Staff Trade Union (UKTSTU) has also confirmed the death of a student on 17 April, saying Khalid Abdulmun’em had been shot near the campus. He was buried on campus after safe passage off site could not be secured.

The university area in Khartoum is a particular hot spot due to its proximity to the general command of the armed forces, with warplanes hovering overhead and nearby buildings destroyed by fire.

On 20 April, UKTSTU issued a statement saying a group of students, professors and workers stranded at the University of Khartoum were freed from various buildings on the campus.

For more than three days, students at the university have been trapped inside campus buildings as artillery and gunfire rain down around them in Sudan’s capital.

Also, media reports suggested a fire broke out in the building of the ministry of higher education and scientific research in Khartoum.

Adil Mohamed Ali, the head of the Institutional Development Programme at the Sudanese Environment Conservation Society and a coordinator with the United Nations Development Programme, or UNDP, told University World News it was not clear which of the warring parties had the upper hand.

“Sporadic fighting and gunfire is heard all over Khartoum. It is not clear how long this fight will continue. Let us hope the situation will improve soon,” said Ali.

Out of 59 hospitals in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, and the states adjacent to the areas of armed conflict, there are 39 hospitals that have suspended their service, including most of the teaching hospitals, according to a 19 April field report issued by a committee of the Sudan Doctors Trade Union.

Power struggle

The fighting is believed to be as a direct result of a power struggle within the country’s military leadership, according to the BBC.

Generals have been running the country through what is called the Sovereign Council, since a coup in October 2021 that ended a period of more than two years when military and civilian leaders were sharing power. That deal came after Sudan’s long-term authoritarian president, Omar al-Bashir, was overthrown.

The RSF is under the command of the council’s vice-president, General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, better known as Hemedti. The army, meanwhile, is led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who is the head of the Sovereign Council and, in effect, the country’s ruler.

Hemedti and al-Burhan disagreed about the direction the country is going in and the proposed move towards civilian rule. One of the main sticking points is over the plans to integrate RSF into the national army and the leader of the new force.

The violence that erupted on 15 April follows days of tension as members of the RSF were redeployed around the country in a move that the national army saw as a threat. It is not clear who fired the first shot.

International students

In the meantime, concerns over the safety of international students in Sudan, including Egyptian, Nigerian and Somali students, are growing.

Many students, including foreign students, are without electricity and with no means of communication, prompting parents of Egyptian students in Sudan to call for the return of their children to Egypt and integration into Egyptian universities, similar to what happened to foreign students after Russia invaded Ukraine.

Egyptian students in Sudan have conveyed their experiences on social media platforms: “There is no sleeping, no eating, no drinking, we are locked in the dormitory ... Leaving the residence exposes us to death by gunfire, and staying inside threatens us with starvation.”

Details of the current situation of Egyptian students in Sudan have been posted on the Facebook group ‘Egyptian students union in Sudan’.

In solidarity with Egyptian students’ calls for protecting and evacuating them as a result of the deteriorating security situation in Sudan, several hashtags were launched including #Save_Egyptian_Students in Sudan.

There are 3,000 Egyptian students in Sudan, most of them in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, according to the Egyptian Ministry of Emigration and Expatriate Affairs (MEEF).

Many Arab students go to Sudan because of the relatively low costs of tertiary education and lower admissions standards compared to those in their home countries, according to a 2019 article, ‘Arab Students at Sudanese Universities Face an Uncertain Future’. However, this may also be making it difficult for many of them to transition back to universities at home.

Reaction to Egyptian students’ calls

As a result of the escalation of the military clashes in Sudan, MEEF held a virtual meeting with 100 Egyptian students in Sudan to monitor their well-being. The meeting took place on 17 April.

MEEF issued a statement: “We are in constant contact with the sector for Sudanese affairs at the ministry of foreign affairs, the Egyptian embassy and consulate in Khartoum and the Egyptian community to help in the event of a shortage of food or medicine and to provide any form of support to those in need of these materials, especially students who are in dangerous areas, and those who have run out of food.

“An ongoing assessment is being made of the conditions of the Egyptian community in Sudan, and all alternatives are on the table, including an urgent evacuation plan if necessary in accordance with the situation and developments on the ground, and after the opening of airports and land borders that are currently closed.

“We call upon Egyptian students in Sudan to fill out an electronic form to register to prepare plans that guarantee their security and safety.

The ministry of higher education and scientific research said it would send e-mails to Egyptian students studying in Sudanese universities, to ensure their safety.

Other African students

The President of the National Association of Nigerian Students in Europe (NANSE), Bashiru Saidu Muhammad, has called on the government of Nigeria to not only protect Nigerian students in Sudan, but also evacuate them amid the ongoing military conflict which posed a significant threat to their well-being and academic progress.

Somali students also expressed fear for their safety, appealing to the Somali government to assist them in returning to Somalia.

Depending on conditions on the ground, the Somali government is planning the evacuation of citizens in Sudan, who are estimated at up to 3,000 Somalis, many of them students.

The government of the Gambia indicated that all the 58 recorded Gambian students in Sudan are currently safe and have been advised to remain indoors as well as follow safety guidelines issued by the authorities in Sudan. They have also been asked to remain in touch with the country’s foreign ministry and its missions abroad.

Other non-African student nationalities, including Chinese, Indian and Malaysian students have expressed fears about the security challenges.

Academic anti-war front

A pro-democracy movement, including Sudanese universities and academics, is calling for the formation of an anti-war front in response to fighting.

The Sudanese Professionals’ Association (SPA) issued a statement on 15 April calling for a united front against the war.

The association is an umbrella group of independent professional unions, including doctors, engineers, teachers and lawyers as well as the Association of Sudanese Professors at Universities, Faculties and Higher Institutes, which led to nationwide demonstrations against al-Bashir’s rule from December 2018 until his removal from power in April 2019.

Also, the Alliance of Forces for Radical Change (AFRC) issued a statement on 15 April, saying: “It [the fighting and killing] is another crime of the military regime.

“The conflict that is now taking place between the army leaders and the RSF revolves entirely around the centre of power, and over the control of resources.

“We call on all the revolutionary forces to form a broad and coherent front against war …”

AFRC consists of various mass organisations and trade unions, notably SPA and the Sudanese Women’s Union, which includes academics.

In addition, on 15 April, the Alliance of Professors of the University of Science and Technology (APUST) announced its condemnation of the fighting and called for its immediate stop and resorting to dialogue for peace.

The Behiri University Professors association issued a statement on 17 April to call “on the professional and political national forces, the resistance committees, and all the forces that believe in the democracy and civility of the state to assume their national responsibilities by agreeing on a unified national project ... that dismantles all militias and works to build a national army whose mission is to protect the constitution and preserve the safety of the homeland , under a sustainable civil democratic state.”

Assistant Professor Mosab Nouraldein Hamad, director of the Centre for Research Excellence at Elsheikh Abdallah Elbadri University, Sudan, told University World News that “the academic community is very disturbed and shocked with the devastating news of loss of lives among our own society and among academic community resulting from the current military clashes.

“The loss of university education due to armed conflict can have catastrophic outcomes, especially since higher education is the key to fostering sustainable peace,” Hamad emphasised.

This news report was updated on 21 April.