Sudan: Facing up to the past

Asmaa Al-Husseini , Wednesday 14 Jun 2023

Continuing hostilities between Sudan’s warring parties reveal the desire of each to vanquish the other before the imposition of another ceasefire.

Sudanese refugees fleeing violence flock to Chad where humanitarian workers try to provide services,
Sudanese refugees fleeing violence flock to Chad where humanitarian workers try to provide services, such as giving water to new arrivals


The temporary cessation of hostilities in Sudan had barely expired on Saturday when ferocious battles erupted in the capital Khartoum, with heavy weaponry and shells destroying critical infrastructure and targeting civilians.

The brief interlude was the 13th in a protracted series of truces marred by persistent breaches and violations which have prompted US-Saudi mediators to urge the warring parties — the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) — to display genuine commitment to the peace process.

The one-day respite, which ignited a glimmer of optimism, had encouraged mediators to pursue a longer cessation of hostilities — spanning over two months — to try and stem the tide of bloodshed. Hopes that mediation efforts might result in success have been bolstered by the backing of regional and global powers.

Meanwhile, the crisis in Sudan and the need to find a resolution loomed large at the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Summit meeting in Djibouti where a mini tripartite summit was convened between President Salva Kiir of South Sudan, President Ismail Omar Guelleh of Djibouti and President William Ruto of Kenya, underscoring anxieties about developments in Sudan, the spectre of civil war and possible implosion of the country. Such a scenario would have severe consequences not just for neighbouring countries but the entire continent.

Participants at the mini summit emphasised the need for concerted efforts to bring about a durable cessation of hostilities, facilitate the opening of humanitarian corridors and promote an all-encompassing dialogue to navigate a path towards resolution of the conflict.

Hostilities between the SAF and the RSF are continuing in a tit-for-tat fashion, manifesting the desire of each side to alter the status quo on the ground in its favour before the imposition of any cessation of hostilities. Against this backdrop, a psychological war is raging, as each faction galvanises its supporters and sows the seeds of doubt about the intentions of its opponents.

Videos have surfaced of Hussein Al-Amin Jojo, an opposition leader from Chad, claiming to be actively engaged in the combat in central Khartoum alongside the RSF, triggering allegations from the SAF that the RSF is deploying mercenaries from neighbouring African countries to seize control of the capital. Youssef Ezzat, political adviser to the leader of the RSF, denied any association with Jojo, claiming the Chadian opposition had no role in RSF military operations. He refuted allegations levelled by Sudanese military intelligence and Islamist factions, characterising them as “feeble and untenable attempts” to substantiate accusations against the RSF.

Ezzat said the RSF did not lack combatants and did not condone the participation of foreign fighters. He added that the supervision of new recruits to the RSF was entrusted to a brigadier in the Sudanese army.

Videos also surfaced purporting to show the killing of an Islamist leader, Mohamed Al-Obaid Moussa, also known as Al-Shishani, in combat with the Sudanese army. Al-Shishani was a close associate of Ali Karti, the head of the Islamist Movement in Sudan, and a former foreign minister in the regime of Sudanese president Omar Al-Bashir.

The video was cited as evidence of the involvement of Islamists in military operations in Sudan, a claim that army leaders deny. The Islamists have been repeatedly accused of instigating the conflict on the grounds that they stand to lose the most from any prospective peace agreement, reverting to the position they faced following the 2019 revolution that toppled the Al-Bashir regime.

The SAF and RSF are dispatching envoys to neighbouring countries to garner support and/or request mediation, perhaps in a bid to avert the punitive effects of US sanctions which are already beginning to bite.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has warned that if the warring parties fail to heed the call to cease hostilities, the US will consider alternative measures to address the situation. The EU has also issued a threat to impose sanctions, although its role has been deemed lacklustre. The EU response so far has been limited to endorsing the US-Saudi mediation initiative, facilitating the repatriation of European nationals and providing some humanitarian aid. The EU’s role in intensifying the sanctions against former president Al-Bashir and securing his condemnation, along with other high-ranking officials, by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in the Darfur region, cannot, however, be underestimated as factors that contributed to the weakening of the Al-Bashir regime.

There are worries that the conflict will pave the way for international interventions that could be devastating for Sudan. There is also a growing realisation that the situation may need to be addressed under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. The more the warring factions perpetrate crimes, atrocities and violations, the more they expose themselves to accountability and international sanctions.

Violence has continued to escalate in Darfur, claiming the lives of hundreds and injuring many more, and thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes. The healthcare system and other services have collapsed, humanitarian organisations have withdrawn, and Al-Geneina, the capital of West Darfur, has been left a ghost town.

South Kordofan state has witnessed movements by Sudan People’s Liberation Movement forces led by Abdel-Aziz Al-Hilu, who has taken control of four sites belonging to the SAF, raising fears of the outbreak of another war as major armed movements in the country demand the right to self-rule.

Amid the fragmentation, exposing the grievances, bitterness and complexities of the situation afflicting Sudan, the war has also engendered shows of cooperation, solidarity, selflessness and inspiring examples of humanitarianism.

Successive governments since Sudan’s independence in 1956 have been unable to establish a nation-state in which the concept of citizenship takes precedence over ethnic, racial, tribal and regional affiliations. This failure lies at the heart of the deep-seated divisions that continue to plague Sudan, fueling the conflict and impeding prospects of peace and stability.

Under the 30-year rule of Al-Bashir, the Sudanese Islamic Front exacerbated underlying imbalances, empowering its supporters within state institutions and establishing militias to fight against opponents in Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile states. The RSF emerged as the most prominent of these militias which, with the tacit approval of military leaders, gained legitimacy and saw a doubling in their numbers and equipment after the fall of Al-Bashir.

The outbreak of the conflict underlines the urgent need for radical solutions to the underlying causes of the many conflicts that have plagued the country for decades, including the secession of South Sudan in 2011. The spread of the conflict to Khartoum is a warning that any failure to address root causes could lead to further fragmentation, chaos and all-out civil war. It can only be avoided by a shift away from narrow personal interests, and a focus on the equal sharing of power, wealth, and privileges.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 15 June, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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