Sudan’s scorched earth campaign: A filmmaker’s focus

Bombing by Sudan’s military has wreaked havoc on the conflict-torn Blue Nile state.

A Sudanese woman from the war-torn Blue Nile state leaves a clinic at South Sudan''s Doro refugee camp December 10, 2011. More than 80,000 Sudanese have sought refuge in South Sudan from clashes between government forces and insurgents on the northern side of the poorly-marked and tense border, according to the United Nations. Picture taken December 10, 2011. REUTERS
Tens of thousands of refugees have fled the war-torn Blue Nile state of Sudan in recent years [Reuters]

In the past year, my colleague Viktor Pesenti and I spent time with people being bombarded by their own government in Sudan’s conflict-torn Blue Nile state, near the border with South Sudan.

So captivated by the people and the place, we returned in February 2013. Compelled to show the devastation and suffering wrought upon the people there, we produced a short documentary film for the Enough Project. 

Bombing in Sudan’s Blue Nile State shows some of the most vivid images to date – including women and children hiding in hand-dug trenches – of how civilians are suffering from Khartoum’s ongoing indiscriminate bombardment. Further, our video documents the scorched-earth campaign that the government began in 2013. For example, the village of Mufu is shown razed to the ground.


During the past few days, the government of Sudan has been threatening to shut off the flow of oil from South Sudan.

The oil is piped via Sudan to port for export. Along with this threat, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has again declared a holy war against those opposing the regime and stated the government of South Sudan was to blame for opposition forces of the Sudan Revolutionary Forces (SRF) making significant gains in recent months.

This bluster, designed to manipulate international understanding, is a distraction from the story of the suffering of the civilian population in Sudan, and a veil over the real reasons behind the current devastating violence. 

After experiencing the consistent threat and frequent attack of the Antonov bombers ourselves, we began to realise the essence of the government’s strategy: render the population frozen in fear, unable to cultivate and live as they face the omnipresence of possible bombing. The mere overflight of aircraft sends people running to hide.

The bombers and the bombs themselves are pretty basic and very indiscriminate; little targeting is apparent. The bombs appear to be rolled out of the back of high-flying cargo planes as they pass over population centres. The bombs tend to hit near buildings such as markets or schools. Thus, it seems that the bombers are targeting the people here, not any specific military target.

This made it clear that Khartoum’s rhetoric about violent insurgent rebels is a story spun to the media, and that, in reality, the government forces are targeting hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children.

Bombing the communities in southern Blue Nile occurred frequently while we were in the region, several times a week for each town. According to refugees fleeing government-controlled areas, we also discovered that the violence was particularly vicious against the communities of the Ingessena Hills, the home area of the former elected governor of Blue Nile, Malik Agar, who is also leader of the opposition alliance SRF.

These refugees, interviewed in Jubata, described being attacked as they fled.

The people in Blue Nile face a stark choice: remain at home, suffering terrifying routine aerial bombardment and brutal scorched earth tactics, or flee to the safety of camps in neighbouring countries, enduring miserable living conditions with limited humanitarian assistance.

The situation is a major part of an intractable regional crisis which carries the potential for even larger refugee and displaced populations. The situation is simply desperate.

With support from the Enough Project, documentary filmmakers Matthew LeRiche, PhD, and Viktor Pesenti recently investigated the situation in Sudan’s conflict-torn Blue Nile state, and the flow of refugees into South Sudan. Dr LeRiche is an academic, a writer/producer, and a risk management professional.