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Potential implications of the power struggle in Sudan on Libya

April 20, 2023 at 11:36 am

Chairman of the Sovereignty Council of Sudan, Gen. Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman al-Burhan (C) and his Deputy Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (L) attend the ceremony held at the Friendship Congress and Meeting Hall in Khartoum, Sudan on December 05, 2022 [Mahmoud Hjaj/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images]

General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan is fighting against his one time ally Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, better known as Hemedti. The battle in Sudan is expanding daily and has so far reached most big cities in the country including the capital Khartoum. The events are not only catastrophic for Sudan but also for neighbouring Libya.

The two countries share a rather short border which extends less than 400 kilometres. Libya’s south-eastern oasis, Kufra, is the population centre closest to Sudan’s northern restive Darfur region.

While the borders are not long, policing them is a pretty difficult task given the fact that the area is a harsh and arduous desert good only for camels, human traffickers and legitimate traders. Given the fact that both countries suffer from bad governance, multiple security actors have taken over what should have been the responsibility of the state.

If you add to that mix the fact that Sudanese mercenaries have been involved in Libya’s internal wars, supporting General Khalifa Haftar in the east, then the result is far too complex and means the current conflict in Sudan could extend beyond its borders.

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Over ambitious General Hemedti is no stranger to the region. From his days as a camel trader and smuggler from Darfur to Libya’s Kufra, where he made most of his wealth, Hemedti knows the area only too well. His links to Libya have also served for his forces to have a fall back base in south-eastern Libya in case they are chased out of Sudan.

Looking at the conflict in Sudan as a limited power struggle, which can be contained within its own borders with limited repercussions in either Libya in the north or Chad in the west is short-sighted. The history of conflicts in Africa is a testament to this ugly fact.

It is a well known fact that internal conflicts in African countries tend to be trans-border and usually morph into sub-conflicts in multiple neighbouring countries. This domino effect is hardly surprising given the fact that all internal African borders are not based on any logic like the distribution of demographic and ethnic religious groups, but on colonial thinking serving their own interests according to the golden rule of “divide and rule”. Indeed we tribes and families who are citizens of different countries and any breach of social peace, like in Sudan now, can easily create problems in Libya or Chad for example.

Recent history is an example of how local conflicts have the potential to be far reaching.

For example when the West intervened militarily in Libya in 2011 the next country to fall to conflict was Mali in 2012 where Azawad separatists, mostly Tuareg ethnics, almost took over the country from their bases in Libya. The same scenario was repeated in Chad but with less success thanks to France. In early 2019, Chadian rebels who opposed the late President Idriss Deby, managed to master enough force inside Libya and head to Chad to overthrow Deby. French air power saved him at the time but in the end he died of the injuries sustained while fighting the same rebels who came from Libya. Essentially it was an unstable Libya – thanks to Western intervention – that created safe territories for such groups to launch their cross border attacks. When rebel groups are not part of the story, terror organisations tend to capitalise on the unrest to launch their attacks as has been the case in many Sahel countries like Mali and Burkina Faso.

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Chadian rebels, just like their Sudanese counterpart, and particularly Hemedti’s men, are still in Libya and they are able to try again to destabilise Chad and could well be enlisted to fight in Sudan further expanding the current violence.

All the talk about a ceasefire in Sudan has so far failed to materialise as the fighting continues

It is unlikely for such a conflict to end at any negotiation table because it is a power struggle that can only end in the battlefield where a winner takes all. Both Al-Burhan and Hemedti know this very well because both are fighting for their own survival and that of their supporters. Anything short of ending the other side will not end the violence. Both men have run their course with managing the state over the last two years and both have failed to deliver regardless of their excuses. Both lack any vision or plan to bring stability to Sudan because that means the end of their respective careers. This means they are not representatives of the Sudanese people, let alone of their aspirations for democracy and peace.

We are also likely to start hearing more about the foreign regional and international powers that are siding with each side in this bloody conflict. That of course will only make things worse for the country.

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Neighbouring Libya is a country that is so divided and unstable that it cannot do much to guard its borders, let alone expel Sudanese and other African mercenaries. The United Nations has been calling for the removal of all foreign fighters from Libya for years but nothing has happened. In fact, more have come into the country than left it. The sooner the conflict ends in Sudan the better for Libya and vice versa.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.