Sudan: ongoing international repercussions

Sophie Dowle

Sudan’s internal conflicts were splashed across the front pages of leading international newspapers in 2011 when the country split in two, becoming Sudan and South Sudan. The tensions that produced this split are far from resolved, even if they no longer make front page news. 

Sudan has long suffered conflict. In 1955, just prior to Sudan gaining independence, the South began a war for liberation. The South, predominantly Christian and Animist, fought for independence from the Arab Muslim North in a war that lasted 17 years. Civilians were caught in the violence and thousands were killed, raped, and enslaved. Juba, now the capital of South Sudan, was set alight. Peace followed in the 1970s, but in 1983 the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) and its military wing, the SPLA, rekindled the fight. Soon after, an Islamist military junta took over in Khartoum, the northern capital. The junta aimed to subjugate the South, and full scale civil war resumed from 1983 to 2005. By the time peace was secured, at least 1.5 million people had died in fighting or resulting displacement, famine, or disease. Many thousands of others fled to neighbouring countries or the West. 

But the North-South divide was not the only conflict to manifest itself in Sudan. In the South there was bitter fighting between Dinka and Nuer factions, and it is this that led to the further fighting in South Sudan once the country split away. These ethnic tensions culminated when in 2013 the Dinka president of South Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit, sacked his entire cabinet and accused vice-president Riek Machar, a Nuer, of instigating a failed coup. This led to the 2013-2015 civil war in the South, which displaced another two million people, and saw further bloodshed and famine from disrupted agriculture. 

The North has also failed to create a peaceful state following the decision to let the South split away. Violence continues in the western region of Darfur, which has displaced two million people and killed over 200,000 people. Human Rights Watch describes the ongoing conflicts in the North as “characterised by unnecessary and avoidable civilian deaths and injuries; sexual violence against women and girls; unlawful destruction of civilian property, and have forced hundreds of thousands of civilians to flee their homes.” President Omar al-Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes in Darfur and was re-elected in 2015 in a poll that, according to Human Rights Watch, did not meet standards for free and fair elections.

Furthermore, the split has not enabled the two countries to settle their differences. Tensions continue over issues such as border demarcation and shared oil revenues. It was only in January of this year that Sudan first opened its border with South Sudan.  

This conflict has not only left a trail of destruction across the two countries, but also has ongoing international consequences. There are over 5.5 million Sudanese refugees worldwide. Nearby states, such as Chad, Uganda and Egypt, are struggling with the increased pressure that thousands of refugees place on their resources and fragile political systems. 

Some Sudanese refugees travelled to places such as Jordan. However, Jordan, already struggling with the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees combined with Iraqi and Palestinian refugees, decided to forcibly deport hundreds of Sudanese refugees in January this year. More than 100 of these deportees were detained by the Sudanese authorities upon their return, and some are still missing.  

This issue has impact yet further afield. Many of the inhabitants of the refugee camp in Calais are Sudanese. While the French and British authorities leave those in the camp in limbo, while they try to decide how to deal with the residents in the camp, the numbers of people arriving, having fled war-torn Sudan, ever increases, and the hope of being able to repatriate them to a safe Sudan dwindle rapidly. Many in the West congratulated themselves for brokering the peace in 2011, following the creation of South Sudan. However, with the resumption of fighting and sustained tensions in both the South (where the 2013-15 civil war has supposedly ended) and the North, the congratulations have quickly turned to panic among the international community, as famine looms and further bloodshed and another generation lost to war looks evermore inevitable.