Thousands are dying in a forgotten war in Sudan. Where are the protesters?

It’s been a year since war broke out in Sudan. Sadly, it doesn’t look like it will end any time soon. It has festered largely outside the world’s eye, overshadowed by the more famous conflicts in Gaza and Ukraine.

Until the European Union, to its credit, stepped up last week, the international community spectacularly failed to answer calls for humanitarian assistance. And that’s despite the fact that, for some time now, this war has been the cause of the worst humanitarian catastrophe anywhere in the world in the last decade.

There are no protests in Western capitals calling for a ceasefire, and minimal coverage from international media organisations. The conflict is so badly neglected that, for any treatment of it to be meaningful to most readers, it must be prefaced with a mention of the combatants.


The Sudanese Armed Forces (the regular military), under the command of General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and the Rapid Support Forces (a paramilitary outfit), led by Muhammad Hamdan Dagalo (aka Hemedti), locked horns last April over differing interpretations of an agreement to create Sudan’s first civilian government.

Since then, each side’s bloody fortunes have risen and ebbed multiple times. Just a few months ago, the RSF seemed poised to wrest control of the entire country from the SAF. In recent weeks, the SAF has regained the initiative, and is now briskly reversing many of the RSF’s earlier gains. Perhaps, in a month or two, the momentum will shift the other way once again.

This constant seesawing has complicated efforts to secure a negotiated peace. Whenever the frontlines stay unchanged for an extended period, talks proceed apace. Yet every time one side seizes the momentum, its interest in talking fizzles out, obviously because it hopes to strengthen its negotiating position, or starts entertaining fickle hopes of winning the war outright.


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By now, it should be clear to them that the war won’t end in a clear-cut victory for either side. Not only does neither possess the means to decisively defeat the other, but they are also no longer the only combatants; the battlefield is now composed of an ever-growing patchwork of armed groups and mercenaries, some of them from outside the country, a few from as far afield as Russia and Ukraine.


Caught in the crossfire, Sudanese civilians have experienced one of their worst years to date. Aside from the nearly ten million who are internally displaced, millions more have fled the country, many of them into their country’s immediate neighbours (it’s a sardonic irony, given that not so long ago, these same countries were sending refugees the other way).

The war has made it next to impossible for aid groups to provide humanitarian assistance inside the country. Famine is expected in just over a month, due to a combination of a failed harvest and the logistical obstacles to food distribution posed by the war. It may take as many as a million lives. Malnutrition, along with related maladies, is already one of the leading killers of children.

And, as if that were not enough, the war has also reactivated toxic ethnic fault lines, especially in Darfur, where a genocide in the early 2000s took the lives of 200,000 people and where, once again, the RSF and allied Arab militias have been targeting the native black communities. Many have already crossed into Chad as refugees.

Given where things stand, it’s not a stretch to conclude, as The Economist did, that Sudan is a failing state. By now, the people of Sudan should have had one year of civilian government; instead, what they’ve had is one year of war, which looks set to continue for, perhaps, years to come. And that, if I may borrow the parlance of the young ones, really sucks.

I know this firsthand, because I’ve just had a brush with it.

So far, my articles about this war, though heartfelt, have been clinical and distant. I don’t live in Sudan, after all, and can afford to punch out these words on a computer keyboard from the comfort and safety of my bedroom, thousands of kilometres away, with relatively little at stake.

For this piece, however, I wanted to get a little closer. I wanted to document the war from the perspective of a few ordinary Sudanese people. So, I reached out to the few that I do know and, through friends, to a few others. A number are still in the country. Those who could have already fled.

Tellingly, as of the time of going to press, not a single one of these contacts was willing to tell their story. They refused, not because they have nothing to say, but because they are so traumatised by what they’ve seen, and so disillusioned by the world’s evident apathy, that they see no sense in talking.

A year of war is one too many.

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Mathew Otieno is a Kenyan writer, blogger and a dilettante farmer. Until 2022, he was a research communications coordinator at a university in Nairobi, Kenya.

Image credit: Pexels


Showing 3 reactions

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  • Christopher Szabo
    commented 2024-04-27 01:37:43 +1000
    Glad you raised this, Mathew! It is indeed dreadful that no-one seems to care about these victims of war.
  • mrscracker
    Places like the Sudan & Haiti get little attention. Much less protests on affluent US campuses.
  • Mathew Otieno
    published this page in The Latest 2024-04-25 22:52:01 +1000