What is happening in Sudan? Historical context of the current conflict

Known in ancient times as Nubia, the entire territory of Sudan, what is now Sudan and South Sudan, was gradually incorporated into the Arab world during the Islamic expansion of the 7th century. When the Muslims had not yet reached the southern territory, it suffered raids by slave hunters. Later, and little by little, it was conquered by the northern territory.

Between 1820 and 1822, Egypt conquered what is now Sudan. Later it was the British who took charge of its domains. There they established a government of an essentially military nature.

The double colonization posed new problems for the area. Both nations, Egypt and the United Kingdom, imposed a series of cultural values ​​in a heterogeneous way. In the north there was a greater Islamic influence due to the proximity to Egypt while the south became closer to the British language and traditions, as well as the Christian religion.

The United Kingdom recognized the independence of Sudan in 1956. Since then the history of the territory has been turbulent, with constant civil wars and ethnic and religious conflicts indebted to the country’s history. Thus, the confrontation between the Muslim government and the Christian and animist factions opposed to Sharia law has led to frequent coups d’état.

The separation

The first civil war was fought from 1955 to 1972 over fundamental differences between north and south, as the latter sought recognition of its autonomy from the Khartoum government, ideologically close to the Soviet Union. The conflict lasted almost sixteen years and ended with the Addis Ababa Agreement in 1972, giving certain guarantees to South Sudan about its autonomy as a region.

In 1983 came the second Sudanese civil war, which was a continuation of the previous conflict as a result of non-compliance with the aforementioned agreements and which resulted, as a consequence, in the south not having any autonomy, contrary to what was agreed.

This second war ended in 2005. At that time, South Sudan’s full autonomy was recognized. On July 9, 2011, Sudan divided into two states following a segregation referendum held in January of that year. The Republic of Sudan and the Republic of South Sudan were then created. However, this decision did not bring peace to the territory.

General map of South Sudan, with Sudan to the north.
Rowanwindwhistler/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Unstable governments and alliances

The northern territory, known as Sudan, has experienced a critical situation since the separation. Tension increased in recent years when, after thirty years of a government headed by dictator president Omar al Bashir, he was deposed in 2019 after a coup d’état that sought to establish democracy.

From that moment until 2021, Sudan was governed by a very unstable alliance in which the civilian Government was supervised by General Abdel al-Burhan, head of the Sudanese armed forces. However, in that same year there was a new coup d’état, the so-called Elephant Trunk Revolution, by which Abdel al-Burhan dissolved the Sovereign Council of Sudan, the supreme governing body, and appointed himself head of the Sudanese state for an indefinite period.

But peace and stability did not come. In April 2023, two military leaders ended up facing each other, the head of state, General al-Bufhan, and a former friend of his. General Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, who had been his second, and who led an uprising military faction, the Rapid Support Forces. Their claim to defend the well-being of the Sudanese was a pretext to gain a piece of the pie of political power that they have been stealing from society for years.

On November 7, 2023, after establishing peace talks in Saudi Arabia, the warring parties reached an agreement to protect the safety of civilians. Also to ensure the entry of humanitarian aid for the 25 million Sudanese who need it.

Resistance of Sudanese society

In the midst of this crossfire between the military, despite the agreements, civilian victims increase exponentially. However, not even this unleashed violence and the indiscriminate bombings of residential areas have managed to crush citizen resistance. This resistance organizes as best it can to coordinate solidarity and also to oppose the war.

After seven months of clashes between the Army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), the Sudanese paramilitary forces formerly operated by the Sudanese government, violence has intensified, especially in Darfur (west of the country). The murder in mid-November of some 800 people, mostly from an ethnic minority – the Masalit ethnic group – at the hands of the Rapid Support Forces, set off alarm bells in the international community.

Furthermore, violence has become widespread, reaching beyond Darfur and reaching almost every corner. The Organization warns that war could perpetuate the current humanitarian crisis if the November 7 agreements are not met.

Map of Darfur in Sudan.
Map of Darfur in Sudan.
Av Idaltu., CC BY-SA

What is happening in the Republic of South Sudan

On the other hand, South Sudan is a forgotten emergency. The segregation of the territories brought a series of tribal rivalries that led to a civil war that began on December 14, 2013. Then, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition (a splinter faction of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army Sudan) attempted a coup d’état. That sparked a clash between government forces and Salva Kiir’s opponents, the South Sudan Liberation Movement, who ultimately won victory and was named president of the republic.

However, after much fighting, in September 2018, Kiir ended up signing a peace agreement with the main rebel leader, Riek Machar, which formally ended a five-year civil war and ended with Machar as first vice president: however , that did not end the conflict.

The reason for continuing with the problem was the excess of power of the president throughout the territory. Kiir, finally, did not fulfill the commitment to decentralize the country and destroyed the intended autonomy of the regions, which caused the problem to continue.

In fact, groups of rebels integrated into the Alliance of Opposition Movements did not sign the peace agreements. Therefore, attempts at pacification were a failure. So far, the conflict has caused the displacement of two million people, living in makeshift shelters under trees or in the open, sometimes in isolated places and difficult to access even for humanitarian aid and migration to Ethiopia, Sudan and Uganda, another two million.

An economic and social disaster

The conflict has left the country in a situation of economic and social disaster: the prices of basic elements for food and subsistence have skyrocketed, which has increased the cost of living to extraordinarily high levels, in addition to suffering supply shortages. of all types of foods.

Furthermore, there is an ethnic conflict in a country with more than 200 ethnic groups, and in which the main resource is oil. The distribution of resources has given rise to tensions between different ethnic communities. And these tensions have increased due to the desire of political leaders to control the income from their oil wealth, which has increased the country’s inter-ethnic crisis.

The lack of aid to the youngest state in the world threatens to cause a humanitarian disaster far from the media spotlight.

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