How Twitter is helping civilians in conflict-stricken Sudan
Sudan has been rocked by deadly clashes between rival groups for days now, with the fighting mainly concentrated in the capital, Khartoum. Only a handful of humanitarian organisations are operating in full force, amid depleting supplies.
A high school building sheltering Kenyan teachers and several families started to shake amid the near-constant shooting and bombing in Khartoum. The stranded group had started to run out of food and running water, but no help could reach them.
Amid the chaos, a network of Sudanese civilians, organised mainly through Twitter, sent a group of men to check the building’s surroundings and help the trapped people escape. They fled on foot as any car that went into the area was attacked, said Jia El Hassan, who spearheads the network.
The civilian network sprung into action on the first day of the conflict, April 15, with the setting up of vital updates on Twitter Spaces, the platform’s feature for live, audio conversations. Some of the people on Twitter Spaces had experience in leading activist groups during the 2019 uprising that eventually toppled Sudan’s longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir.
El Hassan said a number of activists were either forced to leave during that uprising or killed. Compared to the 4,000 people who had helped organise rescue teams in the previous incidents, today, there are just 120 remaining, she added.
Nevertheless, despite the scores of people who have left, the network has already helped hundreds get vital supplies or leave the capital, seeking out more people in need through Twitter. El Hassan communicates with the group of civilians helping out those stranded mainly through Telegram, a channel she calls the most secure.
Amid dozens of hospitals compelled to pause operations, a number of doctors – some even from abroad – are providing vital medical information online and at times, connecting those in need with local physicians who can come and treat small injuries.
As fighting raged in the capital, the network first provided details on how to get out of Khartoum using safe corridors. But as the situation started becoming more and more volatile, the network stopped posting such details. “We would tell people this is a safe passage and literally five minutes later they are shooting everyone down the street,” El Hassan said.
Some people trying to flee through the escape routes posted to Twitter were even shot, she added. Nevertheless, scores of people are still using the platform to search for these passages.
While these civilian networks have helped hundreds of people since the conflict erupted days back, those involved say they will not be able to sustain themselves for long and require humanitarian organisations to take charge. Amid major power outages and weakening internet connectivity, the network is experiencing a really difficult time addressing people’s needs.
El Hassan said the civilians she works with don’t have the supplies or infrastructure large humanitarian organisations do.