Sudan's conflict exposes AU's serious shortcomings

Smoke rises in Omdurman, near Halfaya Bridge, during clashes between the Paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the army as seen from Khartoum North, Sudan. Picture: Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/ Reuters

Smoke rises in Omdurman, near Halfaya Bridge, during clashes between the Paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the army as seen from Khartoum North, Sudan. Picture: Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/ Reuters

Published May 1, 2023


Johannesburg - Mayhem, chaos, murder of the innocent and wanton criminality – from the highest echelons of government down to the prison warders who are opening the gates so the prisoners – including jailed former President Omar al-Bashir, can walk free.

This, sadly, is a reality that confronts not only the beleaguered Sudan. All of Africa – from Cape to Cairo, Morocco to Madagascar – is but equally engulfed in this unfolding ferocious conflict. This episode brings shame to Mother Africa, a kind of a shame we thought was past the realms of latter-day’s African children as it belongs to the dustbin of history.

Unforeseen in scale, form and shape, the Sudan military confrontation between the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary group Rapid Support Forces (RSF) is a stark reminder of the mammoth volume of political work that remains outstanding in our beloved continent.

This week it pained me deeply to notice that all talk of a negotiated truce in Africa’s third-largest country was being brokered by Saudi Arabia and the US. Naturally, peace in any conflict, no matter the origins of that peace, ought to be a welcome development.

Yet, missing due to their conspicuous absence was the continental body, the African Union (AU). This is our African UN, if you like. This is the one body that represents all the states of Africa in equal measure. This is a body to which the continent constantly and continuously seeks guidance and collective wisdom in ensuring peace, socio-political stability, development and economic growth so that Africa may compete effectively at all the global market-places of ideas.

For far too long, Mother Africa has been disjointed and disunited, largely on the abominable basis of the legacy of colonialism that compartmentalised our continent according to the languages of our former colonisers. Until this day Addis Ababa, the HQ of the AU, is a fertile ground for feeble discourse premised mainly along the lines of Francophone and Anglophone Africa.

The AU has a terrific programme termed Africa’s “Agenda 2063”. It attempts to boldly declare its envisaged future where the African child would be able not only to compete with children from other continents, but outclass them. The continuous globalisation of the international community involves hordes of African nationals from our continent and indeed the multitudes in the Diaspora.

This is a recipe for effective competition with the rest of the world, that is, if we stay united and supportive of one another. In a post-colonial era, Africa ought to be competing as an equal. At the heart of Agenda 2063 is the noble notion first espoused by our renowned forebears that include Kwame Nkrumah, Haile Selassie and Julius Nyerere, among others, who proclaimed proudly: African solutions to African problems.

It may be a cliché, but it’s worth repeating: “United we stand, divided we fall.” The heart-piercing question as the death toll in Sudan continues to rise unabated is: Where is the AU? How can our AU go missing in action in our continent’s hour of need? How, oh, just how?

For the uninitiated, let’s recap: Since the sudden conflict broke out in Sudan on April 15, nearly 500 people have been killed and almost 5 000 injured, others maimed permanently. As the warring sides continue to hold their stubborn positions – refusing to negotiate in the belief by either side that they could turn out victorious – the death toll rises and Khartoum, the capital, is heavily pounded through both air and ground fire-power.

The UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, has described the situation as “heart-breaking” and further expressed fear that the conflict could spill over into the seven neighbouring states, all of which have experienced violent clashes over political instability in the past decade.

Guterres explained: “The power struggle in Sudan is not only putting that country’s future at risk. It is lighting a fuse that could detonate across borders, causing immense suffering for years, and setting development back by decades.”

Sudan has been a country going through a transition from a historical conflict that resulted in the southern part of the country seceding to be known today as South Sudan. The reconstruction and development programme was still in progress when the conflict broke out a fortnight ago. It has caused the UN’s humanitarian office in the country to announce that it will cut back on some of its activities due to the ongoing fatal clashes between the country’s military set-ups. According to the UN, at the time the conflict broke out, one-third of the entire Sudanese population needed humanitarian aid. The number is increasing by the day, drastically.

The UN’s envoy to Sudan, Volker Perthes, briefing the UN Security Council this week, said: “There is yet no unequivocal sign that either (side) is ready to seriously negotiate.” He said both the SAF and RSF seemed buoyed by the belief “that securing a military victory over the other is possible”. None of the warring factions appears to put the country, and the people, first. Each appears to be pushing their nefarious agenda, to rule the country without the other.

In pursuit of their ill-advised objectives, together they are destroying their beautiful country, the land of their forebears, and also decimating the natural resources on which development entirely depends. I guess the increased international media scrutiny isn’t due to the ferocity of the conflict, but in an environment of treacherous geopolitics, the plight of foreign nationals trapped in the conflict is the primary magnet drawing the global focus on Sudan.

I could be wrong – Sudan does have oil, a poisoned chalice in the hands of fools. Inter alia, oil attracts unscrupulous but powerful Western states to show interest in an oil-producing nation, invariably to steal the natural wealth of people and whisk it out, usually to the US and Europe.

Such are the intricacies of geopolitics: Not everything that glitters is gold. Paraphrased, not everything that is seen through the naked eye is as it appears.

So far it is unclear what the war is being fought over. Speculation in some international quarters is that the Sudanese government has cordial bilateral relations with Russia, a country that had agreed to help Sudan build a new port in the north. The US, according to some reports in the RT (Russia Today) had objected to the deal. The paramilitary bloc of the army breaking away to fight the mainstream army contains a litany of unanswered questions.

For example, who backs them, and why? Soon, as the air clears, and hopefully all sides lay down arms, the truth shall be out. Throughout the unfolding African tragedy that is Sudan, the AU’s silence is deafening. Until Africa unites and confronts the international community as a united front, foreigners will continue to dictate terms about the geopolitical direction of Africa.

The AU need to learn from the continental solidarity of the EU, albeit always insulated from harm by Big Brother, the US. Decisions that the EU takes in Brussels form part and parcel of Europe’s approach to world politics. When the EU rallies behind the US, they do so in body and soul.

Granted, their benefit lies in actively maintaining political and economic dependence on Washington. NATO is their collective military insurance, heavily funded by Washington to benefit all. In return, Europe is the biggest vehicle in the protection and spreading of the US hegemony amid a unipolar world order. It is a curious relationship that of course makes a mockery of the concept of true sovereignty. However, it is an arrangement that seems to suit all sides well. It is a marriage of convenience, fashioned on self-serving interests, instead of the greater good of humanity.

The only way to tackle such a monstrous geopolitical challenge is for Africa to reconfigure her internal relations throughout the more than 50 member states of the AU. Charity begins at home. As such, my view is for Africa to return to former SA President Thabo Mbeki’s African Renaissance. This will help to reposition our continent, internally and externally. We must start by doing away with our strict adherence to the Westphalian borders and, additionally, stay true to the envisaged free-trade continental zone.

We will continue to retain our true identities, nation by nation, yet without using our differences to divide us. We can be strong and united in our diversity, prioritising Africa’s natural wealth for the development of the African child.

Sudan poses grave challenges for the entire continent, over and above the desperate need for the AU to wake up from slumber and play its rightful role in ending the unnecessary conflict within its jurisdiction. That’s my two-pence worth.

* The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of IOL or Independent Media