“The people of Sudan have suffered immensely, and this revolution will not be complete unless we recognize the immense grievances of those who have been systematically targeted by those who were responsible for their protection.” The peace process with the Sudanese armed movements is the “main priority” for the transitional government, according to Abdalla Hamdok’s recent words,
This article will focus on the root causes of the conflict and why the transitional military-civilian government has failed to achieve the highly anticipated transition to civilian government and constitutional amendments that would accommodate the rights of minorities and political tolerance, securing an environment for civic societies to flourish. It will conclude with recommendations to both parties in the conflict and the role regional and international actors must play to bring about peace and stability in the country.
Key Words: Military coups, Sudan, Civil wars, Economy, Religion, regional Security, Refugees, Democracy, civilian government
In 2019, public outcry against the regime of Omar al Bashir brought an end to the dictatorial regime and suffering of the Sudanese people by overthrowing the government and the final arrest of the president and his inner entourage/partners in crime. However, to the demise of many, especially the Sudanese people and surrounding nations, the movement failed to achieve its intended result, as many claim the revolution was hijacked by the remnants of the old regime, which are composed of the military elite, para-military groups, security apparatus of the old government as well as Islamic groups who were in hibernation for around four years since the popular manifestation and outcry.
Despite various diplomatic and mediation efforts by regional and international actors, the fighting between the Sudan Army Force (SAF) and Rapid Support Force (RSF) has shown no signs of abating. Multiple ceasefire agreements have repeatedly been violated, and civilians continue to be caught in the middle. As of 5 July 2023, at least 1,136 people have reportedly been killed and 12,000 injured, according to Sudan’s Federal Ministry of Health (Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, report, 31 August 2023).
The actual figures are estimated to be much higher because these totals only reflect data collected from hospitals. The current conflict has also triggered an alarming escalation in inter-communal and ethnically motivated violence in various parts of the country, particularly in the Darfur region (Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, report, 31 August 2023).
Insight into the history of the creation of Modern Sudan:
With its colossal land and diversified nationals, Sudan is the product of its colonial heritage. Sudan, the land of black people, was named an independent country in January 1956 by the British (Jhon Ryle, Justin Willis, Suliman Baldo, Jok Madut Jok, 2012). The name Sudan started to resonate at the beginning of the 1930s in Omdurman Khartoum when the elites from the northern part of the country started fighting against the hegemony and control of the Egyptians and wanted to free themselves and create an independent country. Most people from the north were scattered along the Nile River, maintained a significant relationship with the Ottoman-Egyptian empire, and subsequently collaborated with the British. Though the British initially wanted to avoid creating a new country with such vast territories, they later changed their strategy to control and contain Egypt and the area around the Red Sea.
Genesis to the cause of the current crisis:
The crisis in Sudan is deep-rooted and goes back to its creation as an independent country. The British policy was merely focused on developing the North and tried to control the southern and western parts of the country as a source of resources. Hence, rather than educating and integrating people in the periphery into the political system of the newly formed state, they alienated them. The creation of native and condominium administrations alienated the people from the periphery and inflamed hatred and enmity between the center and periphery, which has persisted until now. The lack of an inclusive political and socio-economic environment has contributed significantly to civil war, demand for greater autonomy to the peripheries, and, in some, the desire for secession (Jhon Ryle, Justin Willis, Suliman Baldo, Jok Madut Jok, 2012).
Diversified nationalities and religious backgrounds made Sudan a center of tension for contentions, and successive governments used coercive and discriminatory methods to silence the voice of many alienated and categorically marginalized communities, particularly from the south and west, who are dark-skinned.
The root causes of the protracted civil war and intrastate conflict in Sudan are many; however, for the sake of the article, I shall focus on some of the most:
Political ( Center-periphery): The political power in Sudan has been under the Northerners since its independence in 1956. The British created elites in the north to administer the periphery and extract resources from there. These privileges from the colonial rulers persisted, and the Elite in the north never bothered to share them with others and continued the colonial mechanism of administration, which was divided and ruled (Jhon Ryle, Justin Willis, Suliman Baldo, Jok Madut Jok, 2012). Moreover, successive governments in Sudan have never understood the culture and requests of the periphery and never taken severe initiatives to develop and integrate the rest of the country. Furthermore, they have never tried to share the wealth of the edges, which was and is the bread bucket and primary source of national income.
Since its independence, the country has experienced the most military coups in Africa, around 16 times (Jhon Ryle, Justin Willis, Suliman Baldo, Jok Madut Jok, 2012); some were successful, and others failed. It’s clear that the current crisis is far from over, and underlying issues still require attention. Until these root causes are resolved, the problems will continue to persist. Without addressing these root causes, the problems will persist, and the consequences could be dire. The prospect of a widening political divide is unsettling, particularly with localized militias and competing factions vying for their respective interests.
Culture and Religion: The dangerous projects of Arabization and institutional Islamization of the state, which the Sudanese political authorities worked tirelessly for years to implement and systematically diffuse at different times on the people who are naturally non-Arab fed the resistance of the Southern communities, which the central power has harshly repressed. For instance, the declaration by successive governments to make the Sharia law the state law was divisive and discriminative because it completely erased and disregarded the religious rights of those who were not Muslim (Jhon Ryle, Justin Willis, Suliman Baldo, Jok Madut Jok, 2012). In addition to the ethnic and religious cleavages, a socio-economic rift separated the more developed North from the marginalized South and West.
Economical: Sudan has suffered an economic crisis since its emancipation from the British. The financial problem that has plagued Sudan has caused widespread hardship for its citizens. The successive governments have been widely criticized for their poor management of finances and for allowing a specific group to accumulate wealth, which has severely impacted marginalized communities. The areas experiencing conflicts for many years are the south and the west, the richest in natural resources, oil, water, agricultural products, live stocks, gold, and uranium. The investment by the repeated governments of Sudan is barely visible in these regions compared to the other cities in the North (Jhon Ryle, Justin Willis, Suliman Baldo, Jok Madut Jok, 2012). Infrastructure such as roads, hospitals, schools, and other public services are scarce; if there are, they are poorly managed and few. Hence, all the civil wars in Sudan are more or less related and have original traces of an economic nature; as such, the regime of Bashir was brought down from power when bread prices skyrocketed, and people came out to the streets.
External Interference and Geopolitical Interests: One with a deep understanding of geopolitics and international relations could quickly understand what is happening in Sudan and have prints of external interference given the country’s geo-strategic importance. Before the secession of South Sudan, the Republic of Sudan was the largest country in Africa, bordering several countries in the region. The protracted intra-state conflicts were at the peripheries, directly affecting the regional countries and forcing the neighboring countries to interfere in the dispute directly or indirectly. Several countries in the region aggravated the crisis in Sudan by supporting insurgent factions in the country for their national interests. This could be observed in the current war between two generals, where they are obtaining political, economic, and military support from external actors.
The overthrow of the regime
For the first time in many years, Sudanese youth and women, in particular, have shown how they could overthrow a regime created and cemented under a military and security apparatus in power through organized and dedicated civil societies. The government of Omer Bashir had developed a habit of deceiving and compromising to remain in power for many years. Sometimes, religion was a means of unifying force to rule the country, and at times, it used a divided and rule style to crush and destroy any uprising by siding and arming militias (Jhon Ryle, Justin Willis, Suliman Baldo, Jok Madut Jok, 2012). Moreover, the regime had also used brutal tactics such as abducting and killing and acts of terror against opposition parties and civil societies perceived and suspected as dangerous to his leadership. Despite all the effort exerted and invested by the regime and its military as well as intelligence apparatus, the people were able to bring down the regime with their persistent demand and united front.
The creation of transitional military/civilian government:
The transitional government comprised the military, several factions of political parties, and civil societies, which named themselves Front for Freedom. They were responsible for guiding the country through a transition period and preparing for a democratic election.
The youth and women who came to the streets of Khartoum in 2019 were not asking for a transitional government run by remnants of the old regime; instead, their demand was democracy and civilian rule. However, it was hijacked by the military led by General Burhan and the para-military group RSF led by General Himeti. These two military generals orchestrated the presidential coup and ultimately created the transitional military council denounced and rejected by the people who were core to the revolution.
The Khartoum massacre was strong evidence that the military apparatuses were not ready to give up their power. Substantial external pressure and the credit of the continuous peaceful but determined call organized by civil societies brought the army leaders to the negotiating table to create a military-civilian transitional government. However, it was not what the people had been asked. Many believe that the force for change and freedom betrayed the revolution after agreeing with the military on establishing the transitional government.
Moreover, the agreements with the IMF to cancel the debt, which obliged the government to take draconian reforms and privatization of the economy, resulted in the complete mess of the country’s economic crisis (IMF Country Report No. 21/82, Aprile 2021). Such a request by the IMF aggravated the country’s situation and became an additional burden to the already fragile government of Abdela Hamdock. The support for Hamdock faded, and the military leaders took advantage of the weak government and made a coup by refusing to transfer power to the civilians.
External pressure was feeble because many countries had different interests in the country where civilian movements were left alone in the cold. Observing the situation, the military grape to power increased, the civil society movement diminished, and mistrust grew among them, ultimately profiting the military.
However, the crisis did not end there, as everyone expected, and things started to unfold slowly, resulting in a power struggle between the two Generals.
The coup by General Bruhan and the failure of the civilian parts to establish a united front:
General al Burhan, supported by military commanders and his deputy general Himeti, head of the RSF, attacked the residential palace of the Prime minister and took him hostage. He freed the prime minister after several indirect talks and international and regional pressure. To the surprise of many, the prime minister agreed to create a new government and inked a deal with the military. However, all the nominated ministers refused to collaborate with the military-installed government of Hamdok, which was a slap in the face. Rejected and humiliated by all parties, Mr. Hamdok resigned and left the country, leaving behind him a mess.
Until the outbreak of the conflict between the SAF led by Burhan and the RSF led by his deputy leader of RSF, they tried to lead the country. Looking back to that time, both generals were accumulating forces and looking for allies inside the country and external powers to be the upcoming leader that leads the nation.
Soon after the agreement between civil societies and several political factions, some from the last regime agreed to create a transitional government and mend the RSF, among others. The external actors designed these deals with a rush and lacked inclusiveness and consideration of the threats and uncertainty of warring parties.
The fight between the partners in crime:
The recent conflict in Sudan has brought to light the issue of power struggles and their impact on the population. Despite months of optimism for a peaceful and stable transition to a civilian government, the sudden turn of events has left many disillusioned and fearful for their safety. The sound of military planes and heavy weaponry in the heart of the nation’s capital is not something anyone would have anticipated waking up to. The Generals involved were competing for influence and control, but the violent nature of their dispute led to devastating consequences for the people of Sudan (De Waal, Alex, April 2023). This, unfortunately, is not an isolated incident, as many military coups in Africa have been driven by the desire to control resources and money.
It is deeply concerning to discover that the army and the RSF have disregarded the appeals to halt their fighting despite the recent agreement brokered by the KSA and the USA in Jeddah (US Department of State Bureau of African Affairs, May 11, 2023). Both parties have never respected several cease-fire agreements and promises. Eyewitnesses reported to Aljazeera English news on 03/06/2023 that both sides were amassing troops and heavy weaponry around the city, and sadly, the war resumed after a religious feast.
To make it worse, the war started in the capital, and the surrounding territories have expanded to the west and southern Kordofan, where different insurgent groups are fighting each other. According to the UN, some horrifying reports are coming from Darfur that a grave of human bodies killed by RSF has been discovered. Based on the interviews with the people who fled from the areas and arrived in Chad, the RSF killed all the male population and raped women. Villages were wiped out and burned to the ground, and gunmen abducted many. The RSF denied the action and blamed the SAF.
According to the facts on the ground, the generals have not exhausted their capacities; therefore, they seem to continue to fight until one of them concedes a defeat or at least tries to have the upper hand on the negotiating table, which is far from the site.
Though both the military leaders proclaim and loudly state that they are fighting to install a democratic government, no one takes them seriously and buys it because of their history. They ousted and made a military coup in 2021, days before handing over the leadership of the sovereign council to the civilian prime minister, and both now state that they are fighting for democracy. The main reasons behind the fighting among the generals are the following:
The first is about losing economic power. Both military generals control a vast amount of the Sudanese economy, from financial institutions to mineral resources (De Waal, Alex, April 2023). Moreover, they have autonomous military cartels, which are state-affiliated through repressive actions that control the state economy in return, obstructing and hindering any force threatening their interest. That is why the military generals took power soon after the regime’s overthrow, held power, and did not let it go.
Second, the civilian wants the power to be exclusively under a civilian democratic government (Abdi Latif Dahir, December 05, 22, New York Times). In addition, the paramilitary group RSF was quickly folded with the regular national Sudanese army, which, in turn, is under civilian leadership. The military generals and remnants of the old regime ultimately rejected and refused to accept this.
Thirdly, both generals played a significant role in the war of Darfur and were part of the Omer al Bashir regime accused of genocide (De Waal, Alex, April 2023). Hence, staying in power for them is about protecting themselves from any consequences appearing in international criminal court should the civilian leadership come to power.
Conclusion and Recommendations
According to the UN (https://news.un.org/en/story/2023/09/1140347), the number of displaced people has been increasing tremendously since the outbreak of the war. Currently, around 3.3 million people have left their homes and fled. About 2.2 million are internally displaced; the remaining escaped to Egypt, Chad, Ethiopia, and South Sudan (UN news https://news.un.org/en/story/2023/09/1140347).
Sudan is an important country in the region due to its large territory, which borders several countries. If the fighting prolongs and develops into protracted war, it could spill over to the neighboring countries currently overwhelmed by the overflow of refugees and displaced communities. The cross-border flow of thousands of refugees to the already poor and unstable neighboring countries might cause insecurity concerns and instability in the region and beyond.
Both parties need to come to a compromise and end the violence, prioritizing the safety and well-being of their citizens. It is of utmost importance that humanitarian aid is allowed to reach those in dire need, and a resolution must be found to terminate this ongoing conflict. The situation calls for immediate action and collaboration from all parties involved to alleviate the people’s suffering and bring about lasting peace. They must protect the people and the country rather than be a source of chaos, killings, rape, looting, and other irresponsible acts of crime against their people. The generals need to listen to what the people are asking: they no longer want to be ruled by the military. They want civilian rule and democratic governments. It is incumbent upon all involved parties to convene and pursue a collaborative approach to bring peace and security rather than engage in conflict.
Negotiations and summits alone won’t suffice to establish lasting peace and security for the people and the country. It is crucial for regional organizations, such as IGAD, the African Union, the Arab League, and the United Nations, and other external actors, such as the USA, to collaborate and bring the conflicting factions to the negotiating table while ensuring strict adherence to the cease-fire. Moreover, countries within the region must avoid taking sides in the crisis as it could further escalate and exacerbate the situation.
Acknowledging the obstacles nations hosting refugees encounter in meeting their fundamental requirements and guaranteeing a secure and respectable living space is important. The international community’s assistance is pivotal in aiding these countries to surmount these challenges and offer the refugees a protected haven. Additionally, these nations must refrain from simply sealing their borders and confining the refugees to camps, opting instead to foster an inclusive atmosphere that accommodates and integrates them into society.
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