No hope for peace as the war in Sudan intensifies

All attempts to bring calm to the situation have failed. Ceasefires between the warring parties have repeatedly been broken, and attempts at mediation have not yielded any success

Fighting continues in Khartoum and elsewhere in Sudan, as peace talks have repeatedly failed (photo: DW)
Fighting continues in Khartoum and elsewhere in Sudan, as peace talks have repeatedly failed (photo: DW)


The humanitarian crisis in Sudan is reaching catastrophic proportions after three months of fierce fighting between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the opposing Rapid Support Forces paramilitary organization (RSF). 

Ahmed Soliman, a Horn of Africa researcher at the London-based think tank Chatham House, told DW that the war in Sudan is becoming increasingly entrenched on both sides, as more and more people have to suffer its consequences.

"The worst fighting is taking place around Khartoum and surrounding towns, but also in Darfur," Soliman said. He added that the destruction of settlements and infrastructure in the region only adds to the overall devastation caused by the conflict, which has already resulted in massive waves of displacement and serious human rights violations, 

'No quick solution'

According to the latest figures published by the UN Organization for Migration, more than 3 million people have already been forced to flee their homes during the relatively short period of bloody conflict. The UN refugee agency UNHCR meanwhile warned that an "all-out civil war" could lead to the "destabilization" of the entire region. 

Soliman said the refugees included 2 million internally displaced persons, more than half of whom are children.

At least 180,000 people have been forced to seek safety in neighboring Chad, especially those fleeing violence in the crisis-ridden province of Darfur, which has been plagued by conflict for 20 years.

This makes the conflict all the more explosive, Soliman said. He added that, because the violence in Dafur is ethnic in nature, with cyclical patterns of violence, "there is no quick solution to this bloody conflict."

Regional power struggle

The violence of the past few months hardly serves as an indicator of what might yet follow: Since mid-April, Sudan's army chief, Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan, and his adversary, RSF leader Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, also known as "Hemeti," have used deadly violence in their wrestling for power.

All attempts to bring calm to the situation have failed. Ceasefires between the warring parties have repeatedly been broken, and attempts at mediation have not yielded any success, Soliman said.

On Monday, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development in East Africa invited the parties to attend a peace summit in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

Neither al-Burhan nor Dagalo attended the meeting. The RSF sent a representative to the summit, while Sudan's government declined to attend the event altogether.

Sudan's Foreign Ministry has accused Kenya of taking sides in the conflict, saying the government would not be willing to participate in peace talks until Kenya relinquishes its chairmanship of the regional mediating states.

The Sudanese government claimed in a recent statement that Kenya that had "adopted the positions of the RSF militia, sheltered its members and offered them various forms of support."

Previous peace talks in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, also failed to produce results in May, further dimming hope for the warring factions to discuss their differences anytime soon.

No 'interest' in peace

Soliman said the warring parties ultimately sought to achieve a strategic military capture of the other rather than laying down their arms.

"They are currently unwilling to end the war and prioritize peace," Soliman said.

Youssif Izzat, political adviser to RSF leader Dagalo, offered a different take on recent developments in Sudan.

Izzat told DW that leaders of the Sudanese Armed Forces are simply not interested in negotiations. He said that, during the talks in Saudi Arabia in May, a ceasefire had been agreed upon between the delegations.

Izzat said army commanders from the south of the country had rejected the truce, however, keeping Sudan stuck in a cycle of violence. "The air force was striking everywhere and attacking even though we had signed a ceasefire," Izzat said.

'A new direction as a country'

Izzat said the underlying issue was not a personal rivalry between two senior military generals, but the overall future direction of both the military and the country at large.

Al-Burhan and Dagalo had once been on the same side, with Dagalo serving as the military leader's official deputy. In 2019, they had joined forces to depose longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir following mass protests across Sudan.

A year and a half ago, the coup d'etat in Sudan also saw both military men pursue the same overall goals in tandem: Al-Burhan appointed himself chairman of the transitional council, with Dagalo once again serving as his deputy.

Al-Burhan pledged to restore power to a civilian government following elections. However, that transition back to democracy is yet to follow, with no blueprint to that effect in place nor elections actually scheduled.

Izzat said the conflict pit people who support the democratic transition against those who seek to bring back the autocratic methods of the old regime. Militant Islamists and extremists, says Izzat, further exacerbate the volatile political landscape in Sudan.

"Now is the time for Sudan to become truly independent," Izzat said. "We need to take a new direction as a country. We don't want terrorism and IS to come back. We need to agree on the new policy, reform all institutions, including the south itself, and create a democratic federal system for the country. That is our goal."

If the RSF had its way, political negotiations among all Sudanese would begin immediately, Izzat said.

"We believe that the only way to solve the problem is not to be a dictatorial government or to rule the country as individuals," he said. He added that the RSF seeks to establish a democratic system that reflects the full diversity of Sudan.

Political gamble on both sides

Contrary to Izzat's assertions,  it isn't always clear who is taking the side of democracy in this power struggle: Both the RSF militia and the Sudanese Armed Forces like to portray themselves as vanguards of democratic values.

Soliman said the baseline in the conflict was less about politics and more about long-term economic interests; after all, the Sudanese Armed Forces and the RSF are the two largest employers in Sudan, making any predictions for the outcome of the conflict even more difficult.

According to Soliman, al-Burhan might have the upper hand for the time being, as his "official" military force enjoys the support of most countries in the region and has a better logistics network in place. Soliman said there were indications that Islamists and members of the former regime would also welcome a victory for the Sudanese Armed Forces.

Dagalo can hardly afford to back down from the conflict, Soliman said, as he seeks to run for public office whenever elections finally are held. However, whether he wins or loses the conflict, his reputation might already have suffered too much for him to expect much support at the ballot box:

"(The RSF) also bear responsibility for this bloody war," Soliman said. "They have committed terrible human rights violations, also with the help of the Russian Wagner Group, which provides logistical support to the RSF."

"If their leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, now loses influence because of his rebellion against Russia's president, Putin, the prospect of further arms deliveries to Dagalo's force will be uncertain."

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