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100 days of escalating conflict: Sudan needs urgent intervention

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Picture: Mahamat Ramadane/REUTERS/Taken on April 26, 2023 – Sudanese people flee the violence in their country wait to be registered at the camp near the border between Sudan and Chad in Adre, Chad. Since the violence erupted in mid-April, about three million people have been internally displaced while more than 780,000 people have fled to neighbouring countries, with Egypt that borders Sudan to the north, Chad, the west, and South Sudan in the south being main refugee destinations, the writer says.

By Sizo Nkala

It has been more than three months since fighting broke out in Sudan between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary structure, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). The fighting started following the failure of the leaders of the SAF and the RSF to agree on a power-sharing deal to govern Sudan.

However, it seems there is no peace in sight as the fighting rages on unabated. Since the violence erupted in mid-April, about three million people have been internally displaced while more than 780,000 people have fled to neighbouring countries, with Egypt, which borders Sudan to the north, Chad in the west and South Sudan in the south being the main refugee destinations.

According to the UN, almost 3,000 people have been killed, 6,000 people injured and thousands of women have been sexually violated since the conflict began. The Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (Acled) placed the number of fatalities since the beginning of the war at 3,900. Considering the difficulties of collecting data under these circumstances, the reported numbers could be conservative estimates.

The UN has warned of crimes against humanity being committed in Sudan’s Darfur region and indicated that the fighting could erupt into a full-scale civil war. While the fighting was concentrated in Khartoum in the early days of the conflict, it soon spread to other cities in the western and southern parts of the country.

Picture: Video obtained by REUTERS/Handout via REUTERS – A screen grab shows black smoke and fire at Omdurman market in Omdurman, in the state of Khartoum, Sudan. An air strike allegedly carried out by government forces on July 10 in the city of Omdurman killed 22 people and injured many others, the majority of the victims being civilians, the writer says.

The RSF has set up camps in residential areas, which has exposed civilians to abuse and collateral damage from the government forces’ air strikes targeted at the RSF bases. The killing of the governor of West Darfur, Khamis Abakar, on June 15, after making remarks blaming the RSF for the death of civilians, showed how vulnerable civilians were and escalated tensions even further. An air strike allegedly carried out by government forces on July 10 in the city of Omdurman killed 22 people and injured many others, the majority of the victims being civilians.

There have been numerous ceasefires that have been consistently violated by the warring parties while several peace processes have collapsed. The US and Saudi Arabia invited the RSF and the Sudanese government for peace negotiations in the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah in the first week of May, about three weeks into the fighting. However, the talks failed as the Sudanese army withdrew from the process at the end of May arguing that the RSF had violated all the ceasefire agreements and commitments that had been made in the talks. The RSF also accused the government of suspending the talks so it could continue its onslaught against its forces.

Picture: Saudi Press Agency Handout/via Reuters/May 20, 2023 – Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan bin Abdullah Al-Saud stands along with other officials as representatives of the Sudanese army and rival paramilitary Rapid Support Forces sign an agreement for a seven-day ceasefire in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

In response, the US imposed sanctions on firms linked to both the Sudanese Army and the RSF in a bid to undermine their war efforts by cutting off their financial lifelines. The fighting escalated after the collapse of the peace talks in Jeddah with the government redoubling its efforts by bringing in reinforcements to try seizing military bases that had been captured by the RSF. The intensified fighting worsened the already desperate humanitarian situation especially in the capital city, Khartoum, where residents faced acute shortages of food and water.

The Sudanese government declared the head of the UN mission in Sudan, Volker Perthes, a persona non grata on June 9 after accusing him of fuelling the conflict. However, UN Secretary-General António Guterres was dismayed by the decision and extended his support to Perthes. The targeting of UN staff by the government further complicated the efforts at providing humanitarian relief to the suffering civilians in Sudan.

On July 10, the regional economic community, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad), met in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia to lay the groundwork for a peace process. However, the Sudanese government did not attend the meeting. The government was not in agreement with the regional body’s proposal to consider sending a peacekeeping mission to Sudan to protect civilians. As such, Igad’s efforts at restoring peace suffered a stillbirth. The warring parties returned to Saudi Arabia on July 15 as the Jeddah talks resumed. However, it seems the second attempt at peace talks hit a brick wall again as fighting has intensified since.

At this point there seems to be no end in sight to the civil war in Sudan. This is nothing more than an indictment of the AU’s ineffective not-fit-for-purpose peace and security maintenance mechanism.

Graphic: Graphic News – The conflict between Sudan’s army-aligned government and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) threatens to spill over into all-out civil war after mediation efforts by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) were rejected. The lack of an African-led peace mission to Sudan shows the lack of interest and urgency to help to resolve the conflict, says the writer.

The AU’s Peace and Security Council (PSC) is yet to deploy its Field Mission to Sudan as it promised a few days after the outbreak of violence. Last month, a contingent of African leaders embarked on grandstanding and vainglorious peace mission to Ukraine and Russia in a futile attempt to bring the warring countries to the negotiation table. No such peace mission to Sudan has been attempted, which indicates lack of interest and urgency. Serious introspection is needed at the subregional and continental levels to reform faltering peace and security mechanisms. Africa cannot afford senseless and costly civil wars anymore.

Dr Sizo Nkala is a Research Fellow at the University of Johannesburg’s Centre for Africa-China Studies