The suffering in Sudan is another legacy of the British colonial strategy of divide and rule. As rival generals compete for power, the capital, Khartoum, is subject to levels of destruction not seen since its conquest by Anglo-Egyptian forces at the end of the 19th century. But elsewhere in this stricken country millions have died in the civil wars that have plagued the country, with only 14 years of fragile peace since it became independent in 1956. And now a fresh civil war rages.
Between 1955 and 1972 civil war between the Muslim North and the Christian South killed 500,000 people.
From 1983 to 2005 the civil war resumed, and two million died as a result of war, famine and disease.
South Sudan finally won its independence in 2011 and itself descended into a civil war which has killed 400,000 people and displaced over four million others.
Meanwhile, between 2003 and 2020 another civil war raged in Darfur where rebel groups opposed the oppression of its non-Arab peoples. The government responded with ethnic cleansing, and, according to UN estimates, 300,000 people died.
This brings us to the current conflict. While the dictator Omar al-Bashir has been indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for his role in Darfur, the generals who seized power in a coup in 2021 and who were responsible for some of the worst atrocities in Darfur, have been courted rather than sent to court by foreign powers looking to exploit Sudan’s mineral wealth and extend their influence in the region.
Hence Sudan’s ruler, General al-Burnham, has the backing of Egypt, while his rival and former partner in crime, Lieutenant General Hamdan, who heads the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), has been dealing with the Russian Wagner Group who have a licence to operate gold mines in Sudan. The United Arab Emirates are also heavily involved, as they try to extend their influence in East Africa and are rumoured to be arming the RSF. And of course Britain and the USA are involved via a quadrilateral alliance with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, ostensibly to oversee the introduction of democracy! This probably explains why Britain and the USA have so many citizens in Sudan.
While our media’s reporting focuses almost entirely on the plight of UK nationals who are currently stranded in Sudan, there is little mention of the reasons for the conflict or unfolding humanitarian crisis, as millions are trapped in the war zone and thousands have already fled. 20,000 have fled Darfur since the fighting started in Khartoum to join the existing 400,000 Sudanese in Chad who went there to escape ethnic cleansing. 3,000 have gone to South Sudan, a country on the brink of collapse, where nine million citizens require humanitarian aid. Meanwhile, inside Sudan there are over a million refugees and asylum seekers from conflicts in neighbouring countries who face a precarious future.
The hope that people shared when a popular revolution overthrew the old dictator, al-Bashir, in 2019 has gone. Part of the problem is that, instead of seeing this as an opportunity for the Sudanese people, too many nations saw this as an opportunity for themselves.
Everyone wanted a chunk of Sudan, and it couldn’t take all the meddling. Too many competing interests and too many claims, then the fragile imbalance imploded, as you can see now.
Magdi el-Gizouli, a Sudanese analyst at the Rift Valley Institute, quoted by the New York Times.
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