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War in Sudan: One Year on…

The outcome of this catastrophic war, even if touted as a “victory” by either side, will only be the exacerbation in the suffering of our people, and a hastening towards our country becoming a failed state.

Sudanese civilians displaced from the fighting in their country seek sanctuary in a refugee camp across the border in neighbouring Chad, 16 May 2023, (Creative Commons Public Domain Mark 1.0).

As the devastating war in Sudan approaches its first anniversary, it rages on unabated with no sign of an end immediately on the horizon.

Each passing day deepens the suffering endured by the already long-beleaguered Sudanese people. In fact, recent weeks have seen a marked escalation in the violence, characterised by both sides acquiring increased arsenals and more sophisticated weaponry from their respective allies.

The Burhan junta at the helm of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) has bolstered its arsenal with advanced drones from the Islamic Republic regime in Iran, along with new tanks, artillery and helicopters supplied by Türkiye. Ukrainian special forces are also actively supporting the SAF in its clashes against the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), who are backed by the Russian Wagner private military company.

Meanwhile, the RSF militia continues to receive substantial military backing from the UAE via Chad and the Central African Republic. Its ranks are swelling with recruits from Mali, Niger, and militiamen loyal to the Libyan warlord General Khalifa Haftar.

This overt foreign military intervention is dangerously escalating the conflict, transforming it into a proxy war between rival foreign interests over the heads of the Sudanese people.

The repercussions of this catastrophic war have reached alarming levels. According to UN agencies, as of February 2024, between 13,000 to 15,000 Sudanese have lost their lives (excluding the tens of thousands brutally murdered in al-Gezira province).

The number of wounded since April 2023 has reached nearly 100,000. There are no available statistics on those who perished due to diseases like cholera. Furthermore, the already fragile healthcare system has been further debilitated with over 70 per cent of hospitals and clinics destroyed in the fighting.

Adding to this crisis, doctors and health workers have faced severe mistreatment, detention, beatings, and some have been forced to flee for their very lives.

It is essential to consider the widespread hunger now ravaging the conflict zones; those fortunate enough to have one meal a day are considered the lucky ones.

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More than 9.5 million people have been displaced, seeking refuge either in neighbouring countries – where the situation is far from ideal or safe – or elsewhere within Sudan’s frontiers.

The Sudanese branch of the Red Crescent Society reported that over 4,000 young women have fallen victim to violent sex crimes, with over 170 cases of young women being taken as sex slaves in the capital, Khartoum, alone by the RSF militia.

The economic impact of violent robberies, factory plant destruction, and property confiscation is estimated to be nearly $7 billion (£5.6bn).

It is evident from the statistics available that the RSF militia bears responsibility for the majority of the crimes, particularly mass murders and those involving sexual violence.

However, this in no way absolves the regular army and allied militias affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood from their significant share of the atrocities. These crimes, acknowledged and recorded by UN agencies and various human rights organisations, encompass acts classified as crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide.

Given the circumstances outlined above, it is difficult to foresee a swift ceasefire or even period of calm taking place in the near future. This situation is made all the more desponding by the apparent hesitance or inability on the part of the international community – including the UN, EU and African Union – to broker a truce.

It is important to recall that both regional and international forces were initially reluctant to support the popular December 2018 Revolution.

Instead, they put their weight behind the African Union Road Map, which countenanced the rehabilitation and enfranchisement of some remnant currents of the ousted al-Bashir regime in the new structure, as well as the incorporating of discredited right-wing political groups into the proposed power-sharing arrangements.

However, the Sudanese masses surprised everyone by rejecting these mal-designs and compelled a change of plans.

Furthermore, as the two warring sides persist in their seemingly unwinnable conflict, they increasingly rely upon foreign recruits. Some individuals join as mercenaries for the RSF, while Islamist terrorists increasingly align themselves with the SAF.

The outcome of this catastrophic war, even if touted as a “victory” by either side, will only be the exacerbation in the suffering of our people, and a hastening towards our country becoming a failed state.

One year into the conflict, it is evident that neither side has achieved its stated objectives. The international and regional initiatives lack a clear vision, plan, or structure to attain a ceasefire and establish lasting peace.

Previous attempts by regional and international actors to mediate a cessation to internal strife and war in Sudan, and to reinstate democracy there, have yielded meagre and short-lived results.

The Sudanese experience illustrates this, as seen in the 1965 round table conference organised under the auspices of the Organisation of African Unity (now the African Union), which resulted in a brief cessation of hostilities only for a more violent conflict to erupt in the south of the country within years.

Similarly, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement brokered between the Muslim Brotherhood regime and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in 2005 ultimately led to the country’s dismemberment between north and south.

These failed efforts, along with similar examples in Africa, like nearby Somalia, underscore the limitations of such initiatives, which typically achieve no more than fragile accommodations. They often fail to address the root causes of the national crisis, thereby perpetuating instability and conflict.

The majority of Sudanese people, including democratic and patriotic forces, welcome all efforts to achieve a ceasefire and provide humanitarian aid. In this context, we welcome the convening of the Donors Conference in Paris today. However, we caution against any attempt to create and impose a politically non-representative civil body claiming to represent the Sudanese people.

The devastating war has shifted the balance of power in our country. Gradually, the forces of change, including the Sudanese Communist Party (SCP), resistance committees and trade unions, are regrouping and rebuilding their structures.

Significant progress has been made during this challenging period; emergency committees have emerged to alleviate the suffering of the people amidst war conditions, while the Doctors’ Union is providing medical aid whenever and wherever possible.

Particularly noteworthy are the meetings and consultations between the SCP and resistance committees aimed at agreeing a unified political programme to establish a broad people’s front based on grassroots consultations.

Similar efforts are under way between the Doctors’ Union and journalists’ and lawyers’ organisations to form a trade union framework. Here, we appeal for support from the trade unions in Britain. Contacts have also been made with the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

In summary, the war is orchestrated to suppress the revolution and reinstate the Muslim Brotherhood regime or a modified version thereof.

As previously mentioned, the outbreak of war originated from the Security Committees’ coup aimed at defeating the Sudanese Revolution.

Democratic and patriotic forces, including the SCP, are actively engaged in efforts to halt the war and reinstate the revolution.

Their objectives include bringing an end to the war as a first step, removing the military and RSF militia from politics, and implementing measures to dissolve the RSF, other militias, and the Muslim Brotherhood’s structures in the army.

This would enable the establishing of a unified, professional national army under civilian government supervision. Ensuring that there is accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity and true justice for the victims of those crimes is of also of the utmost importance.

Achieving these fundamental demands will pave the way to the restoration and fulfilment of the objectives of the popular Sudanese Revolution and the establishing of a fully civil and democratic authority as its abiding legacy.

Fathi El-Fadl is a member of the Forces for Radical Change (FRC) in Sudan, opponents of the current civil war, and a vice-president of the International Centre for Trade Union Rights (ICTUR). He was previously – in the 1970s and ’80s – a student leader in Sudan and leading member of the International Union of Students. He is based in Khartoum and thus a witness to the ongoing conflict.

Liberation opposes new forms of imperialism, or “neocolonialism”, intervening and laying waste to the global south, perpetuating economic exploitation, inequality and racism. We work to address the legacies of colonialism. Democracy, human rights, peace and social justice are central to our goals. We reject foreign interventionism and militarism. We support popular sovereignty. Liberation believes international solidarity and co-operation are the means to make a better world. Our main focus is Britain’s former colonies and the Anglo-American sphere of influence.

(This article has been shared by Liberation with the Morning Star newspaper and appears in the latter’s Monday 15 April 2024 edition to mark the first anniversary of the outbreak of the war in Sudan.)