Hard choices face Sudan peace sponsors; Egypt model an option
Saturday April 22 2023
The clashes in Sudan that have left hundreds dead and many more nursing injuries, are just the latest manifestation, in a string of failures of international diplomacy. From Afghanistan to Libya, the international community faces hard choices, as previously strong states fragment with a heavy civilian toll, or consolidate around ruthless strongmen; the kind the Western coalition thought they were getting rid of, when they launched their offensive against al-Qaeda and Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein two decades ago.
On April 15, Sudan descended into the most vicious fighting since the toppling of dictator Gen Omar al-Bashir four years ago. In a conflict that has rapidly spread, the Sudanese armed forces are pitted against the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a powerful paramilitary force with a record of atrocities that date back to the al-Bashir era.
As the clashes in Khartoum continue, fears are growing that the conflict could suck in Chad, Egypt, Eritrea and Ethiopia, who are battling their own internal crises. So far, the African Union and the United Nations have done what they can, condemning the violence and calling for restraint.
No plausible justification
There is no plausible justification for the current fighting and the protagonists must be prevailed upon to ensure safety of civilians and respect for international conventions. But, like its predecessors in Libya, Iraq, Syria and Yemen, the conflict in Sudan is complex, with a multiplicity of local actors and foreign interlopers, all pursing divergent interests.
So, Sudan is likely to continue burning as the international community, unwilling to try new approaches, maintains a typical posture.
To some extent, the turn of events in those countries should not be surprising. It simply reflects the difficulty of unravelling the intricate web that develops when a country is in the grip of a dictatorship. In wiring their countries to maintain a grip on power, dictators often create the conditions that make it difficult for them to stay stable after their often involuntary exit.
Until the latest clashes, military leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and RSF leader Mohamad Hamdan Dagalo aka Hemedti were partners in running the machine that maintained deposed strongman Bashir in power.
From his strategic position, Hemedti had built a strong transnational network controlling illicit trade in minerals and selling mercenary services. His foreign patronage network includes states in the Gulf and mercenary outfits that have been active in conflicts in the Middle East and the Magreb.
Such a configuration makes it easy to blame foreign actors for the mess in Sudan. Ultimately, however, it is up to the African Union and the international community to choose which horse to back to bring a semblance of calm to Sudan.
The Egyptian model under which the major powers rallied around Gen Abdel Fattah el-Sisi against the Islamic Brotherhood might just work in Sudan.
Supporting a weakened al-Burhan might be a hard proposition to swallow. But it could be the only way of sustaining the transition to civilian rule in Sudan.