Dr. Christopher Zambakari
Founder & CEO, The Zambakari Advisory
Hartley B. and Ruth B. Barker Endowed Rotary Peace Fellow
Assistant Editor, Bulletin of The Sudan Studies Association
As a global citizen, and as a native of South Sudan, I am deeply concerned about the ongoing crisis in the land of my birth. The country has been plagued by violence and political instability for decades, and the situation only gets worse with each passing day. With this in mind, I am drawn to share with you my analysis of the conflict in Sudan, its historical context, the key players and the impact the constant turmoil continues to have on the Sudanese people. I have in mind some solutions as well.
Welcome to Sudan
Sudan is a country located in northeastern Africa. Approximately 43 million people call its more than 725,000 square miles home. It is mostly flat plains, broken by a handful of mountain ranges and volcanic peaks. The Blue and White Nile rivers run through the capital city of Khartoum, forming the Nile on its northward run through Egypt and into the Mediterranean Sea. Gold, crude petroleum, oily seeds and livestock are among its chief exports. Politically, Sudan is a mess.
The current crisis in Sudan began in December 2018 when civilian protests erupted in Khartoum over the rising cost of living and the government’s decision to remove subsidies on essential commodities such as bread and fuel. The protests quickly spread across the country and were met with brutal force by the government.
Historical context of Sudan’s volatile landscape
To fully understand the current crisis in Sudan, there must be historical context. The country has a long history of conflict, the most notable the Sudanese Civil War, which lasted from 1955 to 1972 and again 1983 to 2005. The war was fought between the government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) over issues such as political power, religion and oil resources.
Consider too another significant conflict in Sudan, the Darfur Civil War, which began in 2003. The war was fought – is still being fought, in fact – between the Sudanese government and rebel groups in the Darfur region in the western reaches of Sudan. The subsequent vacuum in security further distorted civil society in Darfur, with different groups from the 80 tribes and ethnic populations of the embattled region responding in their own ways. The fighting has spiraled out of control, and the government has responded to the rebellion by launching a brutal campaign against the civilian population. The bloodshed is measurable: 300,000 dead, 2.5 million people displaced.
Conflict profile, conflict players
The current conflict in Sudan is a result of a power struggle between the government and opposition groups – as it seems it has always been, from one coup to another, from one ouster to the next.
The most recent coup d’état removed President Omar al-Bashir, who had taken control, forcibly, and given the boot to a democratically elected government in 1989. Karma being what it is, and Sudan being what it is, al-Bashir got his come-uppance in 2019 when his rule was overturned by the military and replaced with the Transitional Military Council. It shouldn’t go without saying this, because, sadly, it represents on a frustrating level what the people of Sudan have become numb to: In 2008, al-Bashir was accused by the International Criminal Court of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, and in 2010, tacked-on counts of genocide to the charges.
The key players in the conflict don’t seem to change much from coup to coup. They are the government of Sudan, opposition groups and the military. Most recently, tension – and the subsequent violence – has been ratcheted up over months as Sudan’s army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) faced off. These are the same two combatants that had teamed to topple al-Bashir in 2019.
These, then, are the protagonists in the struggle: General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, top guy in the Sudanese army and the leader of the country’s ruling council since 2019, and RSF head General Mohamed Hamdam Dagalo, better known as Hemedti. The army calls the RSF a rebel force and is demanding its dissolution. Hemedti has called al-Burhan a criminal and placed the blame on him for the chaos and destruction taking place in Sudan.
The role of Khartoum in the conflict
The capital city of Khartoum has played a significant role in the conflict. The city has been the epicenter of the protests and demonstrations against the government. It has also been the site of brutal crackdowns by security forces, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of protesters.
Many of the city’s residents have fled, and foreign countries have been removing their own personnel from embassies. Air strikes have pounded the capital.
Khartoum has also been the center of negotiations between the government and opposition groups. The African Union and the United Nations have been mediating talks between the two sides to reach a peaceful resolution to the crisis. However, the talks have been stalled due to disagreements over the structure of the transitional government and the role of the military.
Humanitarian crisis in Sudan
The conflict in Sudan has resulted in an unspeakable humanitarian crisis. The violence has led to the displacement of more than 2 million people, many living in overcrowded camps with limited access to food, water and healthcare. The crisis has also resulted in an increase in sexual violence, particularly against women, young and old alike.
The economic crisis in Sudan has also contributed to the humanitarian crisis. The removal of subsidies on essential commodities has led to a rise in the cost of living, making it difficult for people to afford basic necessities such as food and medicine. The crisis has also resulted in a shortage of fuel, leading to long queues and power cuts.
International response to the crisis
The crisis in Sudan has garnered global attention, with many countries and international organizations calling for a peaceful resolution to the conflict. International parties have called for humanitarian ceasefires and dialogue between the factions. The African Union and the United Nations have mediated talks between the government and opposition groups. The United States and the European Union have also expressed support for a peaceful transition to a civilian-led government.
But the response has been inconsistent and ineffective. Too often both generals have been accommodated, and imposed consequences have not been stern enough to curtail massive corruption and human rights abuses; they have not had impact. While ceasefires and negotiations must be part of the calculus necessary to resolve Sudan’s crisis, greed and selfishness often mess with the math. For Al-Burhan and Hemedti, state power is the ultimate prize – a trophy of personal enrichment and power without consequence.
The impact on the Sudanese
The conflict in Sudan has had a devastating impact on the Sudanese people. Many were already suffering on devastating, unimaginable levels as a result of climate change, rising prices and political unrest.
It has become exacerbated; fear and insecurity reign. The violence of Sudan’s warring has led to the loss of lives and livelihoods, with many families being forced to flee their homes and seek refuge in overcrowded camps. The crisis has also had a significant impact on the country's economy, with inflation and unemployment rates soaring.
Across Sudan, acute shortages of essentials have made life on the edge too real. Food, water, medicine and fuel are difficult to obtain, and skyrocketing costs have priced out most residents, forcing them to – quite literally – beg, borrow or steal. Targeted attacks have left critical infrastructure damaged – airports, hospitals, water supplies and electricity have been erased from the landscape in many cases.
The humanitarian crisis in Sudan has also had a severe impact on women and children. The increase in sexual violence has led to a rise in unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections. Children have also been affected, with many being forced to drop out of school and work to support their families.
What can be done to resolve the crisis?
The crisis in Sudan requires a concerted effort from all stakeholders to achieve a peaceful resolution. The government and opposition groups must engage in meaningful dialogue and compromise to reach a consensus on the way forward. The military must play a constructive role in the transition to a civilian-led government.
The international community can also play a crucial role in resolving the crisis. Countries and international organizations must continue to support the African Union and the United Nations in mediating talks between the government and opposition groups. The International Criminal Court must ensure that those responsible for human rights violations and crimes against humanity are held accountable.
But, a real settlement, a lasting solution that all can live with, will require serious and difficult talks that place a priority on stability and safety, on unity and fairness. It will demand talks that bring about a clear definition and a clear agreement on the most troublesome issues thus far – the creation of a civilian-led government and the role of the military within that government.
The crisis in Sudan is a complex and multifaceted issue that requires a long-term and sustainable solution. The conflict has had a severe impact on the Sudanese people, with ongoing violence and instability. It is my most sincere hope that all stakeholders work together to achieve a peaceful resolution to the crisis and to restore stability to the country. They must do so with a sense of urgency – every day brings more death, more abuse, more suffering by innocents. As global citizens, we must continue to monitor the situation in Sudan and support efforts to resolve the crisis.
About the Author
Dr. Christopher Zambakari is founder and CEO of The Zambakari Advisory. He is a Doctor of Law and Policy, assistant editor of Bulletin of the Sudans Studies Association, and a Hartley B. and Ruth B. Barker Endowed Rotary Peace Fellow. His area of research and expertise is policy development that ensures political stability and socioeconomic development, and his interests include modern political and legal thought, governance and democracy, the rule of law, postcolonial violence and nation-building projects in Africa. A native of South Sudan, Zambakari is a valued contributor to UN agency publications. He is a leading voice in African Union discourse and is also a voice for the UN’s Economic Commission for Africa. His research has been ranked in the “Top-10% Authors, 2017-2020” by Social Science Research Network (SSRN) and featured in “Most Read African Studies Papers Since 2013” by Routledge, a world leader in academic publishing centered on the humanities, social sciences and STEM. His work has been published in law, economic and public policy journals.
Be our guest.
Interested in being featured on our blog?
We'd love to hear from you. Find out more.