Arif: “We want to give Sudanese people the information they need to build a better life.”

Arif Elsawi, the founder of Sudan Facts Center for Journalism, settled in Nairobi long before the Sudan current fighting between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), began.  Now living in Kenya, he is one of the faces behind Atar, a weekly publication that sheds light on the plight of Sudanese civilians caught in the fighting.

“On 15th April, the day fighting erupted in Khartoum, I was in Nairobi. I was supposed to travel to Khartoum, Sudan, on a Tuesday, but the war started on Saturday morning.

Most of the Sudanese I know were expecting something to happen. There were a lot of indicators of war, but nobody thought that it would happen on such a large scale. Like others, I thought the fighting would last around two months, but it’s been going on for a year now. It’s become more complicated, other parties are getting involved and it’s no longer about the two parties, the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), who were fighting in the beginning.

It will go on for a lot longer unless the international and regional initiatives, such as the African Union, the IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority on Development), and Sudan’s neighboring countries, get involved.

Telling our own stories

I have been a journalist for almost 20 years now covering stories in Sudan and East Africa. I decided to come to Nairobi in 2009, to see what I could do for my career.

I initially founded the Facts Center for Journalism, where I worked and trained young professional journalists or young Sudanese people who wanted to build a career in journalism. The aim was to train them for six months, after which they would graduate.

After the war broke out, we decided to form Atar, alongside 12 of our trainees, with the aim of sharing stories from Sudan. The young journalists we work with are the heart of Atar, because most of them are correspondents from different cities and towns in Sudan.

Some of them are still living in Sudan, while others are in Ethiopia, Uganda and Egypt. Yet they are still writing and sending us stories on Sudan. Now we have a network of over 20 journalists around Sudan, from different cities and different regions.

Getting news from Sudan is challenging, especially during the communications shut down, but we are working around it, by using  Starlink, which is a satellite internet service. Other journalists travel miles just to send us stories.

There is such buzz from these young journalists – they’re excited to share these stories from within Sudan and it brings extra meaning to the local stories.

News in times of conflict

Practicing journalism in a time of conflict is not hopeless. Sometimes it will give you a positive feeling; sometimes it’s negative, depending on the stories.

After a day of working on these stories, we can feel really down about the situation in Sudan. Other times, we feel hopeful for our communities, having read how people are trying to figure out ways to live, survive, get food and travel from A to B. People are being so creative and innovative, despite living under very tough conditions.

You can’t even imagine someone living in that situation. There is no electricity and there’s been no clean water for close to four months. But we’re also witnessing how people are using their knowledge to figure out a way to survive these  tough conditions.

Journalists under threat

Journalists are having a difficult time. We are facing threats from both sides – in areas controlled by RSF and areas controlled by SAF. It’s not easy to report independently and clearly We are always accused of taking sides, of being biased, but we are not the only country in the world to witness a war. Yes, we are putting our lives at risk, trying to get the stories out, but we’re also utilizing the knowledge of our colleagues from around the world, watching how they use technology, or other methods to get the stories out.

For example, we ran a survey in 2017 to find out how the Sudanese communicate. We discovered  the Sudanese use social media, such as WhatsApp, as a main source for news and for stories.

From those living in Sudan to the Sudanese diaspora, we wanted Atar to appeal to all and be easy to share. Considering how weak our network and internet can be, we don’t want them to have to search for us. We want to make it easy for everyone to read our stories and share them. We started with an Arabic publication, and in March we published in English for the first time. We’re also building a website!

I miss everything about Sudan. But I’m trying to be realistic every day. I know some things are gone. I can’t even imagine that they will be back. But it’s also an opportunity for us. The war is the hardest thing we will experience, but it’s an opportunity to learn where we can go. Through our journalism, we want to give Sudanese the information that they need to make better decisions and build a better life.


Join our call on the UN Security Council to disrupt the flow of arms in Sudan which will reduce civilian suffering.