Conflict continues in Sudan

xx Asmaa El-Husseini , Tuesday 2 May 2023

Neither the Sudanese Armed Forces nor the Rapid Support Forces seem ready to return to the negotiating table to find a peaceful solution to the conflict in Sudan, writes Asmaa El-Husseini

Conflict continues in Sudan
A Sudanese soldier stands guard while transporting evacuees to a warship at Port Sudan during a rescue operation (photo: AFP)


Three weeks of war and destruction have not been enough to settle the current conflict in Sudan militarily. Yet, neither side – the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) – appears ready to embrace a peaceful solution to the conflict and accept the invitations by regional and international parities to come to the negotiating table.

The longer the crisis continues, the greater its disastrous repercussions in Sudan and abroad. Fighting has broken out in Darfur and has already claimed 100 dead in the town of Al-Janeina alone, adding to the more than 500 dead and thousands of wounded so far.

This is not to mention the more than 10,000 displaced persons and refugees and the widespread destruction due to the use of heavy weapons, war planes, tanks and various types of missiles in and around Khartoum and other cities across the country.

Millions of Sudanese lack the minimum necessities for life and are unable to access food, water, and medicine. Most hospitals are overwhelmed, and the electricity has been cut off in several areas.

Tens of thousands of refugees are fleeing the country to neighbouring countries such as Chad, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea. Egypt has been the primary destination for many who have managed to flee amidst the chaos enveloping large tracts of the country.

Once across the border, these refugees have had to gird themselves to pick up their lives again as they struggle to absorb the shock of what is happening to their country and to others left behind.

There have been suspicions about the involvement of other parties in the conflict. Reports last week said that Ahmed Haroun, minister of state under former Sudanese president Omar Al-Bashir, had been released from prison in Khartoum, along with several other officials from the former regime.

Haroun, one of several Sudanese men wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur, has announced that he supports the SAF, sparking fears that Islamists from the old regime are plotting to return to power in Sudan.

Soon after the conflict erupted on 15 April, fingers pointed to the Islamists, accusing them of fuelling the tensions between the commanders of the SAF and RSF who were on the threshold of finalising a new political agreement before the fighting broke out.

The agreement threatened the Islamists’ interests as it calls for the disempowerment of the deposed Al-Bashir regime. RSF Commander Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (Hemedti) had stipulated that the SAF had to be purged of Islamist officers before the RSF was integrated into it.

Hardliners on both sides are refusing to respond seriously to regional and international appeals for calm and offers to mediate, believing that such initiatives will hamper their aims of crushing their adversary and eliminating it from the political scene.

In the opinion of many observers, the belligerents’ formal “welcome” of ceasefires and offers to mediate is meant to improve their image abroad. As the ceasefire frays, they hasten to blame the other for being the first to break it.

There have been many attempts at mediation, but none have solidified into a clear framework, and the complexities of the situation in Sudan and the many stakeholders are hampering international and regional efforts.

The rush of the international and regional powers to evacuate their citizens from Sudan also sent the ominous message to the Sudanese people that the crisis in the country will drag on and that the international community is not prepared to take the necessary steps to save this large Arab and African country from a worsening catastrophe.

Many regional and international powers could put pressure either on one or both of the main belligerents, and more pressure could go a long way towards halting the escalatory dynamics and preventing any spill-over into neighbouring countries and other parts of the Arab world and Africa.

A US-Saudi initiative has taken the form of an appeal for a humanitarian truce. Another has come from the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which was about to send three heads of its member states (South Sudan, Djibouti and Kenya) to Khartoum when the conflict started. South Sudanese President Salva Kiir has announced that he has invited the two sides to send representatives to Juba for talks. Among other offers to mediate, one has come from Israel and another from the Russian Wagner Group.

The longer the conflict lasts, the greater the risks that regional and international players will get involved, with Sudan witnessing the intersection of competing interests, alliances, and tensions between the regional and international powers. Fears of outside meddling have been compounded by worries of how this could affect Sudan’s neighbours, which are contending with their own problems.

There is little to prevent the troubles from spreading from Sudan to Libya, Chad, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea, given porous borders, demographic overlaps and tribal links, and other ties that could easily be invoked to call for help from across the border.

Many tribal militias, extremist groups, and armed organised crime gangs thrive in the border regions in the Sahel where the arm of central government is weak. Such conditions pose a major threat to Sudan as well as other states in the Horn of Africa, the Nile Basin up to the African Great Lakes, across the Red Sea into the Arabian Peninsula and beyond, and North Africa.

Sudanese voices are crying out for an end to the hostilities and a return to the democratic transition. A large civilian front opposing the conflict has come together, consisting of political parties, trade unions, resistance committees and other civil society organisations, as well as public figures.

Muezz Hadra, a lawyer and one of the front’s founders, told Al-Ahram Weekly that its participants would use whatever means are available to them to bring an end to the conflict and restore democracy in Sudan. This would include peaceful protests and demonstrations calling for an end to the conflict, as well as drives to help bring humanitarian relief to areas without medical services, access to clean water, and other urgent needs.

“We’re trying to bring the transition to civil and democratic governance back on track and to completely end the involvement of the military establishment in politics and the economy,” Hadra said.

The front is promoting security and military reform under the auspices of a democratic and civilian-led transitional authority to create a unified and professional army. It is fighting the plans of the former regime to derail the democratisation process and return to power and is simultaneously fighting extremist propaganda and hate speech and working to counter all types of discourse that foster bias and partisanship along ethnic, tribal, regional and religious lines.

Hadra said that the front opposes all forms of foreign intervention, apart from international efforts to provide humanitarian relief and stop the fighting, to prevent the return of the Islamists to power, and to bring a just and comprehensive peace.

“The front is trying to contain the disastrous impacts of the war,” said Abdel-Baki Jabara, a journalist and front cofounder. “It is the product of an enlightened group of patriotic groups and individuals whose primary aim is to unite Sudanese public opinion and to use their available resources in the media or personal contacts with local and international organisations to rally support behind a basic aim, which is to stop this war and build internal cohesion towards the realisation of the lofty goals of the Sudanese Revolution after it ends,” he said.

He added that the front, still in the process of formation, needs more time to become effective. “All our actions in the meantime will be through the media and will aim at broadcasting the voice of the Sudanese people who are opposed to his war and support intervention to stop the daily humanitarian disaster,” Jabara said.

Representatives from Sudanese political parties, social forces, and militia movements have also raced to stop the fighting and offer to mediate. Governor of the Darfur region Minni Arko Minawi told the Weekly that he and other Sudanese leaders were in contact with both sides within the framework of intensive efforts to restore calm and promote a ceasefire.

He said that the mediation drive included political and social forces that supported the earlier Framework Agreement and others that opposed it. “This is because the nation and its future are now at stake. This is bigger than internal Sudanese disputes,” he said.

He said that he would work with all Sudanese to resolve a crisis that has afflicted the whole country and that he would contact all regional and international parties to urge them to help stop the conflict and bring the disputants back to dialogue.

He said that the situation had calmed down a little since the last ceasefire and that “there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon.” However, the humanitarian crisis continues to be grave. “The fighting has to stop, and both sides have to commit to the ceasefire in order to save people’s lives, preserve the unity of Sudan, safeguard the dignity of the Sudanese people, evacuate stranded families and deliver humanitarian aid,” Minawi said.

Asked whether some Sudanese militia movements could get involved in the conflict, Minawi, also the leader of the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM), said that “what I can say for sure is that our movement [the SLM] will not intervene. We are impartial and do not favour either side. We remain committed to the Juba Peace Agreement and a comprehensive ceasefire.”

But he said he could not speak for other militia movements, some of which include members of the warring parties. “All I can say is that the situation is extremely difficult and precarious,” he said, adding that in Darfur the situation is very dangerous, “even if it is better than the situation in Khartoum.”

“This is the type of climate that invites interventions. I have long cautioned against the dangers of circumstances like these. Anything could happen if the crisis continues. Even if it doesn’t escalate into a civil war, the conflict could drag on. However, there can be no military solution to the war,” he said.

“These Islamists never went far away to begin with,” Minawi said when asked whether they could return to power. “They were always around after the fall of the regime in the Sudanese Revolution in 2019. What is new is that they have now come out into the open. I think they are one of the factors that triggered this conflict, but not all of them.”


* A version of this article appears in print in the 4 May, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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