Sudan: who is responsible?

A week after Israel allegedly bombed an arms factory in Sudan, one thing is clear; there is more public anger towards the government than Israel.

Reem Abbas
4 November 2012

At about midnight on October 23, I was sitting on my bed with my cousin deciding which movie to watch. The windows were wide open to allow some fresh air when all of a sudden, the sky turned red. It caught our attention at the same time and we rushed to the window to close it, expecting this to be a typical angry Sudanese sandstorm.  

A few minutes later, I received a text message saying "plane crashes into Al-Yarmuk arms factory". I was confused and our national television channel, Sudan TV, naturally, was airing a music show. I logged into twitter and began making phone calls to understand what had just happened.

Not far from the factory, a fellow journalist and newlywed had no more idea than I. She heard the sound of planes followed by the loudest noise she had ever heard. Her building shook, and in panic the young couple struggled to gather their important documents and flee the house. In the street, they found women wrapped in bedsheets covering their nightgowns. My friend told me people were trying to run towards the Nile, thinking it the safest refuge from whatever it was that was happening. The cynical ones said this was our introduction to judgment day. 

Shortly after the airstrike and explosion, government officials announced on TV and radio that this was an internal explosion due to maintenance. They denied the airstrike; it was a figment of imagination on the part of thousands of people living there who insisted that they had seen and heard planes.

For years, the Sudanese government successfully rallied people around it in times of crisis, from the International Criminal Court's arrest warrant to the 2008 Darfur rebels invading Khartoum state and the recent conflict with South Sudan. However, this time, the public felt disconnected from the government's convoluted relations with other countries, and frustrated about the unnecessary loss of life and property damage. Although Israel has yet to confirm or deny this particular airstrike, since 2009, Israel has bombed Eastern Sudan for alleged arms smuggling to Gaza. 

Emerging details remain confusing; we were told that the airstrikes were because the factory made weapons for Iran. The government, naturally, denied those allegations, and instead what happened was that they prohibited newspapers from writing about this issue. In fact, two years earlier, they temporarily suspended a newspaper for writing about a Khartoum-based factory that made weapons for Iran. So much for treating Sudanese people like adults.

So it was a sad Eid this year in Khartoum. A few days before the airstrike, sewage water exploded in Khartoum North, flooding houses. Just days later, it was the turn of people in Southern Khartoum who had a few sleepless nights when houses collapsed due to the airstrikes and subsequent explosion. Fires burst out again twice after the explosion, spreading fear and anger towards a government that had failed to take responsibility for what had happened.

Commenting on the ongoing fire at the factory, the spokesperson of the Sudanese army said that the firemen couldn't reach some trees the first time. Nobody really believes anything they are told.

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