AU and the UN must do more to restore peace in Sudan
Sudan is unraveling in a relapse of political instability and military adventurism. A bloody power struggle has exploded into a shooting war between factions of the military and security forces. The raging confrontation has pitted the forces of General Abdul Fattah al-Burhan, Commander of the Army, against those of General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, commander of the Rapid Support Force (RSF). Forces supporting the two powerful men have converted Khartoum, the capital, into a battlefield. The resulting confrontation has degenerated into a bloodbath.
At the last count, more than 400 deaths had been reported with over 3,500 injured. Many of the victims are innocent civilians and international workers. Thousands of Nigerians have also been stranded and are seeking help on how to get out. The diplomatic community has been badly hit with United Nations offices and agencies openly ravaged and looted. As usual, the African Union (AU) has been generous with meaningless resolutions and threats. It is unfortunate that AU, like the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) before it, remains a ‘toothless bulldog’. Nigeria that has played critical role in the past in resolving Sudanese crisis, is also nowhere to be found.
Meanwhile, the drivers of the resurgent violence in Sudan go beyond a mere interpersonal power tussle between two leading political and military leaders. It goes down to the strategic issues that have always defined the country’s existence and recurrent crises. The primary conflict is that between a growing democratic pressure and the long-standing conservative power establishment. The forces that led to the street protests that toppled and ousted Omar Al Bashir’s 30-year autocracy in 2019 are essentially those of a new democratic surge of youth and popular street masses. It started with agitations for greater accountability and a better standard of life. Pitted against this nascent populist wave is the conservative core of the Sudanese state which is inspired by a deep-seated religious conservatism and power hegemony.
The military administration that hijacked the 2019 revolution refused to cede power to the leadership of the popular masses. In many ways, a perennial power tussle among the usurping military leaders has become the centerpiece of Sudan’s political life in recent times. The compromise behind the present government was an attempt to forge a tenuous balance of ambitions between these two dominant forces. Predictably, therefore, the uneasy political stability that would lead to the planned democratic elections later in the year was bound to end in fiasco.
Over and above the deep-seated ideological discomfort is the series of international conspiracies and interests that converge in the strategic location and constitution of the Sudanese nation. The United States has always seen Sudan as something of a precarious rogue nation that needs to be constantly kept under watch. Sudan was for a long time a hiding place for terrorists associated with a long tradition of anti-Western activism. These range from Yassir Arafat’s Black September organisation to elements of Al Queda in the run up to the emergence of Osama Bin Laden. As a result, the two opposing tendencies in the global Islamic world have sought and found allies within the Sudanese political leadership. At different times, Iran and Saudi Arabia as well as their client states and allies in the Middle East have courted different regimes in Sudan.
At the present time, the Russians have emerged to complicate an already complex scenario. They have seen an opportunity in the establishment of a naval base in Sudan as an opportunity to counter long standing US and Western influence. Similarly, the Saudis remain interested in exploiting the political fluidity in the Sudan to advance their interests. Others like Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have of late joined the jostle for regional influence and pre-eminence.
It is understandable that there is a convergence of international interest in the current instability in the country. Sudan contains 10 per cent of the arable and fertile land mass of Africa. In addition, the country has an abundance of natural resources. Its oil reserves are the main attraction for an increasing Chinese presence in the country. It also has abundant gold and uranium resources in which both its immediate neighbours and major international players are now interested.
For both the UN and the AU, therefore, a resolution of the sudden violent outburst in Sudan is more than a casual engagement. By the sheer complexity and multiplicity of interests at play in the worsening crisis, the international community requires maximum diplomatic dexterity to sufficiently assuage the interests and reassure the combatants that a ceasefire leading to dialogue is the only way out. The forces contesting for supremacy in Sudan ought to see a quick resolution through the restoration of civil authority and a democratic election as the only destination for enduring peace.