Hiader Abdalla Abu Gaid is one of the lucky survivors of Sudan’s latest conflict.
He was born 36 years ago, in Almalha locality, North Darfur state, the third born in a family of 10. Then, Darfur was not the hot bed of war and conflict it has since become infamous for. Although the region, predominantly inhabited by Sudan’s black population remained segregated by the predominantly Arab government in Khartoum, its people co-existed in thriving, predominantly subsistence communities. In Almalha, people reared camels and cattle, while others tended crops. The community was also famed for its hospitality to strangers, welcoming outsiders who ended up staying, owning land, and intermarrying with their hosts.
Hiader grew up in Darfur hinterland, tending his family camels which in turn paid his and his siblings’ fees. That was until 2003. That year, the region’s two rebel groups – the Justice and Equality Movement and Sudan Liberation Movement, declared war on the Sudan government, accusing it of marginalising and oppressing the country’s non-Arab population, and demanded more meaningful inclusion in government. The government’s response was brutal and unforgiving: Allying with a notorious local militia known as the Janjaweed, the government deployed a scorched-earth policy in the region that killed thousands of people, displaced millions, and was accused of ethnic cleansing, war crimes and genocide against Darfur’s ethnic tribes – the Fur, Masalit and the Zaghawa.
Hiader’s family was among those displaced, and they had to trek about 70Kms to find a place to settle in. By the time they arrived at their new locality of refugee, more than a week later, they had lost most of their camels and other belongings to the strain of the journey and had to begin the next phase of their lives from scratch.
For Hiader, the tragedy was double fold. Aside from the psychological shock of forcing their family from a place they had long called home, he had to contend with the routine loss of family, friends and loved ones. One of the earliest of these, was the murder of his teacher, a students’ favorite, in an airstrike by Sudan’s armed forces. Hiaider says his death never left him the same:
Hiader and his fellow students mourned him for days, and for many, life never remained the same after that.
This traumatic experience awakened Haider to the human rights abuses taking place all around him. At University, he and his colleagues ferociously debated the conflict to which many of them had lost family, friends and loved ones, and their childhood innocence. That was 2005. At the time, Khartoum was finalising a peace agreement with the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army which helped bring to an end the other conflict in the southern part of the country that had equally claimed so many lives.
Armed with this consciousness, Hiader moved to raise awareness about the multidimensional impact of the war. Through the Darfur Students’ Association, Hiader and his colleagues moved to draw the world’s attention to especially the human rights violations that accompanied the conflict, from starvation, the recruitment of child-soldiers, to sexual assault, among others.
From University, Haider joined a civic initiative – Democratic Thought Project, and quickly rose through the ranks to become the Project’s coordinator in Darfur. Here, in this theater of conflict, the Project would courageously print and disseminate leaflets and brochures with easy-to-read information on the various issues around the war, like women’s rights, transitional justice, public accountability, among others, which they would then follow up with organised public readings to ensure that the community appreciated these issues.
From 2018- 2020, he was part of the masheesh adeela (which in English means Umbrella), an initiative aimed at ensuring community inclusion in any peace negotiations targeted at resolving any of Sudan’s multiple conflicts.
Buoyed by the social response to his civic engagements, Hiader joined Adeela for Art and Culture (Adeela), a civic organisation dedicated to supporting grassroots youth initiatives for peace around the country . A year back, a revolution had overthrown Sudan’s long serving dictator Omar Bashir, only to be hijacked by the military, pushing the country’s youth and other professionals back to the streets.
Haider and Adeela moved to organise and coordinate youth initiatives devoted to promoting peace and advocating for human rights protection in communities, by providing them with grants and technical support. From 2020 to 2023, Adeela supported more than 250 youth initiatives with financial and technical support, including local resistance committees organising to secure their communities from sporadic violence.
Then April 2023 happened. On the morning of 15 April, residents of Khartoum woke up to aerial bombardments as Sudan’s ruling military partners, the Sudan Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces exchanged gunfire in a zero-sum battle for supremacy. By the end of Day two, 180 people had already been killed, including three humanitarian workers working with the World Food Program.
Adeela had to close its offices in Khartoum. Hiader for his part run south, first to White Nile State on the border with South Sudan, and later to Upper Nile State in South Sudan, and finally to Juba. It was an exhausting experience.
The current war has altered Adeela’s mission to now look for humanitarian aid for those still trapped in conflict back home. Haider says the priority now is an end to conflict.