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Elamin Abdelmahmoud is the author of Son of Elsewhere: A Memoir in Pieces.

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Smoke rises in Omdurman, near Halfaya Bridge, during clashes between the Paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the army, as seen from Khartoum North, Sudan, on April 15.MOHAMED NURELDIN ABDALLAH/Reuters

I’m finding it challenging to understand the carnage in Sudan through the headlines and stories I’m consuming, even though I work in media. It is the country of my birth and the majority of my childhood; the chaos is far more personal, far more specific.

It was disorienting, for instance, to wake up a few weeks ago and find, on the front page of The New York Times, a photo of a bridge in Khartoum that I grew up crossing every weekend when I went to visit my uncles. The bridge looked like it always has, save for a plume of black smoke – evidence of the battles raging in Khartoum right now. That’s not some war zone, I thought to myself. That’s the way to visit family.

I read the reports of urban street fighting while hearing that bullet shells had reached my aunt’s backyard. The accounts of thousands of people dodging danger in order to flee Sudan aren’t just headlines to me, either: While reading about widespread fuel shortages, I was receiving updates about a relative who had secured passage out of Sudan, but only if she could find someone to drive her 45 minutes outside the city to a rendezvous point. When The Guardian reported that a British plane carrying evacuees with Canadian passports from Khartoum had left for Cyprus, I exhaled a sigh of relief, because that flight was carrying three relatives who are now safely in Canada. And when I follow the news about the thousands of Sudanese people making their way to the Egypt border, I’m also following my own family members, who left Khartoum with a hope of being allowed into Egypt. Only some of them have been successful.

My people are not practised at cultivating hope. It never visits for long. Sudan has been an independent nation for 67 years and for about 40 of them, it has either been at war with itself, under the rule of a dictator, or both. Freedom is often just outside its grasp.

So in 2019, when 22-year-old Alaa Salah stood on top of a car and orchestrated a chant of “Thawra” – revolution – among a crowd of thousands, the taste of hope was new and exhilarating. Eventually, a wave of revolution led by Sudan’s women and young people successfully toppled Omar al-Bashir, who had been head of state for nearly my entire life.

My family celebrated. I cried tears of relief and gratitude. I joined the millions of Sudanese people who started to let hope grow – who let ourselves believe that a democratic and free Sudan was being born right before our eyes. That belief grew stronger when it was announced that Mr. al-Bashir would be replaced by a council that would share power between the military and civilians, paving the way to full civilian rule.

Those days are now a distant memory. Two generals are battling each other for control over Khartoum, its residents held hostage by the crossfire. The civilian deaths number in the hundreds, the wounded, in the thousands. Those who have not fled the city are forced to remain inside, terrified, as clashes of tanks and heavy artillery and guns rage on; occasionally, they venture outside to replenish supplies during fragile ceasefires that never last as long as promised.

The current conflict in Sudan is not a civil war. This is not a fight involving Sudanese people against other Sudanese people. This is strongman versus warlord, a conflict with no one to root for: no “good guys,” no “right side,” only Sudan’s people, trapped under two warring egos.

Tracing the root of the crisis feels pointless, though it’s impossible not to place some blame on the international community for not punishing Sudan’s army when it staged a coup in 2021 to end its planned experiment in democratic civilian rule. Countries that had been invested in resolving the conflict in Sudan during Mr. al-Bashir’s fall then stumbled into the seductive trap that splitting power between two armed factions is tantamount to brokering peace. There is little evidence to suggest this approach ever works.

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The Decibel: The bloody struggle for power in Sudan

Sudan has too often taught me that it is nearly impossible to hold hope. And yet, earlier this year, I had hoped to visit this fall. It would have been my first time there in 14 years, and my daughter’s first visit to a place she had only heard about in family stories. But instead of planning for our visit, I find myself restlessly waiting for the next step in Canada’s response to the conflict. The primary hope I allow myself to feel now is that Ottawa might match the humanitarian response it brought to the war in Ukraine.

In response to Russia’s invasion, Canada launched an emergency travel program that accelerated many of the usual visa requirements. It was a powerful policy tool, and the right response to a large-scale humanitarian crisis. Now, Sudanese Canadians are left wondering if anyone will offer something similar for those trying to escape the wreckage of Sudan.

As a journalist, I’m supposed to consider the headlines, to think about what the stories are, to find out about what the right policy response might be. But for me, and others watching from here, separating news stories from our stories feels painfully inadequate. Now, the only hope we have left is the hope of getting our families out before it’s too late.

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