“If this war (in Sudan) lasts for several years … the country that we knew as Sudan, a sort of regional linchpin, between the Red Sea, the Horn of Africa, the Sahel and Central Africa will no longer exist,” said Sudan policy and political analyst Kholood Khair, the founder and director of the UK-based Confluence Advisory think tank.
As Israel’s war on Gaza—which is spreading to include the West Bank—dominates global media coverage, the war in Sudan struggles for recognition. Now entering 2024 the conflict in Sudan is shaping up to be one of the worst crises in the world,” said Mark Leon Goldbert, host of the podcast Global Dispatches-World News That Matters.
“Nearly seven million people have been displaced, hunger is widespread, and a hallmark of this civil war has been ethnic cleansing that may have crossed the threshold to genocide. Despite being a calamitous catastrophe, Sudan has not received much media attention, nor sustained high-level engagement by policymakers, particularly in the West,” said Goldberg.
Global Dispatches’ latest podcast opened the new year with the discussion theme: “Sudan is the Worst Crisis in the World That Receives the Least Amount of Attention.” During the 34-minute episode, political analyst Kholood Khair put the listening audience in touch with the tragedy that is Sudan.
Ms. Khair explained that the two warring factions, the Sudan Armed Force (SAF), headed by General Abdul Fattah al-Burham, and the Rapid Support Force (RSF) militia, headed by General Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedi” Dagalo, “were once closely allied.” Though they had conflicting interests, they also had mutual interest. “But at a certain point their mutual interest was superseded by their competing interest. That is why the war started,” Ms. Khair said.
Their mutual interest included being instrumental in the genocide in Darfur in 2004-2005. Later they joined forces, encouraged by the 2018 civilian revolution, in overthrowing the 30-year regime of Omar al-Bashir, Sudan’s former president.
“They became a part of the (coalition) civilian-military hybrid government, during the transitional period under Dr. Abdalla Hamdok as prime minister,” Kholood Khair said. Later in 2021 the two men joined forces and led a coup against the hybrid government. “So, in effect,” according to Ms. Khair, “they consolidated during the coup, more power than they already had within the hybrid government system.”
Adel Abdel Ghafar, a fellow and director of the Foreign Policy and Security program at the Middle East Council on Global Affairs, as well as media, reported that one of the main reasons for the war between the two military factions was, “The RSF … resisted integration into the army understanding it would lose its power.”
Leading up to the conflict, Ms. Khair explained that both militaries were trying to avoid any kind of transitional requirement as dictated by the new democratizing Sudanese political landscape. Both militaries were determined to maintain their troops and not to “downsize their troops or integrate their troops,” Ms. Khair said.
What emerged out of the 2021 coup was Burham and Hemedti having different ideas of how they wanted to consolidate power, Ms. Khair continued. Burham wanted a sort of Egyptian President Abdul Fattah el-Sissi scenario.
El Sissi, a former general, also took power of a democratically elected government by coup and the military controls much of the Egyptian economy. El Sissi’s government included quick elections and the military consolidating, not just political power, but also economic control.
Mr. Hemedti, according to Ms. Khair, was somewhat of a political outlier, and “wanted to recreate a Sudanese state that would embrace him and the people that were seen as marginalized since independence.” Mr. Hemedti said he wanted to bring about a civilian democracy in Sudan but his track record, with RSF being accused of unlimited atrocities, including sexual violence, says otherwise.
The mediation of any kind of cessation of hostilities doesn’t seem a possibility. Ms. Khair told Goldberg, in the case of Sudan there are three players, who have divergent interests.
“You have Cairo’s neighboring countries initiative. You have the U.S., Saudi (Arabia) joint Jedda platform, and you have the sort of IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority of Development), AU (African Union) political talks. And there is no reason why these three mediation platforms should not work together, with Cairo looking at humanitarian assistance and access, Jedda looking at [a] ceasefire and IGAD, (and) the AU looking at the political agreements, or first of all a settlement,” she said.
“But because Egypt has vastly different interest in political outcomes in Sudan than, for example, the AU and IGAD, who themselves as member state entities are also made up of countries that have very different interests to each other, you won’t necessarily get the complementary that you need,” Kholood Khair added.
Additionally, in terms of Jedda, she added: “the joint Saudi U.S. initiative, has continuously failed to bring about ceasefire. That’s because the logistics of Jedda are predicated on an assumption that you can, through only two international actors, of all the international actors I previously mentioned, bring about a ceasefire, ignoring the main international and regional backers of both sides, that is Egypt and the UAE (United Arab Emirates).”
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