Sudan has faced its fair share of strife and peace over the decades

Some of residential buildings destroyed in Khartum as the Sudan Armed Forces intensified fighting with Rapid Support Forces. [Courtesy VOA]

Videos of plumes of black smoke billowing from Khartoum International Airport as aero planes were torched and amateur footage of fighter jets zooming across skies above blown up residential houses will probably be what crosses many people’s mind in the next few weeks when they think about Sudan.

Injured locals and frightened children cowering in what remained of structures, as shelling continued, without tell a story of a city completely bereft of peace.

BBC quoted a student who was in a group that had been trapped for three days saying they were caught “in the middle of a heavy firefight”, while another said air force jets were constantly bombing the area and “flying strikes from above”.

As fighting entered its sixth day on Friday, calls for ceasefire seemed to do little in coercing the two rival factions, the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) to down their arms as civilians continued to suffer loss of lives, displacement and shortages of water, food and medication.

Yet Sudan is no stranger to sporadic fighting. It has been rocked in chaos for years, with a cumulative casualty figure on the upside of two million since its independence.

Most of these outbursts have finally ushered in new national leadership.

Spells of relative peace, which have been experienced in the years following the ouster of autocratic President Omar al-Bashir in 2019 in a coup, were disturbed hours after an “internationally brokered truce” was supposed to have come into effect last week, Al Jazeera reported, with loud gunfire rocking the city soon after.

It has not stopped since.

RSF, which collaborated with the army to topple the government in a 2021 military coup, is said to have disagreed with the army concerning how RSF paramilitaries should be incorporated into the Sudanese army. Recruiting tirelessly, RSF deployed members around key areas in the capital Khartoum.

At the top of these warring sides are Sudan’s military leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and the commander of the paramilitary RSF, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.

Within two days of fighting, over 100 civilians had been killed. So far, unconfirmed reports put the number at almost 300, with thousands injured or displaced.

As gunshots continued to roar in the city, the warring parties blamed each other for the unrest, neither ready to take responsibility or initiate dialogue.

In Sudan’s recent history, civil wars between the government and the southern regions have had over 1.5 million casualties.

In the western region of Darfur, almost two million people have been displaced and well over 200,000 have lost their lives.

Sudan, which gained independence in 1956, has had a number of military coups, with the military having been at the helm of the country’s leadership for a longer period than a civilian government.

Set up a military base

It was, until 2011, the largest country in geographical area in Africa. When South Sudan seceded on July 9 of that year, Algeria took over that mantle. Yet Sudan remains hugely significant for, and attractive to, many powers outside Africa.

Sudan has a rich history, with over 200 pyramids strewn across its North. It is strategically located for Eurasian countries that have for long desired to set up a military base, or use it as an entry into North Africa.

It is also gold rich. The Observatory of Economic Complexity (OEC) in 2021 wrote: “The top exports of Sudan are gold ($2.85bn), ground nuts ($488m), other oily seeds ($416m), crude petroleum ($395m), and sheep and goats ($239m), exporting mostly to United Arab Emirates ($2.9bn), China ($780m), Saudi Arabia ($341m), India ($259m), and Italy ($202m).

The country of 48 million people was led by President Omar al-Bashir from October 16, 1993 to April 11, 2019.

He came to power in a coup, ousting the government of Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi in 1989 and later on declaring himself president.

He won successive elections with consummate ease, with widespread claims of irregularities.

But throughout his tenure, civil strife gripped his country.

Al-Bashir became the first sitting head of state to be indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2009, with allegations of directing a campaign of mass killing, rape, and pillage against civilians in Darfur, where fighting has not ceased to this day.

This tag hang over his head and he was elusive for years until, after his ouster in 2019, Sudan agreed to hand over the disgraced leader to the ICC for trial.

After his long reign was over, the country experienced more investment as a sense of return to normalcy convinced entrepreneurs to go all in. The ethnic tensions, religious disputes, and competition over resources were all expected to reduce significantly.

But last Tuesday, RSF circled areas in the neighbourhoods of the cities of Merowe and Khartoum.

The army sounded a warning but the militia only advanced, seizing the Soba military base south of Khartoum. Shortly after, the RSF began their mobilisation on April 13, which was labelled illegal by the SAF, and the clashes began in earnest.

Civilian oversight

According to Reuters, both the army and the RSF “were required to cede power under the plan and two issues proved particularly contentious: one was the timetable for the RSF to be integrated into the regular armed forces, the second was when the army would be formally placed under civilian oversight”.

Within a day, BBC was reporting that RSF militia was going home-to-home demanding water and food. Property was destroyed with bombing rumbling alongside gunshots, a bombardment that may ruin many residential areas if a ceasefire is not achieved soon.

President William Ruto is among three regional leaders the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) selected to broker peace in Khartoum.

The others are South Sudan President Salva Kiir and Djibouti’s President Omar Guelleh.

They could not immediately enter Khartoum “because the airport is closed”, said BBC.

“Because of where we are and the real danger that Sudan faces today with the sporadic fighting ... I have three suggestions to make: that as IGAD and heads of state, we ask for an immediate cessation of hostilities between the combatants, that we move with speed and conclude on this one matter, which is causing this whole problem and provide a mechanism as leaders on how this single matter of integration of RSF is resolved; we should not allow this matter to torpedo the whole agreement and the efforts of many Sudanese people and institutions. We take this matter as one of urgency,” said Dr Ruto.

He added, “We also need to send a high level delegation to Khartoum as and when it is practically possible and in any case the earliest possible to undertake this final push for an agreement and also ensure that the agreements that have already been reached are eventually concluded. I am actively consulting with the regional leadership and other relevant international partners to seek ways to support dialogue and mediation in Sudan.”