Treasure hunters undermine Sudan’s peace quest

Sunday May 21 2023
Sudan looters

A broken glass of a car showroom in southern Khartoum after a looting attempt as fighting continued in the Sudanese capital on May 7, 2023. PHOTO | AFP


Sudan’s deadly war has offered looters, both Sudanese and outsiders, a gate pass of sorts, a sign of developing lawlessness.

Just last week, the UN said more than 17,000 metric tonnes of food stored in a WFP warehouse in Khartoum had been looted, costing the agency about $13 million worth of losses in looted food items.

It led the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to condemn the incident, saying most, if not all, United Nations agencies and our humanitarian partners, have been impacted by large-scale looting.

Guterres’ Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq also said office and computer equipment had been stolen.

Food, however, is not the only, or even the main, target by looters. Since the war began in April 15, pitting the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), the threat was always on the country’s lucrative mineral resources.

Last year, Sudan’s mineral exports amounted to $2 billion, representing 47 percent of the country’s total exports. The Director of the General Administration for Supervision and Control of Production Companies, Alaeldin Ali, told the media in January that the country produced more than 18 tonnes in 2022, an increase of one tonne and 611 kg.


In fact, in March last year, the Central Bank of Sudan in an effort to bring order to the gold trade, banned the exports by government entities and foreigners, except concession companies engaged in mining.

Read: Sudan war locks depositors out of savings


Sudan had earlier in 2020, allowed private traders to export gold in order to combat smuggling and boost foreign exchange earnings in the struggling economy. Previously, only the Central Bank was the only entity that could buy and export gold.

With all watchdogs fleeing for dear life and fighters having to pay for themselves, or their mercenaries; it is unlikely any of those guards can now hold tight.

As the conflict in Sudan continues, the country is teetering on the brink of a failed state with armed treasure hunters entering the country from various borders in search of gold and other minerals taking advantage of the breakdown of law and order.

Volker Perthes, the head of the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission Sudan has warned that there is suspicion that mercenaries could be coming from other countries even though he told media recently that he didn’t have specifics nor identities of those mercenaries.

Read: UN seeks $3bn for Sudan, refugees

Russia connection

The Rapid Support Forces (RSF) led by Gen Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, has been accused by his opponent of recruiting mercenaries from neighbouring Chad, the Central African Republic (CAR) and Niger to help him fight the war. In return, he could repay them with some of the looted resources.

Perthes recently admit ted that Libyan warlord Khalifa Khaftar supports “one of the two parties” in the conflict, but argued he didn’t have much influence.

Sudan is the third largest producer of gold in Africa after Ghana and South Africa and 13th in the world. Other minerals include oil, uranium and gum Arabic, as well as fertile lands for agriculture in the Nile valleys, Gezira region, Darfur, Kassala, Blue Nile, South Kordofan and the eastern region bordering Ethiopia.

Daglo’s RSF has been known to collaborate with the Russian paramilitary firm, the Wagner group to control the gold mine in Sudan and the Vakanga diamond mines on the neighbouring Central African Republic. But Wagner has denied any involvement in Sudan in the recent past. But the involvement of Wagner in Sudan has been in the air since 2018 when the CAR sought their help to fight rebels in the north.

According to Akol Miyen Kuol, a South Sudanese author and an expert on the two Sudan's warring generals, said the conflict apart from being a power struggle between the SAF, and Gen Daglo of RSF, is also has resource dimensions.

“No doubt, the two generals are doing all these at the expense of the people, who have never enjoyed the resources of their rich country since independence in 1956. Foreign states benefiting from the resources, would want to see a weak or unstable Sudan to continue taking advantage of the chaotic situation,” said Mr Kuol.