A fertile ground for an unprecedented geopolitical conflagration?

A fertile ground for an unprecedented geopolitical conflagration?

Par Cherkaoui Roudani

Sub-Saharan Africa and the Sahel as well as the Horn of Africa are currently experiencing rapid and significant changes that represent regional, African and Arab challenges. The precursor example of this transformation is the current situation in Sudan, which is the result of an internal political rivalry that has persisted since its independence in 1956. The geostrategic assets that this country possesses give it regional and international importance. These advantages coupled with natural resources, particularly oil, critical minerals arouse the interests and the greed of other States and regional actors. Strategic access to the Red Sea gives Sudan a major geostrategic asset, but it can also bring both the greed of international actors and the curses of geopolitical rivalries. Thus, this warlike situation in which the country is bogged down could become volatile and present a high risk of generalized conflict and lasting instability.

Geographically, Sudan is in the eastern part of North Africa, where it shares land borders with several countries like Libya. To the north lies Egypt, to the south lies South Sudan, to the west and northwest lies Chad, while the Central African Republic lies to the southwest. To the east lies Ethiopia, and to the east-northeast lies Eritrea, in a region whose security is inexorably eroding.

In addition, Sudan is close to the Red Sea, a space that arouses all desires. The situation in which Libya and West Africa give Sudan a potentially explosive configuration, which could trigger a major conflict and generate widespread geopolitical consequences.

This strategic location has been reinforced over time by the Nilotic character of Sudan. In fact, this country is located at the crossroads of two rivers, the Blue Nile and the White Nile, has a vast territory, which makes it the third largest country on the continent. Its population is made up of an Arab and Muslim majority in the north, a black African and Arab majority in Darfur, and a Christian and animist majority in the south. This ethnic mix has always been a source of conflict, making Sudan an unfortunate example of dislocation and geopolitical fracture. The country’s history bears witness to these political, social and ethnic divisions and tensions.

Thus, and since 1956, Sudan has been in the grip of an incessant war, unable to lead the transition to a democracy so long awaited by its population. The crisis in Darfur, West Kordofan and South Kordofan, combined with structural segregation within Sudanese society, creates an explosive cocktail that can drag the country into a catastrophic situation. In this sense, Sudan is a veritable powder keg that could explode and have repercussions on neighboring countries such as Chad, Libya and Niger. This unstable neighborhood has always been a factor that has accentuated over time the religious and ethnic divisions that already existed.

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It is no coincidence to compare Sudan to Afghanistan. Faced with a multidimensional and cross-border crisis, the Sudanese situation could lead to disastrous and irreversible consequences in the security order of the sanctuary extending from Ethiopia to Mauritania and Libya. This situation, which is exacerbated by the presence of warlords, particularly in remote areas of the country, could lead to a new spectacular jihadist breakthrough in Lake Chad, the Gulf of Guinea and the Sahelo-Saharan strip. Besides that this fratricidal war between the regular army led by General Abdel Fatah Al Burhan and the paramilitary force led by Ahmed Hamdane Dogolo could turn into a human disaster and, the current tensions are capable of affecting the already fragile neighboring countries, like Chad. The Darfur region has already been and still remains a sanctuary of opposition to the Chadian regime, as evidenced by the crisis between Sudan and Chad in 2003.

The geopolitical specificities of Sudan, with a dangerous neighborhood, in particular this triangle of terror Chad-Niger-Libya smoldering all kinds of structural religious and ethnic fracture. The tribal and ethnic ties and rivalry manifested by the presence of the Toubous, Dazagada, Beri and who are made up of the Zaghawa and Bideyat in the region and sub-region constitute an explosion bomb. In addition to the power struggle and natural resources, the discovery between 2011-2014 of gold in the Sahel and the great Sahara, in an arc going from Sudan to Mauritania via North Darfur and the Toubou territories in Chad, Libya and Niger has sparked a gold panning rush through artisanal mining. This reality has accentuated the frictions and the fights between the ethnic groups and the tribes which foreshadowed with the current situation a deterioration of the situation and the return of the logic of the warlords in the region and the sub-region.

Moreover, the challenge of this tribal gold rush will be shown in 2007 when Sudan becomes the second largest producer on the continent after South Africa, with an annual production of 70 tons, ahead of Mali and Burkina. Faso. From Tibesti, South or West Kordofan and Darfur as well as southern Libya, this sanctuary has become a field of conflict and struggle around mineral resources. This situation will increase tenfold, particularly in Darfur, the activities of illicit trafficking, smuggling in cross-border circuits between Sudan and Libya. For illegal gold mining practices in the northern Sudan and eastern regions, the Sudan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia sanctuary remains the most dominant while the border area between Sudan and South Sudan other warsigns, like the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), which has an armed wing, the Sudan Liberation Army, controls clandestine activities in the routes of Kordofan, Blue Nile.

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According to the NGO Global Witness, Mohamed Hamdane Dogolo, leader of the Rapid Support Forces, succeeded in establishing a vast paramilitary-industrial complex by signing a pact with the leader of the MPLS, Abdel Wahid al-Nour. This alliance allows him to control both a powerful military force and a large part of the gold and oil mines. Moreover, by relying on the Janjawid and creating a powerful network of fighters drawn from the Arab tribes of Darfur, notably the Maaliya, the Rezeigat, the Massirya and the Zaghawa, Dogolo, nicknamed Himayti by his godfather former President Omar Bashir, which means “my protector”, has formed militias and paramilitary forces controlling several regions and strategic sites in the oil-rich country such as Abyei.

The involvement of several tribes in the geopolitics of the region is also manifested by the role played by the Zaghawa of Darfur in the rise and coming to power of the Déby family of Chad in 1990. In return, there are many of this tribe who are in the circle of the Chadian army and in strategic positions. These latent tensions with the ethno-political characteristics of the Central African Republic, Niger and Chad are components of the ashes that we should hardly try to awaken.

Thus, it is important to change the perspective with which one examines this conflict and not see it as a simple power struggle. Indeed, the crisis in Darfur, which began well before the winter of 2003, reveals the underlying reasons for this deadly animosity. It is the result of a persistent social injustice which also manifests itself through factors such as territorial injustice, segregation and the marginalization of a large part of the population. Previously, these factors often led to secessionist claims and rebellions. In this environment of division and cleavage, the military institution was built on bad foundations impregnated by fragmentation and splitting. As a result, this dichotomy has led to tension and conflict within the military, with soldiers from each faction distrusting and often clashing with each other for control of power and resources.

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In order to avoid a situation of total disorder, it is essential that the international community does not disengage from Sudan. The ongoing fratricidal war is likely to drag on for months, and a lack of serious engagement on the part of the international community would only aggravate an already difficult crisis to resolve.

Although Sudan may not be as geopolitically important as Ukraine, it remains a country that wields major influence over its neighbors in times of peace and war. The destabilization of Sudan could precipitate the Sahel into total chaos, reviving the ambitions of terrorist groups in the Sahelo-Saharan strip such as Daesh and Al-Qaeda. Such a situation would be disastrous in humanitarian and security terms for the entire region from Eritrea to Mali and Mauritania, given the economic and social fragility of the local population. In fact, it is imperative to prevent the outbreak of another Afghanistan, which would see an upsurge in the activities of terrorist groups, organized crime and human trafficking, as well as a wave of massive population displacements.

So far, the situation remains under control as long as all the parameters of the equation are visible and negotiable. However, if the conflict continues to drag on, the consequences could be disastrous and lead to a civil war whose effects will be uncontrollable. To avoid this, it is urgent to become aware of the multidimensional danger of this war, as the Secretary General of the United Nations underlines in his repeated appeals.

Subsequently, Sudan currently finds itself in an uncertain situation, similar to that of the decimation of democracy and stability that can be observed in Afghanistan with the departure of American forces which caused a worldwide discomfiture. It is therefore imperative to prevent the situation from degenerating further, to rebuild and restore trust between the stakeholders. This requires a comprehensive approach, with absolute priority given to the protection of civilians, to the de-escalation of violence.

Expert in geostrategy and security 
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2023-05-14 13:50:30


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