How the Gaza war impacts the war in Sudan

Jana Treffler, Friday 22 Dec 2023

While Sudanese in exile work hard to put their country's humanitarian crisis on the agenda, the world seems to have lost interest in Sudan, especially since the start of the war on Gaza.

Already in May 2023 many Sudanese fled the civil war to Chad. By the end of the year, six million Su
Already in May 2023 many Sudanese fled the civil war to Chad. By the end of the year, six million Sudanese have been displaced. Photo: Henry Wilkins/VOA


Eight months after war broke out in Sudan on 15 April, an end to the violence is not in sight. The civil war is about to become a proxy war, and the war on Gaza might attract even more attention away from the conflict, which had been of little interest to the international community even before.

“It is a forgotten war,” says Sudanese political analyst Dallia Abdel-Moniem, who now lives in Egypt, like 317,000 other Sudanese. The ongoing civil war between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) has displaced six million people, according to the UN, and killed more than 10,000. By now, the RSF controls most of Darfur, spurring fears of repeated large-scale forced displacements and massacres in the region.

According to Osman Mirgany, editor-in-chief of the Sudanese Tayar newspaper, the Gaza war greatly impacts Sudan, in terms of media attention but also concerning regional and international communities.

Expert: “Ignoring started long before the Gaza war”

However, “ignoring started long before,” says Peter Schumann, who has worked with the United Nations for more than seven years, starting in 1983 in Sudan and since 2004 with UN peacekeeping missions.

Taking Germany as an example, Schumann explains that the country’s foreign policy has for a long time been one of the world's friendliest towards Sudan; its strong relations with Sudan date to the Cold War. Germany supplied Sudan with arms, supported its local armament industry, and trained senior military leadership security forces.

“Sudan's entire security apparatus was largely co-built up by Germany,” Sudan expert Roman Deckert said in an interview with the German newspaper Taz.

“The Sudanese felt like the Germans cared about them. Then, suddenly: nothing, no more interest,” Schumann observes. Foreign policy priorities often depend on the personal interests of higher state officials in the ministries and can change radically with changes in governments.

Shifting interests of foreign powers in Sudan

With the so-called “Khartoum Process,” which started around 2015, the EU’s foreign security interest in Sudan focused primarily on migration control, leaving aside other considerations.

Following the launch of open hostilities between the SAF and RSF, the US government has mostly focused on promoting its partner Saudi Arabia as a mediator of the conflict to strengthen its role in the region. “Leaving the political task to mediate between the warring parties to Saudi Arabia demonstrates that for US foreign policy, Sudan is no longer a priority,” Schumann says.

The war between the SAF and RSF has developed an additional dimension; it is becoming a proxy war. “The interests of regional actors including Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, as well as South Sudan, play an increasingly important role,” the expert notes.

The threat of famine, and health sector dysfunction

At the moment, Sudan’s biggest concern is the humanitarian crisis caused by the war, which is gravely affecting the medical sector and food security.

According to Abdel-Moniem, 70 percent of the health sector in Sudan is non-operational, 19 million children are out of school, and power cuts and lack of water are widespread. Many people die due to lack of medical care and medicine, even in regions not directly affected by the war, Mirgany adds.

“The food sector in Sudan has almost collapsed,” says Abdel-Moniem. The large-scale displacement of agricultural workers as well as urban populations in Khartoum, where food processing takes place, and where banks are located, let alone the seizure of goods by RSF and SAF forces, has critically disrupted the food supply chain in Sudan, according to a report by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

According to the IPC, the war in Sudan has driven 17.7 million people into acute food insecurity. Image: IPC/Screenshot

According to numbers published mid-December by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), 17.7 million people across Sudan, that is 37 percent of the analyzed population, will face acute levels of food insecurity until February 2024.

Humanitarian assistance withers in the wake of the Gaza war

Humanitarian assistance to Sudan has precipitously decreased during the past two to three months, Mirgany observes, connecting it to the Gaza war. “Even from Arab countries, especially the Gulf states, we have received no more aid.”

To put Sudan’s humanitarian crisis on the agenda, Abdel-Moniem and others have organized the “Sudan Humanitarian Crisis Conference 2023” in Cairo in November.

“The international aid and donor agencies' turnout was higher than we expected,”, she remarks. However, “we need $2.8 billion to face this humanitarian crisis, but we have received only $860 million so far.”

Mediation and international attention needed to end the Sudan war

As RSF forces expand their territorial control over Sudan, experts have evoked the danger of a Libyan scenario, with two rival governments locked in a stalemate. Some speculate that Sudan might be divided once again.

To prevent this and to end the war, Sudan now needs mediation and attention from the regional and international community, Mirgany says. “Saudi Arabia and the Emirates in particular could be very effective in mediating the Sudan war. But with Gaza, Sudan is not the number one priority of regional actors.”

Schumann is concerned that negotiations taking place in Jeddah might produce yet another power-sharing arrangement, even if this may be the only option to stop the fighting.

“We have seen in the past, be it with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement for North-South Sudan or the Darfur Peace Agreement in Doha, the solution is not simply a signed document, but a process bringing together local and national actors. It is a regional process to accommodate the interests of all players, such as Egypt's concerns regarding the Nile or Saudi Arabia as a regional political hegemon,” he says.

“The Jeddah talks have failed, but we will not make peace if only the two generals sit at the table without the representation of the civilians on a humanitarian side,” Abdel-Moniem warns, adding that the war might affect neighbouring countries or even the whole region.

“Other countries in the region and the international community need to put more pressure on the two generals to end the fighting,” Abdel-Moniem demands. “We pay the price for this war.”

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