Sudan’s regular army (SAF), and General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (Hemeti), leader of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), escalated into armed conflict on April 15, 2023. Hundreds of lives have been lost in these clashes, with millions of residents in the capital, Khartoum, and neighboring cities caught in the crossfire. Desperate to escape, many Sudanese risks their lives leaving the region, while countries such as Türkiye evacuate their citizens and diplomats. These evacuations indicate growing concerns that the conflict will intensify and persist. The current situation in Sudan and the potential for civil war could trigger a new wave of migration toward EU countries. To stabilize Sudan and the African continent in general and prevent irregular migration, it is vital for the EU and the US to devise and implement effective strategies.
Hemeti’s power and influence within the transitional government grew due to his troops’ presence in the capital and his expanding political interests. In October 2021, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, Sudan’s military chief, initiated “corrective measures” that overthrew Abdalla Hamdok’s civilian government and arrested FFC members. Hemeti publicly supported Burhan, but disagreements soon emerged between the RSF and SAF, particularly following an UN-mediated dialogue between the FFC factions and Sudanese military forces, including Hemeti’s RSF.
In December 2022, the FFC and other political organizations signed an agreement representing civilian forces, which required the integration of the RSF into the army. This issue exacerbated disagreements between the SAF and RSF. While the SAF proposed a two-year integration period, Hemeti insisted on a 10-year timeline. Tensions escalated as the final agreement deadline neared.
Following the deadline’s postponement in April, the RSF mobilized troops from various regions in Sudan to Khartoum. In response, the SAF deployed heavy armour and tanks to the capital and built a concrete wall around its headquarters, anticipating an imminent attack. This move further angered the RSF leadership. The situation intensified when the RSF encircled the Marawe air force base in northern Sudan without coordinating with the SAF’s leadership, leading to military condemnation and heightening tensions between the two forces.
Three days after the tensions escalated, violent confrontations erupted in the streets of Khartoum. Although the RSF claimed the initial gunfire occurred in one of their camps south of the city, the coordinated attacks on Burhan’s residence, Khartoum International Airport, and the Marawe base suggest that Hemeti was orchestrating a coup against the SAF.
Finally, on April 15, the RSF moved in to seize military headquarters and air bases, particularly in Khartoum. Hundreds of people are reported to have been killed so far in the clashes in which neither side has yet gained the upper hand. In Khartoum and neighboring cities where chaos, looting, and clashes prevail, those who have the means are trying to leave the region as soon as possible. Foreign countries are also evacuating their citizens and diplomats from the country.
Sudan is currently on the brink of civil war. It is very difficult for the two generals, who do not want to give up the economic power they have gained by using their military power, to reach a compromise among themselves. After 30 years of dictatorial rule by al-Bashir, state institutions and the law have been neutralized. Military power is being used to exploit Sudan’s already scarce economic resources and gold mines. Apart from the defense of the country, the Sudanese army is a huge conglomerate in manufacturing, international trade, and the service sector. Similarly, in addition to its military obligations, the RSF controls the gold mines in Darfur. It has ventures in construction and animal husbandry. It sends thousands of fighters to countries such as Libya, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia, which are willing to employ mercenaries. The Sudanese army controls 25 per cent of the country’s GDP, while the companies controlled by Hemeti account for about half of the Sudanese economy. The fact that the armed forces also control the economy constitutes one of the biggest obstacles to the transition to democracy in the country. The SAF and the RSF have repeatedly demonstrated over the last four years that they will not hand over the gun and, therefore, the power by undermining the demands and attempts to transition to civilian rule at every stage, which could lead to the loss of their lion’s share of the economic pie in the country.
The fact that the picture is dark does not mean that civil war is inevitable. The US and the EU can re-stabilize Sudan through a joint strategy. For this, first of all, the power struggle between the two generals in Sudan should be ended, their economic power should be taken away from them and used for the welfare and peace of the Sudanese people. As long as military power is used in Sudan to gain economic power and to exploit underground resources, it is not possible for democratic and civil society organizations to develop and for the peace and welfare of the people to increase. For Sudanese who do not see a future for themselves and their families in Sudan and see their lives in danger, the only way out is to migrate to EU countries via Libya.
On the other hand, the generals’ gaining economic power and their cooperation with the Russian mercenary company Wagner in order to protect this power caused Russia to increase its influence in Sudan. As a result of the struggle between democracies and autocracies in the competition for great power in the multipolar world, which came to the agenda with the Russia-Ukraine war, the EU and the USA, representing the democratic bloc, taking the side of the people against the dictators in Sudan and in all of Africa, and ensuring that Africa’s underground resources and economic power are used for the welfare and security of African people with a comprehensive strategy, which they plan to develop together, will also reduce the influence of Russia and China in Africa.
In Sudan, the US and the EU are now facing the reality that their previous strategy of keeping problems away from their borders by supporting the actors with power in Africa, even if these are autocratic leaders, has failed. Therefore, Sudan could be the most favourable place for the EU and the US to take the first step to solve all problems once and for all.
To achieve stability in Sudan, the US and the EU should consider taking the following steps:
- Utilize diplomatic channels to encourage dialogue and mediation between the two generals, their respective forces, and the various political factions in Sudan. This may include engaging with regional actors and international organizations to facilitate negotiations and conflict resolution.
- Apply targeted economic sanctions against the military and RSF leadership to pressure them into relinquishing their grip on the economy and agreeing to a peaceful transition of power. This may also include freezing their financial assets and imposing travel bans.
- Support democratic and civil society organizations in Sudan by providing financial assistance, capacity-building programs, and technical expertise to help them advocate for and implement democratic reforms.
- Develop a comprehensive aid package for Sudan that addresses not only immediate humanitarian needs but also long-term development goals, such as infrastructure projects, education, and healthcare, to improve the living conditions of the Sudanese people.
- Collaborate with other international actors, such as the African Union and the United Nations, to monitor and enforce any agreements reached between the parties in Sudan and ensure a smooth transition to civilian rule.
By taking these steps, the US and the EU can help prevent a full-blown civil war in Sudan and contribute to the stabilization of the African continent. Furthermore, addressing the root causes of migration will also help to mitigate the influx of irregular migrants into EU countries, ultimately benefiting both the people of Sudan and the EU member states. Finally, supporting democratic values and institutions in Africa will not only empower the local population but also counter the increasing influence of autocratic countries like Russia and China on the continent.
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