As Sudan and South Sudan sink deeper into full-scale conflict and hostile rhetoric nine months after the country split in two, people from both sides of the border are tweeting a very different message, one of peace, solidarity and frustration with their leaders.
These voices are galvanized around the microblogging site’s keyword-marking hashtag “#NewSudans” – a pluralized echo of the unitary, democratic “New Sudan” espoused by John Garang, the late leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), which fought Khartoum during a 1983-2005 civil war and is now in power in the newly formed Republic of South Sudan.
Secession in July 2011 may have irrevocably put an end to Garang’s vision of a single Sudan free of oppression and marginalization, but, judging by the thousand or so tweets incorporating the new hashtag since its 28 April inception, the underlying ethos lives on.
“NEVER AGAIN to war”, wrote @MimzicalMimz.
“Everyone must put his gun down. Let’s talk it out. Money you spend in war can be better spent in development , health & education,” said @Neo0rabie.
“The ruling elite is drumming on patriotism 2 cover for their failure for da passed 6 yrs n those to come, We r small prawns being played bout in da waves” lamented @afabdelaziz.
“No entrapment by false and/or artificial identities. It doesn't matter if you're Arab or African as long as you're SUDANESE,” said @simsit.
“I'm from Shendi, El Fasher [in Darfur]. I'm a Northerner, a Southerner, a Nuba, a Zaghawi, a Fur and a Hadandawi”, wrote political blogger Moez Ali (@his_moezness).
“I’m not Arab, I’m not African, I’m not Afro-Arab, and I don’t belong to any tribe, I’m just Sudanese. I’m not from Khartoum, nor from Omdurman, I’m from Sudan,” tweeted @moaltaweel.
For @kashiff111, #newSUDANS is “powerful with its individualism, colorful with its diversity, tolerant with its unity, peaceful with its faith.”
@AhmadMohamed10 looks forward to “Sudan and South Sudan - living side by side in peace with close economic, cultural & social cooperation/exchange” through an “EU style federation with all the freedoms & economic cooperation that entails.”
@MimzicalMimz appealed for: “No more new vague laws targeting women, activists, journalists, lawyers or students” and “No more racist newspapers, yes; no more Al Intibaha!” – a reference to the government mouthpiece and the most widely read newspaper in Sudan.
The new hashtag was jointly launched by Aguil Lual, a public health manager of South Sudanese origin, and Khaled Albaih, a cartoonist and fellow tweeter from Sudan, amid the battle for the borderland oil fields of Heglig earlier in April, and the accompanying jingoism in official media.
One of the most visible manifestations of these increasing tensions was the 23 April attack on a Presbyterian church in Khartoum.
“I thought we can still engage in dialogue around unity, respect for diversity, need for transformation and being united in our ‘Sudan-ness,’ since we don’t expect our leaders to achieve peace,” Lual told IRIN.
"It's important to keep such dialogues going since here are many Sudanese on all sides who don't understand or don't have the knowledge or choose to ignore that many groups were marginalized or had rights limited, not just Southerners,” she added.
Usamah, another prolific microblogger in Khartoum, told IRIN, “I think the war in Heglig and its ramifications domestically on each side proved that, to the dismay of many, Sudan's and South Sudan's future are so much tied to each other. And that has forced peoples of the two countries to realize that it's not merely an NCP-SLPM issue.
“In the light of this, Lual's initiative is pretty much spot on, and interaction between Sudanese and South Sudanese will definitely increase, which is great,” he said, adding however that the impact of this initiative was likely to be undermined by Twitter being “for the foreseeable future, very elitist.”