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In a world already troubled and divided profoundly by the ongoing and seemingly endless war in Ukraine, Sudan has exploded before our very eyes into another bout of civil war, the latest in a long line of such conflicts in the country.

The clashes between the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) led by Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) led by Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, broke out on April 13, 2023 in the capital Khartoum and Darfur in the south west of the country. This latest Sudanese conflict started with RSF attacks on government and military sites in Khartoum. Since then, there have been contrasting claims of control by both sides.

The current spiral downwards into armed conflict is at a piece with the history of conflicts in Sudan, including foreign invasions, resistance, ethnic tensions, religious disputes and competition over resources such as oil and minerals. In its modern history, Sudan witnessed two civil wars between the Centre and the South in which 1.5 million people were killed and continuing conflict in Darfur that has displaced two million people and killed more than 200,000.

Since its independence in 1956, Sudan has suffered 15 military coups and has been ruled by the military for a majority of its existence, punctuated by brief periods of democratic civilian parliamentary rule. Those seeking parallels with Pakistan’s history may find inadvertent relief at finding a country with an even worse record than ours.

To trace the roots of the present conjuncture, one has to revisit the military coup in 1989 by General Omar al-Bashir in alliance with the National Islamic Front (NIF), a platform with its roots in the Muslim Brotherhood that has a considerable presence in neighbouring Egypt. What Bashir was presiding over was a country of extreme ethnic, religious, cultural diversity.

But his regime attempted to ride roughshod over all this in favour of one more version of a ‘national vision’ on South Sudan, which led to one more civil war. It should be noted that North Sudan is largely Arab and Muslim, while the South is overwhelmingly African and Christian.

That civil war eventually culminated in an agreement in 2005 to cease hostilities, implement autonomy for the South for six years, and hold a referendum on the South’s future. That referendum in 2011 voted overwhelmingly for secession, and South Sudan separated and emerged as an independent country.

Not all of Sudan’s conflict-riddled history ended on such a positive note. First, to understand the complexity of Sudanese society, we need to focus on the fact that Sudan before the bifurcation into North and South in 2011, consisted of a country that was 40 percent Arab, 60 percent African. The country included 60 percent Muslims, 600 ethnic groups and 100 languages in the South.

Sudan had been ruled jointly by the British colonialists and Egypt from 1899 to 1955 (post the decline of the Mahdist state that wiped out General Gordon and his army in Khartoum in 1885).

On the eve of its independence in 1956, Sudan was plunged into the first of its endemic civil wars, a phenomenon recorded as raging between 1955 and 1972, the second civil war 1983-2005, Darfur 2003-2010, the peaceful secession after another bloody civil war of South Sudan in 2011, only to be followed by another civil war 2013-2020.

The colonial joint British-Egyptian rule unequally developed the North and the South, laying arguably the foundations of South Sudan’s long struggle that culminated in its peaceful independence in 2011. Even after Sudan’s 1956 independence, the North attempted to bulldoze into one mould the ethnic, tribal and religious differences amongst the populace.

This not only produced a plethora of dissidence and even rebellion, it indicated the failure to recognize the ground realities of the inherited complexity of complexion of the populace.

The resulting chaos and conflict that has dogged the heels of the country points to a failure of democratic federalism, integration through meaningful autonomy respecting diversity of the North, South and Darfur, and lack of respect for the ethnic, tribal, religious diversity that was always the ground reality of Sudan’s makeup.

As to the present conflict, there are no heroes on either side. The RSF was created by Bashir as a paramilitary ‘coup-proofing’, i.e. a shield against the endemic coup making ‘habit’ of the military.

Subsequently, al-Burhan and Dagalo were allies when they overthrew Bashir in 2019 following a mass civil disobedience movement against his regime. Later, al-Burhan manoeuvred to become in effect the major power holder.

Dagalo and his RSF’s track record in the Darfur conflict is no shining example, having been accused of wholesale massacres. The heart of the conflict between the two men is the question of power, of course. But the immediate tension was sparked off by differences over the manner and timing of the RSF’s disbandment and integration into the SAF.

Al-Burhan is aiming at destroying Dagalo’s armed base. Dagalo wanted the integration of the RSF into the SAF to be accompanied by a recasting of the command and structure of the army, i.e. seeking to retain his hold on his forces, embellished by the SAF strength.

The spark for the confrontation was provided by RSF’s campaign for greater recruitment throughout Sudan, thereby increasing its strength in anticipation of having to challenge the SAF.

The fighting has so far killed 420 people and injured more than 3,700. Normal life is disrupted to the extent that food, medical care, just about everything has stopped functioning.

The world is so far confined to making pious noises about a peaceful resolution without any leverage to halt the fighting. Foreign missions and citizens are being evacuated (including, thank God, Pakistan’s). Another extended, protracted, bloody civil war looms over the heads of the long suffering people of Sudan.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

Rashed Rahman

[email protected] , rashed-rahman.blogspot.com

Comments

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Joe Apr 25, 2023 11:09am
For wise...there is a lesson from the dilemma of Sudan!
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Muhammad Ali Apr 26, 2023 04:43pm
When there is no respect to law, logic & reasoning then there is a bullet to make its own way.
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