EDITORIAL: SA must step in and not abandon the Sudanese to war
Pretoria ought to intervene to mediate in a deteriorating civil conflict
President Cyril Ramaphosa’s public relations machinery was on full display last weekend after a disastrous week in the office. Three of his senior ministers — home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi, international relations & co-operation minister Naledi Pandor and defence minister Thandi Modise — held a press conference to welcome SA nationals who were trapped in war-torn Sudan.
This is an important achievement. But it is also what governments are supposed to do for their citizens caught in harm’s way. For gaffe-prone Pretoria, however, it is important as it diverted attention from weeks of schoolboy blunders. These included a daring escape from prison of a serial rapist and murderer, and a hugely embarrassing flip-flop on whether SA is pulling out of the International Criminal Court, which issued an arrest warrant for Russian president Vladimir Putin over his targeting of women and children in his illegal invasion of Ukraine.
Still, this distraction failed to mask Africa’s failure, especially Pretoria’s status as the continent’s foremost superpower, to lead and resolve its own problems. It has taken the West to broker a ceasefire.
For decades, Sudan has lived with uneasy peace and coups. In 2019, its ruler of almost three decades, Omar al-Bashir, was ousted in a popular uprising. In 2021 a coup took place, firmly placing the country in the hands of the army under Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.
The latest conflict, which has claimed more than 500 civilian lives and thousands of fighters, is between Burhan, the head of the statutory Sudan Armed Forces, and his rival, Gen Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, head of the Rapid Support Forces, a rogue paramilitary grouping.
There are two causes of the conflict that threatens to spread to parts of the country beyond Khartoum, and possibly to even spill over into neighbouring countries. First, there is disagreement over terms of integrating the RSF into the armed forces, and who will be in charge; and second, more generally, the two men are harbouring ambitions of clinging to power.
Ironically, since the outbreak of the conflict in mid-April, a range of parties have offered to mediate. These have included the AU, the UN, the EU, the Gulf States, Turkey, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, and the US. Curiously, SA, Africa’s largest economy which successfully negotiated the creation of South Sudan during the peak of its diplomacy, was missing from the list despite its commitment to a better Africa in which Africans resolve their own problems.
It has taken the West, led by the US, and Saudi Arabia to strongarm the warring generals to agree to a ceasefire to allow the evacuation of foreign nationals. It was on the back of this Western-brokered truce that South Africans were evacuated.
Fighting has resumed and many Sudanese who cannot afford to leave are caught in the crossfire. Now that all foreign powers have evacuated their nationals, the world community should not forget the plight of ordinary Sudanese people.
They should redouble their efforts to secure lasting peace in Sudan and a speedy return to civilian rule. Regrettably, both SAF and RSF leaders have demonstrated poor appreciation of what is at stake; it is the welfare of ordinary Sudanese, not the ambitions of generals, that matters most.
The generals were given enough time to hand power back to civilians. This opportunity was squandered with no consequences. The time to mollycoddle them is over. Africans and the international community should back up diplomacy with some stick, including some restrictions on the military leaders.
The longer the conflict drags on, the higher the chances of it spreading and, even more concerning, the greater the temptation of the protagonists to introduce destabilising forces such as the Wagner Group.
A prolonged conflict will not only increase the hardship of ordinary Sudanese, it will carry the possibility of a clear winner emerging. In the latter scenario, the loser will be forced to leave the country and fight on or face jail. It is hard to think of a durable solution that includes the two men.
Our president should send a suitably senior emissary to get the two soldiers to agree to a ceasefire and a timetable for a return to civilian rule. Again, SA’s talk about being a mediator needs to be backed up with visible action.
Would you like to comment on this article?
Sign up (it's quick and free) or sign in now.
Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.