The outbreak of conflict in Sudan has provoked little sympathy for the Sudanese people from the EU. Instead, efforts have focused simply on evacuating European citizens. But as Muiz Hajaz explains, imperialist powers have a significant hand in the misery being inflicted on the Sudanese people they care so little about.
If it wasn’t for the continuous suffering of 40 million Sudanese, the upheaval in Sudan over the last couple of years would have provided a fascinating show. It is a blatant example of how imperialism and its regional compradors succeed in their long history of exploiting countries and ruthlessly crushing people’s struggles.
After weeks of a phony war, on 15 April, Khartoum’s population of 8 million people was awakened by deafening sounds of heavy fighting between the Sudanese Army Force (SAF) and its long ally and partner in crime, the Rapid Support Force (RSF) militia. The impact of the war, now entering its fifth week, has been devastating, on a population that’s already on its knees. According to figures from Sudanese Doctors Syndicate, the fight has claimed the lives of over 600 civilian (excluding the unreported one) so far, as well as over 4000 injured. Nearly one million have become Internally Displaced People (IDP). 60,000 refugees crossed to Egypt alone. Deaths among the two fighting forces have exceeded 5,000. Just an example of the scale of brutality, during the first attack of RSF on the residency of SAF leader General Burhan, 35 of his personal guards were killed in less than an hour. RSF militia leader Hemedti admitted to the loss of four thousand of his fighters.
The impact on the country’s thin health services, water and electricity supply has been massive as well. 70% of hospitals in Khartoum put out of service in the first two weeks. Most neighbourhoods have been experiencing electricity blackouts for days. One of Khartoum three main cities, Bahry, lost water supply from the first day leaving over one million people with no clean water for weeks. Widespread looting of banks, shopping-centres, homes and credible reports of mass rape. Elderly people dying untended in their homes. The situation has developed into a full blown humanitarian crisis.
The response from so called international community and United Nations, with its countless organisations, has been lacklustre. All the focus of the outside world has been on evacuating foreign citizens. Not a single evacuation plane or ship brought with it any humanitarian or medical aid.
How did we get from an exemplary revolution based solely on peaceful unarmed civil struggle that began in December 2018, to a war between its two main arch enemies? To help understand the current war we need to look at the history of the opposing factions, including their regional and global connection.
The origins of Hemedti and his RSF militia
The origins of RSF date to 2003 amidst Darfur war, when the Former Sudanese dictator, Omer Al-Bashir, started recruiting local militia to fight alongside Sudanese Army Forces SAF. Famously known as “Janjaweed”, RSF managed to defeat most of Bashir’s armed opposition but at staggering human cost and mass war crimes which culminated eventually in Bashir himself being indicted by the International Criminal Court ICC in 2009. As a result of the ICC arrest warrant, Bashir became a burden on the ruling class in Sudan and an embarrassment to the regional dictators and their international allies. In fear of been ousted by his own army, Bashir turned to none other than the Janjaweed militia who brought on his indictment by the ICC. He rebranded them as the Rapid Support Force and gave them control over a big gold mine in Darfur.
Facing a widespread uprising in September 2013 and lacking trust of his security forces, Bashir brought in the RSF. In seven days over 270 protesters were gunned down on the streets of Khartoum. Even by the regime repressive standards that was way too much of a response to an unarmed uprising. However, it helped clamp down the civil struggle against Bashir for years to come.
The EU and RSF militia: a match made in heaven
The next chapter of RSF militia story is a truly fascinating one. Following the infamous refugee crisis of 2014, European Union was desperate to stop the flow of refugees. At the same time Bashir was isolated as a result of the ICC indictment and his country was facing a mountain of economic difficulties. It was a match made in heaven! As a result, the EU Horn of Africa migration policy called the Khartoum Process was conceived. It was one of the most morally irresponsible, cynically designed policies ever created by the EU. A trust fund was created with contributions from individual countries. To spare them the embarrassment of dealing directly with Sudan’s war criminal dictator, the EU chose intermediaries to pass logistics and funds to Bashir’s regime. Those included ministries of interior of Italy, France, Germany and even, believe it or not, some UN organisations like UNHCR.
Out of €1.2 Billion allocated through the trust fund, at least €250 million was paid to the regime, mostly in form of logistics, training and cash. The trust fund was deliberately designed to mix much-needed humanitarian aid with the goal of clamping down on refugees. Bashir’s part of the deal was to monitor Sudan borders to ensure no refugees could cross Sudan to the Mediterranean. Out of Sudan’s long list of security, military and police apparatuses, Bashir delegated this task to – you guessed it – Hemedti and his RSF militia.
The role of managing Europe’s external border gave Hemedti what he was craving more than money. It gave him legitimacy and license to operate with impunity. He cherished his role so much that he openly bragged about protecting Europe in a famous speech in 2017. More than that, the Khartoum Process was the cornerstone of RSF’s transformation into a transnational mercenary organisation.
UAE, RSF and Sudan’s blood gold:
Hemedti’s luck seemed infinite when the war in Yemen broke out. Unable to secure a quick victory, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, became desperate for fighting troops on the ground in Yemen. Lacking enough troops on the ground in Yemen, UAE turned to the region’s go-to man. Hemedti provided ten thousand militia men. The money Hemedti generated, reported to worth ten thousand for each soldier per annum, was invested in further cementing Hemedti’s grip on gold mining and gold smuggling in Sudan.
In Hemedti, UAE struck a goldmine both literally and metaphorically. As late as 1996, UAE wasn’t even in the top hundred gold-importing countries. Fast forward two decades later, UAE ranked among the top four gold-importing countries globally. This gold, commonly smuggled from poverty-stricken African countries and processed into jewellery in UAE refineries then exported to European and other rich countries. For example, Switzerland annually imports $6 billion worth of jewellery from UAE. RSF through their full control of gold mining and smuggling in Sudan, provide about 50% of UAE gold import.
UAE also helped RSF maintain full financial autonomy separate from Sudanese government control, establishing RSF as an independent paramilitary transnational organisation. RSF hold a bank account under their own name at the National Bank of Abu Dhabi. RSF also have two front companies based in UAE. They are both controlled by one of Hemedti’s younger brothers.
UAE interest and greed didn’t stop at draining Sudan of its gold It grew even more. For the last number of years UAE tried its utmost to take control of Sudan’s strategic Red Sea port in the city of Port Sudan. First, they attempt to do this by proxy through an Asian company, a deal that was prevented by the courageous stand of the Port Workers Union. After that failed attempt, they recently signed a deal to build a new port a few miles from the current port. A port on the Red Sea would be of significant importance both financially and strategically.
Egypt and The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam:
For decades, Sudan represented a strategic stronghold for Egypt, not least because Egypt’s lifeline,the river Nile, crosses the two countries. A successful revolution in Sudan carries with it a straight threat to the Egyptian dictator, a domino effect similar to Arab spring. Egypt’s interest in Sudan grew even more after Ethiopia built The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam which is threatening Egypt’s lifeline. That led Egypt to increase its interference in Sudan, from a mere intelligence personnel, to putting at least two hundred of its Army and fighter planes in Marewe air military base.
Egypt’s interference in Sudan is so apparent that it’s safe to say that many SAF actions lately were direct orders from the Egyptian government. For example SAF and RSF committed Khartoum Masscre on 3 June 2019, two days after Burhan’s visit to Cairo. WSJ also reported that Burhan’s coup on 25 October 2021 was executed on the explicit orders of the Egyptian Intelligence Service.
The Current War
It’s hard to ascertain who fired the first shot, but the way the war broke out resembles a botched military coup by the RSF. On 15 April, Hemedti’s forces simultaneously attacked the Army headquarters, General Burhan’s residency, the state radio and tv station, and Merewe air base in northern Sudan, where the Egyptian military and fighters plane are stationed.
For RSF militia in particular, it’s nearly impossible to believe that Hemedti will attempt a coup without a green light or even direct orders from his masters in UAE. In addition to his money, Hemedti’s media outlets are based in UAE. Also Hemedti uses UAE gold refineries for gold laundering.
The response of the Sudanese people
The cost of the current war is not only limited to the humanitarian crisis that’s currently folding. To many Sudanese, there’s also the fear of what it will eventually have on our exemplary resilient civil struggle.
Looking at both of the warring factions’ criminal history, their regional and global connections, it’s no surprise that the vast majority of Sudanese took the stand of impartiality. The response of the backbone of the Sudanese revolution, the Resistance Committees, was something to admire. They took it upon themselves to minimise the impact of war on civilians, organising in small groups to deliver food to those in need, provide information on safe routes for those fleeing the war, help bury the dead and contributing to the efforts of the Doctors’ Union to keep hospitals running.
Since the start of the revolution in 2018, the international mediators have focused solely on preserving the status quo, mainly for the obvious regional and international interests highlighted above. For example, despite the RSF’s well documented long history of war crimes, illegal gold smuggling, child recruitment, mass rape etc, not a single international player or mediator ever tried to condemn these atrocities, let alone holding them accountable.
All the efforts were focused on power sharing deals between SAF and RSF on one side and historically weakened political parties on the other side. The main representatives of the people, the seven thousand country-wide Resistance Committees, were excluded from all the negotiations since 2019. Therefore it’s no surprise that every deal those mediators brokered fell short of achieving democracy, social justice,and taking back control of the country’s rich resources.
If the international community is really keen on achieving peace and transition to democracy they need to look at the disastrous results of their brokered deals since 2019 before embarking on a new one. There are a few tangible steps that are easily doable if they have a true will. Perhaps the first step the US and EU should take is to put pressure on their regional allies. If UAE freezes Hemedti’s bank accounts this will immediately weaken his forces on the ground. Announcing an arm embargo on Sudan will also lower the cost of civilians loses and will probably force the two sides to end the war. Preventing Egypt from running SAF and supplying them with fighter planes is another easy step.
Going forward, referring the current or previous crimes of both SAF and RSF to the International Criminal Court can help deter them from committing future crimes.
Putting parties that represent the true interests of Sudanese people, like the Resistance Committees, trade unions, people in refugee camps etc, on any negotiation table would go some way in Sudan’s transformation towards democracy and peace.