The forgotten war

Arhama Siddiqa June 22, 2024


When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers. —African Proverb


Sudan, where over 14,000 lives have been lost and more than 8 million people displaced, currently faces the world’s largest displacement crisis. Yet, this harrowing situation barely graces headlines. The civil war, which has twisted into a proxy war and now threatens to become genocidal, is starkly underreported. This oversight by global leaders has led to a severe funding gap for humanitarian aid, edging Sudan towards a critical tipping point.

The global indifference is further compounded by a perception of African conflicts as perpetual and unsolvable. Such a view, tinged with underlying racism in Western foreign policy, has resulted in a gross marginalisation of Sudan’s plight. African conflicts are often dismissed as inevitable cycles of violence, unworthy of the same level of intervention or concern afforded to crises in other parts of the world.

The conflict in Sudan is not a mere struggle for power but a humanitarian disaster unfolding in real time. The battle for El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur, stands as a grim symbol of escalating violence. Once a safe haven, it is now the epicenter of brutality. Should El Fasher fall, experts warn of catastrophic human rights abuses, including ethnic cleansing and potential genocide for millions.

The roots of this conflict lie in a power struggle between two military factions that once united to overthrow Sudan’s former president. General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), led by General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, initially collaborated but soon fell into discord. The tension between these groups erupted into full-scale war last year, exacerbating the world’s largest displacement crisis. Ethnic-related violence has surged in Darfur since the conflict began. The RSF, evolved from the notorious Janjaweed militia responsible for the early 2000s genocide, has intensified its campaign of terror. Although the current conflict between the RSF and SAF is primarily a power struggle, it has reignited deep-seated ethnic tensions in Darfur.

Decades of marginalisation by the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum have left Darfur’s ethnically diverse population feeling disenfranchised. Economic neglect, competition for scarce resources and political exclusion fueled the rise of rebel groups in 2003, demanding greater autonomy and a fair share of Sudan’s oil wealth. The government’s brutal response involved arming nomadic Arab militias, who waged a campaign of violence against Darfur’s ethnic African communities. Mass killings, rapes and village destructions displaced millions, creating a humanitarian disaster. The RSF’s systematic dehumanisation tactics against non-Arabs in Darfur are chilling. Their rhetoric is reminiscent of the early 2000s, with explicit incitement to violence. Unlike previous conflicts, the perpetrators now document their atrocities using cell phones, broadcasting their actions and incitement globally. This real-time documentation underscores the urgency and severity of the situation.

Applying conflict transformation theories can provide deeper insights into Sudan’s protracted strife. Johan Galtung’s structural violence theory highlights how the north-south divide, characterised by economic marginalisation and cultural suppression, bred rebellion. John Burton’s perspective adds that this grievance-based conflict was exploited by northern elites for their gain, controlling resources and political power. The southern resistance, therefore, was not just about cultural identity but also about equitable resource distribution and political inclusion. This interplay of structural inequalities and elite manipulation entrenched the conflict further.

Historically, international interventions have yielded mixed results. The failures in Rwanda are still fresh. At the same time, the costly interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya have laid bare the consequences of military involvement.

However, the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Sudan is not just another conflict, it is an urgent crisis that demands immediate and decisive action. Without swift international intervention, millions of lives hang in the balance.


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