Sudan, chronology of a disaster

Clashes continue in Karthoum. Photo credit: France Diplomatie

This article summarises the chronology of events since April 15 when fighting broke out in Khartoum. The fighting is still going on and could last with disastrous consequences for the population.

Since April 15, fighting has been raging in Khartoum and in several regions of Sudan, particularly in Darfur. This fighting pits the head of the Sudanese army, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who has ruled Sudan since his coup in 2021, against the paramilitaries of General Mohamed Hamdane Daglo, who commands the Rapid Support Forces (RSF)[1], the heir to the Janjawid, the “devil’s horsemen”, who waged a dirty war in Darfur in 2003-2004 against the black Sudanese tribes.

In 2019, following the army putsch that ended the power of President Omar Al-Bashir, who had been in power since 1989, the two generals were appointed president (Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan) and vice-president (Mohammed Hamdane Daglo, known as Hemetti) of the Sovereignty Council, which was responsible for ensuring the transition until a democratically elected government was put in place.

However, in 2021, an attempt at a democratic transition was prevented by Al-Burhan’s armed forces, and since then the two generals have been fighting for power. The regular army wants to absorb the dissident RSF force into its ranks while Hemetti opposes it, which has triggered the ongoing war.

A country with international and regional challenges

Due to the country’s geographical location linking sub-Saharan Africa to North Africa and the Sahel, as well as its natural resources, Sudan is a strategic ally. Both sides have privileged links with foreign powers.

Al Burhan, at the head of the Sudanese army, controls the military and industrial complex that holds the country’s economy together and is supported by Egypt.

Hemetti controls the gold mines with the help of the Russian group Wagner, which exports gold that supports Moscow’s war effort in Ukraine. The RSF also shares interests with Ethiopia, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia[2].

Deadly clashes, civilians on the front line

On Saturday April 29, the World Health Organisation (WHO) reported that the number of deaths in the clashes in Sudan had risen to 420, including 264 civilians, and that the number of injured had risen to 3,700.

In El Fasher, North Darfur, the situation is dramatic. The number of victims is increasing as the fighting intensifies. The southern hospital in El Fasher, supported by Médecin Sans Frontières, is one of the only hospitals still open. Claire Nicolet, MSF’s deputy emergency manager in Sudan, expresses her concern about the lack of resources, blocked roads that prevent the supply of materials and medicines, insufficient bed capacity and overwhelmed staff.

“There are so many patients that they are being treated on the floor in the corridors, because there are simply not enough beds to accommodate so many injured people. – MSF

International and Sudanese NGOs are calling for a ceasefire and a commitment by the warring parties to spare civilians, as well as emergency humanitarian access.

An already fragile humanitarian situation

This new war comes in a country already deeply marked by a dramatic humanitarian situation. The UN estimates that there are 2.5 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) living in camps following the 2003-2004 war. The WFP (World Food Programme) has also announced that 15 million people, or one third of the population, are in need of assistance and face severe food insecurity.

Conflicts over access to water and grazing land and the settlement of fertile land, which divide Arab communities and black farmers, have increased since the October 2021 coup, further weakening the humanitarian situation there.

Evacuation of French nationals. Photo Credit: Diplomatie France

Evacuation of nationals and closure of embassies in Sudan

After two days of discussions and under pressure from the United States and Saudi Arabia, a new truce was accepted by the regular Sudanese army and the Rapid Support Forces. In this context, the repatriation of foreign nationals increased.

Many countries, such as Switzerland and Sweden, like France, closed their embassies in Sudan. The United States, Japan, China as well as some European countries such as Germany, the Netherlands and Italy have carried out evacuations since Sunday and more than a thousand EU nationals have been evacuated from Sudan[3].

A press release from the Quai d’Orsay informs us that new rotations of Airbus A400M of the French Air Force took place on Monday 23 and Tuesday 24 between Khartoum and Djibouti and allowed the evacuation of nearly 500 French and foreign nationals.

Thanks to the frigate Lorraine of the French Navy, France has enabled the evacuation of 1000 people of more than 50 nationalities, including 216 French nationals. (Press release from the spokesperson of the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs, dated 05/28/2023).

Photo credit: Armed Forces Staff.

Reactions of the international community

The international community is expressing its deep concern about the regional repercussions of the current crisis. Josep Borrell, Vice-President of the European Commission, said that “we must continue to push for a political settlement. We cannot allow Sudan, which is a very populous country, to implode as this would send shockwaves throughout Africa.

For his part, the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, invited the Security Council to consider all measures to contain the crisis and “keep Sudan away from the brink”. The Security Council, chaired by Russia, held an emergency meeting on Tuesday 25 April to discuss the ongoing crisis.

A tentative conclusion.

At the time of writing, fighting is still going on, particularly in the capital Khartoum. If the fighting were to last, the cuts in water and electricity and the difficulties in obtaining supplies could push many of its inhabitants to leave the capital.

It should be noted that the population is organising itself and that many initiatives are being taken by Sudanese to help those in need. One could imagine the setting up of humanitarian facilities in quiet areas of Khartoum or on the outskirts and the establishment of corridors for the delivery of humanitarian aid.

The UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Martin Griffiths, is on a mission to the region and has just declared that $1.5 billion is needed for emergency aid to Sudan. He has appointed Antoine Gérard of OCHA, who knows the country well, as humanitarian coordinator in Sudan.

Without prejudging the outcome, it seems difficult to find a peaceful solution in the immediate future as long as the war in Khartoum lasts, since the objective is to control the capital and the places of power. If the war is stopped by the victory of one of the two camps, it could continue elsewhere in the country, particularly in Darfur.

Chronology and perspective by Inès Legendre

[1] RSF: Rapid Support Forces. These are militias from Arab tribes in Darfur that were regularised in 2013 by former president Omar Al Bashir to protect themselves from a possible coup. It is estimated that the SRF comprises around 100,000 men.

[2] Hemetti has provided thousands of fighters to Saudi Arabia at war in Yemen, then to Marshal Haftar in Libya at war with the central government in Tripoli, and finally by cutting off the gold mining areas of Darfur and selling the gold.

[3] The European Union’s head of diplomacy, Josep Borrell, told a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg that more than 1,000 EU nationals had been evacuated from Sudan.