The ongoing conflict in Sudan has raised global alarm as the country’s geopolitical importance becomes increasingly apparent. The third-largest African nation, Sudan spans a volatile and geopolitically critical area with far-reaching effects on the continent’s most vulnerable regions. Sudan’s location along the Nile River makes it crucial to water-scarce Egypt downstream and landlocked Ethiopia upstream, where ambitious hydroelectric projects now impact the river’s flow. The country shares borders with seven nations, and its security challenges are closely tied to the politics of its capital, Khartoum.
The humanitarian situation in Sudan has significantly deteriorated, with the Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors (CCSD) stating that 39 out of 59 hospitals in Khartoum and nearby states are “out of service”. Western diplomats based in Khartoum have reported that about 270 civilians have been killed since the fighting began. Many Khartoum residents have fled, while others are trapped in their homes seeking shelter.
At the heart of the conflict are two generals: Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the leader of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), and Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, better known as Hemedti, the head of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF). The two generals previously worked together and carried out a coup together, but their battle for supremacy is now tearing Sudan apart.
Disruptions in Sudan’s western Darfur region often spill into neighbouring Chad and vice versa. Arms and combatants from unstable Chad and war-ravaged Central African Republic regularly cross the region’s permeable boundaries, a pattern also observed with northwestern Libya. Sudan shares a border with Ethiopia’s Tigray region, which is recovering from a devastating conflict involving the unpredictable neighbour, the heavily militarized Eritrea. Additional tensions exist along parts of the disputed Ethiopia-Sudan border.
To the south, Sudan neighbours the relatively new nation of South Sudan, which gained independence from Sudan in 2011 after one of Africa’s most protracted and brutal civil wars. This boundary remains unstable, with South Sudan’s independence leading to the loss of the majority of the region’s valuable oil fields for Sudan. This has left Sudan impoverished and indirectly contributed to the current crisis in Khartoum. Rival military factions now vie for control of dwindling economic resources, such as gold and agriculture.
As a result, Sudan’s generals have sought foreign allies. For agriculture, they have invited Gulf states to invest in the fertile lands along the Nile River. Regarding gold, more obscure agreements have allegedly been made with Russia’s infamous Wagner group, which is accused of smuggling gold out of Sudan. The US Treasury has charged Wagner’s leader, Yevgeniy Prigozhin, with exploiting Sudan’s resources for personal gain and disseminating malign influence online through his “troll farm.” Russia’s interests in the region are not limited to these dealings, as the Kremlin has long sought to establish a military base in Port Sudan to provide its warships access to one of the world’s busiest and contested sea routes.
A wide array of governments is now attempting to sway events in Sudan, with the current priority being to halt the conflict between the army and the RSF paramilitary group before it expands and potentially escalates into a more intricate civil war. Moving forward, some foreign governments are eager to guide Sudan towards democracy, as many had hoped for following the 2019 overthrow of the country’s ruthless leader, Omar al-Bashir. However, other nations might prefer supporting another authoritarian figure, obstructing the aspirations of the Sudanese people who have long-awaited the realisation of their nation’s potential.
In conclusion, it is of paramount importance that the international community works together to bring about peace and stability in Sudan. The suffering of the Sudanese people must be at the forefront of any diplomatic effort. A united call for an immediate ceasefire, humanitarian assistance, and a path towards inclusive dialogue and democracy is essential. The long-standing aspirations of the Sudanese people for a peaceful, prosperous, and democratic nation must not be overshadowed by the interests of regional or global powers. The future of Sudan and the stability of the entire region depends on collective action and unwavering commitment to peace.
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