Things are not looking good for peace in Sudan: Despite talks between the warring factions that began in the Saudi city of Jeddah on Saturday, heavy fighting in the country between the Sahel and the Red Sea continues, and tens of thousands are fleeing. The United Nations warns of a catastrophic humanitarian crisis that could spread to other countries.
The extreme situation is made more difficult by the lack of a common concept for dealing with violent conflicts, says Henrik Maihack, head of the Africa department at the Friedrich Ebert Foundation. “The problem in this region on the Horn of Africa is often that there is no system of collective, i.e. common security, but security in the individual countries, which is always organized against each other.”
More guns in circulation
Experience has shown that neighboring states or armed groups across the borders would interfere in the smoldering conflicts. “That makes regulation or an end to the current conflict much more difficult,” Maihack told DW. In fact, the conflict is attracting “quite a few fortune seekers and mercenaries” to the country with the aim of enriching themselves, UN mediator Volker Perthes said in a DW interview last week.
On the other hand, there is a risk that small arms used in the crisis in Sudan will increasingly reach other countries via the extremely porous borders – and eventually reach the Sahel countries of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, Africa expert Maihack fears.
There are already many armed groups there – and new weapons would mean a worsening of the security situation, says Maihack. He warns that the crisis in Sudan could “possibly fuel two crisis regions at the same time”: the Sahel region, but also the Horn of Africa.
Humanitarian emergency worsens
Even before renewed fighting broke out, Maihack described the humanitarian emergency in Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan as dramatic and underfunded.
In Sudan, which has been politically unstable for years, the two most powerful generals and their units have been fighting for supremacy since April 15: General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan’s military forces against Mohammed Hamdan Daglo’s powerful RSF militia.
The outbreak of violence has put neighboring countries under pressure: these include states that are themselves extremely fragile, economically desolate, and some are also under military rule. Refugees from Sudan are now also streaming across their borders towards South Sudan, Chad or the Central African Republic, and those who make it to neighboring countries that are further away.
More support needed
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is preparing to support 800,000 refugees in the region if the violence continues. But for many countries, the arriving refugees pose a challenge because their care is beyond governments’ financial capabilities, says UNHCR spokeswoman Eujin Byun.
Smoke hangs over Bahri in Sudan – there is great concern that the conflict will affect the entire region
According to Byun, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Chad and Egypt are countries that are already taking in many Sudanese refugees. “More than seventy percent of the refugees currently crossing the border are women and children,” she told DW. “They walk 24 hours with hardly anything on them and arrive at the border with no shelter, no clothes, no food and no water.”
Chad, for example, has already taken in 600,000 refugees, including 400,000 Sudanese refugees from before this crisis. “So we have a structure and a system on site. But it was already overburdened,” says Byun, appealing to the international community to provide more help.
She would also like to see greater commitment from the countries affected. They in turn ask for international support. For example, in the Central African Republic, thousands of people have made their way from Sudan to the remote border region of Hamdafok. Their presence is forcing the government, in consultation with the organizations responsible for the refugees, to take precautions to improve care, says Hervé Ndoba, Central African finance and budget minister, in Bangui.
“We have only just received approval for the program with the International Monetary Fund,” Ndoba told DW. At the end of April, the IMF gave the country an option for further loans. The government now wants to check how much money can be taken from the state budget for relief measures.
Sudan’s leadership and neighbors’ interests
Overall, Sudan borders seven neighboring countries. Ahmed Soliman, an East Africa expert at the London think tank Chatham House, predicts that the conflict could become much more regionalized for this reason alone: ”All of these neighboring countries will try to influence the outcome of the conflict and have an interest in who sees Sudan will lead in the future,” Soliman told DW.
Sudan is also something like the border between different regions: This is where North Africa, the Sahel zone, East Africa, the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Gulf meet. “So it’s a very complicated picture of regional interests and influences, like what we’re seeing right now in the negotiations to try to end hostilities,” Soliman says.
Close ties with Chad
An example: The western neighbor Chad is already politically very unstable. He had experienced his own civil war and uprisings. The exodus from the West Darfur region of Sudan has also followed a pattern of cyclical displacement that has been going on for over 20 years – since the conflict in Darfur began.
Not only is Darfur the heartland of the international intervention troops in Sudan: RSF leader Hemeti also has roots in Chad, and even family members in the Chadian Transitional Military Council, emphasizes Soliman. And he is striving not only to strengthen his power base in Sudan, but also to establish a broader sphere of influence in the Sahel.
The young Chadian leader Mahamat Idriss Deby, in turn, tried to strike a balance between relations with the Sudanese armed forces and the RSF. Such complex inter-country relationships have fueled political unrest and turbulence in the region for many years, according to Soliman, and exacerbated the potential for conflict in Sudan.
An ongoing Sudanese conflict could also cause unrest in Libya, where many Sudanese mercenaries have been deployed in recent years. In addition, mercenaries from the Russian Wagner Group influence the power dynamics in countries like Mali and Sudan, says Soliman. The German Africa expert Maihack therefore calls for more international commitment to civil conflict resolution in the Horn of Africa, which would be worthwhile for Europe and Germany and is also the wish of most people in the Horn of Africa, who have been calling for more democracy on the streets for years protested in Sudan.
Collaboration: George Okachi, Jean-Fernand Koena