Sudan is a vast African country with a complex mixture of peoples and cultures. It has a high rainfall savannah in the south and desert scrublands in the north.
The southern region has huge oil fields and the north wants to control them. This means that the conflict is not just about ethnic differences.
Since its independence in 1956, Sudan has seen a rise of armed ethnic conflict and regional protest movements that have resulted in a great deal of human suffering. The country is also home to the largest number of refugees and displaced people in Africa.
The military has dominated the Sudanese government since 1989. Its members are largely fundamentalist Muslims, seeking political hegemony over a unified Sudan.
In southern Sudan, the government-backed forces battle the SPLA, a predominantly Nuer rebel group. The two sides seek control of resources, including oil fields, the Nile River waters, fishing sites and grazing land.
As a result, the military is under increasing pressure. The president has been indicted for war crimes, a contentious election is imminent and huge supplies of weapons continue to flow into the country.
The escalating conflict in Sudan has been fuelled by a fight for control between groups cleaving along ethnic lines. The two main camps, led by President Omar al-Bashir and former rebel leader Riek Machar, are each riven by bitter rivalries.
In early 2019, Bashir was forced out in a military coup and a Transitional Military Council (TMC) took power to oversee a transition to civilian rule. A power-sharing deal with civilian, political and armed opposition groups was signed in August, and elections will take place in late 2023.
But the TMC’s dominance has been challenged by a wide coalition of civil society groups, including student bodies and trade unions. The Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC), an umbrella group that represents many of the protesters, has struggled to negotiate with the TMC.
As the FFC and other civilian groups seek to forge a common vision of the future, they’re facing a tough choice: do they compromise with a military regime that has long been a powerful force in politics? Or do they challenge a fundamental governance model that serves only a privileged few?
The Security Forces
South Sudan’s armed forces are battling militias and mercenaries in the oil-rich Unity state, according to military spokesman Philip Aguer. He says the SPLA has repulsed attacks by foreign troops and captured three trucks.
The clashes are a reminder of the lingering bloodshed in Sudan, whose leaders have fought and repelled coups since the country gained independence in 1956. Despite popular protests against the ruling junta, it is unlikely that the pro-democracy movement will be able to derail the military’s control of the nation and halt the violence.
For now, the two sides are battling for control of territory and resources in a war that is fundamentally a fight for patronage. Local analysts say the conflict is fueled by a mix of ethnic rivalries, political infighting and power struggles. The violence has left millions of people in desperate need of food, shelter and medical care. It has also left a swathe of territory uninhabitable and driven the oil industry to the edge of collapse.
The International Community
In the age of globalization, the international community seems to be at the forefront whenever global peace and security are under threat. Whether it is the protection of human rights, the fight against global terrorism, crisis management of and response to environmental disasters or international negotiations with regimes such as Iran and North Korea, the ‘international community’ is increasingly heavily travelled in political and public discourse.
The ‘international community’ is, of course, a complex and fluid actor. It is a mixture of states, international organizations, non-state actors and other entities with the same common interests, such as business or religious communities.
As a result, the international community has often been at odds with the interests of those who are currently in control in Sudan. For example, the US is reportedly attempting to isolate Khartoum by offering support to South Sudan.
But there is a way forward for the international community to be able to play a more constructive role in helping resolve the conflicts in Sudan, without further jeopardising its own interests. It must find ways to engage with those Sudanese initiatives that are genuinely rooted in the people’s own vision for a more just and peaceful country.