The conflict in Sudan between the army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) has given rise to fears that it will turn into an all-out civil war with repercussions affecting neighbouring regions and the rest of the world.
Despite Sudanese fears of violence between the two sides and the spurring of armed movements in the capital and other cities, it cannot have been guessed that Khartoum would become the stage for violence that has thus far resulted in the death of hundreds of people and the injury of thousands.
The Sudanese people have endured long decades of Civil War in South Sudan, together with conflicts in the Darfur, Nuba Mountains and the Blue Nile regions along with uprisings, revolutions, and coups.
But the current crisis will leave them with further scars that will be difficult to erase after the peaceful revolution that toppled the 30-year rule of former president Omar Al-Bashir.
The precursors to the conflict were manifested several months earlier amid concerns pertaining to the Framework Agreement between the military and civil entities in the country and the various provisions it encompassed.
These included security and military restructuring aimed at the establishment of a uniform and proficient national army, as well as integrating the RSF into the regular military.
The RSF command wanted a protracted timeline of up to a decade for this integration to take place, whereas the army insisted on just two years. In addition, the army wanted the RSF to be its affiliate, while the RSF said it wanted to be affiliated to a civilian leadership during the transitional period and demanded army reform in tandem.
These disagreements, which could have easily been resolved, were only the tip of the iceberg of other conflicts between the two sides on authority, funding, and alliances.
The crisis began to show its violent face when the army warned against the danger of the RSF deploying its forces in Merowe near a military air base without prior coordination.
In a bid to de-escalate the mounting hostility between the conflicting factions, the heads of the country’s political parties, civil forces, and armed groups engaged in shuttle diplomacy, ultimately announcing an accord to alleviate the prevailing tensions and a communication mechanism to facilitate ongoing dialogue.
However, the outburst of violence between the opposing forces caught all parties off-guard, leaving the Sudanese mediators with no opportunity to intercede. Each faction subsequently accused the other of instigating the conflict, while some speculated that a third party may have kindled the flames of war.
Khaled Omar Youssef, spokesman for the political process and a leader in the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), told Al-Ahram Weekly that the party that ignited the conflict was element from the defunct Muslim Brotherhood regime in Sudan that wants to return to the helm.
This group puts no price on people’s lives or on the unity and security of the country, he said. It had torn Sudan apart in civil wars in the south of the country and in Darfur in which millions were killed, he added.
“We are working hard to urge the army and RSF leaders to commit to a comprehensive ceasefire and then return to the negotiating table to resolve outstanding issues,” Youssef said.
He warned that prolonging the conflict could lead to its expansion, threatening regional peace and security. “This is why we are urging the international and regional communities to play a positive role in stopping the conflict and launching political dialogue between the warring parties,” he said.
“The cost of the conflict is exorbitant, and the Sudanese people will pay the price with their lives.”
“We have communicated with the national initiative launched by member of the Sovereignty Council Malik Agar, Darfur Governor Minni Arko Minawi, and Minister of Finance Jibril Ibrahim. We have issued joint statements by the FFC, professional forces, civil society, and public figures, and we are engaged in efforts to build a broader civil front against the conflict and in favour of the democratic transition.”
“Political dialogue is the most fruitful means to resolve the crises that led to this conflict and to eliminate the elements of the former regime that ignited it in a bid to end the political dialogue.”
A wide array of armaments including heavy artillery, tanks, missiles, and aircraft have been used in the conflict thus far, engulfing the civilian populace and causing widespread panic and leaving a trail of hundreds of dead and thousands of injured.
The already precarious situation in Sudan, compounded by the fragility of the state institutions, has further exacerbated the crisis. The country has been reeling from a lack of a functional government since the earlier events on 25 October that were widely regarded by the international community and large swathes of the Sudanese population as a coup d’état against the democratic transition.
International appeals have been voiced for the two parties to stop the fighting, and many initiatives have been announced in Sudan. The FFC has called on the international community to impose sanctions on those who ignited the conflict and are now refusing to end it.
Attia Abdullah Attia, secretary of the Sudan Doctors Syndicate, told the UAE newspaper Al-Ittihad that 72 per cent of the medical services near the conflict areas in Sudan are not functioning. Some 57 out of 79 clinics in the capital and adjacent states have halted their services, he said, while only 22 remain fully or partially open.
Some are providing first aid services only, and even these are threatened with closure due to the lack of medical personnel, supplies, water and electricity, he said.
Thirteen hospitals have been bombed, 19 forcibly evacuated, and six ambulance vehicles attacked and denied access to patients, Attia said.
Some 264 people have been killed and 1,543 injured, he said, noting that the true figures are higher but cannot be tallied due to an inability to access all areas as a result of the fighting.
Many Western and Arab countries have evacuated their nationals from Sudan, including the US, France, the UK, Italy, Russia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Jordan. Many Sudanese people see the move as a precursor to a possible escalation of the conflict.
Making matters worse is the two sides’ inability to commit a ceasefire against a background of shortages of drinking water, food, and other supplies.
Before the eruption of the conflict, international organisations had warned that 16 million people were on the verge of famine in Sudan. Early in the conflict, three members of the personnel of the UN World Food Programme (WFP) were killed, leading to other humanitarian organisations stopping their work due to the lack of security and the inability to move freely.
The two warring parties are also carrying out media campaigns to mobilise loyalists, intimidate opponents, and send messages to the outside world. Some media material is either fabricated or contains fake news.
Sudan is now at a crossroads: either the warring parties commit to an immediate ceasefire or continue the conflict leading to a zero-sum game. Each party wants to annihilate the other, and this will only come at an exorbitant cost in terms of lives and materials.
It is now up to the international community to end the conflict before its flames spread to the Red Sea, the Horn of Africa, the Nile Basin, Central and North Africa, and the Arab region, bringing incalculable consequences with it.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 27 April, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly