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  • Writer's pictureThe Red Line

Episode 111. The Splintering of Sudan

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Sudan is entangled in a rapidly escalating civil war, marked by widespread protests, violent clashes, and an alarming surge in refugees fleeing the turmoil. Amidst this chaos, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) swift advances are now intensifying fears of a potential state collapse, one that would likely plunge the region into chaos. With a fragmented government and military embroiled in enforcing their contentious autocratic rule, Sudan's path to peace appears increasingly precarious. So why are more and more outside actors getting involved here? What happens if the state does collapse, and who is supplying these forces with the means to wage this war? We ask our panel of experts.




PART I: A Complicating Conflict - (07:03)

with Will Brown

- Snr Associate, Africa Program, CSIS

- Snr Reporter at Tortoise Media

- Fmr Africa Correspondent for The Economist

  1. Frontline State in Global Political Dynamics: The outcome of the conflict in Sudan is crucial, as it will significantly influence not only the African continent but also the Middle East and broader international political dynamics.

  2. Complex Internal Power Struggle: The conflict in Sudan features a complex power struggle between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). This internal conflict is driven by deep-rooted ethnic and political divisions, with the SAF primarily controlling central, northern, and eastern regions, while the RSF, evolving from militias involved in the Darfur genocide, exerts influence in the western regions of Darfur.

  3. External Influences and Military Dynamics: Various external actors, including Egypt, the UAE, Russia, and Egypt, are significantly involved, supplying arms and support to different factions within Sudan. This external interference has altered the military dynamics of the conflict, particularly the RSF's acquisition of anti-aircraft capabilities from the UAE and Russia, challenging the SAF's air superiority.

  4. Humanitarian and Security Crisis: The conflict has led to severe humanitarian crises, including ethnic-targeted violence, mass killings, and displacement of populations, especially in Darfur. These atrocities have deepened ethnic and regional animosities, suggesting a prolonged and increasingly brutal conflict with significant implications for regional stability and human rights.

  5. Implications for International Diplomacy and Stability: The conflict in Sudan presents a complex challenge for international diplomacy. Efforts to mediate and resolve the conflict are complicated by the involvement of numerous regional and global powers, each with its strategic interests. The situation in Sudan requires concerted international attention and action to prevent further escalation and to address the underlying issues fueling the conflict.

PART II: A Magnet for Meddling - (29:20)

with Joe Siegel

- Dir of Research at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies

- Specialist in Foreign Interference in Africa

- Fmr Douglas Dillon Fellow at the Council on Foreign Affairs

  1. Lack of Popular Support for Military Factions: Both the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) lack popular backing in Sudan. The conflict is primarily driven by power struggles and greed, with both factions involved in human rights abuses and ethnic cleansing. This dynamic underscores the complexity of the conflict, making a resolution more challenging.

  2. Urban Warfare and Military Dynamics: In urban warfare within Sudan, the RSF has shown more effectiveness due to its ground combat experience and financial resources from gold trafficking. This advantage has allowed them to acquire up-to-date small arms and leverage civilian populations as shields, negating the SAF's artillery and airpower.

  3. Domestic Arms Production and External Weapon Supplies: Sudan's domestic arms production capability, developed with Iranian collaboration, has been a significant factor in the conflict. External actors, notably the UAE and Russia, have been instrumental in supplying advanced weaponry, including anti-air missiles to the RSF, altering the military balance.

  4. Influence of External Actors: The UAE's involvement is driven by financial interests in gold trafficking and aspirations to be a regional power. Russia's engagement, primarily supporting the RSF, is motivated by strategic interests, including gaining naval access in the Red Sea and asserting global influence. The UAE and Russia's involvement signifies the internationalization of the conflict.

  5. Prospects for Peacekeeping and Diplomatic Resolution: The conflict's complexity and fragmentation point to the necessity of a peacekeeping force, potentially from the UN or African Union, to stabilize the region. Intensive diplomatic pressure is required to facilitate a ceasefire and transition to a civilian-led government, emphasizing the role of international actors as honest brokers.

PART III: A Persistent Purgatory - (49:16)

with Will Carter

- Country Director for the Norwegian Refugee Council (Sudan)

- Specialist in Political Institutions in Africa

- Director of NGO programs across Africa, Asia and Afghanistan

  1. Widespread Destruction and Loss of Infrastructure: The conflict in Sudan has transformed the capital into an urban warfare zone, with significant destruction of vital infrastructure including ministries, telecommunications, and banking. This has led to the evacuation of leadership and diplomatic missions, indicating a severe breakdown of state functions and governance.

  2. Military Capabilities and Dynamics: The Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) possess outdated but heavy weaponry, while the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) are equipped for mobile desert warfare, characterized by their ability to quickly seize cities. The use of drone technology by both sides is emerging, albeit limited in scope, reflecting a new dimension in the conflict's military tactics.

  3. International Recognition and Support: The legitimacy and recognition of the military junta governing Sudan are in question. Efforts to garner international political support and military aid, particularly from European countries, have been met with limited success. This highlights the junta's precarious position on the international stage and the complexity of the conflict's resolution.

  4. Potential for Regional Destabilization: The conflict's escalation and the potential influx of refugees could have a domino effect on neighboring countries, many of which are already facing internal challenges. The situation in Sudan risks exacerbating regional instability, with implications for security across North and East Africa.

  5. Challenges in Achieving Peace and Stability: There is a critical need for effective diplomatic intervention, possibly through the UN or African Union, to prevent state collapse and manage the crisis. However, the prospects for a ceasefire and a return to civilian rule are complicated by the deep entrenchment of the conflict and the lack of cohesive international efforts to address the situation.

The Splintering of Sudan

(Released 26th December 2023)



I: Sudan's Unfinished Democracy (African Arguments)

- By Willow Berridge, Justin Lynch, Raga Makawi and Alex De Waal

II: Politics of Ethnic Discrimination in Sudan

- By Dhieu Mathok Diing Wol

III: Sudan: The Failure and Division of an African State

- By Richard Cockett


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This episode is dedicated to our Patreon members: BK, Aiden MC, Miguel Campo, Sean Russell, Anna, Jeromiah Huey and Sebastian.



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