Sudan Must Quickly Resolve Internal Security Issue to Avoid Collapse

Near the Khartoum International Airport. Photograph Source: Mohammed Abdelmoneim Hashim Mohammed – CC BY-SA 4.0

Sudan faces an attempted coup as its military engages in battles in Khartoum against rival paramilitary forces. The clashes have so far killed dozens of civilians and fighters. According to a Reuters report, “The fighting that broke out on Saturday between army units loyal to General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), led by General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti, is the first such outbreak since both joined forces to oust president Omar Hassan al-Bashir in 2019.”

The RSF and the military have been competing for power as political factions negotiate forming a transitional government after a 2021 military coup, according to Reuters. During the fighting, a passenger plane preparing to take off from Sudan for Saudi Arabia came under fire, although there were no reported casualties. Al Jazeera reported that “many civilians have been trapped in schools, mosques and other buildings, as they try to stay clear of the ongoing clashes between the army and RSF.”

Sudan, located in Northeast Africa, faces several internal threats that have been persistent for decades. One of the major challenges is the ongoing ethnic and religious conflicts between different groups, which have led to violence and displacement of populations. The Darfur conflict, which began in 2003, is an example of such conflicts that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and the displacement of millions.

Additionally, Sudan is struggling with economic challenges, including high unemployment rates, inflation, and a lack of basic services such as healthcare and education, leading to social unrest and political instability. Corruption is also a significant issue, undermining the effectiveness of government institutions and further worsening the economic situation.

The country has also experienced military coups and political instability throughout its history, and the overthrow of al-Bashir in 2019 is an example of the country’s fragile political environment. The transitional government formed after the coup is struggling to navigate the complex political and economic challenges facing the country.

Furthermore, Sudan has faced environmental threats such as desertification, climate change, and water scarcity, which have had adverse effects on the country’s agriculture and water resources. These challenges have led to increased competition for resources, exacerbating existing conflicts and tensions.

According to at least one report, the clashes erupted over the planned integration of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) into the regular army. That was a key element of talks to finalise a deal that would return the country to civilian rule and end the crisis sparked by their 2021 coup, which triggered a deepening economic crisis in Sudan.

The Sudanese army announced its control over strategic bases belonging to the RSF in Port Sudan, Kasala, Kadaref, Demazin and Kosti, but the fog of war has complicated details and the ability to confirm the facts.

The RSF is a paramilitary group in Sudan that was officially established in 2013 as a branch of the Sudanese Armed Forces. The group was initially formed to combat rebel groups in the Darfur region but has since expanded its operations to other parts of Sudan. The RSF is led by Dagalo, also known as “Hemeti.”

The RSF has been accused of committing numerous human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, torture, and rape, particularly in the Darfur region. The group is a well-equipped and well-funded paramilitary force with an estimated strength of over 40,000 troops, has its own command structure, and operates independently of the Sudanese Armed Forces, although it is technically under the control of the National Intelligence and Security Services.

The RSF has been involved in various activities, including counterinsurgency operations, border control, and smuggling operations. The group is also reported to be involved in the gold trade in Sudan, controlling several mines in the country.

Sudan has a power struggle on its hands and unless Khartoum can gain control quickly and thoroughly, it faces a dangerous coup d’état that will only sink the country into further poverty and despair.

According to an Al Jazeera report, “the RSF and the military cooperated to derail Sudan’s transition to democracy by spearheading a coup on October 25, 2021. The move triggered a year of anti-coup protests and international pressure, prompting both forces to sign the Framework Agreement on December 5. That settlement ushered in a new political process that promised to address key issues before a final deal that would restore a civilian administration tasked with steering the country to elections in two years.”

The United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS) is situated in the country specifically to assist in avoiding these types of military confrontations and potential disasters. It was established in June 2020 by the United Nations Security Council to support Sudan in its transition towards a democratic, peaceful, and prosperous society.

UNITAMS has three main objectives: to support the political transition in Sudan; to support the protection and promotion of human rights in Sudan; and to support the provision of humanitarian assistance and development in the country. To achieve these objectives, UNITAMS has a range of activities, including supporting the Sudanese government in implementing key reforms such as security sector reform and constitutional reforms.

But UNITAMS has clearly failed in its mission to prevent a political breakdown and a military eruption. UN missions have consistently failed such as those in Rwanda, Lebanon, or Syria, among many other examples. But this is beside the point.

The international community can and should offer immediate assistance to Sudan’s government and bring both warring sides back to the negotiating table to iron out the details of conflict between them. There is no reason Sudan cannot get back on track to a more stable system of governance and back on the path toward security and stability. Such a process will benefit all Sudanese citizens. Failure to achieve stability will be catastrophic.

Chloe Atkinson is a climate change activist and consultant on global climate affairs.