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Sudan: Between Internal Conflicts And External Geopolitical Issues

Sudan remains an important country of Africa, both in terms of its geography and ancient and modern history. Sudan first lived under ancient Nubia, one of the first African civilizations, before being conquered by Egypt under the reign of Pharaoh Thutmose I. The country then remained under the shadow of its northern neighbor, being an Anglo-Egyptian colony from the end of the 19th century until 1956, when its independence was proclaimed. But quickly, this birth of the Sudanese state, the second largest country in Africa, became the starting point of a complicated and complex geopolitics, both internally and in its sub-region. Between civil wars, terrorism and the issue of water management in the Nile, the modern history of Sudan is one of the most complex and deserves a focus. This article briefly outlines the conflicts that have affected and maintained Sudan in an unstable political and economic situation.



Civil war: from 1956 to the birth of southern Sudan

After independence in 1956, Sudan soon entered decades of instability. The country was first ruled immediately by a military government that reneged on its promises to establish a federal state that would give as much autonomy to the North as to the South. It should be noted that there is a strong sociological difference between the North and the South of Sudan, which made it difficult to build a nation-state. The decision of the central government, based in Khartoum, set off a civil war between the two geographical entities. The conflict subsided in 1972 with the signing of the 1972 agreement in Addis Ababa. But when Colonel Gaafar Muhammad Nimeiri came to power in 1969, he took decisions that ultimately led to the country into more intense conflicts. First, between 1980 and 1982, oil was discovered in southern Sudan, which increased the power stakes in the country. Second, Colonel Nimeri decided to extend the penal code to include Muslim law, which would also apply to the regions of the South, which were predominantly Christian and animist. In addition to instituting Sharia law, he also declared his intention to transform Sudan into an Arab Muslim state and to divide the South into three regions. “The conflict is similar to a religious war between the (Islamic) North of Sudan and the (Christian) South, but it is also a cultural conflict, with the traditionalists in the South and the Arab-Muslim community in the North”. More than two decades of civil war between the central state and the rebel group SPLA (Sudan People's Liberation Army), which aims to establish a secular and socialist state in southern Sudan, have begun.


Despite the arrival in power of Omar al-Bechir in 1989 in a backdrop of war and economic and institutional crises, the conflict between the North and the South did not reach an end until January 2005. The two sides signed a peace agreement that provided for a six-year autonomy regime in southern Sudan, after which a referendum on self-determination was held. The referendum was held on January 9, 2011. Voters voted 98.83% in favor of South Sudan's independence. On February 8, 2011, Omar El-Bechir officially recognized this result. However, it was not only the conflict between the north and the south that plagued the country.



In the meantime, in 2003 to be precise, another conflict arose in Darfur, in the west of the country. Oil discoveries in this region fueled independence demands. The armed conflict pitted rebels from the west of the country, who were mostly non-Arabic speaking, against the central government, which also relied on Janjaweed militias. In 2005, with a death toll of more than 300,000, the conflict was characterized as a crime against humanity by the UN and General Omar al-Beshir was accused of war and crimes against humanity. These identity-based conflicts also had the effect of damaging the country's political and economic situation, which was complicated by American sanctions linked to terrorism. The dictatorship of Omar al-Bechir was also weakened by a wave of protests.


Social protest and political crises

In addition to civil wars, Sudan has not been spared by social protest movements. In 2018, the authoritarian regime of Omar al-Bechir was affected by severe economic crises that eventually brought it down. Sudan was already significantly impacted by U.S. sanctions dating back to 1993, after links were established between terrorist groups and the al-Bechir regime. The U.S. then included Sudan in the list of Sponsors of Terrorism and closed its embassy in Khartoum in 1996 before reopening in 2002. Despite this, the sanctions remained and poor governance also ended up putting the country in a difficult situation. In 2018, an austerity plan dictated by the International Monetary Fund forced the state to privatize some import sectors. This creates a rise in prices, including that of bread by 30% and an inflation rate reaching 40%. Subsequently, a large protest movement took hold of the country, led by students and the Sudanese Communist Party, leading to the removal of Omar al-Bechir whose regime was replaced by a sovereignty council composed of military and civilians in August 2019, headed by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan. Abdallah Hamdok, a former UN economist, was appointed prime minister to head the transitional government. However, demonstrations continued, calling for the departure of the military and the establishment of a fully civilian regime. In the wake of this, General Al-Burhan staged a putsch in October 2021 and removed the Prime Minister, the civilian face of the sovereignty council. Although he returned to office, Hamdok resigned again in January 2022 after the deadly suppression of demonstrations. Today, the military is still alone in power in the face of the people who still demand their departure. This keeps Sudan in a situation of political and institutional instability.



A complex geopolitical basin: the water issue

Sudan owes its importance to its geostrategic location, which is also a double-edged sword. The country shares its borders with Egypt and Libya to the north, Chad and the Central African Republic to the west, and now South Sudan to the south, Ethiopia and Eritrea to the east, with an opening onto the Red Sea. Sudan is thus immersed in a geopolitically unstable region with the consequences of the war in Tigray, political instability in Libya, the fight against Al-Shabab terrorists in Somalia and religious conflict in the Central African Republic. But in addition to these troubles, Sudan is also very concerned about water, a major geopolitical issue in the region. The Nile is crucial for water access to the three countries of Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia. In recent years, Ethiopia has launched the construction of the Renaissance Dam to meet its electricity needs. A project that strongly irritates its neighbors. Egypt considers the question of water as a question of “national security” since it draws 95% of its consumption from the Nile. This conflict has its origins in the 1959 agreements. After independence, Sudan had asked for the renegotiation of the sharing of water with Egypt, which had most of it according to the agreements of 1929. However, while the two countries had reached an agreement, the neighboring countries, notably Ethiopia, had not been involved in these talks. Now, history is catching up with everyone, with the ambition of some impacting the peace of others.

In sum, Sudan has an interesting geostrategy, but it is complicated by internal and external geopolitical issues that make the country unstable and vulnerable.


REFERENCE

Bouguerra, Larbi. “L’eau, enjeu géopolitique et national majeur au Soudan - Irénées.” Accessed February 28, 2023. https://www.irenees.net/bdf_fiche-documentation-436_fr.html.

Middle East Institute. “US Priorities in Sudan: Stability or Democracy?” Accessed February 27, 2023. https://www.mei.edu/publications/us-priorities-sudan-stability-or-democracy.

Roussel, Louise. “Soudan : une ‘géopolitique du malheur’ (Patrice Gourdin).” Major-Prépa (blog), October 20, 2020. https://major-prepa.com/geopolitique/sud-soudan-geopolitique-malheur/.

Tubiana, Jérôme. “Le Darfour, un conflit identitaire ?” Afrique contemporaine 214, no. 2 (2005): 165–206. https://doi.org/10.3917/afco.214.0165.

Wrobel, Marie. “Tout comprendre sur la crise au Soudan.” Le Drenche (blog), January 14, 2022. https://ledrenche.ouest-france.fr/quest-ce-qui-se-passe-au-soudan/.

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