Aweng Chuol on ~BlueForSudan and the crisis in her home country
The Fenty model, who is Sudanese but was born in a refugee camp in Kenya, tells Vogue why the #BlueForSudan social media campaign matters, amid ongoing turmoil in her country and following the murder of pro-democracy demonstrators in Khartoum at the start of this month.
Sudan is in crisis. On 3 June, dozens of pro-democracy demonstrators were killed in a brutal crackdown led by the military in the capital, Khartoum. As of 12 June, the Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors estimates the death toll at 118 people; however, the director general of the health ministry in Sudan claims that figure is 61. Dozens of women and men have been raped, while the UN reports that at least 19 children have been killed since the violence broke out.
The brutal attack followed a series of major political upheavals in the north-east African country. In April, after months of protest, Sudan’s long-term ruler, Omar al-Bashir, was removed from power in a coup d'état. Days prior, a sit-in had begun, first lobbying for al-Bashir’s resignation and later for civilian, rather than military, rule. Since then, internet access in the region has been blocked, leading to what is being described as a “near-total shutdown”.
Despite that challenge, social media has persevered; the Sudanese diaspora in particular has played a key role in the sharing and spreading of information internationally. The #BlueForSudan campaign went viral when a series of high-profile individuals – including Rihanna and Naomi Campbell – changed their profile pictures in solidarity. According to reports, blue was the favourite colour of Mohammad Mattar, one of the demonstrators killed during the 3 June massacre.
Sudanese model Aweng Chuol believes #BlueForSudan shows the power of social networks to both raise awareness and push for change, despite previous cynicism over how much of an effect online campaigns actually have. “Social media has an impact. Now you cannot miss what’s happening in Sudan.
Here, the Fenty model tells Vogue in her own words why it’s so important to speak out about what’s happening in her home country right now.
“Right after the Sudan massacre [on 3 June] happened, there was no coverage at all. I did not see one tweet. I did see a celebrity's birthday was trending on Twitter. A literal massacre had taken place in Sudan and a celebrity's birthday was number one on Twitter. This is the society we live in.
“I only started seeing anything [reported] about Sudan on social media four days after I first posted; a few celebrities started posting too. When I made my profile picture blue, I got a bunch of messages asking why. I replied: ‘Hi, thank you for asking this very important question. Right now in Sudan, my home country, this is what’s happening.’
“I wanted to speak out as someone who wasn't born in Sudan [but is Sudanese]. I was born in a refugee camp in Kenya. My mum made the decision to leave her home [when she was pregnant with me] because of the civil war. It was like ‘You have two days to leave the country or you're going to die.’ I don’t know my home; I've never been [able to return].
“My dad was a child soldier in the First Sudanese Civil War [1955-1972] and he fought in the Second Sudanese Civil War [1983-2005] as well. With what’s happening now, it's like we've been through this, we've seen it all – why do you want to repeat it?
“With the internet shut down in Sudan, [the outcry from social media users around the world] needed to happen to draw attention to the situation. What I really wanted was the reaction. If the world's not reacting to it, there's no action. There’s now a petition to get the United Nations involved.
“Everything is very volatile in the country, [so] there's no way to go there. Next month, I’m flying to Kenya and I want to visit the refugee camps there to see what the situation is like; we don't know exactly what's happening at the moment. In the meantime, the best we can do is continue speaking out.”
Follow Aweng on Instagram: @awengchuol