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What is happening in Sudan?

17 June, 2023

Nawal Abdisamad, Research Assistant

The ongoing conflict in Sudan, a country located in northeastern Africa, primarily stems from the power struggle between two rival factions within the military regime. Sudan is bordered by the Red Sea and shares boundaries with Eritrea, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Central African Republic, Chad, and Libya.

It is imperative to find the roots of this conflict to help explain the past few months. This conflict has resulted in hundreds of people dead, many caught in the crossfire, and thousands more wounded and displaced with nowhere to go for safety. It has resulted in the international community pulling together and evacuating personnel from Sudan using ships and planes. Who exactly is fighting and why? Well, firstly it is important to mention this conflict is a complex one. The fighting that commenced in Khartoum on 15 April was the result of a long period of tension between the commander of the Sudanese Armed Forces, General Abdel-Fattah Burhan, and the head of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), General Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, also known as Hemedti. These two men were once allies who ironically jointly orchestrated a military coup in 2021 that dissolved Sudan’s power-sharing government and derailed its short-lived transition to democracy, following the ousting of a long-time dictator in 2019.

Subsequent to his military training in both Jordan and Egypt, Burhan assumed the role of de facto leader in Sudan as the head of the Sovereign Council. This council was established through a partnership between civilians and the military in response to the popular uprising that resulted in the ousting of Omar al-Bashir in 2019. The uprising meant hope for Sudan’s 46 million population that they could overcome the years of autocracy, conflict and economic turmoil under leader Bashir. In contrast, Dagalo rose through the ranks of the Sudanese Arab Janjaweed militia, which gained notoriety for its alleged involvement in atrocities during the 16-year conflict in Darfur.

Subsequently, Dagalo took command of Bashir’s private militia, but he later joined forces with Burhan to overthrow their former leader following the widespread uprising in 2019. This explains the complexities between the two.

The ongoing conflict and fighting in one of the most expansive urban regions in Africa has resulted in many thousands fleeing or left dead or injured. This will not only shatter the hopes millions once had for peace, freedom, and prosperity but has the true potential to unsettle an unstable region that borders the Sahel, the Red Sea, and the Horn of Africa.

Can the United States, China and Russia stop this war?

Although the United States, Russia, and China have varying interests in Sudan, none of them have a significant interest in the collapse of the state. Each country is taking its own measures to respond to the unstable situation in this strategic yet turbulent region of Africa. When it comes to the United States and international allies intervening in Sudan it needs to move away from the one-size-fits-all approach to peace processes.  This war is not just involving these three countries but also other foreign interests in Sudan. For instance, Egypt has established strong connections with the Sudanese Armed Forces, while the United Arab Emirates and Libyan National Army Leader Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar have maintained ties with RSF. It is a very intertwined and complex situation. Therefore, a comprehensive and coordinated effort from the international community is necessary to bring about a lasting peace in Sudan.

There is a growing concern that Sudan is now caught in a proxy “Cold War” between the United States and Russia. The Kremlin is extending its influence westwards, while NATO is expanding its influence eastwards with Finland joining the alliance. Moreover, September, last year  the US ambassador in Khartoum warned Sudan of “consequences” if it went ahead with the Russian military base.

Ongoing violence in Sudan it has raised concerns about a potential humanitarian crisis in East Africa. The World Food Programme has warned that the violence could lead to skyrocketing food prices in Sudan, which could have a ripple effect on the entire region. The violence has already claimed the lives of over 500 people and injured thousands and these figures are likely to increase. Civilians continue to flee the violence, with satellite images showing long bus convoys at the Egyptian border. The UN has reported that at least 20,000 people have fled to Chad, 4,000 to South Sudan, 3,500 to Ethiopia, and 3,000 to the Central African Republic. Indonesia’s flag carrier, Garuda Indonesia, has evacuated 363 Indonesian citizens from Sudan, and two Chinese naval vessels have transported 940 Chinese citizens and 231 foreigners to a port in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

During an interview with the Human Security Centre think-tank, Aya Ali, a Sudanese citizen living in the United Kingdom, shared her thoughts and concerns about the ongoing conflict in Sudan. She expressed her worries for the safety of her family, who are still in Sudan, and stated that she does not see the situation improving anytime soon. Aya believes that both sides will continue fighting until one of them steps down or is defeated. She also highlighted the devastating impact of the conflict on families who have lost their homes and infrastructure, which they had built brick by brick. Aya emphasised that the people of Sudan have lost all trust in their government, which has been completely shattered. Aya goes on to conclude that the delayed response from world actors and international organisations has been awful and disappointing leaving thousands in fear for their lives with no support.

Whilst the violence took place the French Embassy have been accused of shredding passports and evacuating the premise and leaving people stranded and unable to collect their passports and visas. Other embassies such as those of the United States, United Kingdom, and Germany have withdrawn diplomats. Bus fares have risen to high levels to assure a safe passage which many cannot afford. Furthermore, the treatment of people has been insensitive, messaging people when flights are leaving and expecting them to be there, not knowing how dangerous it is to travel from certain points.

Some countries such as Belgium so far evacuated 17 nationals, Canada has helped roughly 1,600 citizens in Sudan, and French aircraft carrying people of seven nationalities have landed in Djibouti. In contrast, the United Kingdom failed to intervene quickly and only accepted British Nationals for evacuation. A Sudanese-born NHS doctor Dr Abdulrahman Babiker has been trapped in Sudan after visiting family for Eid, and urged the government to fly him back to the UK saying he feels betrayed after being turned away from evacuation flights.

The situation in Sudan is dire. With many lives lost and thousands of innocent citizens fleeing, more needs to be done by the international community to ensure this is stopped and people are aided. If the violence is not halted, many more lives will be killed and the country will face collapse.

Image: a Sudanese refugees in Chad (Source: Henry Wilkins/VOA/Public Domain)

About Nawal Abdisamad

Nawal Abdisamad is currently a freelance journalist, podcast coordinator recording monthly episodes about social issues, current affairs and politics, freelance copy taster/backbench editor for The Sun, where she works with the backbench team of chief sub editors and editors on print and is the 'middle man' between the news desk and copy flow. She has also recorded a segment for Times Radio, interviewed prime ministers and senior politicians. Nawal's primary areas of interest include foreign policy, human security, and international law.