The starkest warning about the destructive potential of the war in Sudan came from a former leader, who until recently drove the country’s hopes for democracy.
Fighting between rival military factions erupted on April 15. If it descends into a full-blown civil war, it will be “a nightmare for the world” on par with the worst recent conflicts in the Middle East, Abdalla Hamdok, a onetime Sudanese prime minister, warned this week.
“Syria, Libya, Yemen will be a small play” in comparison, said Hamdok, who was ousted 18 months ago by the same generals now battling for control.
Whether Sudan’s war could reach that point is unclear, although recent escalation in the fight between two heavily armed military factions, backed by different foreign powers, is an ominous sign.
For now, the U.S. and regional powers in Africa are trying to pressure the belligerents — Sudan’s regular army and the Rapid Support Forces, a well-armed paramilitary group — to stop fighting.
Yet both sides have agreed to and then discarded multiple cease-fires. Yesterday, fighting raged again around the presidential palace and the military headquarters in the capital, Khartoum, as well as in the western region of Darfur.
The clashes between two generals with a longstanding rivalry have already caused widespread suffering and misery in the nation of 46 million. At least 500 people are dead and 5,000 injured as a result of the fighting so far, but those figures are probably gross underestimates. Over 100,000 Sudanese have fled to neighboring countries, several of which are grappling with their own conflicts.
The longer the violence drags on, experts warn, the greater the risk that it will draw other countries into a wider war that could destabilize the entire region.
Today’s newsletter will explain what you need to know about the conflict.
Where is the fighting?
Although the fighting initially occurred across the country, it is now concentrated in two areas: Khartoum and Darfur. In Khartoum, R.S.F. troops control most of the city center and other large neighborhoods, while the regular army holds ground on the city outskirts, including important supply routes.
Each side has its advantages. The R.S.F. is a highly mobile force of battle-hardened troops, many of whom fought in the war in Yemen. The Sudanese military is a conventional force with a fleet of warplanes and helicopter gunships, which the paramilitaries lack.
Caught in the middle are millions of civilians who have suddenly found themselves living in a battleground. Many are trapped in their homes with no electricity and little food or water. Stray bullets and bombs hit homes, killing many.
Sudan’s already fragile health system is crumbling. Two-thirds of hospitals in conflict areas are closed, according to the health ministry.
Who are the generals?
The army chief, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, has been Sudan’s de facto leader for the past four years.
He rose to power in the tumultuous aftermath of the 2019 uprising that toppled President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, Sudan’s dictatorial leader of three decades. Until then, al-Burhan was best known as a commander in the army’s brutal counterinsurgency campaign in Darfur in the 2000s.
For a time he shared power with civilian leaders as part of an agreed transition to democracy. But in October 2021 he joined forces with Lt. Gen. Mohamed Hamdan, the powerful commander of the R.S.F., and seized power in a coup.
Hamdan had also risen to prominence in the wars of Darfur, as a commander of the brutal Janjaweed militias that became notorious for their scorched-earth tactics. He went on to acquire money and influence, with a business empire built on gold mining.
But after the 2021 coup he fell out with his boss, al-Burhan. As tensions rose in recent months, the two men publicly squabbled and began to deploy troops to military camps in preparation for war.
Why are other nations invested?
Sudan sits in a pivotal position on the African continent. It has a substantial Red Sea coastline and is surrounded by seven countries. Instability threatens many of them.
Western officials and Sudan experts fear that the new chaos could draw in these neighboring countries. But other powers also have interests.
Russia has pressed Sudan to allow its warships to dock along the country’s coast. The Kremlin-affiliated Wagner private military company operates in Darfur and runs lucrative gold mining operations in Sudan.
The U.S., a key player in political talks that collapsed with the outbreak of war, had hoped to turn a new page with Sudan after decades of American sanctions. It also hopes to fend off the influence of China.
Persian Gulf countries are major players in Sudan. Saudi Arabia, which has helped to evacuate at least 6,000 people in recent days, has longstanding influence there. And the United Arab Emirates has links to both sides, although it is seen as closer to Hamdan.
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ARTS AND IDEAS
Onstage: silly songs
Mo Willems, whose books about a kvetching pigeon and a venturesome stuffed bunny made him a star of children’s literature, has focused his powers of silliness onto a sometimes stuffy medium: opera.
In his new show “The Ice Cream Truck Is Broken! & Other Emotional Arias,” Willems collaborated with the composer Carlos Simon to twist arias into material for restless kids. Carmen’s Habanera is now about sharing cotton candy; “La donna è mobile” concerns the way milk squirts out your nose when you laugh.
It helps that opera and picture books have a lot in common, Willems told The Times: “It’s big emotions.”