Appeasement In Khartoum-The Tragedy In Sudan Was Predictable

By Rebecca Tinsley

Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan and his former deputy and current rival, Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo. Photo credit Mahmoud Hjaj/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Sudanese citizens know from experience that the powerful rival military groups now bombing and shelling civilians were not likely to hand power to civilians – unless the international community forced them to.

Sudan faces massive destruction and loss of life. Local people fear that worse is to come when foreign nationals have been evacuated. Even if the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) under General Hemedti withdraw from the capital, Khartoum, they may retrench in Darfur where the fight will become ethnic. Black African civilians are arming themselves, knowing the RSF will target them, as they have since 2003.

A window of opportunity to transfer power peacefully from the men with guns (the RSF and the Sudanese Armed Forces under General Burhan) to civilian authority accountable to citizens is being lost. The voices of African citizens have yet again been ignored. For years, diplomats treated the architects of Sudan’s decades of violence (the RSF and SAF) as their partners in the search for peace, rather than holding them accountable for their crimes in Darfur, Blue Nile, South Kordofan and other marginalised areas.

The Background to the Fighting

Since independence in 1956, Sudan has mostly been ruled by military juntas. The army’s brutal network of security and intelligence agencies enriched itself while trying to turn an ethnically and religiously diverse country into an authoritarian Arab-Islamist regime.

Over three decades, the ruling junta of Field Marshall Omar Bashir attempted to eliminate the sizable Black African minorities living in the peripheries, (Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile) on the cheap, by arming local Arab tribes who coveted the land of Black African farmers. The junta incited militias like the Janjaweed to loot, rape and kill hundreds of thousands of Black Africans. An estimated two million died in the south which broke away in 2011 to form South Sudan: the UN stopped counting the dead in Darfur in 2005, at the Khartoum regime’s request, at 300,000.

Islamists controlled Sudan’s civil service, education, judiciary, media, security services and a web of commercial interests, creating a deep state. The international community never acknowledged the Islamists’ ideological motivation. Diplomats blamed climate for the “competition for resources.” They also favoured the colonialist “ancient ethnic hatreds” narrative as if this absolved the international community of concern for Sudan’s persecuted minorities.

The rise of Hemedti

Mohamed Hamhan Dagalo, nicknamed Hemedti, rose to power leading the Janjaweed (now called the RSF), responsible for ethnically cleansing Darfur. An Arab from the Darfur region, Hemedti made a fortune from gold mining. In 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea, Putin needed to circumvent Western sanctions. The answer was illicit gold smuggling – $4 billion or 16 planes worth of it – from Sudan, with help from Hemedti and Yevgeny Prigozhin of the Wagner Group of mercenaries.

Partners in crime

For years, Hemedti and Burhan worked together to ethnically cleanse Darfur. In 2019, a popular uprising on the streets of Khartoum threatened the thirty-year dictatorship of their boss, Bashir. Hemedti and Burhan astutely joined the people, overthrowing Bashir.

Then, the international community made a mistake: they believed Hemedti and Burhan when they said they would support a transition to a civilian-led government. Anyone familiar with the RSF and the SAF suspected both would never willingly hand over either their power or their grip on sundry lucrative commercial interests.

Moreover, Hemedti and Burhan knew from the flawed negotiations that gave birth to South Sudan that all they had to do was tell the international community what it wanted to hear, make vague promises they never fulfilled, and then drag out talks for as long as possible.

After the 2019 popular uprising, a worthy but powerless technocrat civilian, Abdalla Hamdok, was appointed as head of the transitional council, charged with overseeing the move from military to civilian rule. With the economy collapsing after decades of kleptocracy, Hamdok juggled the interests of Sudan’s political parties, while the civil society groups (who had bravely confronted Bashir’s forces on the streets) were marginalised. However, an Empowerment Removal Committee began dismantling the Islamists grip on the deep state, charging some elite figures with corruption. This prompted Hemedti and Burhan together to stage a coup in 2021, taking control of the government.

Since then, Burhan and Hemedti have assured diplomats they would transfer power to a civilian government. They have faced no sanctions for staging the coup, dragging out negotiations, or indeed for ethnic cleansing in Darfur from 2003 onwards.

The Islamists are back

No sooner was Burhan at the helm of the transitional council, with Hemedti as his deputy, than the Islamist elite re-emerged. After the 2021 coup, the Empowerment Removal Committee members were arrested and the Islamists let out of jail.

Women were once more abused and beaten on the streets by security services and men demanding strictly interpreted sharia. The media, opposition figures, Christians and human rights advocates were once more intimidated, tortured and arrested. Hundreds were killed in Darfur as disgruntled militias took Black African land.

The international community registered muted disapproval, but did not threaten to sanction Burhan and Hemedti, or set benchmarks to guarantee a transition to civilian rule. Sudanese civil society repeatedly pointed out that without justice mechanisms there could be no sustainable peace.

When the fighting started on April 15th, Hemedti thought the people would rise up to support him, but he is as disliked as Burhan and the SAF. Both sides show contempt for civilian life. This should cause the international community to be extremely cautious allowing Burhan and Hemedti to decide Sudan’s future.

The UNHCR says 100,000 Darfuris are on the road to refugee camps in Chad. Darfuri civil society fears the international community will settle for a cessation of violence in most of Sudan while Hemedti rules Darfur. Meanwhile, thousands are trying to escape to neighbouring countries. Those who remain are enduring a humanitarian catastrophe. Once the foreign nationals have been evacuated, will the international community care? African leaders, the AU and African regional organisations must come forward to advocate for Sudan’s civilians.

**Rebecca Tinsley’s novel about Darfur, When the Stars Fall to Earth, is available on Amazon.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button