Sudan’s Crisis, One Year After: Meeting with the Ambassador Of Sudan To Italy, H.E. Sayed Altayeb Ahmed

Sudan map in Arabic
The map of Sudan in the Arabic language (Credits: SpecialEurasia)

Geopolitical Report ISSN 2785-2598 Volume 42 Issue 11
Author: Silvia Boltuc

Since April 2023, Sudan has captured international attention because of an internal political crisis that has escalated into military clashes, resulting in hundreds of casualties and an ongoing humanitarian disaster.

Member of both the African Union and the Arab League, Sudan’s geopolitical significance on the African continent stems from its strategic location at the crossroads of Africa and the Middle East, as well as its substantial natural resource reserves. This positions Sudan as a key player in both regional and international geopolitics.

Sudan Crisis’ background

The conflict’s origins lie in the dispute between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and the rebel Rapid Support Forces (RSF) led by General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as “Hemedti,” over the timeline for integrating the RSF into the army. The army proposed a two-year period, while the RSF initially insisted on six years and then demanded ten years. This merger aims to form a unified professional army as part of the security and military reform process, which is one of the five key elements of the framework agreement signed by various civilian forces alongside the army and the RSF.

On April 13th, 2023, the RSF launched an attack on Merowe Airport, located approximately 300 km north of Khartoum. The rebels captured warplanes and flight instructors from the Egyptian army stationed there.

The RSF defied orders from the Army Commander to withdraw from Merowe Airport, despite their military subordination to him. Instead, they launched an attack on the residence of General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the Army Commander and Chairman of the Sovereignty Council, using a force of 200 Land Cruisers. Their objective was to assassinate him and seize control of the army’s leadership. However, the Republican Guard forces resisted the assault, resulting in the deaths of 35 officers.

This attack coincided with a second RSF assault on El Obeid Airport in North Kordofan State, west of Khartoum, and another attack on the Republican Palace in Khartoum by a group of rebels that were part of the force assigned to guard it.

One year after these events, SpecialEurasia interviewed the Sudanese Ambassador to Italy, H.E. Sayed Altayeb Ahmed, to gain insights into the ongoing crisis.

Can you provide an overview of the current situation in Sudan, including the status of the ongoing conflict?

‘Dagalo is currently launching an assault on the city of Al-Fashir, the capital of North Darfur, with the aim of isolating the rest of Sudan and gaining control over crucial border routes where vital infrastructure passes through. The city is facing heavily attacks, resulting in the displacement of approximately a thousand civilians, predominantly women and children. The entire population of over 800,000 residents is in grave danger.

This onslaught adds to the longstanding tragedies that have afflicted Darfur since 2003, when the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement clashed with Sudanese military forces.

Despite the Governor’s efforts to establish a new humanitarian aid route to the western region, the RSF has rejected an agreement between the government and UN agencies, further exacerbating the crisis.

According also to the United Nations, Sudan is confronting one of the most rapidly escalating humanitarian crises globally, with over 25 million people, including over 14 million children, urgently requiring assistance and support.’.

What steps are being taken to facilitate dialogue and negotiations between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces?

‘The United States and Saudi Arabia have mediated numerous cease-fires among SAF and RSF and facilitated discussions in Jeddah last year. Representatives from the regional East African IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority on Development), of which Sudan is a member, as well as the African Union (AU), took part in these talks. Gulf states have also organised a series of meetings in Jeddah and Manama, the capital of Bahrain.

Nevertheless, there remain some obstacles. Sudan is currently not a top priority for the United States, which is more preoccupied with conflicts such as those between Russia and Ukraine, Hamas and Israel, China and Taiwan, and tensions in the Bab el-Mandeb area. While Washington emphases the absence of a military solution to the crisis, there appears to be little hope of reaching an agreement with Dagalo.’.

The foundation for negotiating a ceasefire and achieving a political resolution to the conflict remains the Jeddah Declaration of May 2023.

However, our government has been excluded from several significant meetings concerning Sudan. For instance, there was no representation from the Sudanese government at the Paris conference organised by France, Germany, and the EU. EU member states, Sudan’s neighbouring countries, as well as the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and international non-governmental organisations attended the conference.

I kindly urge European governments and Italy, for the betterment of the Sudanese population, to engage with the government to provide the necessary aid to the people, unless it will result challenging if not impossible.’

Sayed Altayeb Ahmed, Ambassador of Sudan in Italy
Sayed Altayeb Ahmed, the Ambassador of Sudan in Italy (Credits: SpecialEurasia)

What is your prevision for the future?

‘I urge European countries to look forward. If the crisis remains unresolved, in addition to the existing humanitarian catastrophe that has caused the largest internal displacement in the world (over 9 million people displaced, accounting for about 13% of all IDPs globally), it also threatens regional stability and could trigger a spillover effect. Our crisis could impact many countries, starting from our neighbours: Egypt, Libya, Chad, Central African Republic, Eritrea, Ethiopia, South Sudan.

Sudan’s economy is experiencing the worst period in its history. Additionally, the ongoing crisis has severely damaged infrastructure. Bilateral trade between Sudan and neighbouring countries such as Libya and Chad has plummeted, negatively impacting our trading partners. This crisis exacerbates the already dire situation in Libya.

As for South Sudan, which seceded from Sudan in 2011, it remains entirely dependent on us to export its oil to international markets. One of the two pipelines exporting their oil to Port Sudan on the Red Sea, the more critical one, has been severely damaged. The economic meltdown in South Sudan could lead to political turmoil, as petrodollars are the government’s main source of revenue. Such a crisis could ignite internal conflict among sectarian elites.

Hundreds of thousands of people have already fled southward to South Sudan, which is already grappling with its own challenges. These examples highlight the crucial role Sudan’s stability plays in the region.

Sudan’s economy contracted by 40% last year and is projected to shrink by another 28 percent in 2024. We urgently need international engagement with our government to resolve the crisis. Most importantly, we need medical supplies and humanitarian assistance.’.

What role can the Italian government play in addressing this situation?

‘Italy, as a Mediterranean country with vested interests in Africa, can play a crucial role in both economic development and regional stabilisation.

I encourage the Italian government to consider the long-term prospects of this engagement. The Sudanese government remembers those who assist us in times of need, and there will be significant opportunities for collaboration in reconstruction efforts. Italy could become one of our primary partners in this regard, building on our history of cooperation.

Additionally, it’s important to consider the implications for migration routes. We were part of the Khartoum Process, aimed at facilitating collaboration and information exchange among countries along the migration route from the Horn of Africa to Europe. The European Union had entrusted Dagalo with the responsibility of preventing migrants from reaching Libya and, subsequently, Europe, indirectly contributing to his power and wealth. I recommend that Italy engage with our government to prevent future migrant crises and ensure that warlords do not profit from such situations.’

Read also | Crisis in Sudan: SpecialEurasia met with the Ambassador of Sudan to Italy, H.E. Sayed Altayeb Ahmed

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