Ongoing catastrophe in Sudan

Asmaa Al-Husseini , Tuesday 25 Jun 2024

As the civil conflict continues in Sudan, the country is on the brink of the worst famine the world has seen since the Great Ethiopian Famine some 40 years ago.

Ongoing catastrophe in Sudan


The conflagration in Sudan is reaching cataclysmic proportions as it continues to expand and relentlessly consume more and more human lives.

Continuously fed by the imports of advanced arms, the land and its people have become testing grounds for military technologies from drones to internationally prohibited weapons. The massive death and destruction, even in areas of refuge and displacement, has triggered international warnings of worse to come, including mass famine.

The hostilities rage on multiple fronts including in Khartoum, Omdurman, Khartoum North, Gezira, White Nile, Sennar and Darfur. In the latter, the fighting is centred around Al-Fasher, the capital of North Darfur, which is under siege by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

The Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and their allies are struggling to defend the historic city, strategically located near Sudan’s borders with Libya, Chad, the Central African Republic (CAR) and South Sudan.

To the east and northeast are the North Kordofan and Northern states, which means that if RSF forces seize Al-Fasher, they will have an open road to other Sudanese states and cities. If the SAF retains and secures control of Al-Fasher, this will mark the beginning of its recapture of Darfur from the RSF, which had tightened its control over large portions of the state in recent months.

The RSF has also seized control of Al-Foula, the capital of West Kordofan. This area is strategically vital as it is home to one of Sudan’s largest oil fields, and pipelines transit through it carrying oil from South Sudan to export terminals at the Bashayer Port on the Red Sea.

With the capture of Al-Foula, the RSF has gained a forward position from which it can attack other towns and cities in West Kordofan and a logistics hub from which it can supply and support its advancing forces.

This also means the wildfire of battle will spread, causing more waves of bloodshed and displacement in the anticipated confrontations between the RSF and the SAF and the Popular Resistance forces allied with it.

Meanwhile to the east, fighting between the RSF and SAF has also spread into Sennar, located south of Gezira. It is particularly fierce in the Jebel Moya area.

It is not just the machinery of war, murder, intimidation and terror that is ravaging Sudanese civilians in what it would be no exaggeration to call a Sudanese holocaust. Starvation, which has also become a weapon of war, has put millions at risk of famine and dehydration due to a lack of access to food, potable water, and medicine.

The situation is so severe in some places that people have been driven to eat leaves and dirt. International officials have warned that Sudan is on the brink of suffering the worst famine the world has seen since the Great Ethiopian Famine 40 years ago.

The Sudanese tragedy also extends beyond its borders. Sudanese refugees in neighbouring countries endure considerable hardship and must overcome formidable difficulties to obtain their basic needs and secure a modicum of stability and safety.

The situation is especially dire for thousands of Sudanese stranded in makeshift refugee camps in Ethiopian forests where they are victims of the elements, hunger, and disease. Much the same thing applies to many Sudanese refugees in Chad, South Sudan, Uganda, and elsewhere.

Nothing has been spared the depredations of the war, including agriculture, livestock and essential ecosystems. Healthcare infrastructure and services, from hospitals, ambulances and emergency services to maternity wards and dialysis centres, have been severely degraded. Essential components of the Sudanese economy have been put out of commission by the shelling.

The Khartoum Refinery Company, also known as the Al-Jili Refinery, the largest such installation in Sudan, has been out of operation for a year due to the conflict. The RSF and SAF continue to trade blame for the attacks on it. Missile and artillery fire have also delivered debilitating blows to the energy sector, striking the Marangan power station in Wad Madni, the Rawaba power station, and the Bahri thermal station.

Another aspect of the spiralling civil war is that the central conflict between the RSF and SAF is precipitating subsidiary conflicts wherever it spreads. In areas under the control of the RSF in Darfur, for example, the longstanding dispute between the Habaniya and Salamat tribes has flared into violent clashes, causing hundreds of casualties and displacements.

Despite repeated attempts at reconciliation, the situation remains tense.

In Port Sudan, which Sudanese President and SAF Commander Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan has taken as the temporary capital of the country after the RSF took control of Khartoum, a crisis erupted after a TV presenter, Zeinab Aira, complained that her manager had threatened to fire her after she appeared on set in her traditional tribal attire.

Protesters from her tribe, indigenous to that part of eastern Sudan, stormed the television headquarters in Port Sudan to demand the resignation of its Director-General Ibrahim Al-Buzaie, for “insulting” one of the indigenous ethnic groups of eastern Sudan. Calm was restored and the protesters left the building after the Red Sea State governor pledged to launch an investigation.

However, the flareup – not the first of its kind – underscores how fraught tensions are, not just in eastern Sudan, but throughout the country, and it points to the nature of the comprehensive and multifaceted dispute-solving and reconciliation processes that will be required to calm them.

Meanwhile, regional and international efforts to deescalate and resolve the conflict remain ineffective. The international community continues to fail to exert serious pressure on the belligerents to compel them to opt for peace.

Only recently has the EU imposed sanctions on the military leaders of both sides, but this measure does not appear strong enough to persuade them to return to the negotiating table. After the UN Security Council passed a resolution calling for a cessation of hostilities and an end to the siege of Al-Fasher, the fighting there intensified further.

The African Union’s (AU) efforts have fared little better. The AU formed an ad hoc presidential committee chaired by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to arrange for a face-to-face meeting between Al-Burhan and his former deputy RSF Commander Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (Hemedti) as soon as possible to bring an end to the conflict.

Informed sources in Sudan are sceptical about the chances of such a meeting occurring and about the ability of AU mediating efforts to achieve a breakthrough. They point to the SAF’s and its allies’ suspicions regarding the AU’s impartiality and, more generally, to the complexities of the conditions in both camps, which will render it difficult for either of the two commanders to take a decision independently.

There has also been a multiplicity of peace initiatives and a lack of coordination between them. The initiatives by the AU and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the Saudi-US sponsored Jeddah Platform, and the Egyptian initiative bringing together Sudanese civil forces have been ad hoc, inconsistent, and sometimes conflicting in their purposes.

This has created room for the warring parties to manipulate the processes to serve their own ends.

SAF and RSF officials continue to accuse each other of working as proxies for foreign powers and to accuse foreign powers of a lack of impartiality and of actively backing the other side.

The SAF has charged that Kenya, the UAE, the Libyan National Army (LNA) Command in Benghazi, and Chad are supporting the RSF, which has in turn charged the SAF with obtaining military support from Iran, Turkey, Russia, and Ukraine.

A recent UN Security Council session on Sudan occasioned an angry altercation between the Sudanese and Emirati representatives. Reiterating the accusation that the UAE was supplying the RSF with military support, Sudan’s representative Al-Harith Idris asked the council’s chair to distribute documents submitted by his government that he said furnished evidence of this.

The UAE representative, Mohamed Abu Shehab, described Idris’ statements as “ludicrous” and insisted that his government only supports humanitarian relief operations in Sudan.

LNA Commander Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar has also denied offering military support to the RSF, describing allegations to that effect as lies and disinformation.

The Sudanese people desperately need the international community and humanitarian-minded friends and sympathisers to build up pressure on all those who have it in their power to do something to end this nightmarish ordeal.

Steps must be taken immediately to end the war and prevent further loss of life, atrocities and human rights abuses, and to ensure that urgent humanitarian assistance reaches the millions of civilians who are suffering from this conflict and its catastrophic repercussions.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 27 June, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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