Scott McDonald, Chief Executive of the British Council talks about the situation in Sudan and the effect it has had on the British Council's work in the country.
The media has been awash with stories of people fleeing the fighting in Sudan, their journeys perilous as they dodge a violent power struggle. As we, in the UK and around the world, watch in horror, my thoughts also turn to the longer-term future of Sudan and the many thousands of people whose lives have been disrupted, their opportunities thwarted.
My colleagues, sheltering in their houses as bullets break through the windows and doors, or on the road to a safer place, tell us how keen they are to restart their important work in education, English language and the arts.
They tell us this despite the power cuts, food and water shortages and amid the stress and trauma of it all. I am in awe of them all. We continue to do everything we can to help them.
When the fighting broke out on Saturday 15 April, nine of our colleagues were on duty in our office in Khartoum for an IELTS exam, an English test known for opening doors to opportunities for students to work, study or live abroad.
For six days, they were unable to leave due to fighting immediately outside, living off canteen food to the sound of gun shots and shelling. With great relief, they were evacuated on the Thursday and reunited with friends and family.
Sudan is hugely important to the UK for many reasons. Crucially, it’s an important player in regional stability in the North of Africa and the wider African continent. Something also recognised by other global powers.
The country borders several countries that have experienced conflict over the years, including Libya, Chad, South Sudan, Ethiopia, and Eritrea and has played a key role in peace negotiations and efforts in the region. As recently as 2021, Sudan was the ninth largest recipient of UK development funding, underlining the UK’s commitment to peace, stability, and prosperity.
That commitment runs far deeper - the British Council, an organisation dedicated to building peace and prosperity through our work in Arts and Culture, Education and English Language, began working in Sudan 75 years ago.
The inclusion of young people in peacebuilding is critical for achieving long-term sustainable peace, but they are so often under-represented, particularly young women. Our Enabling University Peace Education (EUPE) project, mostly funded by the EU, provides young people in Sudan with the opportunity to gain the knowledge, skills and experience to contribute effectively to a country that so desperately needs their help in conflict resolution.
Our cultural projects promote freedom of expression and have connected British and Sudanese filmmakers, helping to rebuild the movie industry after thirty years of fundamentalist suppression.
Importantly, our programmes also support economic opportunities, giving young people the skills and opportunities to develop their own businesses or improve their employability. They have told us this gives them so much hope for the future.
While our programmes are suspended for now, we remain committed. We will not abandon our colleagues nor the communities and institutions we have worked with for decades. And neither I hope, will the international community.
There is no time to lose in restarting this important work. Alongside our partners and UK government departments, as soon as it is safe to do so, we will begin again.