The people of Sudan have not known peace for decades. In one form or another, this north African country has seen bloodshed between factions from different religious and ethnic groups including a protracted Sudanese Civil War (1983-2005).
In addition to the potential for another Sudanese civil war, there is recurring drought and mass starvation. As a result, Sudan has become a leading example of a failed state and the human catastrophe that results from weak central governments.
The Troubled History of Sudan
Sudan has known little stability after it gained its independence in 1956. From one coup d’état to another, the people of Sudan saw takeovers and mass atrocities that have plagued the country for a long time.
Sudan has also seen one of the longest recorded civil wars in history. Muslims, the majority of Sudan’s population, dominated the country and wanted to institute an Islamic republic governed by sharia law.
However, Sudan’s Christian minority, centered in the south, began a rebellion that lasted almost 10 years. The death toll from this rebellion has exceeded 1.5 million people according to PBS, and only ended after an agreement was reached to create two separate states: The Republic of Sudan and the Republic of South Sudan.
But the turmoil did not stop. After years of an iron fist rule by dictator and former president Omar Al-Bashir, there was a power-sharing agreement launched in 2019, led by the military and pro-democracy supporters. The power-sharing agreement called for a transition period between the military and the civilian leadership, but this agreement was short-lived.
As I mentioned in a previous 2021 article, the military junta of Sudan has only so much patience. When the prime minister of Sudan was ousted that year, hopes of a pro-democracy movement were shattered.
But even the faint hope of stability under Sudan’s junta didn’t last long. Within the military council that took over the government, tensions rose. Military leaders took one side and the leaders of a military militia called Rapid Support Forces (RSF) took the other side.
This month, these tensions in Sudan have turned deadly. Hundreds of deaths have occurred in major cities, mainly in the capital of Khartoum, according to CBS.
CBS also reported that Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has tried to protect American citizens in Sudan. After a clearly marked U.S. diplomatic convoy was attacked, Blinkin remonstrated with the military leaders of both factions – Sudanese Armed Forces commander General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and RSF leader General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.
[Related article: Sudan Seeks to End Terror Designation in USS Cole Settlement]
The Situation Keeps Growing Worse
The humanitarian disaster is only growing. According to a Reuters article, UNICEF spokesperson James Elder said that civilians, including children, are among the fatalities in Sudan. Elder also stated, “Sudan already has one of the highest rates of malnutrition among children in the world…..And now, critical life-saving care for an estimated 50,000 severely acutely malnourished children has been disrupted. This is life-threatening.”
There is no significant ideological reason behind this latest civil war. The current suffering of the Sudanese people is just one more example of the corrupt government that has caused so many deaths over the decades.
An analyst from a think tank in Sudan, Kholood Khair, told Foreign Policy magazine that there is so little hope for peace any time soon. Khair said, “I was informed that Russia had tried to convince the Sudan armed forces to come to the negotiating table, but the Sudan armed forces had refused and so this is quite clearly a fight to the death between Burhan and Hemeti, which is quite dangerous to all.”
The Suffering of the People
Ultimately, it is the Sudanese people who will suffer most from heavily armed political deadlock. According to Reuters, the RSF are reportedly looting buildings.
Similarly, the Sudanese army continues to kill pro-democracy protesters with impunity, notes Human Rights Watch.
Can a Sudanese Civil War Be Avoided?
With such a disastrous history and little regard for the people of Sudan, can the army and the RSF hammer out a deal? It seems likely that other countries will need to intervene in another Sudanese civil war.
Egypt, for instance, has deep ties with Khartoum and could take a more active role in an attempts to bring about a ceasefire. The U.S. and the E.U. should use political pressure to bring about a deal.
Sudan’s military leaders made clear that they were interested in Western help when Sudan ousted Omar Al-Bashir and handed him over to the International Criminal Court. Economic assistance is needed so badly in Sudan that it can be used as an incentive to stop the bloodshed.
This strategy has had results in the past. For example, the Trump administration got Sudan to join the Abraham Accords by promising to send economic assistance to Khartoum.
Ehud Yaari, a Lafer International Fellow at the Washington Institute, commented that “Other countries could help preserve the process as well. The UAE wields significant influence in Khartoum, as does Egypt, which maintains a limited military presence there and enjoys the loyalty of one of Sudan’s biggest factions, the Democratic Unionist Party founded by the late president Ahmed al-Mirghani. Saudi Arabia and neighboring Chad could likewise steer the next civilian government away from leaving the peace track paved by the generals.”
Sudan Lacks National Unity, So An End to Hostilities Is the Only Realistic Goal
The tragedy of Sudan is an example of the troubles that plague countries with no significant democratic culture and little national unity. This lack of national unity goes back to the colonial era in Africa, the Middle East, and South America, when occupying forces forged countries and borderlines with little to no regard to those countries’ traditional history and culture.
It is hard to see a clear solution in the long run for Sudan and its people. An immediate end to hostilities is perhaps the only realistic goal that can be achieved in this case.