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Sudan’s latest civil war will drive East Africa off a cliff

By Simon Mwebaze 

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed here are those of the authors. View more opinion on ScoonTV. 

Sudan is not new to civil wars. Since independence, the country has had two since declaring independence. The first lasted from August 1955 to March 1982. The second was from 1983 to 2005. 14 years after the second civil war, a coup overthrew Omar al-Bashir in 2019. Since then, the country was ruled by two groups; the RSF, which stands for the Rapid Support Forces, and the government army.  

The leaders of the two groups formed a council where one was the leader and the other became the deputy. The leader of the army, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, is the leader of the council and his deputy became RSF leader General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo. This was a tentative solution until a better solution was proposed for April of this year. The solution was to be a democracy under civilian parties.  

However, while the new transition deal seemed welcome, two issues arose. The first issue was about the timetable for the RSF to be integrated into the army and the second issue was when the army would be placed under civilian oversight. Additionally, a blame game ensued between the two-armed forces. The government army accused the RSF of recruiting civilians as it proceeded through key strategic sites in Khartoum. On the other hand, RSF accused the army of seeking coalitions with Bashir loyalists. These schisms led to the current conflict where hundreds have died. 

While Sudan is the most affected by the civil war, the region also suffers. This is especially true of Sudan’s nearest neighbors including Uganda, Kenya, Egypt, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and others.  

One of the major impacts of such civil wars is refugee influx into other neighboring countries. The Sudanese wars in the past have already caused millions of civilians to leave the country for more peaceful neighboring countries like Uganda and Kenya. Several refugee camps across the region exist to cater mostly to Sudanese refugees. Some of the camps include the Bidi Bidi and Acholi-Pii settlement in Uganda and Kakuma refugee camp and Kalobeyei settlement in Kenya. Uganda now hosts the largest number of South Sudanese refugees in the world with 1.2 million people.  

Increased refugees in neighboring countries open up opportunities for aid from foreign donors. While this may seem welcome, it creates a fertile ground for increased corruption. Many governments hosting refugees have been known to misuse and mismanage aid meant for refugees to enrich themselves while leaving refugees to live in dire circumstances in the camps. For example, the UN recently found in Uganda that a request for funding for thousands of refugees was false. This is because the actual numbers were much less than claimed. Such incidents are common across the region and create a negative impact on the livelihoods of refugees.  

Trade suffers a blow as a result of the civil wars in Sudan, too. For example, trade between Uganda and South Sudan was worth $389 million in 2021. When civil wars occur, movement of trade commodities within the country and across borders becomes dangerous and difficult. Goods can be stolen, and traders harmed in the crossfire between conflicting groups. Therefore, trade declines. Some of the popular exports of Sudan to East Africa include alcohol, clothing, and perfume plants. Worldwide, Sudan popularly exports gold, groundnuts, crude petroleum, and goats.  

Competition for locals is another challenge brought on by refugees. In some cities, refugees have set up businesses that were originally undertaken by locals. By offering goods at lower prices, they outcompete the locals which sometimes leads to closure of local businesses that cannot compete.  

Finally, easy movement across borders allows for increased terrorism. Insurgents sometimes take advantage of the easy movement across borders to infiltrate neighboring countries. In November 2021, Uganda fell victim to three suicide bombers. The attackers set off their bombs in the capital city near the parliament and central police station leading to the death of three civilians. Ease of movement across borders under the guise of refugees can pose a security threat to any East African country.  

The Khartoum war has no positive impact for Sudan and its neighboring countries. It only costs the region in trade, security, corruption, and discontented locals in hosting countries. Therefore, bringing it to an end should be a priority for the region. It’s important for neighboring countries to seek a lasting solution because of the effects it has on the region. A democratic government seems to be the best way forward but internal disputes and disagreement between the RSF and the government army need to be resolved first.  

Maybe, it’s better to look for a way to create a joint government like the council before that can attempt to equally share authority over the country among the two armies. But the reality is more complex than mere agreements given Sudan’s long history of civil wars. It may take a long time for a lasting solution that will satisfy both the conflicting armies and the people of Sudan. Until then, East Africa will suffer.

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Simon Mwebaze

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