Sudan, located in northeastern Africa, is a country with a diverse geography and a rich political history. The mighty Nile River, one of the world’s longest rivers, passes through Sudan, shaping its landscape and providing a lifeline for its people.
The Nile is formed by the confluence of the White Nile and the Blue Nile rivers at the capital city of Khartoum. The White Nile originates from Lake Victoria in East Africa, while the Blue Nile originates from Lake Tana in Ethiopia. These two tributaries meet in Sudan, merging their waters and continuing northward.
As the Nile flows through Sudan, it brings life to an otherwise arid land. To the north lies the vast Sahara Desert, with its vast stretches of sandy dunes. The desert dominates much of Sudan’s landscape, creating a harsh and challenging environment. However, towards the south, the terrain changes dramatically. Sudan is home to expansive tropical forests, particularly in the southern regions. These forests are a contrast to the arid north, boasting lush vegetation, diverse wildlife, and abundant natural resources.
Moving towards the east, one encounters the Eastern Highlands, which include the Red Sea hills. These hills add variety to Sudan’s geography, with their rugged terrain and elevated landscapes. They provide a scenic backdrop to the coastal areas along the Red Sea. On the other hand, towards the west lies the Western Plateau, known as the Darfur Plateau. This region features flat and rocky terrain, with vast plains and occasional mountains. It is an area of great cultural and ethnic diversity, with various communities calling it home.
Sudan’s political history is deeply intertwined with its geography and the flow of the Nile River. Throughout ancient times, Sudan was ruled by mighty empires, such as the Kingdom of Kush (1070–350 BCE; Johnson, 2003). These empires left behind an enduring legacy, including impressive pyramids that stand as testaments to their greatness. Sudan was also a significant center of Christianity during the early centuries of the Common Era, and remnants of this era can be found in archaeological sites like Meroe (300 BCE–350 CE; O’Fahey, 2004).
With the arrival of Islam, Sudan came under Muslim rule, with dynasties like the Funj Sultanate (1504–1821) and the Ottomans exerting their influence. The era of foreign dominance continued into the late 19th century when Sudan fell under Anglo-Egyptian control (1898–1956). This period lasted until Sudan gained its independence in 1956.
However, Sudan’s journey towards independence was not without challenges. In 1955, the first Sudanese civil war erupted, fueled by demands for a separate nation in the south. This conflict, which lasted for several years, highlighted the deep-seated political and ethnic divisions within the country.
After Sudan gained its independence in 1956, the country embarked on a tumultuous journey of political transitions and power struggles. The initial years were marked by the leadership of Ismail al-Azhari as the Prime Minister. However, in 1958, General Ibrahim Abboud staged a coup, overthrowing the government and assuming control. This military intervention ushered in a period of military rule and political uncertainty (O’Fahey, 2010).
The year 1964 witnessed a significant turning point in Sudanese history with the October Revolution. The widespread popular uprising led to the removal of General Abboud from power and the establishment of a transitional government. This transitional period saw the holding of elections, which ultimately resulted in the Sudanese Socialist Union, led by Ismail al-Azhari, coming to power in 1965 (O’Fahey, 2010).
Under the Sudanese Socialist Union, Sudan experienced a shift towards socialist policies and a push for nationalization of key industries. Ismail al-Azhari resumed his position as Prime Minister, hoping to steer the country towards progress and social justice. However, this period of relative stability was short-lived (O’Fahey, 2010).
In 1969, Colonel Jaafar Nimeiry staged a successful coup d’état, ousting the Sudanese Socialist Union government and assuming the presidency. Nimeiry’s coup marked the beginning of his long and controversial rule over Sudan. During his presidency, Nimeiry implemented various policies, including a mix of socialist and Islamist ideologies, and pursued an ambitious program of Arabization and Islamization (O’Fahey, 2010).
One of the significant events during Nimeiry’s presidency was the signing of the Addis Ababa Agreement in 1972. This agreement aimed to address the grievances and demands of the southern region of Sudan, which had been embroiled in the First Sudanese Civil War since 1955. The agreement granted autonomy to the southern region, ending the protracted conflict. However, the peace achieved through the agreement was short-lived, as tensions and unresolved issues resurfaced, eventually leading to the outbreak of the Second Sudanese Civil War in 1983 (O’Fahey, 2010).
In 1983, under the leadership of President Jaafar Nimeiry, Sudan took a significant and controversial turn when Islamic Sharia law was introduced nationwide. This move sparked widespread discontent, particularly in the southern region of the country, which had long-standing grievances and aspirations for greater autonomy. The imposition of Sharia law further exacerbated the existing tensions, ultimately leading to the outbreak of the Second Sudanese Civil War (Johnson, 2003).
The Second Sudanese Civil War, which lasted for more than two decades, was a devastating conflict that pitted the government forces against various rebel groups, predominantly from the south. The war was characterized by ethnic, religious, and regional divisions, with the southern rebels fighting for self-determination, equal rights, and an end to what they perceived as the domination of the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum.
However, the political landscape of Sudan underwent a significant shift in 1985 when a popular uprising forced President Nimeiry to resign, leading to the establishment of a transitional civilian government (O’Fahey, 2004). This period marked a glimmer of hope for Sudan, as the country embarked on a path towards democratization and civilian rule. It was during this time that the National Islamic Front (NIF) party was established.
Unfortunately, the democratic transition was short-lived. In 1989, Lieutenant General Omar al-Bashir seized power in a military coup, overthrowing the transitional government and establishing the NIF government, which would later be renamed the National Congress Party (NCP) (O’Fahey, 2004). Al-Bashir’s coup marked a turning point in Sudan’s political history, as he embarked on a path of authoritarian rule and the consolidation of power.
In 1993, al-Bashir declared himself President, solidifying his authority and control over the country. His presidency was marked by a combination of repressive measures, human rights abuses, and the implementation of policies aligned with his Islamist ideology. Sudan’s international relations also suffered during this period, as in 1998, the United States launched missile strikes on Sudan, accusing the country of hosting and supporting terrorist organizations (Johnson, 2003).
The period following the missile strikes saw Sudan facing increased isolation on the global stage, with international sanctions and condemnation. Al-Bashir’s regime faced significant challenges both domestically and internationally, as his government’s policies and actions sparked widespread criticism and condemnation.
In 2003, a new chapter of conflict unfolded in Sudan with the outbreak of the Darfur conflict (Johnson, 2003). Rebel groups in Darfur rose up against the central government, seeking greater political representation, economic opportunities, and an end to what they perceived as marginalization and discrimination. The response from President Omar al-Bashir was to mobilize Arab herders, known as the Janjaweed, to fight against the black African insurgents in Darfur (O’Fahey, 2004).
Under the leadership of Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagalo, the Janjaweed became a notorious force in the conflict, perpetrating numerous human rights abuses, including widespread violence, displacement, and atrocities against civilian populations (Johnson, 2003). The situation in Darfur escalated into a humanitarian crisis, with countless lives lost and millions of people displaced from their homes.
Furthermore, Bashir later formalized the Janjaweed into border intelligence units, further consolidating their power and influence within the region (O’Fahey, 2004). The international community condemned these actions, and the conflict in Darfur garnered significant attention and concern on a global scale.
In 2005, a ray of hope emerged as the Sudanese government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) (Johnson, 2003). This landmark agreement brought an end to the Second Sudanese Civil War and granted autonomy to South Sudan. The CPA aimed to address the long-standing grievances and aspirations of the people of South Sudan, who had endured decades of conflict and marginalization.
The signing of the CPA marked a significant milestone in Sudan’s history, raising hopes for a more stable and inclusive future. It was a testament to the power of diplomacy and negotiations in resolving complex conflicts. However, the road to lasting peace and stability would prove to be challenging, as both Sudan and South Sudan faced numerous hurdles and unresolved issues that would shape their respective trajectories in the years to come.
In 2007, a significant development unfolded within the context of the Darfur conflict in Sudan. The border intelligence units (BIU), which were previously mobilized by the Sudanese government to combat the black African insurgents in Darfur, rebelled against the government (Johnson, 2003). The BIU troops felt exploited and aggrieved over unpaid wages and benefits. Frustrated by the government’s failure to fulfill their promises, they sought to cut a deal with the very rebels they had been fighting until then.
The mutiny led to an unexpected alliance between the BIU troops and the black African rebels from Darfur (O’Fahey, 2004). Some of the rebels were recruited by the BIU to fight against the government, joining forces in their shared opposition. This alliance highlighted the complex and shifting dynamics of the conflict, as former adversaries found common ground in their dissatisfaction with the government’s handling of the situation.
The mutiny ultimately came to an end when the government agreed to meet the soldiers’ demands and pay them the wages they were owed (Johnson, 2003). As a result, Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagalo, the leader of the BIU troops, was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General. Other soldiers involved in the rebellion were also elevated to officer positions, recognizing their contributions and attempting to appease their grievances.
Following the mutiny, the BIU troops found themselves under the command of the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS). At the time, the NISS was engaged in a proxy war with Chad, leading to a challenging and volatile situation on the Sudan-Chad border (O’Fahey, 2004). However, despite the complexities and conflicts in the region, the BIU troops proved to be remarkably successful in their military campaigns. They fought their way as far as the Chadian capital of N’Djamena, displaying their prowess and strategic capabilities on the battlefield.
The mutiny of the BIU troops highlighted the underlying discontent and challenges within the Sudanese government’s forces. The resolution of the mutiny showcased the government’s willingness to address the soldiers’ grievances, ultimately leading to improved conditions and the soldiers’ integration into key positions of authority.
In 2011, South Sudan became an independent nation through a referendum, leading to the loss of approximately 75% of Sudan’s oil reserves, which were predominantly located in the newly formed South Sudan. This separation had a profound impact on Sudan’s economy, as it resulted in a substantial loss of revenue and a need to adapt to the new reality.(Enough Project, 2013)
Within Sudan itself, political dynamics were also evolving. Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagalo found himself at odds with his former master, Hilal. Hilal, known for his history of mutiny, was deemed less reliable by President Omar al-Bashir’s generals, who saw Dagalo as a more dependable ally. This falling out marked a significant shift in the power dynamics within Sudan, as Dagalo gained favor and trust within the government’s ranks.(The Guardian, 2020)
In 2012, the discovery of gold in North Darfur added a new dimension to Sudan’s economic landscape. Hilal’s military men seized control of the mines, which held significant economic value for the Sudanese government, especially in light of the loss of revenue from South Sudan’s oil.(Reuters, 2013)
In 2013, a new paramilitary force, known as the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), was established under Dagalo’s leadership and placed directly under the control of President Bashir. This force became a key instrument in Bashir’s strategy to maintain control and suppress any dissent or challenges to his authority.(The Guardian, 2020)
By 2017, gold sales accounted for a significant portion, approximately 40%, of Sudan’s exports. Dagalo, recognizing the economic potential, sought to control these valuable resources. When Hilal once again challenged President Bashir, denying the government access to the Jebel Amir mines, Dagalo’s RSF launched a counter-attack. The RSF successfully took over the gold mines, leading to Dagalo’s rapid accumulation of wealth and cementing his position as one of the richest individuals in Sudan virtually overnight.(The Guardian, 2020)
The loss of South Sudan and its oil reserves had profound implications for Sudan’s economy, necessitating a search for alternative sources of revenue. The discovery of gold presented a new opportunity, but it also triggered conflicts and power struggles, with Dagalo emerging as a key player.(Enough Project, 2013)
In 2019, Sudan witnessed a significant turning point in its political history as mass protests erupted across the country, demanding the ousting of President Omar al-Bashir, who had held power for three decades (Freedom House, 2022). These widespread protests were fueled by grievances over economic hardships, lack of political freedoms, and allegations of corruption within the government (The Spread of Non-Violent Action, 2022). The demonstrators, consisting of a diverse range of Sudanese society, displayed remarkable resilience and determination as they took to the streets, demanding change and a transition towards a more inclusive and democratic system.
In response to the mounting pressure from the protests and international scrutiny, a transitional military government was established. This interim government initially consisted of military officials, aiming to oversee a three-year transition period with the promise of holding elections within a year (The Spread of Non-Violent Action, 2022). The transitional council, known as the Sovereignty Council, was jointly led by Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, an army general, as the Chair, and Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagalo as the Vice Chair (The Spread of Non-Violent Action, 2022). The formation of this council was a result of negotiations between the military and civilian representatives, reflecting a delicate balance of power during the transition (The Spread of Non-Violent Action, 2022).
However, the hopes for a smooth and inclusive transition were met with further turbulence in 2021. Al-Burhan and Dagalo, who held positions of power within the transitional council, staged a coup and seized control, effectively sidelining the civilian representatives and consolidating their own authority (Sudan coup: Thousands protest on uprising anniversary, 2023). This unexpected turn of events marked a setback in Sudan’s transition process, raising concerns about the military’s grip on power and the fate of the country’s democratic aspirations (Sudan coup: Thousands protest on uprising anniversary, 2023).
Tensions between the Sudanese Army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) have escalated in recent times, leading to a full-fledged civil war characterized by violent skirmishes and clashes. The conflict initially emerged due to differences over recruitment practices within the RSF, highlighting deep-seated divisions and power struggles within Sudan’s military apparatus (Freedom House, 2022).
What began as a dispute over recruitment quickly spiraled into a more significant confrontation between the regular army and the RSF. These clashes have resulted in a precarious security situation, prompting countries like India to evacuate their citizens from Sudan for their safety (The Spread of Non-Violent Action, 2022). The escalation of violence and the emergence of a civil war-like scenario underscore the deep-rooted animosity and competition for power between the regular army and the RSF.
The consequences of this conflict have been devastating for Sudan and its people. The ongoing clashes have led to widespread insecurity, loss of life, and displacement of civilians (The Spread of Non-Violent Action, 2022). It has further complicated the already challenging task of achieving stability and peace in the country. The international community has expressed concerns over the deteriorating situation and called for an end to the hostilities, urging all parties involved to engage in dialogue and find a peaceful resolution to the conflict.
Meanwhile, an undercurrent of conflict between the regular army and the RSF had been persistent. Tensions between these two armed forces have escalated in recent times, leading to a full-fledged civil war characterized by violent skirmishes and clashes (NPR, 2023). The recent conflict that emerged due to differences over recruitment practices within the RSF, highlights deep-seated divisions and power struggles within Sudan’s military apparatus (ORF, 2023).
What began as a dispute over recruitment quickly spiraled into a more significant confrontation between the regular army and the RSF (NPR, 2023). These clashes have resulted in a precarious security situation, prompting countries like India to evacuate their citizens from Sudan for their safety (ORF, 2023). The escalation of violence and the emergence of a civil war-like scenario underscore the deep-rooted animosity and competition for power between the regular army and the RSF (NPR, 2023).
The consequences of this conflict have been devastating for Sudan and its people. The ongoing clashes have led to widespread insecurity, loss of life, and displacement of civilians (NPR, 2023). It has further complicated the already challenging task of achieving stability and peace in the country (NPR, 2023). The international community has expressed concerns over the deteriorating situation and called for an end to the hostilities, urging all parties involved to engage in dialogue and find a peaceful resolution to the conflict (NPR, 2023).
Role of foreign powers:
Foreign powers have played a significant role in Sudan’s complex political landscape. For example, Dubai has emerged as a crucial market for the gold extracted from Sudan’s mines (Mekonnen, 2022). The gold is sold in Dubai, providing the Sudanese government with a substantial portion of its revenue. Notably, Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagalo, who exercises considerable control over the mines, has profited immensely from this lucrative market (Mekonnen, 2022). His influence and wealth have grown significantly as a result.
Another foreign involvement can be observed through the Khartoum process, in which the European Union (EU) funds the Sudanese government to manage migration to Libya (Mekonnen, 2022). Allegedly, this arrangement has granted the RSF a license to police the border, enabling them to extract bribes, levies, and even engage in human trafficking (Mekonnen, 2022). This linkage between migration control and the activities of the RSF has raised concerns about human rights abuses and illicit activities.
In 2015, the Sudanese government agreed to send a battalion of regular forces, led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, to serve in the Saudi-Emirati coalition forces in Yemen (Mekonnen, 2022). In parallel, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) struck a separate deal with Dagalo, deploying a larger force of RSF fighters to combat in southern Yemen (Mekonnen, 2022). Additionally, Dagalo’s forces were enlisted to help guard the Saudi Arabian border with Yemen (BBC News, 2022). These military deployments and alliances have further heightened the complexity of Sudan’s internal dynamics and regional involvement.
As a consequence, the strength of the RSF has grown exponentially, and it has become Sudan’s de facto infantry (Mekonnen, 2022). With their extensive training, experience, and heavy weaponry, the RSF has become the dominant force capable of controlling the streets not only in Khartoum but also in other major cities (BBC News, 2022). This has led to a scenario where two highly trained and heavily armed forces, led by General al-Burhan and Dagalo, are now involved in a power struggle.
It is crucial to acknowledge the multifaceted influence of foreign powers in Sudan. Their economic engagements, involvement in migration control, and military alliances have shaped the dynamics of power and conflict within the country. The overlapping interests and interventions from Dubai, the EU, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE have contributed to the complex web of relationships and power dynamics that now define Sudan’s political landscape. These foreign interventions have had profound implications for the country’s stability, governance, and the balance of power between various factions and armed forces.
India’s potential role:
India has a long history of providing military training to African countries, including Sudan. Since the early 1970s, India has trained over 10,000 Sudanese military officers and soldiers. This training has helped to build strong relationships between Indian and Sudanese military personnel. India could leverage these relationships to play a significant role in diffusing tensions in Sudan.
The ongoing crisis in Sudan presents a multifaceted challenge, involving various stakeholders and necessitating a comprehensive approach. India’s engagement in Sudan extends beyond economic interests and encompasses a genuine commitment to promoting peace, stability, and humanitarian assistance in the region. With its established relationships with the Sudanese military, India is well-positioned to play a mediating role, leveraging its influence to foster dialogue and facilitate a peaceful resolution to the crisis. Moreover, India can extend extensive humanitarian assistance to the war-torn country, providing vital support such as food, water, healthcare, shelter, and aid in rebuilding infrastructure. By drawing upon its experience in numerous humanitarian projects around the world, India can establish goodwill and trust, exemplified by its commendable efforts in countries like Afghanistan. Through proactive engagement and collaboration with international partners, India can contribute significantly to addressing the challenges faced by Sudan, promoting stability, and supporting the country’s path towards recovery and development.
- BBC News. (2022, May 25). Sudan crisis: The ruthless mercenaries who run the country for gold. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-48987901
- Enough Project. (2013, March 14). Darfur’s Gold Rush. Retrieved from https://enoughproject.org/files/Darfur_Gold_Rush.pdf
- Freedom House. (2022, February 14). Sudan. Retrieved March 8, 2023, from https://freedomhouse.org/country/sudan/freedom-world/2022
- Johnson, D. H. (2003). The southern Sudan: An epic of survival. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
- Mekonnen, A. (2022, March 8). Sudan’s foreign policy in the post-Bashir era: The role of foreign powers. African Security Review, 31(1), 1-16.
- NPR. (2023, May 9). Why is Sudan so prone to civil war? Retrieved May 26, 2023, from https://www.npr.org/2023/05/09/1175155164/why-is-sudan-so-prone-to-civil-war
- O’Fahey, R. S. (2004). A history of the Sudan: From the coming of Islam to the present day. London, UK: Longman.
- ORF. (2023, May 10). Understanding Sudan’s civil war. Retrieved May 26, 2023, from https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/understanding-sudans-civil-war
- Reuters. (2013, October 8). Special Report: The Darfur conflict’s deadly gold rush. Retrieved from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-sudan-darfur-gold-idUSBRE99707G20131008
- Sudan coup: Thousands protest on uprising anniversary. (2023, March 8). Retrieved March 8, 2023, from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-59719765
- The Guardian. (2020, February 10). Militia strike gold to cast a shadow over Sudan’s hopes of prosperity. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/feb/10/militia-strike-gold-to-cast-a-shadow-over-sudans-hopes-of-prosperity
- The Spread of Non-Violent Action: The Case of the 2018–2019 Revolution in Sudan. (2022, March 8). Retrieved March 8, 2023, from https://freedomhouse.org/report/special-report/2022/civic-mobilizations-authoritarian-contexts/Sudan-summary