A year on, no sign of truce in Sudan; war remains a reality but boon to outsiders

Saturday April 06 2024

Smoke rises above buildings after an aerial bombardment during clashes between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the army in Khartoum, Sudan on May 1, 2023. PHOTO | REUTERS


Sudan’s war will next week be entering its second year with no end in sight. And analysts say outsiders are losing or profiting from it, factors that may fuel the conflict for longer.

Since April 15, 2023 when the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) launched attacks on the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF), actors from the neighbourhood and beyond have played one role or the other in seeking to end or prolong the war.

They include members of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad) such as South Sudan and Kenya, Sudan’s other neighbours like Chad and Egypt, Gulf countries like the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, Russia, as well as the US and other Western countries.

By this week, four main countries remained critical in the war: South Sudan, Chad, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Read: Tensions rise between Sudan army, UAE

Perhaps the most appalling thing has been that the UN Security Council has only passed a single resolution on Sudan in the last one year, asking factions to stop fighting during the Holy Month of Ramadhan.


Although no country has publicly called for the war to continue, human rights watchdogs have fingered the UAE for fuelling it. And the Saf have claimed some weapons from the UAE had been smuggled into Sudan via Chad disguised as aid.

Amnesty International had earlier found that both factions had committed violations, including murder and forced displacements buoyed by illegal arms supplies into the battlefield. It said many foreign countries had violated the UN Arms Embargo on Darfur by “transferring weapons and ammunition to the Saf, the RSF and other actors.”

“The UN Security Council should swiftly extend the arms embargo that currently applies to Darfur to the entirety of Sudan and ensure that it is enforced,” Amnesty said in its report, “Death Came to our Home”. Extending that embargo, however, depends on whether there is political will in the international community to implement it.

“The external influence (has) made it difficult to resolve the conflict as each external backer has an agenda to serve their interests,” argued Dr Jihad Mashamoun, political analyst on Sudan, and honorary research fellow at the Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter, UK.

Read: Sudan humanitarian toll rises with no end in sight

For Egypt, he said, a secure southern border is only possible if the SAF win the war. This is “as a result of institutional familiarity to Egypt Armed Forces of being the only institution that can hold the country together,” he told The EastAfrican. So it is in Egypt’s interest that Saf prevails.

For the UAE, rights groups have accused it of fuelling atrocities through arms import. But it has an economic reason for it wants to control ports in Sudan to be a partner for the US in the Red Sea, and extract gold from Sudan.

Due to Gen Dagako’s dominance over the Jebel Amer mines in Darfur, the UAE and RSF leader Mohamed Hemedti Daglo have a long history of gold smuggling. The majority of that gold is sold internationally in the UAE.

The Saf leadership has always maintained that the UAE is sending the RSF more than just ground transportation. Yasser al-Atta, a deputy commander of Saf in November 2023 in Omdurman said the army had information from military intelligence and the diplomatic circles that the UAE sends planes to support RSF.

Abu Dhabi has often denied claims of fuelling war in Sudan but in 2019, Gen Daglo bought 1,000 vehicles from the UAE that could be turned into machine gun-carrying close combat vehicles.

Due to perceived UAE involvement, Saf leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan expelled 15 UAE diplomats in December because of the country’s continued support for the RSF. “Russia also wants to have naval base on Sudan’s shores but it seems Russia was hedging its bets between Hemedti and Burhan before the head of Wagner was killed by Putin.”

Yet for the US, the prospect of a Russian influence in Sudan could be damaging, especially since it could open the ground for private military deployment like Wagner.

Read: The many cooks in Sudan crisis spoil the broth

At the same time, Chad is already fingered to be a conduit to the RSF, same as Central African Republic (CAR). For Chad, it has suffered the biggest burden of hosting more than 550,000 refugees. Yet the burden seems to have covered up its play in fuelling the war.

“Looking at these, the SAF sees that it needs to continue fighting until the RSF is defeated or until it’s backers are overturned in Chad, CAR and the UAE gives into pressures and stop it’s support to the RSF.”

It means Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan will not want to end the war yet, especially since the SAF senior lieutenants have pushed him on to attack RSF led by Mohamed Hamdan Daglo.

It’s not so rosy for South Sudan either. Seen as the best bet to mediate, as it has influence on both sides, Juba’s own economy is now at risk of collapsing as the oil pipeline it relies on is largely dysfunctional today.

On March 26, South Sudan President Salva Kiir sent special envoy Benjamin Bol Mel to Abu Dhabi, requesting President Mohamed Ben Zayedn for cooperation between the two countries to restore peace in Sudan “through dialogue”.

While Anwar Gargash, the diplomatic adviser to the UAE president, told local news agencies that the focus was bilateral relations and ways to develop and advance cooperation at all levels, the main discussion was the impact of the war on South Sudan.

According to reports from other UAE media sites, the visit’s primary goals were to protect oil companies operating in RSF-controlled areas and to maintain and repair any damaged oil infrastructure. Khartoum last week admitted that it is unable to fully transport South Sudan oil to the international market.

Oil revenue is crucial for South Sudan, accounting for over 90 percent of its government. Disruptions in oil production due to the war have further strained the already struggling economy.

According to Alex de Waal, director of the World Peace Foundation, the support of foreign parties, especially the UAE, has become crucial as the international community presses for a cease-fire in the protracted confrontation between the Saf and RSF.

Besides the Gulf states, the war in Sudan is also attracting the interests of Iran and Russia’s mercenaries—the Wagner Group, given that the country is a bridge linking the Middle East (Arab) and African civilisations, as well as having abundant natural resources in oil and precious minerals.

Read: Sudan war pools conflicting interests

Saf had accused Wagner of supplying weapons to RSF early in the conflict using Wagner aircraft based in southern Libya.

But now RSF is accusing Gen al-Burhan of seeking supply of weapons from Iran. The RSF has claimed to have shot down at least three Iranian Mohajer-6 drones in Khartoum and Omdurman.

As signs of thawing relations between Tehran and Khartoum’s since it broke down in 2016 when Sudan sent troops to Yemen to fight Houthi rebels alongside Saudi Arabia, Sudan’s Foreign Minister Ali Al Sadiq travelled to Iran in February in a high-level visit.

President of Iran Ebrahim Raisi backed Sudan’s strong leadership and the country’s territorial integrity after their meeting. Tehran pledged to share its industrial, engineering and technology.

Iran views strategic access to the Red Sea, which is sought after by numerous regional and global powers, as one of its primary interests in forging a new relationship with Sudan.

In the meantime, the US Special Envoy for Sudan Tom Perriello announced that Washington is pushing for the resumption of peace talks in Sudan by April after Ramadan.

M Perriello said that for peace to come to Sudan, all must involve the Saudi-led talks and participation from key regional players like the UAE, Egypt, Igad and the African Union.

Daunting task

Igad on March 26 appointed South Sudanese lawyer Lawrence Korbandy as Special Envoy for Sudan. A former chairperson of the South Sudan Human Rights Commission, Mr Korbandy who also once served as President Kiir’s legal adviser, has the mandate to engage with stakeholders and help seek common ground for warring factions.

He is tasked with setting a regional coordination mechanism to the conflict, an indication that Igad intends to start fresh negotiations with new mediators as opposed to politicians.

Read: Igad names special envoy to Sudan

This is drawn from the experience of the 2015 South Sudan peace deal when Ethiopia’s Seyoum Mesfin managed to persuade the politicians to sign the agreement after two years of impasse.

South Sudan’s Deputy Foreign Minister Ramadan Mohamed Abdallah Goch told the media that progress has been made, but peace talks can’t happen overnight.

He said all parties need to be engaged based on diplomatic efforts by the AU, Igad, in collaboration between the Arab League, Saudi Arabia, the US, the UN, and regional bodies, who have consulted with Sudanese stakeholders and presented ceasefire proposals.

Additional reporting by Aggrey Mutambo