THE FORGOTTEN WAR
Sudan is being destroyed while the world focuses on Gaza and Ukraine
In the power struggle between de facto President Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and warlord Mohamed Hamdan ‘Hemedti’ Dagalo which erupted in warfare in April last year, much of the capital, Khartoum, has been destroyed and ordinary Sudanese caught in the crossfire are suffering and dying.
While the world’s attention is focused on the wars in Gaza and Ukraine, neglected Sudan is being systematically destroyed by civil war, and a massive humanitarian crisis is brewing.
Regional efforts to bring the warring rivals to the negotiating table have failed. The country’s de facto president and head of the Sudanese Armed Forces, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagalo, the leader of the notorious Rapid Support Forces (RSF), both seem to believe they can win the war.
In the power struggle between them which erupted in warfare in April last year, much of the capital, Khartoum, has been destroyed — almost as badly as Gaza — and ordinary Sudanese caught in the crossfire are suffering and dying.
The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad), which represents eight governments in the region, has scheduled at least three meetings between the bitter enemies over the past two months, but none has taken place.
The most recent aborted meeting was to be at an extraordinary Igad summit in Kampala, Uganda, on 18 January. Hemedti pitched up and seemed to enjoy the limelight, giving all the regional leaders his side of the story of the war in his country.
But Burhan was a no-show. Some analysts and diplomats believe Burhan is ready to meet his foe — if only because of international and regional pressure — but that the Islamists and diehards from former President Omar al-Bashir’s ousted regime who control him are preventing him from negotiating with Hemedti.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Desperate Sudan peace efforts fade to oblivion despite initial glimmers of hope
While Burhan sulks in his fortress in Port Sudan, Hemedti is stealing the diplomatic show. Analysts believe he is more willing to negotiate than Burhan because he and the RSF are winning the war and control about 80% of Sudan, including Khartoum.
And so he went on a rare roadshow over the past month, visiting several regional leaders to push his case. He even made a surprise visit to Pretoria where he met President Cyril Ramaphosa on 4 January. This meeting with the former leader of the notorious Janjaweed Arab militia, which massacred so many civilians in Darfur two decades ago, elicited criticism of Ramaphosa.
Vasu Gounden, executive director of the Durban-based African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (Accord), told Daily Maverick that Hemedti had been hosted by Accord, which has for several years been trying to help mediate a resolution to the conflict in Sudan. He said Hemedti had merely made a courtesy call on Ramaphosa.
Gounden said Accord had likewise hosted former Sudanese transitional prime minister Abdalla Hamdok in South Africa last November. Hamdok now heads Taqaddum, the coalition of civil society organisations which is trying to end the war and revive Sudan’s aborted transition from military to civilian democratic rule.
Hamdok asked Ramaphosa if Taqaddum could be briefed on South Africa’s Codesa negotiations for a transition to democracy in the early 1990s and Gounden had agreed to provide the briefing.
Gounden said Accord was also trying to arrange a meeting with Burhan and was prepared to travel to Port Sudan on the Red Sea to meet him or to host him in South Africa.
But it appears Burhan and his supporters have retired into isolation in Port Sudan where they fled in October after the RSF routed them from Khartoum.
Noting in particular Burhan’s non-appearance at last week’s Igad summit, a Western diplomat said, “We’re in a very tight spot. We were anyway, but now we have an even more tremendous humanitarian crisis.
“It’s almost a perfect storm: a war inside the country and then you have the closure of the Red Sea [due to Houthi attacks on shipping].”
At the same time, the rebel leader Minni Minnawi is trying to block humanitarian aid entering Sudan from Chad.
“It’s a very, very hostile environment. And now you have Burhan falling out with everybody for unacceptable reasons.”
“If you have the interests of the people at heart, you cannot totally isolate yourself. They kicked out the UN; they’re suspended from the AU, now they’re suspending themselves from Igad. Who’s left to talk to?”
The diplomat said Burhan was getting bad advice from the Islamists behind him, “who are in a siege or jihad mentality in Port Sudan. They’re not mentally prepared to leave that fortress, that bastion, that way of thinking. They are in total denial.”
This meant virtually no one was talking to Burhan’s faction — except for UN special envoy Ramtane Lamamra during a rare visit to Port Sudan on 14 January. But that was not enough to launch a peace process, the diplomat said.
Meanwhile, Burhan and Hemedti “are, for different reasons, still hellbent on fighting it out. They’re not in a mood to compromise.”
Gounden agreed that both men seemed to believe they could gain more from fighting than talking, though he added some analysts believed that Hemedti was now at a military advantage and felt more confident than Burhan to go to the negotiating table.
He stressed that Accord’s mediation efforts were very much in support of Igad’s peace initiative. He said he was trying to meet as many stakeholders as possible and his next step would be to meet and compare notes with the AU’s High-Level Panel appointed to address the conflict.
He said with the world’s attention focused on Gaza and Ukraine, Africa was no longer paying attention to Sudan. There was some hope that the various continental initiatives would coalesce at the AU summit in Addis Ababa early next month to advance the peace effort. DM