Sudan conflict could plunge Horn of Africa into chaos

People fleeing Sudan arrive at Wadi Karkar bus station in Aswan, southern Egypt, 30 April 2023. According to UNHCR, thousands have fled the country since mid-April following armed clashes between Sudan's military and rival paramilitary groups. (Keystone/EPA/Khaled Elfiqi)

Sudan is teetering on the edge of a civil war that risks sparking a migration crisis and compounding a serious food security crisis already impacting thousands in the wider Horn of Africa region.

A truce agreed between the warring parties since the start of the fighting on 15 April came to an end on Monday. But it offered little respite to civilians, as reports of sporadic fighting and spurs of violence kept residents trapped in the crossfire of two rival generals seeking control of the country: Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman Al-Bourhane, Sudan’s de-facto leader, and Mohammed Hamdan Daglo, AKA “Hemedti” and head of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

The conflict has already sparked a major exodus from the country as terrorised civilians fled to neighbouring countries in the thousands, and foreigners were evacuated by their governments. As a third week of fighting resumes, concern is growing over the impact of a new wave of violence on already worrying levels of food insecurity and resource scarcity.

According to Libération, the fighting resumed well before the official end of the ceasefire, with shootings heard in the capital, Khartoum, and clashes reported in the Darfur region, close to the border with Chad.

The country’s hospitals have collapsed, and the death toll is “immeasurable”, the French newspaper reported. In Geneina, a city in the Darfur region of Sudan, 74 people were reported dead in just two days, from 24 to 25 April, according to provisional figures by a Sudanese doctors union.

Doctors Without Borders, a humanitarian organisation active in the country, said that it had suspended almost all of its activities, explaining the fires, looting, and overall destruction were reaching camps where people displaced by the fighting came seeking refuge. “We are extremely concerned about the impact of this violence on people who have already gone through waves of violence,” said Sylvain Perrod, deputy director for the organisation in Sudan.

Regional migration crisis

Official figures indicate that 528 people have died and over 4,500 have been wounded since the fighting began, but the real figures could be much higher. The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said as many as 75,000 had been displaced, with many Sudanese civilians fleeing to neighbouring countries like Egypt, Ethiopia, Chad, the Central African Republic and South Sudan, fueling concerns over a regional migratory crisis.

Despite the Chadian government moving to shut down its border with Sudan at the onset of the fighting, over 20,000 Sudanese civilians fled to Chad, a country which harbours a population of about 400,000 Sudanese refugees, who fled there during the 2003-2010 genocide in Darfur. Amid the influx of refugees, humanitarian organisations are scrambling and struggling to provide essential items to those sheltering in bordering cities and villages.

The expected arrival of the spring rainy season may complicate things further for humanitarian responders hoping to reach those in need. “In around two months, the rainy season will begin, and wadis, which are large rivers, will form, making it very difficult to provide assistance,” Jérôme Merlin, deputy representative for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Sudan, told broadcaster France24.

A UNHCR official told a briefing in Geneva that the violence could push over 800,000 people to flee the country, Reuters reported.

Risks of famine

The conflict is also amplifying a major food security crisis in a region already suffering chronically from hunger and malnutrition. The World Food Programme (WFP) estimated that the conflict in Sudan, already one of the poorest countries in the world, could plunge millions more into hunger.

Before the start of the conflict, Action Against Hunger, a French NGO fighting world hunger, said that some 15.8 million people in Sudan, about 30 per cent of the population, were already in need of humanitarian assistance and that 11 million more were suffering from “acute” food insecurity, meaning they “did not have access to food in sufficient quantity or quality”.

Food prices have doubled since the start of the conflict, and the fighting means many civilians are locked up at home, unable to procure essentials.

As bombs went off in Khartoum and other cities over the weekend, UN secretary general António Guterres lashed out at the warring parties for “fighting for power when the country is falling apart”.

Hafed Al-Ghwell, professor at John Hopkins University in the American city of Baltimore, called on the international community to do more to stop the conflict.

“Sudan is now on the verge of a civil war, and the priority of the international community seems to be to evacuate, without delay, as many of their civilians as possible, rather than to take the necessary measures to prevent a conflict in one of the most fragile regions in the world,” he wrote in an opinion piece for Arab News.

“If Sudan plunges into total war, the repercussions on other countries would be catastrophic,” he said, calling on Gulf countries close to Khartoum to pave a way out of the crisis by “getting involved in efforts to de-escalate the conflict and facilitate dialogue” before civil war becomes “inevitable”.

With additional reporting from Geneva Solutions

This article was originally published in French in It has been adapted and translated into English by Geneva Solutions. Articles from third-party websites are not licensed under Creative Commons and cannot be republished without the media’s consent.