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Sudan: Africa must step up to end suffering

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Volunteers prepare food for internally displaced Muslim devotees for their breaking fast meal during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan in Gedaref on March 13, 2024. Sudan entered its second Ramadan in a row in the throes of a deadly war that has left much of the country gripped by the spectre of famine. According to the United Nations, aid is unable to reach millions of people who are in dire distress. This is because of the cold-blooded sabotage by both the army and rebels, who are using the food crisis as a weapon of war, the writer says. – Picture: AFP

By Kim Heller

The civil war in Sudan is catastrophic for ordinary, innocent citizens. There seems to be no end to the warfare between the Sudanese national army and the rebel Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which broke out in April 2023. It is estimated that over thirteen thousand civilians have been killed, 25,000 injured and an estimated eight million people displaced.

Large scale destruction of infrastructure and agricultural collapse has placed Sudan on the brink of disaster. The nation now faces a devastating famine, which will deepen the humanitarian crisis. The famine is expected to claim the lives of hundreds of thousands of Sudanese in the next few months, in what the United Nations is warning could be the “world’s worst hunger crisis”.

While reports from the United Nations show that close to half of the Sudanese population urgently require aid, aid is unable to reach desperate civilians. This is largely due to the cold-blooded sabotage by both the army and rebels, who are using the food crisis as a weapon of war. The United Nations has reported that over 3,000 humanitarian organisations have ceased working in Sudan due to the intensive fighting. Things are destined to get worse.

In March 2024, the Executive Director of the World Feeding Programme (WFP), Cindy McCain, spoke of how the civil war in Sudan is putting millions of lives and the peace and stability of an entire region at stake. The WFP estimates that twenty-five million people across Sudan, South Sudan and Chad are trapped “in a spiral of deteriorating food security.” McCain spoke of how twenty years ago, the world rallied to help with the Darfur hunger crisis but how today the world appears to have forgotten the people of Sudan.

Sudan is a real time tragedy, unfolding before our very eyes, yet it is as if the world is tuned into another frequency, where urgency, action and remedy are not in play. In December 2023, the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, spoke of the pressing need to ensure that the fighting between the Sudanese army and RSF ends. Blinken also accused the RSF of committing crimes against humanity and of ethnic cleansing. One would think that strong action would be taken. But his words appear to have been lost amidst the US Christmas cheer.

The African Union’s task team, set up in January 2024, has lacked the necessary potency to quell violence and collateral damage. The Institute of Security Studies has argued that peace efforts have been “largely unco-ordinated, bureaucratic and focused on gun-wielding belligerents”. Calls for ceasefires have come to nought, even that of the UN’s Security Council, which implored for a truce ahead of Ramadan. Things are moving too slowly. In the end, it may be a matter of too little, too late.

On March 28, 2024, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield and USSpecial Envoy for Sudan, Tom Perriello, held a briefing session on the situation in Sudan. The Ambassador said, “some 18 million Sudanese people face acute food insecurity. Children are starving, wasting, and dying. Far from their homes and their communities, millions of refugees are praying in over-crowded camps”.

“Clean water is sparse; measles, cholera, and other preventable diseases have spread. And then there are still those in Sudan; people in Darfur who wake up not to the call of prayer, but to the sound of gunfire, of shelling, of cries for help.”

For Sudan, Ramadan, a time of renewal, has been an interval of intolerable cruelty. US Special Envoy for Sudan, Tom Perriello spoke of how Sudanese civilians feel like they are suffering “tremendous horrors” while the “world has fallen silent”. He spoke of how it is time to escalate efforts, rather than pause. Perriello said, “It is the time for us to bring together those actors who can help pave that path to peace, to humanitarian protection and access.”

This is the right way forward, but African leaders have failed to step up. After his recent briefing from Vice President of the Transitional Sovereign Council of the Republic of Sudan, Malik Agar Eyre Nganyoufa, President Cyril Ramaphosa stressed the need for dialogue between the Sudanese army and RSF. Earlier in the year, RSF’s Mohamed Hamdan, met with several African Presidents, including Ramaphosa, to discuss how to put an end to the civil war. But these high-profile talk shops have been horribly inadequate and ineffective. Until and unless the issue of Sudan becomes a daily priority for African leaders, the sounds of guns will continue. Louder than ever.

No-one has said it better than Professor Kwesi Prah. He writes that the ongoing war in the Sudan in general and Darfur in particular “calls into question our collective bona fides … as Africans, we appear to do little to bring these conflicts to a halt. We hardly even talk about them”.

“Our innocuous half-hearted efforts at conflict resolution makes one wonder whether we appreciate the nature and extent of our interests as Africans.”

It is in the interests of African countries to end the war in Sudan. As Sudanese flee, neighbouring countries could experience serious economic and health risks. The ongoing civil unrest in Sudan is restricting access to the vital Suez Canal sea-route and this places trade in jeopardy.

The crisis in Sudan is a crisis for Africa. Until African leaders fully appreciate this, resolving the conflict in Sudan will just be a point on the agenda, rather than the agenda itself. If there was a true pan Africanist driven and united Continent, such atrocities would never be allowed to happen in the first place.

Each, and every, President in Africa would fight valiantly and devotedly for peace, justice, and prosperity not only in their own country but for each, and every, country in Africa. For now, it is as if Sudan is a country on another Continent, rather than part of the soul, heart, and body of Africa. Such is the disconnection of the current crop of African leaders.

Prah asks, “Where is the collective African leadership which will broker peace in these conflict zones? If a cohort of African leaders including the head of the African Union, Comorian President Azali Assoumani, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, Senegal’s President Macky Sall, Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema, Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly and representatives of Congo and Uganda can readily assemble and venture out to Ukraine and Russia to ostensibly help resolve the conflict in that part of the world, they should without hesitation move to resolve problems right under their noses. As the saying goes, ‘charity begins at home’. They should start at home.”

Prah continues, “For now, African leaders are unable to help Africans. The enduring Darfur crisis is a glaring case in point. South Africa’s global leadership in placing Israeli genocidal butchery of Palestinian Arabs before the ICJ (International Court of Justice) in January 2024 is for Africans a matter of pride and a heart-warming experience. Similar concern should be directed to matters in Africa.”

As African leaders and world leaders look on and away, the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces continue to fight. In the end, there may be nothing left of Sudan, and African leaders must bear culpability for the current catastrophe in Sudan and its wasted carcass.

Kim Heller is a political analyst and author of ‘No White Lies: Black Politics and White Power in South Africa’.

This article was written exclusively for The African. To republish, see terms and conditions.