Sudan war: ‘Foreign interests have taken precedence over will for peace,’ Albert Pahimi Padaké

By Albert Pahimi Padaké

Posted on May 31, 2023 10:22

 More than one million Sudanese have been displaced or have left the country (Khartoum, 14 May 2023). © AFP
More than one million Sudanese have been displaced or have left the country (Khartoum, 14 May 2023). © AFP

If the war between Generals Burhan and Hemeti once again highlights the weakness of international conflict prevention mechanisms, it also underlines – above all – a lack of political resolve, says former prime minister of Chad, Albert Pahimi Padaké.

The warning signs of a devastating war in Sudan were evident in the deafening and shameful silence of all nations, without any effective long-term conflict prevention measures taken. First and foremost, I blame the Sudanese leaders – or those who are standing in for them – who are supposed to protect their citizens.

The Sudanese people rose up against the dictator Omar al-Bashir and succeeded in overthrowing him on 11 April 2019. Under popular pressure, the army, which waited until the last minute to abandon the president, joined the protest, placing a bargain-basement team at the head of the country: a transitional military council headed by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, head of the army, and a civilian prime minister, Abdallah Hamdok.

The latter was ousted on 25 October 2021 in a coup d’état orchestrated by Burhan and his number two, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemeti; the two allied generals appointed themselves president of the Traditional Sovereignty Council (Burhan) and vice-president of an unpopular military transition (Hemeti).

It was to calm Sudanese opinion, which was hostile to military power, that Hamdok returned as a civilian guarantor to head the government less than a month later, on 21 November. This second interlude lasted only a short time, and the prime minister was forced by the powers in the street to resign on 2 January 2022.

The Sudanese revolution thus seems to have been stolen by two military men who were once allies of circumstance, with absurd violence as the only basis for their illegitimate power. With no regard for the people’s desire for peace, these two entrepreneurs in brutality have ostentatiously stacked their weapons in the state’s highest office, waiting to do battle.

On 15 April, war finally broke out, much to the dismay of the Sudanese people, who were trapped in between these two men’s murderous madness. In this seventh week of the conflict, the capital, Khartoum, is being hit by bombs and heavy gunfire despite a truce, the number of civilians killed exceeds a thousand, the number of wounded has surpassed 4,000, and more than a million people have fled the country or tried to do so, according to NGOs.

An inaudible international community

Internationally, the voices calling for a cessation of hostilities have sounded like sirens’ songs. For, as François Soudan [editor-in-chief of Jeune Afrique] wrote in the magazine Le Grand Continent, “a ceasefire will seem like a great victory, sufficient perhaps to make us forget the blindness of the negotiations that have gone on for more than three years without ever questioning the legitimacy of the armed actors”. Was it necessary to wait for so many deaths before reacting?

Next up, I accuse the UN, the African Union (AU),  and the Arab League. Either silent or inaudible, the global powers were there while the wheels of the Sudanese drama were being set in motion, clearly and legibly. Geostrategic issues and foreign interests have formed a thick smoke screen, obscuring the vision of Sudanese problems.

In the past, was it not the lack of attention to governing the country’s diversities that led to the secession of South Sudan after a long war that claimed millions of lives? In the 1980s, the leader of the southern rebellion, John Garang, warned in strong terms about “a Sudan ruled by a small elite from the Nile Valley and the North, which appropriates all the privileges at the expense of other regions”.

The consequences of this revolt, both in terms of the number of lives lost for the insurgents, and in terms of material destruction, leading to a finally dismembered state – have been observed by many.

Bashir, indicted and charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC) after the ethnic massacres committed in Darfur in the 2000s, has still not been held responsible for his actions so that we can cry out “Never again!”

This is the fault of a UN that is incapable of defending peoples from their leaders, undermined as it is by the calculations of its member states. All of this has contributed to preparing the ground for the Sudanese drama in a country that “struggles to redefine what inclusive citizenship means, as so many claims are made, often exceeded by the frustrations they express”, as Soudan has written.

Mediators with little credibility

Today, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Saudi Arabia, along with the US, seem to be the bridgehead of the call for de-escalation and a ceasefire. Is this credible? The Sudanese people remember the massive financial support ($3bn) offered by Saudi Arabia and the UAE to the Sudanese junta, even as the latter was battling the civilian population, who were being massacred in the streets.

Rivalry with Qatar and Turkey took precedence over the interests of the Sudanese people, according to informed observers. Although diplomats cite Saudi Arabia as closer to General Burhan, the presence of Hemeti’s militia in Yemen in exchange for UAE petrodollars is likely to generate reciprocal acts of generosity, to say the least.

The presence of Egyptian soldiers, taken prisoner in the early hours of the fighting, and the suspicion of bombing by the Egyptian air force alongside General Burhan, seen as an ally in the Nile war that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi is waging in a muted way against Ethiopia, are far from offering guarantees of neutrality that would facilitate mediation by Cairo.

Isn’t another focus of the East-West war that is now taking place across Ukraine opening up in Sudan?

At the same time, Marshal Khalifa Haftar is said to have a penchant for Hemeti – a sort of favour returned from the Libyan war.

How can we believe in the neutrality of the US, a known supporter of Saudi Arabia and Egypt in the geostrategy of the Arab world, in a Sudanese context where the Russian presence – via the mercenaries of the Wagner group – is suspected on both sides, but more often attributed to the Hemeti camp? This last question applies to the West as a whole. Isn’t another focus of the East-West war that is now taking place across Ukraine opening up in Sudan?

Admitting failure

The Sudanese case reveals the apathy of the community of nations. The Sudanese people fought for their freedom, even to the point of overthrowing a dictatorship, and the whole world witnessed it.

While these generals slaughtered the demonstrators, Volker Perthes, the UN envoy, was content with an incantation – “the violence must stop” – while the major embassies in Khartoum feverishly intoned their “no more lives must be lost”. A sad admission of failure, given the macabre counts still flooding the media in terms of Sudan; an admission eloquently made by UN Secretary General António Guterres: “We have failed to prevent war in Sudan”.

Due to a lack of lucidity in the face of warning signs that have been building up for decades as well as the presence of member states blinded by various interests and geostrategic stakes contrary to those of the Sudanese people, the short- and long-term prevention of the conflict has failed. All that remains is to hope for a resolution born from the surge of excitement and emotion raised by this torrent of blood, which alone seems capable of awakening our world based on divergent interests.

The duty to protect

In my book L’Afrique empoisonnée: pathologie et thérapie des conflits [Poisoned Africa: Pathology and Conflict Therapy] published in April by L’Harmattan, I insist on long-term conflict prevention, or “cold prevention”, and on Responsibility to Protect (R2P), based on the right to humanitarian, but also democratic, interference, as the main ways of avoiding conflicts in the long term.

In the face of this human tragedy, what is to be done with the provisions of Chapter VII of the UN Charter on intervention in the event of a “threat to peace”? Did the various interventions in Iraq and Libya really have any other motivation than to protect these peoples, as some people claim? Has Sudanese blood not yet reached the threshold required by the community of nations to trigger R2P?

When foreign nationals – especially from powerful nations – have been exfiltrated while Sudanese civilians can barely manage to escape the fires much less cross the border, have we somehow agreed to hand Sudan over to the warlike madness of Burhan and Hemeti?

Our world cannot continue with this self-interested blindness to the causes and factors of conflict. We must not forget that Sudan under Bashir was suspected for a long time of having sheltered Osama Bin Laden. In an attempt to reconcile with the international community, several top Islamist leaders were imprisoned, but how many top terrorists are now on the loose following the destruction of the high security prison in Khartoum?

By granting legitimacy to the two rivals at the helm of the country, by accentuating their rivalry while ignoring the wishes of the majority of Sudanese, the international powers have their share of responsibility

“Everyone made a miscalculation,” says Suliman Baldo, founder of the Sudan Policy and Transparency Tracker (STPT). “By granting legitimacy to the two rivals at the helm of the country, by accentuating their rivalry while ignoring the wishes of the majority of Sudanese, the international powers have their share of responsibility”.

However, when will we see the responsibility to protect through democratic interference freed from the underlying interests of international powers? This is where the failure of the UN to prevent the Sudanese crisis can be seen clearly. For whenever geostrategic stakes and foreign interests take precedence over the will for the peace, freedom, rights and democracy of the people, prevention will fail, and that common blindness will lead to tragedy.

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