Sudan’s Civil War Inflicts Devastating Humanitarian Crisis

By Ambassador Callista L. Gingrich

April 15 marked one year since civil war erupted in Khartoum, Sudan. Since then, tens of thousands have lost their lives, millions have fled their homes, and hundreds of thousands of children are on the brink of starvation.

The violent conflict between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) has unleashed what UN officials have called “one of the worst humanitarian nightmares in recent history” on the African nation’s vulnerable populace.

In 2019, Sudan’s dictator of 30 years, Omar al-Bashir, was ousted, and there was hope that Sudan could return to civilian rule. This optimism was extinguished two years later when General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who leads the SAF, and General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, who leads the RSF, joined forces to orchestrate a military coup.

International diplomatic efforts to strike an agreement between the two generals and transition power back to civilians failed, and months of escalating tensions boiled over in April 2023, resulting in the current civil war.

Now embroiled in a bloody power struggle, the two rival generals, Burhan and Dagalo (also known as Hemedti), share a sordid and violent past that dates to the early 2000s. Both were key figures in brutally crushing a rebellion against Bashir in Darfur. Burhan was army commander for the region and Hemedti was a leader of the Janjaweed, a local militia charged with carrying out many atrocities.

Nicole Widdersheim, deputy Washington director of Human Rights Watch, said her group “has been documenting crimes and abuses by both of these leaders and the militaries and paramilitaries that they control for decades. They go all the way back to Darfur.”

Sudan expert Alex DeWaal said he doesn’t know why the two generals evaded prosecution and told NPR that what we are seeing now is “Essentially… a mobster shootout. We’re seeing two gang bosses shooting it out for control of the terrain in which they make their illicit money.”

It is abundantly clear that the Sudanese people are the ones who are paying the price of these bloodthirsty generals’ lust for power.

Currently, Sudan faces the largest internal displacement crisis in the world. More than 8.6 million Sudanese people have fled their homes, with more than 2 million fleeing to neighboring countries including Egypt, Chad, Ethiopia, Central African Republic, and South Sudan.

According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, “Half of Sudan’s population – some 25 million people – need humanitarian assistance and protection. The country is facing extreme shortages of food, water, medicine and fuel, and nearly 18 million people are facing acute food insecurity — 5 million of them at emergency levels.” (Of this 5 million, the World Food Program can’t access 90 percent of them as combatants disrupt and hijack aid distribution.)

Children are being stripped of their futures as more than 10,400 schools have been forced to close, and 19 million children in Sudan are not able to attend school.

With women and girls making up more than half of registered refugees, the UN issued a report documenting “alarming” levels of sexual violence, including rape which the BBC reported can lead to “a lifetime of stigma and marginalization from… families and communities.”

Given the devastating humanitarian crisis in Sudan, the international community must find solutions to deliver life-saving aid to the Sudanese people and bring an end to this brutal war.