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Sudan War: One year after, has the world forgotten them?

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Abdel Fattah al-Burham versus Mohamed Hamadan “Hemedti” Dagalo both of Sudan

It’s been a year since the conflict in Sudan erupted on April 15, 2023, following a contentious move to integrate paramilitary private Army, Rapid Support Forces (RSF) led by Mohamed Hamadan “Hemedti” Dagalo with the Army of Sudan headed by Abdel Fattah al-Burham.

This move, intended to consolidate military operations, instead sparked a violent power struggle, plunging the nation into a war that seems to have slipped quietly from the global consciousness. As we mark the one-year anniversary of this conflict on 15th April 2024, questions arise about the international community’s engagement and the ongoing efforts for peace.

Background of the Sudan war

The Sudanese army and the RSF initially shared power but an ensuing power struggle between the two ended by an internationally backed Framework Agreement in December 2022. It was an attempt to integrate the RSF into the army as part of a wider reform of the security sector and the transition to democracy.

Ikechukwu Emeka Onyia

The author, Ikechukwu Emeka Onyia

While Western countries pressured the two sides to reach a deal quickly, promising aid and debt relief as incentives, each side feared ceding too much control to the other in a new political order.

The Framework Agreement … brought to the fore key existential issues for both forces and their leaderships, such as [RSF] integration into a single army, military divestment from lucrative sectors of the economy and the prospect of [soldiers] facing justice for past abuses,” Jonas Horner, an independent researcher on Sudan, told Al Jazeera.

“Most of all … the two forces feared being left weaker than the other.”

Tensions between the two military forces reached boiling point in Khartoum on April 15 last year, when both forces sent armoured vehicles into the streets, and they opened fire on each other.

How did RSF become so powerful to stand a nation’s army?

RSF originated from Popular Defense Forces armed groups which was a militia (Janjaweed) backed by the then Omar Al-Bashir led Sudanese Government in 2000s during the Darfur conflict to help the Sudanese Army put down a rebellion. They were accused of war crimes.

They became so powerful enjoy patronages from the government of Sudan, benefiting from the region’s power dynamics and even from international organization like European Unions.

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For example, in order to stop illegal immigrants using Sahara Desert to migrate to Europe, European Union (EU) in line with policy position called “2017 Khartoum Process” EU needed partner that will help them from the African end to stop illegal immigrants from trooping to Europe through Sahara Desert and RSF came in hand.

That was during Al-Bashir regime. With 2017 “Khartoum Process”, RSF was designated and funded to act as border guards to stem African migration to Europe.

How it all began

In early 2017, the Sudanese parliament approved a bill recognizing the RSF as special forces. They were supposed to report directly to the then President, Omar al-Bashir. The aim could be to protect the organization from being regarded as an illegitimate organization or non-state actor by international community.

The RSF, meanwhile, has not denied receiving support from the EU. Some comments credited to RSF leader on EU support were prior to the current Sudan war. For example, Hamedti the RSF leader was quoted to have suggested what observers know.

“They (the EU) lose millions in fighting migration, that’s why they have to support us,” Hamdan, the RSF head, said

“Some representatives have come with us to the desert to witness our operations and offered trainings,” he added, refusing, however, to disclose their nationalities.

EU is reported to have given more than $250m after signing cooperation agreements with Sudan to combat migration via 2017 “Khartoum process”.

The EU bloc insists that they do not give the funds directly to Sudan’s government, and that all EU-funded activities are “implemented by agencies of EU member states, international organisations, private sector entities and NGOs”.

However, human rights and monitoring groups have raised suspicions that the EU has no role in supporting the RSF, even if indirectly.

Humanitarian Crisis and Displaced People

The war has inflicted a severe humanitarian crisis upon the Sudanese people. Thousands have lost their lives, and countless more have been uprooted from their homes, seeking refuge wherever safety is presumed.

Displacement camps are overwhelmed, struggling to provide for the basic needs of the increasing number of displaced individuals. While there is no accurate data of number of people killed in the ongoing war, it is said to be running in tens of thousands.

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According to figures from United Nations released, as at January 2024, approximately half of Sudan’s 49 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance.

25 million people are facing humanitarian crisis from the war ranging from food insecurity, health, water scarcity etc especially in parts of West Darfur, Khartoum, and among the IDPs. The release stated that 5.9 million are internally displaced and 1.4 million have fled as refugees.

Yet, amid this calamity, the plight of the Sudanese seems to echo in a void, with international attention scant and often sidelined by other global events like Israel/Gaza war, Russia/ Ukraine war, Iran/Israel tension etc. The world seems not to pay the deserving attention on Sudanese war.

Division Within the International Community and Search for Peace in Sudan

Efforts to mediate the conflict have been hampered by a significant rift within the international community regarding which faction to support. This division has led to a stalemate, with diplomatic initiatives failing to gain the necessary consensus for effective action.

Various countries and international bodies appear torn between backing the Sudanese Army, seen as the legitimate military force, and the paramilitary groups, who wield considerable power and influence in certain regions of the country.

It is believed that Egypt and UAE are supporting different parties in the war. While Egypt is said to be backing Sudan Army Forces( SAF), UAE is said to be with RSF.

Egypt and UAE are two critical stakeholders in the Sudanese war and their differences on Sudanese affair have contributed to the international community not having a common position on Sudan.

What are African leaders doing about Sudan?

Since civil war broke out last year, a succession of efforts to bring the warring parties to the negotiating table has failed. There are Saudi talks in Jeddah, an Egyptian initiative, and repeated efforts by northeast African leaders, have stumbled because of internal Sudanese veto or outside interference.

What is observed is that United State and other major powers are more interested in what is happening in Israel/Gaza, Russia/Ukraine and Iran/Israel than what has been happening in Sudan.

Conspicuously lacking is a mechanism for ensuring that the Middle Eastern powers – especially the UAE – come to the table with constructive proposals. The US has not raised its political engagement to a high-enough level for it to be taken seriously in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi.

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It should not be difficult to reach a consensus across Africa and the Middle East that state collapse is in no one’s interest. A common goal of preventing the worst outcome should override differing preferences for who should lead the country.

The quest for peace in Sudan seems as distant as ever. Talks have been initiated, only to falter amidst accusations and mistrust.

Proposals for ceasefires have been made and violated, demonstrating the fragility of any attempt to halt the fighting. The persistent instability underscores the complexity of the conflict, with its deep-rooted political, ethnic, and social dimensions.

Has the World Forgotten Them?

As the conflict in Sudan continues with no apparent end in sight, the international community’s silence is deafening. Humanitarian organizations and some nations continue to raise the alarm, calling for increased support and intervention.

However, without a unified strategy or the political will from global powers, these calls may remain just that – calls.

As we reflect on a year of war in Sudan, the question that looms large is whether the world has indeed turned its back on this African nation. The Sudanese people’s suffering and the ongoing struggle for power within the country deserve more than a fleeting glance from the rest of the world.

It’s imperative to reignite a global discussion, to bring Sudan back into the forefront of international diplomacy, and to work fervently towards a resolution that ensures peace and stability for its people.

The time to act is now, lest we fail the Sudanese in their hour of need and their country becomes another forgotten footnote in the annals of history.

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