African leaders hold key to ending Sudan crisis

Monday June 26 2023

Refugees from Sudan who crossed into Ethiopia rest in Metema, on May 5, 2023. PHOTO | AFP


On April 15, 2023, the world was treated to a torrent of videos showing fierce air and ground fighting in Khartoum, adding Sudan to the list of rancorous flashpoints in an increasingly conflict-plagued world.

The power struggle between Sudan’s two major military factions has had a devastating effect on the Sudanese population and its neighbours. According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), more than one million individuals have been forcibly displaced.

More than 210,000 people have crossed to Egypt and another 92,977 are South Sudanese who previously fled to Sudan as refugees but have now returned home. The other countries that are hosting thousands of refugees are Chad, Ethiopia and the Central African Republic.

Conflict is not new in the World. In March 2022, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres observed that the world was facing the highest number of violent conflicts since 1945. This was a month after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

In addition to the loss of life and property, the conflict caused a significant shock to the world economy, particularly to the energy and food markets, which squeezed supply and elevated prices of oil to record highs.

The countries taking in refugees require resources to take care of them once they arrive, stretching their national budgets. Chad, for instance, has taken in at least 113,332 refugees  in addition to the 600,000 Sudanese migrants  already living there.


Being a landlocked nation, Chad is grappling with severe food insecurity, the effects of climate change, and inter-communal strife. The refugees are exacerbating an already dire humanitarian crisis. The same holds for the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Ethiopia, and other nations that have welcomed refugees from Sudan.

In addition to the financial burden they pile on host nations, refugees experience a material change in their economic circumstances that negatively affect them and their families.  After being uprooted, refugees may remain in camps for years, or even decades, with few opportunities to rebuild their lives and livelihoods. They often lack access to quality education and the capacity to provide a dignified existence for themselves and their families.

The UNHCR estimates that less than two percent of refugees currently have access to higher education, 70 percent reside in nations that restrict their ability to work, and 66 percent live in countries that limit their ability to travel freely, making it difficult for these marginalised people to access economic opportunities.

Over the years, armed violence has claimed millions of lives in Africa and negatively impacted countries’ development.

For instance, in 2021 Sudan was a top exporter of gold ($2.85 billion), groundnuts ($488 million), other oily seeds ($416 million), crude oil ($395 million), and sheep and goats ($239 million), selling primarily to United Arab Emirates ($2.9 billion), China ($780 million), Saudi Arabia ($341 million), India ($259 million), and Italy ($202 million).

But, due to the ongoing conflict, they may not reach such high numbers in 2023. A civil war in Sudan could also spill over into already violence-plagued neighbouring countries. Instability in Khartoum could also derail efforts to reach an agreement on the filling and management of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. That could create problems, not just for Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia, but also for the entire Nile Basin.

African leaders should be actively engaged in coming up with solutions to conflicts affecting the African continent. Political instability has been known to shrink the economy and the purchasing power of the population due to the increase in unemployment rates. It is regarded by economists as a serious malaise to economic performance.

The private sector should therefore take an active role in ensuring regional stability by pressuring political leaders to mediate conflicts and reduce barriers to integrating refugees into the local economy. The private sector can also be instrumental in raising resources for emergency relief for refugees and absorbing them in their companies to promote their economic stability.

The Sudan Regional Refugee Response Plan currently seeks $470.4 million to support refugees, returnees, and host communities in the Central African Republic, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia and South Sudan. With private-public sector solidarity, this amount can make life more bearable for the victims of this horrible conflict.

Isaac K. Fokuo Jr is a co-founder, Amahoro Coalition, an African-led initiative convening multisector actors from across the region to accelerate private sector leadership in driving sustainable market-based interventions that advance economic inclusion for displaced populations.