NEW DELHI: When two generals, allies until five days ago, fall apart, this is what happens: Sudan is seeing the army chief Gen Burhan, and the commander of the paramilitary Rapid Support Force Gen Dagalo, slugging it out in the streets of Khartoum and other cities, using every weapon to hand, from small arms and artillery to air strikes.
But there’s another element that has triggered this showdown: regional powers namely Saudi Arabia, the UAE and neighbouring Egypt, are playing for high strategic stakes and will not be denied. Jean-Baptiste Gallopin, a Sudan analyst the time, wrote in 2020 (https://pomeps.org/the-great-game-of-the-uae-and-saudi-arabia-in-sudan) that these nations have played an active role in destabilising Sudan. They have done so by supporting military and paramilitary figures under the guise of “stability” and coopting elements of the revolutionary coalition.” The result he states has seen emboldened generals “jostling for power, stymying demands for democracy, and ensuring generals play a dominant role in any power-sharing agreement in Sudan.”
Sudan’s tragedy is that none of its neighbours want anything to do with democracy. Nor do they want Sudan, Africa’s third largest nation with a 500-mile-long Red Sea coastline, to exert any control over that strip of water.
“Saudi Arabia and UAE are in competition for influence in East Africa through the creation of ports. Saudi Arabia already has Assab port in neighbouring Eritrea and here it is in competition with the UAE which has ports in Somalia’s Somaliland and Puntland. So developing ports in Sudan would certainly be to the Kingdom’s advantage.” says Samir Bhattacharya, Senior Research Associate, VIF.
Then there’s money, lots of it. Gen. Dagalo controls the gold mines in Darfur. He has reportedly struck a deal with the UAE and Russia’s Wagner Group, to bankroll him. In return, the latter guards the gold mines and moves the metal to the UAE where it is sold for hard cash. All benefit, Dagalo, the UAE and Russia.
The US has called for peace and is still hopeful of a civilian government taking charge in Khartoum. But Washington is worried instability in Sudan could draw in Al-Shabaab, regarded as Al Qaeda’s most powerful and wealthy affiliate. It is active in Kenya, Uganda and Somalia and could find ready support in Sudan where reports say the army elite has strong loyalties to Islamist groups. This includes the army chief Gen Burhan who is believed to be close to the National Congress Party, founded ironically by the man he overthrew Omar Bashir. The party has been linked to Hezbollah among others.
Now China seems to be getting involved with its special envoy for the Horn of Africa Xue Bing, visiting regional capitals to promote what some suspect is a China-brokered solution. “It’s too early to say right now. But it’s definitely a sign that China is willing to become more involved in Africa,” said a diplomat.