Sudan war pools varying interests, but no state openly takes sides

Sunday April 23 2023
Sudanese army soldiers

A man raises his hand as he rides his motorcycle near Sudanese army soldiers on April 20, 2023. PHOTO | AFP


Sudan’s war pitting two generals, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his deputy Mohamed Hamdani Dagalo ‘Hemedti’ has exposed a conflict of interest from various international partners of Sudan.

When the war broke out a week ago, the obvious cause was seen as their constant power struggle and the blocking of Hemedti from putting his paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) under the command of the Sudan Armed Forces headed by al-Burhan.

But when the AU called for an emergency meeting to discuss the situation, all of Sudan’s neighbours and partners in the Horn and Middle East showed up.

Besides IGAD, the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UK, US, China, Russia and France), Africa’s representatives in the Security Council (Gabon, Mozambique, Ghana), Arab League and the UN officials, Qatar, the UAEand Saudi Arabia also sent representatives. And so did Egypt, Libya, South Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia, Chad and Central Africa Republic.

They said they had requested “the belligerents to designate interlocutors to work with the Mechanism, to monitor and verify the humanitarian ceasefire, and to further elaborate permanent ceasefire arrangements including the withdrawal of forces from urban areas”.

Sudanese army soldiers in the Red Sea city of Port Sudan

Sudanese army soldiers loyal to army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan man a position in the Red Sea city of Port Sudan on April 20, 2023. PHOTO | AFP


Signalled a ceasefire

On Friday, the two warring sides signalled a ceasefire, to last through Idd ul-Fitr celebrations. But the power struggle was still rife. Al-Burhan issued a decree removing the Border Guards under the RSF to be under the control of the Armed Forces. Whether that weakens the RSF, initially formed to patrol borders and provide security in remote parts of the country, is yet to be seen.

The struggle, however, may or may not benefit other countries but is an obvious opportunity for countries to elevate their image, by rushing to mediate. So far, Kenya, Turkey and Egypt have offered to mediate.

Kenya President William Ruto said on Friday “Kenya hereby offers to host a process of mediation between the parties to the Agreement.”

“We make this offer in the spirit of brotherhood, peace and solidarity as an acceptable neutral venue and also as an engaged stakeholder well-seized with the challenges facing our region. Kenya has a strong track record in effectively facilitating peace-making and settlement of political conflict,” he said.

Turkish Mevlut Cavusoglu was quoted by Xinhua as saying: “We are negotiating with both parties. We are negotiating to stop the conflict. We are on the field with our friends. We are currently meeting with the vice president. We are also meeting with the commander of the Rapid Support Forces to stop the war.”

Egypt, whose troops had been ensnared in the fighting, managed to rescue them in three planeloads. But Cairo had to use the UAE as interlocutors to rescue the soldiers who had been stationed in Meroe under a bilateral military agreement signed during the Omar al-Bashir days. They had been detained by the RSF, who accused Cairo of taking sides, a charge the Egyptian presidency denied. In the end, the RSF said they had freed the soldiers and thanked “the brotherly Egyptian government and its people” for supporting Sudan.

Smoke billows above residential buildings in Khartoum

Smoke billows above residential buildings in east Khartoum on April 16, 2023 as fighting raged in Sudan. PHOTO | AFP

Rescue efforts

Each of the other countries in the peace bid have promised to rescue their nationals stuck in Khartoum should the situation demand it. But there are other interests, some conflicting.

Dr Rashid Abdi, a senior researcher and analyst on the Horn of Africa and the Gulf, says Saudi Arabia, UAE and US are so far the only players with real leverage to end conflict in Sudan, having been involved in its recent political games and bearing influence on the two warring parties.

“The prospects for consensus between [the] 3 on way forward in Sudan modest but not impossible. IGAD, AU can work with these three players,” he tweeted.

The Gulf countries have held influence on Khartoum, including Friends of Sudan coalition to help with the transition.

Nisrin Elamin, a Sudan assistant professor of Anthropology at the University of Toronto, said Emiratis and Saudis have spent a combined $27 billion on Sudanese land, real estate and infrastructure projects “during the latter part of the Al-Bashir regime. “(They) were the first to bankroll the coup regime, even if they play different roles now.

“I think it’s hugely damaging to claim that this is an externally orchestrated war… but we should be tracing how these factions accumulated the resources that have partly funded this violence,” she said, referring to claims Russia and the private military Wagner Group was fuelling the violence.

Additional reporting by Tesfa-Alem Tekle