The World Today for May 17, 2023


Wobbly Dominoes


The civil war in Sudan has claimed hundreds of lives and forced more than 160,000 people to flee to Chad, South Sudan, Egypt, and Ethiopia since it began in mid-April, according to the New York Times.

International observers are now wondering if the war-torn African nation might export more trouble to its neighbors in the coming days and weeks.

“Sudan has seven neighbors, all of whom have some degree of chronic instability,” American University international politics professor Kwaku Nwamah told VOA. “This conflict can go regional in a minute. It could even spill over across the Red Sea into Saudi Arabia and Yemen. So, there’s a whole bunch of things that can go wrong in that region.”

Countries like Chad have been grappling with the legacies of colonialism, corruption and incompetence, Islamic terrorism, and other challenges for decades. Now the influx of weapons into Sudan might spread into the country and find their way into the hands of the Islamic State-affiliated Boko Haram and its offshoot, the Islamic State West Africa Province.

One of the factions in the civil war, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) – whose leader, Lt. Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (also known as Hemedti), is seeking to oust Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the country’s de facto ruler – has ties to the Janjaweed, a Sudanese-Arab paramilitary group that committed atrocities in Darfur in southwestern Sudan in the 2000s. Janjaweed fighters now also operate in Chad and potentially Yemen, too. Their links to other extremist groups could cause untold chaos in the region, wrote Foreign Policy magazine.

Hemedti has close ties with the United Arab Emirates, for example, added Andreas Krieg, a professor of Defense Studies at King’s College in London, in the Middle East Eye. The oil-rich UAE, meanwhile, is a hub for dark money for violent factions in Libya as well as the Wagner Group, the Russian mercenary contractor that has expanded its presence from Europe to the Middle East and across Africa. Hemedti sent 1,000 RSF fighters to Libya in 2019 to help Khalifa Haftar, who enjoys the UAE’s support.

Meanwhile, armed “fortune seekers” are flooding into the Sudanese fight from across Africa’s Sahel region, including from Mali, Chad, Niger (and possibly the Central African Republic), UN special representative Volker Perthes has said, warning that “their number is not insignificant,” reported Agence France Presse. They can earn more in Sudan than at home, analysts say.

These shifts are also happening while the geopolitical order is rebalancing to accommodate the US’ diminished role as a global superpower, as the Iraq fiasco, the American pullout from Afghanistan, and a host of other developments evince, said Middle East Monitor.

Consequently, because Sudan is located so strategically – at the headwater of the Nile, on the Red Sea, and on the edge of the Middle East – and because US influence in the region is waning, China, Russia, and other powers have been deploying diplomatic, military, economic, and other resources to make sure they determine Sudan and the region’s future, University of Washington historian Christopher Tounsel noted in the Conversation.

It’s a powder keg, a free-for-all, and a tragedy wrapped into one. And it could become much, much worse.

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