Sudan war exposes the hidden failures of African leadership

Muzzammil Raubenheimer greets his one-year-old daughter, Amana Raubenheimer, on his arrival back home at Cape Town International Airport in May last year, after he was evacuated from Sudan to escape the conflict. Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency (ANA)

Muzzammil Raubenheimer greets his one-year-old daughter, Amana Raubenheimer, on his arrival back home at Cape Town International Airport in May last year, after he was evacuated from Sudan to escape the conflict. Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Jul 7, 2024


By Tswelopele Makoe

THE horrendous ongoing war in Sudan spotlights the woeful truth: there are truly no winners in war.

Since the start of the war in mid-April last year, well over 15 000 Sudanese people have been killed and approximately 25 million have been displaced and forced to flee.

Beyond these harrowing statistics, Sudanese citizens will be contending with the annihilation of their homes, widespread starvation, famine, trauma and instability that rattles war-ridden nations for decades – sometimes generations.

This war began as a power struggle between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and a powerful paramilitary group known as the Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

Those who sit in positions of power and those who fight for positions of power have once again implicated the entire nation in their tussle.

Leaders are often apathetic and nonchalant to the struggles of everyday citizens.

Decisions that knowingly lead entire societies into conflict are irresponsible, irreversible and catastrophic. In fact, it is widely argued that leaders who are willing to subject their nations to war and conflict, do not deserve to be in power.

What has been deplorably evident throughout this war is the lack of intervention by the African Union (AU).

At its core, the role of the AU is to drive continental unity, bolster cohesion and solidarity, promote peace, stability and security, and encourage political and socio-economic integration throughout the continent.

These are only a few of their key objectives, all of which are vital to the development and prosperity of the African continent.

The Sudan war, which is not the only ongoing conflict in Africa, has been an opportune time for the AU to put its money where its mouth is.

The AU Roadmap for the conflict in Sudan was established at the end of May last year. It aims to impose mechanisms to mitigate the hostilities and bolster permanent and “immediate, permanent, inclusive” support for Sudan.

At the beginning of this year, the Chairperson of the AU Commission instituted a High-Level Panel on the Resolution of the Conflict in Sudan, especially aimed at working with all Sudanese civilian, regional and military stakeholders, together with global actors like the UN, to begin the process towards the restoration of peace and stability in Sudan.

The AU’s overall intervention in this war, however, has been abysmal. Much of their strategy to mitigate the war has been highly reliant on international, far-removed organisations, and their interventional strategy has been, so far, wholly reliant on “strong appeals'' for all parties to cease fire.

This is simply insufficient and impractical in the context of a full-blown war. Instigating dialogue, although important, is simply not enough to initiate peace.

When there is war, the entire nation is at a standstill. Not only is the displacement and loss of homes traumatic, but the psychological damage is often irreparable.

The mass destruction of entire communities, the breakdown of public health care and services, and the breakdown of social order are dire consequences of civil conflict.

The impact of war is sometimes instantaneous, with entire blocks of buildings, infrastructure, businesses and homes being destroyed within a week. Other times, the impact is long-standing, with the loss of valuable cultural sites, artefacts, and so much more.

Over time, war can also lead to the division of communities or societies, the permanent displacement of people, and even the changing of morality and ethos within the nation.

Educational institutions are not only halted, but education itself takes a back seat for an indefinite amount of time. This impacts children, teenagers and young adults, who have milestones such as graduation and registration placed on pause.

This also has a terrible future impact, where children who have been out of school for extensive periods struggle with continuing their education.

The impact of war is always personal, however.

For women and children, it can be particularly destructive.

Violence against women and children stratifies during conflicts and wars. Mass rape is often used as a war tactic, aimed at disintegrating individual relations, community bonds and family structures.

Their safety and liveability are irretrievably compromised, with necessities such as sanitary pads, nappies and other essentials being exceedingly unavailable.

In addition to this, conflict-ridden nations deal with a higher rate of psychological trauma, unwanted pregnancies from rape and high-risk abortion practices, which severely impact a female’s reproductive health.

Victims of wartime are placed in an immeasurably fragile position from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, various illnesses and diseases, the culture shock from displacement, and worse.

Although the need for physical and mental health support is critical, it dwindles dramatically in conflict-ridden situations, where resources, facilities and personnel are scarce.

In the future, development will be adversely impeded.

New technology and technological infrastructures are exceedingly difficult to attain and retain in a conflict-ridden context.

The disruption of trade and investment, institutions and structures will take a long time to recover from, which adversely impacts the empowerment and autonomy of the Sudanese citizenry.

Over a year since the war began, Sudanese people are still being forced out of their homeland, still being attacked in shelters for the displaced and still being subjected to precarious conditions that exacerbate the rate of sickness, hostility and death.

What is happening in Sudan is a blatant violation of international humanitarian and human rights laws, as well as the AU’s very own African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights.

The lack of intentional and decisive action by the AU in stopping the Sudan war is a clear display of its lack of commitment to its own vision and mission.

The passivity of the AU in the Sudan war has been one that is consistently presented where conflict in Africa is concerned: that there are individuals, even groups, that benefit from conflict in African nations.

The AU body comprises 55 member-states, which includes three monarchies. How can a continental body, with innumerable presidents, be taking a back seat to such an abhorrent conflict taking place right in their backyards?

The AU has a serious responsibility to broadcast the atrocities that are happening in Sudan and to mobilise public relations in order to meaningfully address them.

Mobilising the public, as well as the leaders, across the African continent is a critical step to mitigating this conflict.

Physical interventions and establishing safe zones (conflict-free zones) are critical to supporting the Sudanese citizenry. It is the responsibility of every leader in Africa to ensure that the nation of Sudan does not fall deeper into this deplorable war and that the people are given the opportunity to rebuild.

If the entire continent is dedicated to ending the war in Sudan, this dedication will be reflected in the interventions that are sent to Sudan, and they will at least be forced to listen.

Widespread stereotypes state that Africa is already known for conflict.

The war in Sudan only seeks to solidify this stereotype.

It further allows the continental and international communities to disregard the African continent when major issues such as conflict arise. It gives credence to the false, highly misleading and racially biased claim that Africa is full of backward-thinking communities that are inclined to violence and conflict, whereas this is far from the truth.

We have reached an age of education and literacy. The internet age has shown that there is absolutely no excuse for ignorance.

In addition to this era of enlightenment, society is well aware that the only resolution to war is a peace treaty, an ultimate – and inevitable – negotiation to end the avoidable carnage. In this era of enlightened and empowered leadership, violence and the needless loss of life should be avoided at all costs.

All African leaders need to understand that if a similar catastrophe were ever to befall their own countries, other African nations would support them in restoring peace and providing humanitarian assistance.

In fact, we have seen this spirit of Pan-Africanism before, not only in contemporary wars such as the one in the Democratic Republic of Congo but also throughout our colonial history, including during apartheid in South Africa.

The challenges that arise in a nation are complex and often have a ripple effect on many other surrounding nations.

What should be underscored are the discourse, diplomacy and regrettable futility of war.

To all African leaders, I wish they could understand, and appreciate, that “to break down is easier than to rebuild”. Moreover, rebuilding a nation is often on the shoulders of those who had nothing to do with its breakdown. Instances of war are when true leadership is tested.

My hope is that the people of Africa band together in order to strengthen and safeguard the magnificence and sublimity that is inherent in the African continent.

As astutely said by social activist, monk and theologian Thomas Merton: “Peace demands the most heroic labour and the most difficult sacrifice; it demands greater heroism than war.”

*Tswelopele Makoe is a Gender & Social Justice Activist and the Editor at Global South Media Network. She is a researcher and columnist, published weekly in the Sunday Independent, Independent Online (IOL), Global South Media Network (GSMN), Sunday Tribune and Eswatini Daily News. She is also an Andrew W. Mellon scholar, completing an MA Ethics at the Desmond Tutu Centre for Religion and Social Justice at UWC. The views expressed are her own.