GP Short Notes

GP Short Notes # 872, 18 April 2024

Sudan: One Year of Civil War
Anu Maria Joseph

Sudan: One Year of Civil War
Anu Maria Joseph

In the news
On 15 April, Sudan marked one year of the civil war. The conflict between the rival military forces, the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) has killed nearly 16,000 people and displaced 8.4 million. 

On 15 April, France hosted an international conference to support mediation attempts, improving international cooperation and humanitarian assistance to Sudan. France's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Stéphane Séjourné, stated that "the Sudanese people have been the victims of a terrible war" for a year and suffered from "being forgotten" and "indifference." Representatives from 20 countries attended the conference, including Sudan's neighbours, the US, Germany, the EU and the UN. At the meeting, Germany announced that it would provide USD 260 million in assistance. Germany's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Annalena Baerbock, stated: "We can manage together to avoid a terrible famine catastrophe, but only if we get active together now."

On 13 April, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Martin Griffiths stated: "After one year of war, there must be a light at the end of this tunnel of darkness and death. Millions of people in Sudan have already lost their homes, their livelihoods and their loved ones. We cannot let them lose hope, too."

On 12 April, the UN asserted that Sudan is facing "one of the worst humanitarian disasters in recent memory" and "the largest internal displacement crisis in the world."

On 11 April, Sudanese military leader General Abdel Fattah al-Burjan stated that the military "will not hand over the authority of our state to any internal or external party." He added: "Anyone who conspired against the Sudanese people inside and outside the country will not have any role to play in the future running of this country."

Issues at large
First, a brief background to Sudan's Civil War. Two rival military leaders - Hamdan Dagalo of the paramilitary RSF and Abdel Fattah al-Burhan of the SAF- have been the primary actors in the civil war. RSF is a derivative of the Janjaweed militia, formed by Omar al-Bahir, which carried out atrocities in Darfur in 2003. Later, in 2019, the SAF and the RSF together toppled Bashir after promising a civilian rule. In 2021, Burhan carried out another coup and ended the civilian-military shared government. The military sabotaged the civilian transition and solely took the leadership of the country. The war began after the RSF disagreed to merge with the SAF over the military's leadership. 

Second, the State of War. The conflict has expanded in terms of geography and intensity. The war, which started in the capital, Khartoum, has spread to the cities of Omdurman, Port Sudan, Bahri and recently, Wad Madani. It has spread over the states of Darfur, Nile and Kordafan. Both sides carry out frequent attacks using tanks, artillery, rockets, and air-delivered munitions in all the hotspots. The RSF controls the majority of the conflict hotspots. The SAF hold east of the country, including Port Sudan near the Red Sea. In March, SAF advanced and recaptured several pockets of Omdurman. What began as a military rivalry has turned into ethnic conflict, especially in Darfur and Kordofan states. RSF, along with several arab militias, is accused of carrying out atrocities against the Darfurians. Arab and non-Arab militias have taken sides with the RSF and the SAF, respectively. Several regional and international mediations have failed without a concrete outcome. Meanwhile, both parties are vying for international and regional legitimacy for a sovereign leadership of the country. 

Third, the human cost. According to the UN, 48 million people are facing catastrophic levels of hunger in the country. It has warned of an impending famine. Nearly 230,000 children are severely malnourished. Ethnic atrocities are mounting in Darfur, a region which has been grappling with two decades of genocidal violence. Civilians are slaughtered, rape is being used as a weapon, aid camps and homes are burned. According to the Ministry of Health, more than 11,000 suspected cases of cholera, including over 300 deaths, have been reported from 11 of Sudan's 18 states. Aid agencies claim that reach to conflict-hit regions is restricted by the army, and RSF-controlled areas risk looting.

Fourth, regional repercussions. WFP warns that across the region, 28 million people face acute food insecurity: 18 million in Sudan, seven million in South Sudan, and three million in Chad. Nearly two million people have fled to neighbouring countries, including South Sudan and Chad. Due to a lack of funds and refugee surge, three million people in South Sudan are facing acute hunger with no assistance from the WFP. Similarly, in Chad, 1.2 million refugees need humanitarian support. The exodus surge has burdened the neighbouring countries of South Sudan, Chad and Ethiopia, where ethnic rivalries and violence are a daily occurrence along the borders. Recently, ethnic violence in the Abiey region, a disputed land between Sudan and South Sudan, has increased, with the UN reporting more than 100 casualties.

Fifth, international limitations. The international community Initially made considerable efforts to bring about peace talks. At least nine rounds of ceasefire efforts were mediated by several international actors, including the US, the UN, and Saudi Arabia; all failed. Both warring parties are persistent for an absolute victory. They have shown little commitment to compliance. Currently, with the war in Gaza and Ukraine taking momentum, attention to the conflict in Sudan has decreased. Although both sides rhetorically agreed to all rounds of ceasefires, none was achieved on the ground. 

In perspective
First, the conflict stalemate. The conflict in Sudan has been prolonged for a year with failed ceasefires and peace talks. It has become complex, with the involvement of multiple actors and extended geography and character. Now, it is challenging for the mediators to bring the multifaceted conflict to a negotiating table. Although the SAF has gained a little ground around Khartoum, defeating the RSF is far from happening, and the RSF is unpopular and unequipped to defeat the SAF and take over the country's leadership. A compromise between the RSF and the SAF is unlikely. Hence, the fighting is at a stalemate, which would continue with a lower frequency during the coming months until a significant breakthrough. 

Second, Sudan and the region are on the brink of collapse. A lack of international response to the worsening humanitarian response has left the country on the verge of collapse. A famine would likely spill over the region, impacting Chad and South Sudan. Humanitarian crises would potentially trigger inter and intra-ethnic and resource violence. 

Third, empty regional responses and failed international responses. The African Union (AU) and other African countries are absent in all the mediations. Regional efforts are limited to calling for an end to hostilities. The lack of effective ceasefire monitoring mechanisms failed the international efforts. The efforts are challenged by the inability to propose a peace talk which matches the complex conflict. Unsuccessful attempts imply the need to revisit the approach to the conflict in Sudan.

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