Sudan has been plunged into a conflict that has dragged on for the last year, resulting in the death of over 15,000 people and has also caused untold hardship on the Sudanese population. There is still a disparity in media coverage of Sudan in relation to conflicts like Ukraine and Gaza. Sudan therefore raises questions about a general lack of public awareness and opinion. Despite the diligent work of journalists on the ground in Sudan, their reports often fail to dominate headlines or trend on social media platforms. This lack of widespread public knowledge and discussion not only affects government responses but also influences where donor dollars are directed. Why is the Sudan conflict a difficult one to cover and what challenges are there in reporting a conflict like Sudan.

The first thing about the coverage (or lack of it) of the Sudan conflict is that it is hardly a small or obscure country. Occupying a landmass of about 1.89million square kilometers, Sudan is the third largest country in Africa home to about 45 million people. Sudan’s geographic location also means that it occupies a very strategic trade route. Another reason why the seeming lack of coverage of the Sudan crisis is quite surprising is that the conflict is not just a low intensity one that has only affected a few unfortunate villages.

When we speak of the lack of coverage in the Sudan conflict, let us be clear we are not claiming that no one is covering the conflict. Right now, there are dozens of passionate knowledgeable reporters on the ground in Sudan working tirelessly in unbelievably difficult conditions to try and get word out about the conflict. Some are independent journalists contributing to outlets like Sudan war monitor. Others are employees of traditional media organizations like Reuters, the BBC and The Guardian. What they all have in common is that they are all doing excellent work in covering the crisis. The question however is that why are these reports not leading the headlines or trending on social media discourses? Why is it that you could walk into a random pub and find people with strong opinions about the conflict in Ukraine and Gaza but for the conflict in Sudan, there is not a shared sense of public knowledge or opinion? This public opinion is important because what the public cares about can drive how governments react as well as where donor dollars flow. Many aid workers in the region have decried how lack of aid donations has affected their work in the region.

Sudanese activist Niemat Ahmadi in her criticism of the coverage of the conflict writes that “today, as the wars in Ukraine and Gaza dominates headlines; the conflict in Sudan receives little attention from the international community. Maybe they are fed up… even all the international NGOs who are working in Sudan, they left.” She says, “white Europeans now being killed wounded or rendered homeless by Russian troops are victims worthy of media attention, while Sudanese facing similar fates aren’t.” Niemat hints at a racism engendered bias in the coverage of the conflict in Sudan as the victims are black Africans who she feels are not regarded in equal measure as their European counter parts. In my research of this piece, I have discovered that the lack of coverage does not necessarily stem from a racial perspective.

International news organizations have faced budgetary constraints that limit their ability to deploy journalists and equipment to cover stories in Africa. This can result in fewer reporters on the ground and reduced coverage of important events. Martin Plaut, a former BBC world service correspondent in Africa sums up how financial constraints have affected how news coverage from Africa has been done in recent times. He states “the ​BBC’s ​budget ​has ​been ​cut ​dramatically ​in ​the ​last ​ten ​years ​because the ​license ​fee ​has ​been ​kept ​flat ​and ​hasn’t ​increased. ​Therefore, ​every ​year inflation ​eats ​into ​it.” With these changes into how newsrooms are funded, it is then the case that it is easier to focus on conflicts of a closer proximity (Ukraine) than one in the horn of Africa (Sudan).

Again, it is worth remembering that the Darfur war in the 2000s received overwhelming coverage in the west as did the 2011 succession of South Sudan. While it is possible that western media will typically lean more towards issues taking place in Europe than it will in Africa due to geographic proximity, other African stories like the coup in Niger for instance received good coverage. The reality of the Sudan condition is that past coverage of the region has affected the public perception of the region. The reality is that Sudan has had a long and bloody history filled with different conflicts. The Darfur genocide for example was a key concern for global leaders in the 2000s as did the South Sudanese fight for independent. As vital as this coverage were, the disadvantage is that the region has become linked in people’s minds as a place synonymous with conflict, leading to what is referred to as War Fatigue in the media.

War fatigue in the media refers to the diminishing interest, attention or emotional response from the public towards ongoing conflicts or wars. This often due to prolonged exposure to coverage of violence casualties and political complexities in the region, it can lead to decreased media coverage, less public engagement and a desensitization to the human suffering caused by this conflict. Sudan is a perfect example of how war fatigue can cause media attention to dwindle in a region over time. Initially, there was a widespread coverage and public concerns regarding the conflict in regions like Darfur with attention focused on the humanitarian crisis and atrocities committed. However, overtime as the conflict persisted and evolved media attention dwindled as the region had almost always been synonymous for war.

Another issue affecting the coverage of the crisis is the backdrop if the former isolationist regime of Omar Al Bashir. Bashir served as the president of Sudan from 1989 to 2019. In that time, there was a repression and control of the state media and limited freedom of expression leading to a lack of transparency and independent reporting on internal affairs. As a result, many issues concerning Sudan often went underreported or not even reported at all. The last independent journalists’ union in Sudan was dissolved in 1989 following Omar al-Bashir’s rise to power. During Bashir’s regime, journalists faced severe repression, including imprisonment and torture. Hundreds were arrested, with some enduring years of incarceration for reporting on topics deemed unfavorable by the government. These issues have also affected the way Sudan is perceived in the media as not a lot of media attention had been dedicated to the region in the first place.

The one-year anniversary of the crisis has resulted in a flurry of articles and editorials on the pages of major international news agencies; however, more could be done on the issue as the conflict also appears to be having an impact on the neighboring African countries. It is conflict with no end in sight, but an increased media coverage can hopefully begin to drive public support to bring an end to the fighting in a region that has been devastated by war.

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