Written by: Azmaeen Muhammad Nibras & Tabassum Elahi
Khartoum is a ghost town heavy with the stench of smoke and death after fierce fighting involving airstrikes, artillery and combat in the heart of the city.
What has been happening?
At least 512 people have been killed and over 4000 injured since the fighting erupted on April 15. Half of the Sudanese people live below the poverty line, and more than a third depend on humanitarian aid from different organisations (DabangaSudan, 2022). The conflict has severely cut off the food supply across the region, and 10 million Khartoum residents are living in fear of bombings and airstrikes (Aljazeera, 2023). Thousands are fleeing Sudan; around 20,000 people have crossed into neighbouring Chad, and another 6,000 to Ethiopia and the Central African Republic. Amidst the fighting, a ceasefire was recently brokered to evacuate the foreign nationals from the city. Both sides have blamed each other after a Turkish military rescue plane was hit. Following the instability in the capital and other major regions, several other militia groups around the country are also looking to wreak havoc and strike a blow.
Roots of the conflict:
President Omar Al- Bashir’s Reign:
Former President Omar al-Bashir, who came to power in a coup in 1989, was a textbook dictator during his 30-year rule. His reign was marked by political repression, corruption, and widespread economic mismanagement. During his rule, a conflict erupted in the early 2000s, when Darfur’s marginalised residents rebelled for greater political freedom and allocation of state resources. Competition for resources, involvement of foreign nations, and inter-communal clashes between Arabs and non-Arabs deepened the conflict. The government had responded harshly through the military troops, such as the Janjaweed, notorious for horrid war crimes. Rape, extortion were common within the region, and nearly 300,000 died, and more than 2.7 million were displaced as the conflict continued (PBS Report, 2008). The Rapid Support Force (RSF) was then decreed by ex-President Omar al-Bashir in 2013 to deal with the conflict in Darfur and several other “security interests” in the region. RSF consists mostly of ex-janjaweed fighters who later carried out similar atrocities. Enter one of the protagonists, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, commonly known as ‘Hemedti,’ a former ruthless commander of janjaweed and the appointed chief of RSF. Under his leadership, the RSF expanded and gained greater influence in the country.
As time progressed, the RSF became distant from the presidency. By the end of 2018, it started subtly aiding the anti-Al Bashir protests by providing security to the protesters. Eventually, Al Bashir was ousted in a coup d’etat with the crucial assistance of RSF in April 2019.
Meanwhile, the other protagonist, General Abdul Fattah Al Burhan, the Sudanese Armed Forces inspector general, was instrumental in ousting Al Bashir. People perceived him as a relatively fair person within Sudanese politics. Thus, after the president was ousted, through a power-sharing agreement, he was chosen to lead the Transitional Military Council (TMC), assuming not to have any ties to any political party and promising to hold a democratic election by 2023. The leader of the RSF, Hemedti, was his second in command.
After President’s Ousting:
The transitional government’s failure to gain the citizens’ faith and bring economic reforms plunged the country into uncertainties and hardships. Prices for basic necessities such as food and fuel have skyrocketed, which led to widespread protests and strikes. The city grappled with crime and hunger for power among rebel factions, with residents fleeing to save lives. The military, Burhan and Hemedti, together raised another coup and took control of the government in August 2021, with Burhan quoting it was done to ensure “peace.” He dissolved the transitionary council and removed the then-prime minister Hamdok.
Just 18 months after this coup, where Burhan and Hemedti worked hand in hand, a rift broke out between them. RSF controls many of the country’s gold mines and other precious resource ventures. The Sudanese military and other pro-democracy groups have pushed for the RSF’s integration into the military as soon as possible. However, the RSF resisted any such merger because it would mean they would lose power and be under military command. Burhan and Hemedati also disagree on who would be in power if such a merger were to occur. After months of discussions about the integration timeline, final talks were poised to take place on April 1.
However, the two leaders could not come to an agreement, and despite much global pressure, vowed not to negotiate or cease-fire. Hemedati deployed thousands of RSF troops, while Burhan used the military to resist. Bloodshed pursued.
Hemedti has had very close ties to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, but those nations have asked him to step down and stop the war. Being strategically located between Egypt and South Sudan near the Horn of Africa and its natural assets made Sudan a hotbed for geographical contentions. The influx of Sudanese refugees, alongside the potential increase in terrorist activities by groups like Al-Shabab, may further destabilise crippling neighbouring nations like South Sudan and Ethiopia. The Wagner group (The Russian Paramilitary organisation fighting in Ukraine) has been a benefactor of Sudan’s vast gold reserves, profiting even amidst the Russo-Ukraine war. Moreover, Sudan’s willingness for a potential Russian base in the red sea has also angered the West. Owing to its future endeavours in the region, Moscow supports Hemedti and has been allegedly providing weapons to the RSF (Orie, 2023). China has been thoroughly investing in Sudan since the time of Al Bashir and hence has a strategic interest in the region as well.
Bangladeshi expatriates in Sudan:
Although nobody was injured, the Bangladesh embassy in Sudan and the acting ambassador Tarek Ahmed’s residence in Khartoum came under attack on April 15, forcing him to move to a safe place. Meanwhile, around 1500 Bangladeshis are now stranded in Sudan. The acting ambassador has arranged nine buses to safely transport them from Khartoum and its surrounding cities to Port Sudan. Expatriate Bangladeshis living in Sudan are expected to reach Port Jeddah by May 3 or 4, where a special Bangladesh Biman flight will transport them back to Dhaka, MoFA spokesperson Sehli Sabrin informed on April 29. She further stated the Royal Saudi Government has pledged to offer free Saudi Navy ships to transport the Bangladeshis from Port Sudan to Port Jeddah. Two Bangladeshi schools in Jeddah have been designated to provide temporary accommodation, food, drinks, and medicine to expatriates.
Other foreign nationals in Sudan are gradually being evacuated through daring measures. The US, Germany, France, Turkey, and Pakistan have begun military operations for rescue plans.
A peace deal seems far off, despite international pressure, due to the extent to which the war has erupted. Experts opine that only further bloodshed will convince one of the leaders to step down and get to the negotiating table. The situation is worsening by the day and the ultimate sufferers are the Sudanese Population, being cursed to death. The UN had brokered a ceasefire between the Sudanese Military and RSF owing to Eid celebrations, which has further been extended. However, it is unclear how long it will be honoured.
Aljazaeera Report. (2023, April 16). Sudan unrest: What are the Rapid Support Forces? Al Jazeera. www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/4/16/sudan-unrest-what-is-the-rapid-support-forces
Aljazeera. (2023, April 28). Sudan fighting in its 14th day: A list of key events. Al Jazeera. Sudan fighting in its 14th day: A list of key events | Conflict News
AP News. (2023, April 24). Which countries are evacuating citizens from Sudan? AP News. Which countries are evacuating citizens from Sudan? | AP News
DabangaSudan. (2022, June 30). Sudan’s Poverty Rates even higher than reported. Sudan’s poverty rates potentially even higher than reported – Dabanga Radio TV Online. Sudan’s poverty rates potentially even higher than reported – Dabanga Radio TV Online
Orie, A. (2023, April 26). Why is there fighting in Sudan? A guide to what’s behind the clashes. CNN. https://edition.cnn.com/2023/04/26/africa/sudan-conflict-explained-intl/index.html
PBS Report. (2008, July 3). Origins of the Darfur Crisis. PBS. https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/africa-july-dec08-origins_07-03
About the Authors:
The authors are members of Foreign Policy Team, YPF
Featured Image Courtesy: Bloomberg