For the first half of the 20th century, present-day Sudan was a colony of the British Empire. Sudan achieved independence from Britain in 1956 but civil war was already brewing between the north and the south. Part of the problem is the clash of cultures, religions and ethnicities of sub-Saharan Africa with those of the Arab Islamic world. Since 1956 there have been only 11 years of peace and so more than 50 years of civil war at one level or another.
Sudan is the largest country in Africa and borders nine other countries, including Egypt, Chad, Kenya and Ethiopia. The capital of Sudan, Khartoum, sits where the White Nile and the Blue Nile join together to form the Nile which flows north to Egypt and into the Mediterranean. Now Sudan has a population estimated to be about 40 million, of which 52 percent of which are African, and 40 percent Arab. Over two thirds of the population is Muslim while Animists and Christians, who for the most part live in southern Sudan, account for a third. Arabic is the official language, and the government has attempted to impose Islamic sharia law on the whole country since 1983, which led to Sudan’s longest civil war, from 1983 to 2005 and involved not just southern Sudan but the people of the Nuba mountains, Blue Nile and eastern Sudan as well, and the peace agreement in 2005 left those other conflicts unresolved.
The Darfur conflict erupted 20 year ago in April 2003 when the Sudan Liberation Movement attacked Sudanese military forces at the al-Fashir airport in North Darfur. In the years that followed, hundreds of thousands of people were killed, and millions more displaced in the war between rebel forces and the military.
Recently our news media have been awash with the rapid escalation in violence in Sudan. Intense clashes between Sudan’s military and the country’s main paramilitary force have killed hundreds of people and sent thousands fleeing for safety, and this latest civil war threatens to destabilise the wider region.
There is currently a power struggle between the two main factions of the military. The Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), broadly loyal to Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the country’s de facto ruler, are pitted against the paramilitaries of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a collection of militia who follow a former warlord Gen Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti.
As well as a tussle for power, at the root of much of the conflict are the economic and political disparities in the regions, and since no government, civilian or military, has seriously addressed these, it was only a matter of time before the violence in specific regions like Darfur expanded to engulf the centre and has led to the rapid exodus from Khartoum and ordinary people try to escape the fighting.
For civilians in Sudan at the moment, simply holding on to hope is a huge challenge. Those stepping out of their front doors don’t know whether they’ll return alive. As Christian’s we need to pray for the safety of those living in fear. We need to pray for justice and healing, and for an outcome that doesn’t open the way to more radicalisation and tension. And we need to pray that the Sudanese people may in due course be ruled by a government that respects human rights, freedom of worship, equality and dignity for all of whatever race or religion.