Why the civil war in Sudan matters far beyond its borders and those of Africa

Two clashing generals and regional and Russian interests launched the civil war that has been shaking Sudan for a week and threatens to destabilize all of North Africa and the Red Sea. (AFP)

There is no possible truce. The two generals facing each other in Sudan say they will only drop their weapons if the other presents his unconditional surrender. They appear to be willing to destroy the country in pursuit of their personal ambitions and the interests of their allies.. They are two armed factions that dispute the government of Khartoumthat of the regular army and that of a powerful militia supported by the mercenaries of the wagner group Russian. A conflict that broke out last weekend and threatens to destabilize a vast region of northern Africafrom the sahel until the Red Sea and the Arabian Peninsula.

The Sudanese armed forces are broadly loyal to the general Abdel Fattah al-Burhanleader of the military junta and de facto ruler of the country, while the paramilitaries of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF)a large group of militias, follow the warlord, General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalobetter known as Hemedti. Both have been fighting for power since they overthrew the 30-year dictatorship of Omar al-Bashirin 2019. At that time, the military had promised a democratic exit until two years later when they organized a self-coup and definitively took over the government.

The RSF was founded by Bashir to crush the rebellion in Darfur, in the west of the country, which began more than 20 years ago due to the political and economic marginalization of the local population by the Sudanese central government. The RSF are known by the local population by the name of janjaweed, famous for the atrocities they committed. In 2013, Bashir transformed the Janjaweed into a semi-organized paramilitary force, giving its leaders military ranks before deploying them to crush another rebellion, this time in South Darfur, and subsequently sending many of them to fight in the war in Yemen and, later, of Libya.

Sudan map Khartoum

The RSF’s Jajaweed, led by Hemedti, and the regular military forces under Burhan’s command united to overthrow Bashir in 2019. The first act of the RSF was to provoke the massacre of a group of civilians who were peacefully protesting against the coup. But in 2021, the RFS surprisingly sided with the groups that supported a political exit to the military and this publicly clashed with Burhan and Hemedti. The tension between the two has so far been settled with some skirmishes and the sharing of business profits, but something blew up the fragile truce last weekend when fighting broke out between the two men’s forces around Khartoum International Airport. . There is, at least, 450 dead and 2,500 wounded.

Sudan is not only huge – the third largest country in Africa – but it sprawls across an unstable and geopolitically vital region. What happens militarily or politically in Sudanese territory has repercussions in one of the most fragile areas in the world in North Africa and the Arabian peninsula. In principle, it is the eternal river nile, the center of the country and its regional relationship. downstream is Egypt, which has depended on this resource for 5,000 years to drive its economy. upstream is Ethiopiawhich does not have access to the sea and has plans to build a huge hydroelectric dam that will affect the flow of the river and the planning of harvests.

In the west of the country is the region of Darfur, which has been in an armed conflict since 2003. Here Muslims do not face animists and Christians – the inhabitants are mostly Muslims – as happened in the war that led to the separation of South Sudan, but rather a racial and ethnic conflict between Arabs and Nile groups -black Saharans who fight for control of arable and grazing land. This fight inevitably affects the neighbor Chad, and vice versa. There, as in the Central African Republic guerrillas of Islamic extremists associated with the isis and Al Qaeda. Weapons and fighters from the three countries cross the borders freely. And the three of them feed on the weapons and money of the warlords and the oil that fight in the disintegrated Libyamore to the north.

Sudan army soldiers.
Army soldiers in the Darfur region, loyal to General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, leader of the military junta and de facto ruler of the country. (Reuters)

To the southwest, Sudan borders the region of tigrayin northern Ethiopia, which has just emerged from a bitter conflict involving another unpredictable neighbour, the isolated and highly militarized autocracy of eritrea. There are also tensions on other parts of the border that share Ethiopia and Sudanand that in some places are the subject of dispute.

to the south is South Sudan, which formally separated from its northern neighbor in 2011, following one of Africa’s longest and bloodiest civil wars, and whose situation remains volatile. Upon independence, the South Sudanese seized most of the region’s valuable oil fields, leaving Sudan much poorer and contributing, indirectly, to Khartoum’s current social and political crisis. The current rival military groups are now fighting for control of dwindling economic resources, such as gold and agriculture..

Precisely, to develop agriculture and take advantage of the natural irrigation provided by the Nilethe Sudanese military went looking for partners with money from the other side of the Red Seaamong the Arab countries. It is known that specialized workers from farms in the agricultural areas surrounding Khartoum belonging to the capitals of the Arab Emirates. The other regional power, Saudi Arabia he also monitors the situation very carefully. his second city jeddah It is located off the Sudanese coast. And a little further south is Yemen which has been in a state of civil war since 2011 with a sector supported by the Saudis and another by the rebels houthisby the Iranians.

Wagner group mercenaries during a halt in their advance on Ukrainian territory (AFP)
Wagner group mercenaries organized by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a friend and associate of Vladimir Putin, operating in Sudan. (AFP)

As for gold, the mines are in the hands of Russian oligarchs protected by the mercenaries of the infamous wagner group, which also participates in the invasion of Ukraine. He United States Department of the Treasury accused the creator of the Wagners, Yevgeniy Prigozhinof “exploiting Sudan’s natural resources for their own benefit and spreading evil influence” on the Internet through your “troll farm”

The former dictator Al Bashir allowed the entry of the Wagners in 2017 as part of the negotiation with the Kremlin for the exploitation of the mines. He got the contracts after assuring Putin that “Sudan is Russia’s gateway to Africa”. Hemedti reinforced that relationship when she traveled to Moscow in February 2022, just a few hours after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, to give his full support to Putin’s military adventure.

The Wagners, who were already operating in Libyaand maintain a presence in mali and the Central African Republicthey arrived first to occupy the territories around the mines of the company Meroe Goldcontrolled by the conglomerate M Invest based in Moscow. “Soon they turned to other business and ‘running errands’ for the Khartoum government. They got involved in all the local conflicts in the mining areas and provoked atrocious killings”, he explained to Al Jazeera, samuel ramadiauthor of a prestigious book on Russian expansion on the African continent.

Sudan, Al Burhan, Hemedti
Two warring generals. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, better known as Hemedti, left, clashes with army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, leader of the military junta and de facto ruler of the country (right). (Reuters)

Among the tasks of the Russian mercenaries is to ensure the exit of Sudanese gold to latakia, the port that Russia controls on the Mediterranean coast of Syria. An investigation of the CNN proved the departure of at least 16 planes full of gold from the Sudanese capital to the military airport of that Syrian city. It is also believed that a portion of that gold ends up funding both the Wagners’ activities in Ukraine and Hemedti’s militias. “I don’t think there is a green light from Putin for Russian forces to take an active role in this current military confrontation, but The Wagners do have it because they risk large interests and resources if they do not support Hemedti or if they do not end up negotiating with Burhan”, explained the writer Ramadi.

However, Russia has interests that go even further than mining exploitation and that have to do with the coast of the strategic Red Sea. The Kremlin has been trying for years to establish a military base in the city of port sudanwhich would give its warships access to one of the busiest and most contested shipping lanes in the world and influence over it. A special envoy from putin was about to close an agreement on the base with the Khartoum military government, but frustrated by American pressure. It would not be surprising if the two warring factions are now trying to finalize the agreement to obtain arms and advisers from Moscow.

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