Follow us on social

Can new US envoy help end the war in Sudan?

Can new US envoy help end the war in Sudan?

The conflict there that began one year ago has created one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, with no end in sight

Analysis | Africa

On the morning of April 15, 2023 in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan,the country’s de facto national army, the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) took up arms against one another. Through temporary ceasefires and multiple attempts by foreign countries and international bodies to mediate an end to the war, the fighting persists.

Over the past year, the civil war has created one of the world’s most severe humanitarian crises. Thousands have been killed and over eight million have been displaced. With over 6.5 million people internally displaced, Sudan is home to the highest number of internally displaced people in the world. Relentless fighting has forced many to leave Sudan entirely, with 1.5 million having fled to neighboring states as refugees.

The regionalization of this conflict is risking further destabilizing the wider Horn of Africa and Gulf regions, with regional powers now becoming involved. The UAE has reportedly provided military weapons to the RSF while Egypt has reportedly supported the SAF. A recent report suggests Iran is providing drones to SAF forces, which has helped them regain lost territory in and around Khartoum.

As more players become implicated in the military outcome of the war and as the humanitarian crisis deepens, the war is becoming increasingly complex and layered. Yet, at its most basic level, this conflict is of a genre as old as war itself. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who heads the SAF, and Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (commonly called “Hemedti”), who leads the paramilitary RSF, are vying for power. Each is hoping to be the sole leader of Sudan.

Though now rivals engaged in a vicious war, Al-Burhan and Hemedti were once allied military leaders. In 2019, the two worked jointly to overthrow the country’s long-time dictator, Omar al-Bashir, who had led the country since 1989. Following the successful coup, street protests erupted calling for a rapid transition of power to a civilian-led government. On June 3, 2019, the SAF and RSF responded violently, killing over 100 people in Khartoum. During the massacre, over 70 men and women were raped by RSF personnel.

Following international pressure, in August 2019 the military leaders agreed to allow for the formation of a transitional military-civilian government — the Transitional Sovereign Council — with elections scheduled to be held in 2023. But in October 2021, just over two years after the formation of the transitional government, the two military leaders again worked together to overthrow the government and regained full control over Sudan.

As the two sought to establish a governing structure in the months after this second coup, differences emerged between the two leaders’ visions for the future of Sudan’s government.

Al-Burhan sought to allow many of the political elites formerly allied with al-Bashir to reenter government. Hemedti, a Darfuri Arab, opposed such a plan, concerned that reinstating the old political guard would eventually return Sudan to a governing structure too similar to that which they overthrew, and erode his standing in the face of political elites who look down on those, like him, who are from Darfur.

Another essential point of disagreement was in the plan to unify the two armed forces into a single national force. Al-Burhan, whose SAF serves as the de facto military of the country, demanded that Hemedti’s RSF force integrate into the SAF within two years. Hemedti, however, wanted the integration period to be spread out over a decade, giving his paramilitary more autonomy in case conflict resumed.

Following months of rising tensions, Hemedti deployed RSF forces to strategic locations throughout the country, including Khartoum, in anticipation of armed conflict. In the early hours of April 15, 2023, the RSF attacked SAF bases across the capital, including at the city’s airport, signaling the start of what would turn out to be the region’s most devastating conflict in many years.

Despite having fewer fighters, in the year since the civil war began, the RSF has successfully gained control over much of the capital and large portions of the country’s western provinces in the Darfur region.

As conflict has spread, civilian suffering has reached levels unprecedented even for a region well acquainted with war, displacement, and humanitarian disaster.

The humanitarian toll is hitting children the heaviest. UNICEF estimates that 24 million children are at risk of “generational catastrophe.” Of these, 14 million are in dire need of humanitarian support and 3.7 million are acutely malnourished. With 19 million children out of school, the long-term effects on the mental development of children will continue long after the war has ended.

Despite the massive humanitarian challenges facing the Sudanese people, international humanitarian support has fallen far short of what is needed. OCHA — the U.N.’s humanitarian agency — estimates that out of the $2.5 billion needed to fund a sufficient humanitarian response in 2024, only $155.2 million has been received thus far, amounting to just 6% of the needed support for this calendar year. The U.S. has provided 10% of that humanitarian aid. For 2023, OCHA says that 51% of the total funding needed for humanitarian relief was received.

The humanitarian crisis has been augmented by both armed groups committing widespread and severe human rights abuses across the country. Both forces have summarily killed civilians and ransacked cities, looting and then destroying unwanted property, including homes. The RSF and SAF have also both forcibly enlisted men and boys, threatening to kill them if they refuse to fight.

A U.N. report determined that between May and November of last year, the RSF committed at least 10 attacks against civilians in El-Geneina, the capital of West Darfur province, killing thousands, most of whom were part of the African Masalit ethnic group. The report also reveals that by mid-December, at least 118 people — including 19 children — had suffered from sexual violence, including being raped and gang raped by members of the military and paramilitary forces.

Throughout Darfur, the RSF has demanded that women leave their homes, forcing many to flee west to bordering Chad. The paramilitary also singles out men, and sometimes boys, systematically killing them one-by-one as they try to escape. Attacks specifically perpetrated against the Masalit community have spurred conversations about whether Darfur is again the site of a genocide.

Despite the remarkable levels of devastation and widespread displacement, the international community has been slow to respond. Relative to other conflicts, many far less devastating than the war in Sudan, this war has received limited media attention and has not been prioritized by countries outside the region. Yet, as the crisis worsens and as the effects spread beyond Sudan’s borders, foreign governments have increased their attention over the past few months.

On February 26, over 10 months into the war, the Biden administration announced the appointment of former congressman Tom Perriello as Special Envoy for Sudan. Tasked with leading the U.S. government’s efforts to resolve the conflict, Perriello — who previously served as U.S. envoy to the Great Lakes region during the Obama administration — has traveled on multiple occasions to the region where he has engaged civil society groups and regional governments in a dialogue with the hope of restarting peace negotiations.

As the war enters its second year of heavy fighting, Perriello will find it difficult to tie the conflict’s many threads together and mediate an end to the war. But with a growing chorus of Sudanese civilians and many throughout the region pleading for an end to the conflict, the Biden administration has done well to increase its focus on ending the war through diplomatic engagement — a sign to those in East Africa that the U.S. is committed to rolling up its sleeves and leading the effort to achieve long-term peace in the region.

Refugees from Sudan wait to be transported to the transit camp in the town of Renk near the border after crossing the border into South Sudan, April 4, 2024 via Reuters

Analysis | Africa
Diplomacy Watch: Ukraine pushes for direct NATO involvement in war

Diplomacy Watch: Ukraine pushes for direct NATO involvement in war

QiOSK

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky chided NATO states this week for their unwillingness to directly join the fight against Russia.

“What’s the issue with involving NATO countries in the war? There is no such issue,” Zelensky told the New York Times in a fiery interview. Western planes could simply “shoot down what’s in the sky over Ukraine” without leaving NATO territory, he argued, thus mitigating escalation risks.

keep readingShow less
US aid from pier in Gaza looted, none distributed so far
US military releases photos of pier to deliver aid to Gaza (Reuters)

US aid from pier in Gaza looted, none distributed so far

QiOSK

Last week, the U.S. military finally completed a long-awaited temporary pier to bring aid into Gaza, which American officials hope will alleviate the famine gripping the besieged region. There’s just one catch: None of that aid has actually been distributed to starving Palestinians.

After desperate locals looted an initial convoy of aid Saturday, officials have had to rethink their approach to distributing the life-saving supplies. The shipments are now headed to a warehouse from which they will be distributed to humanitarian groups “in the coming days,” a Pentagon spokesperson said Tuesday. (“Conditions permitting,” he added, in an apparent reference to the fact that the pier can only operate in exceptionally calm waters.)

keep readingShow less
'Four blind mice': Biden, Blinken, McGurk & Sullivan

Antony Blinken, US secretary of state, speaks with Jake Sullivan, White House national security adviser, as US President Joe Biden, not pictured, meets Joko Widodo, Indonesia's President, not pictured, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, US, on Monday, Nov. 13, 2023. A close ally of President Joko Widodo is poised to lead Indonesia's military, fueling further concern over what's seen as the leader's moves to secure his political dynasty. Photographer: Al Drago/Pool/Sipa USA via REUTERS

'Four blind mice': Biden, Blinken, McGurk & Sullivan

Middle East

On May 20, the International Criminal Court announced that it was seeking arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his defense minister, and three leaders of Hamas for war crimes committed in Gaza. President Biden denounced this demand, stating that, “There is no equivalence between Israel and Hamas,” and also denied that Israel was carrying out a genocide.

This is part of a long-running pattern for Biden and his advisers.

keep readingShow less

Israel-Gaza Crisis

Latest