Sudan is undergoing a major transition following the 11 April ouster of Omar al-Bashir, one of Africa’s longest-ruling leaders. The strongman’s toppling, prompted by a sustained, peaceful campaign by a diverse and well-organised protest movement, raised hopes that the country might make a transition to more inclusive, civilian-led rule. That transition has been halting and is fraught with risk, with the old military regime showing little appetite for real change. Sudan matters not least because it sits in one of the most geostrategic locations on the continent, straddling the Horn and North Africa, with a long Red Sea coastline, and serving as a historical bridge between North and sub-Saharan Africa. Through field research and advocacy with Sudanese and international actors in the region, we aim to reduce the likelihood of conflict inside Sudan and encourage a genuine transition to more inclusive governance by Khartoum and an attendant shift toward positively engaged regional and international relations.
This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood and guest host Comfort Ero talk with Crisis Group’s Horn of Africa director, Murithi Mutiga, about the fighting in Ethiopia’s Tigray region and mounting tension between Ethiopia and its neighbours Eritrea and Sudan.
Clashes persisted in disputed border area with Ethiopia, intercommunal violence continued in North and South Darfur states, and govt signed agreement with holdout rebel group. Army 1-2 March reportedly launched offensive against Ethiopian forces near Barkhat settlement, last area still under Ethiopia’s control in disputed Al-Fashqa border zone, leaving unknown number dead. Sovereign Council head Abdel Fattah al-Burhan 17 March accused Ethiopia of deploying additional forces to area in past two weeks, demanded withdrawal of all troops from “Sudanese territory”, and negotiations to resolve land dispute tied to Ethiopia’s recognition of Sudan’s sovereignty over area. UN humanitarian office 22 March said Eritrean forces had been deployed alongside Ethiopian troops and ethnic Amhara militias near Barkhat. At border between Ethiopia and Sudanese states of Gadaref and Sennar, south of Al-Fashqa, army 24 March reportedly repelled attack by Ethiopian militia backed by Ethiopian army in Basinda area; 29 March allegedly clashed with Ethiopian militia after latter attempted to alter border markers in Sudan’s al-Dinder National Park, one combatant killed on each side. In North Darfur state, intercommunal clashes between Fur and Tama communities 3 March left 11 dead in Saraf Omra locality. In South Darfur state, fighting between ethnic Fellata and Masalit 1-2 March killed 11 in Gireida locality. Holdout rebel group Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North of Abdel Aziz al-Hilu 28 March signed Declaration of Principles with govt in South Sudan’s capital Juba; document commits govt to unification of armed forces, and further edges al-Hilu toward agreement bringing his faction into govt. Sovereign Council 11 March pardoned former Janjaweed militia leader and current head of armed militia Sudan Revolutionary Awakening Council Musa Hilal, detained since 2017 for allegedly resisting govt-led disarmament campaign, prompting local uproar; deputy head of Sovereign Council and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces leader Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” reportedly instrumental in Hilal’s release. Meanwhile, Sudan, Ethiopia and Egypt remained at loggerheads over Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on Blue Nile river (see Nile Waters).
The October 2020 accord between rebels and Sudan’s transitional government is a big step forward. But difficulties remain. External powers should help Khartoum broaden the deal to include holdouts, reform the security sector and keep promises to invest in the country’s long-neglected peripheries.
Mounting economic turbulence is rocking Sudan’s delicate political transition. Without urgent donor assistance to provide economic relief to a suffering population, public support for the cabinet’s reform agenda could collapse. Any failure in the civilian-military government could have tragic consequences for Sudan and the region.
Sudan’s post-Bashir transition holds the promise of civilian rule but also perils, among them renewed insurgency, economic stagnation and backsliding into autocracy. Outside powers should press the military to adhere to its power-sharing pact with the opposition. Authorities in Khartoum should pursue peace with rebels.
The UN General Assembly kicks off on 17 September amid general scepticism about the world body’s effectiveness in an era of rising great-power competition. But the UN is far from paralysed. Here are seven crisis spots where it can make a positive difference for peace.
Ethiopia is building a mighty dam on the Blue Nile, promising economic benefits for both itself and Sudan. But Egypt fears for its freshwater supply. The parties should agree on how fast to fill the dam’s reservoir and how to share river waters going forward.
Popular protests are rumbling across Sudan, shaking President Omar al-Bashir’s 30-year grip on power. The authorities have cracked down hard and, as the demonstrations intensify, they may ratchet up the repression. External powers should urge restraint and offer Bashir a way to the exit.
The military [...] simply has not had the time nor shown the will to address violence in the way that many rural Sudanese would need to see in order to put down their weapons.
Sudan’s economy is in freefall and there has been limited international assistance.
Sudan has been pretty isolated for a long time. It is very keen to get off this [terror] list. This is the carrot.
The violence [in Sudan] has triggered a wave of sit-ins across the region, demanding authorities protect civilians from the militias, who are scrambling to secure their gains now that Bashir has gone.
The transitional government and the international community [in Sudan] must move quickly to avert an economic collapse and accompanying disintegration of the transitional dispensation.
The attack [in Sudan] may have the effect of increasing the solidarity between the civilian and military components of the transition.
In early 2020, Vice News correspondent Julia Steers was the first foreign journalist in five years to set foot in the Jebel Marra mountains, Darfur’s last rebel-held area. This week on The Horn, Julia tells of a region traumatised by war and explains why these rebels stayed out of an August peace deal.
The Horn of Africa faces myriad crises. Beyond the potentially devastating impact of COVID-19 on politics and the economy, the region is grappling with deeply troubled transitions, cross-border jihadism and remains a playground for great power competition. In this Episode, Host Alan Boswell and William Davison, Crisis Group's Senior Analyst for Ethiopia, discuss Ethiopia's plans to start filling the massive dam it is building, including the complex dynamics at play, negotiations, and the parties' varius concerns.
With rains swelling the Blue Nile, Ethiopia is just weeks away from beginning to fill the massive dam it is building. Egypt and Sudan demand that it not do so without an agreement. All three countries urgently need to make concessions for a deal.