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Sudan crisis and implications for West Africa

Islamic-backed terror groups in Sudan will put considerable pressure on West African countries such as Chad, Nigeria, Mali, Niger and others. At the moment, there is no clear leader in Sudan. The implication of this is that some of the terror groups in Sudan like Janjawid, who are Sudanese Arab militia group that operates in Sudan, particularly in Darfur, and eastern Chad, will spread their activities to West Africa.

Deadly clashes between two armed factions, the Sudan Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces broke out in Khartoum and throughout Sudan on April 15. The fighting threatens to engulf the country with devastating effects on the civilians who are unable to flee. It could also spill across borders. An unstable Sudan would be perilous for the Sahel, West Africa, the Horn of Africa, and the Mediterranean and Red Sea basins.  The cost to the Sudanese is horrific: hundreds killed, more than two million displaced, the capital Khartoum, Sudan’s economic and political centre, a shell of a city and elites critical to keeping the country functioning fleeing en masse. A collapsing Sudan will prove a nightmare for the region and West Africa, especially Chad for decades to come.

Instability in West Africa can be fuelled by local terror factors like in Sudan and competition for resources worsened by climate change. The Sudanese crisis will negatively impact West African countries. The conflict and violence have serious implications not only for Sudan, as they have caused the deaths of 1000 people and a humanitarian disaster, but also for its neighbours in West Africa, including South Sudan, the Central African Republic, Chad and Libya, all of which are already dealing with various internal crises.

The clashes are the result of a power struggle between the Sudanese army and the paramilitary group known as the Rapid Support Forces created by former President Omar al-Bashir. The Sudanese army and RSF formed the military government of Sudan after the 2021 coup that ended the transitional government enthroned after the fall of al-Bashir in 2019, thus resulting in Sudan being run by the army, with coup leader General Abdel Al-Burhan as the de facto ruler.

Since al-Bashir’s departure, the head of RSF, General Mohammed Dagalo, popularly known as Hemedti, has worked with Al-Burhan to keep the military in charge despite Al-Burhan’s pledge of a civilian transition. However, it appears that neither Al-Burhan nor Hemedti plan to relinquish control since they disagree on a number of issues, the most current being how RSF paramilitaries should be integrated into the Sudanese army.

Sudan has been accused of being a part of the conflict and instability in the Central African Republic which began in 2013, with claims that some Sudanese internal security agents and former military officers were sheltering and arming forces linked to CAR rebel groups hoping to overthrow the regime in Bangui. This was confirmed in January when Hemedti declared that he had helped prevent a coup against the CAR government from taking place over the border in Sudan.

Reports also linked Hemedti’s RSF to the Russian Wagner group, which controls diamond and gold mines on either side of the CAR-Sudan border. CAR opposition forces accuse the RSF of supporting Russian mercenaries within CAR borders; and different reports since the start of the Sudan conflict claimed that Wagner might have been arming the RSF to aid its fight against the Sudanese army.  While RSF has refuted these claims, it shows the complicated relationship between the Sudanese crisis and the conflicts in CAR and how the outcomes in Khartoum could affect the government of President Faustin-Archange Touadéra in Bangui.

Chad is considered one of the countries most affected by the conflict in Sudan due to the historical, social and cultural relationship between the ethnic groups of both countries. Most Chadian families are not devoid of social and blood ties with Sudan, a destination for thousands of Chadian students. Similarly, Chad hosts about 400,000 Sudanese and according to Daoud Yaya Brahim, Chad’s defence minister, at least 320 Sudanese soldiers fled to Chad days after the Sudanese violence broke out.

The Sudanese conflict may aggravate the existing suspicion between Khartoum and N’Djamena, as both sides during the regimes of Omar al-Babir and Idriss Deby used rebels and armed opposition in the border region for their personal political agendas. The conflict in Sudan has raised questions among Sudanese and Chadians about the ethnicity of some Sudan’s generals, such as Hemedti, and the target of his RSF in relation to the Chadian Arabs.

It is worth mentioning that Chad faces various threats, including rebellions and armed gangs along the northern Libya and Sudanese borders. The United Nations must intervene in the crisis in Sudan to shield West African countries and prevent the various terror groups in West Africa from getting weapons from Sudan.

Source: Punch