Photo: Gazet International Photo: Gazet International

As imperialist interests back the killing in Gaza, they are by no means innocent in the murderous civil war in Sudan, argues John Clarke

Since April, Sudan has been torn apart by a deadly conflict between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces, two competing wings of a military power structure that has worked to crush popular struggles and the fight for democratic rights. As the months have gone by, the impacts of this horribly destructive civil war have continued to intensify.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports that the ‘Rapid Support Forces and their allied militias killed hundreds of civilians in West Darfur in early November.’ They ‘also looted, assaulted, and unlawfully detained scores of members of the predominantly Massalit community in Ardamata, a suburb of West Darfur’s El Geneina’ in an ‘organized campaign of atrocities against Massalit civilians.’

It is estimated that some 800 were killed in the attacks in Ardamata, but many more perished as survivors fled to neighbouring Chad. As many as 8,000 people were forced to seek refuge in that country ‘joining around 450,000 mostly women and children, displaced by attacks in West Darfur notably between April and June.’

These atrocities followed a pitched battle between the Rapid Support Forces and the Sudanese Armed Forces that involved the shelling of the city. After the Rapid Support Forces gained control, they went on a rampage, targeting ‘Massalit and other non-Arab groups.’

Millions displaced

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that the present conflict has displaced 4.3 million people within Sudan and forced 1.1 million into neighbouring countries. Basic necessities are lacking for a vast number of people and a ‘dire health situation’ has emerged. If the civil war continues into next year, the implications are dreadful.

Poverty and hunger were already massive problems in Sudan before hostilities broke out. According to Al Jazeera, the head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, told a recent meeting that had been called to address the present crisis that ‘nearly 700 million Sudanese children suffer “severe, acute malnutrition” and the country’s beleaguered healthcare system is nearing “a breaking point”.’

Aid organisations report that they are unable to reach some of the worst impacted areas because of the fighting. ‘More than half of Sudan’s population – 25 million people – are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance and the medical situation is critical, with 70 to 80 percent of all hospitals out of service across the country.’

Both military factions have established checkpoints that are impeding the delivery of vital humanitarian assistance and posing major dangers for aid workers in the process. Mohammed Salah, a member of the Emergency Lawyers group, noted that ‘there is no way to put pressure on the warring parties to force them to open safe corridors and paths. We continue to urge them to do so but without success.’

National Public Radio in the US interviewed Duaa Tariq, ‘who was among the grassroots activists who helped organize peaceful mass protests in 2019 largely in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, that brought down the decades-long dictatorship of former leader Omar al-Bashir — only to see a 2021 military coup derail her generation’s dreams of democracy.’

Tariq explained that military violence has made the earlier forms of social action impossible to maintain. Activists have been forced to focus on immediate survival, setting up ‘emergency response rooms’ to deal with humanitarian needs and the impacts of trauma. Sexual violence has been used as a weapon of war and repression and it’s ‘very dangerous to be out there and be a woman at this time in this dangerous war and this conflict zone because you always feel threatened and you’re targeted.’

The horror unfolding in Sudan has, indeed, thwarted the aspirations of the sweeping popular struggle. After the dictatorship of Omar al-Bashir was brought down in 2019, a Transitional Sovereignty Council was established. This was chaired by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan who had ‘served as a regional army commander in Darfur, in western Sudan, when approximately 300,000 people were killed, and millions of others displaced in fighting from 2003 to 2008.’

Al-Burhan’s deputy was Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, who had also participated in the mass murder in Darfur. ‘His paramilitary forces, organized within the faction called Rapid Support Forces (RSF), were Bashir’s shock troops.’ Burhan had tolerated an alliance with Dagalo, but had become increasingly concerned by his growing military power. As the African-left publication, Africa Is a Country puts it, it ‘is these two factions from the Darfur mess that are at war with each other to decide which faction will prevail to crush the Sudanese people.’

Prior to their present falling out, Burhan and Dagalo worked together to ensure that civilian rule was terminated. ‘Burhan staged a coup d’état on 25 October 2021 with the support of Dagalo, ousting the civilian government led by Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok.’ The two militarists were concerned that ‘the tentacles of the commercial empires owned by senior generals’ might be exposed ‘and both generals felt threatened by the objective to dismantle the military’s economic stranglehold.’

Containing resistance

A long effort to contain the power of popular resistance preceded the present conflict between warring military factions. The military leaders themselves combined subterfuge with direct repression to protect their dominant position. The US-led Western powers were also anxious to ensure that the threat of an uprising in Sudan was contained.

After Omar al-Bashir was removed, ‘the United States and the European Union worked hand in glove with the United Nations to orchestrate a transition process that would disempower the people. Western embassies in Khartoum organized numerous meetings to feel out the depth of the popular mobilization.’

As the generals struggled to preserve their dominant power, Washington rendered them significant assistance. ‘The United States worked with Israel to build new relations between the genocidal generals of Sudan by bringing the generals into the so-called Abraham Accords.’ At the same time, ‘Sudan was removed from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism.’

As dire as the present situation is, it should be remembered that popular struggle against the power of the military has unfolded over many years in Sudan and has never been completely extinguished. As I pointed out in an earlier article for Counterfire, ‘Since Sudan became independent in 1956, the military has never been far from the centre of political power, either ruling directly, or hovering menacingly over periods of civilian government.’ Again and again, the military has sought ‘to impose conditions under which popular resistance to social inequality and exploitation could be suppressed’, yet its iron grip has always been challenged and the recent past saw an exceptionally powerful movement take to the streets that shook the system of military rule to the core.

At this point in time, the resistance committees that sprung up during the movement’s upsurge are operating under very difficult conditions, having to focus largely on dealing with the devastating impacts of the military conflict on the communities in which they are rooted. Still, their continued work and the network they maintain show that the capacity to resist hasn’t been shattered.

Since 2019, the durability and resilience of the struggle in Sudan has been remarkable and, even at this tragic and terrible juncture, we may be certain that it will rise up again to challenge the brutal rule of the generals and the misery and violence they have inflicted on the people of Sudan over so many years.

Before you go

If you liked this article, please consider getting involved. Counterfire is a revolutionary socialist organisation working to build the movements of resistance and socialist ideas. Please join us and help make change happen.

John Clarke

John Clarke became an organiser with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty when it was formed in 1990 and has been involved in mobilising poor communities under attack ever since.

Tagged under: