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Clashes in Khartoum: What's going on in Sudan?

Sudan, on April 15, saw violent clashes erupt between the military and the paramilitary forces. What led to this?

Photo by Anne Nygård / Unsplash

Omar Hassan al-Bashir was Sudan's unpopular leader. Coming to power in 1989, the former army commander established a regime that clung to the seat for more than thirty decades. He had made the best use of Sudan's civil war to create space for himself. With opponents who had great distrust for each other, the chances of an anti-Bashir stand seemed unlikely, at least on the political front. Bashir was involved in cases of ethnic genocide and war crimes, yet with an iron-clad approach to his rule, he stood on. Toward the end of 2018, however, demonstrations began taking shape against him. The public reached a tipping point when it was declared that bread and fuel prices would rise sharply. In 2019, massive protests that spanned four months across the country eventually led to his ousting — not by the people, but by the military. This, here, is the catch.

An economy in trouble — and ambitions at bay

Sudan is the largest African nation. But, infamous for its internal conflicts, these have kept it from playing any determining role in the region. Sudan's brief tryst with economic stability – of some notion – was broken by South Sudan's secession and the resultant transfer of major oil reserves to this new territory. Its export figures and government revenue were all dependent on these. It did not help that conflicts saw no end. The economic trouble and the political instability began feeding into each other; this became a vicious cycle that proved too hard for Sudan to bear. It stays even today.

US sanctions — as with sanctions in any case — did very little to tackle the 'problem', that of sponsoring terror. But it did manage to worsen the state of Sudan's people. Even after the sanctions were taken back, there was little transaction happening on the ground. Foreign funders and traders were just as hesitant to approach Sudan as they were before. From being detained at airports to facing nos from companies that refused to hire the Sudanese, people saw sanctions being followed to the T. The same could not be said about the likes of Bashir, or any of the political proponents in the nation. Corrupt leaders, despite the highest curbs on dollar influx, trade, or welfare assistance, will still survive because such are the pipelines that run deep across the top of all socio-political ladders. The poor will remain poor — they will be crushed under the brunt of economic dips, shortage of food, and the pressures of trying to make ends meet.

When the political demonstrations and the military unseating of Bashir happened, hope took a high seat amongst the Sudanese. The transitional government promised various reforms that looked optimistic for the nation. A peace agreement in 2020 with all opposition forces also attempted to put political tensions at rest — there were doubts about for how long, but it still was a hopeful turn.

Another turn for the worse

In 2021, foreign funds coming to Sudan came to a halt. These transactions, including those from the World Bank, were paused. This time, it was because of a military coup that overthrew the transitional government and ousted its Prime Minister, Abdalla Hamdok. This government was supposed to be in place until 2023 when the country would then go on to face elections — a missed opportunity indeed. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, heading Sudan's military, became the new ruler. He was aided by Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo who led the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in 2013. RSF itself was moulded by Bashir, the ruler who was ousted in 2019. But cordiality between Burhan and Dagalo went missing soon enough.

Dagalo wanted some form of autonomy for RSF, refusing to be merged with the military soon. He needed at least ten years before this could happen. Burhan, on the other hand, wanted the military's superiority unmatched. This caused tensions between them, eventually encouraging RSF presence throughout Sudan. Such a parallel power hold spelt danger for Burhan's lead. And it finally led to the clashes that erupted violently on 15 April.

The West and the East, having equal stakes in Sudan, are perturbed by this development.

For the US and Britain, Sudan and the Red Sea are strategic points to be guarded against Russian presence. For the UAE and Saudi Arabia, Sudan is an area to retain within Islamist camaraderie. The geopolitical implications are plenty — but none of these really keep the economy or the welfare of Sudan's people at heart. Sudan needs a breather. It needs to climb back to stability that it has not had in years, even decades. For this, most of all, the military run should end and be replaced by true civilian rule. Diplomacy certainly has more ways than just sanctions to make it happen. That is if the objective is as simple and straightforward as this.



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