The incredible strength, struggles and aspirations of youth in Sudan

Last week Tijmen Rooseboom visited Sudan, or actually Khartoum, as Sudan is so much bigger than Khartoum only. In his position as Ambassador for Youth, Education and Work, he spoke with a lot of Sudanese young people. About their ideas, their businesses, but also about their struggles and frustrations. Because the situation in Sudan is complicated.

Tijmen Sudan Orange Corners
Image: ©Rijksoverheid

“Last October, a military coup made an end to the democratic transition period that had started after the revolution in 2019 that led to the fall of Sudan’s president Omar al-Bashir. A revolution that so many youth had fought for. And now they (have to) do it again. Weekly a lot of youth go out on the streets and demonstrate peacefully against the military coup. Risking their lives doing so, but very determined in their aspirations.

They are calling for a democratic civilian-led government and they would like their voices to be heard. They want to be part of the political process due to the fact that after the uprising in 2019 they are still largely excluded from the political decision-making and suffer severely from the economic hardship in the country.

Youth participation

'It’s mainly youth who keep the revolution going, but we are not part of the actual political process', as said by a young lady whose name I won't share.

Sudan is a young country, the age segment between 15 and 30 constitutes 60% of the population. So, it seems not more than fair that their ideas should be included in the ongoing political process. I have talked to a lot of youth last week. They have all indicated that there should be no political role for military, and that young people should be included in the decision-making process.

A lot of youth are organized in so-called resistance committees, a decentralized structure of communities. These committees are convening regularly to plan protests against the military, draw up political manifestoes and discuss issues like economic policy, peacebuilding and constitutional reform. They are becoming more and more political aware and active, and their voices cannot be ignored any longer. Yet they are still largely excluded from the current political process.

The Netherlands supports the ambition of youth in their aim for a civilian-led, inclusive government. We listen to their ideas, and we advocate to make their ideas, their challenges and opportunities, become part of the political process. That is also the message we conveyed to the UN, who is facilitator of the current consultation process in Sudan.

Tijmen Rooseboom school Sudan
Image: ©Rijksoverheid

Education and work

Whenever I talk to young people and start a discussion about the challenges regarding education and work, the issue of politics is raised. However, it's also the other way around. It’s of course all intertwined, because it’s essentially about the question whether the perspective of young people is being prioritized. In Sudan young people indicate that this was and is not the case:

'The system under Bashir has ignored education for a long time. Our educational system has taught us to memorize, not to think critically.'

Skills such as critical thinking are essential for young people to flourish in the 21st century. The Netherlands invests in skills and youth employment in several ways in Sudan. In Khartoum, I visited an elementary school with mostly Eritrean children that are part of the UPSHIFT social entrepreneurship implemented by UNICEF with linkages to the Dutch PROSPECTS Partnership, where we have the same approach with refugees, IDP’s and host communities in West Kordofan and East Darfur. The programme enables adolescent girls and boys to gain skills for employment and skills for life.

Tijmen Rooseboom youth Sudan
Image: ©Rijksoverheid

Support young entrepreneurs

The Netherlands also started the Orange Corners programme in Khartoum, where we support youth entrepreneurs to expand their ideas to a successful business model. I was honored to be present during the graduation ceremony of ‘Batch’ 4 and was impressed by the young entrepreneurs. From amazing fashion design to innovative medical solutions, these young start-ups are facing a lot of odds, but are determined to succeed. This programme will expand to Darfur this year. The Challenge Fund is another programme working on youth employment and bridging the gap between skills and jobs in Sudan.

Sudan impressed me. Especially the positivity, the strength and determination of its young people and specifically young women. Let's support them in their goals, let’s listen to them.”