Film Art and Civilian Bombings in Sudan: More than just incongruous

By Eric Reeves

[Forthcoming on The Huffington Post]

November 21, 2013 (SSNA) — Exactly a year ago, on November 21, 2012, the fourth "European Film Festival" began in Khartoum (Sudan), with films from a number of European countries, including Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.  Twenty European films were showcased between November 21 and December 2, 2012.  Enthusiasm seemed to abound on both sides, as the Sudan Tribune reported at the time:

The Head of Delegation of the European Union to Sudan said that as well as being involved through various cultural centres, Europe is also taking part in archaeological missions, cultural exchange programs and funding of cultural projects in Sudan. Cultural cooperation and dialogue between Sudan and Europe, was important Ambassador Tomas Ulicny stressed.

It’s hard to argue against a generally framed "cultural cooperation," although just what this might mean is rather differently conceived by Khartoum’s génocidaires.  But let’s "fast forward" to the present, which is almost indistinguishable from a year ago for the people of Sudan. We should recall what the audiences in Sudan’s capital city did not witness, and just what events were concurrent with Europe’s days and nights at the movies.  For as the recent past reveals, the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime continues to create its own "highlights" with a savage campaign of aerial bombardment against civilians in Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile states.

Inured to cinematic violence as so many film audiences have become, they were perhaps unmoved by realities that were reported so consistently at the time, and continue to be reported now.  Radio Dabanga—distinctly our most important source of news about Darfur—reported onNovember 19, 2013 (the anniversary of the film festival’s opening ceremonies):

[V]illagers in East Jebel Marra reported that Jarelnabi Salem Mohamed and Mahjoub Haroun Musa were killed when an Antonov bombed them at about 12am of 19 November. The men were on their way to Nimra with their carts loaded with sorghum harvested at their farmlands south of Dady. The bombardment also ignited fires in the area that burned until the evening. The villagers noted that the conditions in which they have to live, have become extremely bad. "We are afraid to leave out houses, go to our farmlands or the market, or even to light a fire to cook on."

Antonovs are not military aircraft: they are retrofitted Russian cargo planes that drop crude, shrapnel-loaded barrel bombs from an altitude of some 15,000 feet.  They have no bomb-sighting equipment, and are without militarily useful precision.  They are instruments of civilian terror and destruction, and have been used as such by this regime since it came to power by military coup in 1989.  The Jebel Marra region in central Darfur has been a particular target for several years, but virtually every part of greater Sudan (Sudan and the newly independent South Sudan) has been subject to such inherently indiscriminate bombing, with bombs often dropped in areas where there is no rebel military presence of any kind.

Indeed, the purpose of the bombing campaigns in Blue Nile and South Kordofan—the "new south" of Sudan—is to destroy civilian agricultural production, bombing fields and terrifying farmers into abandoning their lands.   We get some sense of the relentlessness of the attacks from anotherdispatch of September 19, 2013, again the first anniversary of ceremonies opening the European film festival in Khartoum.

At least six people were reportedly killed and 18 injured in Kujurya village, Dilling locality, in South Kordofan. Speaking to Radio Dabanga, Sultan Khamis Soba reported that the Sudanese Air Force has been bombing the region ever day since from 14 November. "The air raids start at 6am and continue until 4am the next day." (November 19, 2013)

Sometimes, through a wholly accidental "precision," the target is hit:

Relatives told Radio Dabanga that Najwa Bahreldin Musa, who was experiencing complications during childbirth, was taken to the Health Centre of Kokor, 25km northwest of Fanga. After 24 hours in the Health Centre, doctors decided she had to be transferred to the hospital of El Fasher. She was accompanied by Hawaaya Seifeldin Saleh. When [their] car reached the area between Fanga and El Aradeeb El Ashara, at 8:20am, an Antonov bombed it. One bomb fell in front of the car, another behind it and a third one landed directly on the car. All three passengers (as well as Najwa’s unborn infant) died. (November 20, 2013)

Sometimes, though must less often because more expensive, Khartoum’s air force deploys its advanced military jet aircraft, which are quite accurate and make clear that civilian destruction is indeed the purpose of the attacks.  The dispatch below is accompanied by a video-cam recording of a bombing in progress.  Perhaps it is without all the qualities of art film, but many viewers are likely to find the short viewing thoroughly compelling:

Two children were killed and another injured following a bomb attack by the Sudanese army on South Kordofan’s Buram county in the Nuba Mountains on Sunday… The two victims have been named as 10-year-old Alnur Tromba al-Tijani and seven-year-old Tia Nihaya. The attack was captured on video and shows a Mig-24 aircraft approaching the village prior to the attack. In disturbing footage of the aftermath villagers are shown weeping inconsolably on the ground, while their homes burn around them. (Sudan Tribune, November 18, 2013) ("YouTube" film of the attack, painfully graphic, is athttp://youtube/6LRVNRSEA08)

Over the past fifteen years there have been literally thousands of such attacks (see  Most were directed again South Sudan during the long civil war; Darfur has been targeted mercilessly since 2003; South Kordofan and Blue Nile since 2011.

In aggregate, these deliberate, systematic, and widespread aerial attacks on civilians are crimes against humanity as defined by the Rome Statute that serves as the treaty basis for the International Criminal Court—championed particularly in European capitals.  Unfortunately, this seemed insufficient to convince Europeans and European governments to forego their cinematic pleasures, even within the city from which these aerial attacks were and continue to be ordered.

Such attitudes—such specious contentions about the value "cultural cooperation and dialogue between Sudan and Europe"—do much to explain why a year after the film festival millions of Sudanese continue to face not only relentless aerial bombardment, but severe deprivation and increasingly, in all three regions, the threat of catastrophic mortality from malnutrition and disease.

Eric Reeves is a professor at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts.  His most recent book on Sudan is Compromising With Evil: An archival history of greater Sudan, 2007 – 2012.

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