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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Saturday, April 20, 2024

As armed conflicts erupt in Sudan, Fletcher expert and students offer insight

Armed conflict broke out in Khartoum, Sudan on April 15 as the national army and the paramilitary group ​​Rapid Support Forces battle each other for control of the country. Fletcher School students Eliab Taye and Chepkorir Sambu offer perspective on the humanitarian crisis in Sudan along with Professor Chidi Odinkalu. 

“[The situation] is quite fragile … in Khartoum,” Chidi Odinkalu, a legal professional and professor of practice in international human tights law at The Fletcher School, said. “Movement is quite difficult. Most public services are not functioning, from the reports that we get. And indeed, if you're speaking with anyone in Khartoum … you quite literally hear the sound of gunfire. You hear the sound of fighting; that’s how bad things are.” 

Eliab Taye, a Fletcher student specializing in international security, with areas of interests in the Horn of Africa and the Middle East, has Sudanese friends unable to escape the crisis. 

“Some of my friends are stuck,” Taye said. “I still talk to them, and they were still asking me for help.” 

As of April 20, The World Health Organization has reported over 300 civilian deaths and more than 3,000 injuries. 

Chepkorir Sambu, a Fletcher student studying negotiation and conflict resolution as well as international legal studies, sees the collapse of Sudan’s capital as part of a broader geopolitical crisis in the Horn of Africa.   

“The countries that neighbor Sudan are already in bad condition and Sudan had a stake in those conflicts,” she said. “So it makes the whole conflict situation in Africa much, much worse.”

According to Taye, the outbreak of violence has ties to Sudan’s complicated past. 

“So, talking about the conflict is actually to understand the conflict dynamics,” Taye said. “We have to understand the history of Sudan, its history of colonialism, its geopolitical location, the ethnic dynamics within Sudan and the regional political situation that is unfolding at the moment.” 

Taye went on to talk about the country’s political organization, explaining how militia forces are involved.  

“Within the Sudanese political dynamics … there’s an autocratic system,” Taye explained. “The president wanted to ‘coup-proof’ the system because there are competing security apparatuses in Sudan. So, you have an armored wing of the national security intelligence services, which has its own armor elements. And then you have the standing Sudanese armed forces, and then you have other paramilitary militias, which are all used in … conducting counterinsurgency movements in various parts of the country.” 

The Rapid Support Forces led by Mohamed “Hemedti” Hamdan Dagalo, was formed in 2013 as an aiding paramilitary force by Sudan’s longtime ruler, Omar Al-Bashir, to combat growing civil rebellion in the Darfur region.  Ever since then the RSF has continued to grow in power and wealth, eventually toppling Bashir from power in 2019, in collaboration with Sudanese army leader, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan. 

“So, the conflict [began] on Saturday, [April 15],” Taye said. “It’s not clear who started the conflict, who shot the first bullet, but it ended up being a full-blown conflict, an urban conflict in which fighter jets, artillery and heavy weapons were used. And the people, the civilians are under a lot of distress.” 

Humanitarian aid channels are closing as the battle continues, leaving civilians stranded. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres called for a ceasefire marking Eid al-Fitr and to allow citizens to seek essential supplies. Odinkalu spoke to the difficulty of the conflict due to the fact that the RSF is an unruled and irregular military force. 

“They are using irregular fighting mechanisms, fighting tactics or strategies for urban warfare,” Odinkalu said. “This is urban warfare with conventional ordinance and, that, the consequences no one can really say.” 

In 2004, Odinkalu co-founded the Sudan Consortium, formerly the Darfur Consortium, a group of over 50 NGOs, legal think tanks and academics that sought to address the extensive violence and genocide occuring in Darfur, a region in western Sudan. Drawing from his experience in African politics, he warned that damage could be extensive if the war is not contained quickly. 

Citing ongoing cross-border crises in the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, a regional bloc in the Horn of Africa chaired by Sudan, Odinkalu said that the war could spill over into many countries. 

“All of these regional dimensions mean that the crisis in Sudan is not just an internal crisis for Sudan and the people of Sudan,” Odinkalu explained. “It’'s also a legit regional crisis affecting that entire region and affecting essentially the Nile Basin countries.” 

Odinkalu condemned the conflict, stressing the need for responsible governance. 

“We cannot continue to have situations where mad people are running countries,” he said. “We treat them as if they are sensible human beings, and accord them the niceties that attend to sovereignty and to holding power. It’s a special form of insanity, what is happening in Sudan, quite clearly.”