Since the 2019 Sudanese revolution, the Sudanese transitional government and the Sudanese people have been working to build a new democratic state. This has proved difficult, especially since the coup of October 2021. The Sudanese diaspora, which extends across the world, has played an important role in crisis advocacy and providing humanitarian assistance in Sudan, and has been a key actor supporting the civilian-led transitional government’s efforts to rebuild the state since the revolution.
In partnership with the Centre of African Studies at SOAS and Governance Programming Overseas, Shabaka held a panel event on Wednesday, 1st of December to discuss Sudanese diaspora engagement, transnational activism and advocacy, and the topic of migrant protection in Sudan. The panelists included: HE Giles Lever, UK Ambassador to Sudan, Dr Munzoul Assal, Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Khartoum, Kholood Khair, Managing Partner at the Sudanese think-and-do-tank Insight Strategy Partners, and Tauhid Pasha, Senior Coordinator at IOM in the UK.
The role of the diaspora in Sudan
The discussion started by exploring the role of the Sudanese diaspora in Sudan, particularly in light of recent events. Panelists agreed that the diaspora had an important role to play, especially considering the resources available in wealthier countries. The diaspora’s expertise and leveraging of transnational networks is crucial to achieve the goals of the transitional government. In the context of human rights violations and unstable internet connections, the diaspora can achieve important advocacy work and can amplify voices inside the country. The diaspora is able to speak out safely against violence occurring in the country, as it can access the necessary infrastructure and audiences to do so. They are able to do this with a better understanding of the circumstances of the country, and can use online spaces when their engagement on the ground is too challenging. When the diaspora is able to travel, it can act as an important communicator on the ground. This is especially important in terms of donor relations: this can inform donors on how best to use their resources. Hence, donor communities should increase their engagement with diaspora actors.
The challenges to diaspora engagement
Panelists also agreed that there are some challenges to diaspora engagement. The most salient considering the recent crisis is the deterring effect of the coup on diaspora engagement. The political crisis has damaged trust between the UK and Sudan for instance, and has the potential to deter diaspora activism. However, there are some encouraging examples of diaspora political advocacy and lobbying which indicate that the diaspora could have an important role to play at this time. Additionally, while the diaspora is organised in many unique groups within civil society, there is a marked lack of coordination and no coordinating body to ensure it is functioning at its best capacity. This would be a necessary development in diaspora engagement in order to maximise its impact.
Migration in Sudan
The panel event then touched on migration in Sudan. Indeed, Sudan is a receiving country, a transit country as well as a sending country for migrants, which makes it particularly challenging to devise an appropriate and impactful migration policy. Panelists reflected on the challenges posed by migration, particularly a lack of state capacity to respond, and a need to ensure responses are centered around protection rather than security. Panelists suggested the diaspora has a role to play in strengthening capacity in Sudan. Additionally, the diaspora is a major element of the response to new arrivals in destination countries, and can support the integration of new migrants. Some panelists brought up the importance of an open migration policy for Sudan, as this would be most reflective of the country’s extensive history of migration and inclusive of the large populations of migrants who have been integrated in Sudan for decades. Migrant integration could also act as a remedy for the staffing issues in many of Sudan’s public services. The discussion ended on the conclusion that more cooperation was needed between countries as well as with civil society on this issue.
Panelists and participants to the event were pleased with this fascinating discussion, which brought forward existing pathways of diaspora engagement, and touched on many of the issues currently facing Sudan. The panel gave an encouraging picture of Sudanese diaspora activism and migrant protection, with some important steps going forward.
Shabaka will publish a working paper based on the panel discussion in Jan 2022, which will include recommendations for policy makers in Sudan, Sudanese civil society and the diaspora, and international partners of Sudan like the UK government and UN agencies.