Since April 2023, Sudan has attracted the international attention because the country has been involved in an internal political crisis resulted in military clashes, hundreds of victims and an ongoing humanitarian crisis.
Considering its geopolitical role in the African continent due of its strategic location at the crossroads of Africa and the Middle East and natural resources’ reserves, Sudan is a key player in regional geopolitics and the international arena.
Member of the African Union and the Arab League, Sudan has a long and complex history of political instability, conflict and economic challenges.
One of the key factors that have shaped the country’s geopolitics is its diversity of ethnic and cultural groups, which has often led to tensions and conflicts between different regions and communities. Indeed, the African country is home to over 500 ethnic groups, with the Arab, Nubian and Beja communities being the largest.
In 1989, Omar al-Bashir organised a military coup that ended the civilian rule and established a dictatorial regime that remained in power for over 30 years.
In 2019, a popular uprising led to the establishment of a transitional government. Since then, Sudan has sought to overcome the challenges inherent in democratic reforms and rebuilding its relations with the international community.
In the last few days, SpecialEurasia met with the Ambassador of Sudan to Italy, H.E. Sayed Altayeb Ahmed, to discuss further the recent events that have shaped the Sudanese domestic politics and stability and try to assess future consequences and developments.
On April 13th, 2023, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) mobilised a large contingent at the international airport in Marawi in the country’s north. What happened?
“Faced with this alarm signal, the Sudanese political parties and the Tripartite Mechanism (United Nations, African Union and IGAD) immediately organised a meeting between the leader of the Armed Forces, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and the leader of the RSF, General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo. It is important to mention that the RSF was recognised as a regular support force under the command of the Sudanese Armed Forces by a decree adopted by Parliament in 2017; their task was to offer support to regular forces in confronting armed movements outside state borders, combating human trafficking, local crime and protecting borders.
While the meeting between the two leaders was awaited, on April 15th, 2023, the RSF located in the command compound of the Sudanese Armed Forces conducted a surprise attack on the residence of the President of the Sovereign Council, as well as commander of the regular Sudanese Army. Simultaneously, the units of the RSF, located in multiple strategic institutions, activated themselves to acquire control of them, effectively starting a coup d’état.”
What are the reasons behind the Sudanese crisis?
“The trigger is in Sudan’s democratic transition. The prerequisite of any democratic system is to have a single national army to protect civil society. In the Framework Agreement’s context, signed on December 5th, 2022, between the military components of the country and various political forces to prepare for the formation of a civilian transitional government, a dispute emerged: the leadership of the RSF refused integration into the Sudanese Armed Forces regular.”.
The Sudanese crisis evolved into a humanitarian crisis with hundreds of victims and refugees escaping to neighbouring countries. Could you tell us more?
“If we look at the humanitarian context, we should go back at the time that preceded and followed the coup to have a clear overview of the situation.
Indeed, it should be highlighted that the work of recruiting and training the RSF did not occur within the rules of engagement established by international law for regular forces. Since the coup d’état started, there have been kidnappings of people and civilian structures, such as hospitals converted to military use.
Furthermore, international diplomatic missions have been attacked: on April 17th, 2023, the ambassador of the European Union was targeted in his residence; on April 22nd, 2023, the convoy evacuating the French ambassador was attacked; on April 23rd, 2023, the military attaché of the Egyptian embassy was killed and shots were recorded on vehicles of the US embassy and several other international embassies.”.
How do you think the situation might evolve?
“Sudan’s humanitarian and political crisis has not yet found a resolution also because of the continuous violations of the truces and ceasefires. There are still no camps for refugees fleeing military operations and many civilian casualties are reported.
Furthermore, it must be emphasised that the current humanitarian crisis caused by the armed clashes adds to the existing refugee crisis considering that there are over 2 million displaced persons from South Sudan, Eritrea and other neighbouring countries on Sudanese territory.
The region already affected by the ongoing conflicts in Ethiopia, South Sudan and Somalia, which have caused tens of thousands of deaths and millions of displaced people and, by climate change, would be seriously affected by a civil war in Sudan. Indeed, the African state borders the strategic areas of the Red Sea, the Sahel region and the Horn of Africa, whose very fragile balances would be further destabilised with the risk that Italy and Europe will face a further mass migration.
Despite continuing to face several challenges, including economic instability, ongoing conflicts in the Darfur and Blue Nile regions, and tensions with neighbouring countries, Sudan, according to official bodies, had embarked on a democratic transition which risks being abruptly interrupted following the current internal political crisis.
The interests of international actors behind the leaders of the regular Armed Forces of Sudan and of the RSF risk contributing to prolonging the crisis to gain control of a state strategically positioned within the African context and rich in natural resources such as hydrocarbons and gold.”.
Author: Silvia Boltuc