KHARTOUM, Sudan – May 6, 2023: Sudanese Army sodliers walk near armoured vehicles stationed on a street in southern Khartoum, amid ongoing fighting against the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces.
AFP via Getty Images
One month after fighting between Sudan’s two military factions broke out in the capital, Khartoum, internationally-brokered peace talks in Saudi Arabia have yielded no solution.
Airstrikes and artillery continued to pound the country’s capital and surrounding regions in recent days, and violence has also spread to the long-embattled Darfur region in the west.
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) said Monday that more than 600 people had been killed and over 5,000 injured as a result of the fighting. The real toll is expected to be far higher. Almost a million people have fled their homes, both to locations within Sudan and across the border to neighboring countries.
Meanwhile, those who have stayed put often have no access to essentials despite a commitment from the two warring factions to restore access to food and electricity. Prices of food and fuel have soared, exacerbating malnutrition and hammering the local economy.
Warring generals Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, leader of the Sudanese Armed Forces, and Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (or “Hemedti”), leader of the Rapid Support Forces, show no signs of halting the conflict as they vie for total control of the state’s military and government, natural resources and 46 million inhabitants.
The U.S., U.N. and Saudi Arabia are brokering talks between the two sides, though tentative cease-fires and commitments to allow humanitarian corridors into the sprawling country have collapsed almost immediately.
‘The needs are immense’
The IRC warned Monday that the humanitarian situation will continue to deteriorate unless all parties involved prioritize the protection of civilians.
“We know there are many uncertainties for people right now, but one thing that’s clear is the needs are immense, immediate and will be for a long time,” said IRC Vice President for East Africa Kurt Tjossem.
“The longer they remain in these conditions, the more vulnerable they become to disease, hunger, and other hardships.”
Things have come a long way from 2021 when Burhan and Hemedti led a military coup that ousted the civilian government of Abdalla Hamdok. Since then, the SAF and RSF had been sharing power in Khartoum to facilitate what most Sudanese citizens hoped would be a transition back to civilian rule.
The World Bank and several global powers froze aid to the country after the military takeover, honoring calls from civilians not to legitimize its leadership.
However, Burhan and Hemedti’s divergent political visions were never reconciled, and the fragile power-sharing arrangement began to unravel in early April, culminating in the breakout of a full-scale conflict in Khaartoum on April 15.
METEMA, Ethiopia – May 5, 2023: Refugees who crossed from Sudan to Ethiopia wait in line to register at IOM (International organization for Migration) in Metema, Ethiopia.
Amanuel Sileshi / AFP via Getty Images
In a speech at the UN Human Rights Council last week, U.K. Minister for International Development and Africa Andrew Mitchell stressed the importance of the international community in helping to revert Sudan to the “political track” by sending a “united message of concern and of horror” and breaking the “cycle of impunity in Sudan.”
Yet many Sudanese believe that despite the efforts of various regional and international bodies, the Jeddah talks — lacking a substantial civilian voice and the threat of harsh international sanctions against the generals and their respective inner circles — will not be part of the solution.
Sudanese-Australian writer, broadcaster and activist Yassmin Abdel-Magied told CNBC last week that global leaders had inadvertently given Burhan and Hemedti political legitimacy and rewarded their “belligerence,” leaving the majority of Sudanese who long for civilian government unrepresented.
Both the SAF and RSF benefit from financial and political support from foreign powers including Egypt, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Libya, the University of Cambridge’s Associate Professor Sharath Srinivasan told CNBC last month. While Benjamin Hunter from risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft, said these close relationships make it more difficult for a resolution to the conflict to be found imminently.
Targeted and collaborative efforts by the international community to exert pressure on the countries supporting Sudan’s military factions were needed, Abdel-Magied said.
“If [their] resource[s], financial and otherwise, can be throttled, then we might actually be able to find the right kind of incentive that’s going to make them stop fighting,” she told CNBC via telephone.
In order for Sudan to move forward, Abdel-Magied said there needs to be accountability for past government atrocities. Importantly, she said this effort should be led by Sudanese civil society figureheads — not external states seeking a quick fix.
“History is littered with the results of unintended consequences because of foreign states thinking ‘if we support this person, this outcome will happen’ and not thinking two, three generations ahead,” she added.
One way to give a voice to Sudanese civilians could be through resistance committees, according to Abdel-Magied: informal neighborhood networks that have spearheaded the country’s pro-democracy movement since the fall of dictator Omar al-Bashir in 2019.
These groups have been working alongside NGOs and civil society groups to facilitate evacuations, provide food and clean up damaged and looted hospitals, and Abdel-Magied suggested that a small selection of delegates could represent collective civilian interests at the peace talks.
“The framework is already there” to raise the voice of the Sudanese people beyond those with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, she added.
State failure on the cards?
Without setting in motion the chain of events that would rebuild Sudan’s political and military structure from the ground up, Abdel-Magied said many Sudanese fear that “there is no obvious endpoint” to the fighting.
“Sudan was not in a great place even before this started and what I don’t want to see is another 30 years of dysfunction because that’s kind of what will happen if the fall isn’t arrested, and then you’re looking at something that’s much more difficult,” she said.
“We’re not there yet. It’s not inevitable, the state completely and utterly failing, and so we can actually stop that from happening. And all we as civilians can do is urge those with the power to act fast enough, and not with haste but with intentional diligent thought through action in order to prevent the worst case scenario.”