By Violet Ikong
Violence erupted in Sudan on April 15 and since that time the likelihood of all-out civil war has increased day by day. Already, estimates indicate that 420 people have been killed – the majority civilians – and over 3,500 people have been wounded. Many nations have withdrawn their diplomatic corps, including the U.S., France, Italy, Spain, and Canada. The United Nations reports that tens of thousands of people have fled Sudan to neighboring Chad.
Key areas affected include Sudan’s capital city Khartoum, and Omdurman, located on the opposite bank of the Nile River from Khartoum. Civilians are living in fear, not sure what will happen next. All this trouble lands on top of an already egregiously difficult situation, with one third of the population suffering from hunger, and lack of medicines and other essentials.
“The conflict began as rumors. We heard the military and paramilitary groups were going to fight, but we didn’t take those rumors seriously. We just woke up and there was a conflict staring at us,” said Eyhab Mohammed, a 28-year-old Sudanese citizen who lives in Khartoum. The current situation is the consequence of a conflict between the Sudanese military, led by General Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan, and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a paramilitary group commanded by General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.
In 2019, both leaders collaborated to depose former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. In 2021, they again worked together on a military takeover that ended with their control of the Sudanese government. However, the two are now at loggerheads over control of the country’s assets, and the RSF’s wish to be incorporated into the country’s military.
Elections are tentatively scheduled for July 2023. However, the conflict has left many doubting the possibility of Sudan transitioning into democracy any time soon. More civilians are fleeing Sudan daily. In addition to Chad, some are heading north to the Egyptian border, others north-east toward ports on the Red Sea. Military bases were the first points of attack, and all airports in the country were immediately closed following orders from the country’s military.
“I live close to one of the military bases and even right now, they’re shooting. I can hear gunshots a few kilometers from my house. The paramilitary are trying to take control,” Mohammed said. Telecommunications company MTN Sudan was ordered to shut down its internet service on April 15, but the order was reversed on April 16, at which time Sudanese citizens took to social media to raise alarm about the conflict.
A 24-hour ceasefire was set to begin by 6 p.m. on April 18, to enable the evacuation of foreign nationals by their respective governments. However, the ceasefire failed and fighting continued across the country. Three aid workers from the World Food Program were killed, causing the organization to temporarily suspend its activities in the country. Cindy McCain, the program’s Executive Director, said in a statement on April 16, “Any loss of life in humanitarian service is unacceptable and I demand immediate steps to guarantee the safety of those who remain. Aid workers are neutral and should never be a target. Threats to our teams make it impossible to operate safely and effectively in the country and carry out WFP’s critical work.”
The statement further read, “In a separate incident, one WFP-managed U.N. Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) aircraft was also significantly damaged at Khartoum International Airport during an exchange of gunfire on 15 April, seriously impacting WFP’s ability to move humanitarian workers and aid within the country. While we review the evolving security situation, we are forced to temporarily halt all operations in Sudan. WFP is committed to assisting the Sudanese people facing dire food insecurity, but we cannot do that if the safety and security of our teams is not guaranteed.”
Access to water, electricity, and healthcare services is another challenge currently facing the country. About 52 out of 74 hospitals in Khartoum and neighboring states are reported to be out of service. The Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors (CCSD) stated on their Facebook page on April 20 that five ambulances had been attacked by military forces, and others had been prevented from transporting patients. Several hospitals are also reported to be running low on medical supplies. Tedros Adhanom, the Director General of the World Health Organization, has expressed concerns over the development and called on all sides involved in the conflict to “heed the call for a humanitarian pause.”
In a Twitter message Adhanom said, “The lack of safe access, of electricity, food, water, personnel, and the diminishing medical supplies are making it nearly impossible for many health facilities to function at the exact time when there are thousands injured, in need of urgent care.”
The conflict raises the twin questions of what will become of refugees who had previously fled from other countries to Sudan for safety. Sudan currently hosts over one million refugees with 75% of them being refugees from South Sudan. Uganda, Kenya, and Ethiopia share borders with Sudan. Their governments wonder how they can cater to the large number of Sudanese citizens who could run to them for protection. Humanitarian organizations are also concerned by the specter of more displaced people at a time when well over 100 million people worldwide are already displaced.
“If there was an escape route, I would leave the country to any neighboring country. It is very scary here,” Mohammed said.