Protests Spread to Sudan—Why Weren’t They Successful?
From the Youth for Change Facebook page
All eyes right now are on Egypt, but the energy of demonstrators there has spread to neighboring Sudan, where multiple demonstrations took place at universities in the capital of Khartoum on Sunday, January 30. Inspired by the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, organizers used Facebook, texts, and e-mail to call for Sudanese citizens to take to the streets and demand the resignation of President Omar al-Bashir.
Unfortunately, Sudanese activists appear to have organized in haste, without having a strong plan of action in place and not taking precautions to protect themselves online. This lack of coordination resulted in what appears to be widely unsuccessful protests. Activists didn't back up their protest plans with a well thought out strategy, and they didn't support their online organizing with basic digital security tactics like remaining anonymous on Facebook. As a result, riot police were ready to confront demonstrators and there were numerous reports of mass arrests and attacks, with one student dying from injuries sustained in the clashes.
Like others in the region, the Sudanese people have been hit by high food and oil prices, compounded by “the sting of austerity measures instigated by the government to offset the economic impact of the secession of the oil-producing south Sudan.” The Sudanese Tribune paraphrased an e-mail calling for action:
"Everyone could do something positive. We shall rise and leave behind passiveness....We have to do this, for our children to live with dignity...for us to live the life that every human deserves....If the Egyptians can break the fear barrier...so can we. WHAT ARE WE WAITING FOR!!!"
Plans were made to gather outside universities across Khartoum. The hashtag #SudanJan30 was used to share news and a Crowdmap page fielded reports from the ground. It soon b ecame clear that the police were prepared for demonstrators, ready to arrest participants and quash any sign of unrest. Reports into Crowdmap included:
In the video below, protesters gather outside the University of Khartoum:
The police may have been so ready to act because they could have been easily tracking the protesters' plans online. The organizers and participants of the demonstrations did not appear to make a concerted effort to protect themselves online, even though Facebook was one of the primary platforms used to coordinate their actions. As Patrick Meier notes, activists were not aware of the recent actions by the Tunisian government to hack into Facebook accounts. In subsequent Skype conversations with these activists, he's shared with them how to enable HTTPS on Facebook (noting that through contact with Facebook he was able to get them to roll out this new feature in Sudan) and to send e-mail anonymously with Hushmail. This is a great step forward.
Activists also shared preliminary lessons they have learned from the January 30 protests, including "insufficient clear communication leading up to the first protest," poor timing, and solely relying on Facebook to recruit participants. The events that transpired on Sunday underscore the importance of planning ahead and being vigilant. Check out our various how-to guides for best practices and tools.
Reports and messages are circulating that organizers hope to regroup on February 3. However, yesterday armed police surrounded at least six universities in Khartoum and were not letting students leave campuses. Given the acknowledgment that more thought and preparation need to be put into planning the next round of protests, will they regroup so quickly? Do they stand a chance against a police force ready to clamp down on any sign of unrest?