The highly explosive situation in Sudan, caused by hostilities between Sudan’s army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, has raised many questions about the position taken by the international community, especially by the major global powers. The conflict between opposing Sudanese factions who are competing for influence and control over the country has plunged not only Sudan but also the rest of Africa into a downward spiral with far-reaching security consequences, which requires serious, swift and decisive intervention the part of the international community.
Many political analysts are agreed that the Sudan crisis is inextricably linked to other major conflicts, especially the “Western crisis” between the US – supported by Europe- and Russia, and the “soft” conflict between the US and China. Although those countries and regions are geographically distant from the Sudanese conflict, the interconnected nature of geopolitical interests means that they are in fact at the epicenter of all the above international turbulences. What is more, the initiatives aimed at resolving the Sudan crisis are entirely inconsistent with those other conflicts and hinder rather than contribute to its resolution.
There have been three main initiatives proposed in relation to Sudan. The first of these is from the African Union (AU). This influential pan-African organization is the main regional grouping addressing the crisis, which it fears may spread to other African nations. Unfortunately the tragic events in Sudan have already had serious impact on a number of other states in the region. The streams of refugees and the challenging political consequences of the Sudan crisis, not to mention its impact on the continent’s security and economy, have hit many countries and regions hard.
The second initiative is aimed at boosting trade between African nations in order to mitigate the economic impact of the Sudanese crisis on the rest of the continent. But, given the complex global situation, which is being consistently inflamed by the West, led by the US, it is far from easy to make a “leap forwards” that would have the effect boosting trade volumes. Moreover, the West is in the habit of shooting down any initiatives from Russia and China, such as the grain deal for Africa, under which Moscow offered to provide free grain and fertilizers to a number of the poorest African countries. That Russian initiative could somewhat relieve tensions in Africa, in particular by defusing the highly challenging situation in Sudan.
The third initiative is a proposal by Saudi Arabia aimed at resolving all the disagreements between the rival Sudanese factions. This proposal emphasizes the need to respect Sudan’s sovereignty and preserve its unity and territorial integrity, and to accept that the main priority is to protect the interests and security of the Sudanese people. It also stresses the importance of protecting civilians at all times, ensuring that they can leave conflict zones in safety, and allowing humanitarian organizations to evacuate the sick and wounded without discrimination. The initiative also calls on the two parties to refrain from recruiting children to fight.
Despite the difficulties and challenges, Saudi Arabia may need to revisit its proposal and make a unilateral effort to ensure it succeeds, especially in view of its positive reputation in Sudan. What is more, the Kingdom’s efforts are viewed favorably in Sudanese political circles, while public opinion in Sudan also supports Saudi Arabia and its goals. While the Saudis have called on the rival political forces in Sudan to participate in the Jeddah meeting, a number of Sudanese observers believe that all interest groups, especially those that are active in the conflict areas, should be involved in the talks. These include representatives of social projects and civil society, groups which are not affiliated with either of the main parties to the conflict. As the Saudi newspaper Arab News puts it: “There is a need to try a new approach in order to spare the blood of brothers in Sudan.”
In Sudan there is little trust in the West, which the Sudanese see as more interested in regulating the crisis to promote its own interests rather than seeking to resolve it. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, hopes to manage the challenging situation in the country in order to ensure security and stability in the region. Riyadh’s proposal was clearly developed by Saudi experts with a profound understanding of the situation in the region.
In response to the West’s failure in the Middle East, the Sudanese people quite understandably fear and distrust international NGOs and are naturally suspicious of their agendas. This is a result of the destabilizing role played by many of these organizations in such countries as Yemen, Somalia, Syria etc. The many hindrances to the supplying of humanitarian aid, including the insistence by NGOs that their officials be present and take part in the process has raised many suspicions about the true motives of some of these organizations.
In a bid to address this dilemma, Saudi Arabia has proposed that all humanitarian aid be sent to the Islamic port of Jeddah, and that it will take responsibility for coordinating deliveries with Sudanese civil society organizations and with the Saudi aid agency KSRelief. This organization provides essential services in many regions in need of assistance, and has immense experience and professional capabilities in this area. Saudi Arabia has many powerful instruments that can help it achieve this goal, particularly since it is chairing the current summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. As the Arab News puts it, Saudi Arabia could therefore “merge all the initiatives put forward into one, that achieves the aspirations of the brotherly Sudanese people.”
In order to achieve this, the Kingdom could invite Sudanese from different political factions and civil society organizations to Saudi Arabia in order to develop trust between these interest groups and, by combining the above initiatives, draw up a comprehensive roadmap for leading Sudan out of its current crisis. This is an essential task, especially in view of the position of Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud at the heart of regional developments, as reflected by Saudi Arabia’s realigned policy and its Vision 2030, which hinges on establishing peace, security and economic development across the Middle East.
Naturally, Africa cannot simply wait for the West to come to its rescue, as the latter is self-seeking and focused entirely on its own interests, especially given the fact that the major powers have other security considerations and are far from united when it comes to their strategic interests and considerations. It is therefore up to the regional powers to take responsibility for the process, and Saudi Arabia is the country best placed to do this, in view of its good relations with Sudan, economic influence and ability to ensure that the talks bear fruit and that their results are implemented. And many other countries, including Russia and other BRICS nations, are in a position to assist Saudi Arabia in resolving the highly challenging Sudan crisis.
*Viktor Mikhin, corresponding member of RANS, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”