There has been rising intra-military tension in Sudan coupled with the side-lining of the democratisation movement for some time now. There were at least two major dynamics at play. The military had begun to fear that it was losing ground to a groundswell of bravely expressed opposition to their rule. This alone might have been manageable. But at the same time, intra-military tensions between the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) – the legacy of the Janjaweed who, as a proxy militia, had laid waste to so much of Darfur – were bubbling to the surface. Essentially, a proposal to merge RSF into the SAF left the leader of the former – Hemedti – concerned that he would lose power to the leader of the latter – Burhan.
Into this mix trampled intervention from another divided country, Libya. Hiftar, leader of the rebel and confusingly titled Libyan National Army (LNA), has been supporting the RSF with money and weapons for some time now. His overt purpose in doing so seemed to have little to do with his battle against the internationally recognised government in Tripoli led by his countryman, Menfi. Rather it seemed to have more to do with his partnership with the Russian Wagner group, presumably acting as a cipher for a Moscow inspired desire to disconcert and disrupt global order.
The opportunity to ferment trouble in Sudan and to watch the consequences ripple out across the region must have been irresistible.
Add to this mix the changing but always explosive cross-border relationships (variously) between Ethiopia, Eritrea and Sudan, and the stage appears to be set for disaster. And on the other side of Sudan, Wagner’s presence and engagement in the Central African Republic and on into the wider Sahel has been destabilising not just the countries of the that region but more broadly the rest of West Africa too.
And now, reports from Sudan suggest that the RSF is seeking to release its International Criminal Court (ICC) indicted leadership from prison in Khartoum, suggesting that this is not a flash in the pan but a deliberate attempt to destabilise.
But on the upside, recent events will probably disrupt the migration/people-trafficking routes from Horn of Africa towards Europe via Sudan and Libya and/or across the Sahel towards Algeria and Morocco which might be considered closed right now. But the fate of those in transit along these routes is very uncertain now.
So, as the world watches on TV efforts to extract foreigners from Sudan, it is worth realising that this is just Act One in what is likely to be Ring Cycle of chaos and destabilisation which will affect the lives of millions of Africans and Europeans alike – either directly or indirectly – for years to come. The geo-political dial is moving as we fidget in front of the telly.