Hardship for academics who have gone without pay for months

As the fighting between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) enters its fourth month, the detention of citizens has raised concern, while appeals have also been made to the International Labour Organization (ILO) to help secure the payment of workers, including academics, who have gone without salaries since April.

The media and public relations department of the Omdurman Islamic University issued a statement on 11 August saying the RSF had arrested Dr Osama Jalal Salameh, an anatomy professor at the university’s faculty of medicine, and Youssef Muhammad Noman Suleiman, a driver at the university until he retired last year (2022).

“Under torture, RSF forced Dr Salameh to say that he was a brigadier general of the … Sudanese Armed Forces,” the statement noted.

“Accordingly, the family of Omdurman Islamic University – professors, administrators, employees, and workers – clarifies that the detained members of the university have nothing to do with the regular armed forces, and demands their immediate release without restriction or condition.

“The university has previously been subjected to the deliberate destruction of its assets in its various locations in the capital and the university’s branch in the state of South Darfur as a result of SAF-RSF war,” said the statement.

Infrastructure destruction

In the meantime, the destruction of infrastructure has continued. Speaking to University World News, Dr Abdelillah Douda, one of the Darfuri academics who earlier issued an appeal for humanitarian help in Darfur, said: “As I am writing this comment, the University of Nyala in South Darfur [one of biggest higher education institutions in Darfur] is ransacked, looted and burned down by the Rapid Support Forces.”

The details of the destruction of the University of Nyala were outlined in an article on 11 August about the looting at Nyala University, written by Dr Mahmoud Mohamed Abdel Aziz, director of the Training and Capacity-Building Centre at the institution.

Sudanese academics

Adil Mohamed Ali, the executive director of the Sudanese Environment Conservation Society and a former coordinator at the United Nations Development Programme, or UNDP, told University World News that academics, like the thousands of people who have fled from the capital, Khartoum, since 15 April, have been suffering because of a shortage of money.

For example, the academics of the University of Khartoum and the staff received their April salaries, but only for those who have accounts at Faisal Islamic Bank, according to Ali.

“For those who have no relatives outside Khartoum, the cost of renting a house represents the biggest challenge. For those who stayed inside Khartoum, the bombing by SAF and RSF, the restrictions on movement, the acute shortage of basic services, including electricity, water and food, are some of the threats that face them.

“In addition [there are], of course, the forced evacuation of houses, theft of property and commandeering of vehicles,” Ali noted.

Expanding further, Douda said: “Sudan is one of the poorest countries in the region and academics at all levels had been suffering financially before the war because the salaries they received were not sufficient to cover their daily expenses and most of them used to do additional jobs to meet their needs.

“Today, the situation of Sudanese academics is dire, whether they are in private or public universities, as most of them, particularly those who used to be in the capital, Khartoum, have not been receiving salaries for four months and they are not able to do the additional jobs they used to do to support their families,” Douda added.

“They were forced to move to the rural areas to join their extended families and to share whatever they have,” Douda said.

According to Douda, a university professor friend of his had not received any income for months.

“He explained to me that he was compelled to sell all his valuable properties to support his family. He concluded that, if the situation continued for more than two months, he wouldn’t have anything left to sell,” Douda pointed out.

Asked about whether any university staff members or workers have been dismissed without compensation at private universities, Douda said he was unaware of such cases.

“All these private higher education institutions just stopped paying workers under the pretext of war. Most leaders of these institutions just disappeared and left the workers to manage their lives in their own ways.”

Call to secure salaries

The Trade Unions Front to Stop the War and Build Democracy (TUFSWBD), which includes several university-based organisations, called on the International Labour Organization (ILO) to intervene and demand that the Sudanese government pay salaries to Sudanese workers, including university staff.

In a statement issued on 4 August, TUFSWBD said: “As of April 2023, the Government of Sudan has withheld the payment of wages to workers, except those working in the armed and other security forces, although they are all considered part of the public sector …

“Many private-sector corporations have also dismissed workers without compensation. This is a profound violation of the commitments of the government and private sector to the international labour standards which confirm the right of all workers to adequate wages ...”

TUFSWBD is led by teaching staff groups at the University of Nyala, the University of Alzaiem Alazhari, the Omdurman Ahlia University, the University of Khartoum, and Sudan University of Science and Technology as well as Sudanese journalists, doctors, engineers and teachers, among others.

Silence from international organisations

Reacting to the trade unions’ call on the ILO to help Sudanese academics, Douda said the lack of international involvement in the war in Sudan was sad. Only a few replies were received in response to appeals by Sudanese groups seeking help from international organisations.

“As far as I know, the Sudan Federation of Trade Unions has sent an appeal to the ILO to address the issues of Sudanese employees, including university professors’ salaries but, unfortunately, they haven’t received any answer ...

“A couple of days ago there were lists circulating on WhatsApp groups asking academics and other employees from West Darfur to register their names for expected salaries,” Douda pointed out.

“The lists said that all the digital data in the state has been destroyed by the fighting factions, [and that] Sudanese academics don’t expect to receive their salaries soon.

“All my colleagues in Sudan’s higher education institutions said to me that the academic situation is gloomy and there is no hope for them in the near future. They lament the future of their students,” said Douda.