Own imageDestruction in Khartoum
NOS Nieuws•vandaag, 10:00
Eva de Vries
Eva de Vries
After seven months of war, the Sudanese capital Khartoum is largely in the hands of the paramilitary RSF. There is still heavy fighting; the government army regularly carries out air raids on RSF targets in the city. A large number of residents have fled the violence. But not everyone wants or can leave.
“We are only concerned with surviving,” says 39-year-old Alaa from Khartoum. His neighborhood is now in the hands of the RSF, but there are still places nearby where the government army is in control. “There is constant fighting, houses have been destroyed and shops looted. I no longer recognize my city. It has become a ghost town.”
NOSThe situation in Khartoum in November 2023. This also indicates the district of Alaa
Khartoum had developed rapidly after the 2019 revolution, says Sara Wadda Abdelhai from Bahrain, where she fled. Abdelhai is the face behind the Instagram account Lovin Khartoum, which mainly showed the beautiful side of the city. “New art forms were expressed, there were debate evenings and all kinds of concerts. And lots of food of course, Sudanese love food.”
But now nothing is left of that image. The war has brought life in Khartoum to a standstill. Schools and most hospitals are closed, embassies are deserted and the majority of people are out of work. Thousands of buildings, bridges and roads have been destroyed. And according to Doctors Without Borders, hardly any humanitarian aid is provided.
Abdelhai’s entire family has now fled Sudan. Alaa’s wife also left, along with their two sons. Alaa stayed to take care of his father and the people in the neighborhood. Now he is part of a small number of people who remain in Khartoum.
The war in Sudan
On April 15, fighting began between the government army, led by General Burhan, and the paramilitary RSF fighters led by General Hemedti. Fierce fighting continues in and around Khartoum, and RSF militias are also taking city after city in the western Darfur region.
According to data project ACLED, more than 10,000 people have now died. Since April, 4.5 million people have fled their homes. 1.2 million people have crossed the border into neighboring countries such as Chad, Egypt and South Sudan. The UN refugee agency UNHCR said on Tuesday that the country had entered an “unimaginable humanitarian crisis”.
Since RSF fighters invaded and looted his house, Alaa has been living with his father. “There is no longer a daily life here,” he says. “Together with a few friends, relatives and neighbors, I try to get through the day. We help each other, we live from day to day.”
He explains how they consult daily about food supplies and who needs what in the neighborhood. Donations are pooled and they use that amount to make food parcels and buy medicines. “Many shops are closed, but you can still get something at the market. This is because food is being smuggled into the city.”
There are regular power outages due to shelling and air raids. Alaa’s profession as a technical engineer comes in handy. “We work with other technicians to find the cause and can often solve the problem.”
Barely any information
But taking to the streets is never without risk. Apart from flying bullets, Alaa and the other stragglers are constantly harassed by RSF fighters. “At checkpoints we are sometimes beaten, verbally abused and robbed. They ask questions about who you know and who you support. Or they search your phone. If they think you are a spy, you will be taken away and detained. Very frightening.”
That fear is also the reason that people hardly share information. They are afraid that government soldiers or RSF fighters will see certain messages or photos and that they will then be punished for it. And international journalists cannot fill this gap, because they have been banned from entering the country since the start of the war. It is therefore unclear what exactly is happening in Khartoum and the rest of Sudan.
“Despite the risks, I want to record and share my life,” says Alaa. He is careful. “I store my photos in an invisible folder. And when I go to the market, I leave my phone at home.”
Photos (of Alaa’s children) that are still there after his house was looted.
Bullet hole in the window of a house in Khartoum.
Alaa’s father (in a large chair) talks to people from the neighborhood about what is needed.
A looted shop in Alaa’s neighborhood in Khartoum.
Alaa, after successfully purchasing fresh vegetables.
Food parcels are being put together in Alaa’s neighborhood.
Alaa and other technicians repair power outages in the neighborhood.
Shelling and bombing in Khartoum.
Why does Alaa stay in Khartoum despite all the hardships? “It’s not an easy decision. My father and other relatives are here, and it’s expensive and dangerous to get out of town.”
According to Sara Wadda Abdelhai, everything that was built after the revolution in 2019 has been razed to the ground. “It’s so sad to see the sporadic videos and photos from the city. All those young, talented people who have left. The Khartoum of my youth, the Khartoum I know, no longer exists.”
Alaa may soon join the large outflow of refugees. He longs for a normal, safe life and misses his wife, his children and his work. “But I will come back when there is peace. I hope for that, because without hope I cannot live.”
For security reasons, we only call Alaa by his first name. His full name is known to the editors.