Sudan is boiling at the moment. What started as a disagreement between the President and Head of the Sudanese military forces, General Abdel Fattah al Burhan, and the leader of the Rapid Support Forces, RSF, General Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, has managed to unleash a humanitarian crisis in the country.
Both men had worked together to remove former longstanding dictator, President Omar Al Bashir, taking advantage of the protracted protests by pro-democratic forces demanding a return to elective rule. A transitional diarchy of military and civilian representatives was put together to work out the terms of a new democratic order, however, Burhan and Dagalo had other plans. They went on to overthrow the arrangement and Burhan assumed the presidency while Dagalo became his deputy.
Both generals went on to strongly disagree on the direction the move to civilian rule should take, but then, analysts say the main casus belli has to do with the selfish economic interests of the ‘messiahs’ who in truth are nothing but filthy buccaneers.
Things eventually took shape when the Darfur war and humanitarian crisis ended, and Al Bashir brought Dagalo and his 100,000-strong forces closer to his government, with the ultimate intention of integrating them into the regular Sudanese Army.
Pretending to be on the side of the people, Dagalo joined Burhan to dethrone Al Bashir when the pro-democracy protesters proved difficult to pacify. Today, both men are casually watching while their men tear the country down and Africa groans.
Geographically speaking, there are two countries whose stability and well-being matter to virtually every part of Africa. The first is the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, which is in the central African region nominally speaking but which shares borders with nine countries extending to all of the continent’s four other regions -Angola, Burundi, the Central African Republic, the Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia. Unsurprisingly, the DRC is in the regional organisations of every region of Africa except those of North and West Africa.
The second country that makes this cut is Sudan. Currently, Sudan has a landmass of 1,886,068 km2 which is nearly double the size of Nigeria and third to only Algeria and the DRC as far as the largest countries in Africa are concerned. Its neighbours include Egypt, Chad, Central African Republic, Eritrea, Libya, Ethiopia, and South Sudan; and its regional reach spreads far to the Middle East and North Africa, Eastern Africa, Central Africa, and West Africa. Furthermore, the significance of Sudan on a geo-strategic level covers nearly all of the fragilities which are known to the continent, among which are the Horn of Africa, the Congo Basin, the Great Lakes of Africa, the Maghreb, the Gulf of Aden, the Nile Basin, the Indian Ocean, and the Sahel. The truth is that no matter what anyone says, as a popular land route for Muslims going on pilgrimage as well as a magnet for all kinds of irregular hawkers of violence across the continent Africa must be concerned about what is going on in the North African country. Sudan holds the key to virtually all of Africa’s significant strategic exposures from governance, through Climate Change, to international terrorism, etc.
It is important to place the ongoing hostilities into proper perspective. Ever since she secured her independence in 1956 as a Condominium of Egypt and the United Kingdom, peace has been some form of luxury to Sudan. In just about 67 years of being an independent country, it has witnessed no fewer than 17 attempted coups, 6 of which were fairly successful. Two of those successful coups have taken place in the last 4 years. The first happened in April 2019 which overthrew the rule of 30-year long rule of General Omar Al-Bashir, and the second came in October 2021 which resulted in the overthrow of the power-sharing arrangement which was billed to restore civil rules to the battered country in 2022.
A man named Hemedti, who is from one of Sudan’s most troubled regions, Darfur, began the Darfur campaign around 2004. Between then and the overthrow of Omar Al-Bashir’s regime in 2019, Hemedti amassed significant personal wealth and strategic capital, and the bandit force he originally organised as the Janjaweed emerged to become what Alex de Waal described as ‘now the real ruling power in Sudan. They are a new kind of regime: a hybrid of ethnic groups.’
The International Criminal Court, ICC, is currently looking into and prosecuting the Janjaweed for a long history of atrocities committed in Darfur that have been convincingly documented, including crimes against humanity. Additionally, they were able to sell their expertise in the use of indiscriminate murder to clients in the Gulf States, such as Saudi Arabia, who used them to outsource atrocities in Yemen. With assistance from a variety of actors, including the Gulf States and renegade General Khalifa Haftar, Hemedti was able to transition from his early days as a bandit and violence rustler to the respectable company in the area. He became a nearly indispensable player in the security of arguably the most fragile region in Africa.
Even to the uninformed, the threat represented by the Janjaweed was always extremely clear. They acted as a kind of velvet-gloved iron fist for Sudan up until 2019. Hemedti effectively took control of the government when Bashir was overthrown because he was the commander of the Janjaweed-in-Government, also known as the RSF. He and Burhan’s union has always seemed to be somewhat convenient. It was clear to all observers that he would eventually try to seize control; it was only a matter of time.
The ongoing trouble eventually began on or around the 15th of April, 2023, when Hemedti launched what would effectively become the 18th coup attempt in Sudan by unleashing the guns and heavy artillery into Khartoum which were formerly in use in Darfur. The events leading up to this played out almost in slow motion in the ruins of the attempt to incorporate the RSF into Sudan’s Armed Forces. Hemedti reportedly heard rumors that an attack on him was being planned by Egyptian Air Force assets positioned at the Merowe Air Base in the northwest of the country, including the comparatively advanced Egyptian MiG-29M medium-weight ‘4+ generation’ fighters. Hemedti was reportedly trying to salvage some respectability at the time. He, therefore, initiated the attack.
Any African with even a passing knowledge of Sudan might be shocked, but they are not at all surprised by the current course of events. The current tragedy was both foreseeable and predicted in large part. The lack of any sensible solutions is the most startling aspect of all. While those tasked with protecting the Sudanese people massacre them, the rest of the world and the region appear resigned and bewildered. Karim Khan, the ICC prosecutor, seems to be so preoccupied with the situation in Ukraine that he lacks the time or energy to notice the conflict in Sudan, where Darfur, another ongoing case under the scrutiny of the ICC and the UN, has also escalated into hostilities.
On its part, the United Nations Security Council appears to have given up on the situation and outsourced it to the African Union (AU) which have in turn outsourced it to the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which is chaired by Sudan, whose contending rulers each seem to believe that they have the military solution to the current crisis. But the fact remains that at the moment, all they can muster appears to be only Zoom meetings and lives have been left to perish.
The truth remains that Sudan has been a departure point and of course a transit route for asylum seekers traveling to Europe through Libya, where human traffickers have taken advantage of the conflict and political turmoil. The ongoing crisis in the country will certainly have ripple effects.
What is however indisputable is that the war in Sudan has taken international dimensions with world powers queuing up behind friendly sides. But then, the remains that Sudan is a large country and its collapse will certainly trigger a social tsunami. Any sustained turmoil will leave very far-reaching consequences on the region and the continent.
When Libya crumbled over a decade ago, the debris of rouge guns and ammunition flooded many countries including Nigeria. Pristine forests became ungoverned spaces overnight and banditry and terrorism mushroomed. Africa must be worried about a repeat of that ugly scenario given the instability that has become customary in the continent in recent times.