An underreported tragedy

Asmaa Al-Husseini , Tuesday 16 Jan 2024

In its tenth month the Sudan war shows no sign of respite, reports Asmaa Al-Husseini

An underreported tragedy


The war in Sudan, now in its tenth month, is no closer to a peaceful solution. The two sides – the Sudanese National Army (SNA) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) – have put paid to all mediating efforts so far. Both are heedless of the ongoing suffering of Sudanese across the country and of the threat that looms over the very unity and integrity of the state.

Evidently, the bloodshed, destruction and widespread human rights violations are not sufficient to give the belligerents and their allies pause for thought or to compel the regional and international community to exert enough pressure on them to stop this war. As a result, the two sides remain bent, regardless of the challenges and setbacks, on crushing their adversary in a zero-sum game.

The RSF and its allies say that their battle is with the Islamists who formed the backbone of the regime of the deposed president Omar Al-Bashir. They maintain that neither Sudan nor the region will see stability until the security centre of the Islamists is destroyed. They argue that reconciliation with the Islamists is out of the question because that would preserve them as a potential threat to any future democratic arrangements.

The RSF Commander Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (Hemedti) also plays on the sentiments of marginalised people who long for justice and an equitable share in wealth and power. He has vowed to build a different system to that which emerged after independence in 1956 and in which the northern elites monopolised power and influence. He also claims to espouse the aspirations of the pro-democracy forces and maintains that he had supported the framework agreement before the war erupted on 15 April 2023.

The RSF’s adversaries, while led by the SNA, are a disparate group. Some are military leaders who had been angered by the very creation of the RSF out of a non-state militia, its legitimisation as an institution under the Bashir regime, and then its growing strength, size and prestige following the overthrow of Bashir. Another main group of adversaries is the Islamists who see Hemedti as an enemy that must be eliminated at all costs because his support for the revolution was a main reason for their ouster from power on 10 April 2019. Worse yet, in their view, is his current support for Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC). The army leaders and the Islamists have mustered and armed the so-called armed popular resistance in the Sudanese states in which the RSF forces have not entered yet, raising the spectre of armed clashes with potentially catastrophic repercussions for the country. The anti-RSF camp, in its discourse to the public, points to the human rights violations perpetrated by the RSF and affiliated militias and warns that if the RSF came to power it would not bring democracy and civilian rule.

Recent weeks have seen some of the fiercest battles between the two sides since the beginning of the war. The RSF appears unstoppable as it advances in towns and provinces, spreading terror among its adversaries as it seeks to promote its legitimacy abroad. Hemedti has flown abroad to speak with African leaders and international officials. Recently, he accepted an invitation from the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) to meet with SNA Commander General Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan on Thursday to discuss a ceasefire. Burhan rejected the invitation without offering a convincing excuse, which provoked considerable criticism even from some media figures close to the army. They held that he should have accepted the invitation from the African organisation and cautioned that his sceptical attitude towards all regional and international mediating efforts would work against him.

The Islamists, for their part, are keeping up the pressure for the fighting to continue and they reject calls for negotiations which they see as equivalent to surrender. In this vein, the Sudanese Islamic Movement has declared its support for the “armed popular resistance” and their efforts to “crush” the RSF and the “remnants” of the FFC.  Yasser Al-Fadlibi, head of the Sudanese Islamic Movement, has said that his group will be leading the charge of the armed popular resistance and that Burhan’s popular mandate will culminate with this recognition of these militias.

Pressures are also mounting against advocates of peace and the cessation of hostilities. Some states, such as the Nile River and the Northern State, have banned the pro-change resistance committees and the FFC steering committees. “Such steps expose the true nature of this war as a war against civil democratic transition,” said FFC leader Khaled Omar Youssef. “It confirms that old regime elements ignited and fuelled it to attain a single end, which is to avenge themselves against the revolution and annihilate everything connected with it.”

Meanwhile, the Coordination of Civil Democratic Forces (Taqaddam), which is headed by Abdullah Hamdok and includes the FFC, continues its efforts to expand its coalition after the Addis Ababa agreement they signed with the RSF. In accordance with the agreement, Hemedti vowed to commit to an immediate ceasefire, the release of prisoners, and the formation of a commission of inquiry into human rights violations and responsibility for starting the war. Taqaddam had hoped that these and related issues would serve as a starting point for a meeting with Burhan. However, Burhan snubbed the invitation and denounced the agreement for supporting and nurturing the RSF.

Hamdok then met with the President of Djibouti Ismail Guelleh and invited Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) leader Abdul-Aziz Al-Hilu and Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) leader Abdul-Wahid Nur to a meeting. Both leaders expressed their willingness to meet and engage in dialogue. The SPLM and SLM had not yet signed a peace agreement with Khartoum.

In the most recent development, the Personal Envoy of the UN Secretary-General to Sudan Ramtane Lamamra, visited Port Sudan, which became the temporary seat of the Sudanese government after RSF forces took control over most of Khartoum. Following a meeting with Burhan and other senior Sudanese officials, he released a statement saying that he had gained valuable insights into the Sudanese government’s position on ending the ongoing conflict and initiating a peace process. He also committed to working with all parties to crystallise the constructive role of the UN.

FFC leader Yasser Arman was not impressed. The Lamamra visit to Port Sudan raised grave doubts over the possibility it could lead to a balanced approach, especially given his extensive meetings with “the network of warmongers,” he said. He warned against rewarding old regime affiliates for starting the war.

Such reactions point to a rough road ahead for Lamamra for whom this was his first visit to Sudan since taking over as the UN envoy after Volker Perthes who had resigned from that position in September.

Only a negotiated solution can end this destructive war. As Lamamra has only just set out on his mission it is premature to ask whether he will succeed where his predecessor failed. But perhaps the question is best put to political and military parties in Sudan: After all these months of crimes against the people, is it not time to heed to the voice of reason, return to the negotiating table and bring Sudan back from the brink of an even darker fate?

* A version of this article appears in print in the 18 January, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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